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Now, in August of 2011, as we approach the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies and the Abu Dhabi Gallup Center have released a new report - Muslim Americans: Faith, Freedom and the Future. Not only does this new report allow us to take a fresh look at attitudes among American Muslims but it also gives a chance to begin to assess some changes in attitudes between 2008 and 2011.

Insights from the New Gallup Report: Muslim Americans: Faith, Freedom and the Future

The new Gallup report was released earlier today. MuslimMatters had an embargoed copy to prepare this review coinciding with the release. The full report is available in English & Arabic here: Abu Dhabi Gallup Center

In early 2009, Gallup released its report “Muslim Americans:  A National Portrait.” This report, one of the first major attempts to start responding to the pressing need for reliable information about the American Muslim community, emphasized a couple of major points.  The report emphasized the findings that the American Muslim community was the most culturally diverse faith community in the United States.  It also emphasized that American Muslims in general were highly educated compared to other religious groups.  On the other hand, the report also noted that young Muslims in the United States were less likely than young people of other faith groups to report that they were “thriving” and were more likely to report emotions such as anger.

Now, in August of 2011, as we approach the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies and the Abu Dhabi Gallup Center have released a new report – Muslim Americans: Faith, Freedom and the Future.  (As one can see, Gallup consistently uses the term 'Muslim Americans.'  Others more commonly use the term 'American Muslims.'  Although I prefer the term American Muslims, I will probably switch back and forth in this summary.)  Not only does this new report allow us to take a fresh look at attitudes among American Muslims but it also gives a chance to begin to assess some changes in attitudes between 2008 and 2011.  While 2008, with the election of Barack Obama, was widely seen as an optimistic time for American Muslims, the three years since have seen continuing economic problems in the United States, continuing and even expanding U.S. wars in Muslim majority countries, and the increasingly vocal and visible Islamophobia campaigns in the United States.  These have included the “Ground Zero Mosque” controversy and the “Anti-Shari'ah” campaigns.

In light of these issues, it is perhaps surprising that this report finds that the percentage of American Muslims considered “thriving” has increased more than that of any other group.  The report's authors speculate that possible reasons for this positive change may have to do with American Muslims having a more positive view of the economy than they did three years ago, and with what the report found was continued widespread support among American Muslims for the performance of President Obama, with nearly eight in ten approving of Obama's job performance - by far the highest of any major religious group.

The report examines the political engagement, social engagement, and spiritual engagement of Muslim Americans.  It does not attempt to examine the sticky question of how many Muslims there are in America, which I think is an important one for us to get a handle on as we seriously attempt to plan for the future of Muslims in this country.  It finds that American Muslims, as compared to other faith groups are more likely to have confidence in the honesty of the country's elections, although Muslims still lag far behind other religious communities in terms of voter registration.  It is not clear how much of this has to do with the percentage of Muslims in America who are not citizens of the country.  Muslims also, perhaps unsurprisingly in light of tensions arising out of the “war on terror” report lower levels of confidence in institutions such as the FBI or the U.S. military  than do other faith groups.  In many, though certainly not all, communities in the U.S.,  the military and law enforcement are often highly trusted institutions.  Along those lines, Muslims in America continue to believe at much higher numbers than other faith groups, that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were mistakes, and that the negative perceptions of the United States in many Muslim majority countries is due to the actions of the U.S. rather than false information spread by those countries' leaders.

One of the charges that is sometimes made against national Muslim groups such as CAIR or ISNA is that they are extremist groups which do not represent the mainstream of the community.  While most of us who are active in the Muslim community would find the characterization of such groups as extremist to be unfounded, this report does interestingly ask Muslim Americans which national group do they find to represent their interests.  While CAIR followed by ISNA and then MPAC come out as the most representative based on the answers to this question, the reports authors conclude that “no national organization represents a large percentage of American Muslims.”  CAIR was named as most representative of their interests by a little more than 10 percent of American Muslims.  ISNA was named by around 5 percent and MPAC by 6 percent of males but only 1 percent of females.  When asked which of a list of national Muslim organizations represented their interests, 55 percent of American Muslim males and 42 percent of females responded that none did.

As further evidence to fight against the idea that Islam itself teaches its followers to embrace violence against innocents, American Muslims, more than any other faith group of Americans, responded that violent attacks by individuals or small groups were never justified (89 percent of American Muslims).  American Muslims were also more likely than any other religious group to say that violent attacks by militaries on civilians were never justified (78 percent).  A majority of American Catholics, Jews, Protestants, and Mormons all said that violent attacks by the military on civilians were “sometimes” justified.

As mentioned above, one of the most alarming findings of the 2009 report was that only 40 percent of American Muslim youth age 18 to 29 could be classified as thriving.  This was significantly lower than the youth of other religious groups and went against the general trend where young people are more likely to be thriving than older members of the same community.  This report finds those phenomenon to have disappeared.  65 percent of American Muslim youth age 18 to 29 are now considered thriving, which is on par with other religious groups, and obviously the enormous positive change from 40 to 65 is much more than any other group experienced during this time period.  To be honest, I find this remarkable change to be a little puzzling, especially in light of widely perceived increases in the visibility of Islamophobia in the media, and this deserves further examination.  The positive numbers are somewhat consistent with other results found in the report which find that in addition to having a generally positive view of President Obama's performance, American Muslims have an optimistic outlook on the economy in general and on their own communities, although they still may report significant economic or community problems.  I also think, as I mentioned when discussing the results of the 2009 report, that we have to consider the diversity of the community and that the Muslim community in America contains large segments which are economically well off and large segments which are economically struggling.  Still, there does seem to be a general optimism among the community which is reflected in these survey results.

Another interesting phenomenon in some of the survey questions is that Jewish Americans in general are less suspicious of American Muslims than are other faith groups.  They are less likely to question the loyalty of American Muslims to this country or to believe that American Muslims are sympathetic to Al-Qaeda.  This should serve to remind the community that despite the ongoing Israel/Palestine conflict and the noisy role that certain Jewish voices play in Islamophobia campaigns, the majority of American Jews are more likely to relate to American Muslims as a fellow religious minority here in the United States, which is deserving of protection from discrimination and bigotry and support when persecuted or attacked.  These numbers back up what has been the experience of so many of us, that while there may be a few Jewish individuals or organizations that seem to be part of the anti-Muslim noise machine, whenever one looks to see who are our greatest allies in resisting these same voices, invariably one will find that they are disproportionately Jewish.

I encourage readers to dig into the detailed results here and start a discussion regarding the issues I have mentioned above and all the others addressed in the report.  The greatest value of these studies is to provide some actual empirical evidence which can move us beyond the realm of mere anecdote or of talking purely based on our own subjective experience about what American Muslims (and other groups) think and believe.  However, no one or two reports are going to conclusively answer any questions.  Often they can serve as much as anything to open up questions about how they should be interpreted or what else we would like to know.  So let the discussion begin.

About Amir (MR)

Formerly Mujahideen Ryder (now retired), I'm a Muslim American born in Brooklyn, NY with Guyanese parents currently living in Maryland working full-time as a web developer.

19 comments

  1. The report is available now at the Abu Dhabi Gallup website linked at the top of the article. It is available in english, arabic, and bilingual editions.

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  2. Very informative article! I had no idea that the Muslim community was the most culturally diverse faith community in America. Also, I know that the Pew Research Center also conducted a survey on Muslms in America and the results will probably come out in late August so we should also look at the results of that survey as well.

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  3. Excellent scoop. Timely reporting.

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  4. yea i read this–was really surprised by this at first but then thinking about it…im not too surprised…because really the only time i hear bout ISNA and ICNA is when they have their conferences (which i always hear negative things about the environment) and during ramadan (which i always hear about how they disagree bout the moonsighting, etc)..

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    • That was one of the very interesting aspect of this survey- that American Muslims do not identify with an organization as representative of themselves. But in reality that is a reflection of the state of our masajids- the infighting and lack of cohesive vision and unity.
      Great work Brother Amad and Abu Noor.

      American Muslims were also more likely than any other religious group to say that violent attacks by militaries on civilians were never justified (78 percent). A majority of American Catholics, Jews, Protestants, and Mormons all said that violent attacks by the military on civilians were “sometimes” justified.

      This makes sense when so many see their brothers and sisters in faith being killed overseas and in a essential teaching of our faith..

      I too do not understand the difference in the responses from two years ago about ‘thriving’? Despite so many losing jobs and homes in our communities. May be many are finally comfortable with being fully American and fully Muslim. Credit to our shuyookhs and blogs for spreading this message.

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  5. Thanks Abu Noor! Great work.

    I was also a bit surprised about the Jewish American views on Muslims, but when one thinks about it, it makes sense. I think this highlights the difference between a few major Jewish organizations that are mostly extremely pro-Israel (like AIPAC) and the average Jewish American. I would suspect that the Zionist/pro-Israel orgs and followers don’t represent the average Jewish American with regards to sentiments about Muslims. I have seen this in my own personal experience too. The voices of the few hawks in the Lobby are amplified much more than their real representation. We see this with support of Obama too. One would think that no Jewish American would support Obama based on what comes out of the main Israel Lobby elements. But in fact, the majority continues to be behind him.

    It would be amazing to see what the results would be for the same survey in UK for example, where demographics and immigration dynamics are very different.

    I spend a lot of time with British Muslims, mostly those born and raised in UK. And regardless of their religiosity, they all generally have little to no patriotism for UK, and also tend to be very pessimistic about their country and life there in general. We end up having great debates on the merits of being “thankful” to the nation that gave you so much opportunity… but anyway that’s a tangent for another day :)

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    • Amad, I enjoyed reading your comments and wanted to weigh in:

      Supporting and protecting the rights of religious minorities has always been central to. Like many Jewish Americans, my family immigrated to the United States to escape religious persecution and intolerance.

      About a year ago, when extremist American politicians started getting all weird and creepy about the 51 Park Mosque and Community Center, I curated this series of Politiku (political haiku) for my Huffington Post column. The perspectives are, as one might expect, quite diverse. The expressed concern for religious tolerance, however is consistent.

      -Susanna

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      • Thanks Susanna for stopping by.
        I read your piece and your style is quite awesome!

        I do remember when ADL came out against Park51, which I found quite disheartening. There was a time when many of us would recommend Muslims go to local ADL chapters in lieu of CAIR for discrimination issues, as ADL was better equipped to handle! I think that’s still true in many ways as chapters and national organizations don’t always see eye to eye on everything. After the episode, I had a discussion with a Jewish friend from school, whose uncle sits on the ADL board and he was equally disappointed.

        Hope we can cross-post some of your future material.

        Thx again.

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  6. Quite shocking, about the Obama approval rating among the Muslims. I would have thought opposite.

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    • It is not so shocking when you think about it. Don’t forget, the poll is about “American” Muslims. Do not underestimate the link between increased integration and increased brainwashing and political unawareness of the American Muslim community.

      Watching CNN, Foxnews, MSNBC, NBC Nightly News and the Daily Show with John Stewart does not make an individual politically aware and is NOT a good source of information when one actually wants to make an intelligent decision on a specific person in the public spotlight.

      As American Muslims work harder, and harder and work longer hours, get involved in many different lines of work in the public and private sector and get further integrated into American soceity and slowly lose their connections to their countries of origin, they will start to fall for the same propaganda like the rest of Americans. For example, that this country is the “best country” in the world (if there is such a thing) or that our values and concern for human rights is far above any other nation’s, etc.

      An average American Muslim’s religion (and by that I DON’t mean their religious identity as a group, but their true religious values) or mind will not guide their political opinions. What will guide them is whatever political party or political ideology (liberal, conservative, left, right, libetarian, etc) they begin to become more attached to as they watch more and more TV every night after a long day of work. It is the inevitable truth.

      The reason why I say this is the LACK of truly Islamic education in the US and the GROSS lack of concern for it. The number of Muslims in America versus the number of truly Islamic schools that teach the traditional Islamic sciences, traditional secular sciences that elevate the mind such as classical logic, rhetoric, etc, and that think “outside the box” and do not just take a US public school as their model or framework and just throw in two Islamic classes a year, is VERY low.

      I am not saying there won’t be any politically aware American Muslims. I would, however, take a guess and say that the percentage of Muslims in America who would actually be well informed about current events and political issues would be the same percentage of non-Muslim Americans. Maybe a bit higher depending on how much the Media is attacking or defaming American Muslims at any given time. But in regards to other current events going on around the world that are not Muslim related, American Muslims will NOT be really aware of them just like the rest of Americans.

      I know that sounds pessimistic, but ask your average American Muslim about U.S. economic and militaristic intervention in Latin America, and they will have NO idea. They might just mention Hugo Chavez or Fidel Castro and not know why they mentioned their names. And unfortunately, THAT is what it truly means to be integrated into American Society.

      Unless American Muslims have a GREAT concern for the education of this nation, and focus our attention and financial wealth on creating institutions of learning, not just for Muslims but for the entire nation, all I see the same story playing out.

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  7. Islam is the most diversely followed religion, Alhamdullilah. May Allah(swt) guide everyone.

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  8. 50% of American Muslims don’t attend even Jumuah prayers. That stat shows how far away we American Muslims are from Islam. The same 50% attend the masjid only about once a month! May Allah guide all of us. *SIGH*

    The above depressing stat is on page#45.

    Usamah ibn Zaid (rah) says: The Prophet SAWS says: “He who leaves Three Fridays without an excuse then Allah will write him amongst the hypocrites.”

    source & grade: al-Suyuti says SAHIH in “al-Jami’i al-Sagheer” #8590.

    Ibn Abi Shaybah from al-Fadl bin Dakeen from Zuhayr from Abu Ishaq from Abu al-AhwaS from ‘Abdullah and ‘Affan from Humad bin Salamah from Hameed from al-Hassan and it is from Suffiyan al-Thawri and ibn al-Mubarak and Marwan ibn Mu’awiyah from ‘Awf al-A’arabi from Sa’eed ibn abi al-Hassan that ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Abbas (ra) says: “He who leaves three consecutive Fridays; he has discarded Islam behind his back.

    There are other severe warnings for missing Jumuah congregation.

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  9. Lack of masjid attendence is due in large part, I would imagine, to inability to leave work or school, sectarian issues (racial and ideological divisions) and gender partitioning (I know this puts off a HUGE number of Muslim women).

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    • So, the women will come to pray if there was no partitioning or they need partitioning?
      Need partitioning is understandable, but what is so major to abandon salah in masjid if they have a women’s section! And what is so great if they had no partition between men and women… these are just lame excuses which people makeup.

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      • This is not a lame excuse. When I go to a masjid with a prtition it makes me feel unwelcome. I can’t see who is talking to me. If I join in the middle of the prayer specially dhuhr or asr where there is no loud recitation I can’t even confirm which position I should be in. If I have a question or suggestion there is no way of getting it to the Imam right away like the brothers can. We we not have enough examples of the sahabiat speaking up in the Masjid with concerns or questions. Men may not understand this until they are put in that situation. So please don’t call this a lame excuse.
        Alhamdullilah our local masjid just opened 2yrs ago and decided to follow the Sunnah and not have a partition. That is the one masjid that is so peaceful, welcoming and open to everyones concerns. Alhamdullilah.

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