IMMIGRATION OF MUSLIMS TO THE WEST

 


2. The Muslim presence in America

Migration occurred in a series of distinguishable periods. The first was between 1875 and 1912 from rural areas of what was then called Greater Syria under the rule of the vast Ottoman Empire, currently Syria, Jordan, Palestine, and Lebanon. The vast majority of the immigrants at that time were Christian, often somewhat knowledgeable about America because of training in missionary schools. A small percentage was comprised of Sunni, Shi'i, Alawi, and Druze Muslims. By the latter half of the twentieth century that ratio was to be reversed.

The second wave came at the end of World War I, after the demise of the Ottoman Empire, which had controlled most of the Muslim Middle East. It also coincided with Western colonial rule under the mandate system in the Middle East. Many people coming to America at that time were relatives of Muslims who had already emigrated and established themselves to some degree in this country. U.S immigration laws passed in 1921 and 1924 imposed quota systems for particular nations, which significantly curtailed the numbers of Muslims who were allowed to enter the country.

During the third period, which lasted through most of the 1930s, immigration was open specifically and only to relatives of people already living in America. The actual numbers of Muslims allowed to settle there were limited and did not rise until after World War II.

Muslims praying in New YorkThe fourth wave, which lasted from 1947 to 1960, saw considerable expansion in the sources of immigration. The Nationality Act of 1953 gave each country an annual quota of immigrants. Because it was based on population percentages in the United States at the end of the nineteenth century, however, most of the immigrants allowed to enter the country were from Europe. Still, the trickle of Muslims continued, coming now not only from the Middle East but also from many parts of the world including India and Pakistan (after the partitioning of the subcontinent in 1947), Eastern Europe (mainly from Albania and Yugoslavia), and the Soviet Union. Most of these arrivals settled in large cities such a Chicago and New York. Unlike their earlier counterparts, many of these immigrants were urban in background and well educated, and some were members of the families of former ruling elites. Often already quite Westernised in their attitudes, they came to the United States in hope of continuing their education or receiving advanced technical training.

Eid StampThe last and final wave was related both to decisions internal to the United States and to events taking place in several parts of the Islamic world. In 1965 President Lyndon Johnson signed an immigration act repealing the quotas based on national diversity within the United States. For the first time since the early part of the century one's right to enter the country was not specifically dependent on his or her national or ethnic origin. Immigration from Europe thus declined, while that from the Middle East and Asia increased dramatically, more than half of the newcomers were Muslim. Over the last several decades, political turmoil in many countries of the Muslim world has occasioned increased emigration (exodus of Palestinians, revolution in Iran, the military coup in Afghanistan, the Lebanese civil war…) and consequently contributed to the Muslim presence in America.
Most now come from the subcontinent of South Asia, including Pakistanis, Indians, and Bangladeshis. Today this group probably numbers more than one million. Increasingly they are being joined by sizeable groups coming from Indonesia and Malaysia. Some estimates place the Iranians in this country at close to a million, with representatives of Arab countries of the Middle East, Turks, and Eastern Europeans close behind. Muslim come from a large number of African nations, including Ghana, Kenya, Senegal, Uganda, Cameroon, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Tanzania, and many others. Naturally, these immigrants represent a great range of Islamic movements and ideologies. They are Sunnis and Shi'ites, Sufis, religious and secular people. Many have come from circumstances in which Islam is the majority religion and find their new minority status in America difficult to adjust to. With each new arrival the picture of Islam in America becomes increasingly complex.
(Source:Islam in America by Jane Smith)

Introduction