Friday, February 26, 2016

Communities largely embrace growing Muslim population in Central Appalachia, professor says

In Central Appalachian coal country that is predominantly Christian a growing Muslim population has emerged that has been largely welcomed and embraced by communities such as Pike and Floyd counties in far Eastern Kentucky, Kevin Williams reports for Al-jazeera America. "With its coal-caked hills, isolation and deep poverty, southeastern Kentucky is probably not the first place that springs to mind when one considers the Muslim experience in America. But nonetheless, a small Muslim community has settled in the Appalachians, making a home forged in the ash-black-smudged margins. Friendships are made and communities are established, even as a wider debate rages around the prejudice of GOP frontrunner Donald Trump’s call for a ban on Muslims immigrating to the U.S."

Christopher Green, an associate professor of Appalachian Studies at Berea College, told Williams that he's not surprised that Central Appalachian communities have welcomed Muslims: “Many people outside the area don’t think about it, but Central Appalachia is an incredibly diverse region religiously. You have Baptists, Pentecostal, Holiness, Catholic churches and mainline churches, there is a tremendous diversity of religious experience through Christian denominations. There is tremendous respect for people who hold religion close, no matter the denomination.”

Another likely reason: The Muslim population has helped in a region suffering from doctor shortages, Williams writes. "Yassin Khattab, originally from Syria, is the only private-practice pediatrician in the underserved area around Prestonsburg. He has over 5,000 patients from a seven-county area." When one of his nurses asked him what would happen if Trump was elected president he said he responded, “Nothing. I’ll still be here practicing medicine.” Khattab’s son Asaad, who blogs about his life growing up as a Muslim in Central Appalachia, is studying to be a dentist, and said he can't see himself practicing anywhere but Eastern Kentucky, which has a severe lack of dentists. Asaad told Williams, “I want to contribute and give back to my community. . . . The Muslims that they are putting on the news do not represent us.”

No comments: