Getting to Know American Muslims and Their Faith Presentation

This digital presentation and its accompanying notes provides an overview on the topic of Muslims and their faith, including basic definitions, demographics, notable American Muslims, and basic traditions and practices. It concludes with a brief overview at common misconceptions about Muslims and relations with other religions.

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Getting to Know American Muslims and Their Faith

The following is a broad overview about Muslims and their faith, as well as a brief look at their history and contributions. This information is to be used in conjunction with the online digital presentation. 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.

The use of this resource to present about Islam and Muslims should be supplemented by ING’s answers to frequently asked questions. If you are interested in becoming one of our local volunteer certified speakers, join us here or write to one of our affiliates if you live in their area. We’ve also created a special online presentation An Overview of Ramadan and Fasting.

Note: This presentation is the intellectual property of Islamic Networks Group (ING) and is available for non-commercial public use only. This presentation and its content cannot be displayed in exchange for payment in cash or in kind.

Slide 2: Basic Terminology

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.

Slide 3: 1.8 Billion Muslims Worldwide

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 15% 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 230 million. There are growing populations of Muslims in China, Europe, and North America.[i]

Slide 4: Muslim Contributions to Civilization

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, they contributed to fields such as mathematics, medicine, zoology, astronomy, engineering and chemistry. Terms such as algebra, zenith, and alcohol are reminders of some of the foundational concepts which Muslims brought to these fields. In the humanities, Muslims made contributions in the fields of literature and poetry, geography and cartography, language and philosophy. Today, the works of poets like Rumi are popular even in the West. Muslims have also left their mark in the arts and architecture with such features as calligraphy, geometric designs, arches and domes. Coffee, and tea trace their roots to Muslim lands and today Muslim cuisine has become increasingly popular in the West, including popular food items such as hummus, baklava, pita bread, and kebabs.

Slide 5: Diversity Among Muslims

While representations of Muslims in mass culture are often monolithic, in reality Muslims are extremely diverse in terms of their race, ethnicity, nationality, and language. Additionally, as with any other religious group, numerous other factors influence their 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, Muslims vary in their degrees of religious observance, and some their behavior may often 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.

Slide 6: Muslims in the U.S.

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 2017 Pew poll, American Muslims are very diverse, with 41% describing themselves as white (Arabs, Persians, Turks, and white American Muslims); 28% as Asian (mainly South Asian); 20% black (mostly African-American converts); and 8% as Hispanic. According to the Pew report, 82% of American Muslims report that they are U.S. citizens, and 42% say they were born in America.[ii]

Slide 7: History of Muslims in America

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 for higher education or to get away from war or an oppressive government. They came in four major waves: the first wave was from the mid-1800s until the early 1900s; the second wave followed World War I (1918); the third wave was after World War II (1945); and the fourth wave was from 1965 until the present.

After 1965, immigration of Muslims increased significantly due to a change in U.S. immigration laws. Muslim students from across the world came to America to study and eventually settled here after graduation.  Simultaneously, many African-Americans rediscovered Islam. 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.

Slide 8: Famous American Muslims

Today there are notable American Muslims in various professions. They include Ibtihaj Muhammad, Olympic fencer and bronze medalist; Hasan Minhaj, actor and comedian, who spoke at the 2017 White House Correspondent’s Dinner; Rami Nashashibi, 2017 MacArthur Foundation Genius Award recipient for his community activism with the organization called Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN); Dalia Mogahed, researcher and public figure; Fareed Zakaria, host of CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS; DJ Khaled, musician and inspirational speaker; Dr. Mehmet Oz, host of the Dr. Oz Show; Bella Hadid, model; Mona Haydar, rapper and public figure; Lupe Fiasco, rapper; Linda Sarsour, Arab and Muslim activist, who co-organized the 2017 Women’s March; and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, retired NBA player who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in 2016.

Slide 9: American Muslims in Academia

There are also numerous 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.

Slide 10: American Muslims Serve Our Country

A growing number of American Muslims serve or have served in the government or military. They include Keith Ellison, Attorney General of Minnesota and the first American Muslim congressman from 2007-2018; Ilhan Omar, congresswoman from Minnesota where she was previously a state legislator; Andre Carson, second Muslim congressman, representing Indiana; Rashida Tlaib, congresswoman from Michigan where she previously served as a state legislator; Humayun Khan, soldier and Gold Star recipient; Khallid Shabazz, U.S. military chaplain and Halim Dhanidina, Los Angeles County Superior Court judge.

Slide 11: An Overview of Islam

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

Slide 12: What does Islam Teach?

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; and honesty and truthfulness in word and deed.

Slide 13: Three Dimensions of Islam

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

Slide 14: Major Beliefs

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 which follows this life; and the concept of God’s Will. Each belief will be discussed individually.

Slide 15: One God

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.

Slide 16: Angels

The second belief, also found in other faiths, including 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.

Slide 17: Prophets

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 they have for all of these prophets, Muslims commonly name their children after them.

Slide 18: Abrahamic Holy Books

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.

Slide 19: Qur’an and Hadith

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

Slide 20: Afterlife

Muslims, like followers 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 ideas of accountability and responsibility and on the principle that there are consequences for one’s actions.

Slide 21: God’s Will

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.

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

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.

Slide 23: Profession of Faith: Shahadah

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 by affirming monotheism and identifying the belief in Muhammad and the revelation which was sent to him as foundational.

Slide 24: Daily Prayers: Salat

The second pillar is prayer or salat in Arabic. 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 based 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, also dependent 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 masjid in Arabic, which means “place of prostration.”

Slide 25: Required Donation: Zakat

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 needy and encourage compassion and generosity. Muslims generally donate to charitable organizations or mosques who distribute the money to those in need, such as the poor, refugees, orphans, and others.

Slide 26: Fasting: Sawm

The fourth pillar is fasting in the month of Ramadan, referred to as sawm in Arabic. Because Ramadan follows the lunar calendar, the month rotates through the seasons, moving eleven days earlier 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 are exempt from fasting and can make up the missed fasts at a later date if they are able to, or donate money to a needy person if they are unable to make up the missed fasts. Children under the age of puberty are not required to fast, but may choose to fast in emulation of their family members.

Slide 27: Pilgrimage to Mecca: Hajj

The fifth and final pillar is the pilgrimage to Mecca, known as Hajj in Arabic.  Once in a lifetime, every adult Muslim with the physical and financial ability should travel to the holy city of Mecca to perform the pilgrimage. 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 that it was built by the Prophet Abraham and his son Ishmael, who consecrated it as the first house of worship of the One God.

Slide 28: Muslim Holidays

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 during the time of Hajj. Both holidays 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 as well as lots of good food.

Slide 29: Ihsan: Excellence in Character and All Actions

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.

Slide 30: Addressing Common Misconceptions

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

Slide 31: Moderation in Religion

According to Islamic teachings, moderation is encouraged in all aspects of life while 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.

Slide 32: Gender Equity

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 a significant number of women have even served as heads of state in countries such as Bangladesh, Pakistan, Turkey, and Indonesia.

Slide 33: Relations with Other Religions 

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.

Slide 34: Islam and Religious Pluralism

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)

Slide 35: Islam and Judaism

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.

Slide 36: Islam and Christianity

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)

Slide 37: Salam alaikum: “Peace be upon you”

Thanks for your interest and we hope this was useful. Salam alaikum – “peace be upon you!”


[i] Pew Research Center, April 5, 2017, The Changing Global Religious Landscape.

[ii] Pew Research Center, July 26, 2017, U.S. Muslims Concerned About Their Place in Society, but Continue to Believe in the American Dream.