Nigerian Muslims in the United States: Challenges and Contributions to Nation-Building

Nigerian Muslims in the United States: Challenges and Contributions to Nation-Building

Yushau Sodiq (Texas Christian University, USA)
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 18
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-5079-2.ch012
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Nigerian Muslims in the United States face a myriad challenges that include how to construct and maintain their Islamic identity and practice their religion in the face of widespread Islamophobia in the various communities where they live and even in their workplaces. Another challenge is about parenting in an environment that is predominantly Christian. This chapter explores some of the issues encountered by members of the Nigerian Muslim diaspora population in the US. It also attempts to showcase some of the sterling achievements of some of their members, from prominent athletes to people who have left indelible footprints on the academy and philanthropic activities in their adopted homeland.
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Discourses about Islam and diaspora migrations in the Western literature tend to focus on the Middle Eastern and South Asian immigrant experiences. African and especially West African Muslims’ presence and experience in the West are often overlooked. However, in today’s postcolonial West Africa, the classic patterns of migration, from the former colonies to the former Metropoles, are currently being altered. The prominence of North America, especially the United States, on the international stage has helped to promote the region as a new destination of choice for immigrants from West Africa. This reality is largely true because the former European colonialists have been struck by protracted crises and downturn in their respective economies. The migratory experiences of West African Muslims in North America in general, and the United States in particular, shape up differently from those of former colonial powers such as France and Britain. Religion in general and Islam in particular, is a now major unifying factor among West African immigrants in the United States (Mbengue, 2008).

This chapter examines the role and contributions of Nigerian Muslims in the diaspora to the development of their country of residence, the United States of America, and their ancestral homeland. Their contributions appear to have been sidelined, partly as a consequence the war on terrorism which President George Bush’s administration launched after September 11, 2001. Immediately after that tragic, terrorist attack, which claimed the lives of nearly 3,000 victims the United States launched a campaign against what was then called Islamic fundamentalists. Unfortunately, in the hysteria that followed the terrorist attack, this term was loosely and perfunctorily applied to all who professed the Islamic religion in the USA. They were characterized and portrayed as “others” on the basis of their religion and associated traditions differing greatly from the Western Judeo-Christian cultures.

The American government perhaps unwittingly created an environment in which most Muslims, especially foreigners and irrespective of their immigration status, were widely perceived as aliens who should go back to their respective countries. Thus, the notion of Islamophobia gained currency continued to spread, notwithstanding the particular political ideology of the government in power in the country. Consequently, after the September 11, 2001, many Muslims found themselves the objects of suspicion, harassment and discrimination. As a result of several misinformed messages and narratives which many Americans repeatedly learned from the media, many of them began to view Islam as a monolithic religion that is intrinsically opposed to the West.

Esposito (2011, pp. xxiv-xxv), a professor of Islamic Studies at Georgetown University, points out that the discrimination against Muslims increased sharply after September 2001. According to a 2010 Gallop Poll, 43 percent of Americans admitted that they felt prejudiced against Muslims more than they did against Jews and Buddhists (Gallup, 2010).

While a few Americans think positively of Muslims from Asian countries such as India and Pakistan in the belief that they may have contributed something tangible to the USA economy, many appear to believe that Muslims, especially from West Africa, constitute a liability to the American government and its citizens. Such negative perception and portrayal of African Muslims in the United States form the crux and rationale that prompted this author to focus on the sterling contributions of some Nigerian Muslims in the USA as citizens or legal residents. Of course, only a handful of such professionals are highlighted in this chapter, as hundreds of others also render great services to the American communities in all aspects of life. While the author focuses on Nigerian Muslims, it should be acknowledged that there are other Muslims who live in the United States as diaspora from other countries in West Africa as well as other parts of the African continent. They too have contributed immensely to the development of the USA.

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