With a recent poll showing that 25 percent of Americans have a
negative opinion of Muslims, Islam scholar Umar Farooq Abdullah
faced an uphill in explaining the history of Islam in America, last
night at Hutchins Hall in the Law Quad.

Beth Dykstra
Dr. Umar Farooq Abdullah gives a speech titled “Roots of Islam in America,” an explanation of the history of Islam in America, yesterday in Hutchins Hall as part of Islam Awareness Week. (Mike Hulsebus/Daily)

In response to these numbers, Abdullah stressed the importance
of American Muslims defining themselves, instead of letting the
media -— or anyone — else do it for them.

“People hate what they don’t know. When Muslims
become concrete, then prejudices begin to fade,” Abdullah
said.

In his talk, Abdullah highlighted the shared history of Muslims
with blacks, another group that has historically been discriminated
against in American history. He stressed that the road to
immigration for many Arab Muslims and other Muslim immigrants was
opened in 1965 because of provisions made by the civil rights
movement.

“We personally owe a tremendous debt to the African
American legacy in American history, and especially the civil
rights movement,” Abdullah said.

Abdullah added that although the media often portray Muslims in
America as being Arabs, 33 percent of American Muslims are South
Asian, 30 percent are black and 25 percent are actually Arabs.

With leaders like Muhammad Ali and even more controversial
figures such Malcolm X converting to the religion, black Muslims
have become a growing and prominent population in the Islamic
world.

Engineering junior Chris Blauvelt said the connection between
blacks and Muslim Americans was especially pertinent, because
it’s specifically in the black community — not the
white community — where he feels the religion will grow.

“In the African American community they feel more
comfortable with Islam because they have role models within the
Islam community,” Blauvelt said.

He added that this is different than in the white community,
which views Muslim leaders and Muslims in general as intimidating.
He added that some whites don’t feel like they have anything
to gain from Islam.

Abdullah showed throughout history there were African Muslims,
including many West African Muslims who came to America through the
slave trade.

Besides the African Muslims who were brought to America through
the slave trade, Abdullah talked about the five Muslim migrations
to the United States from the 1800s to the present. He also
mentioned a theory that an African Muslim king discovered America
even before Columbus.

Abdullah highlighted the many achievements that Muslims have
brought to America.

“In this area you probably couldn’t go to a hospital
without encountering at least one Muslim physician, male or
female,” Abdullah said.

Law student Hebba Aref said she enjoyed finding out more about
Muslim history, especially, because it is not taught in the
conventional primary or secondary school systems. “Yeah, it
was good to take a look at our history. It was left out of the
educational system most of us grew up in. It was good to hear about
it from an outside source,” Aref said.

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