McDaniel Lounge was packed to capacity with students, faculty, and community members who had come to listen to Dr. Muqtedar Khan, Associate Professor of political science and international relations at the University of Delaware, speak about challenges faced by Muslims in western society. In fact, the room was so crowded that Khan took pictures of the audience on his cell phone before he was introduced.
Khan’s lecture, “Islam and Contemporary Challenges,” set out to discuss four main challenges that Muslims living in the U.S. and Europe face.
Before discussing these challenges, Khan, a well-known author and commentator, noted that Western and Islamic identities have been constructed in opposition to and sometimes in collaboration with each other.
We can’t imagine the West without Islam because Western identity involves opposition to Islam, Khan said.
Khan noted, however, “Even the founding of this country is not free from Islamic thought.” According to Khan, the framers of the Constitution of the United States actually debated whether a Muslim should be allowed to run for president. In the end, the framers decided not to disallow it, believing that if a Muslim could receive enough votes and support, he should be able to be elected.
Khan also commented that Islam has become a cultural inconvenience to the West, with the West disliking how Muslims test their religious tolerance.
However, Khan said, “Muslim culture in the West is tweaking the DNA of Western culture.”
Khan spent time describing how the Muslim experience in Europe is different from that in the United States. Khan said that in Europe, Muslims experience racism and religious intolerance. However, he said, America inspires Muslims and Muslims have found purpose here. Khan said that he himself has experienced no racism here in the United States, but he experienced racism every day for a month he spent at Oxford.
One of the major challenges faced by Muslims in Western society according to Khan is the question of whether it is theologically permissible for Muslims to live as a theological minority. Khan said that the vast majority of Muslim legal schools say that living as a minority is okay. Khan stated that Muslims can live “happily so” with people of other faiths.
The second challenge addressed by Khan is the question of whether it is theologically permissible for Muslims to participate in a democracy and U.S. politics, since so much of the American political system involves lobbying, which essentially translates into bribes. Another issue involves whether or not Muslim religious identity should matter when it comes to politics. Khan concluded that Muslims are beginning to overcome the challenges they face in the political world, also noting that there are two Muslim men currently serving in Congress.
Khan cited American imperialism as the third challenge faced by Muslims. With what Khan described as “raging war” in the Muslim world, Muslims face agony over what America does and does not do in the Middle East, said Khan.
Lastly, Khan said that Islamophobia is the fourth challenge faced by Muslims living in Western society. According to Khan, prejudice comes naturally to Europeans, not Americans and that Islam is a threat to European identity. He said that it is European intellectuals who cannot integrate Muslims into Europe, and not that it is Muslims who cannot integrate themselves into European society.
Khan noted that unlike the United States, Europe has an old history that involves killing Muslims. He also mentioned that the first country to recognize the United States as a country was Morocco, a Muslim nation.
So why is there Islamophobia in the U.S.? According to Khan, Islamophobia in America exists in part as a result of the unending and miserable Arab-Israeli conflict. He also mentioned that in America, Islam is closely associated with Jihad.
Khan said that while Islamophobia was episodic in the past, it has become a systemic problem. Khan said that it is hard for Muslims to cross the border into the U.S. and that prejudice has become legal through racial profiling.
Khan also discussed surveys of people’s feelings about Muslims. Khan said that most people who say something negative about Muslims when interviewed for polls and surveys have never met a Muslim person.
Khan claimed that we now live in a society where Islamophobia has moved from the margins to the mainstream and where Muslims are disliked not because they are viewed as terrorists but because they are Muslims.
While Islamophobia is a major issue faced by Muslims, Khan said it is not the only paradigm that explains the relationship between Islam and the West. In spite of Islamophobia, there is tremendous acceptance of Muslims in America, he said. Khan is optimistic that Islamophobia in America will go away.
American Muslims, said Khan, are more American than other Americans because they have bought into the idea of American exceptionalism. According to Khan, when Muslims fight for their own first amendment rights, they are also fighting for what the country believes. Khan asserted that Muslims do like both the reality and the idea of America.