My mother became Muslim in the early seventies, and I was born in the mid 70's when Islam was just beginning to burgeon within the African American community of the north.
I grew up in the projects and ghettos of Brooklyn. Like many other black kids, I did not know my father. But my love of baseball and comic books (and my very strict mother) kept me off the streets.
However, nothing could keep the streets from getting to me. With NYC's crime rate rising in the early 90's, my mother made a drastic decision, and sent me to Senegal, West Africa to study Islam. I was 14 yrs old.
I studied for three years in Senegal before switching to Darul Uloom, an Islamic education institute in Trinidad and Tobago. I spent two years there and finally returned to New York.
I returned to NY, went to College, got married, graduated, got a job, and started having kids.
People tend to make assumptions about me. Because I am American, and I don't wear traditional Muslim clothing, Muslims usually think I'm new to Islam, or don't know much about my faith.
They are often surprised by what I know.
And non-Muslim Americans are generally surprised to learn that I'm Muslim. After all, Muslims aren't Mets fans! Muslims don't know how Spider-Man got his powers!
American Muslims are not like Muslims from other parts of the world. We are very fortunate, economically speaking. But we are torn. And in more ways than one.
My time in Africa and Trinidad made me love America. I missed home so much that I absorbed everything American. I craved American food and learned to distinguish between the many different American accents.
But when 9/11 happened, things changed. This is what I mean by American Muslims are torn.
I am a descendant of slaves. My family has fought in several American wars. I am just as much a part of this nation's legacy as anyone else.
Yet, my country sometimes appears to be at war with my faith.
We (Muslims) have to be careful what we say for fear of being labeled a terrorist or even worse, being arrested or investigated.
We have to be careful which websites we go to. Some Muslims have been arrested for saying the wrong things in Muslim chat rooms.
We have to be careful about which charities we support. Some Muslim charities have been accused of supporting terrorist groups overseas.
We have to be careful which Muslims we invite into our homes. The FBI has used undercover Muslim agents to indict Muslims for various crimes.
And then there's the issue of raising the next generation of American Muslims.
My kids love T.V., movies, candy, and video games like any other American child. But I have to be careful to regulate what they see. And I must still make sure they get an adequate Islamic education.
For me, the future is about hope and fear.
Hope that Islam will continue to grow in America. I am confident of that because I see how many Muslims are here now compared to when I was a kid.
I have hope that we will someday be able to reconcile our faith with American political aims. I have hope that more average Americans will become familiar and comfortable with Islam without thinking we're trying to take over and change American values.
But there's always that underlying, creepy fear that one day, a really bad terrorist attack will happen in America, and the wrong person will be President.
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