CRESCENT MOON RISING
THE ISLAMIC TRANSFORMATION OF AMERICA
By PAUL L. WILLIAMS
Copyright © 2013 Paul L. Willliams
All right reserved.
THE SEA OF CHANGE
"The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there."
So begins The Go-Between, L. P. Hartley's classic novel. For proof of this claim, let's journey back to 1975. The leading bestselling books of this year are Sylvia Porter's Money Book, E. L. Doctorow's Ragtime, Theodore H. White's Breach of Faith, and Leo Rosten's Religions of America: Ferment and Faith in an Age of Crisis.
The Rosten work of 672 pages represents an exhaustive compilation of statistical information on every major and minor body of believers in the country. Chapters are devoted to such Protestant denominations as the Disciples of Christ, the Seventh-Day Adventists, the Unitarian Universalists, the Jehovah's Witnesses, Presbyterianism, Lutheranism, the Baptist Movement, and every branch manifestation of Methodism. The thick volume contains abundant data concerning the three forms of Judaism (Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform); lengthy discussions about the liturgical and doctrinal differences between Greek Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism; and authoritative explanations of the basic tenets of Mormons, Quakers, Christian Scientists, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Seventh-Day Adventists. It even presents facts and figures concerning the 5 percent of Americans who claim to be either agnostic or atheist.
In his preface, Rosten writes that this "New Guide and Almanac" represents "a massive compendium, more complete and far-ranging" than any book in print of "the statistics, public opinion polls, and basic documents which characterize religion in the United States."
NO MENTION OF MUSLIMS
But the book contains no discussion of Islam as a religious factor in America. This is not an oversight. In 1975, Sunni, Shiite, and Sufi Muslims in America were statistically insignificant, numbering fewer than one thousand.
Rosten, however, does devote three pages of his text to an excursus on the Nation of Islam, noting that these so-called Black Muslims practice a form of Islam that bears no semblance to the seventh-century pronouncements of the prophet Mohammed. He writes that the Nation of Islam was founded in 1930 by W. D. Fard, who "disappeared quite mysteriously in 1934." He maintains that black Muslims regard Fard "as Allah, himself, in human form" and preach a dogma in which all whites are denounced as "devils." At the end of this brief discussion, Rosen dismisses the Nation of Islam as a fringe group—a sociological aberration of black culture—with a total membership of 6,000–6,500 that is destined for sociological extinction.
In 1975, American sociologists continue to insist that membership within the three great bodies of Western religion (Protestantism, Catholicism, and Judaism) remain the main means of self-identification within American society. In Protestant, Catholic, Jew, Will Herberg first articulated this finding by writing:
Not to be a Catholic, a Protestant, or a Jew today is, for increasing numbers of American people, not to have a name.... To have a name and an identity, one must belong somewhere; and more and more one "belongs" in America by belonging to a religious community, which tells one what one is. The army sergeant who, when confronted with some theologically precise recruit (probably a high-church Episcopalian) who insisted he was neither Catholic, nor Protestant, nor Jewish, exclaimed in exasperation, "Well, if you're not Catholic, or Protestant, or Hebrew, what in blazes are you?" gave voice to the prevailing view of contemporary America. Unless one is either a Protestant, or a Catholic, or a Jew, one is "nothing"; to be "something," to have a name, one must identify oneself to oneself, and be identified by others, as belonging to one or another of the three great religious communities in which the American people are divided.
Americans continue to identify themselves by their Judeo-Christian roots. For this reason, people of different faiths (Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims) are not viewed as real Americans. "An eccentric American who adopts Buddhism," Herberg writes, "may identify himself to himself and find his stance in life in terms of his exotic cult, although it is more than likely that a Yankee turned Buddhist would still be regarded as a 'Protestant,' albeit admittedly a queer one." Herberg's analysis, first stated in 1955, is reaffirmed in 1975 by a cover story of the U.S. News & World Report.
In 1975, America is a place that is not inhabited by Pakistanis, Somalis, Palestinians, Iranians, Iraqis, Saudis, Afghanis, Chechens, ethnic Albanians, and Islamic Indonesians. Americans can walk through crowded airports without encountering a woman in a burqa or a student in a shalwar kameez. Words such as jihad, imam, Sunni, and Shiite are only understood by students of comparative religion. Many major cities contain no Islamic bookstores or clothing shops featuring designer Muslim headdresses. And vendors selling halal foods cannot be found within the confines of New York City.
By 2000, the religious landscape throughout America and the Western world had undergone a monumental transformation, although few scholars and statisticians took note of the fact. September 11, 2001, was not the day that changed everything. It was rather the day that revealed how much already had changed. The real shock came not only from the devastation but also the demographics. The world for many Americans became a place suddenly unrecognizable. They came to realize that Catholic churches throughout France had become mosques; that the most common name for baby boys in Belgium, Amsterdam, and Malmo, Sweden, was Mohammed (Mohammed came to run a close second to Jack in the United Kingdom); and that 40 percent of Rotterdam had become Islamic. There were over 60 million Muslims in Western Europe and, according to pollsters, the vast majority of them—over 70 percent—favored the imposition of sharia (Islamic law) on the general populace.
But Europe was Europe. And what transpired among the French, the Germans, the Swedes, the Spaniards, and the Brits seemed far removed from what took place in the land of Paul Revere, Johnny Appleseed, Teddy Roosevelt, and John Wayne—or so it seemed.
The ultimate shock came with the gradual revelation that Islam had permeated nearly every aspect of American life; the full extent of the permeation remained the X factor. But this much came to light. In 1990, fewer than six hundred mosques existed in the United States. By 2012 that number had climbed to 2,106.
Although the 2,106 figure came from reliable sources, the count was seriously flawed, since it failed to include the masjids that have sprouted up in low-rent storefronts, abandoned warehouses, private residences, college dormitories, and the back rooms of Islamic business establishments. Despite this fact, the number showed that nearly 8.5 percent of America's 330,000 houses of worship were now mosques.
A 2008 study by Cornell University estimated that the number of Muslims in America had climbed to 7 million from 1.6 million in 1995. A U.S. News & World Report survey, which was conducted at the same time in 1995, placed the figure at 5 million. The real number remained anyone's guess, since the US Census Bureau neglects to collect data on religious identification.
In 2008, the Pew Research Center estimated the Islamic population of the United States to be 2.35 million. But Pew researchers admit that their survey was not thorough, since it neglected to take into account immigrant and poor black Muslims. What's more, researchers contacted only Americans with telephone landlines and failed to take into account the fact that nearly 50 percent of US residents ages 18–35 and nearly 100 percent of illegal immigrants communicate exclusively by cell phones. Muslim organizations, such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), supported the Cornell University estimate of 7 million—based on mosque attendance.
The Islamic boom was evidenced by reports of the new mosques and halal restaurants that had sprouted up within every major American city. By 2010, according to one report, Washington, DC, boasted 7 mosques and 134 halal restaurants; San Francisco, 24 mosques and 176 halal restaurants; Houston, 15 and 50; Chicago, 27 and 61; Cleveland, 15 and 11; Boston, 19 and 60; Knoxville, 32 and 6; St. Louis, 21 and 8; Lansing, 27 and 6; Toledo, 17 and 5; Buffalo, 9 and 11; Dallas, 21 and 13; Grand Rapids, 19 and 7; New Orleans, 6 and 3; Nashville, 11 and 10; Columbia, 12 and 2; Detroit, 3 and 89; Atlanta, 9 and 22; Peoria, 5 and 1; Lincoln, 25 and 2; and Shreveport, Louisiana, 21 and 1. There are 14 new mosques in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and 25 in Anchorage, Alaska.
Many of the Islamic houses of worship were massive structures that attracted thousands of believers to Friday afternoon prayer service (Jummah). These large mosques included the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn, Michigan; the Islamic Center of Washington, DC; the ADAMS Center in Sterling, Virginia; the al-Farooq Masjid in Atlanta; the Islamic Society of New York; Dar al-Hijrah in Falls Church, Virginia; the Tucson Islamic Center; and the King Fahad Mosque in Los Angeles. Even the smallest mosques—including the Mother Mosque of America in Cedar Rapids, Iowa—could easily contain several hundred members and visitors for a single service. Much of the funding for the new mosques came from wealthy Saudi princes who sought to further the Islamic transformation of America.
By 2010, the median mosque in America drew a crowd of three hundred worshippers to its Friday service, while the average Christian church mustered a meager Sunday gathering of seventy-five.
ONLY THE DEAD KNOW BROOKLYN
To come to terms with the social, political, economic, and religious impact of Islam on the US landscape, you need only pay a visit to Brooklyn—the borough of New York City once known as "the all-American neighborhood." Such a visit will make you aware not only of the radical Islamic transformation of US cities but also of the woeful inadequacies of religious statistics, especially those that pertain to mosques and the number of Muslims now residing within major metropolitan areas throughout the country.
Brooklyn conjures up magical images in the American imagination —the Brooklyn Bridge, Coney Island, Fulton's Ferry, brownstone townhouses, and the Dodgers. It was home to William "Boss" Tweed, Currier and Ives, Margaret Sanger, Louis Tiffany, Al Capone, Gil Hodges, "Pee Wee" Reese, Leonard Bernstein, Barbra Streisand, and Ralph and Alice Kramdon of The Honeymooners. Brooklyn gave birth to hot dogs, roller coasters, soda pop, and more breweries than any other city in the country. One out of every seven Americans can trace his or her family roots to the streets of this borough.
Yet Brooklyn is no longer quintessentially American. The breweries are closed, Ebbets Field is a memory, and the hot dog stands have disappeared. Gone, too, is the navy yard that built such legendary warships as the Monitor, the Arizona, and the New Mexico. Gone is the Daily Eagle, where Walt Whitman once toiled as an editor. They have vanished with the Jewish delis, the Irish bars, and the nightclubs that were made famous by John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever. Brooklyn is transmogrifying into a place that is antithetical to American sensibilities. It has become a thriving haven of Islam.
Returning to Brooklyn after a hiatus of twenty years, Sarah Honig of the Jerusalem Post was shocked by the changes that had occurred in her old neighborhood:
When I climbed up the grimy station stairs and surveyed the street, I suspected that some supernatural time-and-space warp had transported me to Islamabad. This couldn't be Brooklyn. Women strode attired in hijabs and male passersby sported all manner of Muslim headgear and long flowing tunics.... Pakistani and Bangladeshi groceries lined the main shopping drag, and everywhere stickers boldly beckoned: "Discover Jesus in the Koran."
Throughout Brooklyn, one can now hear the call of the muezzin five times a day from rooftop speakers: Allahu akbar. Ashhadu an la ilaha illa-Llah. Cab drivers pull their hacks to the side of the road and perform ritual ablutions. Shopkeepers roll out their prayer rugs toward the holy city. And life within the borough—which was once known as the "city of churches"—comes to a standstill.
The massive migration of Muslims to this borough of New York, coupled with the widespread conversion to Islam of African Americans throughout Bedford-Stuyvesant and other Brooklyn neighborhoods, has been hailed as a salubrious development by many Brooklynites. The Muslim newcomers have been credited by Brooklyn borough president Marty Markowitz with closing crack houses and driving drug dealers from the crime-infested streets. "I see more and more Muslims taking part in social life. The future is looking good," Markowitz says.
Eric Bullen recalls that Al's Men Shop, his store on Fulton Street, was one of the few functioning businesses on what had become a block of vacant storefronts. "It used to be so bad at times that people didn't want to even be seen out here too late. You could guarantee that, had they come through once it started to get dark, they were going to get mugged," he recalls. The Muslims, he says, were instrumental in changing things.
Community affairs officer Steven Ruffin says that the imams of Brooklyn mosques, including Masjid al-Taqwa, have established unprecedented community cooperation with the police by creating civil patrols to police many of the borough's trouble spots.
Yet others view the Islamic transformation of the borough as something threatening and sinister. Many Jews and Christians throughout Brooklyn now display American flags and an assortment of patriotic/ jingoistic banners in their front yards. These displays, for the most part, are acts of defiance. "We're besieged," one resident told the Jerusalem Post. "Making a statement is all we can do. They aren't delighted to see the flag wave. This is enemy territory."
Even Markowitz and others supportive of the newcomers reluctantly note that the vast majority of Muslim newcomers display an unwillingness to assimilate. They continue to wear Islamic attire, maintain halal diets, and rigidly comply with sharia (Islamic law). Most equate Americanism with hedonism. They shun fast-food restaurants, any food containing alcohol (including chocolate), and American cars. Few Muslim women walk the streets without a head covering; some wear full burqas that conceal their bodies and niqabs that conceal their faces, leaving only mesh-covered slits for their eyes. The assimilation process in Brooklyn appears to be working in reverse, since the new male converts to Islam, almost all of whom are African American, now wear skull caps and long, white tunics (shalwar kameezes), while their wives walk several feet behind them in black burqas or abaya gowns. They dye their beards with henna, refrain from eating pork and drinking alcoholic beverages, and greet each other in Arabic (As-Salamu 'Alaykum).
Polygamy, among the newcomers and converts, is commonplace, and khat—the favorite narcotic of North African Muslims—is now cut up and sold on street corners, in halal grocery shops, and in places like the Blue Province Restaurant. In crowded flats and makeshift clinics along Atlantic Avenue, young Muslim girls—some as young as two—are subjected to the practice of female genital mutilation. Dubbed "female circumcision," this practice consists of the removal of the clitoris without the benefit of anesthesia or surgical instruments. Broken bottles or tin can lids occasionally serve as scalpels. Recent statistics show that forty-one thousand Somali and other North African Muslims in Brooklyn and the other boroughs of New York City have been subjugated to this ordeal.
Excerpted from CRESCENT MOON RISING by PAUL L. WILLIAMS Copyright © 2013 by Paul L. Willliams. Excerpted by permission of Prometheus Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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