Facing increased discrimination after the Sept. 11 attacks, New York City’s Muslims have identified more deeply with their religious roots, setting aside the sectarian and linguistic differences that have traditionally divided them, according to a six-year study released yesterday by Columbia University.
The study, financed by the Ford Foundation, provides the most comprehensive look yet at the religious, social and political affiliations of New York City’s estimated 600,000 Muslims both before and after Sept. 11, 2001, and involved work by more than a dozen academic researchers and professors. Some of the findings were presented yesterday at a two-day conference held at the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia, which continues today.
“The general comfort level felt by most Muslims was truly jarred by Sept. 11, and they became this threatening minority who would be defined mostly by their religion,” Peter J. Awn, a professor of Islamic religion at Columbia who helped coordinate the study, said in an interview. “That has caused serious soul-searching by the community.”
In the aftermath of Sept. 11, Muslims across the country experienced a range of discrimination, from the loss of jobs to hate crimes that resulted in at least seven deaths, according to the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. More than 80,000 men from mostly Muslim countries were forced to register with the federal Department of Homeland Security, and roughly 13,000, none of whom have been charged with terrorism-related offenses, have been placed in deportation proceedings.
Though New York City’s Muslims are from many places – Guyana, Turkey, Pakistan, Morocco – they were united after Sept. 11 by a common burden, the study found. The increased public scrutiny and acts of bias they suffered caused many who had previously identified mostly with their countries of origin to unite under the larger cultural banner of Islam, according to the study.
Part of this new identity was imposed on Muslims by the general public, said several researchers who participated in the study, which started in 1998. Jesse Bradford, a doctoral candidate at Harvard University’s sociology department, interviewed roughly 400 Muslims in New York, Boston and Chicago. During the presentation at the conference at Columbia, he read this statement from an anonymous South Asian Muslim interviewed in New York: “I was made to think more of myself as a Muslim from the outside world.”
Muslims are one of the fastest-growing religious groups in New York City. They worship at roughly 140 mosques and have 14 parochial schools, according to the study.
The study did not find an increase in religious observance after Sept. 11. Rather, it found a heightened sense among Muslims that they are part of one community, Dr. Awn said.
“It’s: How do you find strength?” he said. “You’ll find strength in numbers in affirming your Muslimness. You can be a cultural Jew. I think there’s something similar here.”
Muslims of different backgrounds are increasingly occupying the same social, religious and political spaces, he said. It is not uncommon to find mosques in New York that now cater to Muslims of different national origin. Increasingly, these groups are working together politically.
The study also found that local fund-raising efforts had helped bolster the city’s mosques, which are not primarily financed by institutions abroad, said Louis Abdellatif Cristillo, a Columbia anthropology professor and the project coordinator. “They’re very much reliant on the local businesses,” he said.
Women and children have suffered the most from incidents of social bias, according to the study. Women reported having their head scarves torn from their heads, for instance, and children endured verbal and physical assaults by their non-Muslim peers, Mr. Bradford said. Roughly 102,000 Muslim children are enrolled in the city’s public school system, according to the study.
The study also assessed news coverage of Muslim Americans before and after Sept. 11 and concluded that negative visual depictions of the group rose substantially after the attacks. A group of graduate students examined more than 800 newspaper articles, as well as photographs and television reports. They found that articles implying that American Muslims support terrorism increased around the first anniversary of the attacks. Four percent of the articles in the six months after 9/11 carried the implication, but the rate rose to 14 percent in articles around the first anniversary.
The study also found that journalistic representations of the Muslim world, especially abroad, portrayed women as victims and men as brutal and war-mongering, said Brigitte L. Nacos, a political science professor at Columbia. While those depictions stemmed from real events, they present an incomplete picture of Muslims and serve to fuel negative stereotypes, she said.
“The problem is that it is only part of the truth,” Dr. Nacos said during the presentation. “We only get excerpts, we only get caricatures of that world. We don’t get the full thing.”
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