Pakistani Americans

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Author: Tinaz Pavri
Editor: Thomas Riggs
Date: 2014
Publisher: Gale, a Cengage Company
Document Type: Topic overview
Length: 8,007 words
Lexile Measure: 1310L

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Pakistani Americans

Tinaz Pavri


Pakistani Americans are immigrants or descendants of people from Pakistan, a country in South Asia bordered by India on the east, Iran and Afghanistan on the west, the great Karakoram mountain range and China on the north, and the Arabian Sea on the south. Pakistan received its independence from British India in 1947. It was created on the basis of religious identity, so that Muslims from British-ruled India, which had an overwhelming majority of followers of the Hindu religion, would have a nation to call their own. Modern-day Pakistan is divided into four major geographic divisions known as the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), Punjab, Sind, and Baluchistan. Each of these regions has its own language and ethnic groups. The capital of Pakistan is the modern city of Islamabad, though the country's cultural and economic centers continue to be Lahore and Karachi. The area of the country is 307,373 square miles (796,095 square kilometers), approximately the size of the states of Texas and Kentucky combined.

The population of Pakistan was 176.7 million in 2011, according to World Bank figures. An overwhelming 98 percent of the Pakistani population are Muslim; small communities of Hindus, Christians, and Zoroastrians account for the rest. Pakistan was designed to be a state for Muslims, and this fact influences many aspects of Pakistani political and social life. Ethnic and linguistic groups in Pakistan include Pathans, Punjabis, Sindhis, and Baluchs. The Pathans, also known as the Pushtoons, Pashtuns, or Pakhtoons, come from the region of the KP and include tribes on the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Punjabi community dominates education and industry in Pakistan. The Baluchs (or Balochs) are largely from Baluchistan (they also live in neighboring Iran and Afghanistan). They were originally a seminomadic people; today, while many continue to follow ancient traditions, others have moved to the city of Karachi. The Sindhi come from Sind and are a mixture of several different ethnic groups that all share a common language, Sindhi. Years of political instability have taken their toll on economic growth in the country. According to the CIA World Factbook, both unemployment and inflation are high and growth has remained low, making life hard for the average citizen. One significant source of revenue for the economy is the remittances of foreign workers to Pakistan. Since 2011 this has averaged about $1 billion a month. Pakistan's key industries include textiles and apparel, food processing, and pharmaceuticals; about 45 percent of the population is engaged in the agricultural sector.

The first notable wave of Pakistanis immigrated to the United States after 1965, when the U.S. government first eased immigration restrictions. That wave brought many students who came for higher education and professionals who came for career and economic opportunities. More recent Pakistani immigrants have not always had the same educational qualifications and socioeconomic profile of the post-1965 wave of immigrants. Many have immigrated as dependents of Pakistani American citizens, and others have left Pakistan because of the country's economic hardship and political turmoil. According to a 2008 report in Migration Information Source, of all Pakistani-born immigrants in the United States, more than a quarter came to the country during or after 2000. Of these, more than 90 percent continue to speak a native language in their homes. A 2011 Pew Center report states that Pakistan is the country of origin of the greatest number of first-generation Muslim immigrants to the United States.

The 2010 U.S. Census indicated that there were about 409,163 Pakistani Americans in the United States; however, community organizations put the figure higher, at about twice that number. The largest percentage, around 32 percent, live in the Northeast; around 27 percent live in the South, 21 percent in the West, and 20 percent in the Midwest. States with the largest concentrations of Pakistani Americans are New York, California, and Texas. Illinois, New Jersey, and Virginia are home to smaller numbers of Americans of Pakistani descent. Cities with significant Pakistani American communities include New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles. Pakistani Americans tend to settle in large cities, reflecting the fact that most of the post-1965 immigrants were from the cities of Lahore, Karachi, and Rawalpindi. Their settlement patterns also reflect employment opportunities.


Early History Pakistan contains the site of the famed Indus Valley civilization (2500 BCE to 1700 BCE), including prehistoric remains at Mohenjo-Daro, near Page 426  |  Top of Articlethe modern Pakistani city of Larkana, and at Harappa, near the city of Lahore. The Indus Valley civilization has remained an interest for archaeologists because of the society's high level of sophistication and stability over several centuries.

Pakistan's ethnic and cultural diversity was formed through the mingling of Persians, Turks, Arabs, Huns, Greeks, and Mongols, most of whom practiced Islam. From about the eighth century CE until British dominance increased in the eighteenth century, Muslim rulers established kingdoms in northern India. As a result, many Pakistanis and others in British India converted to the religion of the new people.

When the struggle for independence from the British colonizers started in India at the beginning of the twentieth century, Hindus—followers of India's majority religion—and Muslims fought side by side for their freedom. The Indian National Congress, the political party that eventually led India to its independence, had many devoted Muslim members who were willing to give up their lives for the cause of India's freedom.

Great Britain formally relinquished its control over the subcontinent in 1947. As the goal of India's independence appeared more likely to be achieved, a section of the Muslim leadership led by Mohammed Ali Jinnah (1876–1948), who later became independent Pakistan's founder and first governor general, felt that Muslims would never be accorded equal treatment in a largely Hindu India. Because Jinnah feared political, social, and cultural subordination to the Hindu majority, he started a movement to establish a separate state based on Islam for the Indian Muslims. This group felt that in order to be truly free, Indian Muslims needed their own homeland. The independence leaders, both Hindus like Jawaharlal Nehru (1889–1964) and Mohandas Gandhi (1869–1948), and Muslims like Jinnah and Liaquat Ali Khan (1895–1951), who later became Pakistan's first prime minister, worked together with the British to make the transition from British India into independent India and Pakistan a reality.

Modern Era Following India's independence and Pakistan's inception, the two countries suffered riots and violence stemming from the migration of millions of Muslims to Pakistan from India and millions of Hindus from Pakistan to India. Refugee camps were created on both sides of the border between the two countries to deal with these mass migrations in which whole communities were uprooted from their homes.

Since then, India and Pakistan have fought three wars and have been involved in many other confrontations, particularly over the disputed Kashmir region that lies between the two countries, which remains the scene of a protracted, three-way conflict among the Indians, Pakistanis, and Kashmiris, who are seeking independence from both India and Pakistan. However, the two countries share a history and culture that creates some ties between them. Many Muslims who chose to remain in India have close family members who moved to Pakistan, and some Hindus remained behind in Pakistan.

After the death of Jinnah, Pakistan was ruled by a series of army chiefs under martial law regimes. In 1971 Pakistan was divided again as a result of a violent ethnic insurgency in its eastern wing, which was populated mainly by Bengali-speaking Muslims, and the subsequent war with neighboring India. As a result of this division, a new sovereign country—Bangladesh—was created; Pakistan has since recognized Bangladesh and has established diplomatic and trading relations with the new nation.

Pakistan has had four constitutions since 1947. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (1928–1979), served as Pakistan's prime minister from 1971 to 1977. His daughter Benazir Bhutto (1953–2007) was voted into power in 1988, in the country's first largely free national elections. She led her father's political party, the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), to victory. Under Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan made significant strides toward democracy. Another bout of military rule under General Pervez Musharraf (1943–) followed from 2001 to 2008, and now Pakistan is a parliamentary democracy, albeit one facing many severe challenges. Since the 1990s, the country has faced ethnic strife and religious fundamentalism. Terrorist and radical groups with bases within Pakistan have repeatedly threatened citizens of the country itself as well as the larger region, and Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden was finally killed there in 2011 after a decade in hiding. In the last decade, a handful of Pakistani Americans have been convicted for terrorist acts, including the 2010 Times Square car bombing, and many Pakistani Americans say that have felt increased scrutiny since the “War on Terror” began.


Even though Pakistan came into existence recently, Muslim immigrants from India and the region that is now Pakistan entered the United States as early as the nineteenth century, working alongside their Hindu or Sikh brethren in agriculture, logging, and mining in the states of California, Oregon, and Washington.

In 1907 around 2,000 Indians, including Hindus and Muslims, worked alongside other immigrants from China, Japan, Korea, and Italy on the building of the Western Pacific railway in California. Other Indians worked on building bridges and tunnels for California's other railroad projects. As the demand for agricultural labor increased in California, Indians turned to the fields and orchards for employment. Muslim agricultural workers in California sometimes brought with them to the fields an imam or learned man, who would pray several times a day when the men took their breaks.

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In the early twentieth century, Muslims from the Indian subcontinent found success as farmers, leasing or owning land in many California counties in order to grow rice. Many Indian Americans, Hindu and Muslim, prospered financially as they increased their acreage and even bought small farms and orchards. However, heavy rains in 1920 devastated some rice crops and drove some of these farmers into bankruptcy.

L ike early Hindu and Sikh Indian immigrants, some Muslim immigrants chose to return to India after they had achieved some financial success in the United States. Many others, however, sowed firm roots in California and the adjoining Western states, sometimes by marrying Mexican women, because the immigration of Muslim women from the subcontinent was nonexistent.

While all Indian immigrants faced racial prejudice, Muslims from the subcontinent were also subject to added discrimination due to their religion. Some erroneously viewed Muslims as polygamists and called for them to be deported. The Asiatic Exclusion League (AEL) was organized in 1907 to encourage the expulsion of Asian workers, including Indian Hindus and Muslims.

The immigration of all Hindu and Muslim Indians was tightly controlled by the U.S. government during this time, and those applying for visas to travel to the United States were often rejected. In addition, legislation was introduced in the United States that attempted to legally restrict the entry of Indians and other Asians into the country as well as to deny them residency and citizenship rights. Some of this legislation was defeated and some was adopted. For instance, a number of bills required immigrants to pass a literacy test to be considered eligible for citizenship. This effectively ensured that most Indians would not be able to meet the requirements. Only in 1947 did Congress pass a bill allowing naturalization for Indian immigrants. Between 1947 and 1965, according to the Immigration and Naturalization Service, only around 2,500 Pakistani immigrants lived in the United States.

Pakistani immigration to the United States increased in 1965, when the U.S. government repealed quotas and lifted immigration restrictions. Numbers of Pakistani immigrants swelled after 1970, and thousands of Pakistanis have entered the United States each year since then. Since the 1990s, members of Pakistan's religious minorities, including the Ahmadis (or Ahmedis) and Hazaras, have made the United States their home in order to escape religious persecution in Pakistan. The Ahmadis, adherents of the Ahmadiyya sect of Islam, originate from the Punjab region. They share many beliefs with Islam, except for the fact that they believe that their founder, Hadhrat Mirza Gulam Ahmad, is the messiah, a view that is


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considered heretical by mainstream Islam. Thus, in 1974, Pakistani officials declared them to be non-Muslims. They are forbidden from calling themselves Muslim or worshipping in mainstream mosques; such practices have become punishable offences under Pakistani law, creating precarious conditions for the community. The Hazaras, a Shiite ethnic minority in Pakistan with roots in Afghanistan, have also faced persecution because of their distinctive ethnicity, their political alliances during the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, and the Sunni-Shia tensions within Pakistan. Since 2001, over a thousand Hazaras have been killed, most of them in their stronghold in Quetta, Baluchistan.

Like their Asian Indian counterparts, many of the first-wave Pakistani immigrants were urban, well-educated, and professional. Those who came from Karachi and Lahore were familiar with Western culture. However, many of the dependents and relatives these immigrants later sponsored for permanent residence in and citizenship of the United States tended to have less education. Since 2000, the experiences of these less-educated Pakistani immigrants have differed considerably from that of their professional counterparts in that they do not necessarily share their comfortable middle-class experiences and upward mobility.

According to the 2010 U.S. Census American Community Survey estimates for 2006–2010, New York, Texas, California, Illinois, New Jersey, and Virginia were the states with the largest numbers of Pakistani Americans.

After 9/11, some Pakistani Americans reported feeling as if their loyalties to the United States were in question. Many have reached out under umbrella Muslim organizations to educate American citizens about who they are and what their values are, and to demonstrate the peaceful foundations of Islam.


Urdu is the official language of Pakistan, although only about 10 percent of Pakistanis speak it. The majority of the population speaks regional languages, such as Punjabi, Baluchi, and Sindhi, which are taught in some schools along with Urdu. Urdu is a blend of four different languages—Hindi, Arabic, Persian, and Turkish. English is also spoken extensively in Pakistan.

About 30 percent of Pakistani Americans speak Urdu. A larger percentage, perhaps 50 percent, speak Punjabi (most of whom also speak Urdu). Others might speak Sindhi or Gujrati, reflecting the regions from which they trace their ancestry. As a result of the legacy of British colonization, many Pakistani Americans are also fluent in English. While a majority of first-generation Pakistani Americans continue to speak their native languages at home, offspring generally speak English but understand their parents' native tongue.

Greetings and Popular Expressions Pakistani Americans often salute each other with the traditional Islamic greeting Salaam Aleikum (“sahlaam alaykoom”)—Peace be with you. The response to that greeting, conveying the same meaning, is Waleikum Salam. Another common phrase is Inshallah (“inshaallah”)—God willing.


Many Pakistani Americans are devout Muslims, and the Holy Quran and the teachings of the Holy Prophet serve as their guiding principles. Families often visit the mosque once a week, usually on Friday afternoons. Children are encouraged to attend religious education classes held on weekends and during the summer vacation. Both men and women must dress modestly while in the mosque, and covering the head is also encouraged. Men and women must sit either in separate rooms or in separate groups within the same room for the duration of the prayers.

The majority of Pakistanis belong to the Sunni sect of Islam, although there are smaller Shi'ite sects, such as an Ismaili sect, which follows the Aga Khan as its spiritual leader, and the previously mentioned Hazaras. Sunnis believe that the community is responsible for maintaining Islamic law. This law, shari'a, is based on four sources, which in descending order of importance are: the Quran; the examples and teachings of the Prophet; communal consensus (later the consensus of religious scholars) on Islamic principles and practices; and reasoning by analogy.

In smaller U.S. towns without nearby mosques, Pakistani Americans will travel to attend the nearest one on major religious holidays and occasions. Pakistani Americans worship at mosques alongside other Muslims who might trace their ancestry to all parts of the Islamic world and to India. There may also be separate Pakistani American mosques in large cities.

Pakistani Americans also participate in and contribute to the larger Islamic community, which includes Arab Americans and African Americans. They have been part of this larger community's efforts to educate the country about the ideals of Islam in the years since the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001. This education has taken the form of participation in conferences about Muslim life in the United States and through student organizations on campuses. Ameena Ghaffer-Kucher, director of the International Educational Development program at University of Pennsylvania, has undertaken studies that document the voices of young Pakistani Americans, the prejudice they faced after 9/11, and their reactions to it.

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Although the overwhelming majority of Pakistani Americans are Muslims, some are Hindu, Christian, or Zoroastrian. The Hindu community today has access to over a thousand temples all over the United States, but many Pakistani American Hindus prefer to visit North Indian or Sikh temples rather than South Indian temples. It is also common for Hindus in the United States to worship at home, in a small room or portion of a room set aside for worship and meditation.

Pakistani Christians worship and participate at churches throughout the country. Zoroastrians in Pakistan, or Parsis, trace their roots to ninth-century Persia when they migrated into the Indian subcontinent to escape religious persecution under Muslim rule., The Parsis form a minuscule religious minority in both India and Pakistan. They have prospered in both these countries, as well as in the United States. The earliest Zoroastrians came to the country at the turn of the twentieth century. In recent times, Pakistani Zoroastrians have come to the United States mainly from the Pakistani cities of Lahore and Karachi.


Previously, many scholars tended to lump the Pakistani American community together with the larger Asian Indian community, thereby glossing over its distinctiveness. For instance, in Arab, Armenian, Syrian, Lebanese, East Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi Americans: A Study and Source Book (1977), Kananur Chandras offers little distinction between the Asian Indian, Pakistani American, and Bangladeshi American communities. Others tended to assume, incorrectly, that Pakistani Americans, because they are overwhelmingly Muslim, could be described as a part of America's Arab Muslim community. This has changed in recent decades, as Pakistani Americans have become more visible and have established social and religious organizations that distinguish themselves from other communities and celebrate their particular religious and social traditions.

Traditions and Customs One of the most popular traditions for the Pakistani American community has been the celebration of Pakistan Day in different cities. The Pakistan Day parade in New York City has been held for over twenty-five years on or around August 14, Pakistan's independence day, and is attended by thousands. Cricket games that sometimes involve Pakistani cricketers are held in cities like New York and are well attended by the community. Rituals surrounding the breaking of the fast with family and friends during Ramadan and especially celebrations of Eid-al-Fitr at the end of Ramadan involve a large part of the community.

Cuisine The cuisine of northern India and that of Pakistan is similar. Hence, it is common to see restaurants featuring both Indian and Pakistani cuisine, although Pakistani-only restaurants are also popular. However, Pakistani cuisine has many traditional dishes that are not necessarily shared with Asian Indians.

Despite regional variations, Pakistani cuisine in general uses many spices. Cumin, turmeric, and chili powder are common in Asian Indian cuisine, and Pakistani American cuisine also includes such spices as cloves, cinnamon, saffron, and cardamom.

Pakistani Americans gather in Madison Square Park in NYC to celebrate India's and Pakistan's independence from the British Empire. Pakistani Americans gather in Madison Square Park in NYC to celebrate India's and Pakistan's independence from the British Empire. RICHARD LEVINE / ALAMY

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Most Pakistani American families eat at least one traditional meal a day, usually prepared with fresh ingredients by the woman of the house. Although Western-style shortcuts to food preparation, such as the use of canned substitutes, are increasingly being used, cooking the main meal still remains a laborious chore. The woman, often with the help of daughters, usually cooks for the family. Male family members, once rarely engaged in domestic chores like cooking and household cleaning, now find themselves willingly participating in such endeavors. Pakistani Americans regard the family meal as an important event in their daily lives. It is a time for the family to talk to each other about what events have transpired during the day and a time to be together and maintain contact in the face of busy individual schedules.

Meat dishes—lamb, goat, and beef—are common. Meat must be halal, that is, cut in a way that ensures the slow draining of blood from the animal in accordance with Islamic law. Many large American cities have halal butcher shops where such meat is sold. Also in accordance with halal customs, Muslims do not eat pork. Pakistani food tends to be more meat-based than Indian food. Kebabs of chicken, beef, and lamb are very popular. Rice dishes include pulao, a fragrant dish of mildly spiced rice with peas or dried fruits, and biryani, which consists of rice and meat marinated in yogurt and spices. Dals, or lentils and split peas prepared in spicy sauces, are common. Whole chickpeas are prepared in a flavorful sauce called cholle (“chollay”). Vegetable dishes include saag (“sahg”) or spinach and aloo-mattur—potatoes and peas. Unleavened breads made with white and wheat flour are eaten with many meals; these include the robust naan, clay-baked roti, and paratha.

Traditional Pakistani sweets include zarda (“zahrdah”), a sweet, yellow, rice dish; jalebi (“jahlaybee”), an orange-colored, fried pastry made of a sugary syrup and flour; and ladoo (“lahdoo”), a round ball of sweetened chickpea flour embellished with pistachios or cashews. Burfi, a sweet made of scalded milk, and kheer, a dessert of milk and rice or vermicelli, are also popular. Tea flavored with cinnamon and cardamom is a favorite drink. Another way to round off a meal is to chew paan, which is the broad leaf of the betel plant sprinkled with a lime powder.

Traditional Dress Pakistani American men and women wear the traditional salwar kameez on festive occasions. The outfit, consisting of a long tunic and tight or loose-fitting leggings or trousers and often including a diaphanous shawl or veil called the dupatta (“dooputtah”) for women, is commonly made of cotton or silk. Women's clothing tends to be more colorful and intricate, often including exquisite embroidery or zari, a technique that involves the weaving of gold or silver thread into the cloth. It is more rare, but not unheard of, for some Pakistani American women to wear the sari, the traditional costume of Asian Indian women. Some women wear the Islamic burqa that encases them from head to toe. However, others wear only a colorful head scarf, and many do not use any form of head covering at all.

Like their Asian Indian counterparts, Pakistani American women enjoy wearing gold jewelry, including bangles, bracelets, rings, and necklaces. Simple jewelry is worn daily, while more opulent pieces with precious stones are worn at weddings and other celebrations. Pieces of jewelry are often passed down through the generations as family heirlooms.

Traditional Arts and Crafts On festive occasions and weddings, mehndi, or the application of a paste made with henna that dries in delicate, intricate designs on the palms of the hands, is sported by some women and girls in the community. The wearing of gold jewelry including bangles, necklaces, rings, and earrings in traditional and modern settings with precious or semiprecious stones is popular, and traditional wedding designs are available. Woodcarving of furniture, chests, and other objects has a long history within Pakistan. Embroidered shawls of wool, silk, and cotton as well as fabrics stitched in geometric patterns with small mirrors (sheesha) are common. Along with other countries in the region, such as Afghanistan and Iran, Pakistan is home to a centuries-long carpet and rug-making tradition and is well known for the handmade Bokhara rug. The Peshawar region of Pakistan is known for its hand-hammered copperware and copper utensils and Multan is known for terracotta tiles. Many Pakistani American homes have native rugs and other crafts displayed in them. Although the majority of these crafts are brought back from Pakistan, Pakistani American grocery stores sometimes sell crafts as well in addition to online outlets.

Dances and Songs A common dance performed by Pakistani American women on festive occasions like weddings and other celebrations is the giddha, in which women dance in a circle while rhythmically clapping their hands. Qawaali (“kawalee”), a genre of music that traces its roots to Sufi Muslim devotional and mystical music and that is meant to encourage religious ecstasy among its listeners, has many adherents within the Pakistani American community and is also drawing increasing numbers of other Americans into its fold of admirers. It encourages intense listener involvement and response. The best-known group performing this music that has toured the United States is the Pakistani group Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Party. Groups performing the Qawaali generally include several singers and such instruments as the harmonium and the tabla (“tublah”), a type of drum. The ghazal, a mellow, emotional style of ancient Persian lyric verse set to music and sung by both men and women, is also popular among members of the Page 431  |  Top of Articlecommunity. Film music, from both popular Pakistani films and Indian Bollywood films in Hindi, also has many adherents within the community, particularly first-generation and recent immigrants. Pakistani bands that combine Western rock and pop tunes with Urdu lyrics are popular at celebrations.

Holidays The New Year is widely celebrated among members of the community. In addition, Pakistani Americans celebrate the creation of Pakistan on August 14 as Independence Day. The birthday of Jinnah, the founder of the Pakistani nation, is celebrated on December 25, and Pakistan Day is on March 23. Religious celebrations include Eid-al-Fitr, festivities that signify the end of the month of fasting during Ramadan, and Eid-al-Adha, a joyous observance of the pilgrimage to Mecca. Pakistani Hindus celebrate Diwali (“deevalee”), the festival of lights, and Holi (“hoelee”), the festival of color that traditionally welcomes the spring.

Celebrations on such days typically include visits to friends and family, the exchange of gifts and sweets, and invitations to feasts. Many people wear traditional outfits. Celebratory parades in cities and towns where there are large Pakistani American communities are increasingly popular. Celebrations at local community centers often include mushaira (“mooshaeera”), or Urdu poetry readings, and showings of Pakistani and Hindi films. Less common, but no less enjoyed in large cities with great ethnic diversity like New York, is the occasional cricket match that will be organized

Pakistani American young women decorate their hands with Mehandi on the eve of Eid-ul-Fitr. Pakistani American young women decorate their hands with Mehandi on the eve of Eid-ul-Fitr. AP PHOTO / MAHESH KUMAR A

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Common Pakistani proverbs include the following:

  • If you and I agree, what is a lawyer needed for?
  • Turn your face to virtue and your back to vice
  • A friend appears during hard times, not during dinners.

within the community or a larger cricket-playing community that includes Asian Indians and West Indians.

Health Care Issues and Practices Pakistani Americans take health issues seriously and consult healthcare providers regularly. Family physicians are often chosen from within the community. Traditional herbal remedies might be used to battle minor illnesses. Ayurveda and homeopathy are also employed. Ayurveda focuses on spiritual healing as an essential part of physical healing and bases its cures on herbs and other natural ingredients such as raw ginger and garlic. Homeopathy attempts to cure by stimulating the body's own defenses against the illness.

Members of the community are less likely, however, to seek help for mental health issues, a reflection of the traditionally low levels of awareness of the subject in Pakistan and on the Indian subcontinent in general. Pakistani Americans generally believe that families rather than institutional settings are best suited to take care of the mentally ill.

Death and Burial Rituals Muslim Pakistani Americans follow Islamic rites in burying the deceased. According to the Islamic Society of North America, the body is washed, usually by persons of the same gender. It is then wrapped in pieces of white cotton cloth and tied at the head and feet. This ritual wrapping is called kafan. Prayers are led by the imam. The body is placed without a casket into the grave, lying on the right side and facing Mecca. Islamic law stresses that the burial should happen as soon as possible after death. No separate cemeteries exist for the Pakistani community in the United States; rather, they may use cemeteries that are designated for Muslims and operated by Islamic centers in U.S. cities in states like Florida, Texas, California, and New Jersey. In rare cases, the body might be flown to Pakistan for burial. Generally, only males participate in the actual burial ceremony. Pakistani Hindus are cremated according to Hindu religious tradition. In this ceremony, males are given greater prominence. Death is a time for the Pakistani community to come together to provide emotional and sometimes financial support for the bereaved family.

Recreational Activities Pakistani American culture centers are popular meeting places for the community and hold such activities as kite-flying contests, picnics, film and karaoke nights, and performances by artists and musicians from Pakistan or within the community. Exploring restaurants is popular, but in keeping with Islamic values that forbid drinking, frequenting bars is not. Many avidly watch television serials and movies from Pakistan. While second-generation Pakistani Americans play all the American popular sports, first-generation Pakistani Americans might start a cricket league when possible.


Pakistani American families tend to be tightly knit and patriarchal. In the case of the early immigrants, often only men had formal educations, and they became the sole breadwinners. The nuclear family is most common, but members of the extended family, including grandparents, aunts, and uncles, visit frequently and for long periods of time. Siblings and close relatives are encouraged to visit the United States and are provided with financial and emotional support should they decide to eventually immigrate. Many leisure activities for Pakistani Americans tend to be family and community oriented. Pakistani Americans often prefer to live near other Pakistani Americans in order to feel a sense of community. Because family ties are so strong, they also try to live close to relatives.

Gender Roles Most first-generation Pakistani American women continue to fulfill traditional female roles, choosing to take care of the home and family rather than pursuing demanding careers. Second-generation Pakistani American women tend to be more resistant to traditional roles, and many have launched professional careers across the spectrum, in fields including law, academia, and medicine. Like many South Asians in general, Pakistani Americans place a high value on careers in the sciences, including information technology, medicine, and pharmacy, and young women are encouraged to enter these careers. Young women and girls generally have less freedom to date or socialize than their male counterparts.

Education On the whole, education is highly valued among Pakistani Americans. Many first-generation males came to the United States in the post-1965 period with high levels of education and obtained advanced degrees in the United States. This generation imparted the value of education to their children. Both girls and boys are encouraged to study hard and pursue careers of which the family can be proud. A particular bias within the South Asian community is toward careers in the sciences, information technology, and engineering, and there are some biases against young people choosing careers Page 433  |  Top of Articlein the arts or humanities. Science careers are perhaps viewed as allowing the next generation a better chance for upward mobility. According to a 2011 Pew Research Report, 55 percent of Pakistani Americans hold a bachelor's or master's degree. This is higher than the general U.S. population, around 30 percent of which holds a bachelor's degree, with an additional 10 percent holding a master's degree, according to a 2011 Census Bureau report.

Courtship and Weddings In the Pakistani American community, dating is discouraged for girls. Young men and women are expected to marry within their ethnicity and with parental approval. Formerly, family and community members were widely consulted in selecting prospective marriage partners for young adults, but now many young people make their own decisions, and “love” marriages are more common and acceptable. Pakistani Sindhi Hindus prefer to marry within the Sindhi Hindu community rather than marrying a Hindu from India.

Most Pakistani weddings observe Muslims rites. Friends and relatives are invited to join festivities that might stretch over several days. The legal portion of the ceremony is accomplished with the signing of the nikaah, or marital agreement, by the bride and groom. A moulvi (“moolvee”), or knowledgeable one, is present at all ceremonies and formally asks the bride and groom whether they accept each other in matrimony. Weddings are generally held in large halls, not in mosques, and traditional Pakistani music is played before and after the ceremony. The application of henna, or mehndi, in intricate patterns on the hands of the bride and other guests is very common across South Asian communities, and it is also true of Pakistani Americans, where the ceremony is also referred to as Rasm-e-Henna. It occurs a day or two before the actual wedding and could involve henna being applied to the groom's head in a separate ceremony. It may be designed around a theme, or a particular shade of the henna that will be used. While gifts of money and jewelry are traditionally given at weddings in Pakistan, in the United States gifts may also include appliances or other household items. Jewelry is still frequently passed down from mother to daughter or daughters-in-law at weddings. Pakistani Hindus, on the other hand, follow the traditional Hindu ceremony, with the bride and groom circling a holy fire from three to seven times, and the priest chanting prayers.

Relations with Other Americans Pakistani Americans mingle with their American counterparts or with members of other immigrant ethnic groups in work and school, but they often choose to spend their leisure time with members of their own community. Many Pakistani Americans report conflicting feelings about American culture and ways of life. While they may admire the American approach to personal and political freedom, individualism, the country's achievements in science and technology, and American economic efficiency, other aspects—such as premarital relations, dating, and divorce—are frowned upon. Regional differences prevail, with the more urban immigrants in big cities tending to be more receptive of American culture and values than the more traditional immigrants who trace their roots to the provinces and rural areas of Pakistan.

Members of the larger Pakistani community hold distinct perceptions of the different subgroups within the community. For instance, Pakistanis tracing their roots to Lahore are generally considered to be traditional compared with the more cosmopolitan and Westernized immigrants from Karachi. The Sindhi and Baluch are also considered traditional and conservative.

There is some overlap between members of the Asian Indian and Pakistani American communities. This is particularly the case for those who share the bond of Islam. After 9/11, some Pakistani Americans reported feeling as if their loyalties to the United States were in question. Many have reached out under umbrella Muslim organizations to educate American citizens about who they are and what their values are, and to demonstrate the peaceful foundations of Islam. Organizations such as Muslims for a Safe America engage the American public about Muslim stereotypes. The Islamic Networks group based in San Jose, California, lends speakers on Islam to schools, colleges, corporations and law-enforcement agencies. The Islamic Circle of North America, based in Queens in New York City, runs a hotline to answer questions about Muslims and Islam that the general public might have.

Philanthropy The American Pakistan Foundation was founded in 2009 to channel the philanthropy of the Pakistani American community. One Pakistani American Ismaili sect follows the Aga Khan as its spiritual leader, and the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) funds numerous charitable causes throughout the world. According to professor Adil Najam, author of Portrait of a Giving Community: Philanthropy by the Pakistani-American Diaspora (2006), the community gives 40 percent of its philanthropic monies to charities in Pakistan, 20 percent to Pakistan-related causes, and the remainder to non-Pakistani causes like disaster relief for Haiti or Hurricane Sandy, to name two recent disasters that the Pakistani American community galvanized support around. Their total giving is 3.5 percent of their household income, about the same as the average American household.

Surnames Common Pashtun surnames include Agha, Babar, and Khan. Kashmiri last names include Mir and Mian; and Punjabi surnames of Chaudhry, Bajwa, and Malik are quite common. Sindhi last names include Junejo, Lakhani, and Qureshi.

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Many Pakistani American males who entered the United States after 1965 were highly educated and soon found employment in a variety of professions such as law, medicine, and academia. In the post-1965 wave of immigration, many Pakistanis also came to the United States as students who earned graduate and professional degrees that enabled them to pursue successful careers in a variety of fields. They are particularly well represented in the field of medicine. Some members of the community immigrated to the United States with specific educational backgrounds in fields like the law but failed to find positions because their qualifications and experience did not transfer to the United States. They either retrained themselves in another professions or fields or accepted a position that was beneath their education level.

Many Pakistani Americans lead a comfortable, middle-class existence, although poverty is more prevalent among newer, undereducated immigrants. The poverty rate in the community is around 15 percent, according to the 2011 Pew Research Center report, which also states that the per capita income in the community from 2007 to 2009 was $24,663. Many Pakistani Americans also own their own businesses, including restaurants, gas stations, groceries, clothing and appliance stores, newspaper booths, and travel agencies. It is common to include members of the extended and immediate family in the business.

Pakistani Americans tend to follow the residence pattern set by other Americans, in that they move from cities to more affluent suburbs as their prosperity increases. Members of the community believe in the symbolic importance of owning homes; accordingly, Pakistani Americans tend to save and make other monetary sacrifices earlier on in order to purchase their own homes as soon as possible.

Members of the family and the larger community tend to take care of each other, and to assist in times of economic need. Hence, it would be more common to turn to a community member for economic assistance rather than to a government agency. Relatively low levels of the community are therefore on welfare and public assistance.


In the early part of the twentieth century, Muslim and Hindu immigrants were actively involved in the struggle for residence and citizenship rights in the United States. The second wave of immigrants, beginning in 1965, were not especially politically inclined. In the twenty-first century this has been changing. Pakistani Americans now contribute funds to candidates in both major political parties, and some are running for elected office in districts with large Pakistani American populations. Pakistani American candidates have, for instance, run for the state senate in New York City and other urban areas. Because the community is geographically dispersed, the formation of influential voting blocs has not generally been possible, making it difficult to for the community to impact the political system as a whole. However, there are increasing efforts on the part of community leaders to ensure voter registration and involvement. Like Asian Indian Americans, Pakistani Americans have tended to vote Democratic in much larger numbers than Republican since the 2004 elections.

Relations with Pakistan Most Pakistani Americans maintain close links with relatives and friends in Pakistan. First-generation Pakistani Americans travel to their native land at least once every few years if they are able. They often take with them gifts of money, food, and clothing for friends and family. Second-generation Pakistani Americans tend to travel to Pakistan less frequently, as their family ties become attenuated. Prior to the “War on Terror,” the relationship of the U.S. and Pakistani governments had been very close, and the Pakistani American community benefitted from this. This relationship has been strained in recent years, particularly when the U.S. military carried out a top secret mission to kill Osama bin Laden inside Pakistan, without the knowledge of the Pakistani government.

Pakistani Americans maintain a deep interest in the society and politics of Pakistan. They raise funds for the different political parties and groups in Pakistan. Long-standing tensions between India and Pakistan also tend to be reflected in the relationships between Asian Indians and Pakistani Americans, but by and large, relations are very amicable.


Academia Mazhar Ali Khan Malik is a professor of economics and engineering and founder of the Pakistan League of America (PLA). Samuel Iftikhar (1923–1991) was an Asian scholar and reference librarian at the Library of Congress for more than twenty-five years. Ayesha Jalal is a historian at Tufts University and a 1998 MacArthur Fellow. Bashir Syed is a solar physicist with NASA and a member of the New York Academy of Sciences. Sara Suleri, a Pakistani author and professor of English at Yale University, is a longtime resident of the United States.

Art Samina Quraeshi (1946–), artist, designer, and author, has served as director of design arts at the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) in Washington, D.C. Shahzia Sikander (1969–) has had her work exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim Museum. She received the U.S. State Department's Medal of Arts in 2013. Fazlur Rahman Khan (1929–1982) was the structural engineer who designed the Sears Tower (now the Willis Tower) in Chicago.

Business Tariq Farid (1969–) is the founder and CEO of Edible Arrangements International, Inc. Michael Chowdry (1955–2001) founded the air cargo Page 435  |  Top of Articlecompany Atlas Air. Fred Hasan (1946–) served as CEO of Schering-Plough, the pharmaceutical company, from 2003 to 2009.

Government Saghir Tahir served as a Republican member of the New Hampshire House of Representatives from 2000 to 2010. He was the first Pakistani American state legislator. Huma Abedin (1976–) is an American deputy chief of staff who served as the top aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Journalism Tashbih Sayyed (1941–2007) was editor of Pakistan Today and Muslim World Today and wrote several books focused on Pakistani foreign policy and a secularist interpretation of Islam.

Literature Ayad Aktar (1970–) is a playwright and actor whose 2012 debut novel, American Dervish, deals with identity, religion and adjustment issues of Pakistani American immigrants in the American Midwest. Bapsi Sidhwa (1938–) is a Pakistani American novelist of Parsi origin. Her books include Cracking India, about the partition of India and Pakistan. Asma Gul Hasan (1974–) is a Pakistani American author whose books include Why I Am a Muslim (2004) and Red, White and Muslim (2008). Daniyal Mueenuddin (1963–) won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for his book of short stories, In Other Rooms, Other Wonders (2009).

Music Nadia Ali (1980–) is a successful singer-songwriter who rose to prominence as a member of the dance-music duo iiO. Roger David (1979–) is a rapper with stage name Bohemia who raps in Punjabi.

Science and Medicine Salam Shahidi (1933–1992) was a leading medical researcher in New York City's Department of Health. He was also vice-chairman of the Pakistan League of America (PLA) and president of the cultural organization the National Association of Pakistani Americans.

Mohammad Akhter, physician, has had many leadership positions in the field of public health, including commissioner of Public Health for Washington, D.C. (1991–1994) and executive director of the American Public Health Association (1997–2001).

Mohammed Sayeed Quraishi (1924–) served at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. He is the author of many books and received the Recognition and Appreciation of Special Achievement Award by the National Institute of Health in 1988.

Sports Nur Ali (1974–) is a prize-winning professional race car driver. Shahid Khan (1952–) is one of the wealthiest people in the United States. He owns the NFL Jacksonville Jaguars as well as the auto parts business Flex-N-Gate.

Stage and Screen Faran Tahir (1964–), actor, has appeared in several films and televisions shows, including Monk and 24.

Shahzia Sikander is a Pakistani American artist known for Persian and Mughal miniature painting, performance art, and digital animation. Shahzia Sikander is a Pakistani American artist known for Persian and Mughal miniature painting, performance art, and digital animation. KRIS CONNOR / GETTY IMAGES


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Pakistan Link

Provides news about Pakistan for the Pakistani American community.

Akhtar M. Faruqul, Editor
P.O. Box 1238
Anaheim, California 92815
Phone: (714) 400-3400
Fax: (714) 400-3404

Pakistan Post

An Urdu-English newspaper for Pakistani Americans.

Mohammad Afaq Khaili, Editor in Chief
78-26 Parsons Boulevard
Fresh Meadows, New York 11366
Phone: (718) 739-3262
Fax: (718) 739-3249

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TV Asia

A program often shown on international cable channels all over the United States; it includes Pakistani soap operas, films, and plays. Cities like New York and Los Angeles with relatively large Pakistani American settlements have weekly Pakistani feature and news programs.

TV Asia
c/o International Channel
12401 West Olympic Boulevard
Bethesda, Maryland 20814
Phone: (310) 826-2429


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Association of Physicians of Pakistani Descent (APPNA)

An organization of Pakistani American physicians and dentists that focuses on how to better serve the health needs of the Pakistani American community and of all Americans. Formerly known as Association of Pakistani Physicians.

Dr. Javed Suleman, President
6414 South Cast Avenue
Suite L2
Westmont, Illinois 60559
Phone: (630) 968-8585
Fax: (630) 968-8677

Pakistan League of USA (PLUS)

Advocates for the Pakistani American community and promotes Pakistani culture in the United States.

Pakistan American Leadership Center

Political advocacy organization for the interests of Pakistani Americans.

236 Massachusetts Avenue NE
Suite 207
Washington, D.C. 20002
Phone: (202) 675-2004
Fax: (202) 675-2006

U.S.-Pakistan Business Council (USPBC)

Promotes trade between the United States and Pakistan. Offers information on economic and social conditions in Pakistan.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce
1615 H Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20062
Phone: (202) 463-5732
Fax: (202) 822-2491


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American Institute of Pakistan Studies (AIPS)

Founded in 1973 for the study of Pakistan and exchanges between the United States and Pakistan.

Dr. Kamran Ali, President
University of Texas
1 University Station G-9300
Austin, Texas 78712
Phone: (512) 475-6039

Center for Pakistan Studies, Middle East Institute

Provides research on different aspects of Pakistan.

Marvin Weinbaum, Scholar in Residence
1761 North Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20036
Phone: (202) 785-1141
Fax: (202) 331-8861

South Asian Digital Archive

Founded by Samip Mallick to codify and document the rich history of South Asians in the United States from the earliest times.

Samip Mallick, Executive Director
South Asian American Digital Archive
1219 Vine Street
Studio G
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19107-1111
Phone: (215) 259-8055




Asghar, Rob. Lessons from the Holy Wars: A Pakistani-American Odyssey. Tucson, AZ: Wheatmark, 2010.

Balagopal, Padmini, et al. Indian and Pakistani Food Practices, Customs, and Holidays. Chicago: The American Dietetic Association, 1996.

Helwig, Arthur, and Usha M. Helwig. An Immigrant Success Story: East Indians in America. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1990.

Jensen, Joan. Passage from India: Asian Indian Immigrants in North America. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988.

Malik, Iftikhar Haider. Pakistanis in Michigan: A Study of Third Culture and Acculturation. New York: AMS Press, 1989.

Najam, Adil. Portrait of a Giving Community: Philanthropy by the Pakistani American Diaspora. Harvard University: Global Equity Initiative, 2007.

Taus-Bolstad, Stacy. Pakistanis in America. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications, 2006.

Williams, Raymond Brady. Religions of Immigrants from India and Pakistan: New Threads in the American Tapestry. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988.

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX3273300139