American Muslims and the Flint Water Crisis: A Case Study

The Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, based in Washington, D.C., has taken a closer look at Michigan’s Muslim community response to the public health crisis that emerged from unsafe levels of lead in the working class town’s water. Below you will find a graphic that highlights their involvement in alleviating suffering in the aftermath, which received little media attention.

An Iraqi immigrant, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, has been credited for blowing the whistle on the Flint water crisis after sharing her research at a public news conference. Public officials vehemently rejected results that indicated that the number of children with lead poisoning had doubled since switching the city’s water supply from Lake Huron to the dirty Flint River in April 2014 as a cost-cutting measure. What followed was an indictment on elected officials’ and government agencies’ complete disregard for the well-being of Michigan’s poor and minority populations. Investigations this and other infrastructural problems across the country, and into the government officials and agencies who deliberately ignored evidence have followed while Flint’s residents try to recover.

It is common knowledge that Michigan hosts the country’s largest Arab population, which is concentrated in Detroit suburbs. Flint is about 80 miles from Detroit and has suffered from extreme depression and neglect since the decline of the once dominant automotive industry. There are about 42 Arab families in Flint, according to the local Arab American Heritage Council which tried to spread awareness about the severity of the crisis and provide bilingual information directing Arab immigrants to available resources.

Mona Sahouri, a Palestinian-American, noted some of the challenges that affect Flint’s Arab Americans who tend to base their communities around familial bonds. They tend to receive their news from Middle Eastern satellite TV channels versus local media. Further, some Arabs may view the United States as a corruption-free country in comparison to the untrustworthy governments of their home countries. The financial impacts on poor communities can be massive. Sahouri said, “When you talk about purchasing bottled water for everyday use, you’re not just talking about drinking water. You’re talking about water for bathing, water for cooking, water for washing the dishes.”

The ISPU’s Muslims for American Progress study seeks to educate the public and provide a much needed evidence-based portrait of a deeply misunderstood community by looking at Muslim Americans in Michigan. ISPU pairs statistical facts with the human faces of the many Muslims who contribute positively to American society, both Muslim and non-Muslim. Their research has shown that:

The graphic below looks at how Muslims have responded to the crisis in Flint. The information can be used in discussions about stereotypes, but is also beneficial in looking at ideas of social responsibility and community engagement. How does the data compare to perceptions about Muslims in your classroom, family or town?

Learn More about the Arab and Muslim American Communities in Michigan, and Beyond

Starting Over in Dearborn, Michigan: The Arab Capital of North America (Washington Post, March 2015)

In the First Majority-Muslim U.S. City, Residents Tense About Its Future (Washington Post, November 2015)

American Muslims in America (Teaching Tolerance)

First, Second, and Third Waves of Arab Immigration to America (Dismantling Arab Stereotypes)

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