x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

American Muslims feel socially isolated

Survey finds a 'uniquely American' community whose members, despite their disadvantages, do not consider themselves thriving or happy.

Men praying in the Fatih Mosque in New York. Some 80 per cent of US Muslims surveyed say religion plays an important part in their daily lives.
Men praying in the Fatih Mosque in New York. Some 80 per cent of US Muslims surveyed say religion plays an important part in their daily lives.

WASHINGTON // Muslim-Americans are among the best-educated religious groups in the US - and more likely to be employed than the general population - but they are less likely to participate in the political process and be classified as "thriving", according to a major new survey. A national poll released this week by the Gallup firm offers a wide-ranging - and complex - snapshot of the Muslim-American community, which is among the most diverse in the United States.

On one hand, US Muslims overall are well-educated with relatively good incomes and they have largely integrated into society economically, the survey found. On the other, in comparison with other religious groups, they remained - or at least felt - isolated in many other ways, including politically and socially. Moreover, Muslim youth, while they reported feeling generally positive about the quality of their lives, were markedly less optimistic than their non-Muslim peers.

Dalia Mogahed, the executive director of Gallup's Center for Muslim Studies, which conducted the survey, called the experience of Muslim-Americans a "uniquely American" one - in that it reflects many US trends - and said it mirrors "the nation's strengths and struggles". "The picture is hopeful, but also filled with many challenges," she said at the survey's public release at the Newseum in Washington on Monday.

Among the findings: the largest segment of US Muslims, or 35 per cent, is African-American and the Muslim-American community has the highest share of young people of any religious group. More than one-third are between the ages of 18 and 29. Muslims in the US are highly religious - though not as religious as in other countries - with 80 per cent saying religion plays an important role in their daily lives, compared with 65 per cent of the general population (only Mormons reported being more religious). About four in 10 said they attend mosque at least once a week, with women attending as often as men.

Politically, about half of American Muslims identified themselves as Democrats, while 37 per cent said they are independents and eight per cent Republicans. Relative to other groups, they were among the most likely to describe themselves as liberal and the least likely to say they are conservative, but about two-fifths reported holding moderate political views. Their participation in the political process, though, appeared to be less than other groups. Sixty-four per cent were registered to vote, compared with 90 per cent for Jews, 76 per cent for Catholics and 81 per cent for the general US population. White Muslim-Americans were far less likely to be registered than whites in the general population; the same held true for black Muslims relative to African-Americans in the population at large.

Despite their many relative successes, Muslim-Americans were the least likely of any of the major faith groups surveyed - including Jews, Protestants, Mormons and Roman Catholics - to be classified as "thriving" when asked to consider their current situations and their expectations for the near future, or the next five years. Just 41 per cent were classified as such, compared with 56 per cent of Jews and about half of Mormons.

At the same time, 56 per cent of Muslim-Americans considered themselves to be "struggling", the highest of any group. With respect to what the researchers called "emotional well-being", US Muslims reported experiencing more stress than other groups - though about the same amount as the general population - and considerably more anger. They also were least likely to report feeling a lot of happiness the day before.

Still, Muslim-Americans appeared far more satisfied with their lives than their peers in most other countries, with Saudi Arabia and Germany the notable exceptions, the survey found. That could be a function of lower education levels and lower household incomes, Gallup researchers said. For instance, while 70 per cent of US Muslims reported being employed, only 45 per cent of French Muslims and 38 per cent of British Muslims did, said Magali Rheault, a senior analyst at the Center for Muslim Studies.

"Muslim-Americans look more like Americans than they do to Muslims in other western countries or even to Muslims in predominantly Muslim nations," she said. According to Gallup, "Muslim Americans: A National Portrait" is the first-ever study of a randomly selected, nationally representative sample of Muslim-Americans. Researchers conducted more than 300,000 interviews of US households throughout much of last year; of the total sample, 946 individuals identified themselves as Muslims.

In making comparisons to Muslims outside the United States, researchers used data from the Gallup World Poll, which the organisation says represents 95 per cent of the world's population. The margin of error for the Muslim-American sample was plus or minus four percentage points. Ahmed Younis, another senior analyst at the centre, noted in particular what he called a "uniqueness of experience" among Muslim-American women relative to their counterparts elsewhere.

"The Muslim-American experience for a woman yields to her the opportunities and freedoms that America generally yields to women," Mr Younis said, adding that one in three Muslim-American women is a professional, one in six is self-employed and, as a group, they attend religious services as often as men do, a departure from the norm in most other countries. US Muslim women are among the best-educated American women of any religious group, second only to Jewish women. At the same time, they are less likely to report feeling respected in their daily life.