How do Sikhs feel about Americans?
The land that Allah looks at and the good Lord
A former soldier apparently linked to white racist groups enters a Sikh sanctuary in Wisconsin and shoots six people before being struck down. And in the town of Joplin in southwest Missouri, a mosque is being burned to the ground by unknown assassins. The faithful gather for evening prayers on the lawn next to the completely destroyed building. "That's what we stand for," says Dr. Ahmed Asmadullah, who belongs to the Islamic community. "Freedom of religion. Freedom of speech." The imam of the community, a Mr. Lahmuddin, holds his face in his hands, stunned. Meanwhile, over in Wisconsin, the Sikhs are burying their dead. What's going on there? Is America losing that which is the most precious thing about this country, its tolerance of all religions? Will white Americans soon attack anything that is Islamic or - like the Sikhs - looks like it from a distance?
No. Among the underreported facts is that America may be the only western country where Muslims feel completely at home. On a normal Thursday we were in the town of Paterson, New Jersey, an hour's drive from Manhattan. Paterson is home to the second largest Muslim enclave in the United States (the largest is believed to be in Dearborn, Michigan). Paterson, that's just under 150,000 residents; Single family houses; Mid-range cars and a dead straight main street, which is naturally called Main Street. However, you can see a lot of Arabic characters on this special Main Street. In supermarkets you can get meat that is "halal", that is, kosher according to Islamic standards. On the shelves of the Al Fattal grocery store you can find date syrup in pot-bellied glasses.
According to a census in 2010, there were a total of 2.6 million Americans of Muslim faith. But it could very well be a few hundred thousand more; Nobody knows for sure, because religion in America is a private matter that does not concern the state. What is certain, however, is that the majority of American Muslims are better educated than non-Muslim Americans, that they earn more and, moreover, form an ethnically very diverse community. A quarter are black Americans, the rest are made up of immigrants from Southeast Asia, the Arab countries, a few Bosnians and converts. By September 11, 2001, American Muslims tended to vote for Conservative Republicans; since the "war on terror" they have sharply turned their backs on them and prefer to vote for the Democrats. According to surveys, 71 percent of American Muslims say that hard work can be achieved in this country (non-Muslims: 64 percent). 38 percent of the Prophet's followers are satisfied with the state of the United States (non-Muslims: 32 percent).
There is a bakery called "Nablus" in Paterson, New Jersey. There, while we were spooning our knafeh (melted sugar cheese), we saw the first and only fully veiled woman we spotted on our visit. The pair of eyes, which looked very vividly out of the slit in the black burqa, were young; two sons in T-shirts and jeans lounged around her. The young, fully veiled woman casually turned a car key on a ring around her middle finger while she had her desserts put together from a display case. Later she got behind the wheel of a car and drove away. Nobody could forbid her to do so - after all, we weren't in Saudi Arabia. And no one could forbid her to wear a burqa - the state does not issue dress codes in America.
In the café "Nablus" we had the way to the Islamic Center of Passaic County explained to us ("Passaic County" is the district in which Paterson is located). A large, carpeted mosque that was once a synagogue. There we met an Emad Hamdeh in a small office right next to the prayer room, who works with young Islamic-American youth for this mosque. Emad Hamdeh wore traditional Arab clothing - a beige dishdasha that reached to the ankles, a skull cap - and had a thick black fundamentalist beard. At the beginning we wanted to know from him whether one could be a good Muslim and a good American at the same time.
"In fact, it's very simple," replied Emad Hamdeh. "Islam is a religion that has always adapted to different cultures, has accepted the good in these cultures, discarded the bad. One time young people came to me and said: 'We are Muslims, not Americans.' I asked these young people: Do you know Arabic? What do you like to eat? What kind of sport do you love? Of course they all couldn't speak a word of Arabic. Most of them ate pizza. They had a crush on baseball. You're Americans, I said to these young people . "
Well, that's the general culture. And what about America's political culture - is it also compatible with Islam? "Have you ever been to an Arab country?" Emad Hamdeh asked back. "Did you see the dirt there? The chaos on the streets? I think that's deeply un-Islamic. Here in America, people follow the traffic rules. The streets are clean. And the Imam doesn't have to fear arrest, even if he does sometimes holds a political sermon. I find all of this Islamic, although America is certainly not an Islamic country. "
However, it doesn't take much research to find that the first imam of the Passaic County's Islamic Center was convicted of raising funds for the infamous Holy Land Foundation, which promptly passed the money on to the terrorist organization Hamas. Another imam at the mosque is accused of sneaking immigration to America by hiding the fact that he was imprisoned in Israel as a member of Hamas.
Mohammed El-Fitali, spokesman for the mosque association, calls these allegations unfounded; it was only about collecting money for the widows and orphans of Palestine. "Our mosque operates legally under the laws of New Jersey and the United States. It has never been closed for a day."
Back on Main Street we went to a Turkish tea room. We did not meet a single pious Muslim there; and we were the only ones who didn't speak Turkish. A dating show broadcast directly from Istanbul was playing on a giant screen. The owner of the tea room - a guy in a red T-shirt with laugh lines around his eyes - placed steaming glasses in front of us. "Where are you from?" He asked. Manhattan or Germany
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