It’s no secret that it’s a difficult time to be Muslim in the United States.
Take for example the rising rates of anti-Muslim hate crimes. Or the recent Supreme Court ruling upholding the Muslim ban. Or the misguided “anti-Sharia” marches that descend upon U.S. cities several times a year. Or the time when President Trump told CNN that he believes “Islam hates us.”
As a result, a lot of Muslims feel as if they’re treated as outsiders or enemies of the state.
But believe it or not, Islam has been a part of the U.S. since its founding.
Few people know that the first nation to recognize America’s independence from Great Britain was a Muslim country.
In 1777, Sultan Mohammed ben Abdallah — the Muslim ruler of Morocco — wrote a letter to Benjamin Franklin, the U.S. minister to France at the time. The letter let Franklin know that the newly formed country was welcome to use Morocco’s trade ports at any time. This made Morocco the first country to seek diplomatic relations with and formally recognize our independence.
And that was just the beginning of a long friendship with Morocco.
A few months after George Washington was inaugurated as our first president, he wrote a letter to ben Abdallah expressing his desire to establish a friendship between the two countries. As a new nation, the U.S. had great difficulty accessing ports in the North African region without coming across pirates and rival ships, and the sultan offered protection and also to spread the good word about the U.S. to neighboring North African countries.
A few years later in 1786, the Moroccan-American Treaty of Friendship was signed by ben Abdallah, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams, among other American diplomats. Today, it’s still considered the longest standing unbroken treaty between the United States and any other country.
But as we celebrate the U.S.’s 242nd birthday, let’s not forget that Muslims still contribute to American society in modern times, too.
On July 4, a non-profit research group in Washington, D.C. called the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU) released their “Muslims for American Progress” report, which features notable Muslim-American figures and their contributions to this country.
Here’s a selection of Muslim contributions highlighted by the ISPU report:
1. Muslims contribute 33% more than the national average in charitable donations.
While just under 769,000 Muslims live in New York City, they donated more than $608 million to charity in 2016. But it’s not just money, either — these Muslims also donated about 124,370 pounds in food and 5,500 backpacks in 2017.
2. Muslims have been essential to economic growth and job creation.
In 2016, there were 95,816 Muslim-owned small businesses in NYC, employing a total of at least 251,864 people. Furthermore, Muslim households in the city contributed to approximately $17 billion in consumer spending.
3. Muslim medical professionals contribute a lot to the community.
According to the report, 9.7% of all doctors in NYC are Muslim. In addition to health care providers, Muslim lab technicians and other medical professionals facilitate 6.4 million patient appointments.
But more importantly, a lot of these health care professionals work to serve homeless populations and underprivileged and low-income communities.
It’s vital now more than ever to use facts like these — as well as the stories behind them — to challenge anti-Muslim stereotypes.
The ISPU compiled the report in response to the alarming fact that more than 80% of media coverage on Muslims and Islam is negative. The context in which Muslims are depicted in U.S. media often fixates almost entirely on terrorism and national security. But that’s not an accurate portrait of the Muslim community at all.
“In New York City alone we found Muslims at the forefront of the economy, philanthropy, education, accessible healthcare, STEM, groundbreaking arts, etc,” Elisabeth Becker, the report’s NYC principal investigator, says via email. But most Americans lack an understanding of this Muslim diversity because they get most of their portrayals through entertainment and media. That’s what the ISPU hopes to change.
“We believe that combing quantified data and human stories on these impacts provides a much deeper lens into the realities of Muslim life,” says Becker. “In so doing, we can begin to chip away at stereotypes and undermine dominant narratives that erroneously equate Muslims with threat.“
Some strides have lately been made to portray Muslims more accurately in media and entertainment.
A lot of celebrity figures like Sarah Silverman and Gigi Hadid have been using their platforms to speak against Islamophobia. Hollywood has been working hard to include Muslim actors or diverse and relatable people like “The Daily Show’s” Hasan Minhaj or “The Bold Type’s” Adena El Amin.
As Muslim representation in media increases, and as groups like the ISPU work hard to change perception of the Muslim community, we can expect that non-Muslim Americans’ understanding of their Muslim neighbors will continue to grow.
Fortunately, for now, the future is looking bright.