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Heritage Month: Religious Diversity in Arab America

posted on: Apr 28, 2016

BY: Husayn Hosoda/Contributing Writer

The United States is touted as being the world’s most diverse country that is home to countless numbers of ethnic groups and faiths. Such diversity is present in smaller American groups as well, with Arabs being no exception. The Arab American community is home to a myriad of religious groups, all with unique and interesting traditions. Arab Americans are primarily members of various sects in Christianity or Islam, but there are also many smaller faith communities from the Arab World that are diversifying and enriching the U.S. for the better.

St. Mary’s Antiochian Orthodox Church

Around 60% of Arab Americans identify as Christian. Among Arab American Christians, there are many different churches, such as: Antiochian and Greek Orthodox, Coptic, Syriac, Antiochian, and Catholic (Latin, Maronite, Melkite, and Chaldeans from Iraq). These Eastern Christian sects have maintained a large following in the U.S. Usually, religious adherence is tied to country of origin with most Copts being from Egypt, Maronites being from Lebanon, and Melkites, Antiochian or Greek Orthodox being from Syria and other parts of the Levant.

Additionally, a small number of Arab Americans have converted to Protestantism and born-again Christianity, many after immigrating to the U.S. Each Church-group has a distinct and unique identity, and engages in community outreach and charity efforts across the country.

Islamic Center of America

While most Arabs worldwide are Muslim, the Muslim-Arab American population makes up a religious minority. The Islamic community in the United States is also diverse, being made up of Sunni, Shia and Druze followers. Shias make up a more significant portion of Muslims in America than they do in the Arab World, and they have become a prominent part of the Arab American Community in places like Dearborn, Michigan.

In smaller numbers, but never forgotten, there are the Assyrian, Chaldean, Jewish and Druze communities. The Arab Jewish community, originating in Morocco, Yemen, Iraq, and Syria mostly, can be found in New York, where they are teaching fellow Americans about their background and combatting common misunderstandings of the Arab World. These religions originate in the Arab World, although some of their followers may not identify as ethnically Arab.

Saint Joseph Chaldean Catholic Church

Regardless, the closely linked Arab Christian, Arab Muslim, Assyrian, Chaldean, and Druze communities can easily identity with each other. Together, these religiously diverse communities are representing the U.S. the way it was founded to be: a democracy that thrives from religious freedom, tolerance, and equality.

Religion is a central part of most Arab Americans’ lives, and it acts as a vessel for communities to work for social change and breaking of cross-cultural boundaries. Contrary to the sectarian divides that are tearing the Middle East apart, the religious diversity in the Arab American community has added to the cultural wealth and prosperity of Arab immigrants to the United States. Religious diversity should be a celebrated aspect of American society; Arab Americans of all faiths have contributed to community dialogues and interfaith cooperation and understanding across the country.

See all articles about National Arab American Heritage Month here.