Muslim Americans: Middle Class and Mostly Mainstream

The first-ever, nationwide, random sample survey of Muslim Americans finds them to be largely assimilated, happy with their lives, and moderate with respect to many of the issues that have divided Muslims and Westerners around the world.

The Pew Research Center conducted more than 55,000 interviews to obtain a national sample of 1,050 Muslims living in the United States. Interviews were conducted in English, Arabic, Farsi and Urdu. The resulting study, which draws on Pew’s survey research among Muslims around the world, finds that Muslim Americans are a highly diverse population, one largely composed of immigrants. Nonetheless, they are decidedly American in their outlook, values and attitudes. This belief is reflected in Muslim American income and education levels, which generally mirror those of the public.

Key findings include:

  • Overall, Muslim Americans have a generally positive view of the larger society. Most say their communities are excellent or good places to live.
  • A large majority of Muslim Americans believe that hard work pays off in this society. Fully 71% agree that most people who want to get ahead in the United States can make it if they are willing to work hard.
  • The survey shows that although many Muslims are relative newcomers to the U.S., they are highly assimilated into American society. On balance, they believe that Muslims coming to the U.S. should try and adopt American customs, rather than trying to remain distinct from the larger society. And by nearly two-to-one (63%-32%) Muslim Americans do not see a conflict between being a devout Muslim and living in a modern society.
  • Roughly two-thirds (65%) of adult Muslims in the U.S. were born elsewhere. A relatively large proportion of Muslim immigrants are from Arab countries, but many also come from Pakistan and other South Asian countries. Among native-born Muslims, roughly half are African American (20% of U.S. Muslims overall), many of whom are converts to Islam.
  • Based on data from this survey, along with available Census Bureau data on immigrants’ nativity and nationality, the Pew Research Center estimates the total population of Muslims in the United States at 2.35 million.
  • Muslim Americans reject Islamic extremism by larger margins than do Muslim minorities in Western European countries. However, there is somewhat more acceptance of Islamic extremism in some segments of the U.S. Muslim public than others. Fewer native-born African American Muslims than others completely condemn al Qaeda. In addition, younger Muslims in the U.S. are much more likely than older Muslim Americans to say that suicide bombing in the defense of Islam can be at least sometimes justified. Nonetheless, absolute levels of support for Islamic extremism among Muslim Americans are quite low, especially when compared with Muslims around the world.
  • A majority of Muslim Americans (53%) say it has become more difficult to be a Muslim in the United States since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Most also believe that the government “singles out” Muslims for increased surveillance and monitoring. Relatively few Muslim Americans believe the U.S.-led war on terror is a sincere effort to reduce terrorism, and many doubt that Arabs were responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Just 40% of Muslim Americans say groups of Arabs carried out those attacks.

Pew Center poll page

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Muslims big players in American economy

Arab Americans comprise 6 million to 8 million people in the U.S. and Muslim Americans’ purchasing power is estimated to be $170 billion annually, but businesses often fail to recognize their economic power, recent reports suggest. A J. Walter Thompson survey called “Marketing to Muslims” and a study of Arab Americans in southeast Michigan provide a fuller picture of the economic contributions of Arabs and Muslims. Although often associated with Arabs, Muslims represent dozens of ethnic groups, including whites, blacks, Hispanics and Asians. Understanding the differences between ethnicity and religion is one barrier that often confounds advertisers interested in selling to Muslim populations. “We need to educate ourselves and gain a broader understanding of the Muslim population,” said Ann Mack, director of trend spotting for Thompson and one of the authors of the study. The study, which was conducted earlier this year, interviewed 350 Muslim Americans in 20 states. It found: Muslims make up at least 2 percent of the U.S. population and two-thirds are under the age of 40. About 21 percent of Muslim Americans between the ages of 25 to 34 are registered voters, compared with 15 percent of people in that group across the country. Nearly 30 percent of U.S. Muslims are converts to Islam. 71 percent of Muslims believe advertisers rarely show anyone of their faith or ethnicity in advertising. That compares with 34 percent of the general population that believes the same thing. Around 70 percent of American Muslims over 25 have a college education, compared to 26 percent of the general U.S. population. Nationally, the food, finance and apparel industries appear to be the most influential markets for consumers who follow Islam. According to the Thompson study, the global market for halal – food prepared in accordance with Islamic law – is worth an estimated $580 billion annually. A study released by Wayne State University in Detroit titled “Arab America Economic Contribution Study” examined that population in southeast Michigan, finding that Arab Americans account for 6 percent of the work force and between $5.4 billion and $7.7 billion in earnings there. “In the U.S., the Arab and Muslim communities are small but generally very affluent and highly entrepreneurial,” Nasser Beydoun, chairman of the Dearborn, Mich.-based Arab American Chamber of Commerce, said last week. Michigan is home to the largest concentration of Arabs outside the Middle East – about 400,000 in metropolitan Detroit and 500,000 throughout the state.

Israeli Arabs Jump Into Cartoon Fray By Agencies

For the first time since the international crisis began, Israeli Arabs took to the streets yesterday afternoon to protest cartoons deemed insulting to the Prophet Mohammed that were published in the European press. At least 500 demonstrators gathered peacefully in the Galilee city of Nazareth. A procession set off from the Al-Salaam mosque toward the Basilica of the Annunciation, where Christian tradition says Mary was informed of Jesus’ impending birth. Sheik Raed Salah, a radical leader of the Islamic Movement, was to address the crowd later. “Allah is the only God, and Mohammed is his prophet,” loudspeakers blared as the march began. Meanwhile in the Palestinian Authority, hundreds of Palestinians stormed European institutions and burned German and Danish flags in Gaza City. About two dozen protesters stormed the German cultural center, smashing windows and breaking doors. Down the street, about 30 Palestinians threw stones at the European Commission building, and replaced the EU flag with a Palestinian flag, before police brought them under control. About 50 schoolchildren and teenagers gathered on one corner of the street shortly after to try to resume the attacks on the two buildings, but Palestinian riot police, armed with batons, pushed them back. The youths threw stones at the police, then fled. Later in the day, about 400 protesters marched on the European Commission building, accompanied by a loudspeaker car that blared, “Insulting the prophet means insulting every Muslim,” and urged merchants to boycott Danish products: “With our blood and souls we defend you, O Prophet.” Protesters also set fire to a Danish flag. Police set up a cordon at the building to prevent stone-throwing, but protesters heeded organizers’ appeals and didn’t attack. Most of the demonstrators were merchants who called for a boycott of European goods, and many carried small books of the Koran. Elsewhere in Gaza City, armed men with links to the Fatah Party handed out red carnations to students, nuns and the priest at a Roman Catholic school to apologize for other Fatah gunmen who threatened earlier in the week to target churches as part of their protests. Danish and French members of the international observer team at the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt stayed away from Gaza on Thursday, and instead worked from the group’s headquarters in the nearby Israeli city of Ashkelon, said a spokesman, Julio de La Guardia. Meanwhile in Damascus, demonstrators set fire to the building that houses the Norwegian, Danish and Swedish embassies in Syria. While no diplomats were reported injured, these attacks were the most violent so far in the protests against the cartoons. The cartoons have caused a furor across the Muslim world, in part because Islamic law is interpreted as forbidding any depictions of Islam’s holiest figure. Aggravating the affront was one caricature of Mohammed wearing a turban shaped as a bomb with a burning fuse. The cartoons were first published in Denmark, and then in newspapers elsewhere in Europe in a show of solidarity with freedom of the press. In Brussels, the European Union called on the Palestinian Authority to protect EU buildings from attack. Danish Foreign Minister Stig Moeller called the Damascus embassy attack “horrible and totally unacceptable” on public television. He said he telephoned his Syrian counterpart, Farouk al-Sharaa, “to tell him it was totally unacceptable that Syrian authorities have not been able to protect the embassy.” He said al-Sharaa said he regretted the incident. The United States condemned the cartoons, siding with Muslims outraged that newspapers put freedom of the press over respect for religion. “We … respect freedom of the press and expression but it must be coupled with press responsibility. Inciting religious or ethnic hatreds in this manner is not acceptable,” said State Department spokesman Kurtis Cooper. Major U.S. publications have not republished the cartoons. The U.S. response contrasted with that of European governments, which have generally accepted the newspapers’ rights to print the cartoons. The furor cuts to the question of which is more sacred in the Western world – freedom of expression or respect for religious beliefs. Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American Islamic Relations, applauded the U.S. position. The State Department reaction “was a strong statement in support of Muslims around the world,” he said.

Metro Arabs Don’t Feel France’s Alienation, Discrimination Here

BY NIRAJ WARIKOO, FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER Abed Hammoud had an OK life in France. After graduating with an engineering degree from a top university in Lyon, the Arab immigrant secured a job at a heating and cooling company. But despite his achievements, Hammoud sensed he would never be considered French. At work, he said, he was referred to as “the Lebanese guy.” His Arab friends struggled to find work. And Hammoud saw how hard it was for people like him to enter politics and start businesses. So in 1990, he left France for the United States. In just over a decade, the Dearborn resident earned master’s degrees in law and business, became a Wayne County assistant prosecutor and emerged as an activist recognized nationwide for politically organizing Arab Americans. “It’s easier here,” said Hammoud, a 39-year-old married father of two sons. “People are more open. … In France, you’re never considered French” if you’re of Arab descent. That sense of alienation among France’s large Arab and Muslim populations — among the largest in Europe — may help explain the outbreak of violence this month that resulted in thousands of torched cars and a lingering unease that the country had failed its minority communities. That violence, coupled with last summer’s suicide attacks in London, has raised the question: Can Arabs and Muslims integrate into Western countries? Arab Americans say their success proves that they can. Indeed, across metro Detroit, many have found success in a number of fields — a marked contrast to the high unemployment and unrest that pervades much of Europe’s Arab and Muslim communities. […]

Arabs, Muslims Integrate With Ease

CHICAGO: While Arab Americans and Muslims suffered a spike in hate crimes after the September 11 attacks, they do not face the same level of disenfranchisement as their French counterparts, experts say. They’re discriminated against but they have jobs – this is the major difference from Europe, Yvonne Haddad, a professor of Islamic history at Georgetown University in Washington, said. Arab and Muslim immigrants in the US generally identify themselves as Americans and integrate with relative ease into a society that prides itself on social mobility and has more tolerance for cultural and religious differences, Haddad said. To identify as French you have to renounce your faith and have to renounce you previous identity as though your previous self didn’t exist. In the US you don’t have to, she said. Arabs are a tiny minority in the United States, making up less than 1% of the population, according to the census bureau. They also constitute only about a quarter to a third of the country’s Muslims, estimated at 6mn to 7mn people or about 2% of the population. Arab Americans and Muslims are better educated and have a higher income than the national average, said Edina Lekovic, communications director for the Muslim Public Affairs Council. There’s no clear connection between the European and the American Muslim experience, she said, explaining that Muslims in the United States are less isolated and homogeneous than their European counterpart. She cautioned against painting the riots as a religious issue rather than the result of economic and political disenfranchisement. This is the culmination of a series of events and it has very little or nothing to do with quote-unquote (Muslim) extremism, she said, noting that France has more Muslim-friendly foreign policy than the United States. French Muslims are not responding to the issues of Palestine or Iraq. They are responding to their domestic situation. The real parallel to the French riots is the African American race riots of the 1960s and following the Rodney King beating, said James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute. It’s the act of an underclass with expectations that have gone unfulfilled for a long period of time striking out, out of a combination of despair and anger, he said in a telephone interview. France and other European countries have maintained a national identity that is tied to ethnicity while the American identity has shifted over time as waves of immigrants reshape the country. As long as these kids grow up not only in an economic underclass but excluded from being French or Dutch it’s problematic, Zogby said. When people in my community get angry about American foreign policy they get angry as citizens and they fight back as citizens. The process is more open to including them. ?

For Britain’s Muslims, Uneasy Days

By H.D.S. Greenway I met Sher Khan in a caf_ near Leicester Square. It was Ramadan, so, although I had a coffee, he made do with nothing, waiting until sundown to break the fast that is obligatory for observant Muslims the world over. Khan was born here, but his family came from Bangladesh. His day job is in investments, but he works with the Islamic Society of Britain, an umbrella group that keeps tabs on how Muslims are faring in Britain. According to Khan, the minority problem in Britain used to be perceived in racial terms more than religious. But since 9/11, and especially since the suicide bombings of July, “we have a new identity marker, Muslim.” But Khan is quick to say that, although the majority of Muslims in Britain may originally have come from the Indian subcontinent, there are Arabs, Africans, Central Asians. Since the British empire was more diverse than other empires, so are the Muslims of Britain today. Khan and other British Muslims I have talked to mostly say that Britain is as good a place as any in which to be a minority. Since the English had to first absorb the Scots and the Welsh, and some of the Irish, multiculturalism had a head start here, they say. And just as Scots and Welsh are always annoyed when foreigners lump them together with the English, so does Sher Khan remark that even here in Britain, Muslims are lumped together as one. More often than not, ethnicity trumps religion among Muslims in Britain. Bangladeshis, on the whole, are further down on the social scale – and more discriminated against – than people from Pakistan, I have been told. Other Muslims, such as the Arabs, have felt swamped by the total numbers of those who came from Pakistan and Bangladesh, and some complain that most of the Muslim organizations are run by Pakistanis who, they say, don’t really speak for them. In France, the Muslim population is more homogeneous, for, although you find Muslims from every climate, North Africans predominate following the retreat of the French empire. Some Muslims have found it easier to adjust to the majority culture than others. Professor Philip Lewis, who teaches at Bradford University’s Department of Peace Studies, for example, told me that a very large proportion of Muslims in his former mill town, as well as in Britain as a whole, originally came from a few villages in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir, according to Lewis, not far from the epicenter of the recent earthquake. They were originally rural people who might have had difficulty adjusting to life in Karachi, never mind in Britain. They have kept a very close-knit community, with even British-born second and third generations sending back to the old country for their imams and even for their spouses, making it harder for them to integrate. Lewis contrasts the Kashmiris to the Indians and Pakistanis who were expelled from East Africa. Having adjusted to being a minority once, the latter were more adept at it the second time around. Is it harder for Muslims to adjust in Britain than other minorities? Faisal Bodi, a freelance writer, says maybe it is. “Our two popular soaps, ‘East Enders’ and ‘Coronation Street,’ both take place in pubs, for example, and it is difficult for an observant Muslim to relate to the pub culture.” According to Sher Khan, the goal in Britain should be integration, not assimilation as in France. “Assimilation always requires a measure of coercion,” he says. Most British Muslims are feeling the post-suicide bombing heat, however, as the government rushes to introduce even tougher antiterrorism laws. Some of these proposals have been questioned by legal authorities, and it is hard to miss the uneasiness that British Muslims are beginning to feel. I asked Fred Halliday, a terrorism expert at the London School of Economics, what he thought about the new legislation. He said that such laws were necessary only to make people feel good. Governments had to show that they were “doing something,” but as for thwarting terrorism, such laws are useless. What it takes is “good police work and luck.” Terrorists, Halliday said, come from a tiny, transnational minority who, from perceived injustices and humiliations in their formative years, have found an answer in extremism – not unlike the way youths were drawn to and recruited by the Communist Party. “They want to change the world,” and understanding them has as much to do with the psychology of young people as it does with Islam.

Immigration Law Used In Antiterror Fight: Us Sees Easy Route To Detain Suspects

By Mary Beth Sheridan WASHINGTON — The federal government is waging part of the war against terrorism with a seemingly innocuous weapon: immigration law. In the past two years, officials have filed immigration charges against more than 500 suspects who have come under scrutiny in national security investigations, according to previously undisclosed government figures. Whereas terrorism charges can be difficult to prosecute, Department of Homeland Security officials say immigration laws can provide a quick, easy way to detain people who could be planning attacks. Authorities have used routine charges such as overstaying a visa to deport suspected supporters of terrorist groups. ”It’s an incredibly important piece of the terrorism response,” said Michael J. Garcia, who heads Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. And although immigration violations might seem humdrum, he said, ”They’re legitimate charges.” Muslim and civil liberties activists disagree. They argue that authorities are enforcing minor violations by Muslims and Arabs, while ignoring millions of other immigrants who flout the same laws. They note that many of those charged are not shown to be involved in terrorism. ”The approach is basically to target the Muslim and Arab community with a kind of zerotolerance immigration policy. No other community in the United States is treated to zero-tolerance enforcement,” said David Cole, a Georgetown University law professor and critic of the government’s antiterrorism policies. Before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, immigration agents were minor players in the world of counterterrorism. That changed during the investigation of the hijackings, when 768 suspects were secretly processed on immigration charges. Most were deported after being cleared of connections to terrorism. Unlike that controversial roundup, most of the recent arrests have not involved secret proceedings. Still, they can be hard to track. A few cases have turned into high-profile criminal trials, but others have centered on little-known individuals processed in obscure immigration courts, with no mention of a terrorism investigation. In some cases, the government ultimately concludes a suspect, while guilty of an immigration violation, has no terrorism ties. Authorities are often reluctant to disclose why an immigrant’s name emerged in a national security investigation, because the information is classified or part of a continuing inquiry. Homeland Security officials turned down a request for the names of all those charged in the past two years, making it difficult to assess how effective their strategy has been at thwarting terrorism.

Arabs In U.S. Raising Money To Back Bush

By LESLIE WAYNE Wealthy Arab-Americans and foreign-born Muslims who strongly back President Bush’s decision to invade Iraq are adding their names to the ranks of Pioneers and Rangers, the elite Bush supporters who have raised $100,000 or more for his re-election. This new crop of fund-raisers comes as some opinion polls suggest support for the president among Arab-Americans is sinking and at a time when strategists from both parties say Mr. Bush is losing ground with this group. Mr. Bush has been criticized by Arab-Americans who feel they are being singled out in the fight against terrorism and who are uneasy over the administration’s Palestinian-Israeli policies. Yet the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the war in Iraq have been a catalyst for some wealthy Arab-Americans to become more involved in politics. And there are still others who have a more practical reason for opening their checkbooks: access to a business-friendly White House. Already, their efforts have brought them visits with the president at his ranch in Crawford, Tex., as well as White House dinners and meetings with top administration officials. Many Arab-Americans left their countries because of political and economic oppression and are now small-business owners or entrepreneurs who say the Republican Party best represents their values.

A crisis in French secularism

Perhaps no other issue has stirred as much controversy both inside and outside France as the recent decision to ban the veil in French public schools. In the heat of the passions this issue has ignited over the conflict between Islam and the West and western racism against Arabs and Muslims, it was easy to lose sight of the political and cultural context in which this ban was promulgated, a context that suggests that the problems at hand pertain more to the nature of, and perhaps a crisis in, French secularism than they do to the fight against Islam.