Muslim Students In New York City

It has been almost 20 years since the terrible tragedy of 9/11 changed us and the world forever. In the post 9/11 world, Muslims students in the New York City school system experience continue to search for their identity. Following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the religion of Islam and their followers have been taken very seriously by the West. For example, more people have shown interest in learning and understanding Islam since the aftermath of 9/11. Furthermore, many research studies have been conducted to explore and investigate the religion of Islam in America (e.g. Council on American Islamic Relation, 2001, 2002, 2003; Ali, Liu, & Humedian, 2004).

Literature on Muslims in America

A portion of this literature focused on the political, cultural, and religious aspects of Islam, and other portions focused on the everyday life of Muslims. Ali, Liu, and Humedian (2004) reported that “despite the growing number of Muslims in the United States, many Americans remain ignorant or largely suspicious of this group of people” (p. 635). Consequently, there is little research on the personal experiences of Muslim students in the United States of America following 9/11, that is, how this tragedy affected their personal experiences in the American school system. The limited literature available on Muslim Americans identifies them as the victims of prejudice, discrimination, and physical assaults. For instance, South Asian Muslims, particularly Pakistanis and Indians, have reported constant discrimination on the basis of their religious affiliation and appearance (Bloomberg & Gatling, 2003; Maira, 2004).

Discrimination Against Muslims following the Attack

According to the New York City Commission on Human Rights (2003) report on “Discrimination against Muslims, Arabs, and South Asians in New York City Since 9/11,” 79% of the respondents felt that the events of 9/11 affected their lives regardless of whether they believed they had experienced discrimination. The report adds, “Many spoke of being scared, stared at, intimidated, fearful, alienated, depressed, uncomfortable, cautious, hurt, uneasy, ridiculed, shamed, misunderstood, sad, blamed, insecure, scrutinized, and emotionally stressed” (Bloomberg & Gatling, 2003, p.14).

American Dream of Prosperity

The United States of America entered into the 21st century with a greater amount of challenges than its government had anticipated. Americans were forced to discover new resources in order to stay ahead in the race against other industrial nations. Prosperity in America attracted millions of immigrants to come to the Unites States. The First Amendment of the United States Constitution defends the right to freedom of religion and freedom of expression. Fortitude and freedom, essential traits in the foundation of society, have inspired millions of people across the world to find refuge on American soil. Additionally, maintaining these essential traits is critical. Emma Lazarus writes an inspirational poem concerning America and its famous landmark, the Statue of Liberty, “Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand a mighty woman with a torch, whose flame is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles” (Statue of Liberty National Monument, 2010, p. 1). Lazarus’s poem reflects the true picture of America’s open arms towards those who have no hope or home elsewhere and for those who have been persecuted in their native countries for differences in political and religious stances.

Freedom of Speech

Secondary to the importance of freedom of speech and religion is the quality of the education system, which has also attracted millions of people to the United States. After finishing their education, some international students decide to stay in the United States, while others choose to return home. Nevertheless, America is the pioneer of human rights, particularly in the area of education rights.

American Foreign Policy and its Identity

Muslim Pakistani and Indian students in the American school system are part of the South Asian community, where they or their parents immigrated to the United States to experience the same freedom, and quality of life and education as Americans. It is imperative to look at the relationship between American and Islamic society in the historical context, particularly foreign policy in the United States, because it helps individuals to understand the difference between the American perception of Muslims and the Muslim perception about America before and after the September 11th terrorist attacks. On the subject of American perception, Huntington said it best: A nation’s interests derive from its identity. But without an enemy to define itself against, America’s identity has disintegrated. This breakdown intensified with the rise of multiculturalism and the ebbing of assimilation. Lacking a national identity, America has been pursuing commercial or ethnic interests as its foreign policy. Instead of putting American resources toward these subnational uses, the United States should scale back its involvement in the world until a threat reinvigorates our national purpose (Huntington, 2004, para. 1).

Photo credit: Fahad Shadeed/Reuters/File

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