Inside a Detroit mosque Friday night, gaggles of
teens shuffled into the main hall for soda and cake to celebrate
the birthday of the prophet Muhammad. Most were U.S.-raised and
of Arab descent; the Islamic headscarves on some women meshed
comfortably with baggy football jerseys.
They are, in many ways, the future of Arab America. But when
asked how they primarily see themselves, most reply: Muslim or
"Islam is a priority for me," said Ali Fawaz, a 23-year-old
Dearborn resident of Lebanese descent who helped organize the
gathering at the Islamic Center of America. "It comes before my
ethnicity. Islam unites me with people of different races,
nationalities, different cultures."
The view is shared by a number of young Arab Americans across
metro Detroit who are choosing to identify themselves mainly by
their religion. It's a view that reflects changes in both the
United States and the Middle East, where Islam holds greater
sway over younger generations. Still, the Arab-American identity
remains strong in metro Detroit, and for many, the idea of being
Arab, Muslim and American coexist in an image cobbled together
by diverse experiences.
The opening of the Arab American National Museum today will
be a striking symbol of how much the idea of being an Arab
American has developed. There are numerous Arab-American
business associations, political outfits, and even a nurses
group. But the notion of being an Arab American is a relatively
new concept. And now, it's overlapping with the pull of Islam.
Part of the museum deals with religion, noting
that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam originated in what is
today the Arab world. The contributions of Christian priests of
Arab descent are also duly noted. But the first floor emphasizes
how closely linked Islam and Arabs are. Today, that relationship
still exists, with many Arab Americans now embracing their
"They see themselves as American Muslims," said Imam Hassan
Qazwini, head of the Islamic Center, which plans to open a new
mosque in Dearborn next week. "I think the new generation
doesn't care as much about ethnicity."
At the same time, Qazwini, and other Muslims, are excited
about the opening of the museum, given that the Arab and Islamic
worlds have long been intertwined. On Tuesday, Qazwini appeared
on the dais along with Amr Moussa, an Arab leader from Egypt who
is the secretary-general of the Arab League, an umbrella group
of the 22 Arab countries. Moussa had helped raise the profile of
the museum among Arab governments, which donated millions for
the building. Moussa is expected to attend the opening today.