By Khaled A. Beydoun
Dearborn, Mich., is the capital of Muslim America, and it is never more vibrant than during the holy month of Ramadan, which comes to an end this week. Authentic Yemeni cafes are packed with customers into the early-morning hours, colorful rows of desserts are displayed in Lebanese and Palestinian sweet shops, and the tables at private iftars — the traditional dinners where Muslims end their daily fast — overflow each evening with an abundance of food.
Here, as in many communities where Muslim Americans have climbed from the economic perils that can accompany immigrant status to the relative comforts of the ranks of the working class, the bounty of the evening and early morning provide a welcome juxtaposition to Ramadan’s daily fasts.
But not all Muslims can enjoy this kind of bounty during the holy month. Not far from Dearborn, in Detroit, for example, things are very different, during Ramadan and throughout the year. Today, the city’s West Side, where I grew up, is home to a tapestry of Muslim immigrants from Iraq, Yemen, Syria and West African nations. Many of them live on the margins of poverty.
In many ways, these people are invisible. They’re largely ignored by a media that often characterizes Muslims as industrious entrepreneurs and well-educated professionals, countering Islamophobia with “model minority” stereotypes that unintentionally obscure the experiences of struggling Muslims. Worse, they’re overlooked by wealthier Muslim neighbors who give generously to many charities, especially during Ramadan, but too often fail to see the economic struggles in their own backyards.
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