Santa Clara County, Education

As Ramadan Closes, a Look at American Muslims

American Muslims observe the end of the holy month of Ramadan this week, a few days after President Donald Trump hosted an iftar dinner at the White House. The guest list was noticeably skewed toward diplomats rather than prominent American Muslims.

Muslims the world over fast during the day during Ramadan and every evening break the fast with an iftar.

Many American Muslims say they remain deeply skeptical of the president, who has often spoken of their faith in terms they consider ignorant and troubling.

County Supervisor Joe Simitian hosts discussions

Concerned about the public’s general lack of understanding regarding Islam, Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian recently moderated a series of panel discussions with Muslim leaders to let them talk about who Muslims really are, what they really believe, and what it’s like to be an American Muslim.

In the wake of the 9/11 attacks in 2001, many Americans fear Islam and Muslims, who they say have been portrayed in the media as having a tendency toward terrorism.

Simitian asked the panelists provocative questions about their lives, their faith and their attitudes. What’s wrong, he asked, with using the term “Islamic terrorists?” After all, groups like Islamic State use the name of the faith within their own names and profess to carry out their violent deeds in the name of Allah, or God.

Kicking off one of the well-attended “Understanding Islam” sessions in Palo Alto and Mountain View, Simitian explained why he held the events: to reduce tensions between the Muslim and non-Muslim communities. “In my view,” he said, “we are lucky to live in one of the most diverse places in the country, but without understanding the diverse cultures amongst us, misunderstandings abound.”

Some takeaways from the discussions

  • Muslims don’t all think, act, eat, dress and practice their faith alike. Some are secular, some are devout. A wide range of cultural influences informs their beliefs and customs.
  • Islam is a mainstream faith, not an ideology.
  • As a group, American Muslims are better educated than the average American.
  • While there are important theological differences between Islam and Christianity, Islamic values do not fundamentally clash with Western ones.  
  • Muslims are often asked why they don’t condemn acts of terrorism. Answer: They do, but they don’t have a prominent, authoritative figure, like the pope, who speaks for all adherents. Why, American Muslims ask in return, aren’t Christians asked to defend their faith when one of their own goes off the rails?
  • Most American Muslims were born in the U.S. They feel a deep affinity for the values of tolerance, democracy and pluralistic thought. Muslims may be fairly small in number in the U.S., but they’ve been here since Africans were brought to these shores as slaves. Islam is also the fastest-growing faith in America.

Watch and Learn

  1. Understanding Islam: What Does It Mean to be a Muslim, the Basics (Mountain View, April 16, 2018)
  2. Understanding Islam: Fear of a Faith: Sharia, Surveillance, Terrorism, the Muslim Ban: What’s Real, and What’s Not? (Haymarket Theater, Palo Alto High School, May 2017)
  3. Understanding Islam: Women and Islam: What It Means to be a Muslim Woman, and How Islam Intersect With Gender in Today’s World (Cubberley Community Center Theater, Palo Alto, May 2017)


June 14, 2018

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June 2018
Santa Clara County