May 3, 2001
According to a recently released Shaw University study, there are now between 6 and 7 million Muslims living in America. The study's figures may be a bit inflated, but few doubt their larger meaning: either Muslims now outnumber Jews in America, or they soon will.
The Journal featured a cover story Jan. 12, 2001 on this subject, so the news shouldn't come as a shock to our readers. In fact, it shouldn't necessarily alarming at all. Why? Well, there are Muslims and there are Muslims. According to the study, 33 percent of mosque members are of South Asian origin, 30 percent are black and 25 percent are of Arab descent. "The overwhelming majority of Muslim Americans," one analyst noted, "spend more of their time thinking about local issues that affect their lives -- schooling for children, housing, employment -- than about the Middle East."
That means there are plenty of areas where American Jews can find common ground and common cause with Muslims. And then there's the Middle East.
How to deal with our inevitable conflicts over Israel and the Palestinians? One unique approach originated in this community in Dec. 1999, when a group of 80 Muslim and Jewish leaders drafted a code of ethics, pledging to denounce all terrorism and hate crimes, promote civil dialogue, and avoid mutual stereotyping and incitement. Many Jewish leaders opted out, wary of joining with Arab Americans whom they believed were two-faced in their statements on Israel. Since then, dialogue between mainstream leaders has slowed considerably. That's a mistake. If Israeli officials are still speaking to the Palestinian Authority -- and they are -- Jewish leaders here could at least tolerate local Muslims whose opinions they dispute.
In Detroit lately, Jewish and Arab schoolchildren have been slinging ethnic slurs at one another. It shouldn't get to that point here, and one way to prevent it is for our leaders to demonstrate the advantages of dialogue.