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New Study on Muslim Americans

Rabia Zahir prays inside the Southern Maryland Islamic Center in Prince Frederick, Md., in 2009. New polling results from Gallup say American Muslims feel more optimistic about the future but also feel religious discrimination. (photo: CNS/Bob Roller)  

05 Aug 2011 – by Patricia Zapor

WASHINGTON (CNS) — American Muslims are more optimistic about their future than people of other religions are about their own, though Muslims say they regularly contend with suspicion and lack of respect for their faith.

A decade after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, new results of polling by Gallup’s Abu Dhabi center also finds a great deal of similarity between American Muslims and Jews about issues such as opposition to the Iraq War and whether Muslims face prejudice.

The study offered recommendations for government and civic leaders aimed at improving the way Muslim Americans are included in U.S. life, including treating Islamophobia and anti-Semitism as related phenomena and addressing discrimination against Muslims in a similar manner.

Several recommendations hinged on multifaith strategies for defusing Muslims’ lower-than-most levels of trust in institutions such as the FBI and police; for helping Muslims become more engaged in civic society and for addressing other Americans’ prejudice and distrust of Muslims.

At an Aug. 2 news conference where the report, “Muslim Americans: Faith, Freedom and the Future” was released, Imam Mohamed Magid, president of the Islamic Society of North America and an immigrant from Sudan said when he first arrived in the United States he studied African-American history. He was particularly struck by the “we shall overcome” themes of the civil rights era, which “gave me lots of hope,” he said.

But the 9/11 terrorist attacks and a backlash against Muslims “changed the narrative,” said Magid, who also has roles in Washington-area organizations promoting interfaith understanding.

Magid said from his role in counseling members of his mosque, he knows Muslim Americans to generally be very optimistic and that he was pleasantly surprised to learn this attribute applies nationwide.

By large majorities, the study found Muslim Americans optimistic about life today (averaging 7 on a 10-point scale) and five years from now (averaging 8.4 on that scale). Among other faith groups, the numbers were similar — nearly all averaging more than 7 on the 10-point scale.

The study also found Muslims were likely to say the economy is getting better and that national economic conditions are improving. More than half of Muslims expressed optimism on those two questions, while no other faith group had a response greater than 45 percent.

The results of the study were drawn from the Gallup Nightly poll between January 2008 and April 2011 and two polls of Muslim Americans administered in February-March and October of 2010. The margins of error for Muslims in the two types of polls were listed at plus or minus 1.9 for the Nightly poll and at plus or minus 6.6 points for the Muslim-American polls. The U.S. Census Bureau does not question people about their religion, but the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life estimates the number of Muslims at about 2.5 million people, or .8 percent of the population. That represents about 0.2 percent of the world’s Muslims.

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