Muslim Persecution in America

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

America's 21st century has been largely characterized by the continual persecution of Muslims. In this lesson we'll look at the root and history of this trend.

Muslims in America

What does it mean to be a Muslim? Muslims are people of a religious faith, specifically practitioners of the religion called Islam. Their faith is monotheistic, worshipping a single God and recognizing Muhammad as the one true prophet, and generally expressed through prayer and ritual fasting in accordance with their holy book, the Qur'an. That's a very, very basic overview.

Now, let's look at what Islam is not. Islam is not inherently militant or violent, and should never be confused with Islamism, which is a political ideology that uses Islam to assert authority against others, sort of like the use of Catholicism under the medieval Inquisition. In the United States, the definition of Islam, and of Muslims themselves, is something that has undergone cycles of scrutiny over the past decade or so. So, when we ask what it means to be Muslim, we may think of a religious ideology. But when we ask to think of what it means to be a Muslim in America, that answer gets a little more complicated.

American Muslims

September 11, 2001

It may come as a shock to some, but there were Muslims in the United States in the year 2000, about 1 million of them, in fact. At that point, your average American knew very little about Islam, or had even heard of it. That changed after the attacks of 9/11 in 2001. The attack was perpetrated by men adhering to an extremist sect of Islam, and some were only recent converts, but to mainstream America it was the first time that the words Islam and Muslim appeared on the nightly news. For a nation that knew so little about the religion, this tragic event defined American attitudes about it.

For a period after the attacks of 9/11, anti-Muslim sentiment swelled in the United States. Researchers noted a sharp increase in hate crimes, generally-violent actions motivated by prejudice, targeted against Muslims almost immediately. In 2001 alone, there were over 1,500 reported attacks against people of Middle Eastern descent who were assumed to be Muslim. In this time period, any actions associated with the practice of Islam were targeted as suspicious, including attending mosques for worship ceremonies, publicly praying, and even the traditional act of head covering for women. Later reports would indicate that police and intelligence offices were targeting mosques and Islamic cultural centers around the nation, and airport security regulations would later be scrutinized for profiling, or targeting Muslim passengers with pre-determined biases.

Protesters oppose the plans to build an Islamic community center in the vicinity of the 9/11 attacks.

Muslim Persecution Since 9/11

In the decade to follow, American prejudice against Muslims seemed to wane in some corners of the nation, and increase in others. Americans themselves became much more familiar with the basic concepts of Islam, and Islamic/Middle Eastern studies programs were established and flourished throughout the nation's university systems. Throughout this, the number of Muslims in the United States only increased. From 2000 to 2010, the United States saw a roughly 67 percent increase in its practicing Muslim population. Why the increase? Well, renewed political, economic, and even military relationships with predominantly Islamic nations likely encouraged this, as has changing political and economic conditions throughout the Middle East.

American Muslims by ethnicity

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