Are American Muslims Patriotic? Why Don’t They Assimilate?

Does Islam need reform to peacefully integrate with America, or do we simply need a more honest public discourse on Islam?

In 1948 in Dayton, Ohio, twenty American Muslim men and women huddled into a small conference room to hold the first national meeting of American Muslims—the Jalsa Salana . Modest in means, size, and platform—the one thing those Americans didn’t lack was conviction that their proven model of Islam could integrate into the contemporary west.

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA organizes the Jalsa Salana, inviting people of all faiths and no faith to build bridges of understanding, sisterhood and brotherhood, and promote human rights.

In 2017, 69 years later, each of these goals are exponentially more important. At a time of record highs in anti-Muslim violence and Islamophobia, American Muslims constantly find ourselves answering for our faith and having to “prove” our loyalty to our country. Tragically, 2017 America sees a rising call for Muslim concentration camps, special legislation that target’s Muslims for their faith, and a travel ban that exclusively targets Muslim majority nations.

GettyImages-633700052 Muslims pray at the Masjid Muhammad Mosque, February 3, 2017 in Washington, DC. Muslims hold Jumu'ah, or Friday prayer, every Friday just after noon. Drew Angerer/Getty

So, nearly seven decades later, what has become of the Jalsa Salana ? Last weekend in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, some 7,000 American Muslim women and men sprawled into a massive expo center to hold the 69 th annual Jalsa Salana.

Historically ballooning to over 12,000 attendees, the Jalsa Salana has become the nation’s longest running American Muslim conference. It now annually attracts national civil rights leaders, presidential candidates, senators, governors, and thousands of non-Muslim guests.

Each conference attracts American Muslim delegates from around the country—Lyft and Uber drivers, doctors and lawyers, cashiers and construction workers, engineers and Islamic scholars, artists and scientists, veterans and active duty military—the Jalsa Salana rebuts the myth of an alleged conflict between Islam and America.

It rebuts the claim that Islam needs reform, with Muslims focusing on self-reformation to better serve humanity.

Mark Twain famously wrote, “Few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example.” Perhaps this is why it is all the more remarkable that the only thing the Jalsa Salana doesn’t seem to attract is nationwide mainstream media coverage.

The Jalsa Salana epitomizes everything demanded of Muslims in America. It demonstrates interfaith harmony, service to humanity, gender equality, a condemnation of terrorism, and loyalty to the United States.

Yet, after nearly seven decades of this national peace conference, collectively attended by hundreds of thousands of Americans who are Muslim, procuring national media coverage has transformed into an exercise in futility.

Think about it. When was the last time you heard national cable news cover this conference?

Never? Pretty close.

This is one reason I call our public discourse on Islam “Schrödinger’s outrage.” Critics constantly demand American Muslims renounce terrorism and integrate to America, while simultaneously ignoring American Muslims who have done exactly that for the better part of a century.

The fact is that Muslims never needed to “integrate” with America because Muslims in America predate the existence of the United States. Historians estimate that up to 30 percent of Africans kidnapped, enslaved, and human trafficked to what is now America—were Muslim.

As fate would have it, the majority of those initial 20 women and men who held our country’s first national American Muslim conference were African American—descendants of those noble women and men horrifically enslaved. They were descendants of those noble women and men who built America’s economic, agricultural, and infrastructural foundation.

The descendants of those Muslims who built the foundation of America’s success began the Jalsa Salana to demonstrate—once again—that no conflict exists between Islam and America.

If you’ve never heard about this reality, it is not because Muslims aren’t speaking up. It is because the powers that be refuse to let you hear. In other words, history is once again repeating itself.

Fortunately for us we are no longer at the mercy of those in power. The TrueIslam.com education campaign, for example, invites Americans of all stripes to stand in solidarity with American Muslims as a #MuslimAlly—sign your name for a narrative of justice, kindness, and kinship.

Islam doesn’t need reform. The Jalsa Salana is one among many proofs of this. But America desperately needs those good examples of solidarity and education that even the most vehement critics simply cannot ignore. You can be that example.

Be that example. That is the more honest public discourse on Islam that America needs today.

Qasim Rashid is the national spokesperson for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA.

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