Immigrants feeding the faith

Assimilation, with Islamic values intact ( USA Today ) Maria Puente


     GARDEN GROVE, Calif. - Fifteen years ago there were two Islamic
  mosques in southern California; today there are more than 50.
  Ten years ago, 500 people showed up for Friday services in the
  mosque here; now there are more than 1,500 worshipers.
     This month, the first mosque in the region built in the
  traditional style - dome and minaret - opened in Los Angeles; three
  more will open in the next few years.
     Southern California has become home to the nation's largest and
  fastest-growing Muslim population, most of them immigrants from
  South Asia, the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Africa.    "They're
  here for the same reasons that so many other immigrants have come
  to Los Angeles, and California in general - for economic reasons,
  family reunification, and because of war or political turmoil (in
  their home countries)," says Jonathan Friedlander, a sociologist at
  the University of California, Los Angeles, who is studying Muslim
     "They're not here to change American society - they're more
  afraid American society will change them."
     Muslims say they have much in common with America's dominant
  Judeo-Christian culture, with its emphasis on family, work and
     "We recognize and respect Christian and Jewish values, because
  they are not very different from Islamic values," says Shamin Khan,
  an Indian-born teacher at the Orange Crescent School, one of many
  Islamic elementary schools in the region. "Our task is to give
  non-Muslims the message of what we really are."
     What they are not, community leaders say, is terrorists or
  religious fanatics. They see no conflict between American democracy
  and Islam, and they have no desire to alter the secular character
  of America's institutions.
     "In many ways, Islam reiterates basic American values," says
  Salah Abdul-Wahid, a documentary filmmaker and a leader in the Los
  Angeles Muslim community. "We are trying to integrate Islamic
  values into the discussion of what it means to be an American."
     Assimilation is the goal. "But it is assimilation on our own
  terms, not by giving up our religion," says Muzammil Siddiqi,
  director of the Islamic Society of Orange County, the largest
  mosque in the county.
     "I have no problem with my children's culture being American, as
  long as their values remain Islamic," says Nahid Ansari, 31, an
  Iranian-born immigrant. Her husband, Levent Akbarut, is
  Turkish-American; their three American-born children attend an
  Islamic elementary school.
     No one knows for sure how many Muslims live in the region, but
  some estimates put the total - counting American-born Muslims - at
     Orange County has at least 30,000, and as many as 90% are
  foreign-born, says Ihsan Bagby, director of the Islamic Resource
  Institute, a think tank in Los Angeles.
     He and other researchers say most foreign-born Muslims in the
  region are educated, middle-class, white-collar professionals.
     They have little in common but their religion and knowledge of
  Arabic, which Muslims learn as the language of the Koran. More are
  from South Asia - India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh -
  than from Arab countries, but they span the spectrum of race,
  ethnicity, language and culture.     They have largely avoided
  nativist resentment, partly because they are not perceived as
  drains on society and are widely dispersed in the region and less
  visible than other immigrants.     Immigrant Muslims do get crank
  calls, taunts, even threats after terrorist incidents or when the
  United States is in conflict with Islamic countries. But their
  experiences mostly mirror those of other immigrants before them.
     "The hardest thing to adjust to, for any immigrant, is the
  isolation of American society," says Valerie Curtis Diop, an
  American-born convert to Islam and immigration lawyer in Los Angeles.
     Plus, religion makes special demands of Muslims. They are
  expected to pray five times daily, facing east toward Mecca. They
  are expected to carefully check food ingredients to ensure there
  are no pork byproducts. In a society that celebrates alcohol, they
  are prohibited from imbibing. And in a culture saturated with
  sexual images, they struggle to keep their teen-agers from too much
  intermingling with the opposite sex.
     "There are difficulties here; it is not a paradise, but at the
  same time there is freedom to live and practice Islam the way we
  want to," says Siddiqi.