In Many Ways, US Muslims Are in Mainstream America

Article excerpt

The first comprehensive survey of Muslim-Americans, released May 22, tells a story that should be reassuring to Muslims and their fellow citizens alike.

It's a surprisingly positive story, though tinged with unease about what the future may hold. While the great majority of Muslims are foreign-born and have come to the United States fairly recently, they are happy with their lives, largely assimilated, and remarkably American in outlook. As a whole, they mirror the general population in education and income, and in the role religion plays in their lives.

"This is a group living as most Americans are," says Andrew Kohut, president of Pew Research Center (PRC), which carried out the survey. "This is a mostly middle-class, mainstream public ... [that has] the point of view that with hard work, you can get ahead in the society."

Forty-one percent of US Muslims have household incomes of $50,000 or more, and 24 percent are self-employed or own a small business. They hold moderate views on the issues that have divided Muslims and the West, but feel their place in the US is threatened by misunderstanding and a lack of acceptance.

"This raises the question of how does a minority community embrace its success and American-ness while dealing with a mainstream sentiment that views it as a potential enemy 'other' in its midst," says Amaney Jamal, assistant professor of political science at Princeton University in New Jersey and a project adviser.

A national portrait of Muslims has been difficult to sketch because the US Census does not ask questions on religion, and the population is too small to show up in sufficient numbers in polls. For this survey, almost 60,000 interviews involving four languages were held to find a representative sample of 1,050 adults. In the process, PRC came up with a national estimate of 2.4 million Muslims, of which 1.5 million are adults, making Muslims 0.6 percent of the US population.

The Muslim community is diverse: 35 percent are native-born, with two-thirds of those African-Americans. The 65 percent who are foreign-born come from 68 countries, with no ethnic group accounting for more than 8 percent.

"Next to the yearly pilgrimage to [Mecca], this has to be the most representative community in the world!" says Luis Lugo, director of Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

Yet the rate of US citizenship is very high: 77 percent overall. It is 92 percent among those who arrived in America before 1990, which Dr. Lugo says is about 30 percentage points higher than among Hispanic immigrants.

Almost two-thirds of Muslim-Americans see no conflict between being a devout Muslim and living in a modern society. When asked if they see themselves as a Muslim or American first, 47 percent said Muslim. That compares with 42 percent of American Christians (and 62 percent of evangelicals) who say they are Christians first.

Indeed, Muslims are similar to other Americans in terms of faith. More than 70 percent say religion is very important in their lives, 61 percent pray every day, and 40 percent attend mosque once a week. …