Islam: The Next American Religion?

The U.S. began as a haven for Christian outcasts. But what religion fits our current zeitgeist? The answer may be Islam.

Americans tend to think of their country as, at the very least, a nominally Christian nation. Didn't the Pilgrims come here for freedom to practice their

Christian

religion? Don't Christian values of righteousness under God, and freedom, reinforce America's democratic, capitalist ideals?



True enough. But there's a new religion on the block now, one that fits the current zeitgeist nicely. It's Islam.

Islam is the third-largest and fastest growing religious community in the United States. This is not just because of immigration. More than 50% of America's six million Muslims were born here. Statistics like these imply some basic agreement between core American values and the beliefs that Muslims hold. Americans who make the effort to look beyond popular stereotypes to learn the truth of Islam are surprised to find themselves on familiar ground.

Is America a Muslim nation? Here are seven reasons the answer may be yes.

Islam is monotheistic. Muslims worship the same God as Jews and Christians. They also revere the same prophets as Judaism and Christianity, from Abraham, the first monotheist, to Moses, the law giver and messenger of God, to Jesus--not leaving out Noah, Job, or Isaiah along the way. The concept of a Judeo-Christian tradition only came to the fore in the 1940s in America. Now, as a nation, we may be transcending it, turning to a more inclusive "Abrahamic" view.

In January, President Bush grouped mosques with churches and synagogues in his inaugural address. A few days later, when he posed for photographers at a meeting of several dozen religious figures, the Shi'ite imam Muhammad Qazwini, of Orange County, Calif., stood directly behind Bush's chair like a presiding angel, dressed in the robes and turban of his south Iraqi youth.

Islam is democratic in spirit. Islam advocates the right to vote and educate yourself and pursue a profession. The Qur'an, on which Islamic law is based, enjoins Muslims to govern themselves by discussion and consensus. In mosques, there is no particular priestly hierarchy. With Islam, each individual is responsible for the condition of her or his own soul. Everyone stands equal before God.

Americans, who mostly associate Islamic government with a handful of tyrants, may find this independent spirit surprising, supposing that Muslims are somehow predisposed to passive submission. Nothing could be further from the truth. The dictators reigning today in the Middle East are not the result of Islamic principles. They are more a result of global economics and the aftermath of European colonialism. Meanwhile, like everyone else, average Muslims the world over want a larger say in what goes on in the countries where they live. Those in America may actually succeed in it. In this way, America is closer in spirit to Islam than many Arab countries.

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