Pew Study Sees Muslim Americans Assimilating

Graphic: Muslim Americans: Who Are They?
Lindsay Mangum,, NPR
Graphic: Muslim Views by Age
Lindsay Mangum, NPR

Muslim Americans have integrated into society far better than European Muslims, but there appear to be significant pockets of disaffection — especially among the young and religious. That is the conclusion of an exhaustive survey of Muslim Americans released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center.

More than 1,000 Muslims spoke at length about their American experience, and the results were mostly "good news," says Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center.

"The Muslim American population is largely middle class, mostly mainstream, assimilated, happy with their lives and moderate on many of the issues that have divided Muslims and Westerners around the world," Kohut says.

But the study found some surprising signs of discontent. More than half of Muslim Americans believe that the U.S. government singles Muslims out for extra surveillance. More than half of Muslims overall hold a very unfavorable view of al-Qaida — but only 36 percent of African-American Muslims do. Only one in four Muslims believes that Arab men conducted the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. And most disturbing was what Kohut called "pockets of sympathy for extremism."

"Younger Muslims are both more religiously observant, more self-identifying as Muslims than older Muslims, and they're more likely to say that suicide bombing in defense of Islam can be, at least some times, justified," Kohut says.

One-quarter of Muslims under age 30 said suicide bombing is legitimate on some occasions. That compares with 6 percent of older Muslims.

Laila Al-Qatami, communications director for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, was shocked by that statistic. She said it did not reflect what she knew of the community. Qatami was less surprised to learn that Muslims find it harder to live in America since the Sept. 11 attacks. And they are justifiably suspicious of the U.S. government, she says — as evidenced by the number of complaints of discrimination and racial profiling her group has received.

"For example, we had a case where a gentleman was trying to board a plane to fly on an airline, and he happened to have a shirt that had Arabic writing on it. And he was not allowed to board his flights or subsequent flights until he changed his shirt," Qatami says.

Qatami says that untold numbers of innocent Muslims named Mohammed can't get off government watch lists. But she says these are blips for an otherwise satisfied Muslim American community — 65 percent of whom recently came to the United States.

"The American dream is still very much alive here," she says. "If you work hard and you put your mind to something, you can still succeed here. That's what American Muslims see and feel. They still see it as a land of opportunity — that's why so many people want to immigrate here."

Compared with Europe — where many Muslims live in ghettos, earn the lowest incomes and suffer high unemployment — America represents the good life, she says.

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