Most Muslims are well integrated into American society
The picture drawn by the US media after an attempted lone-wolf attack is a familiar one. The suspect is a loner, someone who felt alienated by his or her larger community, who had “withdrawn” into religion, which had turned him into a terrorist. The often unspoken but implied idea is that Muslims are not a part of American society, that their religion makes them too much the outsider, that they will never accept American values.
Republican Party candidate for president Donald Trump has seized on this theme, arguing that immigrants to the United States (in particular, those who are Muslim) should be tested to make sure they possess these nebulous American values.
In reality, the vast majority of Muslims who call the United States home are integrated into American society. They have played a key role in helping US law enforcement deal with terrorism, are as likely to earn $100,000 or more as any other American and a greater proportion of them have college degrees than the general US population.
They have also played significant, award-winning roles in the country’s media and entertainment industries.
Muslim Americans were recently awarded some of the Online News Association’s top honours. Egyptian-American freelance photojournalist Sima Diab’s portrayal of Arabs’ lives won the James Foley Award for Conflict Reporting. (Foley was a freelance war correspondent who was executed by his Islamic State captors in August 2014.)
In Los Angeles, Rami Malek, one of the stars of the TV show Mr. Robot, won the Emmy for Best Actor in a Dramatic Series, a first for an Egyptian American.
So while Trump was proclaiming that “assimilation” is difficult for Muslims in America, he was ignoring almost 300 years of history. Researchers have shown that Muslims were in America before there was a United States and many fought in the Revolutionary war, the War of 1812, the Civil war, the first and second world wars, Korea, Vietnam, both Gulf wars as well as the war in Afghanistan. Muslim Americans continue to serve in the US military.
A 2016 survey by the Institute of Social Policy and Understanding found that Muslims who regularly attended a mosque were more likely to work with their neighbours to solve community problems and be registered to vote than those who don’t attend a mosque.
Well-known researcher Dalia Mogahed has shown through her work with her former employer, the polling firm Gallup, that Muslim Americans have a stronger belief in the US judicial system than other Americans, that a majority of them do not say that religion should play any role in the adjudication of law and that among those who do, the percentage is actually lower than the number of Protestant Americans who said religion should play a stronger role in legal proceedings.
A Pew Research study in 2011 showed: “Living in a religiously pluralistic society, Muslim Americans are more likely than Muslims in many other nations to have many non-Muslim friends. Only about half (48%) of US Muslims say all or most of their close friends are also Muslims, compared with a global median of 95% in the 39 countries surveyed.”
The Pew study also indicated that Muslim Americans also have a very open attitude towards the role of women in society, with more than 90% of respondents saying that women have a right to work outside the home.
The key here is the word “integrated”, rather than “assimilated”. Instead Muslim Americans are solidly integrated in US society, proud of their historical and religious heritage, but also proud to be Americans, a part of the diverse tapestry that is the real America.