Economic Security and Muslim Identity
A Study of the Immigrant Community
in Durham, North Carolina
The purpose of a study of Muslim immigrants in Durham, North Carolina, conducted over two years was to determine the reasons behind the decision to immigrate and see if those reasons had any correlation with the religious identity and practices of the immigrants involved. The study compared the experience of middle-class immigrants to those with little or no economic security. The findings were that the more prosperous ones were intent on retaining their Muslim way of life, while the poor were trying to transform themselves to fit into an American mold; both groups, however, adopted some aspect of the host culture and rejected others.
Since the 1970s immigrant Muslims have been settling in the so-called Triangle area of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill.1 According to local community leaders, approximately 5,000 Muslims now live in the region: 3,000 in Raleigh and more than 30 families or about 500 Muslims in Durham. The majority are Sunni, but there are also some Shi'a. The group is also ethnically diverse: about 35 percent is native-born, both African American (30 percent) and white (5 percent) who have converted to Sunni Islam; about 60 percent is foreign-born; 10 to 15 percent is Arab, primarily from Egypt and North Africa or from the Saudi peninsula and the Gulf states. Asians from Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan comprise about 10-15 percent; the remainder are from Iran or Asians from Malaysia and Indonesia, and Africans, primarily from Nigeria, Eritrea, and the Republic of South Africa.
The group is also economically diverse. Refugees from Eritrea arrived impoverished; some of the other groups were well situated in the middle class—research scientists, medical professionals, educators, or owners of small businesses. The native-born Muslims also spanned the economic spec-