America’s next generation of Muslims insists on crafting its own story


American Muslim college students in Ohio (front row: left to right) Halimah Muhammad (in brown hijab), Fatima Shendy, Zaina Salem, Ruba Abu-Amara, (back row: left to right) Arkann Al-Khalilee (in gray hijab), Nora Hmeidan and Lama Abu-Amara appear in an image that was featured in Uhuru, a Kent State University magazine in an issue on identity and race. PHOTO/Eslah Attar for NPR

Fashion designers. Community activists. Parents. Converts. High school students facing down bullies. Podcasters creating their own space to exhale.

The newest generation of American Muslims is a mosaic, one of the most racially and ethnically diverse faith groups in the country. At a time when all religions are struggling to keep youth engaged, Islam is growing in the U.S., according to the Pew Research Center.

Many American Muslims found themselves on the defensive after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. But this generation says it is tired of being expected to apologize. Instead, young Muslims are determined to take control of their own stories. And they are creating fresh paths for the estimated 3.45 million Muslims in America.

Rather than defending themselves, they are defining themselves. In a tense political climate, they are worried less about explaining Islam to others and more about contributing to the American tapestry through their unique perspectives.

“There is a distinctive American Islam that is emerging,” says Jihad Turk.

Turk is the head of California-based Bayan Claremont, the only Islamic graduate school in the country. There, he tells his students that “the sign of us having arrived in America is not just that we are consumers of culture but that we’re producers of culture. That we contribute to art and the aesthetic of what it means to be an American.”

Over the past year, NPR correspondent Leila Fadel traveled across the country — from Chicago to Los Angeles to northern California to southern Texas — to meet young Muslims expressing themselves in new ways. Below is a montage of what she found.

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