Life as a Muslim convert in Alabama

Source: Alabama

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Allie Larbi of Mobile, Ala., who converted to Islam after Sept. 11, 2001, plays with children before prayers at the Islamic American Center of Mobile on December 18, 2015. (Sharon Steinmann/ssteinmann@al.com)

 

Allie Larbi sounds like a Donald Trump supporter.

The Mobile resident supports building a giant wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and scrapping birthright citizenship. Syrian refugees, in her own words, should either be blocked from entering the United States or let in only to be housed in isolated refugee camps.

“I have what I like to turn around and call American views,” said Larbi. “This is a great country and it needs to stay that way.”

But what Larbi can’t overlook is all of the incendiary things the GOP frontrunner has to say about Muslims, such as mandatory registration for Muslims, a ban on Muslim travel to the United States, or shooting Muslims with bullets dipped inpig’s blood.

That she takes personally. After all, the 44-year-old Rhode Island native is one herself. So is her adult son, Dusty, and her Tunisian husband, Moez, whom she married when she moved to the Deep South.

“To me, it means everything,” said Larbi.

She converted after 9/11 when she became curious about Islam in the wake of the terrorist attacks. She has never looked back.

“It’s everything I am, everything I believe,” she said. “It’s who I am. Islam has just done so much for my life and the life of my child.”

Larbi is one of more than 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide and a member of the fastest growing religion in the world. By the second half of this century, Muslims are expected to surpass Christians as the largest religious group.

But in the United States, where more than 70 percent of its citizens identify as Christian, Muslims remain a small minority making up less than one percent the total population. Converts and their children represent about one-third of the total U.S. Muslim population.

Estimates vary on the number of Muslims in the United States, placing the total anywhere from 1 to 7 million. That means if there were 5 million Muslims in the United States, for example, the convert population would be about 1.65 million. According to Pew Research Center, the U.S. Christian population is about 170 million.

Islam in the era of Civil Rights

Wali A. Mustafa remembers why he converted from Christianity to Islam.

It started happening in 1972 after the native Alabamian began to question why Jesus Christ looked like a white man.

“A friend of mine in the armed services, he came home talking about how we view God,” said Mustafa, who is black. “At that time, and in some ways now, (Christians) look at Jesus being God. He was talking about how crippling that was, even during that time period. The crippling effect of having a Caucasian image being God and the same people that had their foot on your neck looked like the same person.”

Mustafa, 69, joined the Masjid of Al-Islam three years later. He serves as its treasurer and has led a Koran study at the Mobile County Metro Jail for more than 20 years. With six sisters and four brothers, Mustafa is the only practicing Muslim of his siblings.

In the United States, black people make up more than 60 percent of all Muslim converts, according to Patrick Bowen, a Colorado-based independent academic.
Bowen, who has studied Muslim conversions in the United States, attributes the black Muslim conversion rate to the Nation of Islam and civil rights movement.

“The legacy of the Nation of Islam is important and generally looked at in the black community, the black Muslim community, as how black Muslims were introduced to Islam,” Bowen said. “It is understood as a way to communicate Muslim principals, Islamic principles, in a language you can understand.”

But any historical or cultural connection between White and Latinos and Islam is more tenuous, Bowen said. Most of the converts in those communities are introduced to Islam by “people meeting immigrant Muslims.”

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