Most Muslim Americans say they are proud to be Americans, believe that hard work generally brings success and are satisfied with the way things are going in their own lives, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey.

A large majority of U.S. Muslims continue to profess faith in the American dream, with 70% saying that most people who want to get ahead can make it in America if they are willing to work hard.  55% think Americans in general are friendly toward U.S. Muslims, compared with just 14% who say they are unfriendly. 89% of Muslims say they are both proud to be American and proud to be Muslim.

However, nearly two-thirds of Muslim Americans also say they are dissatisfied with the way things are going in U.S. politics, and 48% say they have experienced at least one incident of discrimination in the past 12 months. 

These are among the key findings of Pew Research Center’s new survey of U.S. Muslims, conducted in early 2017 on landlines and cellphones among a representative sample of 1,001 Muslim adults living in the United States.

With regard to religious belief, Muslims are quite varied in their religious allegiances and observances. Slightly more than half of U.S. Muslims are Sunnis (55%), but significant minorities identify as Shiite (16%) or as “just Muslim” (14%).

Most Muslims say religion is very important in their lives (65%), and about four-in-ten (42%) say they pray five times a day. But many others say religion is less important to them and that they are not so consistent in performing salah, the ritual prayers that constitute one of the Five Pillars of Islam and traditionally are performed five times each day.  .

Most U.S. Muslims (64%) also believe that there is more than one true way to interpret Islam, with many believing that traditional understandings of Islam need to be reinterpreted in light of modern contexts (52%).  85% of Muslims say believing in God is essential to what being Muslim means to them and nearly three-quarters say “loving the Prophet Muhammad” is essential to what being Muslim means to them.

The survey also shows that Muslims largely share the general public’s concerns about religious extremism.  Overall, eight-in-ten Muslims (82%) say they are either very concerned (66%) or somewhat concerned (16%) about extremism in the name of Islam around the world.  Among both Muslims and the larger U.S. public, concern about extremism around the world is higher now than it was in 2011. 

Nearly three-quarters of U.S. Muslims (73%) say there is little or no support for extremism among American Muslims, while about one-in-six say there is either a “fair amount” (11%) or a “great deal” (6%) of support for extremism within the U.S. Muslim community.  The overall American public is more divided on this question. While 54% of U.S. adults say there is little or no support for extremism among Muslim Americans, roughly a third (35%) say there is at least a “fair amount” of backing for extremism among U.S. Muslims, including 11% who think there is a “great deal.”

With regard to politics, two-thirds of Muslims (65%) say they do not think there is a natural conflict between the teachings of Islam and democracy, while three-in-ten say there is an inherent conflict between Islam and democracy.  Those who said there was a conflict were asked to explain, in their own words, why they think Islam and democracy clash. Some say that Islam and democracy have fundamentally incompatible principles and values (40% of those who say there is a conflict), others say the apparent conflict is because non-Muslims don’t understand Islam or because terrorists give Islam a bad name (16%), and still others say democracy is incompatible with all religion (9%).

The Muslim population in the U.S. is growing and highly diverse, made up largely of immigrants and the children of immigrants from over 75 nations – although the vast majority are now U.S. citizens. Pew Research Center estimates that there are 3.35 million Muslims of all ages living in the U.S. – up from about 2.75 million in 2011 and 2.35 million in 2007. This means Muslims currently make up roughly 1% of the U.S. population.

Roughly six-in-ten U.S. Muslims ages 18 and over (58%) were born outside the U.S. The most common region of origin for Muslim immigrants is South Asia, where one-in-five U.S. Muslims were born, including 9% who were born in Pakistan. An additional 13% of U.S. Muslims were born elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific region (including Iran), 14% in the Middle East or North Africa, and 5% in sub-Saharan Africa.

The data also shows that Muslim Americans are a very young group. Most Muslim adults (60%) are under the age of 40. By comparison, just 38% of the U.S. adult population as a whole is younger than 40.  More detailed survey information can be found on the Pew Research Centre's website.

Shannon Roberts

Shannon Roberts is co-editor of MercatorNet's blog on population issues, Demography is Destiny. While she has a background as a barrister, writing has been a life-long passion and she has contributed...