A superficial study of the media coverage in the past two years conveys a misleading picture about the state of American Muslims and their relationship with the rest of the nation. The terrible attack on Fort Hood by Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the attempted June 2010 bombing of Times Square, the shrill rhetoric and legislative activism of the anti-sharia brigade, and the incessant targeting of Islam and Muslims by conservative politicians, media personalities and political entrepreneurs all combine to suggest that life for Muslims in America must be tough.
On the contrary, large sample surveys and in-depth studies conducted recently provide a more complex and optimistic picture about Muslim American reality, especially when it comes to three of the most talked-about issues: radicalisation, American Muslims’ perceptions of the United States and religious tolerance.
A US Department of Justice study (.pdf) about Muslim American radicalisation conducted in 2010 by researchers from two North Carolina universities argued that terrorism actually committed by American Muslims was surprisingly low. They attributed this low number to the anti-radicalisation efforts of various Muslim communities and mosques in the United States. This in-depth study not only reassures law enforcement agencies that the fear of Muslim radicalism in America is overblown, but it also underscores the reality that US mosques are allies in the struggle against extremism – not a source of extremism as some right-wing pundits and politicians insist.
When it comes to how American Muslims perceive America, there is more that is surprising. Another study, “Muslim Americans: Faith Freedom and the Future”, a large sample survey conducted over a period of two years by Gallup, reveals that American Muslims – more than members of any other community – claim that they are “thriving in America”. This is a remarkable condition for a community which is under so much scrutiny from the media, law enforcement and the US Congress itself.
Neither bad economy nor odious politics seem to faze American Muslims’ faith in America. Eight out of ten American Muslims approve of US President Barack Obama, whose overall approval ratings are at the lowest point since he assumed the presidency, and American Muslims have the most confidence in the honesty of the American political system, more than any other religious community.
But perhaps the findings on religious tolerance offer the most reason for optimism. The Gallup report found that American Muslims are, along with Mormons, the most religiously tolerant of groups. Only eight per cent of American Muslims feel estranged from other faiths, while 92 per cent of them are “tolerant” or “tolerant and accepting” of other faiths!
I suspect that this high regard for pluralism is actually a reflection of holding a high regard for religion itself. Muslims who attach a great deal of significance to their faith naturally have an affinity towards those who share their reverence for God.
I hope that those Americans who are being misled by the so-called anti-sharia initiatives in the United States read this report. It casts serious doubts on the assertions that Muslims – members of America’s most tolerant religious community – aspire to impose their faith on others.
Finally, there is an interesting sub-story in this report, especially for those Muslims who believe that all Jews are “out to get” Islam and Muslims. According to the Gallup poll, American Jews more than any other group recognise the prevailing Islamophobia and prejudice against Muslims in America. In fact, 80 per cent of American Jews, next only to American Muslims (93 per cent), believe that American Muslims are loyal to America. Of all religious communities, Jewish Americans are least likely to believe that American Muslims might be Al Qaeda sympathisers. Both Muslims and Jews in America also have very similar views about the Arab-Israeli conflict: 78 per cent of Jews and 81 percent of Muslims support the vision of a Palestinian state coexisting alongside Israel.
I hope these findings give further impetus to the Muslim-Jewish dialogue and relations in the United States. As we reflect on the tragedy of 9/11 and its aftermath, I hope we allow facts and reality to shape our thinking and reject the dark incitements that led to the tragedy in Norway.
Dr. Muqtedar Khan is Associate Professor at the University of Delaware and a Fellow of the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. He is the author of American Muslims: Bridging Faith and Freedom and his website is www.ijtihad.org. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).