Getting to Know American Muslims and Their Faith Presentation

 
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Getting to Know American Muslims and Their Faith

The following is a broad overview about Muslims and their faith, history, and contributions to the world and to the United States. This information is to be used in conjunction with the digital presentation above. Each slide is associated with the following descriptions, which can serve as a script for those using the digital overview to present about the topic.

Basic Terminology (Slide 2)

  • The universal Islamic greeting is “salam alaikum” with means “peace be upon you.”  The response is “wa-alaikum salaam”, which means “may peace be upon you too.” The Islamic greeting is similar to the Hebrew greeting shalom aleichem.
  • Also related in meaning with the same Arabic root is “Islam,” the name of the religion, which means “peace through following God’s guidance.”
  • The term “Muslim” refers to a follower of Islam.

1.8 Billion Muslims Worldwide (Slide 3)

  • According to a 2017 Pew report, it is estimated that there are 1.8 billion Muslims globally, about 25% of the world’s population.
  • Contrary to common perception, only 20% of Muslims are Arabs, while around a billion of the world’s Muslims live in Asia, mainly in South Asia (includes India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh).
  • Indonesia is the nation with the largest Muslim population, over 200 million. There are growing populations of Muslims in China, Europe, and North America.

Muslim Contributions to Civilization (Slide 4)

  • Especially during medieval times, in what is called the Golden Age of Islam, Muslims contributed in a broad range of fields, including the sciences, humanities, and culture.
  • In the sciences, these fields include mathematics, medicine, zoology, astronomy, engineering and chemistry. Terms such as algebra, zenith, and alcohol are reminders of some of the foundational concepts Muslims contributed in these fields.
  • In the humanities, these include literature and poetry, geography and cartography, language and philosophy. Today, the works of poets like Rumi are popular even in the West.
  • In culture, these include arts and architecture, music, and food. Geometric art, arches and domes, and many of the food items popular today such as hummus, baklava, coffee, and tea trace their roots to Muslim lands.

Diversity Among Muslims (Slide 5)

  • While representations of Muslims in mass culture are often monolithic, in reality Muslims are extremely diverse in terms of race, ethnicity, nationality, and language.
  • Additionally, as with any other religious group, numerous other factors influence attitudes and behavior in addition to religion. These include culture and national origin; family and upbringing, level of education, and economic status; and the political situation in one’s country.
  • As in any other group, one also finds varying degrees of observance of Islam, and some Muslims’ behavior may contradict religious teachings. It is important to recognize the diversity among Muslims and to avoid stereotyping an entire group of people based on the actions of a few.

Muslims in the U.S. (Slide 6)

  • There are varying estimates of the number of Muslims in the U.S., ranging between three and six million, according to different surveys.
  • According to a Pew poll, American Muslims are very diverse, with 38% describing themselves as white (Arabs, Persians, Turks and white American Muslims); 28% as black (mostly African-American converts); 28% as Asian (mainly South Asian); and 4% as Hispanic.
  • According to a previous report by Pew, over 81% of American Muslims report that they are U.S. citizens.

History of Muslims in America (Slide 7)

  • Muslims have a long history in America. It is estimated that 20% of enslaved Africans were Muslims, some of whom continued to practice their faith.
  • In the late 19th century, Muslims from many parts of the world began migrating to the U.S. either for better job opportunities or higher education or to get away from war or an oppressive government. They came in four major waves:
    • First Wave: mid-1800s–early 1900s
    • Second Wave: after World War I (1918)
    • Third Wave: after World War II (1945)
    • Fourth Wave: 1965-present
  • After 1965, immigration expanded, due to a change in U.S. immigration laws. Muslim students from across the world came to America to study and settled in America after graduation.
  • The children and grandchildren of Muslim immigrants make up a growing percentage of American Muslims as do the children and grandchildren of African-American (and other) converts. Today American Muslims are scientists, physicians, engineers, lawyers, academics, athletes, and entertainers.

Famous American Muslims (Slide 8)

  • Today there are a growing number of well-known American Muslims in diverse fields.
  • They include Ibtihaj Muhammad, Olympic fencer and bronze medalist; Hasan Minhaj, actor and comedian, who spoke at the 2017 White House Correspondent’s Dinner; Mona Haydar, rapper and public figure; Fareed Zakaria, host of CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS; DJ Khaled, musician and inspirational speaker; Linda Sarsour, Arab and Muslim activist, who co-organized the recent Women’s March; Dr. Mehmet Oz, host of the Dr. Oz Show; Lupe Fiasco, rapper; Bella Hadid, model; Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, retired NBA player.

American Muslims in Government (Slide 9)

  • There are a growing number of American Muslims who serve in the government or military. They include Keith Ellison, the first American Muslim congressman, from Minnesota; Ilhan Omar, member of  the Minnesota state legislature;  Andre Carson, the second Muslim congressman, from Indiana; Huma Abedin, American political staffer and vice chair of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign; Humayun Khan, soldier and Gold Star recipient for his courage in Iraq, where he gave his life; and Khallid Shabazz, U.S. military chaplain, who ministers to the estimated five to six thousand Muslims who serve in the armed forces.

American Muslims in Academia (Slide 10)

  • There are also a growing number of American Muslims in academia teaching in diverse fields.
  • They include Kecia Ali, professor of religion at Boston University; Sherman Jackson, professor of religion at University of Southern California; Asifa Qureishi, professor of law at the University of Wisconsin-Madison; Jonathan Brown, professor of Islamic studies at Georgetown University;  Omid Safi, Professor of Asian and Middle Eastern studies at Duke University; Zareena Grewal, professor of American Studies and religious studies at Yale University; Hamza Yusuf Hanson, founder of the first American Muslim liberal arts college, Zaytuna College; and  Dr. Intisar Rabb, professor at Harvard Law School.

An Overview of Islam (Slide 11)

This section provides an overview of Islam and its major teachings and practices.

What does Islam Teach? (Slide 12)

  • Islam teaches the cultivation of excellent moral character to better oneself and the world.
  • It also teaches a set of values that promote life, liberty, equality and justice. Some of these values include:
    • Respect for the earth and all creatures
    • Care and compassion for those less fortunate
    • The importance of seeking knowledge
    • Honesty and truthfulness in word and deed
    • Striving continuously to improve oneself and the world

Three Dimensions of Islam (Slide 13)

  • There are three basic parts or dimensions of Islam: beliefs, practices, and the goals of those beliefs and practices.

Major Beliefs (Slide 14)

  • Muslims have six core beliefs, some of which are similar to beliefs in Judaism and Christianity.
  • They include the belief in one God; angels as another form of God’s creation; prophets who were chosen by God to provide guidance for their people; holy books or scriptures that were divinely revealed to the prophets; an afterlife; and the concept of God’s Will.

One God (Slide 15)

  • The name of God in Arabic is Allah, which is similar to the Aramaic word for God, Allaha, and the Hebrew word for God, Elohim.
  • The slide shows the word Allah in Arabic calligraphy, which is common as a decoration in Muslim homes or mosques.
  • Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are commonly referred to as the three monotheistic and Abrahamic faiths due to their belief in the same God and their common descent from Abraham. All three also have a shared origin and history in the Middle East.

Angels (Slide 16)

  • The second belief, also found in other faiths, particularly in Christianity, is the belief in angels. Muslims believe that, unlike humans, angels do not possess free will, but were created to carry out God’s commands on earth.
  • For Muslims one of the most important angels is the Archangel Gabriel, who is said to have brought divine revelation to the prophets, including the last prophet, Muhammad.
  • Like some Christians, Muslims believe in other important angels such as Michael and Raphael.

Prophets (Slide 17)

  • Muslims believe that prophets were chosen by God as messengers to teach two core messages: 1) Worship God alone (monotheism); and 2) people should strive to live ethically by treating others as they wish to be treated themselves (the Golden Rule).
  • Many of the prophets mentioned in the Qur’an are the same as those mentioned in the Bible.
  • They include Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus. Because of the respect for these prophets, Muslims commonly name their children after all of them.

Abrahamic Holy Books (Slide 18)

  • Muslims believe that some of these prophets were also messengers who received a holy scripture to serve as guidance for their followers after they had passed on.
  • The Qur’an mentions five holy books or scriptures by name: the Scrolls revealed to Abraham, the Torah revealed to Moses, the Psalms revealed to David, the Gospel revealed to Jesus, and the Qur’an revealed to Muhammad.
  • The Qur’an and Islamic tradition describe Christians and Jews as Ahl-al-Kitab, or “People of the Book,” because they follow a scripture that Muslims believe was divinely revealed in its original form.

Qur’an and Hadith (Slide 19)

  • Muslims consider the Qur’an to be the last and final revelation from God. Qur’an literally means “reading” or “recitation.”
  • Muslims believe the Qur’an was sent down by God through the Angel Gabriel to the Prophet Muhammad in Arabic over a period of 23 years. It contains many of the same stories about the prophets found in the Bible as well as similar commandments and prohibitions.
  • Second to the Qur’an in importance are the Hadith, or sayings of the Prophet Muhammad. Both Qur’an and Hadith serve as the foundation for Islamic beliefs and practices

Note: Shia Muslims also include the sayings and teachings of the twelve imams as a source in addition to the Qur’an and hadith.

Afterlife (Slide 20)

  • Muslims, like those of other faiths, believe that eventually this world, and everyone in it, will come to an end, and that on the Day of Judgment all of humankind will be brought back to life to stand before God and be judged for their actions in this life.
  • Like many Christians, Muslims believe that those who led a righteous life and followed God’s guidance will be rewarded with heaven while those who rejected God’s guidance and led an evil life will be punished for some time with hell.
  • The concept of heaven and hell is based on the idea of accountability and responsibility and on the principle that there are consequences for one’s actions.

God’s Will (Slide 21)

  • Lastly, Muslims believe in what is known as God’s Will or Divine Will. This is the concept that God has knowledge and control over all that happens in creation. Other faith traditions share this concept.
  • For a Muslim, this means that everything that happens in the world happens for a reason, which may not be obvious or known.  This belief gives Muslims a sense of comfort in the face of hardship.
  • At the same time, Muslims believe that human beings have freedom of choice in their actions.

Spiritual Support for Muslims: Five Pillars of Islam (Slide 22)

  • Muslims observe what are called the Five Pillars of Islam to help remember and establish a spiritual relationship with God. These acts are called “pillars” because they provide spiritual support for a Muslim, just as pillars provide support for a building.
  • The pillars include: the Profession of Faith, or Shahadah; five daily prayers, or Salat; required donation, or Zakat; fasting in the month of Ramadan, or Sawm; and pilgrimage to Mecca, or Hajj.

Profession of Faith: Shahadah (Slide 23)

  • The Profession of Faith or Shahadah is the first pillar of Islam.
  • It is a two-part statement, which means, “There is no god but God, and Muhammad is the Messenger of God.” These two short statements summarize the Muslim creed.

Daily Prayers: Salat (Slide 24)

  • The second pillar is prayer, or in Arabic Salat. Observant Muslims pray five times a day: before sunrise, around noon, in the afternoon, after sunset, and at night.
  • The prayer times are determined by the movement of the sun and vary depending on the time of year. The window of time during which one can perform a specific prayer is a two-to-four-hour time period, again depending on the time of year. Each prayer lasts about five to ten minutes, depending on the number of verses recited.
  • The prayers are physical, mental, and spiritual, with specific movements and recitations from the Qur’an and supplications from the prophetic tradition. Daily prayer reminds Muslims throughout the day of their relationship with God and the need to avoid harmful actions.
  • A Muslim house of worship is called a mosque, or in Arabic masjid, which means “place of prostration.”

Required Donation: Zakat (Slide 25)

  • The third pillar is a required donation, in Arabic known as Zakat. Once a year, Muslims are required to donate 2.5% of their excess wealth. This excludes money needed for normal expenses, such as food or rent. The purpose of Zakat is to help the poor and encourage compassion and generosity.
  • Muslim charitable organizations or mosques usually collect and distribute the money to those in need, such as the poor, refugees, orphans, and others.

Fasting: Sawm (Slide 26)

  • The fourth pillar is fasting, known as Sawm in Arabic, in the month of Ramadan. Because Ramadan follows the lunar calendar, Ramadan rotates through the seasons, moving earlier eleven days each year.
  • In Ramadan, Muslims abstain from food and drink during the sunlight hours as a means of learning self-control, gratitude, and compassion for those less fortunate. Ramadan is also a time for heightened self-awareness and introspection and for cultivating good character.
  • Ramadan is a month of intense spiritual rejuvenation with a heightened focus on devotion, during which Muslims spend extra time reading the Qur’an and performing special prayers.
  • Those unable to fast, such as pregnant or nursing women, the sick, or elderly people and children, are exempt from fasting.

Pilgrimage to Mecca: Hajj (Slide 27)

  • The fifth and final pillar is the pilgrimage to Mecca, known as Hajj.  Once in a lifetime, every adult Muslim with the physical and financial ability should make a pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca to perform the Hajj.
  • Hajj is a commemoration of the life and trials of the Prophet Abraham and his family. It is a large communal event, as two to three million Muslims of diverse backgrounds gather to perform the same rituals over a period of five days in and around Mecca.
  • The Ka’bah, located in Mecca, is the focal point of the Hajj, as well as the direction towards which Muslims pray throughout the year. Muslims believe it was built by the Prophet Abraham and his son Ishmael, who consecrated it as the first house of worship of the One God.

Muslim Holidays (Slide 28)

  • Muslims have two major holidays: Eid-ul-Fitr, or the “Festival of Breaking the Fast,” and Eid-ul-Adha, or the “Festival of the Sacrifice.”
  • The first, Eid-ul-Fitr, is a three-day holiday at the conclusion of Ramadan, celebrating the successful completion of the month of fasting. The second, Eid-ul-Adha, is celebrated at the time of Hajj.
  • Both days begin with a special congregational prayer, followed by a short sermon. Children receive new clothes, gifts, or money.  After the prayers, there are festivities such as rides, games, and other fun activities for children.

Ihsan: Excellence in Character and All Actions (Slide 29)

  • The last, but actually the highest, dimension for Muslims, and the goal of the first two (beliefs and practices), is excellence in character and all actions. This is referred to as ihsan in Arabic.
  • This excellence involves both one’s spiritual relationship with God and one’s interaction with other people. Central to attaining excellence in one’s character and actions is upholding the Golden Rule, a precept emphasized in all religions.

Addressing Common Misconceptions (Slide 30)

There are numerous misconceptions about Muslims and their faith. This section addresses two of the most common ones.

Moderation in Religion (Slide 31)

  • According to Islamic teachings, moderation is encouraged in all aspects of life and extremism is discouraged.
  • Terrorism is forbidden under any circumstance or for any reason. The Qur’an specifically condemns taking an innocent life, and murder is considered one of the most serious crimes. Suicide is also forbidden.
  • Even in a state of war, there are strict rules that prohibit attacking non-combatants, particularly women, children, and the clergy.

Gender Equity (Slide 32)

  • There is great variation in Muslim women’s rights today, since religious interpretation and practice are impacted by other factors such as culture, education, and economic and social class, which are diverse across different Muslim-majority countries and communities.
  • The Qur’an emphasizes the spiritual equality of men and women and affords women rights that were progressive for their time, including the right to earn and keep their earnings and inheritance and to marry and divorce by their own choice.
  • A growing number of Muslim women worldwide are physicians, engineers, lawyers, and businesswomen, and have even served as heads of state in countries such as Bangladesh, Pakistan, Turkey, and Indonesia.

Relations with Other Religions (Slide 33)

This section looks at some of the pluralistic teachings and commonalities between Islam and other religions, particularly the other two Abrahamic faiths, Judaism and Christianity.

Islam and Religious Pluralism (Slide 34)

  • The Qur’an emphasizes the common origin and humanity of all people. This oft-quoted Qur’anic verse states that the only measure of superiority among people and groups is in righteousness: “O humankind, We created you from a male and a female, and We made you races and tribes for you to get to know each other. The most noble of you in the sight of God are those of you who are most conscientious. And God is omniscient, fully aware.” (Qur’an, 49:13)
  • The Qur’an also states that diversity in religion is part of God’s plan and that the goal of all religious traditions is to do good: “For each of them We have established a law, and a revealed way. And if God wished, God would have made you a single nation; but the intent is to test you in what God has given you. So let your goals be everything good. Your destiny, everyone, is to God, Who will tell you about that wherein you differed.” (Qur’an, 5:48)

Islam and Judaism (Slide 35)

  • Moses is mentioned more than any other prophet in the Qur’an and is regarded as one of the most important and revered messengers.
  • The story of Moses in the Qur’an is close to the narrative in the Bible, including the story of his adoption and upbringing in the Pharaoh’s household, followed by his struggles and eventual success in freeing the Israelites from bondage in Egypt.  The Qur’an concludes his story with the revelation of the Torah.

Islam and Christianity (Slide 36)

  • The Qur’an also views Jesus as a very special messenger, born to the Virgin Mary, who is revered as the most righteous and honored of all women: “And the angels said, ‘O Mary, God has chosen you and purified you, chosen you over the women of all peoples.’” (Qur’an, 3:42)
  • The Qur’an describes the miraculous birth of Jesus, his many miracles, and his high spiritual rank: “The angels said ‘O Mary, God gives you good news of a word from God, named the Messiah, Jesus Son of Mary, honored in the world and the hereafter, and one of the intimates of God.’” (Qur’an, 3:45)

Salam alaikum: “Peace be upon you” (Slide 38)

  • Thanks for your interest. Salam alaikum – “peace be upon you!”

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