American Muslims Poll

This is the first comprehensive poll of Muslim Americans. It has a wealth of data about their demographics and their opinions. While Muslims in the United States are conservative, they are closer to mainstream America than many thought.

Recently Pew Research Center conducted the first ever detailed opinion survey of Muslims in the United States. The detailed report (in PDF format) is worth reading.

Overall, I found the survey results to be mixed. Pew put the subtitle “Middle Class and Mostly Mainstream” on its report. This is generally true. However, there are still causes of concern, but mostly due to the social conservatism of Muslims.

The first question is how many Muslims are there in the United States. This has been fairly controversial with Muslim organizations claiming more than 6 million. The Pew survey estimates adult Muslims to be about 0.6% of the total adult population. Adding children, they arrive at an estimate of the total Muslim population to be 2.35 million.

As for demographics, two-thirds (65%) of Muslims in America were born elsewhere. Of the foreign-born Muslims, about 37% were born in the Arab world and 27% in South Asia. Looking at individual countries of origin, the top countries are: Pakistan, Iran, India, Lebanon, Yemen, Bangladesh, Iraq and Bosnia. Among the foreign-born, about two-thirds are US citizens, hence only 23% of all American Muslims are not citizens. Muslim population is more weighted towards youth as compared to the general US population, a consequence of the predominance of immigrants. The racial breakdown of Muslim Americans is: 38% white (Arab and Iranians I guess!), 26% black (dominated by African Americans with a few African immigrants), 20% Asian and 16% mixed/other.

In terms of education, Muslims are about the same as the general US population for going to college and graduate school. However, there are more likely (21% compared to 16% in the general population) not to finish high school.

The income profile of Muslim Americans is very similar to the general population, though Muslims are less likely to own a house. This is very different from the Muslims in Europe where Muslims generally are from the poor and lower middle classes. Interestingly, Muslim Americans are a little less satisfied (42% excellent or good) with their economic situation as compared to the general US population (49% excellent or good). However, there are large differences in ethnicity here, with Pakistanis being very satisfied (68%) and African Americans very unsatisfied (30%).

Half of the Muslims consider themselves Sunni and 16% Shia while 22% say that they are only Muslims. Native-born Shias are quite uncommon (only 7%) while most Shia (or their parents) are from Iran (91%) or the Arab region (19%).

23% of the Muslim population is of converts to Islam. Most (91%) of these are US-born. 59% are African American and 34% are white. 55% converted to Sunnism, 6% to Shiism and 24% to nonspecific affiliation. About half of the converts converted before the age of 21 and very few (17%) converted after the age of 35. Two-thirds of converts were Protestant before, 10% Catholic and 15% had no religion.

American Muslim beliefs about the Quran mirror those of American Christians about the Bible, with Muslims being just a little bit more conservative. For example, 50% of Muslims believe Quran is the literal, word-for-word word of God while 40% of Christians believe the same for the Bible. 60% of Muslims think that there is more than one true way to interpret the teachings of Islam. Religion plays a very important role in the life of 72% of Muslim Americans. However, 40% of Muslims go to the mosque at least once a week while 34% go seldom or never. African Americans and Pakistanis are the two groups that visit the mosque most often while Iranians rarely do. Coming to prayers (salah or namaz), 41% pray five times a day, 20% pray at least once a day and only 12% never pray (another 6% pray every Eid). I am not sure I would take the response to this question very seriously. Three-fourth of Muslims also consider giving charity (zakat) and fasting during Ramazan to be very important.

US Muslims US Christians
Religion is very important in your life 72% 60%
Pray every day 61% 70%
Attend mosque/church at least once a week 40% 45%

About a quarter of Muslims have high levels of religious commitment with an equal number having low levels of religious commitment. The rest fall in between. Sunnis are more likely to be religiously committed than the Shia. African Americans seem to be highly committed as well.

Since women prayer in mosques was a popular topic here, it was interesting to read the opinions of Muslim Americans on this issue. 48% of men and 45% of women want women to pray separately from men; 20% of men and 26% of women want women to pray behind men; and 21% of men and 20% of women want women to pray alongside men in the mosque.

The old question of comparing different identities is something I don’t like. What really does it mean to ask if someone thinks of themselves as American first or Muslim first? And is it the same question when asked of a majority population? This really is something minority populations have to face as the majority can readily identify with the nation. So I found it interesting that among ethnic groups of Muslims, the native-born African Americans are the most likely to think of themselves as Muslims first (58%). Also, interestingly, 42% of American Christians think of themselves as Christians first.

A better question is about assimilation. Here 43% of American Muslims think that Muslims coming to America today should adopt American customs while 26% say that they should remain distinct from American society. Women are less enthusiastic about adopting American customs than men (48% vs 38%). Young people (aged 18-29) are almost equally divided on this issue (43% vs 39%). Interestingly, the foreign-born are more for assimilation (47% pro — 21% anti) as compared to the native-born (37% pro — 38% anti). This is mainly a result of the African Americans (47%) saying that Muslims coming to America should remain distinct from society.

In terms of interaction with society, nearly half of the Muslims have most or all of their close friends who are Muslims while the other half have relatively few Muslims in their inner circle. Here, women are much more likely to have most or all Muslim friends. 62% of Muslims say it’s okay for a Muslim to marry a non-Muslim. Again men are much more likely (70%) to have this opinion compared to women (54%). Those with high religious commitment are less likely to have this opinion though their 45% surprised me.

Since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, 53% of Muslims say that it has become more difficult to be a Muslim in the United States. Those most likely to have this opinion are the highly educated (65%), those earning more than $100,000 (68%) and non-African American native-born Muslims (67%). Why the rich and educated elite think so I have no idea but my guess is that these groups had not experienced any prejudice or problems before and thus it came as a shock to them.

The list of problems given by Muslims has the following: No problems (19%, that is significant!), discrimination/racism/prejudice (19%), being viewed as terrorists (15%), ignorance about Islam (14%), stereotyping (12%, how is this different from prejudice?). 54% of Muslims believe that the government singles out Muslims for increased surveillance and monitoring. Men (59%) believe so more than the women (49%) and native-born Muslims (73%) do so more than foreign-born (47%). In fact, it seems that the longer one has been in the US the more that group believes in Muslims being singled out. Interestingly, only 47% of Arabs believe Muslims are being singled out while 55% of Pakistanis and 53% of other South Asians believe so. This seems somewhat consistent with my observation that Americans think that the stereotypical Arab features are actually those that belong to Pakistanis and Indians.

Here is an interesting comparison of the encounters with intolerance of Muslims Americans and African Americans in the past 12 months.

Percent who report that in the past year they have been Muslim Americans African Americans
treated or viewed with suspicion 26% 33%
called offensive names 15% 20%
singled out by police 9% 20%
physically attacked or threatened 4% 10%
any of the four 33% 46%

This shows that while Muslims have seen more intolerance recently, it has been milder and less frequent than what African Americans experience in the United States. So what would be the case for the poor African American Muslims? Half of all Muslims who are African American say they have been the target of bigotry based on their religion in the past 12 months, compared with 28% of white Muslims and 23% of Asian Muslims.

While Muslims were majority Democratic even before, the Bush administration has probably made them more so. 63% are Democratic or lean Democratic compared to only 11% Republicans/lean Republican. Muslims voted 71%-14% for Kerry in the 2004 Presidential election. Even politically conservative Muslims (19% of the total) lean Democratic (60%) and voted for Kerry (63%).

Most Muslims (70%) prefer a bigger government providing more services and want the government to do more for the needy (73%). However, Muslims are conservatives on social issues. 61% think homosexuality should be discouraged. The only group of Muslims who disagrees is those with low religious commitment. Only 43% of them think homosexuality should be discouraged. The group most opposed to homosexuality is African American Muslims who are 75% against. Also, 59% of Muslims say that the government should do more to protect morality in society. Arabs and recently arrived immigrants seem to be the most enthusiastic about the government regulating morality. Contrast this with the view of the general US population where 51% think that the government is too involved. I am of course with the bare US majority and think that the idea that government should be involved so much in morality is a major problem of the Muslim world right now.

43% of Muslims think mosques should opine on day-to-day social and political questions while 49% disagree. This seems to be a division between African Americans who overwhelmingly want mosques to express their views on political matters and foreign-born Muslims who don’t. Non-African American native-borns’ views are in the middle.

Muslim American voter registration and turnout lag behind the American average. Also, while in the general population rich are more likely to be registered and to vote, that’s not the case among Muslims. Both native-born and foreign-born citizens are equally likely to be registered to vote. The ethnic group with the lowest registration is Arabs (50%) and the highest Pakistanis (83%).

An overwhelming 75% of Muslim Americans are against the Iraq war compared to 47% of the general public. Even Republican Muslims (54%) are against the war. On the Afghanistan war, opinions are more divided. Overall, 48% Muslims are against it compared to 29% of all Americans. However, foreign-born Muslims are divided 40%-40% about the Afghanistan war while native-born ones are against the war 65%-26%.

Fixing responsibility for the September 11, 2001 terrorism seems to be difficult for Muslims. While American Muslims seem to be much more realistic on this issue than Muslims in Europe (except France) or in the Muslim world (except Nigeria or Jordan), only 40% believe that a group of Arabs did it while 28% don’t believe a group of Arabs to be responsible. Of these 28%, a quarter blame the Bush administration for the attacks. Overall, 32% refused to answer or said they didn’t know. This is ostrich-like behavior. Older American Muslims, those with college degrees and those with low religious commitment seem to do better.

51% of Muslims are very concerned and 25% are somewhat concerned about the rise of Islamic extremism. Again younger Muslims (18-29) are not as concerned. Compare these numbers to Pakistan where 43% are very concerned and 29% are somewhat concerned.

Only 8% of American Muslims think suicide bombing of civilian targets is often or sometimes justified. This rises to 15% among those aged 18-29. Only 5% of Muslim Americans have a favorable view of Al Qaeda, but 27% refused to express an opinion. The 5% number is very low and reasonable as one can find at least 10% in an opinion poll to agree to anything. However, the 27% who declined to answer are more worrying. Why did they refuse? Were they afraid? Looking at the detailed tables, it seems those who refused were mainly those with a high school diploma or less (35%), African Americans (30%) and recent immigrants (30%). In contrast, 78% of college graduates have a very unfavorable opinion of Al Qaeda.

61% of Muslim Americans think a way can be found for Israel to exist so that the rights and needs of the Palestinian people can be taken care of. This can be compared to 67% of the US public, 67% of Israelis, 33% of Turks, 26% of Indonesians, 23% of Pakistanis, etc. Contrast the 23% of Pakistanis with 67% of Pakistani Americans. Arab Muslim Americans are the only ones with less than a majority (49%) on this question but even they have far different views than the people in Arab countries.

Author: Zack

Dad, gadget guy, bookworm, political animal, global nomad, cyclist, hiker, tennis player, photographer

8 thoughts on “American Muslims Poll”

  1. “23% of the Muslim population is of converts to Islam”

    Aaaahhh…if only punishment of apostasy was death in US too. Sigh…why do Muslims get all the good rules?

  2. For the time-being only one clarification. Salat (Namaz) is not compulsory among some groups of Shias and Namaz ba jamaat is not compulsory among many Shias.

  3. If I have read the report correctly, rate of conversion to Muslim is higher in America than that in our parts of the world

  4. ME: What can I say? This is one of the reasons the death penalty for apostasy does not make sense.

    Dad:

    Salat (Namaz) is not compulsory among some groups of Shias and Namaz ba jamaat is not compulsory among many Shias.

    I don’t think that’s true, but in any case what has that got to do with the topic of this post?

    rate of conversion to Muslim is higher in America than that in our parts of the world

    Obviously, but Muslims are a huge majority in that part of the world. So who can convert now? Also, I remember some in-conversion and out-conversion data for different religions for the US and if I recall correctly the out-conversion rate is almost as large as the in-conversion rate for Muslims.

  5. Shia being counted among Muslim andthen counting people going to Mosque for prayer, the figures will not be correct.

  6. I was wondering about rate of covertion to Muslim in America but a few days back I read that some intellectuals in America have predicted that Russia will be a Muslim Majority country by 2050 AD. Strange !!!

  7. Dad: My contention is that the number of people saying they pray regularly is too high.

    About Russia, there are not many conversions to Islam happening there. Most speculation about Muslim Russia is based on the differing birth rates there. However, it is not correct to extrapolate birth rates so far into the future as these change over time quite a lot.

  8. “Shia being counted among Muslim and then counting people going to Mosque for prayer, the figures will not be correct.”

    What Mr. Ajmal is trying to insinuate here is that by counting Shias as muslims the surveyors are ruining the prayer count for muslims. He also supported his argument by stating that some groups among shias do not believe that salat is compulsory which is a bunch of bs non-Shias prefer making up. Mr.Ajmal probably also believes that some groups among shias should also not be included in this survey to make muslims look holier!

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