What will happen when Muslims outnumber Jews in the US by 2040?

For all the positive indicators for American Muslims, they are perceived negatively in some quarters.
Sunday 18/02/2018
A woman shouts slogans in support of the US Muslim community at Foley Square in New York City, last June.   	     (AFP)
Long-term struggle. A woman shouts slogans in support of the US Muslim community at Foley Square in New York City, last June. (AFP)

Estimates from the Pew Research Centre indicate that, by 2040, Muslims will replace Jews as the second-largest religious group in the United States after Christians. By 2050, the US Muslim population will total 8.1 million people, nearly double what it is today.

How will this growth affect the way America views Muslims? Will they be more of a threat or less?

Besheer Mohamed, the lead author of the Pew study, said Muslims will be more influential in American society.

“People who know more Muslims personally can have more positive views towards Islam and Muslims than people who don’t know Muslims. So, if there are more Muslims, then there will be more Americans that know Muslims personally,” Mohamed said.

Many Muslims in the United States are rising to the top of their chosen careers and many more are entering high positions in the federal government and in the ranks of state governments across the country.

“As Muslims will be here longer and become more established, we will see more Muslims in all walks of life with larger amounts of influence such as in Congress. We have already started to see it as there are more Muslims in Congress now than ten years ago,” Mohamed said.

Muslims in the United States tend to be as well off as the general US public; 24% of Muslims households in the US earn more than $100,000 a year compared to 23% of the general population. However, US-born Muslims are also more likely to start on the lower end of the salary scale, with 40% of Muslim households averaging less than $30,000 a year.

“Muslims are a younger population than the public overall, so they would have just finished their college degree and are looking for their first job, so they won’t be earning as much as someone who has been in the field for 20 years,” Mohamed said. “So, this is not a trajectory. It’s just where they are in their life at the time.

“Many US-born Muslims are African-American converts. African Americans, in general, tend to have lower incomes.”

The path a foreign-born Muslim takes to a high-paid job is usually different from the one of a US-born Muslim.

“Many foreign-born Muslims in the United States are here because they have skills that are in high demand. They are here with a high-paying job. Institutionally, they have good connections abroad, so they have been fast-tracked into success,” Mohamed said.

For US-born Muslims, success can depend on the extent to which their immigrant parents know how to navigate the American system. However, 24% of US Muslims have US-born parents. Many of them are children of converts. Mohamed said the latter group has the advantage of knowing the system.

For all the positive indicators for American Muslims, they are perceived negatively in some quarters.

Mohamed’s 2017 survey indicated that 50% of Americans do not see Islam as a part of mainstream society. “They think there is a conflict between Islam and democracy. So, there is tension,” Mohamed said. One respondent said: “There is no democracy in Islam.”

Some say there is a misunderstanding as the public does not understand Islam or that terrorists give Islam a bad name.

“A lot of people do not understand Islam. They think it is [the Islamic State] and that is not true,” one respondent said.

Others, however, said Islam’s teachings about gender and sexuality are not compatible with democracy. A respondent said: “Islam is not for freedom of women.”

Republicans and those who lean towards the GOP tend to hold much more negative views about Muslims and Islam than Democrats and those who lean towards the Democratic Party; 68% of Republicans asked said Islam is not part of mainstream American society, compared to 37% of Democrats. Republicans are twice as likely as Democrats to say there is a natural conflict between Islam and democracy, survey data indicated.

White evangelical Protestants are more reserved about Muslims and Islam than those in other religious groups. Nearly three-quarters of white evangelical respondents said there is a natural conflict between Islam and democracy and approximately half or fewer of those in other major religious groups express that view.

Older Americans and those with relatively lower levels of educational attainment tend to be more negative than others in their views about Muslims and Islam.

“Americans have a mixed set of views on Muslims and Islam,” Mohamed said. “The majority of Americans feel there is a great amount of discrimination against Muslims. They think there is more discrimination against Muslims than towards Blacks, gays, Jews or any other group we have asked about.”

Mohamed’s full 2017 survey of US Muslims can be found on the Pew Research Centre’s website.