The early days of Donald Trump’s presidency have been an anxious time for many Muslim Americans, according to a new Pew Research Center survey. Overall, Muslims in the United States perceive a lot of discrimination against their religious group, are leery of Trump and think their fellow Americans do not see Islam as part of mainstream U.S. society.
At the same time, however, Muslim Americans express a persistent streak of optimism and positive feelings. Overwhelmingly, they say they are proud to be Americans, believe that hard work generally brings success in this country and are satisfied with the way things are going in their own lives – even if they are not satisfied with the direction of the country as a whole.
Indeed, nearly two-thirds of Muslim Americans say they are dissatisfied with the way things are going in the U.S. today. And about three-quarters say Donald Trump is unfriendly toward Muslims in America. On both of these counts, Muslim opinion has undergone a stark reversal since 2011, when Barack Obama was president, at which point most Muslims thought the country was headed in the right direction and viewed the president as friendly toward them.
In addition, half of Muslim Americans say it has become harder to be Muslim in the U.S. in recent years. And 48% say they have experienced at least one incident of discrimination in the past 12 months.
But alongside these reports of discrimination, a similar – and growing – share (49%) of Muslim Americans say someone has expressed support for them because of their religion in the past year. And 55% think Americans in general are friendly toward U.S. Muslims, compared with just 14% who say they are unfriendly.
Despite the concerns and perceived challenges they face, 89% of Muslims say they are both proud to be American and proud to be Muslim. Fully eight-in-ten say they are satisfied with the way things are going in their lives. And 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.
These are among the key findings of Pew Research Center’s new survey of U.S. Muslims, conducted Jan. 23 to May 2, 2017, on landlines and cellphones, among a representative sample of 1,001 Muslim adults living in the United States. This is the third time Pew Research Center has conducted a comprehensive survey of U.S. Muslims. The Center’s initial survey of Muslim Americans was conducted in 2007; the second survey took place in 2011.
The new survey asked U.S. Muslims about a wide variety of topics, including religious beliefs and practices, social values, views on extremism and political preferences. While the survey finds that a majority disapprove of the way Trump is handling his job, this is not the first time the community has looked askance at a Republican in the White House. Indeed, Muslim Americans are no more disapproving of Trump today than they were of George W. Bush’s performance in office during his second term a decade ago.
And while Muslims say they face a variety of challenges and obstacles in the U.S., this too is nothing new. The share of U.S. Muslims who say it is getting harder to be a Muslim in America has hovered around 50% over the past 10 years. Over the same period, half or more of Muslims have consistently said that U.S. media coverage of Muslims is unfair.
The Muslim population in the U.S. is growing and highly diverse, made up largely of immigrants and the children of immigrants from all across the world. Indeed, respondents in the survey hail from at least 75 nations – although the vast majority are now U.S. citizens. As a group, Muslims are younger and more racially diverse than the general population.
Muslims also 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.
The survey also shows that Muslims largely share the general public’s concerns about religious extremism. Indeed, if anything, Muslims may be more concerned than non-Muslims about extremism in the name of Islam. Yet most Muslims say there is little support for extremism within the U.S. Muslim community, and few say they think violence against civilians can be justified in pursuit of religious, political or social causes.
Muslims concerned about extremism, both globally and in U.S.
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. This is similar to the percentage of the U.S. general public that shares these concerns (83%), although Muslims are more likely than U.S. adults overall to say they are very concerned about extremism in the name of Islam around the world (66% vs. 49%).
About seven-in-ten Muslims – and a similar share of Americans overall – are concerned about extremism in the name of Islam in the U.S., including roughly half of U.S. Muslims (49%) who say they are very concerned about domestic extremism.
Among both Muslims and the larger U.S. public, concern about extremism around the world is higher now than it was in 2011 (see Chapter 5 for details on trends over time).
While concern about extremism has risen, there is little change in perceptions of how much support for extremism exists among Muslims in the United States. 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.” (For more information about how the U.S. public views Muslims and Islam, see Chapter 7.)
When is killing civilians seen as justifiable?
To better understand what some people had in mind when answering this question about targeting and killing civilians for political, social, or religious reasons, Pew Research Center staff called back a small number of respondents and conducted non-scientific follow-up interviews. Many respondents – both Muslims and non-Muslims – who said violence against civilians can sometimes or often be justified said they had in mind situations other than terrorism, such as military action or self-defense. For more details on this question, see Chapter 5.
When asked whether targeting and killing civilians can be justified to further a political, social or religious cause, 84% of U.S. Muslims say such tactics can rarely (8%) or never (76%) be justified, while 12% say such violence can sometimes (7%) or often (5%) be justified.
This question was designed to be asked of the general public as well. Compared with the U.S. public as a whole, Muslims are more likely to say targeting and killing civilians for political, social or religious reasons is never justifiable (76% vs. 59%). Roughly equal shares of Muslims (5%) and Americans as a whole (3%) say such tactics are often justified (the difference between these numbers is not statistically significant).1
While U.S. Muslims are concerned about extremism and overwhelmingly opposed to the use of violence against civilians, they also are somewhat mistrustful of law enforcement officials and skeptical of the integrity of government sting operations. About four-in-ten U.S. Muslims (39%) believe most Muslims who have been arrested in the U.S. on suspicion of plotting terrorist acts posed a real threat. But three-in-ten (30%) say law enforcement officers have arrested mostly people who were tricked and did not pose a real threat. And an additional three-in-ten volunteer that “it depends” or offer another response or no response. Views on this topic among the general public are less divided: A majority of U.S. adults (62%) say officers in sting operations have mostly arrested people who posed a real threat to others.
Meanwhile, about a third of Muslim Americans say they are either very worried (15%) or somewhat worried (20%) that the government monitors their phone calls and emails because of their religion. However, on a different question – which does not mention religion – Muslims actually are less likely than Americans overall to think the government is monitoring them: About six-in-ten Muslims (59%) say it is either very likely or somewhat likely that the government monitors their communications, compared with 70% of the general public.
Roughly half of Muslims say they have experienced recent discrimination
In addition to gauging broad concerns about discrimination, the survey also asked Muslims whether they personally have experienced a few specific kinds of discrimination within the past year. The share of U.S. Muslims who say they have faced at least one of these types of discrimination has risen modestly in recent years.
About a third of Muslims, for example, say they have been treated with suspicion over the past 12 months because of their religion. Nearly one-in-five say they have been called offensive names or singled out by airport security, while one-in-ten say they have been singled out by other law enforcement officials. And 6% say they have even been physically threatened or attacked.
In total, nearly half of Muslims (48%) say they have experienced at least one of these types of discrimination over the past year, which is up slightly from 2011 (43%) and 2007 (40%). In addition, nearly one-in-five U.S. Muslims (18%) say they have seen anti-Muslim graffiti in their local community in the last 12 months.
Experiences with discriminatory treatment are especially common among those whose appearance identifies them as Muslim. Overall, about four-in-ten Muslims (38%) – including half of Muslim women (49%) – say that on a typical day, there is something distinctive about their appearance, voice or clothing that people might associate with Muslims. Of those whose appearance is identifiably Muslim, nearly two-thirds (64%) say they have experienced at least one of the specific types of discrimination asked about in the survey. Among Muslims who say they do not have a distinctively Muslim appearance, fewer report these types of experiences (39%).
While roughly half of Muslims say they have experienced a specific instance of discrimination over the past year, a similar share (49%) say someone has expressed support for them because they are Muslim in the past 12 months. The percentage of U.S. Muslims who report this type of experience is up significantly since 2011 (37%) and 2007 (32%)