America and Muslims: By the Numbers


September 26, 2011
Coming Tuesday Sept. 27th at 9 PM:
The Man Behind the Mosque

American Muslims are ethnically and racially diverse, and see themselves as well integrated in line with American ideals, according to the latest polling data.

But while the data shows that Americans “strongly affirm” religious freedom and tolerance, it also suggests a widespread discomfort with Islam and a reluctance to accept Muslims, based on perceptions about their views on extremism, Shariah law, the building or expansion of mosques and other factors.

Ten years after 9/11, there’s an abundance of research on the makeup and attitudes of America’s Muslims. Drawing from a number of recent studies, polls and research, here’s how the data breaks down:


There are 2.75 million Muslims living in the United States, a majority of whom, 63 percent, are first-generation immigrants. — Pew Research Center.

But the numbers are controversial — because the U.S. census does not collect religious data, hard numbers are difficult to come by. In 2001, the American Jewish Committee calculated America’s Muslim population at 1.86 million, while the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) puts the number at 7 million. This wide range in part reflects how population size can be politicized to exaggerate or underplay a group’s influence and clout.

American Muslims are the most racially diverse group surveyed in the United States, according to the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies. Eighty-two percent say they are satisfied with the way things are going in their lives, although 55 percent say life for Muslims in the U.S. has become more difficult since 9/11.

Forty percent of Muslims say they have a college degree, making them the second most highly educated religious group surveyed after Jews (61 percent), compared with 29 percent of Americans overall who say they have a college degree, according to Gallup [PDF]. That carries across gender lines, with Muslim females being the second-most educated religious group in the country, after Jewish females.

Political Views:

70 percent of American Muslims identify as Democrats or lean toward the Democratic Party. — Pew Research Center

This reflects a significant change in voting patterns over the last decade — 78 percent of American Muslims voted Republican in the 2000 presidential election. Today, the percentage of American Muslims who “lean toward the GOP” is just 11 percent.

But American Muslims report relatively low levels of civic engagement; according to a 2009 poll by the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies, only 51 percent of young Muslim Americans are registered to vote, “one of the lowest percentages among young Americans surveyed.”

How “American” Are American Muslims?:

56 percent of American Muslims say that most Muslims coming to the U.S. want to adopt American customs and ways of life. — Pew Research Center

In fact, 6 in 10 American Muslims say they see no conflict [PDF] in being devout Muslim and living in modern society, the same ratio of American Christians who say they see no conflict in being devout Christian and living in modern society.

But non-Muslim Americans have a very different perception: According to Pew, 51 percent of U.S. adults think Muslim immigrants want “to remain distinct from the larger culture,” and according to a survey by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) issued in conjunction with the Brookings Institution, 47 percent say they believe Muslim and American values are “incompatible.”

And this data can be broken down even further by political affiliation: 40 percent of Democrats say they believe the values of Islam are at odds with the American way of life, compared with 63 percent for Republicans and 66 percent for Tea Party members, according to the PRRI survey. The numbers also illustrate the media’s influence: Only 30 percent of Americans believe that American Muslims ultimately want to establish Shariah as the law of the land in the U.S., but the percentage of Republican Fox News viewers who believe that is double – 60 percent.

Views on Extremism:

5 percent of American Muslims have a somewhat favorable opinion of Al Qaeda. — The Pew Research Center

An overwhelming majority of American Muslims are not extremist, with 81 percent saying that suicide bombing and other forms of violence against civilians are never justified in order to defend Islam from its enemies, and only 2 percent saying they have a very favorable opinion of Al Qaeda.

But according to a CBS/New York Times Poll, 1 in 3 Americans think Muslim Americans are more sympathetic to terrorists than other Americans; 25 percent admit they hold a negative opinion of Muslims because of 9/11; and 55 percent say they know other Americans who hold a negative opinion of Muslims because of 9/11.

The Park51 Mosque Controversy:

Number of people who ‘liked’ the Park51 Facebook page: 6,359
Number of people who ‘liked’ the “STOP THE BUILDING OF MOSQUE NEAR GROUND ZERO SITE!!!” Facebook Cause page: 85,193.

American Muslims have been somewhat divided over Park51 — the proposed mosque and Islamic community center in Lower Manhattan. Of the American Muslims who say they have heard of the project, 72 percent say it should be allowed, but 15 percent of these respondents simultaneously say it is a bad idea. Twenty percent say it should not be allowed at all.

Though much of the fever-pitched controversy that surrounded Park51 last year has subsided, a significant majority of Americans are against the project. Last August, at the height of the controversy, CNN reported that nearly 70 percent of all Americans opposed the plan, with 54 percent of Democrats and 84 percent of Republicans opposing it.

Though it’s been the most public, the controversy over Park51 isn’t the only such conflict. According to Pew, 25 percent of Muslim Americans report that mosques or Islamic centers in their communities “have been the target of controversy or outright hostility,” while 14 percent say there has been opposition to building one in their communities and 15 percent say a that a mosque or Islamic center has “been the target of vandalism or other hostile acts” in the last year.

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has plotted the locations of 37 proposed mosques and Islamic centers “that have encountered community resistance” in the last three years. Some of the controversies are stoked by complaints about traffic or parking, while others specifically cite opposition who say they are uncomfortable with Islam and Muslims. According to The Wall Street Journal, in the past decade, the Justice Department has launched 26 investigations into possibly discriminatory zoning laws involving mosques; 16 of those were launched in the past 15 months.

But the controversy over the building of mosques could be counterproductive. Earlier this year, The Muslim American Survey [PDF] found that “mosques help Muslims integrate into U.S. society” and attendance “increases civic engagement and support for American democratic values.”

Dig Deeper:

“Controversies Over Mosques and Islamic Centers Across the U.S.” – The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. Full report [PDF].

“Fear, Inc.: The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America” – The Center for American Progress

“Muslim Americans: No Signs of Growth in Alienation or Support for Extremism” — Pew Research Center for the People and the Press report

“Muslim Americans: A National Portrait” – The Abu Dhabi Gallup Center for Muslim Studies

“Muslims in the United States” – The Council on Foreign Relations backgrounder

“Poll: 1 in 3 think Muslim Americans more sympathetic to terrorists than other Americans” — CBS News /New York Times Poll

“Religious Perceptions in America” — The Abu Dhabi Gallup Center for Muslim Studies

“What It Means to Be American: Attitudes Towards Increasing Diversity in America Ten Years After 9/11” [PDF] — The Brookings Institution and Public Religion Research Institute


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