Reported Stories 5

The American-Muslim Divide

TV Land is blaring inside Post 19 of the American Legion in Muncie, Indiana. Horses trample across the screen and cowboys stand up in their stirrups, shouting to one another and shooting. No one seems to be watching this rerun of Walker, Texas Ranger, but the volume on the TV that looms high on a shelf in the corner would be loud enough to hamper conversation – if there were any in the room.

On this Monday afternoon, the lights are dimmed over the ’70s-style wood tables and chairs that fill most of the club. The only movement is at the bar, where one gray-haired, short-statured white woman disinterestedly turns the pages of the day’s newspaper. A heavyset bartender in his 70s fills her glass, then lumbers out from behind the bar to sit on one of the stools, stare into space, and think. The cowboys keep on shooting.

While the program moves into a commercial break, doors open at a different gathering place in this town of 70,000 people. Four miles away, beyond the White River, the Ball State University campus, and a boulevard of fast food restaurants, the Islamic Center of Muncie awaits a round of worshippers. Men with reverent attitudes, many of them with dark hair and bronze or olive-colored skin, file inside. Their feet tread the thick white carpet and they kneel, praying and listening to a sermon that instructs them to love one another, sacrifice, and have self-discipline.

Some of those attending the mosque are recent immigrants from Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and elsewhere, now making their homes in the American Midwest. Some are converts. Some plan to live their whole lives in Muncie; others are only here for school or work. All are part of a population of American Muslims that has more than doubled in the past 20 years.

And, like any minority group that grows within a majority culture, they haven’t been without opposition.

Fahad Aseery arrived in the United States from Saudi Arabia in mid-August 2009 as a doctoral student in Ball State University’s special education program. An avid fan of American movies and sporting events, he was pleased when he learned that admission to Ball State men’s basketball games is free for students.

With a wave of his student ID, he walked past the ticket takers, into the cavernous hall of the arena, and through one of the many curtains that hang at the entrances to the court and viewing area. He looked around and saw some open seats several rows up. Glancing down at the action already taking place on the court, he picked an open chair and sat down. Less than 10 minutes later, he sensed someone was approaching him and looked up.

Three middle-aged men were moving toward him. The first stopped just short of Fahad’s knees and held out his ticket.

“You’re in my seat,” Fahad remembers hearing the man grumble.

Embarrassed, Fahad stood up. It was his first American basketball game at this institution or any other, and he didn’t know how the seating worked.

“I’m sorry,” he said with an accent, five years removed from his accent of today, which still makes him self-conscious. “It’s my first time.”

The men behind the speaker grumbled and watched as Fahad turned to leave. When he looked back, he saw a menacing look on the first man’s face.

“Go home,” the first man said. “Go back where you came from.”

Fahad knew the man was talking about more than his off-campus apartment.

Snap judgements because of the color of Fahad’s accent or physical appearance aren’t unusual to him. They aren’t uncommon to most Muslims; in fact, when researchers from Pew Research Center surveyed Muslims in 2011, 43 percent said they’d had at least one type of discriminatory experience in the past year. These experiences could range in severity from suspicious treatment to a physical attack.

Fahad and his wife have had about one encounter with discrimination per year since that first experience at the basketball game. These have ranged from his wife being ignored at a department store to a full-on verbal fight between Fahad and another patron in a gym. Like one in five Muslims, Fahad has been singled out by airport security.

In a post 9/11 America, relations between Muslims and those of other faiths have been strained at times. In February, a man knocked on the door of a home in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. When it opened, he shot the first people he saw in the head, killing three Muslims. Though these kinds of violent acts are few and far between, they garner plenty of media attention and give meaning to the statistics of fear.

Some of the numbers show the ways in which Americans fear or dislike Muslims more than almost any other religious group.

In one study, Pew Research randomly selected a sample of more than 3,000 adults in the U.S. They asked them to rank eight religious groups on a scale from 1 to 100, where the lower numbers represented colder (negative) and the higher numbers warmer (positive) feelings.

The results, released in July 2014, show considerable coldness toward Muslims. With an average rating of 40, the group ranked lower than every other group, including atheists.

These statistics come as no surprise to Bobby Ellis, a 24-year-old newspaper photographer at the Frankfort State Journal in Kentucky, who converted to Islam in 2012 while he was studying photojournalism at Ball State. A Hoosier by birth, he grew up in Shoals, Indiana, a town with a population of 736 and few enough non-white residents that they could be counted on one hand.

When he came to college, Bobby relished the opportunity to interact with people from various backgrounds. After meeting Muslims from places such as Afghanistan and Tunisia and being impressed by their morals and understanding, Bobby decided to learn more, eventually making his declaration of faith.

His conversion wasn’t easy. While his college friends were largely understanding, Bobby’s mother, an attorney, didn’t want the news of his decision to become public in their home county, fearing that it would tarnish her public image. Often, Bobby overhears conversations in which people speak derogatorily of Muslims, never guessing that the brown-haired, blue-eyed American standing nearby is one of them.

The battle is most difficult, Bobby finds, when waged against prejudiced Republicans and those of the older generation, like many who live in his hometown. Republicans and older Americans (ages 65 and older), as well as those who identified as Evangelical Protestants, ranked Muslims last, giving them scores between 30 and 33.

Bobby has seen this with his grandma, a senior citizen and member of the Republican Party, who doesn’t actually know her grandson is a Muslim. “I don’t think her little heart can take it,” Bobby said.

When he was thinking about converting, Bobby visited his grandma’s home, hoping to test the waters. They sat down at her round kitchen table and he tried to be casual.

“I just wanted to let you know that I’ve been learning about Islam at school,” he said. “I’ve actually been reading some of the Quran.”

“Oh, those people murder their children,” she responded. “I hope you don’t end up with a bomb on your chest from reading that.”

Bobby said he doesn’t always broadcast his religious affiliation. In fact, he said he wants to wait to become more open about his religious views until some of the negative attention given to Islam in the news media has died down. At that point, he hopes, the conversation could turn from indignant questions asking how he could support terrorism to a real dialogue about Islam, its beliefs, and practices.

In this, he aligns with a third of American Muslims, who, in the 2011 Pew study, ranked “negative views about Muslims” and “negative media portrayals” as the most important problems facing American Muslims.

The conflict between Muslim immigrants and Americans isn’t a surprise to the country’s leading social psychologists. In fact, Walter Stephan, an oft-cited researcher of intergroup relations, called it “expected.”

In the 1990s, Walter published the Intergroup Threat Theory. Its premise: feelings of prejudice are caused by feelings of threat. The theory describes four major ways in which people and groups feel threatened: realistic threats, symbolic threats, intergroup anxiety, and negative stereotypes.

“It turns out to be very difficult to end stereotypes if they’re well-established,” Walter said. “People tend to trust what they already believe.”

Eliot Smith, an Indiana University professor of psychology and cognitive science, said ignorance plays a role as well.

“The evidence is very clear that getting to know someone who is a member of the group reduces your prejudice against that group,” Eliot said.

But it can be hard for non-Muslim Americans to have meaningful contact with Muslims. Less than 40 percent of Americans can say they know someone who is Muslim, according to data from the 2014 Pew Research Center study. Even if they go to school in a diverse environment, their interactions with people of other religions may be limited to passing glances in the hallway and on buses.

Compounding the problem are the nearly half of U.S. Muslims who said most or all of their close friends are Muslim. Like Fahad, who moved his family 40 minutes down the interstate to Fishers, Indiana where there is a larger Middle Eastern presence, many immigrants subscribe to a “stay with the pack” mentality. Common in minority groups, it happens in part because there’s less risk of experiencing intergroup anxiety if members of one group don’t have to interact with members of another.

There comes the paradox: members of a minority group who want to preserve their home culture risk alienating wary white Americans, thereby setting themselves up to receive more discrimination.

The multiculturalist efforts of the late 1980s and after may have had some effect; adults aged 18 to 29 tend to rate Muslims more positively and have more Muslim friends. But those of the older generations – and even those younger adults who have received their schooling and have entered the workforce – sometimes have few opportunities to get to know people of different races or religions.

Back inside the American Legion in Muncie, the man resting beside the bar, José Gaitan, adjusts his long, gray ponytail and the blue bandana folded and tied around his head. He gets up to place a Coors beer on the bar in front of the club’s newest patron, 52-year-old Brian Brinkman, who’s stopping by the Legion on his way home from work.

Neither of the men know anyone who is Muslim. Brian pauses, mentally scanning his list of friends and acquaintances. He comes up with nothing. “I wouldn’t say I’m racist,” Brian said. “More than anything, I’m just wary, because I don’t know what they believe. I’m sure they’re not all bad, but if you blow up a building or put a bomb on a train, that doesn’t help you much. You know, there’s always that one guy who gives the whole group a bad name.”

Sometimes, Brian and his wife and two high school-age daughters will visit one of Muncie’s Walmarts and see a Muslim woman wearing a hijab or another head covering.

“I’ll just give them the white guy head nod and move on about my business,” Brian said. He glances at his watch, then up at the TV.

José cocks his head, apparently unable to remember any conversation that he’s had with Muslims. Then he breaks a smile and says to Brian, “Hey, you know a Jew.”

The two laugh, satisfied to have some diversity in the mix. They change the subject and get back to their beers.

You Might Also Like


  • Millennials and Culture | Ball Bearings Magazine says: December 7, 2015 at 8:28 am

    […] “The American-Muslim Divide” by Victoria Ison […]

  • The Best of Millennials 2015 | Ball Bearings Magazine says: January 24, 2016 at 8:37 pm

    […] Shift in Support, by Anthony Lombardi One transgender woman’s journey to self acceptance.  The American-Muslim Divide, by Victoria Ison Many American Muslims continue to feel prejudice in the United States. The […]

  • Dennis says: February 21, 2016 at 9:53 am

    Neal Pirolo2008/10/06From: Dwight Logan Subject: Wake up AmericaIslam is not a religion, nor is it a cult. In its fellust form, it is a complete, total, 100% system of life. Islam has religious, legal, political, economic, social, and military components. The religious component is a beard for all of the other components. Islamization begins when there are sufficient Muslims in a country to agitate for their religious privileges. When politically correct, tolerant, and culturally diverse societies agree to Muslim demands for their religious privileges, some of the other components tend to creep in as well. Here’s how it works.As long as the Muslim population remains around or under 2% in any given country, they will be for the most part be regarded as a peace-loving minority, and not as a threat to other citizens. This is the case in:United States Muslim 0.6%Australia Muslim 1.5%Canada Muslim 1.9%China Muslim 1.8%Italy Muslim 1.5%Norway Muslim 1.8%At 2% to 5%, they begin to proselytize from other ethnic minorities and disaffected groups, often with major recruiting from the jails and among street gangs. This is happening in:Denmark Muslim 2%Germany Muslim 3.7%United Kingdom Muslim 2.7%Spain Muslim 4%Thailand Muslim 4.6%>From 5% on, they exercise an inordinate influence in proportion to their percentage of the population. For example, they will push for the introduction of halal (clean by Islamic standards) food, thereby securing food preparation jobs for Muslims. They will increase pressure on supermarket chains to feature halal on their shelves – along with threats for failure to comply. This is occurring in:France Muslim 8%Philippines Muslim 5%Sweden Muslim 5%Switzerland Muslim 4.3%The Netherlands Muslim 5.5%Trinidad & Tobago Muslim 5.8%At this point, they will work to get the ruling government to allow them to rule themselves (within their ghettos) under Sharia, the Islamic Law. Theultimate goal of Islamists is to establish Sharia law over the entire world. When Muslims approach 10% of the population , they tend to increase lawlessness as a means of complaint about their conditions. In Paris , we are already seeing car-burnings. Any non-Muslim action offends Islam,and results in uprisings and threats, such as in Amsterdam , with opposition to Mohammed cartoons and films about Islam. Such tensions are seen daily, particularly in Muslim sections, in:Guyana Muslim 10%India Muslim 13.4%Israel Muslim 16%Kenya Muslim 10%Russia Muslim 15%After reaching 20%, nations can expect hair-trigger rioting, jihad militia formations, sporadic killings, and the burnings of Christian churches and Jewish synagogues, such as in:Ethiopia Muslim 32.8%At 40%, nations experience widespread massacres, chronic terror attacks, and ongoing militia warfare, such as in: Bosnia Muslim 40%Chad Muslim 53.1%Lebanon Muslim 59.7%From 60%, nations experience unfettered persecution of non-believers of all other religions (including non-conforming Muslims), sporadic ethnic cleans ing (genocide), use of Sharia Law as a weapon, and Jizya, the tax placed on infidels, such as in:Albania Muslim 70%Malaysia Muslim 60.4%Qatar Muslim 77.5%Sudan Muslim 70%After 80%, expect daily intimidation and violent jihad, some State-run ethnic cleansing, and even some genocide, as these nations drive out the infidels, and move toward 100% Muslim, such as has been experienced and in some ways is on-going in:Bangladesh Muslim 83%Egypt Muslim 90%Gaza Muslim 98.7%Indonesia Muslim 86.1%Iran Muslim 98%Iraq Muslim 97%Jordan Muslim 92%Morocco Muslim 98.7%Pakistan Muslim 97%Palestine Muslim 99%Syria Muslim 90%Tajikistan Muslim 90%Turkey Muslim 99.8%United Arab Emirates Muslim 96%100% will usher in the peace of ‘Dar-es-Salaam’ the Islamic House of Peace. Here there’s supposed to be peace, because everybody is a Muslim, the Madrasses are the only schools, and the Koran is the only word, such as in: Afghanistan Muslim 100%Saudi Arabia Muslim 100%Somalia Muslim 100%Yemen Muslim 100%Unfortunately, peace is never achieved, as in these 100% states the most radical Muslims intimidate and spew hatred, and satisfy their blood lust bykilling less radical Muslims, for a variety of reasons. Before I was nine I had learned the basic canon of Arab life. It was me against my brother; me and my brother against our father; my family against my cousins and the clan; the clan against the tribe; the tribe against the world, and all of us against the infidel. Leon Uris, ‘The Haj’It is important to understand that in some countries, with well under 100% Muslim populations, such as France, the minority Muslim populations live inghettos, within which they are 100% Muslim, and within which they live by Sharia Law. The national police do not even enter these ghettos. There are no national courts, nor schools, nor non-Muslim religious facilities. In such situations, Muslims do not integrate into the community at large. The children attend madrasses. They learn only the Koran. To even associate with an infidel is a crime punishable with death. Therefore, in some areas ofcertain nations, Muslim Imams and extremists exercise more power than the national average would indicate. Today’s 1.5 billion Muslims make up 22% of the world’s population. But their birth rates dwarf the birth rates of Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, and all other believers. Muslims will exceed 50% of the world’s population by the end of this century.Adapted from Dr. Peter Hammond’s book: Slavery, Terrorism and Islam: The Historical Roots and Contemporary Threat Here is some serious reading for serious thinkers. Now that you know, what we will do with this knowledge? We have one running for the highest office in this country. Know who you are voting for in the Nov. election. Edited by Tikkabuck (Today at 01:44 AM) ‘A government big enough to give you everything you want, is big enough to take away everything you have.’ Thomas Jefferson

  • says: May 12, 2017 at 9:25 pm

    Americans narrowly support Ted Cruz’s plan to patrol Muslim neighborhoods, but nearly two-thirds say cooperation with Muslims is a better idea than strict surveillance The recent terror attacks.

    • Sam Stevenson says: May 26, 2017 at 3:29 pm

      Thanks for reading our content!


    Leave a reply