Muslim Americans in American Society—and in the German Classroom


Intercultural Learning

As you begin your study, I urge you to avoid the common fallacythat you already know the content of your course from your life experiences. Communication books and courses are unique in that you may have had some experiences with the subject matter before you begin the course. You may have formed some opinions about the subject matter as well. Educators call these skills and beliefs ‘naïve knowledge’—not naïve as simplistic but naïve as untested in a variety of settings. (Jandt 2003, XVI)

1Current foreign language curricula in the 16 federal states of Germany highlight intercultural competence as a major aim of education in general and of foreign language learning in particular. Gaining a perspective on other societies while at the same time gaining a perspective on one’s own society is one of the dominant processes in acquiring intercultural competence. One of the main methods of acquiring intercultural competence is the trading of ‘naïve knowledge’ for the basic attitude of constantly wanting to test one’s naïve knowledge—in the light of more information and by constantly putting one’s ‘knowledge’ and attitudes to the risk of renewed testing, i.e. to the risk of doubt. One of the major aims of acquiring intercultural competence is the ability of coming to terms with, of tolerating, of learning from, of facing and dealing with diverse cultural traditions and lifestyles, and of ‘successfully’ interacting with members of ethnically, culturally, religiously diverse groups.

2Consequently, textbook publishers, textbook writers and teachers in Germany turn to topics and source material related to issues of intercultural learning. Not only in regard to foreign language learning do they look, for example, at the problems of religious and ethnic minorities and at ‘subcultures’ or, to use a more current term, at ‘modern tribes’; they focus on topics like ‘living together’ or ‘stereotypes and prejudices’—continuing and at the same time partly overcoming the traditional problem-oriented didactic approaches and guidelines.

The Muslim Community: An ESL Issue of Discussion in Germany and the U.S.

3Thinking in terms of ‘perspectives’, of looking at seemingly parallel developments in two cultures in the EFL classroom, one can easily find topical issues and (topical) sub-groups in German society and look at corresponding developments in the United States—in pursuit of ‘intercultural learning’. One of those topics that ESL-textbook editors have not yet really taken up is that of the relationship between ‘mainstream culture’ and ‘the Muslim way of life’—both in Germany and the U.S.

4Probably the most talked about non-German-origin group in Germany at the moment is that of the Muslims—not a close-knit community but rather a mosaic of communities. Muslims, their lifestyle, their traditions, their ability/willingness to assimilate to or integrate into mainstream German society are the focus of discussions both at the ‘Stammtisch’ and on the talk shows. After 9/11 this coincides with an anxious general preoccupation of ‘the western world’ with ‘the world of Islam’. Apart from the particular terrorist act there has been a longer-term trend of western concern about the world of Islam—as expressed, for example, in Samuel Huntington’s bestselling book The Clash of Civilizations (1996.) Within the United States there has been, not only since 9/11, a growing awareness of Muslims being one of the fast-growing communities in the country and of being a group that asks for and deserves more public recognition—i.e. more attention and more influence.

5Looking at Muslim life in America, at Muslim-American identity and at the Muslim contribution to American life and culture, offers an excellent opportunity of learning about the United States—and about Germany; it offers the opportunity of finding out about similarities and differences in dealing with an important aspect of social reality. The phenomenon of a growing Muslim presence in America would, in itself, not necessarily be a topic of interest to a German student. But in view of the parallels to German developments and in view of the repercussions of American domestic developments on international relations and global issues it might be a useful idea to focus on a facet of American society that only a few years ago was still totally neglected—at best it was a somewhat exotic topic.

Coming to Terms with Biases and Pre-conceived Notions

6There is a built-in pitfall in identifying points of interest in the target culture on the basis of defining points of interest in one’s own culture: the home culture perspective is always in danger of gaining the upper hand—not only by setting the guidelines for identifying the issues of the target culture to be selected for classroom activities but also in regard to framing and phrasing the questions and deciding on the approach to be followed. So, one of the most important aims of a project on ‘Muslim-Americans in America’ should be to create an awareness concerning the cultural differences behind a seemingly parallel and well-comparable phenomenon like the growing number and importance of Muslims in different western societies.

7Here are some examples of all-too-easy projections of perceived German reality on American reality.German—and European—experience seems to suggest that

  • Muslims have a Turkish or Arab background. Knowing about the events of 9/11 students almost automatically assume that American Muslims have Arab origins, sothey start from the assumption that when investigating into ‘Muslim Americans in American Society’ they will be dealing with one more group of hyphenated Americans: Arab-Americans
  • the questions that arise and will have to be investigated and discussed are questions concerning, for example,
    • mosques in the neighbourhood
    • the headscarf
    • the burkha
    • forced marriage
    • genital mutilation
    • honour killings
    • “schächten” (slaughtering according to ancient religious rules)
    • inequality of chances in education and in the job market
    • growing militancy of discriminated youths
    • non-integration, non-acquisition of the mainstream language
    • ghettoization
    • mosque schools
    • male chauvinism
    • female victimization
    • parallel societies, etc.
8Definitely, grade 12/13 students are so much part of the public at large and so much informed about issues and lines of argument in public discourse that they are aware of a more general question that is being raised not only in ‘educated circles’ but also in the marketplace of the weekly magazines: Do we experience problems of ‘getting along’ because of Islam not having gone through the historic experience of ‘the Enlightenment’? —And if so: What can be done about it? And: Is asking these questions a sign of Christian/European hubris?

9What has been outlined above are problems that an intercultural approach necessarily runs into, problems that have to be dealt with and which are part of the learning process. When, nowadays, we approach topics concerning the United States of America we have to be aware of other, even more powerful problems that we encounter and that, realistically speaking, may prove difficult—if not too difficult—to overcome.

10In the post Cold War period, with the U.S. for the moment (seemingly) being the only superpower and able to pursue its policies unilaterally, there is a backlash in the attitudes of many people in the world, which is directed against what is perceived as a ‘going-it-alone’ attitude on the part of the U.S. Strong intellectual and emotional reactions are directed against what is suspected to be a deep-seated facet of the American self-image—a facet which Huntington calls the ‘imperial impulse’ in America’s definition of its role in the world:

According to the universalist belief, the people of other societieshave basically the same values as Americans, or if they do not have them, they want to have them, or if they do not want to have them, they misjudge what is good for their society, and Americans have the responsibility to persuade them or to induce them to embrace the universal values that America espouses. (Huntington 2004, 368)

11German students react rather strongly when confronted with texts that seem to confirm their deepest suspicions—for example, the following excerpts from recent American articles on the topic of Muslims in the U.S.:

Does the U.S. have a ‘Muslim problem? … we do not;on the contrary, America’s Muslims tend to be role models both as Americans and as Muslims. (The Wall Street Journal, 24 August 2005, editorial page)

Throughout Europe, cultural barriers separate Muslim ghettos from mainstream society. In general, European Muslims belong to the underclass. (The Washington Post, 15 August 2005, A 15)

12The Washington Post seems to be arguing that Europe faces a Muslim problem because of the kind of class society that one finds in Europe—and that, so the implication appears to be, America does not have; under the heading ‘Melting Pot’ the Wall Street Journal negates any American problem with the Muslim community—on the contrary: The American Dream is portrayed as being successfully at work. Such articles tend to drive quite a few students to strong emotional reactions against what they perceive as American self-aggrandizement and American hubris.

Landeskunde and Intercultural Learning

13One of the aims of ‘Landeskunde’ and of ‘intercultural learning’ is to lead students away from being dominated by preconceived notions and sweeping generalizations and to make them realize that although one might have strong misgivings about the politics of another country or of its administration one should be open to new information and, possibly, even to the realization that one can profit from taking a look at how other countries come to terms with problems that one faces in one’s own country as well. In this particular case it would be a realistic result of the classroom project to make students realize that the (implicit) claims and assessments made in the excerpts quoted above may actually be well-founded—and to analyse why Muslims seem to be doing better in the U.S. than in Germany.

14The guiding principles behind the project should be not just to inform the students about the situation of Muslim-Americans and to get to know their role in American society but rather to make a small contribution to a better understanding of what ‘makes America tick’, thus correcting the often-found logic of deduction which leads from a general distrust in U.S. politics and policies to a negative assessment of everything American. Opening up the students’ minds and enabling them to see the limitations of deductive thinking is one of the main aims of both ‘intercultural learning’ and Landeskunde. A unit on Muslim Americans allows to understand why over the past fifteen years many have argued that the concept of Landeskunde is no longer sufficient, as it allegedly is too much focused on transmitting information on the target culture. The concept of ‘intercultural learning’ supposedly focuses more strongly on the effects the new information has on the students—perhaps even on their attitudes, perhaps even leading to attitude changes.

A Project-Oriented Approach1

15The topic at hand is open and multi-facetted; there are no set questions, no fixed answers, no standard literature readily available that one might turn to—we basically have a social state of affairs that keeps changing every day. This is a situation where both students and teacher have the chance of starting out together on a project, exploring a topic not knowing what they will end up with. And we have the advantage today of having available the internet as a medium of research.

16A traditional Landeskunde project almost invariably suffers from the teacher having covered the same ground over and over again and from the teacher having a tremendous ‘advantage’ in terms of factual knowledge. An interculturally (or, to be politically even more correct: a transculturally) oriented project puts students and teacher on a more equal footing.

Phase 1: Setting Out

17In July 2006 a group of 23 grade 12 students at Goethe-Gymnasium Frankfurt (three of them Muslims, a fact I had not been aware of before) set out on a one-week project on Muslim-Americans, right before the summer vacation. It is probably unavoidable that a group of students in Germany will start out with a set of questions based on the German experience with Muslims in German society. It would be rather strange if there was a student in Germany who has not become aware of the current discussion concerning the living together of different religious and ethnic groups in our society and who has not gained first-hand experience of multicultural social reality. It would be rather odd if the search for guiding questions and points of interest concerning the topic at hand did not reflect the students’ Germany-based experience. So, following the kick-off phase in the classroom, there may well be a phase of asking search engines for information on Muslims in the United States concerning, for example:

  • mosques in traditional neighbourhoods,
  • forced marriages,
  • fundamentalist schools,
  • integration,
  • genital mutilation,
  • honor killings.
18After an extended search the Frankfurt students met in class and told each other about the frustrating experience of not finding too much information concerning most of their questions. The research guided by questions concerning ‘different lifestyles’ had not been successful. But they also reported on all kinds of other information that they found strange, disconcerting, and not quite belonging to their topic of research. They found, e.g., a strange and puzzling article on the virtues of the Burka and on the ‘degenerated’ lifestyle of western civilization (Henry Makow on “The Debauchery of American Womanhood: Bikini vs. Burka,” 18 September 18 2002). To gain the attention of his readers Makow adds two pictures, one showing a young woman in a bikini, the other showing a burka—presumably covering a female body. This article (including the accompanying visual impulse) is found on quite a number of Web sites and is well-suited for provoking discussions—especially considering the name of the original Web site.

19Having had to acknowledge that the initially chosen starting-point for their research had not been well-chosen and before starting all over again, the students reflected on why their approach seemingly had lead them into a dead-end. As there had been no answers to their search for factual information on the issues chosen, the students soon arrived at the conclusion that the main topic, Muslim life in the US, is better not approached from those angles because they do not seem to reflect Muslim reality in the U.S.—regardless of whether or not (from the students’ perspective) these facets are important to the Muslim situation in Germany.

20It is easy to discover that one has pursued the wrong questions but more difficult, then, to find questions that will work. In order to make this step towards new questions easier it might be useful to give the students, from the start, a few assignments not based on surface impressions gained from the German experience. If they do not come up with such search items themselves they should be encouraged to collect as much factual information on American Muslims, e.g. on the demographics of the community and other features that can be covered by statistical data. This information, together with the seemingly misleading bits and pieces of information gathered while looking for material concerning the questions asked from an all-too German perspective, will lead to new research questions. It should also lead to questions concerning the differences between American Muslims and German/European Muslims.

Phase 2: Determining Aspects of Investigation

21What should the project on American Muslims be about? What would turn out to be the aspects of interest the students would identify? During their initial search and following the hints given to them after having pursued the first futile inquiries, the students came across all kinds of different information which they found puzzling, which they could not account for, which did not fit in with their experience and which, therefore, they wanted to probe into more deeply. They were, e.g., puzzled and surprised

  • to find hardly any information on problems that are featured highly in Germany, i.e. on the German media and in German public opinion (as already mentioned in stage 1)
  • about the lack of reliable statistical data, in fact, by the wealth of information and statistical data that is totally contradictory
  • by the data related to the educational background, the income and the standard of living of American Muslims
  • to learn that, contrary to their expectations, the Arab-American population constitutes only a small segment of American Muslims; they were even more surprised that by far most of Arab-American are not Muslims but Christians
  • by the multitude of America-based Muslim Web sites and the strong informational impact they provide; (research on Muslims in America trying to rely on non-Muslim based sources proves difficult)
  • to learn about a high percentage of American Muslims being African-Americans
  • that complaints about negative treatment of American Muslims after 9/11 are not a dominant feature of what one can find on the web on American-Muslims or by American Muslims
  • that strong U.S. public diplomacy efforts, e.g. in Germany, address the Muslim population (in Germany)
22So, after already having touched upon lifestyle issues at the outset of the unit one could turn to aspects like:

  1. Facts and Figures (and what we can learn from then)
  2. Facets of Muslim Identity
  3. African-American Muslims
  4. Post-9/11

Phase 3: Group Projects

Group 1: Muslims in the U.S.

23Facts and Figures The students found out that there is no reliable information on the American Muslim community, not even a reliable estimate as to their percentage share in the American population. There are all kinds of claims ranging from 1.8 million to 12 million Muslims. Hard facts and figures on the Muslim segment of the U.S. population are not available. Because of the strict dividing line between state and religion there can be no ‘official’ data.

24The students realized that one of their real tasks should rather be called “Finding out about the share of the Muslim population in the U.S. population: Exercises in data analysis and interpretation.” Even concerning such a seemingly simple task as determining the percentage of Muslims in the U.S. population different interest groups arrive at different numbers, often with the obvious intention of instrumentalizing their findings politically—in the power-game they see themselves involved in (as opposed to other segments of the American population).

25What students did present was statistical information (in the original: a pie-chart) they considered half-way reliable because they found it in a government source (Muslim Life in America, U.S. Department of State, no year of publication given but including 2001 data, 19)

Ethnicity of Muslims

Arab 25%
African 3%
South-Central Asian 33%
Southeast Asian 2%
African Americans 30%
European 25%
other 5%
26The information was looked at rather critically because it did not correspond to their ‘naive knowledge,’ i.e. it ran counter to their expectations in two regards:

  • the comparatively high percentage, i.e. the overrepresentation of African-American Muslims
  • the very low percentage of Arab-Americans.

In addition to the percentage data from the government source they were willing to put great trust in (at that time, July 2006) the latest available data from a newspaper: six to eight million Muslim-Americans. (Orlando Sentinel, 23 December 2005)

27Trying to assess the dynamics of the growth of the Muslim population they were again willing to trust the government publication, not realizing that the information cited was not government information but taken from an obscure source which the government publication cites as ‘Min-Chih Yao. (Muslim Life in America, 20–21).

28Given the ‘documented’ steep rise in the number of mosques between 1986–2001 they were prepared to believe the large number of other publications that also promote the idea of the Muslim segment of the American population being very dynamic and successful. Doubts and misgivings about the reliability of all the figures available recurred, however, when they were confronted with other claims accompanying these figures. A number of publications publish data that are clearly promotional and raise doubts as to the reliability of the sources (see the Zogby and the Cornell data in this section).

29It became obvious that the sources of information would have to be checked very carefully—and that data could not be accepted which were not based on a source that at the same time gave information concerning the method used for arriving at the final figures. The tentative result the students arrived at: Most of the publications available on Muslim Americans via the internet are publications by Muslim American organizations or interest groups. It turns out that even the seemingly reliable information on Muslim American ethnicity gained from a government publication originally stems from a CAIR (Council on American Islamic Relations) source (discovered on:; a closer look at the Orlando Sentinel figures shows that they are from a Muslim source too and so, possibly, are rather promotional in character than factually accurate (Ilyas Ba-Yunus and Kassim Kona 2004)

30Today (2007) we have the possibility of referring student investigators to a thorough study guiding us through the maze of data and arriving at plausible and methodologically sound results: PEW 2007. According to this most reliable source there are about 2.4 million American Muslims, i.e. an 0.8% segment of the American population.

Group 2: Muslim Identity

31Every single one of the researching students was struck by the wealth of promotional Muslim Web sites highlighting Muslim pride in being Muslims and, at the same time, highlighting the pride of being in America or of being Americans. One of the students presented the following statistical data from a, at first sight, highly reputable source:

32The student pointed out that it was highly improbable that of the adult Muslim population almost 50% should be either engineers, doctors, programmers, teachers or researchers. And that of the other half of the Muslim population almost 50% should be students. This would leave only about 30% of the Muslim population doing all other academic and non-academic jobs.

33Many of the sources found show that Muslims put great emphasis on their group being better educated and having a higher average family income. Muslims sources strongly emphasize that their religion is the fastest growing in the world, that their share of the U.S. population is rising drastically and that in view of demographics (they have a high number of children) the future is theirs. See e.g. the figures cited below:theis_tab2

Again and again sources maintain that Muslims are young and future-oriented, including Muslim women—as a look at Azizah, the magazine for the modern Muslim woman shows . Muslims take pride in being a dynamic segment of the population and an awareness that they will soon be able to play a more influential role in American society (and in other western societies):

Muslim Population Statistics

Demographic considerations with regard to Muslim populations may prove to be of vital concern in the next millennium. When a large percentage of the population is older, this can affect the socio-political structure of a country. Likewise, when a large percentage of the population is young, that too will affect the socio-political structure of a country. […]

If the west’s population is top-heavy, (i.e., the ratio of youth to elderly is low) that of Muslim populations is the opposite. For example, today more than half the population of Algeria is under the age of twenty and this situation is similar elsewhere. These young populations will reproduce and perpetuate the increase of Muslims on a percentage basis well into the next millennium.

North America and Europe have increasingly aging populations and one of the most disturbing social issues of the new millennium will concern a more efficient means of disposing of the elderly. (For example, witness the new euthanasia laws in the Netherlands, and the ongoing debate in many countries about this issue.) […] An aging population tends to be introspective and sluggish, whereas a young population is more likely to be vibrant and energetic. This may or may not bode well for many countries and that will depend on whether their political structure is fragile or not.


34It is repeatedly stressed that Muslims should be and want to be involved in American politics and American society, e.g. by getting registered and voting in elections. CAIR, in 2003 started a massive public relations campaign directed at the general public, trying to demonstrate that Muslims are good citizens sharing the civic values of American mainstream society:

theis_1 “I’m an American and I’m a Muslim” May 28, 2003 (Ad No. 6 of 52) Source:
35CAIR has launched a year-long “Islam in America” advertising campaign designed to foster greater understanding of Islam and to counter a rising tide of anti-Muslim rhetoric in the United States. The weekly ads, each explaining one aspect of Islam, will be distributed to Muslim communities around America for placement in local newspapers.

36The students noticed that in contrast to their perception of Muslims in Germany American Muslims

  • seem to have a completely different background concerning countries of origin, education and professions
  • make strong efforts to become part of U.S. society.

Group 3: African-American Muslims

37Students were quite surprised that such a high percentage of are African-American—30% according to the government source mentioned above. They came across references to political leader Malcolm X, to sports heroes like Muhammad Ali and Abdul Jabbar—names that do not really ring a bell with today’s students any more. But it was noted that they had all converted from Christianity to Islam.

38If students have any previous information on the religious affiliation of African-Americans they will typically have heard about the special atmosphere at African-American church services, they may have noticed that well-known Black political leaders now and in the past have a strong Christian background as (Baptist) ministers, such as Martin Luther King, Ralph Abernathy, and Jesse Jackson. They may even have heard about Muhammad Ali’s conversion to Islam but the importance of the African-American population within the Islamic community is probably not known to German students.

39Figures concerning the African-American percentage share in the Islamic community vary from 20% to 42%. Most estimates put the figure at about 30%, i.e. together with immigrant African Muslims they make up about 1/3 of the total Muslim population. Students found a fundamental difference between this sizeable group and basically all the other Muslim groups in the United States. In contrast to Asian-American Muslims and to Arab-American Muslims, African-Americans

  • are non-immigrant, i.e. this 30 % segment of American Muslims is indigineous, whereas a majority of the overall group is non-U.S.-born but part of the immigration wave of the past 50 years
  • are religious converts
  • have a high percentage that tend to remain Muslims for only a short time span
  • do not have a long history of a religiously determined Muslim lifestyle and of Muslim values and traditions.
40A project concerning the Black segment of the Muslim population might want to pursue questions such as:

  • Why do Black Americans convert to Islam—and since when have they been doing so?
  • Does the change of religious affiliation tend to be a lasting one ?
  • How do they get along with the other Muslim groups ?
  • How do they influence / are they influenced by the other groups ?
  • How does the African-American family structure go along with the Muslim faith?
41The students presented a starting-point for such a project—a statement by Robert Franklin (Interdenominational Theological Center in Antlanta) who sees three distinctive marks of Islam’s appeal to African-Americans:

The political theology of Islam appeals to African-Americanactivism; the well-ordered spiritual life provides specific guidelines for prayer and for relationships to others; and the promotion of family values emphasizes male leadership. African-Americans feel the family is fragmented, mainly because black men are not fulfilling their role. In Islam the man is the provider […] (Armstrong,

42The Frankfurt students in the little time they had in 2006 focused on the information they found on the Nation of Islam and on Louis Farrakhan.

Group 4: Post-9/11

43Students were surprised to find that contrary to expectations web evidence suggests that there was no massive public reaction against Muslim Americans after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on America. It is well possible that there would have been a strong interest in the effects of the Patriots Act on life in America with more than a few lessons available for the project sequence on Muslim-Americans. A few months later students were made aware of the topic again because they were invited to an exhibition showing pictures of mosques. They were very much astonished to see the American ambassador opening the exhibition and wanted to know why a tiny exhibition in a suburban library in provincial Frankfurt would call for the presence of the Ambassador. In the resulting inquiry they learned about the concept of ‘public diplomacy’. Following the press releases on the ambassadors activities for a few months one could notice a whole range of activities the embassy was involved in that clearly had the aim of bridging the gap between mainstream society and the Muslim population and of strengthening Muslim self-esteem. This involved projects in Germany and exchange projects taking Muslim kids to the United States.

Summarizing Observations and Remarks

Teaching Aspect: Lifestyles

44Students get the chance of realizing the problems we in Germany/Europe see as most pressing and disconcerting about ‘different Muslim lifestyles and traditions’ are not necessarily the problems that are discussed in the U.S. Forced marriages, genital mutilation, the burkha etc. do not seem to pose a major problem—at least, they are not identifiable as issues on the public agenda. Students learn that even the most self-evident assumptions about ‘the world’, based on one’s own background experience need not be true, indeed can be totally misleading and form the basis of wrong assessments and actions.

Teaching Aspect: Facts and Figures

45Hard facts and figures on the Muslim segment of the U.S. population are not available. Because of the strict dividing line between state and religion there can be no ‘official’ data. But it is possible for the students to arrive at rather reliable data once they have learned to interpret statistics—including questions regarding the methods used when compiling the data. Students have the chance of finding out about the problems of

  • selecting a non-biased sample of people interviewed
  • adjusting one’s data by ‘educated guesses’, such as the introduction of an assessment factor based on sweeping generalizations, like
    • applying the percentage distribution between Christians and Muslims in their lands of origin to computations concerning the number of Muslims in the U.S.—leading to totally wrong results
    • working on the basis of the total number of mosques, then choosing a rather arbitrary average number of worshippers and then adding an equally arbitrary multiplier concerning the average group of ‘dependents’
46Students have the chance to find out about ways of arriving at educated guesses, e.g. by starting out on the basis of what they have assessed as the most reliable information they can get. They should assess source reliability on the basis of

  • background knowledge concerning the compiling institution: e.g. government data tending to be more reliable than interest group data —at least in western democracies.
  • internal evidence found in the source material: e.g. neutral and strictly to-the-point language betraying a higher degree of reliability than pompous claims and sweeping generalizations.
47Trying to find out why our initial questions do not apply and why our ‘natural’ set of questions is misleading the students find that we should not project our own cultural experience on the U.S., because, e.g.,

  • the socio-demographic set-up is totally different: a well-educated, rather affluent, urban-origin 0.8% Muslim section of the population in the U.S. as compared to a badly educated, rather poor, 4.2% rural background section in Germany
  • the mechanisms and strategies of inclusion that have been developed in a traditional immigration environment are very different from the attitudes and reactions encountered in a traditionally much more homogeneous culture. We have, in otherwords, a contrast between attitudes and policies of inclusion vs. those tending towards exclusion.

Teaching Aspect: Muslim Identity

48Students can find out that in spite of American Muslims being a small segment (0.8%) in comparison to Muslims in Germany (4.2%) and other Western European countries they are highly visible, very outspoken, making use of the power of the media. They form a comparatively strong public pressure group, they display a marked sense of self-esteem and, by and large, seem to trust in the promise of the American Dream.

American Muslims are today at a delicate point in theirdevelopment as a community. They are in the process of assessing their community as having a legitimate claim to a distinct identity, interests, and a place in American society. […] The emergence of the American Muslim identity, I believe, will reconcile many of the tensions between Muslims and America.” (Khan 2000, 97–98)

Teaching Aspect: African-American Muslims

49Students have the chance of finding out that religious affiliation

  • might well have to be seen under the auspices of politics and group psychology
  • is not necessarily a lifetime decision but that in the American context (different from the German context) religious affiliation may well change not only once butrepeatedly—depending on the career / biography of the individual

Teaching aspect: Post-9/11

50Students have the chance of finding out that in regard to 9/11 there are two types of American response:

  • the national security reaction, plus the military and foreign policy measures
  • the policies of inclusion extended to the Muslim population within the U.S. and the strong and sustained public diplomacy efforts aiming at the implementation of policies of inclusion in other countries, such as Germany


51In the course of investigating into these different aspects of ‘Muslim life in America’ the students are offered the chance of realizing that pre-conceived notions about the United States, based on general prejudices or on the current (foreign) politics of the U.S. may well be misleading in the process of realistically assessing a situation and in gaining an enriching view on one’s own society.

52I would like to refer, again, to the student reaction mentioned earlier. In the initial phase of inquiry some of the students were enraged by American newspaper articles they had come across basically claiming that European societies were exclusionist whereas American society was inclusionist. The students took this to be but another example of American hubris. Not much more than one week later they were no longer so sure. The 2006 Frankfurt student group did not have the chance of pursuing their project any further because the summer vacation put an end to their school-year but the project ended up with a few guiding questions for further inquiries:

  • Why does German society (and other European societies) experience a wide range of problems with the Muslim population whereas these problems do not seem to be an issue in the U.S.?
  • What are the facts and figures concerning Muslims in Germany and how do they compare to those in the U.S.?—Can the answers to this question help answering the first question?
  • What is the self-image of Muslims in Germany and how do they see their identity and their future in German society?
  • Conversion to Islam in the U.S. seems to be a phenomenon with political implications (in the case of the African-Americans). Are there comparable developments in Germany (Europe)?
  • How has the German Muslim community experienced the post-9/11 phase and what are the traditions and policies of exclusion and inclusion in this country?

Works Cited

Armstrong, Rose-Marie. “Turning to Islam—African-American Conversion Stories.” Ba-Yunus and Kassim Kona, “The Islamic Project: Muslim Americans: A Demographic Report”, Muslims’ Plav in the American Public Square. Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press, 2004.

CAIR. The Status of Muslim Civil Rights in the United States. CAIR: Washington, D.C., 2002.

Clack, George. Muslim Life in America. Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Deptment of State (post-2001 publication). The Detroit News 6 March 2006. AID=/20060306/SCHOOLS/603060312 (accessed July 10, 2007).

Haddad, Yvonne Y. and Jane I. Smith and Kathlenn M. Moore, eds. Muslim Women in America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.

Haddad, Yvonne and John L. Esposito, eds. Muslims on the Americanization Path? New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Huntington, Samuel P. The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996.

Huntington, Samuel P. Who Are We? New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004.

Jandt, Fred E. An Introduction to Intercultural Communication. 4th ed.Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2003.

Khan, Mohommed A. Muqtedar. “Muslims and Identity Politics in America.” In Muslims on the Americanization Path? Yvonne Haddad and John L. Esposito, eds. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Makow, Henry. “The Debauchery of American Womanhood: Bikini vs. Burka.” 2002. (accessed July 10, 2007)

Orlando Sentinel. 23 December 2005. chi0412230227dec23,0,5426543.story?page=8. (accessed July 10, 2007)

Pew Research Center. MuslimAmericans. Middle Class and Mostly Mainstream. May 22, 2007.

United States Institute of Peace. Special Report: The Diversity of Muslims in the United States, Washington, D.C., February 2006. (accessed: July 10, 2007).

Zogby International. American Muslim Poll 2004 Washington, D.C.: Zogby, 2004.

American Muslim Web Sites and Media

Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)
Promotes a positive image of Islam and Muslims in America and presents an Islamic perspective on issues of public importance.Islamic Society of North America (ISNA)
ISNA is an association of Muslim organizations and individuals that provides a common platform for presenting Islam, supporting Muslim communities, developing educational, social and outreach programs and fostering good relations with other religious communities, and civic and service organizations.Latino American Dawah Organization (LADO)
Since its beginning in 1997, LADO has been an organization committed to promoting Islam among the Latino community within the United States.Muslim American Society
The Muslim American Society (MAS) is a charitable, religious, social, cultural, and educational, not-for-profit organization. 

Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC)
A public service agency working for the civil rights of American Muslims, for the integration of Islam into American pluralism, and for a positive, constructive relationship between American Muslims and their representatives.

Muslim Women’s League (MWL)
MWL is a nonprofit American Muslim organization working to implement the values of Islam and thereby reclaim the status of women as free and equal.

Texts that Might Prove Useful in Class

“America’s Muslim Ghettos.” The Washington Post,15 August 2005: A 15.

“Stars, Stripes, Crescent.” The Wall Street Journal, 24 August 2005: editorial page.

“At the Mosque.” In Murad Kalam, Night Journey. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004. 176, 196, 199, 200.


1 I would like to thank the International Baccalaureate class of 2007 at Goethe-Gymnasium Frankfurt/M. for their help and co-operation on this project.


Rolf Theis is IB-Coordinator at Goethe-Gymnasium Frankfurt a. M.. He is a textbook author and curriculum writer, and coordinates the ‘Frankfurter Bilingualzertifikat’—a one-year course offered at Goethe-University Frankfurt to teachers planning to teach History, Geography, Social Studies, or Biology in the English language.

Suggested Citation

Theis, Rolf D.. “Muslim Americans in American Society—and in the German Classroom.” American Studies Journal 52 (2008). Web. 19 Jul. 2024. DOI 10.18422/52-08.


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