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Are We Really A Minority? Muslims in the West Are More Prevalent Than You Think

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The term “minority” is thought-provoking and complex. What exactly is a minority? Do numbers or percentages contribute to a minority status? Or are minorities simply those at a disadvantage in a society?

Women in the West today are viewed as minorities. This is not due to sheer numbers, for women constitute more than half the population. Women are viewed as a minority simply because they have been at a disadvantage historically. They have faced much turmoil in the West with respect to attaining rights and privileges, and are at the forefront of challenging sexual and gender discrimination. Muslims, too, are a minority in the West. In the U. S. we number at an estimated 2% of the population. Yet such numbers require careful consideration.

Bakersfield, California is a city that provides a good case study example. The city boasts diversity and is growing immensely. As one of the fastest growing cities in the nation, it attracts people from across the country and the world. This of course, includes Muslims.
Muslim women are easily seen throughout the Bakersfield area. It has become all too common to see women wearing head scarves while shopping or driving around. Muslim women are also seen in high school and college campuses, studying and hard at work.

At the local university, California State University, Bakersfield, Muslim students have been quoted as numbering over 200 individuals out of a total student population of about 6,000 students. There is an active Muslim Students’ Association, though usually no more than ten people show up to weekly meetings.

On Fridays, the number of Muslim men (and women) who show up for Friday prayer is miniscule; usually no more than five or six men are evident.

At the local mosque, the women’s area rarely reaches full capacity. This is true even on Fridays and during Rama’daan. For Ramad’aan If’taars, only a handful of women are seen in the mosque. And it always the same women one sees at the masjid.

Yet this is also true of the men. Approximately 10% of the Muslim male population frequently attends the mosque. A local Imaam recently commented that only 25% of Muslim men attend Friday prayers. Attending Friday prayers is an obligation upon all Muslim men!

When attending classes at the local university, I have seen so many Muslims enrolled in those classes. Many of the foreign exchange students come from Muslim countries.

I have met Muslims from literally every corner of the globe -I must constantly remind myself that the people of the Muslim Oummah vary in their features and skin tones. The young, fair Russian lady in one of my communications classes-- who was quite vocal and outspoken in class - I came to discover, was a Muslim.

The most popular math tutor in the tutoring centre, is also a Muslim. The chair of the Business and Accounting department, is a Muslim man; the very best math students are those of Indian background, and are coincidently Muslims; the star swimmer on the women’s swim team, a Muslim girl from Turkey!

You cannot tell if a person is a Muslim simply by looking at them. You cannot tell by their name, occupation, or socio-economic status. With the movement of Muslims across towns, cities, and countries; with the rise in the number of converts, one cannot make conclusions simply by “looking at someone.”

And yet many a time, I have met people who have Muslim ancestry. I have stumbled across people of Iranian or Turkish ancestry-a likely indication of Muslim decent-who are now Christians. I have met people with names such as “Aishah” and “Bilaal” who are not Muslims, yet trace their lineage to Africa and the Caribbean.

Of course, there are also the children born to a parent or parents who are Muslim, yet know little about their religion. They don’t even know what Islaam is. Generation after generation, people can lose light of who they are and where they come from. People can also lose their faith.

The number of practising Muslims is surely the minority out of the total number of Muslims in the West. There are degrees of religiosity easily witnessed among Muslims here. Some will not eat pork but will drink; some see no harm in dating and pre-marital relations; some rarely venture into the mosque or attend Islaamic events.

Still others have little or no association with Muslims out of distrust or fear! There are plenty of Muslims-by-name who claim to be culturally Muslims, yet do not practice Islaam regularly in their lives.

Though the actual number of Muslims in the United States is definitive, there are definitely more than the estimated 10 million. Factors such as the slightly higher birthrate among Muslim women (especially Arabs) and conversions must also be considered.

One cannot simply go to the mosque, find a certain number of people there, and equate it with the number of Muslims in a city or town. The city of Bakersfield, for example, has many more Muslims than those who go regularly to the mosque.

The very meaning of the word “minority” is subtle and calls for attention. Though Muslims may be minorities numerically, our values transcends times and peoples. Our values -values such as honesty, loyalty, and integrity -are prized among the majority of all peoples.

The European Islaamic scholar Tariq Ramadan holds to the belief that Muslims should present Islaam as a universal message in the West.

He contends that Muslims should stop trying to hide their identities and take active roles in their communities. Only then will we be able to rise out of our presence as numerical minorities, and perhaps encourage others to join us in our faith.

Those who shunned or hid their religion can go back to the religion of their forefathers. And all others, despite their race or ethnic background; their previous religious convictions; their former lifestyles, can return to the religion of Fi’trah: the religion of Islaam.
Eman M. Shurbaji -
Eman Shurbaji is a junior student at California State University,Bakersfield.Read More >>


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