Preserving immigrant Islam

Published: April 10, 2015

We worry and therefore want to enable and prepare our children to resist the temptations that the future will surely bring.

As a first-generation Muslim immigrant, I struggle to understand my faith. What must my vision be when imparting true Islamic values to second-generation American Muslim children? What are my values of Islam; peace-loving, tolerant, secular, truthful and community based, yes those are my values.

To seek an understanding of second-generation Muslims and their immigrant parents, both struggling to draw a balance between faith and society, I sat down with Muslim American children, scholars and parents, and tried to get a sense of what Islam means to them.

Here is what I understood.

A professor of Comparative Religions at an East Coast University, Farahnaz Lodhi, has noted in her research that most second-generation American Muslims have developed personal practices when following Islam, while still balancing their American lifestyles. She says that most are able to manage a so-called smooth American and Muslim lifestyle very well. It may imply selective group and peer shifting, but unlike their immigrant parents, this second-generation can create their Muslim identity because of where they are growing up.

“You may find them drinking at a bar, a strictly prohibited practice in Islam, and fasting and participating in the local mosque activities,” she said.

Ms Lodhi’s observation is on the money, and since I grapple with the reality of raising three Muslim children myself, I understand and agree with this truth. I have observed that most immigrant Muslim children interpret Islam for its true value rather than merely for its rituals.

“I think that in Islam, in order to value the religion, one should make an effort to perform rituals to show that he holds some type of meaning for his religion. To me, one is not a proud Muslim if he has a vague understanding of his religion, but makes no effort to perform any type of rituals,” said 14-year-old Nadia.

It is heartening to see the American Muslim children embrace the true meaning of Islam (peace). They believe in telling the truth, they believe in equal gender rights, they have great regard for humanity, they are patriotic and loyal to their country of birth, and most importantly, they have great secular tolerance and sense of community living. Their struggles to fit in are real, but so is their intellectual understanding of Islam, they question what they do not understand and seek answers. They understand Islam intellectually rather than just ritually.

“Belief matters more but one must perform certain rituals to stay disciplined about their faith,” philosophised 12-year-old Ayla.

Sofia Khan is in her mid-30s and was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland. She walks toward the gates of the local Islamic school where her seven-year-old son is enrolled in second grade, though she herself went to a local public school.

“We wanted to give our son an early foundation of Islam. Our plan is to keep him enrolled in an Islamic school through his early years. I believe being around other Muslim children helps him gain a strong Muslim identity that will remain with him in his wonder years as he grows up and faces the challenges of being a Muslim in a non-Muslim environment.”

Sofia, like many second-generation Muslims, is well aware of the challenges that are bound to come her son’s way. She feels she has a better grip on the reality and practicality of being raised here in comparison to her first generation immigrant parents.

“My husband was also born and raised in the US and therefore, as parents, we are not as naive as our parents were. We have the experience, knowledge and the understanding of the challenges and pressures that our children will face in school, and as they get older, I think it will be more difficult for them than it was for us.

The school environment is worse now; the kids are doing everything at a younger age, dating, drinking, drugs and the list goes on. We worry and therefore want to enable and prepare our children to resist the temptations that the future will surely bring. We hope and pray that they, through this early Islamic education, develop a strong sense of faith which may arm them get through tomorrow’s inevitable challenges.”

Sofia, like most second-generation American Muslims, understands the struggle of trying to fit in.

“It was sometimes embarrassing and humiliating to try to explain to classmates why I didn’t wear shorts in PE, why I was fasting, why I did not drink or eat pork. These questions forced me to gain some insight into Islam and armed me to defend my practices. I was the only Muslim in my class and I wanted to fit in, but what kept me grounded was a greater desire to do what was right for me. In college, it became easier to practice Islam. My friends knew my preferences so I became the designated driver. I got teased but I felt a strong desire to stand my ground.”

Rayaan, a 21-year-old college student at University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) considers namaz (prayers) a decisive fact that is dissimilar between Muslim immigrant parents and their children.

“For a Muslim youth growing up in the US, prayer could mean anything. Some may refer to prayer as going to the mosque or home and prostrating five times in front of Allah, while others could simply call prayer a will to remember Allah in their hearts and minds.”

The likes of Rayaan seem to be torn between two worlds, but the unequivocal fact is that the American world has shaped their religious practices profoundly. Muslims who have migrated to the West have done so at a time when American media and social setup is openly talking about Islamic radicalism and the Muslim stereotype. To counter that propaganda, many Muslim immigrants and their children are trying to get back to the root of their religion. The stereotype labelled upon Islam is that it is an inflexible religion with many restrictions. To combat that mind-set, the Muslim youth is focusing on the spirituality of Islam, calling it the ‘Islamic Revival.

Shireen Anwar, a lawyer by profession and the director and trustee of an Islamic Academy, a Sunday school in an American city, talks about her faith and her reasons for establishing a Sunday school for the Muslim youth.

“For me, religion is not about cultural rites and rituals but about the deeper goals of being a good human. We are more focused on how a Muslim should appear and when and how they should perform their daily five prayers, rather than the good deeds they are asked to do for their neighbours, community and humanity at large.”

Giving back to the neighbours and the community is the practical way Shireen chooses to live her religion; she is committed to the belief that this constructive and positive role is what should distinguish us as Muslims and as contributing members of the American Muslim society.

“My goal through the Sunday school is to help children understand the basic principles of the religion, rather than be bogged by rituals and unnecessary self-created principles that hinder them from reaching their potential.

I want to help our children understand that they are similar to the other American children of different faiths, regardless of their ethnic background. I want them to be proud of being American Muslims and do all they can for this country which has given them so many opportunities, especially religious freedom.”

Like many forward thinking American Muslims parents, Shireen believes that,

“In today’s climate, Islam is looked at very negatively, and Muslims are perceived to be violent and dangerous people. As a parent, I found it most important to give my children the basic religious knowledge as to what the message of our religion is and how it contradicts the Muslim stereotype.

Children learn best by example, therefore practicing the religion in the light of my beliefs has been my goal, and I continue to pursue a better understanding of Islam.

We live in a country where many religions are practiced, therefore it is easy to lose focus of our religion and faith. My fear is that because of the negativism associated with Islam, my children may drift away and dissociate from their religion. Things are very different for our children today. Not only do they have to identify themselves with their religion, they also have to defend it.”

The fears of American Muslim parents today echo the struggles of the immigrants that came to the US in the 60s and 70s. One such mother is Rehana Hashmi, a 60-year-old immigrant Muslim,

“In those days, San Antonio had a handful of Muslim families, especially from Pakistan. It was a struggle to stay in touch with other Muslim families in our city, and on some occasions, we drove to Houston to communicate with the larger Muslim population there.”

Rehana is of the opinion that communicating with families in Pakistan and visiting with them helped her pursuit of keeping her now adult children in touch with Islam. Locally, they visited other families on Eid and during Ramazan. Rehana recalls that some four decades ago, there were no Sunday schools in San Antonio and the local Muslim friends taught reading of the Quran and namaz inside homes and not mosques.

“The children, for the most part, learnt Islamic practices at home through our way of life. In those days, Islam was not considered a threat by the Western media and our non-Muslim friends were very respectful of our value systems. This atmosphere of mutual respect and understanding was most helpful. As the number of the Pakistani Muslim families increased in San Antonio, there was a collective effort by the local Muslim community to come together and the local mosque was built.”

As the numbers of Muslim immigrants go up every year in the US, so do the differences between immigrant parents and their children, creating a wave of the ‘Islamic revival’ or ‘Muslim progression’. This wave of the neo understanding of Islam is a natural progression in religious beliefs when two different cultures coexist in one generation.

The impressive truth remains that second-generation American Muslims are doing something that their parents were not necessarily able to do when growing up in their Muslim homeland; define and exemplify the kind of Muslims they want to be  honest, progressive and morally bound.


Bisma Tirmizi

Bisma Tirmizi

The author lives for the simple pleasures and her musings over a cup of tea almost always find a way to be the written word. She also writes for

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • just_someone

    An interesting and insightful article, one that you rarely see on the Tribune blogs.
    I have been lucky to integrate in US society very well even though I am an immigrant (probably more so that lots of first gen Americans) and I have also thought deeply about the issue of how kids should be raised to be good Muslims and the challenges of doing this… this article provides the reality of the situation where you can only educate and impart values and then hope and pray that this will be enough and recognize that you cant do it all (the last of which is sometimes lost on first gen immigrants…)
    Anyway, would love to see more on the topic from you…Recommend

  • honest critic

    Why does tribune publishes articles based on copy paste only. Nothing new in this article, all borrowed material. Please put your editors to real work. Recommend

  • Mash

    Do you ever hear of such absurd challenges from people of any other religions. There is something inherent in the philosophy that makes it difficult for most people to follow even in countries like Pakistan, Saudi, Iran, Malayasia, Sudan, Iraq, Yemen… the list is pretty long,Recommend

  • Parvez

    One aspect you have shied away from …. and that is that Muslims always teach that Islam is better than other religions, it is the perfect religion etc, giving a child at a very early age the wrong notion that other religions are inferior. The child then asks itself that if this is so, why are we living in a Christian dominated society. A society that accepts us……….does this not create a state of confusion in the tender mind.
    The logical answer is to teach that Islam is as good as all other religions, in short teach tolerance…..and this can easily be done in the American or ‘ western ‘ environments……BUT IS IT ?Recommend

  • 19640909rk .

    The impressive truth remains that second-generation American Muslims are doing something that their parents were not necessarily able to do when growing up in their Muslim homeland; define and exemplify the kind of Muslims they want to be – honest, progressive and morally bound.

    Really? Boston bomber, Ahmed sehzad etc?????Recommend

  • ajeet

    Islam means submission and not peace.Recommend

  • Rafasa Arandas

    Which is more important, your nationality or your faith? This is something all of us must consider and decide, at one time or another.Recommend

  • Yo2Da2

    This blog, despite the author’s intention, left confirmed my own observations about other non-Christian immigrants from South Asia and elsewhere: Bifurcation or segmentation of life in America. One tries to “fit in” with the American way for professional aims (job, education, etc.), but personal and social life is a continuation of life back in the home country. When one immigrates, shouldn’t there an expectation of a unitary loyalty to the adopted country and its culture and people? The problems of assimilation that we hear about in the UK, France, Germany and elsewhere in Europe are because of this bifurcated view of living. As long as one is not fully American (and I explicitly exclude matters of one’s faith), natives will be leery and not fully accepting of one. (Bifurcated living does not make Ms. Tirmizi and her Muslim friends bad people, but fractional, not fully, Americans.)Recommend

  • BT

    Get your facts rights. both of these guys were first generation, not second generation!!! FACT CHECK!!!Recommend

  • Mimi

    Because ISLAM is under scrutiny in this day and age!!!! Maybe you are not a minority, hence you have no understanding of it. Blacks are targeted, hence they write about their persecution, as do browns,as do all who are demonized because of their faith or color!Recommend

  • Mimi

    READ with your eyes open, and MIND SHUT!

    `It is heartening to see the American Muslim children embrace the true meaning of Islam (peace). They believe in telling the truth, they believe in equal gender rights, they have great regard for humanity, they are patriotic and loyal to their country of birth, and most importantly, they have great secular tolerance and sense of community living. Their struggles to fit in are real, but so is their intellectual understanding of Islam, they question what they do not understand and seek answers. They understand Islam intellectually rather than just ritually.’Recommend

  • Ehsan

    I have a lot of non muslim colleagues and friend who asks me the same things and I feel proud in explaining my religion. If you are embarrased about your religion, you need to correct your faith dear.
    A sincere advice from a person who faces same kind of situations and I am proud of it to explain.Recommend

  • Ezio the Lionhearted

    it’s peace acquired by submission!Recommend

  • Superfly

    Islam is an integral part of US and global society and will be more so in the future and world’s number ONE RELIGION. It is time to shut down the redneck and Zionist Islamophobia franchise as there is no mileage in it!Recommend

  • Uzair

    It’s derived from two root words. Silm (submission) and salama(peace). Hence, it’s peace acquired by submission to God.Recommend

  • ajeet

    Even after submission, there seems more violence than peace in almost all Muslim countrie.Recommend

  • ajeet

    Its quality that matters. There are more insects in this world. You can’t rule just by breeding.Recommend

  • Yo2Da2

    I agree with you, Parvez Especially considering it is a belief, which like all other beliefs is based on nothing but belief (that is, not a whit of substantiated evidence). Only Abrahamic religions (including Islam) may hold that chauvinistic view. As Western Civilization has developed and progressed in the last few centuries, Western Jews and Christians have grown more rational and secular and keep the feelings of superiority and spirituality about their religions personal and private. On the other hand, many (not ALL) Muslims living in the West (not to say anything about those in non-Muslim majority countries) are not rational and secular, clinging to their old world attitudes and lifestyles which rub the people the wrong way. Anyway, when in the West (defined by Europeans, starting with Hellenes, and later by Christian and Jewish thinkers) take a cue from how normal civilized Americans and other native Westerners think and behave and adapt accordingly. Demands for special treatment and in-your-face displays of religious piety on your sleeves or head will not be appreciated. One must remember that the expression “holier than thou” is not considered praise. Also, to be “Western” is not a place, but an attitude. IMHO.Recommend

  • devinder Singh

    I like your comment bro, we need sufi Islam or we need muslim like you.we don’t wanna political islam.we want muslim, who live under constitution not under quran.we want muslims, who say nation first.i hope you understand my mean.good luk bro.i hope you ppl reform your religionRecommend

  • devinder Singh

    Don’t try to fool people close your eyes like wake up and try to understand nation first.i hope you ppl correct this bcz nonbelievers has lost passionor it could be blunder. So bro gud lukRecommend

  • devinder Singh

    U are in denial mode.there is always a difference between ignorant or stupid.two wrong can’t make you rightRecommend

  • gp65

    that also means that those who do not submit and accept Islam are not deserving of peace.Recommend

  • Gopeet

    Nothing to check. a bigoted hindustani troll.

    ET please print. We all know this is the Hindu Section. But YOU allow
    diatribes from your hindu brethren.Recommend

  • taj-akoben

    Do away with “Immigrant Islam” as quickly as possible, please.

    One minute, you immigrants are doing everything you can to be “white” and accepted by “whites”, the next you’re trying to “preserve your identity”. Where’s the place in that for non-“white”, non-self-hating Muslims?

    We don’t need Arab racism, or South Asian castism & colorism. Check your cultural debris at the border. We don’t need Desi Masjids, Arab Masjids, Turkish schools, etc.

    I’m a revert to Islam, and, really, “Immigrant Islam” is what’s holding Muslims and would-be Muslims back, and dividing our community into communities. Just practice “Islam Islam”.

    If you want to stay the same, stay in the same place. If everything about back home is so good- and it isn’t: I’ve lived in Pakistan and Arabia- then you wouldn’t have left, but you did, so…Recommend

  • siesmann

    No doubt Islam is an integral part of the world..But it doesn’t want to integrate.Number one in numbers means nothing if all it means is being a food for cannonRecommend

  • Parvez

    Correct…..they appreciate the values of the west because it provides them security and comfort BUT that does not answer the query that I have raised.
    I hope you can see what I am getting at ?Recommend

  • Uzair
  • Neutral

    No, it doesn’t.Recommend

  • Texan

    Absolutely! Just look at those Hindus! Increasing day by day Recommend

  • Neutral

    Spot on. Number one nation in the world=USA (if anyone has suspicions about that, look at what they did to Hiroshima, Nagasaki,Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.). Ain’t no integration like bombing those against one’s ideologies. Bottom line: Integrate with US or perishRecommend

  • Babu1961

    In practice, it does, unfortunately.
    Just look at the rights (rights?) afforded to minorities in any Islamic Muslim country.Recommend

  • siesmann

    Well ,Jihaidsts should have stayed away from Afghanistan,and let USSR run through to the middle east.Ideologies that want to force upon others,need to be confronted ,whatever it takes.Recommend

  • Neutral

    Well said. By that definition, countries united against US to confront it for forcing its ideologies upon everyone else, right?Recommend

  • Neutral

    I was referring to the lingual meaning of Muslim. Current geopolitical situation was not the point of discussing it.Recommend

  • siesmann

    they sure can try;the countries that hate USA most get the most alms from it.Recommend

  • Neutral

    I wonder why that is. Oh yes, anti-communist agenda (SEATO, CENTO). Who gave the taliban weapons? Oh yeah, these were the same people called ‘Mujahideen’ by USA when they served the purpose of anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan. I guess it’s the ‘white man’s burden’ to change the entire world as it deems right. It’s all good in the hood when it serves USA. After that, everyone else that deviates from American norms is considered the scum of earth.Recommend

  • siesmann

    Pakistan would have refused it if it didn’t think its own sovereignty was at stake from Soviets.All the weapons were distributed by Pakistan during 1st afghan war.And what do you think of “Muslim’s burden’ to force their ideology on others?Recommend

  • Zafar

    Ah … I am sorry but where did these so called white Americans came from?? They “Discovered” a land that belonged to someone already, wiped them out and were very actively involved in slave trade. White people used to separate black families and sell them separately to white buyers. Beautiful black women went on to become house negros and would eat and wear what the master race left for them, their children were trained to pick cotton and the white women who bought these slaves would say ” …. A black woman forgets her offsprings very easily because thats how nature made them”
    Now these people have suddenly taken a U-turn and have become so civilised and human rights champions that they dictate us how to behave and what to believe??? Americans should know that if there is a feeling of contempt and hatred in Muslim countries towards Americans or America, it is not because Beyonce wears skirts or Brad Pit lives with Angeline Jolie without marrying her, it comes from the fact that the American leaders to date are involved in regime changes and king making in our countries. They impose leaders on us whom we hate and when our country goes down the gutter Americans call us savages.
    The White Americans are so afraid of Muslims because they are afraid that what they did to the Native Indians might happen to them … that is all.Recommend

  • ZKhan

    21st century of your Community believe in Qualities then from where 94 Crore Population arrived…80% of the Population living below Poverty line of $2 Per day and 60% of them dont have any toilet facilities…

    Only 5% of the population have access to Chronic diseases…
    only 1 bed available for 10,000 Person world average is 3
    Where is the Problem of your Quality that you are lagging behind..?Recommend