American Muslims make up about 1.1 percent of the population in the United States as of last year. That sounds like a small number, but it comes out to about 3.45 million Muslims! We are quite the minority, but at the same time, we are growing more visible by the day. More Muslims are entering politics, media, sports, and various fields. We are here, and we are friendly!
We are also many times misunderstood. After reflecting on my own experience and reaching out to many of my American Muslim friends, I put together a list of questions we find ourselves commonly being asked.
Why do you wear a scarf?
Many Muslim women choose to wear a hijab, or a scarf, to cover their hair. This is an obligation outlined in the Islamic holy scripture called the Quran. Please remember, Muslims in general, and Muslim women, in particular, are not a monolith! We practice in many ways and look very different. While hijab is an obvious outward sign of a Muslim woman, there are many who do not wear hijab for their own personal reasons. It does not make them any more or less Muslim than the next person.
Aren’t you hot in that?
Hijab can get a little warm sometimes, but hijabis are used to it. They opt for lighter weight and breathable fabrics in the summertime and pull out the thicker shawls in the winter.
Why don’t men cover?
Since when do men not cover? Just like Muslim women, Muslim men are also required to cover certain parts of their bodies. They do not have full liberty to walk around any way they please! Modesty is a requirement for both Muslim men and women—it is simply implemented in different ways. While Muslim women are required to cover all except their face and hands while out in public, men are required to cover (at least) from their navel to their knees. Of course, most opt to wear more than that when out and about. Women are required to cover their beauty, and this works as a protection for them. Hijab forces men to converse and interact with them for their intelligence and not just their looks. Since men are generally more visual beings than women, the same does not apply to them when covering.
If you don’t date, how do you get married?
I remember getting this question a lot in college! Muslims are supposed to maintain a very formal relationship between men and women who share no blood relations. They are not to talk unnecessarily and should avoid willy nilly contact. This is because the only permissible relationship between a man and woman (besides their siblings, parents, grandparents, children, aunts/uncles) exists within a marriage, as husband and wife. Many times, family friends and community members are aware of who is looking to marry and will suggest prospective spouses for those who they deem suitable. A potential couple can learn more about one another to decipher whether they want to pursue marriage as long as a third party is present. The idea is to approach the subject with a level head, and with the most important goal in mind: pleasing God.
Again, not all Muslims practice in the same way and the word “dating” itself has come to take on many meanings. The answers here in no way speak for every American Muslim out there, because we are all different.
Where are you from?
Many of us are from your home state. When I get this question in Long Island, I say New Jersey. My friend gets this question in Michigan and she says New York. We are all met with the follow-up, where are you really from? While many young Muslims were born and raised down the street from you, a lot of our parents or grandparents may have immigrated here from other countries. We have ties to many interesting places around the world—pretty much every continent you can name. In college, I met Muslims with roots in Tunisia, Bangladesh, Italy, Albania, India, Malaysia, Palestine, Pakistan, Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Mexico, and the list continues!
Are you Arabic?
If you mean to ask, do I speak Arabic, the answer is no. I can read Arabic and understand it slightly. Many Muslims do hail originally from Arab nations and are fluent in Arabic, but as is highlighted in the previous question, we have our roots all over the world. Arabic is a very important language to all Muslims, no matter where they come from because our holy Quran is in Arabic and our daily prayers are also in Arabic.
Why don’t you drink?
Consuming alcohol is prohibited in Islam. Many Muslims stay away from bars altogether, even if that means having to miss out on a work social or networking opportunity. The environment is not appealing to many Muslims because they choose not to drink.
You’ve never had pepperoni pizza?
Not if it is pork based! Like alcohol, consuming pork is forbidden. I do not know the smell of bacon sizzling on the frying pan in the morning, and frankly, I never cared to. Some Muslims however, do know the taste. If they are reverts, it is likely they have eaten a slice of pepperoni pizza prior to their acceptance of Islam. Again, we are all different!
Do you celebrate Christmas?
Muslims have two big holidays in the year called Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. These are the times in which they take off work, go for a special service at the mosque, spend time with family/friends, and exchange gifts. Some Muslims have family members who celebrate Christmas, and they too will travel and take part in certain traditions. But many Muslims (while still enjoying the pretty lights, sales, charitable spirit, and all around good vibes) do not celebrate Christmas itself because it is not a part of their religious practice.