- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 28, 2000

American Muslims began the Ramadan month of fasting last night as a remarkably well-organized religious minority.

Advocacy efforts have put Muslims on the political map, secured religious liberties, discouraged media and corporate slighting of Islam, and included its religious symbols in national holidays.

As a relatively new minority, Muslims overall do well financially in the United States, especially among Asian and Middle Eastern immigrants who make up most of the estimated 6 million followers of Islam here.

"U.S. Muslims have become more visible at a variety of levels of society," said John Esposito, director of the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University. "We notice them in many professional areas, and right down to taxi drivers."

Ramadan, the month of daytime fasting, adds visibility to U.S. Muslims as they get exemptions in workplaces or schools to observe the fast. The month ends Dec. 27 with a feast day, Eid ul-Fitr.

These religious customs, including the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, have generated more favorable news stories about Islam in the United States with the help of Muslim public relations groups.

"The fast is performed to learn discipline, self-restraint and generosity, while obeying God's commandments," says the "Ramadan 2000 Media Kit" circulated nationwide by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in Washington.

In the nation's capital, an Islamic crescent now stands with the Christmas tree and Hanukkah candelabra on the Ellipse, and the U.S. Postal Service will issue a stamp for Eid ul-Fitr next year.

"This is a giant step forward for a growing and vibrant Muslim community," said Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican.

Muslim leaders said that 3,000 Muslim schoolchildren wrote letters promoting the stamp idea, an example of how constituents can be organized.

The American Muslim Council in Washington sponsored one of the largest U.S. protests over the recent violence in the Mideast, and Ramadan is being portrayed as an occasion for American sympathy for Islamic concerns.

"During this time of crisis in the Holy Land, the fast of Ramadan offers people of all faiths an opportunity to learn more about Islam and about the Islamic community in America," said Nihad Awad, executive director of CAIR.

Muslims also have mobilized for elections.

Two weeks before Election Day, the American Muslim Political Coordination Council endorsed Texas Gov. George W. Bush and a post-election poll found 70 percent of Muslim voters took its advice.

Mr. Esposito said the political savvy Muslims are showing reflects their maturity. "They have been reasonably successful in voter registration and in identifying election issues that concern Muslims," he said.

Still, the continued claim that Muslims face "Islamophobia" and "discrimination and harassment" has prompted some critics to call it special pleading. Some critics say that American Muslims, while decrying discrimination against them in America, rarely scold Islamic governments in the Middle East for harsh discrimination against Christians and Jews.

"Muslims are flourishing and in some cases are privileged," said Daniel Pipes of the Middle East Forum, a critic of U.S. Muslim political advocacy on Middle East issues. "My impression is that the leadership asks for these privileges, not ordinary Muslims."

Privilege, he said, is evident in the easy ability of Muslims to win legal disputes with financial penalties, payments from corporations who offend Islam, retractions from newspapers and favors from government.

"I don't see any Hindu stamps, and I don't see Hindus filing so many complaints," he said.

In a Commentary article this month, Mr. Pipes listed the successes of American Muslims, including Senate and White House resolutions against discrimination and Muslim median household incomes of $69,000.

"This is not to deny that some degree of bias against Muslims does exist," Mr. Pipes writes. "But no immigrant community or non-Protestant religious group wholly escapes such prejudice."

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