Who are Muslim Americans?

Published: Friday, Sept. 9 2011 7:20 p.m. MDT

FILE - In this May 6, 2011, file photo Jebary Alsaade, right, and other Muslims prays at the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn, Mich.

AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File

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The events of 9/11 turned a bright spotlight on a religious group that was, until then, largely invisible to most Americans. Muslim Americans make up just half of 1 percent of the U.S. population, but since 2001, they have found themselves at the center of a series of high-profile political controversies. A recent study by the Pew Research Center goes behind the headlines to describe the rank-and-file members of this religious group, from their faith to their families to their social and political views and more.


Marriage rates among Muslim-Americans are similar to those among all Americans, but Muslim-Americans are much less likely to report being divorced. Fertility rates also appear to be somewhat higher among Muslim Americans, with women over 40 reporting an average of 2.8 children each, compared with an average of 2.1 among all Americans. As is typical of religious groups with high fertility rates, Muslim-Americans also tend to be younger on average than the general population. And a majority of Muslims are male, in part because immigrants from Muslim-majority countries are disproportionately male, and in part because more converts to Islam from the African-American community are male.


A significant portion of Muslim-Americans are immigrants to the United States. More than three quarters are first-generation immigrants or the children of immigrants. Of those who are immigrants, most have arrived in the U.S. since the year 2000 (40 percent) or during the 1990s (31 percent). In spite of the fact that most Muslim-Americans are foreign-born, most are also naturalized citizens. The Muslim-American community is quite racially diverse, with U.S.-born Muslim-Americans more likely to be black, while foreign-born Muslims are more likely to be white or Asian.


There is some evidence that Muslim-Americans, as a young, heavily immigrant and racially diverse group, have been disproportionately affected by the economic downturn. Unemployment rates are about the same for Muslim-Americans as for the general population, but underemployment is more common. And Muslim-Americans are more likely than others to find themselves in the lowest income brackets, whereas just four years ago their incomes were more comparable to those of the rest of the country. At the same time, Muslim-Americans are more positive than the general public about their personal financial situation, and they are also more likely to agree that most people can get ahead in life if they are willing to work hard.


Nearly all Muslim-Americans say they believe in Allah and the prophet Muhammad, yet at the same time, they also embrace a non-dogmatic approach to their faith. Most say there is more than one true way to interpret the teaching of Islam, and a majority also says many faiths can lead to eternal life. In this way, they differ from Muslims in the rest of the world, instead resembling U.S. Christians with their more inclusive attitudes. Muslim-Americans also tend to be highly active in their faith, with significant numbers saying religion is very important in their lives and attending mosque for prayer at least once a week.


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