Muslim Americans: Middle Class and Mostly Mainstream

The first-ever, nationwide, random sample survey of Muslim Americans finds them to be largely assimilated, happy with their lives, and moderate with respect to many of the issues that have divided Muslims and Westerners around the world.

The Pew Research Center conducted more than 55,000 interviews to obtain a national sample of 1,050 Muslims living in the United States. Interviews were conducted in English, Arabic, Farsi and Urdu.
The resulting study, which draws on Pew's survey research among Muslims around the world, finds that Muslim Americans are a highly diverse population, one largely composed of immigrants. Nonetheless, they are decidedly American in their outlook, values and attitudes. This belief is reflected in Muslim American income and education levels, which generally mirror those of the public.
Key findings include:
• Overall, Muslim Americans have a generally positive view of the larger society. Most say their communities are excellent or good places to live.
• A large majority of Muslim Americans believe that hard work pays off in this society. Fully 71% agree that most people who want to get ahead in the United States can make it if they are willing to work hard.
• The survey shows that although many Muslims are relative newcomers to the US, they are highly assimilated into American society. On balance, they believe that Muslims coming to the US should try and adopt American customs, rather than trying to remain distinct from the larger society. And by nearly two-to-one (63%-32%) Muslim Americans do not see a conflict between being a devout Muslim and living in a modern society.
• Roughly two-thirds (65%) of adult Muslims in the US were born elsewhere. A relatively large proportion of Muslim immigrants are from Arab countries, but many also come from Pakistan and other South Asian countries. Among native-born Muslims, roughly half are African American (20% of US Muslims overall), many of whom are converts to Islam.
• Based on data from this survey, along with available Census Bureau data on immigrants' nativity and nationality, the Pew Research Center estimates the total population of Muslims in the United States at 2.35 million.
• Muslim Americans reject I extremism by larger margins than do Muslim minorities in Western European countries. However, there is somewhat more acceptance of Islamic extremism in some segments of the US Muslim public than others. Fewer native-born African American Muslims than others completely condemn al Qaeda. In addition, younger Muslims in the US are much more likely than older Muslim Americans to say that suicide bombing in the defense of Islam can be at least sometimes justified. Nonetheless, absolute levels of support for Islamic extremism among Muslim Americans are quite low, especially when compared with Muslims around the world.
• A majority of Muslim Americans (53%) say it has become more difficult to be a Muslim in the United States since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Most also believe that the government "singles out" Muslims for increased surveillance and monitoring.
• Relatively few Muslim Americans believe the US-led war on terror is a sincere effort to reduce terrorism, and many doubt that Arabs were responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Just 40% of Muslim Americans say groups of Arabs carried out those attacks.
The report, according to MPAC, indicates that there was only a 1% overall support for suicide bombing as being "often justified" and only 2% for those under 30. Instead, political pundits have latched on to a 1-in-4 ratio that is a skewed statistic. Furthermore, if one were to ask, "Does Islam justify the killing of innocent civilians?" then any purported support for terrorism would diminish greatly. And if the conspiracy theories about 9/11 in the general public, both here in the US and in Europe, were compared to the figures in this study, there would be a negligible difference. In fact, an Ohio University poll last summer found that more than one-third of Americans believed in a 9/11 conspiracy of some fashion.
In July 2006, a University of Maryland poll found that a full 24% percent of 1,000 Americans surveyed said that bombing and attacks on civilians are "often or sometimes justified". To be sure, both findings are disturbing - any support is too much support. This is precisely why MPAC and other Muslim American organizations work day in and day out with Muslim students at college campuses across the country to promote positive, inclusive messages on religious identity and civic engagement. It is crucial that we build on the common ground of the vast majority and limit the reach of intolerant forces all sides.
Islamophobia is one root cause of radicalization and is impeding mainstream Muslim efforts to constructively engage with Muslim youth. MPAC is launching a special report entitled, "The Impact of 9/11 on Muslim American Young People: National & Religious Identity Formation in the Age of Terrorism and Islamophobia" next month with recommendations on effectively addressing this critical issue.
Farid Senzai, Fellow and Director of Research at ISPU (Institute for Social Policy & Understanding), made comments at a press conference in Washington, DC at which the Pew Research Center released a comprehensive survey of Muslim Americans, describing the attitudes, experiences and demographics of the group.
Senzai served as a member of Pew's outside advisory board on this project. In addition ISPU organized the focus groups that informed the research.
The study is the first ever nationwide survey to attempt to measure rigorously the demographics, attitudes and experiences of Muslim Americans. The survey also contrasts the views of the Muslim population as a whole with those of the US general population, and with the attitudes of Muslims all around the world, including Western Europe.
Finally, findings from the survey make important contributions to the debate over the total size of the Muslim American population.
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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
2004 . All Rights Reserved.