Geneive Abdo, author of Mecca and Mainstreet: Muslim Life in America After 9/11 writes in the prologue to her new book that after September 11, 2001 she realized that the, “contemporary Muslim American experience should be documented. Life had changed dramatically for the country’s six million Muslims. But because America was focused on Muslims living nearly everywhere else but at home – in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Pakistan – the story of their changing lives had been left untold.”
Abdo, a noted journalist, traveled across the country, visiting schools, mosques, Islamic centers, radio stations, and homes. Her new book is available now. Below, Abdo answers some questions about Mecca and Mainstreet.
OUP: What is special about this book?
Geneive Abdo: It is the first in-depth, detailed look at the Islamic community in America. It reveals what no book has done before. Now, there is great interest in Muslims in America, but no one has access to them.
The Muslim community has changed greatly since 9/11 but no one has documented this until Mecca and Main Street.
OUP:Does the American Islamic community pose a threat to Americans? Are there militant cells on American soil?
Abdo: No, but that does not mean Muslims are happily integrating into American society. In fact, the young generation is becoming more Islamic than their parents. Girls are wearing headscarves, Muslims are attending Islamic schools and in general do not want non-Muslim friends.
OUP: Are Muslims here going to end up radicalized like those in Europe?
Abdo: Maybe over time. It depends upon how Americans treat them. All surveys taken since 9/11 show that Americans are becoming more and more negative toward Muslims and Islam.
OUP: Are there radical imams in the US?
Abdo: No, but many preach against the US government during Friday prayers. This is one of the many factors leading to the alienation of Muslims from American society. US policies contribute to their feelings of being the “other” here.
OUP: Every ethnic and religious group in American history has assimilated after periods of being under attack. Aren’t Muslims going to respond in the same way? They might feel alienated now, but this is only a temporary phenomenon.
Abdo: No. Islam is a different religion and Muslims are a unique community. If anything, as time goes on, Muslims all over the world, even those in Western societies are becoming more isolated from the “West.” Even in America, where the average annual income for a Muslim family is $50,000—much higher than the American average—Muslims are picking and choosing which aspects of American society and culture they want to reject and those they want to accept. They welcome economic integration, but not social and religious integration.
In short, Muslims will NOT assimilate the way other ethnic and religious groups have throughout US history. This is one main point of my book.
OUP: What did you find most surprising in your travels throughout the Muslim community?
Abdo: Women are fighting against conservative traditions their fathers and husbands impose upon them here in the US, just like in the Islamic world. While women want to wear headscarves, they still want modern lives.
OUP: Why should Americans care about Muslims here?
Abdo: Islam is the fastest growing religion in the United States and the world. There are now 6 million Muslims in America, the same as the number of Jews. And Muslims have more children than the average American family.