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Originally published December 11, 2005 at 12:00 AM | Page modified December 14, 2005 at 1:05 PM

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Islam in America

Islam in America, the present and future

Today, these editorial pages begin a series of comments and opinions on Islam in America, the rise of the religion, what is happening to...

Seattle Times staff columnist

Today, these editorial pages begin a series of comments and opinions on Islam in America, the rise of the religion, what is happening to its followers and why every American should understand the basic tenets of the three founding religions of the Middle East.

The series begins with the remarkable attempt to give voice to women within the formal structure of Islam, in an account by Asra Q. Nomani. In traveling and speaking from Madrid to New York to Seattle, this is a woman whose voice will continue to be heard among Muslims in America. Nomani is called one of the bad girls of Islam. She responds by telling us who she thinks modern Islamic women really are. On the next page, Islam in America continues with editorial commentary, today and over the next two days, that deals with the role of faith among Americans of many faiths; the rise of Islam as a demographic and vocal force within America; and the future — school-age children who are both Muslim and American.

For most Americans, hazy about geography and political history, the dilemma has been to ask: Which Islam is coming to this country? Is it the Islam of the war on terrorism or the Islam that basks in the holy attention of millions of good people around the globe?

"... The powerful ideological model for the theoreticians of the modern movement called Islamic Fundamentalism... is the Muslim version of what is in fact the much broader phenomenon called fundamentalism, a term that was originally applied to the Evangelical Christian sects in the 1920s."

So writes Professor F.E. Peters in "Islam, a Guide for Jews and Christians" (Princeton University Press). Frank Peters, who e-mailed me that he is steaming across the Indian Ocean and pleasantly out of touch this week, underscores my feeling that Islam and Muslims are not the devils portrayed in the West, nor are they the holy purists often self-portrayed in the East. For Americans, they are largely misunderstood.

Peters notes that religious fundamentalism, whether Islamic or otherwise, shares things in common, and they are startling. Peters writes, religious fundamentalism is a belief system based on these themes:

• Scripture is infallible.

• Scripture is not subject to so-called critical analysis.

• It envisions a return to origins.

• It advocates revolution in the name of religion.

• The movement is a "Church within a Church."

Are we talking about fundamentalist Christians, Jews or Muslims?

In Monday's editorial by staff writer Joni Balter, the reality of the rise of the Islamic population in our country is defined by growing numbers and visibility.

On Tuesday, editorial writer Lynne Varner's comparison of school choices for Muslims and non-Muslims in Florida and Seattle shows the way the American experience with each generation changes every immigrant group.

And the first editorial opinion today by Lance Dickie traces the future of Islam in the pluralistic, religious mosaic of America.

Why now? Why talk about Islam in this prelude to both the religious and commercial Christmas? At this early week of December, we are past the holy days of Ramadan, not yet to Christmas and Hanukkah. There's a lively debate going on about the roots of the Christian religion in America at Christmas and whether we remain true to its fundamental lessons.

The fundamentalist movements inside America — to boycott department stores or demand Scripture in Christmas cards — are the flash points but not the everyday celebrations of these coming holy days. In trying to understand Islam, we try to understand the challenges and the soul of America.

James F. Vesely's column appears Sunday on editorial pages of The Times. His e-mail address is:

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