Muslim Americans: Middle
Class and Mostly Mainstream
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
• 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
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
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
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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