(MENAFN - Arab News) America has come a long way throughout the past decade. Post-9/11, anti-Islamic groups like Stop the Islamization of America, which was designated as hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, have attempted to victimize Muslims or numerous anti-mosque groups have campaigned to deny Muslim religious freedom.
Yet America's legal system has upheld its commitment to religious freedom protected Muslims from these attempts. On their part, Muslim-Americans have resisted Al-Qaeda-like violent extremists' calls spread through Internet to turn them against their fellow Americans. In this decade, Muslims in America have actually prospered, established religious and civic institutions, and adopted increasingly American lifestyles.
The American media, however, being largely devoid of discussion of mainstream Islam, has missed this trend. According to a study conducted by Pew, while 6 out of 10 stories in the media about religion in 2011 were on Islam, they focused overwhelmingly on either the radicalization or victimization of Muslims. The media has covered stories ranging from debates on these issues by the House Homeland Security Committee's hearings, to the Lowe's controversy, which saw a giant home retail store caving in to demands from a fringe Evangelical group to pull its advertisements for TLC channel's reality series "All-American Muslim."
Various media outlets have also given extensive coverage to various anti-Mosque campaigns, the Islamophobia-tinted statements of various Republican presidential hopefuls, and to the New York Police Department's extensive spying program on Muslims.
Such grim stories, true as they are, provide only a partial and skewed view of the Muslim-American experience. Recent studies show evidence that rejects the radicalization or victimization narrative being peddled across the media, and have instead show the emergence of a more positive trend.
Contrary to claims that radicalization is on the rise, Muslim involvement in terrorism in the United States is in decline. A February 2012 report by Charles Kurzman of the University of Carolina reveals that in 2011, only 20 Muslim-Americans were indicted for violent terrorist plots - down from 26 the year before. While this number is not negligible, it is much lower than many anti-Muslim groups would lead us to believe. Moreover, Muslim collaboration with law enforcement remains strong; for the same report shows that since 9/11, 52 indictments of Muslims involved in terrorism have been made possible through tip-offs made by other Muslim Americans.
Muslims are also being increasingly integrated to the American economy. A 2011 Gallup study showed that about 6 out of 10 Muslim Americans believe that they are thriving and that their standard of living had increased in the last two years despite the economic recession. According to the same study, 7 out of 10 Muslim-Americans said they strongly identify with the United States, while only about one-third strongly identified with the worldwide Muslim community.
The media often covers anti-mosque campaigns, and civil rights organizations often speak of the restrictions on Muslims' rights to religious freedom. However, mosques in America are fast spreading.
According to a study by Ihsan Bagby, an associate professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Kentucky, there are now 2,106 mosques in the US, indicating a 75 percent increase since 2000.
This increase took place primarily in affluent areas, where the percentage of mosques has doubled in a decade. Chasing their American dream, Muslims and mosques are becoming part and parcel of the suburban landscape.
Muslims and civil rights advocates are not the only ones who should celebrate the spread of mosques. Those concerned with Muslim radicalization should also embrace this trend: Mosque leaders in the United States overwhelmingly preach moderation. Bagby's survey shows that Muslims in America are embracing a moderate understanding of their faith, as more than half of imams believe that Islamic rules should be interpreted in light of modern circumstances and "maslaha" (essentially basic rights and freedoms). Only 1 out of 10 mosque leaders follow a traditionalist approach to Islam, which prioritizes the canonical interpretation of a religious school (madhab).
Mosques are also places which foster civic engagement. Almost all mosque leaders who participated in Bagby's survey agree that Muslims should be involved in American institutions. The survey also found that imams have an increasingly positive perception about the American attitude toward Islam. In 2000, about half of them believed that that American society can be characterized as hostile to Islam. That number was halved in 2011.
The aforementioned studies provide fresh evidence for what many Americans observe through their Muslim neighbors: American Muslims are very much part of the American fabric and are finding their own unique identity that is not necessarily identical to Muslims in the Middle East or even Europe. Neither radicalized, nor victimized, Muslims in America, slowly and surely, have Americanized.
Turan Kayaoglu is a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center and a visiting professor at Qatar University.