Written by Michelle May
Most Muslim Americans are largely assimilated in the culture, happy with their lives and embracing the American dream, according to a comprehensive study released May 22 by the Pew Research Center. The poll also found widespread rejection of Islamic terrorism practices, such as suicide bombings.
The Pew study, conducted between January and April, was based on interviews with 1,050 Muslim American adults. It revealed a Muslim American population that is religious, diverse, socially conservative and politically liberal.
Nearly eight in ten U.S. Muslims say they are either "very happy" (24 percent) or "pretty happy" (54 percent) with their lives, according to the survey.
Among the survey's most important findings:
-- American Muslims are more moderate than Muslim minorities in Western Europe.
-- They have annual incomes and education levels that are comparable with the general public.
-- They believe Muslims coming to the United States should try to adopt American customs rather than separating from the larger society.
-- And like many other immigrant groups, they say hard work can lead to success in society.
The Muslim American population is estimated at 2.35 million, based on data from Pew and the Census Bureau, a figure that is on the low end of most estimates. Other surveys have put that figure as high as 6 million.
Support for religious extremism was also lower among U.S. Muslims than among those abroad, said Amaney Jamal, a politics professor at Princeton University. Only 1 percent of Muslim Americans say suicide bombings against civilian targets are "often" justified to defend Islam, and only 5 percent expressed "even somewhat favorable" opinions of al-Qaida.
"This is a group living as most Americans live ... a group aspiring to assimilate," said Andy Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center.
The results showed a stark contrast between the way Muslims living in America view their country and its way of life, compared with the populations of Muslims living in Western Europe. Higher percentages of Muslims in Great Britain, France and Spain said that suicide bombings in defense of Islam were "often or sometimes justified," according to the study.
Farid Senzai, director of research for the nonprofit Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, said Muslim Americans are succeeding and are happy with their lives because they have become part of the nation's fabric.
In Europe, Senzai said, many Muslim populations are "ghettoized" -- separated culturally and economically from the majority populations -- which creates gaps in education and income, and can lead to unrest.
Kohut credits the United States with doing a better job of assimilating immigrants and said the religiosity of the United States, a majority Christian nation, appeals to Muslims.
"It's a more inviting atmosphere than secular Europe," said Kohut.
Zogby International, a polling firm that works extensively in the Middle East, released a survey in 2004 that similarly found Muslim Americans to have a favorable outlook on life in America and a wish to be a part of the mainstream.
Still, Kohut said there are "pockets of sympathy for extremism," especially among young Muslim Americans under age 30, and among African-American Muslims. African-American Muslims are "much more disillusioned" with the American way of life and the U.S. government compared with non-African-American Muslims, said Kohut. The study said only 36 percent of African-American Muslims view al-Qaida "very unfavorably," compared with 58 percent of the general Muslim population.
Also, since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, a majority of Muslim Americans surveyed said they find it harder to live in America and think they are targets of surveillance and monitoring.
Only 40 percent of American Muslims said they believe Arabs carried out the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, which is similar to worldwide numbers. Muslim Americans also overwhelmingly oppose the war in Iraq.
The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.