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My Take: Muslims deepened their American roots after 9/11
Civic groups that American Muslims launched before 9/11 expanded dramatically after the attacks.
September 2nd, 2011
02:08 PM ET

My Take: Muslims deepened their American roots after 9/11

Editor's note: Eboo Patel is Founder and President of Interfaith Youth Core, a Chicago-based organization building interfaith cooperation, and author of Acts of Faith. Follow him on Twitter: @EbooPatel.

By Eboo Patel, Special to CNN

In the early years of Islam, when the Muslim community was small and frequently under attack, the Prophet Mohammed sent a delegation of recent converts from the city of Mecca to the kingdom of Abyssinia. The Abyssinian king was a Christian and when he asked the Muslims about the faith they followed, one of the Muslims recited the Quran:

She said, "How shall I have a son whom no mortal has touched, either have I been unchaste?"

He said: "'Even so my Lord has said; 'Easy is that for Me; and that We may appoint him a sign unto men and a mercy from Us, it is a thing decreed.'"

These lines are about Mary, mother of Jesus. They show how Muslims revere her and that they believe that Mary was a virgin when she bore Jesus, just as Christians do.

But some enemies of the Muslims emphasized to the Abyssinians that the Muslims had a different view of Jesus than Christians did. Sure, Muslims believed that Jesus was one of God's prophets, these enemies said, but they didn't believe he was God's only son or humankind's savior.

And yet the king of Abyssinia was so moved by the commonalities between his Christian faith and Islam that he ignored those who sought to sow division, allowing the Muslims to stay and practice their faith in his kingdom.

This story is a metaphor for the path that Muslims in America have taken since the tragic events of 9/11 ten years ago. In the face of those who would paint us as "foreign" or "other," we are emphasizing the values and beliefs that Islam holds in common with other American communities.

As the American Muslim community started to grow in the 1960s and 1970s, largely through immigration from the Middle East and South Asia and conversion by African-Americans, Muslims focused their energies on establishing families, building businesses and advancing their careers.

With respect to religion, there was a huge amount of work involved in opening mosques, finding spaces to hold Muslim weddings and funerals and creating educational outfits to teach our faith to our children. Like Jews and Catholics before us, Muslims also showed concern for family and the faithful back in the countries of their birth.

But by the 1990s, Muslims began looking outside our own community, launching projects to strengthen ties between us and the rest of the country.

The idea behind these new organizations was simple: Muslims were now calling America "home" and Islam called us to cooperate with and serve neighbors of all backgrounds.

In Chicago, the INNER-City Muslim Action Network was formed to run community development programs, ranging from anti-violence interventions to feeding the hungry.

In the San Francisco Bay area, Muslims launched a group called ING to send Muslim speakers into schools and to community groups to emphasize shared values. In Washington, the Muslim Public Service Network got going to provide fellowships for young Muslim interning in the nation's capital.

As opposed to focusing solely on the Muslim immigrant community, this new generation of groups worked closely with African-American Muslims. And the groups' model of reorienting the Muslim community toward the United States attracted support from Muslim leaders.

"Home is not where your grandfather was born," says one of those leaders, Muslim Public Affairs Council founder Maher Hathout, "but where your grandchildren will be buried."

After the 9/11 attacks, Muslims grieved for fellow Americans who perished in the attacks, whose ranks included Muslims. We were shocked when some of our fellow citizens threatened mosques and pointed their fingers at Islam, treating us as if we were in league with the terrorists, rather than as fellow victims and mourners.

Those accusations made us realize that too many of our neighbors knew too little about us and our religion. In turned out that the event most Americans associated with Islam was 9/11. The Muslim figure they were most likely to recognize was Osama bin Laden.

This problem was exacerbated by a small network of activists and intellectuals intent on spreading ugly misinformation about Islam, presenting our religion as inherently violent, its adherents as dangerous fanatics.

For all the pride we Muslims took in having established our mosques and families and businesses in the United States over the past generation, we had the same realization that largely immigrant religious groups like Jews and Catholics had in earlier decades as they strove to deepen American roots: we had to invest more energy into bridge-building efforts with the rest of the country, to place more emphasis on commonalities.

Just as Jews and Catholics deepened American roots by launching an array of civil society organizations, from schools to universities to hospitals to social service groups that have benefited the broader American public, so would Muslims.

As a result, the American Muslim organizations launched in the years leading up to 9/11 have moved to the center of the American Muslim consciousness. Many of them grown dramatically since 9/11, expanding staffs, budgets and programs.

The change the groups have inspired has been remarkable.

A new generation of Muslims are becoming public policy experts, writers and social entrepreneurs, launching organizations that seek to build understanding and cooperation between Muslims and the rest of the country. These American Muslim leaders will be the architects of a network of civic organizations that will one day look like the networks that Catholics and Jews have established.

Muslims are not the first faith community to experience discrimination in America and we're not the first to respond by building bridges outside the community. It's precisely the path that Jews and Catholics walked before us, and it's a crucial part of the American story: a nation defined by its diversity and built by the contributions of its many communities.

The opinions expressed are solely those of Eboo Patel.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Islam • Opinion

soundoff (823 Responses)
  1. oyvavoy

    Anger, hate, pride, ignorance. Anyone?

    September 4, 2011 at 10:02 am |
    • Mullah Omar

      Mullah Omar is here to help. Do you need help my son?>

      September 4, 2011 at 10:40 am |
  2. Rod C. Venger

    In they end, they hope, we'll be making contributions to the Caliphate in the form of Jizyat.

    September 4, 2011 at 9:59 am |
  3. oyvavoy

    instigators are doomed lose popularity. Stop adding fuel to the fire.

    September 4, 2011 at 9:57 am |
  4. Big Bob

    Want to take a guess as to how many Abyssianians lefgt in Mecca? Islam: coming soon to a country near you.

    September 4, 2011 at 9:56 am |
  5. Mansizedtarget

    Unlike Jews and Catholics, Jews have not proved their loyalty to this country, have not had their loyalty proven on the battlefield the way they did in WWII, have walked into a country hobbled by multiculturalism, have repeatedly whined about the slightest pressure for conformity and "team play" whether at amusement parks or in airline security, continue too often to hear hate and murder and other insanity preached at their Mosques, have concealed the totalitarian nature of Sharia, which they seek to implement either violently or through persuasion, and have not, on the whole, shown their love for America, its people, its culture, its history, and its laws. There may be some good Muslims, but there is little good in Islam.

    September 4, 2011 at 9:50 am |
  6. anesa

    its really sad to still see such ignorance. we can pick apart each others religion but what will we benefit from that??
    in every religion there are some crazy fanatics that use the name of God to wreak havoc on the world. it is the intelligent poeple who see it for what it is. not the religion in itself that is causing the mayhem, but the crazy people behind the acts. i wish people would truly educate themselves on all religions before touting disgusting words of hatred about things they truly know nothing about. dont fall victim to the timothy mcvieghs and osama bin ladins of the world.

    September 4, 2011 at 9:43 am |
    • Mansizedtarget

      Have you read the Koran? Are you familiar with Hadith? Jihad? The history of the Maghreb? A lot of us after 9/11 learned everything we could about Islam and concluded it was a totalitarian political program masquerading as a religion.

      September 4, 2011 at 10:11 am |
  7. oyvavoy

    Awake, this is not a combat, it' s a discussion. Anger and hate never justified, never regardless. They are not virtues and are not the traits of the wise. If you agree then we can proceed with the discussion.

    September 4, 2011 at 9:42 am |
  8. oyvavoy

    Dear Ryan, a little effort of research will answer your question.

    September 4, 2011 at 9:36 am |
  9. teejaym

    " In the face of those who would paint us as "foreign" or "other. Hmmmm. Mr.. Patel, please explain what is meant by "the infidel must die" and please explain why muslims haven't cleaned house of theses so-called fronge elements.

    September 4, 2011 at 9:32 am |
  10. djmcfly

    MY TAKE: You Are Full Of Sh$t

    September 4, 2011 at 9:25 am |
  11. pj

    Religion creates segregation. Period. Besides, Islam is not a religion. It's a cult.

    September 4, 2011 at 9:20 am |
    • Pey

      And how exactly do you define cult? I think dunking the head of your newborn baby in water and drinking wine as the blood of the founder of your religion is pretty cultish, but hey to each his own.

      September 4, 2011 at 9:27 am |
  12. Zaman

    Muslims were happily living in US for long till 9/11. So what caused them to carry out this worst disaster. Many muslims out of total 1.2 billion and in 52 countries have one common belief. It is that American policy in the ME is wrong and that US will never support a Palestine land, Just for Israel. Look Palestine is putting a proposal in the UN for their statehood and guess which will be the only country to veto it-US. The strong Jews in US are always working for Israel and this is mainly creating all the hates among muslims for the US. For Israel, we are in war in Iraq, Afganistan and soon will be in Iran.
    Wake up Americans!

    September 4, 2011 at 9:04 am |
    • Awake

      We woke up when the Muslims flew two airliners into our buildings and killed over 7,000 people. We're awake. It's just that those who do not understand America and how we think and do things are asleep. It's popular now to think that Americans are dumb, unaware, and are sleeping. The truth is that Americans are a fiercely proud people that will not lie down and take this crap anymore. It's over. You will now see millions rise up in the coming years to fight against those who would do us harm. Frankly, we couldn't care less about the problems the Palestinians have. Fight your own battles, and establish your own statehood, or country, or whatever it is you think you need to kill people for. Just be warned that if you continue to attack us, you'll regret it.

      September 4, 2011 at 9:24 am |
    • mullah hajdar

      it is not up to muslims.americans think they can terrorize muslims forever without being held accountable.9/11 showed americans were wrong.and real fight haven't even started.

      September 4, 2011 at 9:25 am |
    • Awake

      Comments like this is why you are not taken seriously. Think what you want – but if you continue to kill innocent Americans, you will not get your way. It's simple: you will not gain respect, or interest in you cause by trying to do to America what you've done to other countries. You can't bully your way through. America has bee attacked by worse than the Muslims, and has come out on top. Why? Because we respect life and liberty. We don't kill to get others to sympathize with us.

      September 4, 2011 at 9:31 am |
    • Big Bob

      Millions of people and millions of square miles are controlled by Islam. Why is that tiny spec of land so important?

      September 4, 2011 at 9:51 am |
    • mullah hajdar

      america came on top thanks to the war between soviet union and germany.but you will not stay for long on the top

      September 4, 2011 at 9:59 am |
    • Mansizedtarget

      I love these Muslims coming on here and threatening the West. And they wonder why they're treated shabbily. Honestly, not shabbily enough. Stay in your own lands and marry your cousins. We were doing very fine without you and can pump our own gas and make our own slurpees. Stay among your broke cousins in your filthy lands and leave us alone.

      September 4, 2011 at 10:13 am |
    • mullah hajdar

      actually,you are broke.and you are doing fine?you are about to lose 90% of what you have.americans are standing in half a mile long lines to get a job 'that americans wouldn't do',millions of foreclosures are in progress,each american owes $50.000 just in federal debt,without personal nightmares,your kids eat the lowest grade food,full of carcinogenes,your wives will fkkk with any guy who has money,hell,you will do the same,your people mob to steal food in grocery stores,...and it will be 100 times worse when country bankrupts.

      September 4, 2011 at 10:26 am |
  13. oyvavoy

    Everything we have we owe to islam . You can deny it, falsify history and you can hate all you want but facts are facts. It's very clear to me that the majority are blinded by hate and anger. Hate and anger are the enemy. Intimidation and bullying are the methods of the past. Your biggest enemy is oneself. To those who are fueling the fire What Goes Around Comes Around. The faster we Get rid of the burden of fear, anger and hate the better.

    September 4, 2011 at 9:03 am |
    • Ryan

      "Everything we have we owe to islam"?

      Proof please?

      September 4, 2011 at 9:26 am |
    • Awake

      Instead of the cliches, how about you stop killing us. You don't want hate? Don't kill. You don't want anger? Don't kill. You want to be taken seriously? Don't kill. By killing, the Muslims do nothing but stoke anger against themselves. If you want humans to listen to you, you must become human yourself.

      September 4, 2011 at 9:28 am |
    • Big Bob

      Can you come up with even a short list?

      September 4, 2011 at 9:52 am |
  14. Jeff Williams

    """yet the king of Abyssinia was so moved by the commonalities between his Christian faith and Islam that he ignored those who sought to sow division, allowing the Muslims to stay and practice their faith in his kingdom."""

    Patel, I hope you're right that this is a similar situation. But instead of being persecuted from without as in your example, the Muslim world is today on a path of self-destruction from within on its own home turf.

    September 4, 2011 at 8:58 am |
  15. CNNcluuuelesss....

    Islam is a cult created by a psychopath. It cannot be reformed. It must be eradicated. Islam must be eradicated not because the Quran says Earth is flat or the shooting stars are missiles that Allah fires at the Jinns who climb the heaven to eavesdrop on the conversation of the exalted assembly. These stupid tales could even amuse us. Islam must go because it teaches hate, it orders killing of non-Muslims, it denigrates women and it violates the human rights.

    September 4, 2011 at 8:47 am |
    • AngryVet2

      All religions are cults; did you forget Jim Jones and the deadly Kool-Aid? Throughout history the roots of cults have come from all religions except Buddhism. All based on fairy tales and each believing their god and beat the other's god.

      September 4, 2011 at 9:04 am |
    • ann

      u really are clueless

      September 4, 2011 at 9:33 am |
  16. Den

    muslims are inferior, cowardly, missfits of mankind.

    September 4, 2011 at 8:34 am |
    • CNNcluuuelesss....

      I wouldnt blame all this Islamic madness on Muslims.. They are trapped in a sick lie and afraid to befriend anyone who isnt a Muslim because of Mohammeds sick, twisted brain... Muslims can break free of this madness by tossing the quran into the dust bin of history and joining the human race in progress and prosperity for all people... Including Jews..

      September 4, 2011 at 8:49 am |
  17. Always

    First of all RELIGION of any kind is a man-made convention. Its purpose is to unify and control. There is no Yahweh, Allah, or Jesus...There is an astro-theological connection to all monotheism...People kill each other because they are afraid...afraid of thinking...it is a lot easier to be told what to do than think for yourself. This article like any other article on religion perpetuates fraud...wake up, open your eyes!!! You are being driven to the pens like livestock by economic and political forces.
    Peace,

    September 4, 2011 at 8:30 am |
  18. Ali

    All religions created equal

    do you guys need to read some scriptures from the Old Testament?

    September 4, 2011 at 8:20 am |
    • Big Bob

      Thanks to the reformation, millions of christians don NOT adhere to the Old Testament.

      September 4, 2011 at 9:53 am |
  19. josh

    Please stop comparing the Muslim plight with that of the Jews and Catholics. Jews and Catholics did not openly attack America or talk of its destruction with zeal. Jews and Catholics were really persecuted for no reason while the Islamaphobia of today is justified.

    September 4, 2011 at 8:20 am |
    • NoGod

      No. It is not. A few terrorists don't represent Islam. If they do, then Tim McVeigh or Bush equals Chiristianity. As a non believer in any religion, I see the picture without any bias. Of all the religions, common muslims are the most oppressed group by their own and outsiders.

      September 4, 2011 at 8:35 am |
  20. mullah hajdar

    what do you,american hristians,hope to achieve with this hate-spitting?we know that you think that money stolen around the world makes you better than others.we know that you hate us.we know that you are insulting us.but all these things will not pay your mortgage nor resurect those 8.000 nato soldiers who got killed by muslim patriots,nor will heal those 60.000 nato soldiers without limbs or with bad burns.you will NOT get our resources no matter how you call us.your terrorism and propaganda brought you only death and bankruptcy.vote ron paul,he is the change that will help you.if you don't,that means you want some more of the same.

    September 4, 2011 at 8:19 am |
    • Big Bob

      Mullah, I hope the USA stops sending wheat to your countries. You can never grow it yourselves.
      When we start exploiting our own resources again, you can drink your oil. You never found it. You could never pump it, you could never refine it. The west did it for you. Your wealth is an accident of geology!

      September 4, 2011 at 10:40 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.