Study: Diversity, Disparity Within American-Muslims

The Gallup Center for Muslim Studies has released a new survey about Muslims in America. It reveals great diversity in the group that reflects the diversity of America itself. Ahmed Younis, a senior analyst for the center, talks about the study with Linda Wertheimer.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

Our next guest makes the claim that Islam in America is uniquely American. Take, for example, Muslim women in America and how different their life can be here.

Mr. AHMED YOUNIS (Senior Analyst, Gallup Center for Muslim Studies): It's absolutely true that Muslim women in America have equal education levels to the general public and to Muslim men - equal income levels, equal attendance at religious institutions, which is something that sits in stark contrast to an experience of a Muslim woman in a Muslim-majority society. But the difference is not necessarily American Islam, but the experience of Islam in America, both positive and negative.

WERTHEIMER: Ahmed Younis helped compile a new Gallup survey about all American Muslims, not just Arab-Americans but African-American, Asian-American and white Muslims. The study reveals a diversity, says Ahmed Younis, that looks like America itself.

Mr. YOUNIS: But the diversity is not just racial. The diversity is also in income. There are Muslim-Americans amongst the Asian Muslim community making more than $5,000 a month in household income, whereas only 17 percent of black Muslim families report the same level of income. There's also a great diversity and disparity in levels of education, in inclination towards political participation, etc. So the diversity is all across the spectrum of life, just as it exists within the general American public.

WERTHEIMER: But it looks to me as though those differences are more determined by race than anything else.

Mr. YOUNIS: In terms of intra-Muslim differences of experience, race is one of the primary driving factors. That causes challenges for American Muslim intuitions and leaders that are attempting to project a unified voice. It causes challenges inside of religious institutions. How much integration is there really between black American Muslim communities and Muslim communities that are predominated by recent immigrants?

These are challenges that America faces generally, and we saw that in the election of President Barack Obama. And they are challenges that are also unique to the Muslim-American experience.

WERTHEIMER: What about Barack Obama? Something in the vicinity of half the group identifies as Democrats. A very small sliver identify as Republicans, but 79 percent of voters who identify as Muslim-Americans voted for Barack Obama.

Mr. YOUNIS: Absolutely. Barack Obama, or Barack Hussein Obama's identify brings some affinity amongst the Muslim-Americans. But what the report really shows and what the data underscores is that it's the bread-and-butter issues that motivated the vast majority of America that has motivated American Muslims to endorse his candidacy and to endorse, thus far, his new administration. And how Muslim identity affected that amongst American Muslims is still up for grabs.

WERTHEIMER: Do you think that this is a group that is engaged in the American community?

Mr. YOUNIS: Certainly there is data that indicates that they are involved in the societies within which they live. They have support structures. They give charity from their money. There seems to be a significant extent of civic engagement.

We didn't poll these people because they attend a mosque. We did not poll them because they walk on the street with a sign that says I am Muslim. We just polled them because they were in a cross-section of the general American public. And in whatever ways America is moving towards progress, these Muslim-Americans are as well. And in whatever ways America is ailing from some very core challenges, the Muslims of America are as well.

WERTHEIMER: Thank you very much.

Mr. YOUNIS: Thank you.

WERTHEIMER: Ahmed Younis is a senior analyst for the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies.

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