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Islam Convention Highlights Indigenous American Muslims

Even though Islam is one of the fastest-growing religions in the United States, many Muslims feel they are not fully accepted as Americans. Some of the mistrust is the result of terrorism carried out by extremists who say they act on behalf of Islam.

But, as VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Dallas, American leaders of the Islamic Society of North America are trying to counter that negative image with what they say is the real face of Islam in America.

Several hundred Muslims from the central region of the United States came together in Dallas to discuss their commitment to Islam and to their country. Many American Muslims feel their fellow citizens may not appreciate their commitment to this country and its values.

One man said of his fellow Muslims, "They are also as American as apple pie. This is our country. Anything bad that happens to this country, that is our loss also."

"Yeah, we are red, white, and blue," said another conference attendee.

The Secretary General of the Islamic Society of North America, Sayyid Muhammad Syeed, says American Muslims, loyal to both their religion and their country, can serve as a bridge between America and Muslims in other countries.

"The Muslims in America have to play a major role in promoting a better understanding between America and the Muslim world and we are honored to recognize that role."

But following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, many American Muslims have felt under siege.

Conference speaker Ameena Jandali, a Muslim from California who came to the religion through her Indian father, says some Americans still see Islam as a "foreign" religion.

"I have had white American converts be told, ‘Go back to your country!’ because there is an assumption that you are not part of this country," recounted Ms. Jandali.

But, Ms. Jandali says, there have been Muslims in America since colonial times and immigration from other countries is not the biggest factor in the growth of the religion here.

"Sixty percent of all American Muslims are indigenous, meaning they were born and raised in this country and that counters the view that Muslims are foreigners, immigrants, that they do not speak good English."

But the distrust can go both ways. Some American converts to Islam have felt prejudice from immigrant Muslims.

Abdullah Fulton, of Austin, Texas, sees this as a backlash to the war on terrorism following the 2001 attacks on New York City and Washington. "After 9/11, I hate to say it, but there was such a paranoia injected into the Muslim communities that I think I was looked at with some suspicion after 9/11, which is really a shame, but I guess it is understandable," he said.

As Islam grows through converts, immigration, and especially new generations of Muslims born and raised in America, the future of Islam in the United States will be shaped by young people who grow up feeling both fully Muslim and fully American.