If you look up “melting pot” in the dictionary, don’t be surprised to see a picture of America. Since its’ inception, the United States has been a haven for diversity. At times the diversity developed organically through immigration from Europe, Asia, and Middle America. Other times, that diversity developed through coercion vis a vis the slave trade. However one might recognize it, America has always been one of the most diverse countries on Earth.
However, one thing has confused me for quite some time. I often travel to different parts of the country for social as well as business reasons. Often the reason has to do with a lecture or conference on Islam. When people identify me as a Muslim I’m often asked, “Where are you from.” In fact, when I travel to a different part of the world for some Islamic conference, I am often asked the same question, “Where are you from?” Whether I’m in Los Angeles or London, I give the same answer, “I’m from Chicago.” Interestingly enough, people from London respond with something like, “Oh Chicago, how wonderful! What’s it like there?” And then I respond with all the great things our city has to offer. However, what amazes me is that my fellow Americans respond with, “No but really, where are you from?”
I know what they’re getting at. I can see it coming a mile away. And frankly, I’m not offended because I know the intent is sincere and honest.
But here’s my question. Why can’t a Muslim just be from America? Is it so odd? Currently there are between 7 and 9 million Muslims living in America according to most estimates. Also, Islam is the fastest growing religion in the United States. Believe it or not, Islam appeals to Americans. The reasons why it appeals to America will be discussed later, but the fact that it does is no longer in dispute. Then why does it seem strange to some that an American who happens to be Muslim might actually identify with America?
Well, what’s my answer to those who ask where I’m “really” from? A smile, a sincere look in their eye, and a statement. “Well, I really am an American citizen, but my family history comes from Pakistan.” Then a quick follow up, “Where does your family come from?” Again, because I sincerely want to know.
Islam lives in every part of the world, America included. It has become as rich a part of the American fiber as…well, apple pie, with early Muslims arriving hundreds of years ago as slaves during the slave trade. (And many Muslims even before them as free men). Muslim’s might really be from somewhere else, just like every person in America short of Native Americans. But rest assured, like everyone else, there are plenty of Muslims who are really from America, really.