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. Muslimpftt

    You dont belong in this country, you never have been. You flee your own hell of a country to infect ours, you claim you love your women when you hide there face, you claim you love america when you chear americsns death in the middle east. Your not welcome here, go home, i will buy you a one way ticket home, your are parasites.

    September 2, 2011 at 10:25 pm |
  2. mc

    What sucks is that there is no solution to the problem of terrorism, except for Muslims themselves to fix it. And that isn't going to happen. Americans have every right to be afraid or hate ALL Muslims because you can't tell who is who. Muslims have every right to be upset that they are descriminated by non-Muslims, too. Even though most Muslims are not terrorists, they complain that the FBI is intruding on their rights; instead of complaining, you should shut up and realize why they are there and try and help the situation. And in foreign countries, entire populations hate America and the West. I say blow them up, but that isn't an option either. Not much to do other than what we are doing. Eventually, they probably get a nuke with Pakistan's help. Who knows?

    September 2, 2011 at 10:25 pm |
    • Xenia

      @MC, America's greatest problem is her ignorance on history, immorality and infanticide. Like Europe, the problems are not external but Westerners' own demoralized youth. Foreign nations no longer respect the West because you all look like Sodomites.

      September 3, 2011 at 8:31 am |
    • Fred1

      Yes Xenia: Do you know what Lot (god’s man) got up to with his daughters after god destroyed Sodom for being naughty?

      September 3, 2011 at 9:48 pm |
  3. Trent

    Islam spread primarily at the tip of a sword. In a hundred years it was knocking on the doors of Paris in the form of an Umayyad army under the command of Abdul Rahman al-Ghafiqi. Fortunately it was stopped by Charles Martel. Islam is a conquering religion and its power bases in Africa, much of the Mid East and Europe were put there by invading armies. At some point, Muslims (and Christians and indeed most religious) must come to terms with their violent pasts (and in some cases, violent present). This is why people of one religion fear another.

    September 2, 2011 at 10:15 pm |
    • Be Afraid

      Second largest genocide against jews was committed in Baghdad by the muslims.

      September 2, 2011 at 10:24 pm |
    • I_am_your_teacher

      Wow, I thought world war 1 and 2 were done by christians. Those two combine the greatest casualties. Were the british also Muslims since they colonized, killed and eradicated people all over the world. I guess they might have been Muslims then!

      September 3, 2011 at 1:25 am |
  4. TrueWiseOne

    Its actually good that CNN is focusing so much on promoting Islam... secrecy is a friend of the evil and openness and rationality its worst enemy... CNN's stories are initating discussions on Islam here and this will help expose Islam for what it really is, rather than what it pretends to be... and that will bring about its end ... so thank you CNN !

    September 2, 2011 at 10:14 pm |
    • Fonzo

      Yay! Only, too bad every article about Islam CNN posts on here is inundated with rabid hate and tasteless commentary.... Too bad there's no way to undo that day... Maybe everyone would go back to ignoring Muslims instead of hating them.

      September 2, 2011 at 10:19 pm |
  5. idkbro

    its fun to read all this hate speech about muslims but the sad part is u dont distinguish between american born muslims and muslims in the middle east for one muslims who were raised here love america so dont shun your fellow americans regardless of what they believe in just because u dont agree with someones beliefs doesnt mean you should attack it have some decency and respect were all americans and at the end of the day we all can share what we have in common and that is we are all americans and are grateful for all the rights our great country provides for us all.

    September 2, 2011 at 10:05 pm |
    • WayOutThere

      That is one awfully long sentence!

      September 2, 2011 at 10:11 pm |
    • mullah hajdar

      where are those muslims that love america?they love their fellow muslims been killed by american terrorists?

      September 2, 2011 at 10:12 pm |
    • Be Afraid

      Mullah, I just saw 5 of them in the bar down the street enjoying happy hour.

      September 2, 2011 at 10:18 pm |
  6. Nohate

    It is unreal how clueless most of you are on these sites. Stop listening to fox news and the tea party crazies and read the Quran then form your own opinion. Annoying how ignorant the people on these posts are. Put down the banjos and beer and get a clue.

    September 2, 2011 at 10:01 pm |
    • WayOutThere

      I do that too. When someone disagrees with me or is offensive to me, I just stereotype them into a group I don't like. That way, I can both justify my hate for the group and annoying people!

      September 2, 2011 at 10:12 pm |
    • Be Afraid

      Read te Quran. Wow, w new low in intellectual incompetence.

      September 2, 2011 at 10:15 pm |
    • Fred1

      "Forbidden to you are...married women, except those you own as slaves." (Surah 4:20-, 24-)

      September 3, 2011 at 9:50 pm |
    • reply


      mistranslation. here's a better one:

      "And also forbidden to you are all married women (muhsanat) except those women whom your right hands have come to possess (as a result of war)." in other words, you can marry a woman who had to leave their husbands in a country fighting a war and relocated to in Islamic nation.

      September 4, 2011 at 1:47 am |
  7. hamtanos

    I am a Muslim.

    I do not condone any violence against anyone.

    I do not condone terrorist attacks, which by their very actions, remove them from the Muslim faith.

    I believe everyone has a right to live how they want, as long as it doesn't interere with their fellow people.

    I believe in abiding by the laws and rules of the country and civilization I call my home.

    I do not condone forcing any will on others.

    I believe everyone has a right to believe in whatever they want (athiesm, monotheism, polytheism, flying spaghetti monster...your choice)!

    I believe NO religion is inherently evil. However, some who practice all religions are evil.

    I do not believe in judging the many by the actions of the few.

    I am Muslim, and hope EVERYONE can someday respect themselves by respecting each other.

    September 2, 2011 at 10:00 pm |
    • Fonzo

      Preach, brotha!

      September 2, 2011 at 10:15 pm |
    • mullah hajdar

      you are naive and scared,exactly what american terrorists want all muslims to be.

      September 2, 2011 at 10:16 pm |
    • Anon

      I don't care, you're still screwed up in the head like the rest of them.

      September 3, 2011 at 12:01 am |

    Why does America hate Islam? Because the Muslim world won't bend over to its will.

    Israel hates the Arab world and wishes to expand its borders. It commits injustices and evil acts everyday but noone ever hears about them because Zionist Jews control the media.
    Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have bent over backwards for America but thats about it. Iran flips the US off each time it gets, you can see how sucessful your "war" was in Afghanistan and Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Oman, and the rest also refuse to bend down to Israel and America.

    September 2, 2011 at 9:57 pm |
    • AmericanX

      And have suffered more economic sanctions and economic suffering than any other in their region which in fact is only thrown on the back of the poor and impoverished people who live in dictatorships.....give them some democracy and a little capitalism and drop Islam like a bad habit.

      September 2, 2011 at 10:11 pm |
  9. AmericanX

    The moderate law abiding hard working family loving Muslims are the ones that lay the ground work for the pipe hittin extremists to come and own them and attempt the same on us using our own kindness and tolerance as a welcome mat. Don't mistake kindness for weakness Muslim brothers......

    September 2, 2011 at 9:55 pm |
  10. Paul

    When all the world is Islamic there will be peace and everyone will be equal. A planet of zombies.

    September 2, 2011 at 9:55 pm |
    • juggles

      Believing in fairy tales and fantasies.

      September 2, 2011 at 9:57 pm |
    • I_am_your_teacher

      Just like you think in fairy tale that God has begotten a son!

      September 3, 2011 at 1:27 am |
    • Zap

      Look out, teach... there's a Marid coming after ya' !

      September 3, 2011 at 1:43 am |
  11. Kafir4life

    C A I R cheque came in early this year C N N? A fatty one for the tenth anniversary of I$lamic genocide on America?

    September 2, 2011 at 9:54 pm |
    • OMG NO WAY

      Why the spaces? And why the fear Brainwashed one? Speaking of cheques, whens you're next welfare coming in, you are running low on Pl@yboy and beer.

      September 2, 2011 at 9:59 pm |
    • TrueWiseOne

      Its actually good that CNN is focusing so much on promoting Islam... secracy is evil's friend and opennss and rationality its worst enemy... CNN's stories is initating discussions here and this will help expose Islam for what it really is, rather than what it pretends to be... and that will bring about its end ... so thank you CNN !

      September 2, 2011 at 10:12 pm |
  12. OMG NO WAY

    LOL I am laughing so hard at Be Afraid.

    Lisa, I respect you and what beleifs.

    Be Afraid, you are an athiest and you keep saying that religion (especially Islam) is the cause of conflicts, yet you are picking fights with everyone, including an agnostic, while you are an Athiest! Do you see any irony in this whole situation? Why are you picking fights with religion people, and people who aren't religious. Parent's didn't love you enough? Too much time on your hands? Insecure about your pen*s size so you act tough on the internet? Embaremessent to humanity.

    September 2, 2011 at 9:50 pm |
    • juggles

      Religion is a joke. It's just a fantasy. Atheists don't believe in that crap.

      September 2, 2011 at 9:52 pm |
    • FrigginDave

      And agnostics are basically politically correct atheists.

      September 2, 2011 at 9:57 pm |
    • WayOutThere

      That's okay, juggles. God does not believe in you either.

      September 2, 2011 at 10:13 pm |
    • Someone

      OMG...You are delusional... I`m not sure if you remember the "peaceful" Muslim crowd in Brooklyn that celebrated the death of 3000 innocent people. This is what I hate about Muslim Americans...they are not real Americans and they do not condemn their fellow Muslims when they act like worriers. So excuse me if I don`t care about the "religion of peace" and if I`m an ignorant American. Excuse me if I DO NOT want to see women wearing head scarfs and berkas. Welcome to America..now adapt. And I was not even born on American ground, but I love this country more than anything else, and I did my best to become an American citizen. How many of you can say that???? NONE, I bet. So OMG NO WAY...stop saying OMG..Allah will get mad.

      September 2, 2011 at 10:15 pm |
    • Be Afraid

      OMG, you are funny. So far all (most) of my posts have received predictable responses, haha. Not unintended.

      September 2, 2011 at 10:42 pm |
    • Be Afraid

      OMG, you struggled in public school? it is OK, your childish post is not very clever, but it is humorous. Close enough for a few laughs.

      September 2, 2011 at 10:48 pm |
  13. Thomas

    In Britain now there are over 80 Sharia courts. We will not stop until Sharia Law is the law of the land in Europe and the US. It will probably take 100 years here and 50 in Europe before we have Islamic states. But they are coming and your grandkids will be better off for it.

    September 2, 2011 at 9:42 pm |
    • Matt

      Yeah, can't wait for my child to be treated as a second rate citizen.

      September 2, 2011 at 9:47 pm |
    • kate

      you're dumb.

      September 2, 2011 at 10:00 pm |
    • JLP

      If what you say is true,the British are more stupid than I thought they were.The writer referenced the Koran,but I doubt that it was written while Mohammad was alive.

      September 2, 2011 at 10:04 pm |
    • Rags

      Why? Just because you say so?
      I believe those radical thoughts of yours are what the real Muslims are trying stop.

      September 2, 2011 at 10:10 pm |
  14. s

    Religion is the WORST thing that ever happened to the human race!!!

    September 2, 2011 at 9:40 pm |
    • FrigginDave

      Pretty much

      September 2, 2011 at 9:50 pm |
    • juggles

      We were fine for thousands of years until the religiotards made up their silly gods.

      September 2, 2011 at 9:54 pm |
    • FrigginDave

      I think ignorance in general was pretty devastating to humanity.

      September 2, 2011 at 9:56 pm |
  15. Earnest Angley


    September 2, 2011 at 9:39 pm |
    • Fonzo

      Dude, why do you think Libya's in a revolution right now? The citizens there don't actually LIKE Gaddhafi.

      September 2, 2011 at 10:04 pm |
    • Be Afraid

      Problem is with such a heavy workload there is a temporary shortage of virgins in Islam heaven, very worrying to Kaddafi Duck and sons.

      September 2, 2011 at 10:27 pm |
  16. J.W

    Why did the conversation in here become so hateful? We were having a nice discussion earlier.

    September 2, 2011 at 9:31 pm |
    • Fonzo

      Aw. Guess I joined the party late – all I found here was a pit of hatred and anger. =/

      September 2, 2011 at 10:05 pm |
  17. Tom

    REligiion is one of the scourge's of mankind, not too mention mankind itself. If you're over 5 years old and belive in these infantile delusions, you're in dire need of a labotomy you noodle braiins. Amd if you're a muslim you're really delusional and dangerous

    September 2, 2011 at 9:30 pm |
    • juggles

      This is the truth.

      September 2, 2011 at 9:56 pm |
  18. Be Afraid

    The U.S. government is not aware of any specific threat of a terrorist attack to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said in a statement Friday.
    But overseas travelers should remain wary, the State Department said in a worldwide travel alert.
    "In the past, terrorist organizations have on occasion planned their attacks to coincide with significant dates on the calendar."

    Guess they are concerned about those violent anti-American Buddhists.

    September 2, 2011 at 9:28 pm |
    • Sam I Am

      It is important, aside from smug, self-righteous sarcasm to recognize that the threat is from Muslim EXTREMISTS. These people make up about 1/10 of 1 percent of all Muslims, if even that. I have traveled in North Africa and the Middle East, unlike most Americans. I can tell you that Muslims are very much like we are. They love God, they love their families, and they love their countries, AND they do not want to harm Americans or anyone else. If you would actually take the time to try to meet a Muslim or two, you would find them to be people you would realize you have about the same values with, and that you would like very much. Additionally, there is freedom of religion in this country. That doesn't mean freedom of religions like yours. It means freedom of any religion. To Earnest, SOME Muslims, who live in primitive areas, use their LEFT hand for personal hygiene. It is extremely rude to touch another person or touch food with your left hand. The right hand is OK. Muslims who live in cities and have access to regular facilities behave just like we do, using paper and washing their hands. There are a good number of AMERICANS who don't wash their hands after using the bathroom, so get over yourself, and get your fact straight.

      September 2, 2011 at 9:38 pm |
    • Be Afraid

      Sami, I realize all of that, but when the energy is put into my accepting them rather than them policing their own (yes, I know, to a certain extent they do that) I lose interest. No excuses.

      September 2, 2011 at 10:21 pm |
    • Chris R

      Be Afraid, When I turn on the news I see story after story of Americans murdering each other. I see stories about them cheating each other. I see stories about them raping and beating each other. When I see stories like this why shouldn't I be afraid of Americans? Why aren't they spending more time policing their own?

      September 4, 2011 at 10:53 am |
  19. amiblue

    I don't understand the radical behavior from any side of this debate. All sides have good and all have bad. That is unfortunately the way the world is any more. But why can't we all have honor in ourselves and do for others, no matter who they are, as we wish done for ourselves? Why not work hard and honestly and give more than we receive? We are the world and through us is what the future holds.

    September 2, 2011 at 9:26 pm |
    • Conrad Miller

      A noble sentiment (honestly), and it would be great (truly) if we all followed such sentiments. Problem is that Islamofascists do not play by these rules. Personally, I could care less which Sky God, Earth Mother or Woodland Nymph my next door neighbor prays to–as long as their beliefs do not infringe upon my own. Islam proselytizes at the point of the sword when coercion or crying "Oh poor me, I am being abused" doesn't work. When Islam allows its followers to change religions without worrying about being killed, then I will acknowledge it as religion worthy of the other faiths we humans have invented. Until then, I maintain it is a cult.

      September 2, 2011 at 9:40 pm |
    • Be Afraid

      Problem is not the good, it is the bad, and many people think that too much of the so-called muslim world, is in denial about that.

      September 2, 2011 at 10:22 pm |
  20. Hockeyn109

    I believe there are good Muslims as well as bad Muslims. The same for persons of every other religion. My only negative criticism of Islam is the treatment of women. The women are at the mercy of the men and this should not be the case. I understand there are varying beliefs and interpretations of the Quran, same as different interpretations of the Bible. However the Muslims must allow equality for all genders.

    September 2, 2011 at 9:24 pm |
    • TonyFL

      Not all muslims are terrorists but all terrorists are muslims !

      September 2, 2011 at 9:40 pm |
    • Paul

      Islam tells you how to speak, dress, eat, pray, and controls all aspects of your life and the only thing you are concerned about is equality? That's why the world will become islamic without much of a fight.

      September 2, 2011 at 9:51 pm |
    • brahim

      If all terrorist are Muslims what do you call those Christian Mexicans killing people for Drugs,we call them rebels??????

      September 2, 2011 at 9:53 pm |
    • Fonzo

      Actually the gender inequality thing is a cultural/political issue. Before the Islamic Revolution, Iran didn't have a problem with women walking around without their heads covered or anything. Then along comes the Ayatollah and everything goes sideways. And in South Asia and Indonesia, women are on level ground with the men. The only time they really wear their head-coverings is during a prayer service or if they just want to cover up.

      I recommend reading/watching Persepolis. It's a very good film.

      September 2, 2011 at 10:14 pm |
    • sofas

      brevik the norwegian terrorist wasn't a Muslim! He was a Christian terrorist, dude! How we never forget when it's someone else but how soon we forget when it's one of our own!

      September 4, 2011 at 2:25 am |
    • sofas

      My last comment was directed at TonyFL

      September 4, 2011 at 2:27 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.