This little detail of Muslim-American vs. American Muslim may have never raised an eyebrow, yet it is core to how we describe ourselves. It matters because nearly every narrative against Islam and Muslims can be boiled down to making Muslims an “other.” The marginalizing of a specific group of people has always depended on a labeling of “them” as different and hostile to “us.”

For Muslims this is rooted in two false and foundational depictions: that all Muslims are monolithic (ethnically, culturally, politically and/or racially) and that Islam itself is anti-American or incompatible with western civilization.

In strategic communication, semantics matter and the language we use to define ourselves can serve to clear misconceptions or aid those seeking to make us an “other” The construction “Muslim-Americans” serves those who wish to paint us as monolithic. It helps create an otherness about Muslims both inside our own self-image as well as in how our neighbors view us.

As basic as this may seem, the starting point toward better messaging is to decide if we are Muslims (as a noun) or if we are Muslims (as an adjective). As you know a noun is the name of a person, place, thing, or idea and an adjective is a word that describes or modifies nouns.

The word Muslim is a noun; it can only function as an adjective and not become one.

Linguistically, using “Muslim-American” means your American identity is modified by your Muslim identity. This feeds the notion that the “good” Muslims are those that compromise their religion and are Americans first. The problem begins when we realize that what it means to be culturally an “American” (or one of us) is a hot topic that is debated and has never been clearly defined. Who defines what being an American means? The conversations about Muslims in the US all seem to eventually suggest the need for a discovery process, a litmus test of who is a “good” Muslim. This places all of us under collective suspicion, all the time.

The “who is the 'good' Muslim” conundrum comes from the very same reasoning of those Muslims who would advocate for the use of Muslim-American. It is rooted in the idea that, “I am a Muslim first.” However, when someone says “I am a Muslim-American” their primary identity is American, but in a flimsy way, in that their Americaness is altered by their Muslim identity.

This is because in English, nouns when working as an adjective always come first or before the noun it is describing. [i]

Furthermore, because “American” identity is constantly in flux and it refers to one's culture and nationalism it does not have to conflict with religious practice. In other words accepting that there is a conflict or that your Muslim identity is 'first' is a charade that falls into the traps set by anti-Muslims and Muslim radicals.

However, if you use the construction American Muslim, what differentiates you from other Muslims is your nationality, not your practice of Islam. This is factual and it places creed and culture in their proper roles. What actually differentiates us from other Americans is our creed, the blessing of Islamic monotheism, and we should be proud of that.

Then we have the next question, is our status as a Muslim modified by our status as an American?

A better way to understand this is to divide the question into two:

1) What kind of Muslim are we? Meaning, where are you from?

The problem here is that it is assumed that you must be from somewhere else, foreign, i.e. an “other.”

2) What kind of American are we? Meaning, how do you self-identify as an American (racially, culturally, etc.)?

Answer to 1: For me, as a convert, I am an American kind of Muslim, I am from here just like everyone else whose ancestors immigrated.

Answer to 2: I am also an American (citizen) kind of American in that I will not accept a second class citizenship status relative to anyone else. It also means that I will not try to impose a second class citizenship status on any other American.

So, how do we see ourselves? How will we communicate who we are to others?

As Muslims we are grappling with defamation. We naturally look to history and other communities to learn from their experience. However, one area that makes Muslims truly unique is our diversity. We have intersecting identities. We are racially, culturally, politically and devotionally diverse. This point is crucial to combating anti-Muslim hate, because few if any other faith communities are as diverse, at such significant levels as Muslims in the U.S. are.

The key here is that “Muslim” does not indicate a racial background. If we racialize[ii] our identity we buy into the hyphenated status as an American and therefore in many ways accept the”otherness” that is pushed on us. More importantly, we will be turning our backs on the legacy our faith. Islam came to break tribalism; the Prophet's last sermon, as well as so many hadith clearly show that the status of a Muslim is related to that person's relationship with Allah and their individual character and not their lineage.

We should gravitate toward American Muslim. That is, “American Muslim with no hyphen, because the hyphen model of identity is primarily used with regards to one's ethnic or racial lineage.

Generally racial groups go with the formula: X + hyphen + American = “X- American” where X can be anything like African, Hispanic, Latino, Italian and etc.

History shows that to be a citizen of the United States one used to have to be legally defined as “white,” a created racial status.[iii] Using a hyphenated racial identity, should then be seen as flowing from a legacy of being by default, un-equal before the law. However, that is not the charge against American Muslims, it is instead that we are a threat. Fear mongers even claim that American Muslims are using the law for a nefarious agenda (Google “shariah creep”). Therefore the language of X-American is not only the wrong tool for our challenges, it may also feed into the fifth column defamation used against us.

It says a lot about how we see ourselves if we use construction X- American, (the racial/cultural model) like Lebanese-Americans, Mexican-Americans, and etc. use. If we use this label then we are making a claim to something about our racial and/or ethnic lineage. If we try to impose that type of identity on what it means to accept Islam, then we are empowering the message that being Muslim is exclusive by a measure that is foreign to our theology.

Being a Muslim is exclusive because of who you worship, who you don't worship, how you worship and where you seek guidance, there is no ethnic or racial measure.

Another demonstration of this idea is found in the common saying, “Not all Muslims are terrorists.” This is today's equivalent to saying, “I have black friends.” In both of these claims (often used as precursors to stereotyping) the core element is that there is a distinction that separates the identity of the group being spoken about from the rest of that society. This is a step backward into neotribalism.

It should also be noted that an established standard for religious groupings is the “American + X” pattern. Test it with a quick Google search. Try: “African + American,” then “American + African.” Now do another search changing a racial grouping for a faith grouping: try for example: “American + Catholic,” “American + Jewish” or America + X (X = faith/religion).

Catholics are a faith community that closely resembles American Muslims in terms of ethnic diversity as well as historical and current PR challenges. They have decidedly embraced the phrasing of “American Catholics” in all their messaging.

Baptists are another faith community with some commonality to Suni Muslims in regard to the community structure being built around each individual house of worship. Baptists also follow this model of self definition. This is consistent at both the state and national levels. Baptist use “American Baptist” consistently. Locally, in my neck of the woods they use “Texas Baptists.” (see how the BGCT describes its members.)

Will using American Muslim over Muslim-American solve all our problems? Will it stop anti-Muslim activists from attacking us? No, but it will help. It rejects the foundational attacks that Muslims are not REAL Americans and that Islam is a threat to America.

We must realize that what we say and how we define ourselves are the only parts of the conversation about Islam and Muslims that we can actually control.

In my view it is more natural for our community's psyche to make peace with the fact that our American identity is not necessarily modified by our Muslim identity, nor is the opposite necessarily true either. In other words we have multiple identities. If you are an American, that is a fact, it is one part of your total identity. It is the part that pertains to your nationality and some elements of your culture. If you are a Muslim, that is your religious identity, a choice you make due to Allah's Mercy and Guidance. This means any American can be a Muslim. It places our faith as a set of beliefs and values that gives us a source of: morality, guidance, pride and the confidence to share our beliefs, talents and gifts with all Americans.  The other way is not so attractive.


[i] http://www.englishclub.com/grammar/nouns-adjective.htm & http://www.brighthub.com/education/languages/articles/37060.aspx

[ii] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/racialize

About The Author

PR Consultant

Paul "Iesa" Galloway is a native born Texan. He was recently called "the Yoda of interfaith affairs" by a colleague from his daytime gig. After hours Iesa serves as a consultant, messaging strategist and trainer on media, government and community relations. Iesa is a product of the "Military Brat" experience of the 1990's on US Army bases in Germany he has traveled extensively, for extended periods in Kenya, Hungary and Communist Poland on missionary trips, visited Communist East Germany with the Boy Scouts of America, as well as enjoyed time in France, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Holland and Austria. Since embracing Islam, Iesa was asked to be the founding Executive Director of CAIR-Houston, where he served the community from 2002 to 2006, he has completed the Hajj pilgrimage, participated in an interfaith pilgrimage to the Holy Land with the Society for Biblical Studies and completed a study abroad program on the history of Islamic Spain, Morocco and Andalusian Philosophy with the University of Houston. Iesa's education is rooted in History and Public Relations and he has a interfaith and multiracial background.

37 Responses

  1. Carlos

    Let’s not forget that, before any other adjective or noun we use to describe ourselves, the basic reality that is absolutely beyond any doubt is that we are all humans. Every other term we use to describe ourselves is more of an artificial construct we impose upon ourselves.

    Religion, nationalism, ethnocentrism and tribalism create the “us” and “them” that divide peoples. Our common humanity is what binds all of us.

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  2. Shabbeer

    The core of the issue is that why do we call somebody american muslim, arab muslim, indian muslim, african muslim or any other sort of muslim….muslim is your identity and american or saudi or india or south africa is your nationality. Now nations were built later than religions for very political reason. Further religion is a way of life, while a nation is not although a nation in general can have certain poilicies which can change over the period of time. Therefore attaching muslim to american or any other nation does not really make any sense. The only concern then is weather any restrictions exist for being a muslim in america or saudi or china or japan. If so then you are left with two options. One is to change Islam to adopt to the countries laws/culture/traditon. Then u become the-nation-muslim because you are no more the original muslim but a modified version due to certain reasons. The second option is to remain muslim regardless of the nation. Then you are just muslim all along. In the US you can be a muslim without being americanised, and in india u can be one without indianized. So this idea of nation-muslim shouldnt really occur. I believe we should let go ourselves of this thought of superiority because of our nations and be muslims as a whole. That ofcourse is my personal opinion, others might differ.

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    • Greg Abdur Rahman

      you have to modify your behavior to fit where you live. If you live in Africa in a tribal area, you can not behave the same exact way you would if you were to live in New York City. As Muslims we are rational and this is a teaching of Imam Shafii

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      • Ele

        If we have to change to suit where we live then Islam may not be regarded as a way of life anymore. Rather Islam is our way of life and determines how we live irrespective of our geographical location.

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    • Iesa Galloway

      Asalaam Alaikum Shabbeer,

      I think that you are missing my point entirely. As a person you can be from a race and be a Muslim. It does not change Islam to be from a particular race. So to as a individual you are born into a nationality. Being from a nationality does not change Islam. The idea is to separate the Islam and Muslims for they are not the same thing.

      Even the pious first three generations knew what tribe everyone was from. This is not a problem unless you fall into the trap of believing that you are better or worse than someone else merely because of to whom you were born or where your birth was. None of these parts of your identity change Islam.

      Look whether you prefer daal, humus or refried beans all could make you somewhat localized to a region or culture, but that doesn’t effect your “Muslimness.” :)

      Iesa

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      • Shabbeer

        Wa alaikum assalam Iesa

        I totally agree with you…i was trying to hint at the point that in most of the countries when we refer to our nationality its a way of saying i am better than somebody else. I am not quite sure if you have ever come across that context.

        The pious generations knew which tribes each of them came from. I agree. But these were not connected with thier superiority over other. If anybody was considered worthier they were so because of what they had done for Islam and Muslims. The fact that Arabs kept detailed records of their histroy and lineage is important in other senses too, but that is a different topic altogether.

        Perhaps the question is what defines Arabness? Is it just loving Mandi and Humus and wearing dishdasha, then i its quite hamless to say Arab Muslim….but if it is I-am-Arab-and-I-am-different-i-know-islam-more-than-u attitude, then its bad….

        Peace…

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      • Salaams

        @ Iesa

        As an African Caribbean revert Muslim in the UK, the article I’ve been hoping for Muslimmatters to clarify in detail is this issue of Islam’s position regarding ethnicity and community – once and for all. Sheikh Yasir said a month or two ago he would write on this issue but the article is still yet to be published. One of the strongest sentiments amongst many African Caribbeans and African Americans is that there is no such thing as tribe, race, ethnicty or identity in Islam we are ‘just muslim’ and that’s it – Khalas. The sheer amount of evidence from the Qur’an, ahadeeth, Islamic history, plain common sense and life reality against this notion is simply phenomenal.

        The problem of the pervasiveness of this ‘no culture’ attitude is that the myriad of problems that exist amongst African Caribbeans Muslims are never allowed to be addressed. Discussion of race or culture is declared ‘tribalism’ and ‘nationalism’. However, based upon our history of being dislocated from Africa we lack genuine families let alone having tribes to be tribalistic. My observation is that the children of old school brothers from the 80s and 90s who were spouting slogans (such as ‘No Scholars in the West’ ‘Make hijrah’ ‘Culture is haram’ etc) are now creating a ‘Culture’ of their own based upon gangs and hip hop. This is because no balanced Islamic and ethnic culture was presented to them due to the Culture of Denial.

        More than anything I’d like Muslimmatters to write an article clarfying this issue as there are some Muslims who really need this message of the importance of Community and Families in order to begin establishing families and communities. From the perspective of people from established Muslim communities (what you call in America Immigrant Muslims) this is a call to emphasise ethnic and racial differences and is a call to Jahiliyah. That is perfectly understandable. However those from established Muslim communities often have: 1) a solid immediate family 2) a close extended familiy, 3) a genuine community 4) a tribal identity , 5) a national identity and 6) an ethno linguistic fraternity. These layers of identity and ethno cultural support and fraternity are virtually non existent for most African Caribbbeans reverts.

        It is sad that due to faulty hardline literalist fiqh teachings (that Islam has no room for cultural identity and community) we are not given the tools to develop these layers of identity and ethno cultural support and fraternity that are so desparatly needed in order to preserve our Islam. I guess this is the type of problem that affects many in the African American communities as well, therefore I think its about time that Muslimmatters devoted a detailed and thorough article with Islamic daleel to clarify this issue once and for all

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      • Iesa Galloway

        Asalaam Alaikum Salaams,

        I look forward to one of our scholars deepening our education about Islam’s teachings with regard to community, culture, race ethnicity and the status of “the Ummah” as well.

        I believe that you are mixing a few similar concepts. I think anyone who would say that Islam has no culture should be more precise in their choice of words. I have made this mistake myself while trying to tell people that one can have a South Asian or a Chinese or any cultural orientation and still be 100% Muslim.

        Culture is too vague a term and needs a lot of context see: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/culture

        One definition from above (there are 10) is that culture is the behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic, or age group: the youth culture; the drug culture. that seems to fit Islam as it in this case means behaviors and beliefs.

        However, if another definition from the above link was intended say, that culture means a particular form or stage of civilization, as that of a certain nation or period: Greek culture. Islam would not be able to fit this definition in any sense as it spans these criteria and always has, remember among the companions were Africans and Persians.

        No doubt, descendants of the slave trade have unique issues and I would highly recommend that you look up Dr. Sherman Jackson as he has studied and written at scholarly levels about many of these issues with a depth and understanding that is truly impressive and enlightening.

        It is sad that as a community we often allow ourselves to self separate along ethnic lines… however I would say this, in my experience I have been embraced by many peoples from many backgrounds as an equal and as truly loved for the sake of Allah alone, and I firmly believe that Islam is unique in its ability to heal devisions among peoples and create real, lasting and meaningful brother/sisterhood in its place.

        Iesa

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      • Salaams

        @ Iesa

        Jezakallahu khayr for responding brother. I really appreciated your response. Inshallah I’ll look further into Dr Jackson’s works. One of the limitations (I say this very carefully annd humbly) of Dr Jackson’s works are that they are so intellectually profound and heavyweight (he’s an amazing aalim) that it’s hard to relate it directly and practically to the target audience he seems key to address (the descendants of slaves). As I indicated above many people from my community like slogans, catchphrases, ahadeeth etc and most are quite simply simple folk who are passionate. The style of articles and writing in Muslimmatters would be more beneficial to such an audience.

        In reference to your statement:

        I look forward to one of our scholars deepening our education about Islam’s teachings with regard to community, culture, race ethnicity and the status of “the Ummah” as well.

        One of the reasons I wrote what I said above is that it was kind of a plea from the heart that perhaps one of the numerous Islamic writers (such as yourself) who appear on Muslimmatters could be prompted or could prompt other more qualified or more able aalims to discuss this issue in Muslimmatters. A number of other topics such as the permissibility of Cheese , protests etc have ben coveredin great depth because it was felt that there would be people who could benefit. I think the millions of Muslims in western societies could greatly benefit from such a topic being addrressed in an easy read and practical manner by Muslimmatters. I’m not qualified to cover such a topic but feel confident that someone in Muslimmatters can do it.

        You also said:

        It is sad that as a community we often allow ourselves to self separate along ethnic lines…

        N.B. – 1) As a Muslim I condemn and seek to disassociate myself completely from division and rancour and tribalism and hope for greater meaningful brotherhood amongst Muslims. 2) I also hope that new Muslims from my community can reduce the level of disdain and hatred for each other and inability to form any real families or networks because of hundreds of years of experimentation and bondage. I just don’t think that encouraging and achieving both of these two are mutually exclusive. When you don’t have a real or meaningful family or community I think it’s only fair that we be helped and encouraged by those who do have these to develop these in our new found faith. Umar Lee made reference to this when he mentioned how AlMaghrib has distanced itself from the inner cities and those of intellectually, academically and financially disadvantaged backgrounds.

        I hope you hear my impassioned plea and I hope it prompts you to nudge one of the other aalims from Muslimmatters, Al Kauthar, Al Maghrib etc perhaps to redress what I perceive to be an imbalance. I love and support Muslimmatters and hope it hears my feedback and takes the essence of my message.

        May Allah preserve and protect you and set your affairs in order.

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      • Salaams

        @ Iesa this is a follow up to my previous post at 4:04pm

        Amad referred to Umar Lee’s point in this post:

        http://amadsden.blogspot.com/2007/02/almaghrib-scholarships-for-converts.html

        I just think that beyond giving scholarships how about Muslimmatters & Al Maghrib help intellectually to foster one of the many elements that is missing amongst the convert Muslims? This element is an awareness of what their faith says about reconciling a lack of identity, family, community, networks etc. The discussion about building an indegenous American Muslim identity you wrote about above hinges around many of the same types of issues.

        We do not have the luxury of having intellectuals such as Yasir Qadhi and Muhammad Shareef who can translate the Quran, Sunnah, Seerah and lives of the companions in ways that empower us and help us to grow in the west. (you may argue that we do but I’ve searched high for the evidence and can’t find it). Perhaps they can share their wisdom with others who will take their wisdom and benefit others by it beyond just giving scholarships.

        I’m really sorry to write in this way and I don’t want to sound aggresive but I see this as a golden opportunity to try and leave an impression so that something will actually be done.

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    • shariahaisha

      Alhamdulilah brother I agree with you. In the UK, we’ve simplified it to saying we are muslim first, british second. Obviously nationality is neccessary and we can distinguish between that. There are a lot of good things to be learnt from different cultures whether it be languages, food, art etc. But when it comes to aspects of culture or values, whether it be Western or Eastern, that go against Islam such as freedom, then we reject that as it contradicts Islam. We know we are answerable only to Allah (swt) and if we choose to be muslims, we cannot not perform some of our actions towards him. As muslims we should stand firm against all attempts to modify Islam, regardless of where it comes from. I’m glad this debate has started in the US as I’ve met too many people who are ready to change Islam to fit into America. Inshallah it will continue and productive lessons for everyone all around the world will result of it.

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      • Iesa Galloway

        @ Salaams,

        I feel you regarding convert issues. I was blessed that I was adopted by a family and community as one of them when I took my shahada (declaration of faith).

        I also benefit from being in a very big city with a lot of Muslims.

        I will pass your comments to the students of knowledge and scholars who contribute to MuslimMatters.

        Insha’Allah (God willing) this helps: what I have noticed about myself as a Muslim and I have seen similar development in many of the brothers and their families who came to Islam around the same time as I did, is that we are all gradually becoming more and more comfortable in our ethnic backgrounds, (I am Scotch-Irish and Mexican, others are purely Latinos, others Black, and etc…) we all see each other at the masajid or at events and there is a genuine love for one another and appreciation for each others unique backgrounds. My Columbian brothers have always been keen to share their culture and food as do I with the community at large. I remember before I was married at a smaller masjid we would do pot luck style iftars (fast breaking meal) for Ramadan, i would bring TX style chilli. I have had “cook up” from my brothers that are rooted in the Caribbean and I often make halal enchiladas for folks.

        While this will sound like a platitude I think it is good advice. Do you. Embrace all the beauty from your culture and remove any haram from how you celebrate it. Make sure that you do celebrate who you are where you come from and your heritage, and DO NOT make it exclusive.

        A major common ground between the converts I know is that we all strive to separate culture from the deen (religion/way of life) as well learn to navigate all the immigrant American Muslims as well as those who accepted orthodox Islam from having roots in the Nation of Islam.

        Another blessing we all have is ready access to students of knowledge that are comfortable thinking about establishing Islam locally rather than importing some other cultures practices.

        May Allah guide us to what pleases Him and forgive our mistakes! May Allah make you a source of Khair (Goodness) in your community and expedite your quest for knowledge with what is best!

        Iesa

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      • Salaams

        @ Iesa

        jezakallahu khayr. It was interesting to discover your a fellow convert. I should have realised from your surname. Here in the Uk we have a very famous ‘Galloway’ politician (google him) who supports Muslims and their causes.

        I will pass your comments to the students of knowledge and scholars who contribute to MuslimMatters.

        If any such material is eventually produced by any aalims from Muslimmatters please don’t hesitate to notify/email me through the email address I’ve used. Thanks for your naseehah – I’ll try to implement it. May Allah bless you.

        As salaamu alaykum wa rahmatullah

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  3. iMuslim

    We have a similar debate in the UK: “what does it mean to be British?”. The term ‘British’ is somewhat misleading, as it represents an amalgamation of four unique cultures: English, Scottish, Irish and Welsh. And that’s ignoring the existing and older colonies of the Empire.

    That’s why I get miffed when people refer to a ‘British’ accent, as there really is no such thing! :)

    In terms of adjectives and nouns, there is only one combination in circulation: British Muslim. But again, what it means to be British is a huge question mark.

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    • Iesa Galloway

      Just getting “miffed” makes you a brit :)

      Really though, in the UK you listed 4 different racial/cultural identities that each actually have some solid meaning to it. A Indian immigrant to the UK may be accepted as “British” but would they ever be accepted as Welsh?

      You see European settlers gave up that distinct racial, regional and cultural identity to be “white” in America and then being “white” as a prerequisite to citizenship and all of its benefits lost its legal frame work and what it means to be an “American” has been in limbo ever since. I would think that what it means to be Welsh is a totally different story and probably has a lot to do with who your mother and father are.

      Iesa

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  4. Safia Farole

    This topic of semantics and how we as Muslims living in American define ourselves is very fascinating. I think Iesa has convinced me to stop using the term Muslim American and instead use American Muslims!

    Great job.

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  5. M

    This is awesome stuff. I always wondered what the significance was between Muslim-American and American Muslim.

    I feel like a lot of people who ask me “where are you from” simply are not that interested in my hometown but rather the country my parents immigrated from.

    Thank you for explaining.

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  6. FSN

    Great analysis and showing the evidence. Thank you for your efforts.

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  7. Greg Abdur Rahman

    as salaam alaikum,

    I was a little confused about a point or two above, but overall I agree with you. We should not call ourselves Muslim Americans. If you are a Muslim with a fundamental understanding of Islam, then you know you are a Muslim above all else. It doesn’t matter what country you are in. It doesn’t matter what your deen was or what your primary identity was. If you give yourself to Allah and His messenger, nothing else comes in front of that. In American English, that primary identity is the last one. Which word comes first and which comes second is not the real debate in the US. The real debate is about what Islam really stands for. Many of us are caught in the middle between Muslims who don’t follow the law of the land (like polygamists practicing and living where it is banned) and those who are “secular” or “Quran only,” for me and for those who teach me, it is the height of ignorance to believe you have even a basic knowledge of Islam and not practice the Sunnah. So there is confusion because the media highlights the lawbreakers who call themselves Muslim. The business place favors Muslims who don’t constantly ask for Friday off, who drink, go to office parties and bars and who mix freely with the opposite sex. So we who are in the middle are suppressed and ignored and this is the primary cause of Islam being misdefined. That’s the issue. What is true Islam? We know. A five-year-old Muslim kid knows. Because of the anti-Muslim bias in America, most Americans do not know what Islam really is and they are misinformed on a daily basis. What you call yourself, as a Muslim living in America, is not as important as where you stand on the ‘illegal acts. –practice -name only’ spectrum …..and how you advertise that to others.

    Peace and blessings be upon the messenger of Allah

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  8. Junaid

    Asalamu Alaykum all,

    The moment we feel the need that we have to prove to somone that we are as “American” or “Canadian” as they are or that we are a citizen, we’ve already lost the debate. The question is invalid, and Muslims should not have to prove our loyalties to anybody. We should dismiss such debates such as this. In my opinion they are more harmful than good, and drawing attention to such matters, even though the article was well thought-out and well-articulated, it draws attention to a matter that should have never been framed from the beginning.

    In my opinion, I’m just a “Muslim.” If that stirs up uncomfort with some people, they probably lack knowledge as to what being a Muslim means. And so that’s the starting point, explaining Islam and the Muslim identity.

    Lastly, it’s important to point out that while being anti-loyal, anti-law, and anarchist is one form of extremism, being over-loyal and a blind-follower of one’s country is another form of extremism. Muslims need to be in the middle. We follow the laws, but also we aren’t afraid to question our government’s actions. Otherwise, too much patriotism results in a citizens overlooking the evil its government commits like in Nazi Germany (as a side note, watch the documentary “century of the self”).

    JazakAllah Khair

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    • Iesa Galloway

      I would also think that when the situation has no real need to look at or be specifically connected to your faith we should be comfortable just being a American then too right?

      What I mean is if a neighbor of yours is a Hindu, are you going to say that Hindu is my neighbor or just that person is my neighbor?

      I understand where you are coming from but frankly it is very unrealistic. There is a very heated conversation about our community with people on every possible side trying to shape the future for Muslims in America.

      The whole concept of an Ummah is rooted in our bond of brother/sisterhood in faith with other Muslims. We are both a unique international demographic and a very diverse group with many, many sub groups among ourselves at national, regional and local levels. Because of this and like all other people we have to be able to function both collectively at all of these levels as well as individually.

      I completely agree with you about balance and taking the middle path though! Islam should guide and reinforce our moral conscious so that we can challenge injustice.

      Iesa

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  9. Amy

    I went through the noun-adjective argument with myself a while back, and I’m not convinced that it’s not possible for both words (American; Muslim) to serve as adjectives–whichever comes first behaves as an adjective. I don’t think it comments on one’s Americanness or one’s Muslimness, though.

    I actually wrote a similar (albeit much shorter) post to this one regarding my thoughts on the terms, based on a statement I heard from someone that he was an “American Muslim, in that order.” If anyone is looking for more reading on the subject, I’d appreciate comments.

    http://ibnatalhidayah.blogspot.com/2011/03/in-what-order.html

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    • Iesa Galloway

      Asalaam Alaikum Amy,

      I REALLY like the point you are making in your post, that there is not a conflict between your Americanness or your Muslimness, I agree with this understanding and I hope that is clear in my piece.

      However, I am also approaching this from a communications perspective and this piece is also intended for those of us who have to interface with the mass-media by commenting and/or representing Islam and Muslims at some level.

      Because our faith is unique in that we have the two terms Islam for the religion, and Muslim for the people in most cases Muslim has to be a noun.

      Although you could say that a “Muslim insha’Allah” (if God makes a miracle happen I will do it) is different from an “Islamic Insha’Allah” (I will try my best to do it) and that would be a example of Muslim as a adjective.

      The underlying idea that your piece and mine are discussing is where do we draw the lines between Islam and Muslims… other communities have a lot to teach us with regards to these questions, so do the rules of English.

      In your piece you stated that forcing the two words together in the order of “American Muslim” undermined Islam, please read the links I included in the foot notes and you will see that the opposite is true. This is why semantics matter and we should build our messaging with thought and understanding of the language we use and who our audiences are.

      JazakAllahu Khairan,

      Iesa

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      • Amy

        Wa alaykum as-salaam

        Thanks for reading and following up. I’m not sure that just saying “American Muslim” undermines either, but that sometimes a speaker/writer might try to unfairly force a conflict between the two. That wouldn’t treat the two terms as separate parts of one’s identity but instead as though they require a specific order to determine which takes priority.

        But from your perspective, I think I can see how saying “Muslim American” might cause a problem for the American psyche, where it’s the perceptions of the listener/reader we need to concern ourselves with.

        “It rejects the foundational attacks that Muslims are not REAL Americans and that Islam is a threat to America.”

        Since that is the sinister message underlying many attacks on Muslims and Islam, then sticking to “American Muslim” definitely makes sense.

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  10. AbdulMujeeb

    Well, i guess I’m no longer a member of silent majority. coincidentally I’m reading Muhammad Ali’s autobiography titled ‘THE GREATEST’ no doubt Islamophobia exists and it’s not 9/11 that brought about that. on page 124 of the book ‘THE GREATEST’ , I quote McDonald’s words when he wanted to call off the fight between Muhammad Ali and Liston because he was a member of the nation of Islam. McDonald said and I quote”… You’ll go to on TV this evening.You’ll tell the world you’re not a ‘‘black Muslim”. You haven’t joined anything.You’ve been misquoted You’re a true patriotic loyal American….”
    This was quoted long before the 9/11 incident. The question is CAN ONE BE AN AMERICAN AND BE A MUSLIM?

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    • Iesa Galloway

      Asalaam Alaikum AbdulMujeeb,

      I am not sure I am understanding your comment. If I am understanding you, your point is that some people have always assumed that being Muslim and American are at odds?

      About being a “true patriotic loyal American” during Muhammad Ali’s prime you must remember that the Nation of Islam (who referred to their members as “black Muslims”) was a black nationalist/separatist movement… and during the hight of the civil rights struggle the climate and issues of patriotism were hotly contested. I would venture to say that the identity of a “black Muslim” was a bit more of a separatist racial identity than a religious one in most outsiders eyes.

      The key here is the word separatist. If someone is advocating for a separate state or governance within a established society it is easy to call that movement unpatriotic and not loyal.

      Unless you come from nowhere, a part of your identity is where you are from in a regional or national sense. So your question IN ALL CAPS is now dependent on how you define an American.

      This is a key point to my article. How do we see ourselves and how do we see ourselves in relationship to our neighbors, families and etc… What I am asserting is to be equal to anyone, you have to believe it first.

      Iesa

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  11. AbdulMujeeb

    @Iesa Galloway, jzk for re-educating me, but last year when Anwar Al-Awlaki said all Muslims should kill Americans(well I hope this wasn’t true), i wondered what it meant, is it that could not be an American and also a Muslim? or you could not be an American Muslim and join the United States Armed Forces? I often try to make people understand that America is not an enemy to Islam but the United States government could be(and this could be temporary). A government is usually different from its people. How many people like the Government of their country anyway? looking @ the Seerah there was a time that Persia was @ war with Muslims but today the Persian lands are what are known as Muslim countries. Bush, Obama could even become Muslims(Allah guides whom he wills). Sometimes I wonder how i would feel if I was an American during a Khutabah and the Khatib starts talking bad about America saying statements like ‘America is the enemy ‘. Why coudn’t He add government to the word America. I try to tell Muslims that AMERICA IS NOT THE ENEMY. The Muslims have ONLY ONE ENEMY and HIS name HIS IBLEES. This one enemy comes in different forms and when I look 2 the state of the Ummah. I think Iblees his doing a very good job.

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  12. Arif Kabir

    Awesome to see someone writing a full article on semantics. I thought I was the only one that cringes when the wrong terminology is used :)

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  13. Muslim-American or American Muslims? Here is Why It Matters… | Islamic Society of Western Massachusetts

    […] In my view it is more natural for our community’s psyche to make peace with the fact that our American identity is not necessarily modified by our Muslim identity, nor is the opposite necessarily true either. In other words we have multiple identities. If you are an American, that is a fact, it is one part of your total identity. It is the part that pertains to your nationality and some elements of your culture. If you are a Muslim, that is your religious identity, a choice you make due to Allah’s Mercy and Guidance. This means any American can be a Muslim. It places our faith as a set of beliefs and values that gives us a source of: morality, guidance, pride and the confidence to share our beliefs, talents and gifts with all Americans.  The other way is not so attractive. Source […]

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