Only days after the end of Ramadan and just before the July Fourth holiday, thousands of people gathered at a Chicago convention center for the 54th annual convention of the Islamic Society of North America. Activists, scholars, religious leaders, booksellers, food vendors, and families of many backgrounds speaking many languages attended panels about topics as varied as religion, relationships, politics, cybersecurity and climate change. Despite their diverse backgrounds, many in attendance had two things in common: They were American, and they were Muslim.
Speaking at a panel on political views after the 2016 election, Besheer Mohamed, a senior researcher at the Pew Research Center, suggested that an upcoming report would put numbers to the diversity that could be observed at the conference. That survey, released Wednesday morning, is the third in a series of Pew surveys of Muslims in the U.S. taken over the past 10 years.1 It is also a window into the changing attitudes of American Muslims — who make up about 1 percent of the U.S. population2 — on issues such as politics and homosexuality.3
“The key theme that we see regarding U.S. Muslims is diversity,” Mohamed told reporters on Tuesday, ahead of the report’s release. “Among immigrants, no single ethnic group has a majority. … Among U.S.-born Muslims, no racial group has a majority.”
As much of American society undergoes a secular shift, most Muslims and Christians continue to attend worship, adhere to tenets of their traditions, and proudly identify with their faiths.
But despite this shared sense of religious devotion, as detailed in a new Pew Research Center report on what US Muslims believe and practice, survey data also show a huge gap in their perceptions of each other.
While Americans overall have warmed up to Muslims in recent years, white evangelicals express more concerns about US Muslims than any other religious group. Two-thirds of white evangelicals believe Islam is not part of mainstream American society and contend that it encourages violence more than other faiths, according to Pew.
Meanwhile, 72 percent of white evangelicals—compared to 44 percent of Americans overall—see a natural conflict between Islam and democracy. And 30 percent of Muslims themselves agree that the two are in conflict.
A small minority of Americans (6%) and Muslims (5%) attribute the tension to the belief that America is a Christian nation.
As CT reported in March, missions experts worry that evangelicals’ views of Muslims are sabotaging a long-dreamed-of moment. Previous research by Pew found that only 35 percent of white evangelicals say they have a personal connection to a Muslim, compared to about 40 percent of mainline Protestants and Catholics, 50 percent of unaffiliated Americans, and 73 percent of Jews.
Dr. Robbins is the Executive Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations – Massachusetts.
by John Robbins
In the weeks since the election, the American Muslim community has seen a massive outpouring of support. As a community advocate, I’ve personally received hundreds of e-mails and calls from people asking how they can help, and letting me know that they’re with us and will do everything that they can to aid us during this time. People across the political, religious and political spectrums have reached out to their Muslim neighbors like never before and have offered to aid us in any way needed.
But the tone, the tenor, of these messages of support concerns me.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m extremely moved and grateful for this outpouring. But in the rush of people lining up to help the American Muslim community, many are motivated by an urge to protect those who are weaker, those who can’t help themselves.
Right now, Muslims in America are pitied. And an object of pity is not respected, valued or recognized as having strength.
Too often, the giver of aid is positioned above the receiver, so that the movement of anything of value is purely a one-directional interchange between those who have and those who don’t. When we accept this support (and I’m not saying we shouldn’t), it reinforces the idea that Muslims are in need, and that the wider—usually white—community has something to offer, but doesn’t need anything in return.
Contrary to the famous poem inscribed on the Statue of Liberty that calls out to the world, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” and setting aside the spirit and ideas of the great Founding Fathers onreligious pluralism, the United States has a history of hostility towards immigrant groups. And in this election climate, that patriotic stain has helped fuel the rhetoric of politicians like Republican nominee Donald Trump.
But long before the Trumps of the world talked of building walls and closing borders, America was exclusive. Many communities that settled in this country, I discovered in my year-long field study that resulted in a book and film both called “Journey Into America,” had to endure a period of hateful discrimination and often savage violence as they established themselves here. It would often take a dramatic bloody event, the death of someone ― or indeed the deaths of many members of the marginalized community ― before the group would become more widely accepted and eventually merge with larger American society. There is a distinct pattern that can be traced for this evolution: long decades of prejudice facing the community as it struggles to be a part of American life, a crisis which results in the taking of life or lives and finally acceptance by and into the mainstream. Though the experiences associated with each are unique and the alienation and isolation members feel may not completely evaporate, there comes a point in time at which the group ― and in some cases there is overlap between groups ― is met with something other than hostility. It is that threshold of assimilation Muslims in this country now find themselves at with the presidential election and the story of Capt. Humayun Khan and his family.
At FiveThirtyEight we process thousands of polls each year so we can power our election forecasts. While this gives us a general understanding of the opinions of the U.S. population in the aggregate, some groups are less surveyed than others. Take Arab-Americans: Most national polls don’t reach a large enough sample of Arab-Americans to reliably measure what their political beliefs are.
But Tuesday a poll crossed the FiveThirtyEight polling desk that helped shed some light on their beliefs. A survey by the Arab American Institutethat concentrated wholly on Arab-Americans showed that like other minoritypopulations, they are mostly identifying as Democrats. Arab-Americans are, however, by no means a homogenous voting bloc. The poll of Arab-Americans shows many of the same partisan trends that we see in nationwide polls of all Americans, as you can see in this chart from the poll that shows Arab-American party identification:
Despite Donald Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric towards minority populations and immigrants, such as his proposal to ban Muslims from entering the U.S., 77 percent of Arab-Americans who identified as Republican in this poll responded that they would vote for Trump. (Thirty percent of the 502 respondents self-identified as Muslim.) Sixty-two percent of Arab-Americans said that they are concerned about facing discrimination because of their ethnicity or country of origin. The number was even higher (78 percent), among Muslim Arab-Americans.