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‘There has never been an America without Muslims’

“There has never been an America without Muslims.” By beginning his book, Muslims and the Making of America, with that sentence, author, Amir Hussain, challenges the assumption in certain current political discourse that sees American Muslims as relatively new arrivals that the United States may be able to live without.

With an appearance at a Capitol Hill event, Hussain, a professor of Theological Studies at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, elevated the matter to the center stage of the national conversation.

“Muslims have been part of the American fabric” since the very beginnings of the country, he argued to a gathering of about 100 academics, Hill staffers, policy think tank members, students and intellectuals of diverse backgrounds.

The soft-spoken author cited a range of prominent professions in which American Muslims have been serving for more than 250 years. He also related a couple of examples of the Muslim experience in dealing with notions of exclusivity, otherness and the disparaging belittling of diverse communities by some segments of the American population.

Prof. Hussain’s argument underscored that such thinking cannot deny the reality that Muslims have been in America since their arrival in ships that brought Africans to work as slaves more than two centuries ago. Nor can any narrow-minded narrative discount the fact that Muslims are among the most successful immigrants.

“The history of immigrants is the history of the United States,” the scholar, a Pakistani-American, said.

The event also featured Melissa Rogers, a non-resident senior fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution and Rebecca Samuel Shah, a senior fellow at the Religious Freedom Institute, and Research Professor at the Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion.

Melissa Rogers also referred to American history, saying that the earliest Muslims in America included Turks. She emphasized the inclusive nature of the U.S. Constitution, saying that America seeks to build unity by providing religious liberty for all without any discrimination. “Of course, they (ideas of equality and inclusiveness) need to be the lived experience of everybody,” she noted.

In her remarks, Rebecca Shah directly cited some ongoing issues such as discrimination and violence against Muslims.

She praised the founding concept of the United States of liberty, equality and religious freedom for all, but said that the recent spike in violence against Muslims should be a cause of deep concern.

“We need to defeat bigotry in all forms,” Shah said.

She vehemently opposed the prevalent anti-Muslim narrative, which holds the entire Muslim community responsible for the violent actions of a very few. Dr. Shah observed that Islam is pluralistic in its outlook and the philosophy and practice of Sufism teaches tolerance and coexistence.

American Muslim Institution was part of the event and found it a very valuable contribution towards promoting interfaith discourse and rejecting blatant stereotyping of the Muslim community in contravention of the true spirit of American inclusiveness and pluralism.