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Survey: Muslim-Americans Have Rosier Outlook Than Other Americans

August 2, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
Nearly 10 years after the 9/11 attacks and with the American military involved in multiple Muslim nations, a Gallup survey showed strong positive feelings among Muslim-Americans about their prospects in this country. Ray Suarez discusses the poll's findings with Mohamed Younis of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies.
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JEFFREY BROWN: Next tonight, a new survey on the attitudes of Muslim Americans.

Ray Suarez has that story.

RAY SUAREZ: Nearly 10 years after the 9/11 attacks and American wars in two Muslim nations, a Gallup survey shows strong positive feelings among Muslim Americans about their prospects in this country.

Close to 4,000 Muslims, more than 850,000 Americans in all, were polled. The findings: More Muslim Americans, 60 percent, believed they are thriving in the U.S., more than either Protestants or Catholics, and just about equal to Jews. And 93 percent thought their fellow Muslim Americans were loyal to the U.S. That belief in Muslim loyalty was shared by smaller majorities of Protestants, Catholics and Jews.

For more on this survey, we go to Mohamed Younis, senior analyst at the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies.

Thriving, Mohamed, more optimistic about the next five years than other Americans, even after everything that’s happened in the 10 years since 9/11?

MOHAMED YOUNIS, Gallup Center for Muslim Studies: Absolutely.

It’s important to remember that our point of reference is actually late 2008, when the recession was sort of in full bloom and Americans generally had much more negative assessments about their current life and life in five years. So we did see that same improvement across all other major religious groups across this country that were included in the study.

But Muslim Americans were the group with the highest rate of increase — or highest rate of improvement from 2008 to now. It’s also important to remember that Muslim Americans, we found in our survey, were more likely to be young. And what we found in both our research in the U.S. and across the world is that life evaluation tends to be more positive with a younger group or a younger respondent than their older peers.

RAY SUAREZ: There is wide agreement between Muslims and Americans of other religions that Muslims are loyal to the U.S., but they differ on whether Muslims are more obligated than other Americans to speak out against terrorism. That was an interesting finding.

MOHAMED YOUNIS: It was, and I think that that was one place — and there are many other findings in the report — where the public discourse seems to be in a very different place than where respondents or Americans actually say that they are.

So what we find is when we ask whether or not Muslims should be more obligated to speak out against terrorism, most of the U.S. religious groups in the study are actually split, including Muslim Americans. Now, when we ask whether or not Muslim Americans are speaking out enough, of all respondents, enough against terrorism, what we find are that majorities of all U.S. major religious groups say that in fact they are not doing enough to speak out against terrorism.

Muslims of course were more likely to say that Muslims in fact are speaking out enough against terrorism in the U.S.

RAY SUAREZ: You found in your numbers a connection between religious observance and civic engagement. Tell us about that.

MOHAMED YOUNIS: We did. We found that respondents who are more likely to attend a place of worship more frequently were also more likely to be politically engaged or answer in a certain way to a series of questions that had to do with whether or not they are registered to vote or whether or not they affiliated with a political party in specific.

Now, that’s not unique to Muslim Americans. We actually find that that’s also a case with a lot of Muslim — a lot of other religious groups in the United States. They were also more positive on some of the evaluative assessments of their life. So, in example, in terms of expressing a lot of — experiencing a lot of anger the day previous to the survey or experiencing a lot of stress, those with higher religious attendance were less likely to report experiencing those emotions.

RAY SUAREZ: In general, did you find there was a wide gulf between the way other Americans see Muslims and Muslim Americans see themselves?

MOHAMED YOUNIS: In some ways, we did, and in some ways, we didn’t.

It’s important to remember that majorities of most of the religious groups in the study did say that they thought Muslim Americans were loyal to the U.S. and didn’t think that Muslim Americans were sympathetic to organizations such as the al-Qaida network.

Now, they were less likely to do so than Muslim Americans. And I think that there are definitely gaps in the perceptions between how vocal Muslim Americans are, for example, about speaking out against terrorism, as we discussed, and fundamentally feeling that Muslim Americans are harboring secret sympathies towards organizations such as al-Qaida or deep down are not loyal to the United States.

We also asked about identity and whether or not people strongly identified with the United States, their faith, those around the world with their same religious views or are in the same religious group, and also their ethnic identities. And what we found across all religious groups, but also with Muslim Americans, are that Americans have complementing, not competing, identities.

So people are just as likely to say that they are strongly identifying with their faith as they are strongly identifying with the United States. And with Muslim Americans, it was actually statistically — statistically identical, the rate of those who said both.

Now, we also found that, across all major religious groups in the United States, those who strongly identify with people across the world who share their faith are no more or less likely to strongly identify with the United States. So, in that way, Muslim Americans, again, are very similar to a lot of the other religious groups that we see in this country.

Faith plays an important part in their life but at the same time, they also strongly identify with the country and don’t necessarily see the two as competing.

RAY SUAREZ: You found Muslim Americans were less likely to have confidence in the FBI.

MOHAMED YOUNIS: Absolutely. And we did see that, despite the fact that they were most likely to say that attacks on civilians are not morally justified, actually more likely than most other American major religious groups, they had less confidence in the institutions and interventions associated with counterterrorism, less confidence in the military, less confidence in the FBI, but also more likely to say that the intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan were mistakes on the part of the United States, as opposed to when you compare them to other major religious groups.

RAY SUAREZ: You found — well, it was unusual to see poll results that also had recommendations at the end, which I — I have read a lot of polls in my time, and you rarely see programmatic responses.

You talked about using the mosque as a center for community mobilization. What did you mean by that? Why is that a result that flows out of these numbers?

MOHAMED YOUNIS: Absolutely.

Well, what we — what we are always trying to do at Gallup and what we have been doing is informing both leaders, policy-makers and the public on the things that they care about, based on the research that we have gathered.

So a major part of what we do at Gallup is always trying to understand human behavior scientifically, but suggest interventions that would actually improve human behavior or the human experience to stakeholders that would care about whatever matter, from management consulting to what Muslim Americans think about their daily life.

With regard to the role of Muslim American organizations themselves, and local mosques, what we find is that there is a greater need to have mosques be more of a community center and less of a place to simply pray. There is a huge need among Muslim Americans to have higher registration in voting, because they are less likely to be registered to vote.

They also are dealing obviously with a series of national issues that they care about. So, the stronger these organizations can be, the more they can empower them to effectively deal with them.

RAY SUAREZ: Mohamed Younis from Gallup, thanks a lot.

MOHAMED YOUNIS: Thank you, Ray.