The call to prayer bellowed from the living room computer of Barbara and Jamal Zaidan's Houston-area home. It was just after 6 p.m. on a recent Sunday: Time for the third prayer of the day.
Jamal got up and walked to the front room, where his prayer rugs lay. His three toddler grandchildren — Noah, Elias and Olivia — ran after him. They followed along as their grandfather stood, bent and bowed to his God, imitating his movements with a few giggles in between.
This was the image of Islam that Jamal and Barbara's four children grew up with, and how they viewed their religion: a series of practices and rituals to follow, a list of do's and don't's.
"My dad didn't really explain religion, he would just command it," said Ahmad, the third-oldest.
Through three generations and almost four decades, members of the Zaidan family have experienced ebbs and flows with their ideas of what it means to be a Muslim — whether it be praying five times a day or simply being a good person — and how to maintain and meld their Muslim identity with an American one.
According to a recent study by the New America Institute, a think tank, many non-Muslims surveyed in Houston and three other major cities believe that 50 percent or less of Muslim Americans want to fit into American society, though it doesn't specify what integration would look like.
Some scholars say the numbers aren't surprising given the current political climate, from President Donald Trump's 2017 executive order banning immigration from six majority-Muslim countries to his recent tweet urging four congresswoman of color — including one Muslim — to "go back" to the countries from where he said they came. Three were born in the U.S. and all are American citizens. A 2018 Buzzfeed News investigation found that Republican officials in 49 states had openly attacked Muslims, in words and legislative proposals, since 2015.
There are growing concerns that such incendiary rhetoric is fueling perceptions that people of color, and Muslims in particular, aren't truly American.
"Are Muslim Americans integrated? Yes, they are," said Craig Considine, a Rice University-based sociology scholar who has written several books on Islam, including "Muslims in America." "The facts show that — in terms of levels of educational attainment, voting patterns, civic participation, job occupations."
Rather, the problem is the perception by many that Muslim Americans are not integrated, Considine said.
The question of integration can be equally controversial within the Muslim community, where many equate "Americanization" with distance from religion and, in the case of immigrants, cultural roots.
The generational trend of evolving expressions of religiosity from practice to spirit is common, especially in the United States.
David Cook, a professor of Islamic history at Rice University, said that Christians and Jews followed similar trajectories in the U.S.'s secularized society. While studies show Muslims are more religious than their monotheistic counterparts, observations show Muslim Americans are also drifting from the black-and-white visions their parents may have held.
"The term religious to me is a lot more than meeting your practices, it's an ethical and moral thing," said Considine. "I don't think Muslim Americans are losing their religiosity, I think they're finding new ways of expressing their faith."
Religion has historically been interpreted and practiced through cultural lenses, resulting in a conflation of culture and religion. But with the diversity of the Muslim American population, and the growing number of Muslims born in America, the definition of what it means to be Muslim is gradually shifting and shedding older generations' cultural attachments.
The Zaidans are one family that has wrestled with that question, experiencing the delicate push, pull and fusion of worlds, values and identities colliding.
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