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Monday, May 31, 2004

Hamtramck USA: "a CliffNotes version of America"?

Population is more than one third Muslim
Detroit News: HAMTRAMCK — Masud Khan came looking for America, and found it in a city where many do not speak English.

Polish grandmothers in babushkas and Pakistani teens in burkas stroll along the sidewalk outside the Al-Islah Islamic Center where Khan, a Bangladeshi, is secretary. Perched above them, on the roof of the mosque, are three shiny silver loudspeakers. The speakers, and what Kahn plans to broadcast over them beginning today, have spawned petitions, political recalls, death threats and computer viruses.

“They have a right to do what they want,” Kahn says quietly. “And we have a right to do what we want. It’s America.”

Masud Khan, secretary of the Al-Islah Islamic Center, plans to begin broadcasting calls to prayer today [Friday 5/28].

. . . . Few places celebrate democracy, or make it seem as messy, as this blue-collar enclave inside the borders of Detroit. Today, immigrants seeking the American dream clash with immigrants who have come before them; city government brims with community activists, but is paralyzed by a cycle of petitions and recall elections.

Today, those tensions will focus on a former chiropractor’s office, where daily Islamic calls to prayer may begin broadcasting onto public streets. The broadcast is sure to further inflame a controversy splitting the city’s Polish and Muslim communities. . . .

“Because of our sense of community, people are more engaged here,” said former Mayor Gary Zych. “Unfortunately, sometimes engagement turns it into enragement.” He believes Hamtramck is a CliffsNotes version of America, condensing the nation’s admirable and disreputable tendencies into 2.1 square miles of frame homes and dollar stores.

“We’re a stronger brew here,” Zych said. “Whether it’s an election or social change, (residents) react vociferously.”

Hamtramck has a higher percentage of first-generation immigrants than any city in the Midwest. According to the 2000 census, 41 percent of city residents were born outside the United States, about four times the national average. One-third of the 23,000 residents report speaking English “less than very well.”

The city has always attracted immigrants. But instead of Poland, the new Americans are coming from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Bosnia and the Middle East. Between 1990 and 2000, the city’s Arab population jumped more than fivefold, while its traditional Polish population dropped by more than a third. City Council member Ahmed estimates Hamtramck is now more than one-third Muslim. . . .

[Detroit News reporter, Ron French:] "With so many immigrants in so little space, residents may need to get used to something new."

Read here about residents' reactions upon hearing the first broadcast.
Shahidul Haque, 40, of Troy, was among those who answered the call. He didn't understand why such a big deal was being made about it.

“It just calls people to pray for God and for peace,” he said. “It is mostly Muslim around here, so they have the right. Everybody has their religion.”

The call to prayer is hardly a new tradition. The Islamic custom dates back centuries. Calls of this nature, however, are rare in the United States.
According to this translation of the Muslim call to prayer, there is no mention of the word "peace." Curious, isn't it?

I'm with the Hamtramck resident who said, if they're so religious, they should know what time to go to church.