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BBC TwoThis World


Last Updated: Monday, 14 March 2005, 13:53 GMT
Muslim American: A new identity?
By Ruhi Hamid
Producer of It's My Country Too

Islam is one of the fastest growing religions in the US, yet one in four Americans regard Muslims living among them with suspicion. What does it mean to be both Muslim and American?

Salman Ahmed
Salman Ahmed uses music to reach out to young Muslim Americans

Touring the US with his band Junoon, rock star and Muslim American, Salman Ahmed, wanted to find out how the aftermath of 9/11 continues to shape the lives of Muslim Americans in 2005.

"Following the attack," he says, "there were human rights abuses against Muslims, using immigration violations as a weapon. Thousands have been detained and others deported."

One month after the attacks on New York and Washington, Congress rushed the Patriot Act into law to help track down terrorists.

"The Act gave the FBI the right to spy on American citizens, to look into our lives, our email, and even our library records," he says.

Even though the hijackers who attacked the Twin Towers in September 2001 represented a militant fringe, some Americans have blamed the entire Muslim world.

And the claims made by terrorists, that they acted in the name of Islam, have outraged many Muslims.

Attacking fear

Salman met Shereef Akeel, a contracts lawyer whose life had been "turned upside down since 9/11."

The more mainstream America hears the moderate voices, the less suspicious they'll be
Azhar Usman

Shereef says he has been defending students and people who have lost their jobs and been intimidated just because their name is Mohammed, or because they are Pakistani or simply Muslim.

"This is my country, but it is a difficult time. It's a sad time. It's difficult to be a Muslim here - for all of us," he says.

So, how should the Muslim American community challenge suspicious minds in the US?

Former lawyer, Azhar Usman, believes the answer lies in comedy.

Currently touring the US with the show Allah Made Me Funny, Azhar is convinced that many Americans want to hear from moderate voices.

"The more mainstream America hears the moderate voices, the less suspicious they'll be," he says.

"We as American Muslims must stand up, be proud of who we are, and be people who say unequivocally and enthusiastically, that we're American Muslim."

However, he is also critical of his own community. He says: "Our problem as a community is that we're very isolationist. We don't want to get out there and make bridges with people, connect with people."

Polarised America

There is a stirring in Muslim communities. A new breed of activists driven by anger and injustice against Muslims, both at home and abroad, is on the move.

The US election in 2004 captured the attention of Muslim Americans like never before and brought them back into politics

The war on terror at home, the invasion of Iraq and the Abu Ghraib scandal are just some of the issues that drive them.

In the aftermath of the terror attacks, Muslims retreated from local and state politics to an astonishing degree: more than 90% of Muslim politicians were no longer in office by 2002.

However, the US election in 2004 captured the attention of this community like never before and brought them back into politics.

Mosques and Islamic organisations were urging Muslims to exercise their right to vote.

Traditionally, Muslims have voted Republican because of their emphasis on moral values, but in 2004 many considered switching to the Democrats, hoping they would be less of a threat to Muslims both in America and abroad.


From left to right: Dr Hasan, Laura Bush, George Bush, Seeme Hasan
Dr and Seeme Hasan have some powerful friends in Washington

Salman decided to visit his aunt, Seeme Hasan. Seeme and her husband Dr Hasan remain staunch supporters of President Bush.

Not only do they get personal birthday wishes from the president, but they are also regular guests at his ranch in Texas.

So strong are their convictions for Bush that they set up Muslims for Bush, a website that encouraged Muslims to vote Bush into office for a second term.

While most Muslims were unhappy with Bush's war in Iraq, Seeme believes that Bush is good for Muslims and unquestioningly supports his actions.

"Personally I wanted to invade Iraq," she tells Salman, "because I think if there is a country that will not allow us into its borders and it has the money and the reasoning to attack the US, then we have to go in."

Salman believes that courage, determination and hard work is where the future lies for Muslim Americans, no matter where their political allegiances lie.

"Unlike some other parts of the world where Muslims seem to see themselves just as victims," he says, "Muslim Americans are fighting for their rights and blending Islam with a modern American identity.

"They don't want to be tolerated in their adopted country, they want to be accepted for what they are, Americans who just happen to be Muslims."

It's My Country Too was broadcast in the UK on Tuesday, 15 March, 2005 at 2100 GMT on BBC Two.

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