Dispelling false notions about Muslims

Paul Barrett
Paul Barrett

How typical of an American is Khizr Khan, the man who stole the show on the Democratic National Convention’s last night? Pretty typical.

U.S. Muslims are much more mainstream than many Americans might think. Khan brought down the house in Philadelphia when he told the story of his son’s heroic war death in Iraq and excoriated Donald Trump for spreading religious intolerance.

Kahn’s son, Army Captain Humayun Khan, died in 2004 as a result of a car bomb explosion in Iraq. Capt. Kahn was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart. Earlier, he graduated from University of Virginia, where he enrolled in the ROTC program.

The Khans embody the material and educational success of the roughly 3 million American Muslims who make up about 1 percent of the overall population. Almost 60 percent of Muslims in America report on surveys that they have college degrees, compared to less than 30 percent of all Americans. The elder Khan, who is 65 and an immigrant from the United Arab Emirates, was born in Pakistan and attended a master’s program in law at Harvard University. He works as a legal consultant in Charlottesville, Va.

When it comes to earnings, some 45 percent of Muslims report family income of $50,000 or more. The national average is 44 percent. Many American Muslims are professionals. Surveys show as many as 5 percent of U.S. doctors are Muslim.

As I noted in my 2007 book, “American Islam: The Struggle for the Soul of a Religion,” some in the U.S. harbor misconceptions about their Muslim neighbors. For example, most aren’t of Arab descent, and most Americans of Arab descent aren’t Muslim, but Christian. The largest group of American Muslims are of South Asian descent, namely Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. About a quarter of the American Muslim population are of Arab descent, and less than one-quarter are African Americans, many of whom are converts from Christianity. The remaining American Muslims are immigrants, or children of immigrants, from such places as Africa, Turkey and Iran.

American Muslims, in other words, are incredibly diverse. Politically, Muslims have been on the move. In 2000, some 80 percent reported voting for George W. Bush. By 2008, after the backlash following the Sept. 11 attacks, two-thirds said they backed Barack Obama. Trump’s proposal to bar Muslims from coming to the U.S. may drive an even larger proportion to vote Democratic – at least, that’s what Hillary Clinton is hoping.

There are strains of fanaticism running through some American mosques and a tiny minority of Muslim American homes. The Orlando, Fla., and San Bernardino, Calif., terrorist attacks illustrate that all too vividly. But weighing heavily against such incidents is a larger Muslim population proudly represented by Khzir Kahn and his family.

Twitter: @AuthorPMBarrett.