Fastest-Growing Religion Often Misunderstood
By Barr Seitz, of
Aaron Cambel was an American kid who used to hang out with friends cruising the local mall,  picking up girls, checking out the latest fashions and getting in trouble. “I was realized if I took the same path, I would have ended up the way they did, wasting my life away,” says Cambel, who lives in Washington. So he converted to Islam. “It was the most simple and direct to understand of the religions I looked into,” says Cambel, who converted four years ago. “It taught about moral character, and ethics and the way people should be treated.”

The American Muslim birthrate is about 4.5 children per couple, versus the 1.9 child per couple national average.


Islam Liberates Black Americans

Cambel, 23, has joined one of the fastest growing religions in the United States. Experts agree Islam is one of the fastest growing religions in America. As many as five million Muslims live in the United States and in the last five years, the number of mosques in this country has increased from 843 to about 1,300. Most of the growth has come from immigration, but much of it is home-grown. For many black Americans, Islam has become the religion of choice and some one million—mostly men—have converted. “It is an American phenomenon, which started in the ghettoes of the north,” says Yvonne Haedad, a professor of history of Islam and of Christian-Muslim Relations at Georgetown University. “It is a response to racism…it is seen as the religion of liberation.” Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam has become the most prominent black Islamic group in the United States. Black men in bow ties and dark suits emphasize the strict discipline of the order, which emphasizes empowerment, a key theme of the Million Man March on Washington in 1995. But Farrakhan’s anti-Semitic remarks—calling  Jews “bloodsuckers” who took from the community to build their own—have brought controversy and publicity to the group. “It’s very visible, because Farrakhan is very visible,” says Fahhim Abdulhadi, spokesman for the American Muslim Council. “Muslims in mainstream have lots of problems with Farrakhan.”

Muslims Battle Prejudices

Many mainstream Muslims also have a problem with the tide of misunderstanding in the United States. “We always need to explain so many issues, “ says Hassan Qacwini, Imam of the Islamic Center of America in Detroit. The most common misunderstanding, according to Qacwini,  is that Islam fosters violence, a perception reconfirmed whenever extremist groups set off suicide bombs or massacre tourists in the Middle East.

“Islam is a peaceful religion,” says Qacwini. “Some would try to connect terrorism to Islam, which is wrong.” Many Americans looked for a Muslim scapegoat when the Alfred P. Murrah building blew up in 1995. “After the Oklahoma City bombing, people said it was Middle East terrorists,” says Abdulhadi. Several Middle Eastern men were briefly detained, and there were reports of harassment against Muslims, including beatings and a mosque burning. Some Muslims point out that when Timothy McVeigh was arrested, no one accused him of bombing the federal building for religious reasons. “Nobody talks about McVeigh as Christian terrorist,” says Haedad.

Muslim men bow in prayer on Madison  Avenue in New York at the  start of the United Muslim Day Parade. Experts agree Islam is one of    the fastest-growing religions in America.  (Emile Wamsteker / AP Photo)

Hostility Breeds Assertion

The role of women is another area of misunderstanding. For  example, while some non-Muslims see the veil as a tool of oppression, many Muslim women see it as a reinforcement of  their identity in a culture that is hostile to Islam. “It’s empowerment,” says Haedad. “Women say ‘I’m going to wear it and you’d better to put up with it.’” While many   Muslims assert their identity in a society they perceive as hostile, most have followed the pattern of practically every other ethnic and religious group in America: blending and assimilating. “Most Muslims, you wouldn’t pick them out,” says Abdulhadi. “They’re just going to work and getting along.”

“Islam is a peaceful religion. Some would try to connect terrorism to Islam, which is wrong.”  - Hassan Qacwini, Imam in Detroit

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