Editor's Note: A self-proclaimed defender of human rights around the globe, the US has a very poor record of defending Muslims' rights at home. Three scholars and an institute for global religious studies share their views on the issue with China Daily:
Bias against Muslims has roots in US history
The United States has always masqueraded as a "defender of democracy" and "human rights", yet it has been playing down the discrimination against American Muslims, and not taken any concrete measures to ensure their religious freedom.
The situation has worsened in the 21st century, with rising Islamophobia in the US. Worse, both the Democratic and Republican parties have taken advantage of Muslims to fulfill their own political goals.
American Muslims have always been considered "distrusted outsiders", even though many historians say the first group of Muslims came to North America in the early 14th century. The first real wave of Muslims, forcibly shipped from Africa as slaves, reached the United States soon after it declared independence in 1776. Historians say 10-15 percent of the Africans forced into slavery in the US were Muslims.
Although the US' founding fathers sought to ensure Muslims practiced their religion freely, it was difficult for Muslims to do so. So they practiced their religion, wore their traditional clothes and used their names in secret to avoid being discriminated against or persecuted. In fact, many Muslims were forcibly converted to Christianity.
In general, before the 20th century, Muslims in the US were mainly from Africa and the Middle East, most of whom later abandoned their religion, and their descendants no longer identify themselves as Muslims. Muslims from the Middle East and Africa, like other black people, didn't have many job opportunities and could only get jobs that other religious groups didn't want to do.
And in 1924, the US Congress passed the National Origins Act, which "restricted immigration from Asia and other Muslim-sending regions and thus stemmed the flow of new Muslim arrivals".
Thanks to the 1965 Immigration and Naturalization Act, more than 1.1 million Muslims arrived in the US by the end of the 20th century. Unfortunately, the American public opinion toward Muslims was shaped largely by geopolitical encounters between the US and the Middle East at that time, with media reports constantly feeding into the negative narrative about Islam, leading to hate crimes against Muslims.
The terrorist attacks on Sept 11, 2001 were a watershed for American Muslims. Although Muslim clerics in the US denounced the attacks and strived to change the public attitude toward Islam, most Americans continued to distrust, even hate Muslims. The FBI reported a 1,600 percent increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes in 2001. The 9/11 attacks, as a matter of fact, sparked a debate on whether American Muslims should be considered "equal citizens".
Along with the US-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, some Americans spread extreme views about Muslims, saying they are violent, sinister and anti-US by nature.
It is hard to estimate the exact number of Muslims in the US because religious census is forbidden in the country. But according to surveys conducted by Pew Research Center over a period of more than 10 years, there were about 2.15 million Muslim adults, accounting for 1.1 percent of the US population in 2017. And the Muslim population is estimated to reach 8.1 million in 2050, surpassing Jews as the second-largest religious group in the US.
This trend has led both the Democrats and Republicans to woo Muslims in order to win elections and fulfill their goals. The Republicans even have three Muslim Congress members. Yet Muslim politicians are still viewed with suspicion and face discrimination.
Zhou Qi, a researcher at the Institute of American Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences; and Zhang Xudong, a researcher at Tongji University