Portrait of American Muslims

In the Name of God, the Subtle, the Loving

“There is nothing,” so the saying goes, “like an ugly fact to destroy a perfectly beautiful theory.” The constant bad news about Islam and Muslims – along with those who love to focus on such bad news – continually feeds into the negative stereotypes about Islam and Muslims. Yet, when the truth about Muslims comes out, the stereotypes are simply washed away.

Case in point: the Gallup Poll on Muslim Americans.

The poll showed that American Muslims are the most racially diverse of any religious group in the country, and American Muslims are truly a snapshot of the racial composition of the country. In other words, American Muslims are the most “American” of any religious group in the United States. In addition, the poll confirmed that the largest group of Muslims are African-Americans, further destroying the notion that Muslims are somehow “foreign and exotic,” as some would have us believe.

The poll also showed that American Muslim women are one of the most highly educated female religious groups, and as a group, American Muslims have the highest degree of economic gender parity, at both ends of the income scale. Again, this destroys the images of American Muslim women being “oppressed.”

There are many more findings in the report, and you can read the report here.

Yet, there were some aspects of the study that were concerning, and it should mobilize the American Muslim community to address these issues. The poll found that American Muslims are least likely to report that they are “thriving,” and a full 56% say they are “struggling.” This is also true for young American Muslims (aged 18-29): they are least likely to describe themselves as “thriving.” They are the only group of young people that have a majority which believes that economic conditions are poor.

In addition, only 51% of young American Muslims are registered to vote, which is among the lowest levels reported.

I wonder why these figures were borne out. Perhaps many American Muslims do not feel they are “thriving” because of 9/11 and the anti-Islam hysteria that has resulted? Is it because American Muslims experience a lot of discrimination? This may be, but in the poll, 85% of women and 91% of men said they were treated with respect the day before they were surveyed. So, maybe this is not the answer.

Could there simply be a perception of difficulty, and that is why American Muslims are mostly “struggling”? Could it be that American Muslims are actually much better off than they think they are? Certainly, the poll shows that American Muslims do fare better than their counterparts in other parts of the West, especially Europe. Could this be the answer?

I am particularly concerned about the low level of civic engagement of young American Muslims, especially. There is nothing more important than getting involved, politically and otherwise, and especially registering and going out to vote. We must redouble our efforts to increase American Muslim political participation.

I commend the Gallup Organization for conducting this poll. Not only does it shatter many deeply entrenched stereotypes about American Muslims, it offers an excellent snapshot of the American Muslim community. More importantly, however, it gives us an opportunity to fix whatever problems the community may be facing, so that we can become a better people. Once we are a better people, then society and the world can only become better as well.


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