Mending the Rift in a Post-9/11 World

There’s a really interesting article in the New York Times on the “uneasy” coalition that’s building between African American and immigrant Muslims in post-9/11 New York. Although I’m generally cynical of articles that tout people of color solidarity, I found this one to be fairly realistic and yet uplifting at the same time.

One interesting fact that I learned from the article is that of the estimated six million Muslims who live in the United States, more than a third are desis. About 25 percent of American Muslims are African-American, and 26 percent are Arab. Unsurprisingly, there’s been little cohesion between the African American and immigrant Muslim communities. The article explains that some of the decades-long tension is based on class:

Many Muslim immigrants came to the United States with advanced degrees and quickly prospered, settling in the suburbs. For decades, African-Americans watched with frustration as immigrants sent donations to causes overseas, largely ignoring the problems of poor Muslims in the United States.

Then there’s that skin color thing:

Aqilah Mu’Min [an African American], lives in the Parkchester section of the Bronx, a heavily Bangladeshi neighborhood. Whenever she passes women in head scarves, she offers the requisite Muslim greeting. Rarely is it returned. “We have a theory that says Islam is perfect, human beings are not,” said Ms. Mu’Min.

In addition, some feel that many immigrant Muslims make little effort to better understand African American history:

When Imam Talib vented his frustration at a meeting with immigrant leaders in Washington, a South Asian man turned to him, he recalled, and said, “I don’t understand why all of you African-American Muslims are always so angry about everything.” Imam Talib searched for an answer he thought the man could understand.“African-Americans are like the Palestinians of this land,” he finally said. “We’re not just some angry black people. We’re legitimately outraged and angry.”

Post-9/11, however, African American and immigrant Muslims have started to build stronger ties.

Black Muslims have begun advising immigrants on how to mount a civil rights campaign. Foreign-born Muslims are giving African-Americans roles of leadership in some of their largest organizations. The two groups have joined forces politically, forming coalitions and backing the same candidates.

The story elaborates on one particular newly-forged relationship: that between Imam Talib, an African American prison chaplain from Harlem, and Faroque Khan, an Indian-born physician who founded a mosque in Long Island:

[After] Sept. 11, Muslim immigrants found themselves under intense public scrutiny. They began complaining about “profiling” and “flying while brown,” appropriating language that had been largely the domain of African-Americans. It was around this time that Dr. Khan became, as he put it, enlightened. A few weeks before the terrorist attacks, he read the book “Black Rage,” by William H. Grier and Price M. Cobbs. The book, published in 1968, explores the psychological woes of African-Americans, and how the impact of racism is carried through generations.“It helped me understand that even before you’re born, things that happened a hundred years ago can affect you,” Dr. Khan said. “That was a big change in my thinking.”

There are some interesting details to their alliance:

After Dr. Khan read the book “Black Rage,” he and Imam Talib began serving together on the board of a new political task force. Finally, in 2005, Dr. Khan invited the imam to his mosque to give the Friday sermon. Dr. Khan then began inviting more African-American leaders to speak at his mosque…The group had recently announced a “domestic agenda,” with programs to help ex-convicts find housing and jobs and to standardize premarital counseling for Muslims in America.

Ultimately, Dr. Khan seems fairly intent on bridging the cultural divide, no matter how challenging:

The more separate we stay, the more targeted we become,” Dr. Khan said.

The article is worth a read. And the multimedia feature, which contains more of an in-depth perspective from members of both communities, is also worth checking out.

69 thoughts on “Mending the Rift in a Post-9/11 World

  1. it was a good article. when i was a kid at our mosque all the diff. groups hung with each other (blacks with blacks, turks with turks, brownz will brownz, arabs with arabs, etc.)…but at least they went to the same mosque.

  2. Of the 6 millions muslims, a more then a third a desi?

    That would mean there a 2,000,000 desi muslims in the United States. For some reason that number seem a little high.

  3. I saw this article yesterday and thought it was great – thanks for covering it, Naina!

    Clueless, why does 2m desi-Muslims seem high to you?

  4. 2,000,000 million desi muslims would mean that there are more desi muslims than hindhu muslims in the US..

  5. That would mean there a 2,000,000 desi muslims in the United States. For some reason that number seem a little high.

    it likely is. the “6 million” is offered by muslim organizations (and repeated by the media), but religious groups in general tend to over report their numbers (for obvious reasons). this is especially easy for a non-centralized religion like islam, where the numbers are aggregated for a wide array of source and double or triple counting may occur (or extrapolating from the sense of how many people don’t show up to friday prayers, etc.). the american religious identification survey gives 1.1 million muslims (they’re the closest to a religious census you have in the USA). the proportions though seem about right, though the numbers for black americans vary quite a bit because this group tends to see islam as a religion of choice instead of something you are born into, so there is a higher turnover (people join and defect a lot more).

  6. Clueless, why does 2m desi-Muslims seem high to you?

    that would mean that around 2/3 of brown americans would be muslim. this, in a community which is 85-90% indian, and 10-15% bangaldesh, pakistani, sinhalese, etc. there are no rock hard gov. numbers are religion, but there are CENSUS data for ethnicity.

  7. from the US census (cite):

    Bangladeshi 95,294 0.03% Indian (including Indo-Carribean) 1,546,703 0.54% Pakistani 253,193 0.09% Sri Lankan 40,000 0.014%

    total of 1,940,190 in 2000. the 6 million muslims number has been floating since at least 2000 (i recall it in the mid-90s, but that’s working off memory). from what i have seen almost every survey of muslims places brownz as #1 or #2 in proportion (either they or black americans), at around 1/4-1/3. assuming 6 million causes problems with that proportion. the only data which can really vary are the religious ones since the CENSUS is reliable in comparison.

  8. The Indo-Ameican population is around 2.3 million in the United States. Hindu 1.4 millon and Sikh’s 500,000 make up most of the Indian Population. Plus there is also a Christian,Jain and Parsi population, so the number of Indian Muslims is around only 200,000.

    I just can’t see the Pakistan and Bangladesh population in America being that high.

  9. so the number of Indian Muslims is around only 200,000.

    this sort of number would project to about 1 million muslims. i can’t vouch for the aggregate numbers, but i’ve seen enough multi-ethnic mosque crowds to believe that 1/5 to 1/3 are brown to a very high confidence (look at the clumps around the curry bowels during ed al fatir).

  10. According to 2000 US Census,

    there are 1,940,190 South Asian Americans (0.67 % of the total population) – hindu, muslims, christians, sikhs, and all

    true, this does not include people on immigrant, non-immigrant visas (even though they are part of census data too but are separately tabulated) and illegals, but 2 million desi muslims is a bogus number.

  11. I think a safe number for South Asian/Desi Muslims would be around 750,000 in the United States, if most pakistani and Bangladeshi are muslims added wiht the indo-americans muslims.

  12. I’m generally cynical of articles that tout people of color solidarity

    This isn’t an attempt to troll or anything, I’m just curious: why are you cynical about them?

    I kind of think that American society breeds consciousness of “minority” status more than individual community identities. At least for those periods of time when different minority groups have aligning interests.

  13. 1/3 of Muslims in American (regardless of the total number) being South Asian sounds right, though. 6 million is definitely at the high end of the range of competing estimates.

    In 2001, the Indian government believed there were about 1.7 million PIOs and NRIs in the US (link). That’s just “Indian,” though, not South Asian.

  14. razip writes: >>religious groups in general tend to over report their numbers (for obvious reasons).

    To be precise, certain religious groups in general tend to over report their numbers, for not-so-obvious reasons.

    M. Nam

  15. rending the myth of a post 9/11 world..

    ..Naina, did you have to use that unfortunate phrase?

    remember there is no post 9/11 world, people. the world is still the same…dont buy into their hype.

    (coincidence? “post 9/11 world” yields exactly 1 Million pages on GOOG)

  16. I think one needs more and better confirmation of the true number of Muslims in the USA. Simply stating there are a higher number than, say, the estimated number of Jews in the US doesn’t really make it. Some day there will be more than six million Muslims in the US, but that day is not today.

    Also, Aquila Mu’ Min should recognize that wearing a head scarf, per se, in the US means little by itself. If she greets a head scarf wearing American woman with a traditional Muslim greeting and receives no appropriate Muslim response then the odds are that person is probably not a Muslim.

    I myself wear a keffiyeh as a scarf from time to time, but am neither a Muslim nor an Arab. Also, I’ve seen images of any number of US military personel in the ME wearing camoflage keffiyeh’s in the wrapped, “shemagh” style. Probably very few of them were Muslim.

    Incidentally, my wife is dark brown and I am medium pink. We know there is only one race, the human race. Skin color is like hair color. An object of social importance only to the vain, the ignorant, and the foolish.As a US citizen I take pride in the fact my garbage collector has blonde hair and blue eyes while my Secretary of State has brown skin.

  17. Skin color is like hair color. An object of social importance only to the vain, the ignorant, and the foolish.

    Hats off to you!

    As a US citizen I take pride in the fact my garbage collector has blonde hair and blue eyes while my Secretary of State has brown skin.

    As a US citizen I am indifferent to the fact that my garbage collector has blonde hair and blue eyes while my Secretary of State has brown skin.

    M. Nam

  18. Aqilah Mu’Min [an African American], lives in the Parkchester section of the Bronx, a heavily Bangladeshi neighborhood. Whenever she passes women in head scarves, she offers the requisite Muslim greeting. Rarely is it returned. “We have a theory that says Islam is perfect, human beings are not,” said Ms. Mu’Min.

    Only small stumbles in the making of a Muslim-American identity. The desi racialist dross amongst these Bangladheshis will burn away state-side (give it a half a generation), clearing the way for collective assertion, sometimes close to univocal, mitigated, as always, by class difference. Meanwhile, the other pole of the “South Asian” identity will go its own way. Religion matters; oh it matters so bloody much.

  19. Skin color is like hair color. An object of social importance only to the vain, the ignorant, and the foolish.

    It’s interesting how nearly everyone I know who holds this attitude (aside from that tiny minority of Asians too wealthy to be affected by other people’s perceptions) happens to be “medium pink”. Skin color is pretty important when it structures the shape of your opportunities, regardless of whether you want it to be.

  20. I’d be curious to find out how… or if… relations between white American Muslims(Turks, Albanians, Bosnians, assorted converts, etc.) and others of their faith have changed since 9/11. Has their relative immunity from discrimination and profiling distanced them in any way?

  21. white American Muslims(Turks, Albanians, Bosnians, assorted converts, etc.) and others of their faith have changed since 9/11. Has their relative immunity from discrimination and profiling distanced them in any way?

    they aren’t immune from discrimination. i’ve known italians and greeks who were profiled because they “looked muslim.” turks certainly “look” muslim (on average), and if they have “muslim” names that is an issue (if you are blonde and your name on the ID is “mohammed” do you think people won’t assume the person is muslim?). the number of albanian and bosnian americans is small. the “white” muslims are turks, most arabs and most iranians. all these groups are targeted because they are “swarthy.”

  22. Skin color is important when it structures your opportunity, but I really haven’t felt that my Indian heritage has been an obstacle in the american society.

  23. It seems to me Naina portrayed racism and snobbery as a one way street: committed by Desis to African Americans. Is that true to the experiences of other readers? Or are there also Desis that have experienced racism from African Americans? How balanced do other readers feel the portrayal is?

  24. It’s interesting how nearly everyone I know who holds this attitude (aside from that tiny minority of Asians too wealthy to be affected by other people’s perceptions) happens to be “medium pink”. Skin color is pretty important when it structures the shape of your opportunities, regardless of whether you want it to be.

    Bobbi Brown calls me “warm natural,” L’Oreal calls me “Sand, “and MAC calls me “NC35,” but I’m with you on that.

    Skin color is important when it structures your opportunity, but I really haven’t felt that my Indian heritage has been an obstacle in the american society.

    I’m pretty certain it’s the Sand vs. Ivory situation that makes the NYPD stop me in the subway station about once every other month to search my purse for bombs.

  25. For long, I have been wondering why African Americans wear oversized clothing, two or three necklaces, and trousers which by some magic cling to the waistline.

    The question is off topic, but genuine. Please don’t retort with the obvious – why do whites wear tight clothing? Any reading references will be of much use. Thanks.

  26. They are being deleted because he is VIOLATING OUR COMMENT POLICY egregiously. If he doesn’t respect us, we will not respect him nor will we give him a platform for his bullshit approach to bullying people with his viewpoint. This website isn’t run by the government, it’s run by me– and I don’t care to give people who don’t practice basic courtesy anything.

  27. Or are there also Desis that have experienced racism from African Americans?

    Of course it’s a two way street. There was the woman who came to my door when I lived in south central – she was collecting funeral money for a kid that got hit in neighborhood – and the first thing she said at the door was, “Do you speak English?” — That kinda riled me.

    And the worst of course, was when after 9/11 a bunch of af. am kids at the mall thought it’d be cute to hit on me with a, “hey, baby, I’m Bin Laden!” Not cool.

  28. It was explained earlier when he was first banned and his stuff was deleted. He’s basically posting the same, long, off-topic screed in multiple threads. Basically, it’s comment spam, even if it is desi comment spam.

  29. Why are Kafir Khans posts being deleted. This is a voilation of free speech.

    Just to be clear, if you used the government to prevent SM from deleting Kafir’s posts, that would be a violation of free speech. Think about it.

  30. This is the last time I’m going to spell this out– what we object to is the fact that the comment is OFF-TOPIC and worse, that it is so long, it’s boorish.

    Further meta-commentary (comments asking why we’re deleting other comments) will be deleted. No more.

    Our blog, our rules. Not yours, fake commenters who are really Kafir Khan/Begum.

  31. You know, I’m thinking the timing of all this can’t be a coincidence… and it first started on the Anand Jon thread.

    I’m not sayin’, but I’m just sayin’…

  32. Can youse please go back to discussing mending rifts instead of why the interns banned the fartstain?

    Naiverealist- The big clothes thing is urban fashion. The pants are held right under the buttocks with a tight belt and the shirt is big to cover the exposed boxer clad buttocks. All races do it where I am.

    In the ’80′s it was tight stuff. One of my girls came to class the other day with her braids held in a ponytail on the side of her head.

  33. I seem to remember a certain boxer brought African-Americans Muslims and other Muslims together. :)

  34. For some reason,my comment was deleted earlier. I think we are experiencing technical difficulties due to ____.

  35. speaking of mending rifts. there be a major shit in quebec.

    we need a bridge between the hijabis with the pugh wearers (woman fired for wearing the hijab) we need a bridge between blacks and browns (malian canadians refused drinks because serving blacks is bad for business)

    but do be sensitive and sensible. it isnt ‘an enemy of my enemy is a friend’ – but standing up for what’s right and rational.

    now go out ye and dip your jalebis in the baba ghanouj.

  36. Golf-playing rich desi wanna be republicans have always been trying to become “establishment” (see the immigrant Muslim endorsement of Bush in 2000). It took 9-11 for these ‘foul weather friends’ to discover the virtues of the Ummah in America. Now that Congressman Peter King won’t return you phone calls and your erstwhile Republican friends pretend not to know you, you embrace Islamic brotherhood with African-Americans?!!

    Black Muslims should take the immigrant money (in exchange for the native credibility they offer immigrant Muslims) , but be under no illusions that Desi colour prejudice has banished. When the ‘foul-weather’ passes, will the Desis still raise money for Harlem?

  37. Dave @ #24 asks:

    It seems to me Naina portrayed racism and snobbery as a one way street: committed by Desis to African Americans. Is that true to the experiences of other readers?… How balanced do other readers feel the portrayal is?

    I don’t know how balanced. But when I was in grad school, I gradually began to avoid most (but not all) of my desi acquaintances (a group whose strength varied between 40 and 100) because it became: i) tiresome having to listen to their faux-erudite analyses of affirmative action; ii) painful having to listen to the searing pejoratives they used when referring to African-Americans they’d met; and iii) boring challenging the almost automatic conviction that renting at an apartment complex having a visible black presence “was not good”. There’s one little asymmetry that I observed: the vast majority of those who were comfortable with pejoratives were non-ABD desis (I don’t like the term FOB).

  38. Naiverealist,

    Big clothes started as prison chic. Prisoners get ill-fitting clothes, no strings, metal fasteners etc. Guys released from prison carried the same look outside to let everyone know they were prison tough. Soon it became the urban fashion statement. If the above theory is wrong, shoot GQ not me. But then again, I read GQ so somebody shoot me as well.

  39. Big clothes started as prison chic. Prisoners get ill-fitting clothes, no strings, metal fasteners etc.

    This may have been part of it, but there was also the increase in obesity, both generally and among specific minority populations, stimulating apparel manufactureres to introduce ‘plus sizes’ and ‘Big (and Tall) sizes’ and XXL sizes etc. Some people tried them on and wore them just to be different, and then it just caught on.

  40. 41 GB “the vast majority of those who were comfortable with pejoratives were non-ABD desis (I don’t like the term FOB).”

    As a non-ABD but by no means an FOB (after 34 years in the US, I am more Stale than Fresh), I concur with your refence to desi prejudices. I have two points to add.

    1. All browns, women, gays, the old and handicapped – in other words, minorities of all kinds – have African Americans to thank for today’s equal opportunity laws and increased racial tolerance of American society. While the American Chinese, with roots dating back to the 19th century railroad days, quietly plied their trade and the Japanese, despite the horrible internment during WWII in their past, remained an unusually quiet minority, the African Americans protested aggressively, often violently, and forced a change upon America. I can only imagine what the two million desis would have done – quietly ran their convenience stores and motels or collected their fees after examining the patients. The America of the 60′s and 70′s did not get liberalized by the intellectualism of the Kennedies alone.

    2. Having acknowledged our huge debt to African Americans, I will then say that we Indians habitually stereotype others and immediately categorize them socially and economically, and then adjust our behavior according to whether we or they rank higher in the value chain. It is our way of organizing and understanding the world around us. It may not be politically correct, or even human at times, but that’s how it is.

  41. Dave @ #24 asks:

    It seems to me Naina portrayed racism and snobbery as a one way street: committed by Desis to African Americans. Is that true to the experiences of other readers?… How balanced do other readers feel the portrayal is?

    From my own experience growing up in a neighborhood that was mostly black, I got a few taunts. Some of them were just standard questions like “did you get the dot on your forehead removed?” and some of them were more along “go back to your country” jeers. Some was subtle, like feigned impatience and hand gestures when talking to my parents, who speak English fluently but with an accent. Kind of disappointing, coming from people of color to another person of color.

  42. I can only imagine what the two million desis would have done – quietly ran their convenience stores and motels or collected their fees after examining the patients.

    This experiment was run in South Africa, East Africa and to some extent the Carribean (and Fiji) too, was it not? I mean, faced with a situation where the hegemonic group makes distinctions between ‘races’ and sets up a pecking order, the ‘middle’ races set themselves up in ‘middleman occupations’ – convenience stores etc, or law enforcement – when that is available. However, a ‘middleman minority’ must be both middleman and minority – if there were to be more desis than Africans somewhere, then positions on the pecking order may have been different.

    I will then say that we Indians habitually stereotype others and immediately categorize them socially and economically, and then adjust our behavior according to whether we or they rank higher

    But which group (or individual) would not do this?

    On the original question of desi Muslims versus Af-Am Muslims – a liberal-minded desi Muslim friend (who also happened to be a ‘Syed’ – tracing his descent directly from the Prophet) would always tell me that Af-Am Muslims are not ‘real’ Muslims, since their understanding of ritual, theology, liturgy, sacral language, etc was incomplete or non-existent; and that in any case the ‘black Muslim’ identity was more about protesting existing American race oppression than about ‘Islam’. If this is what a liberal-minded desi Muslim thinks, I can well imagine how much more condescending someone else could get.

  43. On the original question of desi Muslims versus Af-Am Muslims – a liberal-minded desi Muslim friend (who also happened to be a ‘Syed’ – tracing his descent directly from the Prophet) would always tell me that Af-Am Muslims are not ‘real’ Muslims, since their understanding of ritual, theology, liturgy, sacral language, etc was incomplete or non-existent; and that in any case the ‘black Muslim’ identity was more about protesting existing American race oppression than about ‘Islam’. If this is what a liberal-minded desi Muslim thinks, I can well imagine how much more condescending someone else could get.

    Your Sayyid friend is not wrong, if he is talking about the cosmology of the Nation of Islam, the organization founded by Elijah Muhammad on the basis of the esoteric teachings of a character named W. D. Fard, who turned up in Detroit in the 1930s and mysteriously disappeared. The NOI is the organization that is currently headed by Minister Louis Farrakhan — well, Farrakhan is now stepping down, but no successor has been named. The ideology and cosmology of the NOI have, basically, zero to do with regular Islam. The term “Islam” and the name “Allah” for God were taken as part of a long-standing tradition of African-American millenarian and charismatic movements looking to non-European, and especially “Moorish” and other kinds of Eastern, traditions for strategic and emotional identification.

    However as people came up in the Nation many of them became exposed to actual Islam, realized the differences, and began to recognize themselves in the real thing, thereby repudiating the NOI. This is what happened most famously to Malcolm X, who embraced “real” Islam, performed Haj, and became known as Alhaji Malik al-Shabazz. Elijah Muhammad’s own son, W. D. Muhammad, has long led a movement to rejoin actual Islam, disagreeing in this with Farrakhan who retained control of the NOI and more or less carried forward its world view.

    Your Sayyid friend is right in suggesting the the Black Muslim identity was completely entwined with the racial politics of America — so long as it is the NOI he was referring to. What he might not know or appreciate is that over the decades a substantial African-American population has grown that practices actual, Quranic, Mecca-oriented Islam — some of them having arrived at this after having been down with the NOI, others not. These folks are very much part of the Ummah and the NYT article raises interesting issues about relations between this segment of Islam and Muslim immigrant communities.

  44. Siddhartha Your Sayyid friend … might not know or appreciate that over the decades a substantial African-American population has grown that practices actual, Quranic, Mecca-oriented Islam …These folks are very much part of the Ummah.

    What a nice, informative and well-written post, Sid! Perhaps you should consider getting yourself a blog? :)

    Yes, he did not fully appreciate the substantial Af-Am population that practices Quranic Islam, but it was more like he didn’t want to know, and would not have conceded its authenticity even if he had known. That raises the issue of how this Af-Am population practicing Quranic Islam came to be. It’s hard to believe they discovered it entirely by themselves. A related issue is how desi or Arab Muslims consider West African Islam, in its native, not immigrant context. My guess is that it is not considered fully on par with the Arab, West Asian, East African, and South Asian versions, so perhaps this comes back and conditions attitudes in the diasporic and immigrant contexts.