Talk Transcript: Islam in America

Lisa Miller: good afternoon, everybody. lisa miller here.


Port Orchard, WA: How do American Muslims reconcile the demands of the Koran, which very often are in direct opposition to democracy, and the concept of free-will and inalienable rights?

And do American Muslims recognize the success and benefits they derive from Democracy and the associated Judeo-Christian ethics which govern our system of justice and rule-of-law?

Lisa Miller: moderate muslims would say that the qur'an is not in opposition to democracy, but, in fact, demands it. over and over in my conversations with moderate muslims over the past few weeks, people emphasized the qur'anic importance of justice and community.


Bossier City, LA: Do you think the reason that 60% of the young Muslims consider themselves "Muslim first" is that, unlike older generations, they are spoiled by the American way of life and did not have to work hard and start from nothing?

Lisa Miller: no, i don't think they're any more spoiled than second and third generation jews or catholics or any other immigrant group. i think, from their perspective, 9/11 required them to wear their muslim identity like a banner. they could no longer blend in, as immigrant groups in the past had done.


Toronto, Ontario: What's the difference between an extremist muslim that believes in this radical definition of Jihad and more temperate Muslims. Are they from different 'denominations,' or are these people one in the same?

Lisa Miller: one of the most interesting aspects of our reporting last week was this: there is no "structure" in islam analagous to structures in american christianity (either catholicism or protestant denominations) or judaism. there's no central office, no agreed-upon heirarchy, no organizational chart. so there are no "denominations," per se. there is, however, a wide range of beliefs that can be seen as analagous to "fundamentalist" and "progressive" in christian or jewish circles. there are people who believe in strict, literal interpretation of the quran, and people who believe that modernity requires a more nuanced or metaphorical interpretation and everything in between.

Salem, OR: Muslims do not even think like Americans. Why should we believe that a Muslim senator could be an asset, to our country or our news coverage?

Lisa Miller: most muslims in america /are/ americans, so they must think like americans.


New Brunswick, NJ: What was your most memorable encounter, episode, experience when doing this cover story "Islam in America" for Newsweek?

Lisa Miller: we have a bunch of very smart interns here, and we sent them (and other reporters) to communities around the country. these communities were really /so different/ -- we talked to a group of high school girls in california who went to elite schools and played field hockey in their hijab. and we talked to the very sad and angry teenagers in lackawanna. there's no end to the diversity of this community.


New York, NY: Many of my Muslim friends are getting beaten by their husbands in America. What should be done about this? A Muslim man should never hit his wife.

Lisa Miller: this is a terrible problem -- and against the law. i know of a group of muslim women who actually ousted the imam of their mosque because he was beating his wife; they told him it was not quranic


Houston, TX: I'm a little confused about the technicalities in Islam, and I was hoping you could help. Why do Muslims believe that theirs is the one true religion? Do all Muslims believe that? If not, which sect - Sunni, Shiite, Kurds, etc - believes it's the 'truest'(and why?)

Lisa Miller: well, this is a big issue in religion in general, isn't it? many christians would say that the only path to salvation is through jesus; many jews would say that only jews are rewarded in the world to come.

in islam, you can draw parallels between fundamentalists and progressives in other religions -- people who take a hard line, that only muslims gain salvation on the one hand and people who take a more all-encompassing view.

as far as sunni and shia, the debate is really about who has the right to be an islamic authority and it goes back to the earliest days after the death of the prophet mohammed.

Monclova, OH: Why don't these American Muslims speak out more about the terror being comitted in the name of thier religion? I live in a city with a Mosque and there are few, if any letters to the editor speaking out against terror. Why don't they speak out?

Lisa Miller: many muslims have spoken out against terrorism. go to our religion blog "on faith" -- you can find a link on the newsweek homepage. there is, this week, a whole discussion among muslims worldwide on whether suicide bombing is justified (most say never) and on the rights of women. check it out.


Glen Cove, NY: Why do Muslims, some of whom have zero tolerance for other religions, come to America?

Lisa Miller: not all muslims have zero tolerance for other religions. in fact, many muslims say that the quran requires tolerance.

the intolerant ones are the extremists and they represent a fraction of the world's muslim population.


Norfolk, VA: Right after 9/11 why didn't the American Muslim community denounce the terrorists? We never heard a word from them as a group. I want to hear them say that the Koran is not right is denouncing all Christians and Jews as infidels.

Lisa Miller:

go there.


Minneapolis, MN: In your article title you stated that Muslim Americans are affluent - Yes some are, but many are NOT. Why the misleading title?

Lisa Miller: in the story, we say that muslims are about as affluent and about as educated as the population at large.

Jackson, MS: Why do some media outlets think that American Muslims haven't condemned the 9/11 attacks?

Lisa Miller: most mainstream media, as far as i know, have printed statements, quotes, etc. from muslims who condemn terrorism. the problem is that terrorism is in the news every day and on our front pages -- and it has to be, for terrorism and the war are our most pressing global issues -- and that gives people the false impression, i think, that mainstream media aren't listening to the moderates.


Ontario, CA : In our increasingly polarized world, the new poll on Muslim Americans by Newsweek is an encouraging sign. How can Americans of Muslim and other faiths break down the polarization and work toward strengthening our values of freedom, justice and national security while at the same time not alienating the American Muslim minority?

Lisa Miller: one interesting idea i heard while doing this reporting is this: american foundations and businesses need to support those muslim organizations that are doing good work, good social service work, good interfaith work, good education work. right now, many of these organizations exist and they're inspiring, but they're grassroots and underfunded.

another suggestion: keep prominent muslims in the loop in foreign policy discussions, in domestic policy discussions, promote them to high positions in government -- not just as tokens but authentically. that will help with buy in from the muslim community.


Newark, NJ: How does a person who is not a practicing Muslim become an authority on Islam and the Muslim way of life? Orientalists are often atrocious at gaining true perspectives on a culture, especially with something as intricate as the Islamic way of life. Do you pray 5 times a day? Do you fast during Ramadan? Have you made plans for a Hadj? Do you wear the hijab?

Lisa Miller: learning islam is extremely difficult, but there are some good recent translations of the quran into english, a growoing nubmer of websites and a new magazine, called "islamica."


San Luis Obispo, CA: My friend, who has a school-age son, moved next door to a Muslim family with a son the same age. The Muslim boy is being home schooled - would the Islamic family allow their child play with a neighbor's son?

Lisa Miller: i don't see why not.

Houston, TX: The biggest problem with the Muslim faith in America according to my point of view is that there is no one solid viewpoint or unified message that Muslims have regarding their faith and what is its true interpretation. The problem I feel with the Muslim faith is that there is a lot of ambiguity about what it represents or stands for because almost every Muslim person has a different interpretation or understanding about their faith and what they believe is its true meaning. There is a lot of confusion or no coherent solid answer for any question that an outsider poses to the Muslim community. When the Muslim people themselves are so confused about what their faith stands for or represents then how can you expect outsiders to make sense of what your faith really condemns or condones?

Lisa Miller: this is interesting. i feel this about a christianity and judaism, too. the difference is that, in america at least, the different points of view are broken down into different groups, with labels, so you know more or less what you're going to get from a southern baptist versus an episcopalian. this has not happened in american islam, which i agree leads to confusion. lots fo smart people are trying to sort this out right now and i'm watching that eagerly.


Chicago, IL: For safety purposes, shouldn't all Muslims be watched very, very closely? Way too many are the radical type who are already plotting here in the United States.

Lisa Miller: i think people who might be terrorists should be watched very, very closely but that does not include all muslims by any means.


Aurora, CO: If these 18 - 29 year old Muslims don't see themselves as Americans, how can we be sure we don't have home grown terrorists in our midst? What are the older generations of Muslims doing to prevent this from happening?

Lisa Miller: law enforcement is doing a very good job, i think (especially im major cities) building bridges to the muslim community, letting them know that they need to report anything they see that's problematic in their mosque or their community. the analogy the fbi is using with muslim americans is that of the mafia: the fbi made little inroads in terms of shutting down the mob until the italian community started helping them.

at the same time we need, like we do with all american youth who are at risk, to keep them in school and off drugs, and feeling like being American will help them succueed in the world.


Lansing, MI: I have been a Muslim for over thirty years and as the mother of young adult women, I find that since post 9/11 the feeling towards muslims have changed in America. It seems there is a growing prejudice against Muslims especially if it is displayed in dress. I would like to ask if you think this climate will change for the better or do you think that the prejudices will get worse?

Lisa Miller: i think right now it's about 50%-50%. americans are very, very proud of our constution's protections of religion and they continue to be so. at the same time, americans are undoubtedly suspicious of muslims -- i know this from the mail i've been getting about the article. we're at a tipping point, a little bit.

Anywhere, USA: The perception of Muslim Americans has been so negative after 9/11 yet a significant number of Americans (60%) believe that the contribution from mMslim Americans isunparallal to any other group, yet they have been potrayed negetively in this country. What do you think to minimize the stereotyping of muslims in this country?

Lisa Miller: it's significant, i think, that in the newsweek poll younger americans were much more likely to say they personally knew a muslim than older americans. i think the best antidote to prejudice is personal connection and the more that we have muslims as oor friends, neighbors, coworkers, teachers, doctors, roomates, the less americans will be inclined toward bias and stereotyping


New Castle, IN: In light of the recent poll's findings, do you not think that it would be wise to dramatically decrease both illegal and legal immigration into this country, at least until we get a handle on who it is that has immigrated here?

Lisa Miller: i personally don't think so. i think it's the job of law enforecemtn to figure out who's dangerous and prevent /those people/ from coming here. not a whole group of people based on their religion or country of origin.


Orlando, FL: Why is the media coverage of Muslims so negative, when the vast majority of Muslims around the world are law-abiding, hard-working humans, no different than any other religious subset?

Lisa Miller: because terrorism is in the news every day, because it's scary and represents a real threat to our safety.


Dearborn Heights, MI: How much of the growing isolation of young American Muslims from other Americans is caused by the larger American population's backlash, forcing young American Muslims to have to choose to be either American or Muslim? Why do you think Americans in power have not acted to curb the backlash?

Lisa Miller: so many questions here.

i think the arab-american youth are really angry about israel, and i'm not sure what the government can do about that.
however i do think that, as will all youth at risk, government programs and private social service organizations and religious organizations can help kids feel that america supports them, that they can get ahead here, that they have rights and are part of the process.

Washington, DC: If younger Muslims in their 20s are more radical than their parents, what can be done to change this?

Lisa Miller: they're definitely more religious. i wouldn't necessarily connect that to being radical.


Douglas, AL: Have Muslims in America read the Qur'an (including the women and young people)? Do what extent are Muslims familiar with the contents of the Qur'an? How do Muslims in American square the contents of their book with suicide bombing and destruction of the "infidels"?

Please discuss the status of women for Muslims as put forth by the Qur'an and current Muslim thinking/action (on the part of women and men).

Lisa Miller: go to


Minneapolis, MN: Why do the young Muslims say they are first Muslim?

Lisa Miller: i personally think it's because they want the world to know that muslims live everywhere in america, that they're not scary, that they go to the same colleges and high schools and graduate schools as everyone else. i'm not muslim, but that's my sense.


Sun City, AZ: Does the Koran teach that Muslims should kill non-Muslims? Can a Muslim convert to Christianity without fearing for his/her life?

Lisa Miller: go to

check it out.


Glen Cove, NY: Do Muslims view other Americans as fellow countrymen or as infidels?

Lisa Miller: no, the vast majority view themselves as americans.


Vancouver, Canada: The rule of law states that one is innocent until proven guilty. However, American media reverses this law for Muslims by accusing the Muslim community first and asking them to justify their innocence. How many times have we heard the phrase 'Islamic terrorist'? Why do we never hear about Christian, Hindu or Jewish terrorists?

Lisa Miller: this view is one shared by some of the people i talked to. however, it does remain the case that teh 9/11 bombers were muslim and terrorists and that al qaeda is a muslim terrorist organization -- no matter how little it reflects the thoughts, feelings, and alignments of most muslims around the world.

Harrisburg, PA: The perception of Muslim Americands has been so negetive after 9/11 that majority of Americans do not feel comfortable about Muslim Americans. What do you think must be done to reconcile to Americans that after all muslim Americans love this country as any American would do after all their contribution to this country is unparallel to any group?

Lisa Miller: i think american business, government and charitable organizations need to step up and support the many excellent muslim organizations that have emerged after 9/11. and i think the muslim community needs to admit the dangerous possibilities of extremism and help the government do its job.


Queensbury, NY: Is the threat of danger from terrorist Islam growing here in the U.S.?

Lisa Miller: as us intelligence officials said in a briefing last week, al qaeda continues to have its sights set on targets in the us. and europe continues to be worried abou the radicalization of its muslim population.


Glen Cove, NY: What group is responsible for more American civilian deaths over the last 25 years? What group is responsible for the shooting of all three other religious leaders? Do you feel the Muslim community is the most hated in this country?

Andy: I dislike passing these questions along, but by the looks of it, 'Glen Cove, NY' is not alone in his/her thinking, and if he/she actually reads your response, maybe you could help clear things up with the 'Muslim monolith' myth...?

Lisa Miller: i have received a surprising number of hate messages in reference to muslims since the publication of this article. i don't believe hate ever helped anyone.


Lisa Miller: ok folks, that's it. thanks for listening and thanks for writing in. have a great day.