Sarah Eltantawi

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Former Policy Director, Muslim Public Affairs Council

Sarah Eltantawi The Muslim community is very diverse – ethnically, in terms of immigration patterns, and also in their political orientation. The first American Muslims trace their arrival back to the slave trade; their descendents in the African American community represent a solid core of indigenous Muslims.

The first big wave of immigration came in the 1920s, from Syria and Lebanon. Most of these immigrants were Christian, some were Muslim.

The largest wave arrived in the 1970s, from the Arab world and South Asia – people who came here as professionals. The founders of MPAC were their children. Now, there are new waves of immigration, mostly refugee-based.

Each segment of the community faces different challenges, and has a different orientation to their identity as Muslims.

Each segment of the community faces different challenges, and has a different orientation to their identity as Muslims. One of the main problems we face is that indigenous and immigrant Muslims have different cultures that come out of that.

In Islam, especial Sunni Islam, there is no clergy, no centralized religious authority. There is a tremendous diversity in how people interpret the meaning of their religion. In that way Islam is similar to Christianity – it’s very diverse.

Some believe Muslims should not vote in elections – they represent a small minority. We aim to put forward the vision that Muslims should be full participants in society, in every area. We did not come together in opposition to anyone, so these differences of orientation are not obvious.

We put forward the vision that Muslims should be full participants in society, in every area.

MPAC started in LA. It grew out of the Islamic Center of Southern California – many of today’s activists came out of their youth group.

We place a premium on trying to forge a different identity, to reconcile being American and being Muslim. Our mission statement talks about how the American Muslim community is a sharp and vibrant part of American pluralism. We can be involved as a community in responding to injustice and community service. It might seem very basic, but it’s not…

Most  immigrant Muslims have been living in “survival mode” – but by now the community is in such deep trouble that we can’t get through without engaging with this country, which is why we emphasize an American Muslim identity.

What’s happening now is the death of the American Dream. To immigrants, the American Dream means believing that you could say whatever you wanted. My family came here from Egypt, believing that America would be more free.

What’s happening now is the death of the American Dream.

Now there is a profound sense of betrayal and disappointment in the American Dream. I said this to the press the day before the Iraq war started.

It’s really challenging people’s fundamental notions. Maybe America is just like Egypt – equally repressive, just more complex and hidden. Some people react to this by saying, let’s just try to make money and take care of our own family.

Then there are people like me, a lifetime rebel. I’ve always told my parents and my community yes, you can rebel. Now it’s beginning to seem less certain.

We are facing a campaign to disenfranchise the Muslim community, economically and politically, for decades to come.

We are facing a campaign to disenfranchise the Muslim community, economically and politically, for decades to come. Commentators are warning people to watch out for Muslims, that they are trying to organize – that they are using democracy to subvert democracy. In DC it’s very obvious – they are painting Muslims as a Fifth Column.

Our charities are being shut down by the government, their assets are frozen by Treasury Department. Lawyers are suing Muslim charities to compensate the families of victims of suicide bombers in Israel/Palestine. What does that say about religious freedom?