“I love this country. Even with all the criticism, I still love it with all my heart,” said Hajiabbasi.
Born and raised in Iran, Hajiabbasi learned the family business of trading textiles and had aspirations of eventually owning his own store in the U.S. Like most immigrants, Hajiabbasi was in pursuit of a better life.
More Muslims immigrated to America in 2005 than from any other year in the past two decades, according to the Department of Homeland Security, and they continue to migrate to the U.S. in record numbers.
Steady immigration, coupled with high birth rates within Muslim communities, has led to a sizable jump in the Muslim population in the United States, specifically in the nation’s urban economic hubs.
“Most people immigrate to America for better economic opportunities,” Hajiabbasi said, noting that the motivation of Muslim immigration to the U.S. is largely based on individual goals of economic security; a motive that has been evident in nearly all past waves of immigration.
Mohamed Saleh, from Brooklyn, NY, said his experience in the U.S. has been “better than…being in Egypt. I have steady work here, and I am able to support my family [and] raise my children with better education.”
Large corporations are aware of this immigration trend and recognize its profitability. The consumer market specifically geared toward Muslims has grown exponentially in the past few decades. Many Muslim consumers require foods that are considered “halal” or prepared according to the standards of Islamic law; halal symbols now appear on food labels in mainstream supermarkets across the country.
Numerous manufacturers are acquiring halal certifications in order to tap into the Muslim food industry. Halal certification is in its infancy, but the Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America is aiming to create a widely accepted halal certification program.
Public relations giant Ogilvy & Mather, as well as dairy company Cabot Cheese, are two among many breaking into the Muslim consumer market. Recently, Ogilvy & Mather added an extension to its empire, Ogilvy Noor, catering solely to Muslim consumers. It is estimated that the Muslim consumer market stands to make $2 trillion dollars each year, growing annually by $500 billion.
While immigration rates have remained steady since the 1980s, the Pew Research Institute projects that the Muslim population in America will grow by more than 35 percent over the next 20 years, with the majority of new immigrants over the age of 15.
In the shadow of controversy, why America?
The prospect of freedom and stability continues to be an incentive to relocate to the U.S. and draws people from all corners of the globe; but the U.S. is a particularly desirable location for Muslims.
Unlike past waves of immigration, in which most immigrants hoped to find jobs, young adults of Muslim origin are now coming to the U.S. with a goal of acquiring undergraduate degrees. With as many as 600 Muslim Student Associations on campuses nationwide, it is easier than ever for new immigrants to find a community.
Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D., a Muslim chaplain at the American University, believes that young Muslim immigrants generally seek out places to practice their religion in a community molded to fit their needs.
Dozens of students regularly attend the weekday afternoon prayer at the American University campus.
“I would say about two-thirds of our students who attend prayers are immigrants,” said Ahmad, further indicating that Muslim immigrants are devoted to their religious beliefs.
Post 9/11, ‘immigrants became less insular’
“After 9/11, there were many immigrants who felt that it was their responsibility to be a public face of Islam…to show the public that we are not all terrorists.” Ahmad stated.
Saleh indicated a notable change in Americans’ attitudes towards Muslims in the 10 years following 9/11.
“People would call me a terrorist and [say] that my religion is bad and breeds terrorists,” Saleh said. “This one guy looked like he wanted to hit me that day [9/11] and got very angry with me. His brother held him back. But right now there aren’t problems like before. People have calmed down compared to when 9/11 first happened.”
“The reason many young people come to America is either for studies or for economic opportunities….In Islam they tell us to search for knowledge. The greatest knowledge you will find is studying Islam… and America has some top-notch universities,” said Ahmad.
During the Friday afternoon prayers, the sermon touched upon the quest for knowledge, a fundamental Islamic precept, a religious tenet that is particularly applicable for college students. The precept translates literally as, “The search of knowledge is an obligation laid on every Muslim.”
Muslim immigrants’ continual search for knowledge is reflected in their standings in the American socioeconomic ladder. A 2004 survey conducted by the Zogby Group concluded that Muslim-Americans are generally more affluent and educated with at least 59 percent of Muslims in America holding an undergraduate degree. A New York Times article, estimates that approximately one-third of Muslim families make over $75,000 annually.
“I originally came to America to get my college degree. Undergrad quickly turned into grad school, and now I am looking at job opportunities. Four years might have turned into the rest of my life,” said Pijman Samian, an Iranian graduate student.
Ahmad said many immigrants experience a similar transition.“I can tell you that I have friends who have been here for 20 years, who have only just realized that they are not going back home,” he said. “They came here to make a lot of money and then go back home and spend it. It’s not so easy to go back.”