RIYADH (Reuters) - Muslims are steadily improving their position in U.S. society, contrary to the media image of a community besieged by suspicions of links to militants, a leading U.S. Muslim cleric said on Sunday.
Yahya Hendi, a prayer leader who teaches at Georgetown University, said the September 11 attacks on U.S. cities in 2001 had spurred Americans to know more about Islam and Muslims to affirm their U.S. identity.
“I think the future is bright, because of our wisdom in dealing with the reality,” Hendi, a Palestinian by birth, told a gathering of Saudi academics on a visit to Saudi Arabia.
“There are serious efforts being made among the second and third generation to become part of the political establishment. The challenge we face is in the media and from some Christian extremists who don’t want an Islamic presence in America.”
Hendi said U.S. Muslims, whose number he put at 7 to 9 million, were working on “nationalizing” Islam as part of the fabric of U.S. society, including cutting funding links to Muslim countries.
“Last year we elected the first Muslim to Congress and I expect that by 2015 there will be three or four as well as at least 30 mayors,” he said, adding there were now 400 Muslim lawyers in the United States compared to nine before September 11.
The September 11 attacks, when 19 Arab Muslims killed about 3,000 people in New York and Washington, led to strict security measures in the United States that some rights groups say often unfairly target Arabs and Muslims.
Hendi, who met President George W. Bush days after September 11, 2001, said Muslims had thrown off a tendency to shun political action such as voting and running in elections because it was considered akin to surrendering to U.S. culture.
He said he did not feel there was general animosity towards Muslims in American society, and that he encouraged Muslims to join intelligence bodies like the CIA and FBI.
Islam has some 17,000 converts a year, but that was behind converts to Buddhism and Evangelical Christianity, he said.
Hendi also told his Saudi audience that he did not believe in judging Muslims and non-Muslims over practices such as wearing the hijab head cover or praying five times a day.
Saudi Arabia, home to Islam’s holiest sites and 15 of the 9/11 attackers, practices a strict form of Sunni Islam that gives clerics wide power to ensure that rites are followed to the letter. Many Saudi clerics denounce Shi’ites as heretics.
“I deal with a woman whether she wears a hijab or not, that’s my position. Maybe some of you will disagree,” he said.
“There is no need for labels -- ‘you’re an infidel, Muslim, Islamist, you’ll go to heaven’. I deal with citizens whoever they are and God is the judge.”
[TBC: Muslims are consistent and open about their goals. They never truly compromise, just continue seeking a position where one may dominate and impose Islam on everyone else.]