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
"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
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
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. …