Hockey and Hijab

December 4, 2008

Author: Staff Writer

Source: The Economist

The gym at Bridge Academy is full of children playing floor hockey. Boys and girls squeal as they chase the puck; a helpless teacher looks on. A homely American scene, except that most girls wear the hijab. This is Hamtramck, a town within the borders of Detroit, where the Muslim factor plays big in local politics.

In America as a whole, the fate of Muslims differs confusingly from the situation in Europe. American Muslims are in many ways better integrated and more successful. The constitutional right to freedom of religion protects their right to build mosques. But many report a recent rise in anti-Muslim prejudice, especially in parts of America where Islam is a little-known “other”. Greater Detroit is different; Islam is a formidable force in public affairs. Michigan’s first Muslim state legislator served in the 1960s. The first female Muslim legislator was elected last month. In Hamtramck, two out of six councillors are Muslim.

South-east Michigan has the country’s highest concentration of Arab Americans, about 40% of whom are Muslim. The first migrants were lured by the car industry. Now the region’s Muslim population, estimated to be at least 150,000, includes not just people of Arab descent but African-Americans and immigrants from Bangladesh and Albania.

Social solidarity has helped Muslims to thrive. The Arab Community Centre for Economic and Social Services (ACCESS) has become a national model, offering succour to people of all faiths.