From the 1880s to 1914, several thousand Muslims immigrated to the United States from the Ottoman Empire, and from parts of South Asia; they did not form distinctive settlements, and probably mostly assimilated into the wider society. Many of the slaves brought to colonial America from Africa were Muslims; it is estimated that 15 to 30 percent of the African slaves were Muslims.
Once very small, the Muslim population of the U.S. increased greatly in the 20th century, with much of the growth driven by rising immigration and conversion, and a comparatively high birth rate. In 2005, more people from Islamic countries became legal permanent United States residents — nearly 96,000 — than in any year in the previous two decades. In 2009, more than 115,000 Muslims became legal residents of the United States.
American Muslims come from various backgrounds, and are one of the most racially diverse religious groups in the United States according to a 2009 Gallup poll. Native-born American Muslims are mainly African Americans who make up about a quarter of the total Muslim population. Many of these have converted to Islam during the last seventy years. Conversion to Islam in prison, and in large urban areas has also contributed to its growth over the years. The immigrant communities make up the majority, with mainly people of Arab and South Asian descent.
American populace’s views on Islam
A nationwide survey conducted in 2003 by the Pew Research Center and the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life reported that the percentage of Americans with an unfavorable view of Islam increased by one percentage point between 2002 and 2003 to 34%, and then by another two percentage points in 2005 to 36%. At the same time the percentage responding that Islam was more likely than other religion to encourage violence fell from 44% in July 2003 to 36% in July 2005.
|July 2007 Newsweek survey of non-Muslim Americans|
|Muslims in the United States are as
loyal to the U.S. as they are to Islam
|Muslims do not condone violence||63%|
|Qur’an does not condone violence||40%||28%|
|Muslim culture does not glorify
|Concern about Islamic radicals||54%|
|Support wiretapping by FBI||52%|
|American Muslims more “peaceable”
than non-American ones
|Muslims are unfairly targeted by
|Oppose mass detentions of Muslims||60%||25%|
|Believe most are immigrants||52%|
|Would allow son or daughter to date
|Muslim students should be allowed
to wear headscarves
|Would vote for a qualified Muslim
for political office
The July 2005 Pew survey also showed that 59% of American adults view Islam as “very different from their religion,” down one percentage point from 2003. In the same survey 55% had a favorable opinion of Muslim Americans, up four percentage points from 51% in July 2003. A December 2004 Cornell University survey shows that 47% of Americans believe that the Islamic religion is more likely than others to encourage violence among its believers.
A CBS April 2006 poll showed that, in terms of faiths
- 58% of Americans have favorable attitudes toward Protestantism/Other Christians
- 48% favorable toward Catholicism
- 47% favorable toward Judaism
- 31% favorable toward Christian fundamentalism
- 20% favorable toward Mormonism
- 19% favorable toward Islam
- 8% favorable toward Scientology
The Pew survey shows that, in terms of adherents
- 77% of Americans have favorable opinions of Jews
- 73% favorable of Catholics
- 57% favorable of “evangelical Christians“
- 55% favorable of Muslims
- 35% favorable of Atheists
American Muslims’ views of the United States
|PEW’s poll of views on American Society|
|Agree that one can get
ahead with hard work
|Rate their community as
“excellent” or “good”
|Excellent or good
personal financial situation
|Satisfied with the
state of the U.S.
In a 2007 survey titled Muslim Americans: Middle Class and Mostly Mainstream, the Pew Research Center found Muslim Americans to be “largely integrated, happy with their lives, and moderate with respect to many of the issues that have divided Muslims and Westerners around the world.”
47% of respondents said they considered themselves Muslims first and Americans second. However, this was compared to 81% of British Muslims and 69% of German Muslims, when asked the equivalent question. A similar disparity exists in income, the percentage of American Muslims living in poverty is 2% higher than the general population, compared to an 18% disparity for French Muslims and 29% difference for Spanish Muslims.
Politically, American Muslims were both pro-larger government and socially conservative. For example, 70% of respondents preferred a bigger government providing more services, while 61% stated that homosexuality should be discouraged by society. Despite their social conservatism, 71% of American Muslims expressed a preference for the Democratic Party. The Pew Research survey also showed that nearly three quarters of respondents believed that American society rewards them for hard work regardless of their religious background.
The same poll also reported that 40% of U.S. Muslims believe that Arab Muslims carried out the 9/11 attacks. Another 28% don’t believe it and 32% said they had no opinion. Among 28% who doubted that Arab Muslims were behind the conspiracy, one-fourth of those claim the U.S. government or President George W. Bush was responsible. Only 26% of American Muslims believe the U.S.-led war on terror is a sincere effort to root out international terrorism. Only 5% of those surveyed had a “very favorable” or “somewhat favorable” view of the terrorist group Al-Qaeda. Only 35% of American Muslims stated that the decision for military action in Afghanistan was the right one and just 12% supported the use of military force in Iraq.
Daniel Pipes, Steven Emerson and Robert Spencer believe that a segment of the U.S. Muslim population hate America and a wish for violence towards the United States. Journalist Stephen Schwartz, American Jewish Committee terrorism pundit Yehudit Barsky, and U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer have all separately stated that there is growing “radical Wahhabi” influence in American mosques, financed by extremists. Barsky claims that 80% of U.S. mosques are radicalized.
Peter Bergen responds, by stating that Islamism is adopted only by a minority of U.S. Muslims, and that a “vast majority of American Muslims have totally rejected the Islamist ideology of Osama bin Laden“. International Institute of Islamic Thought Director of Research Louay M. Safi has questioned the motives of several noted critics, stating that members of the “extreme right” are exploiting security concerns to further various Islamophobic objectives. A 1998 United Nations report on “Civil and Political Rights, including Freedom of Expression” in the United States sharply condemned the attitude of the American media, noting “very harmful activity by the media in general and the popular press in particular, which consists of putting out a distorted and indeed hate-filled message treating Muslims as extremists and terrorists”, adding that “efforts to combat the ignorance and intolerance purveyed by the media, above all through preventive measures in the field of education, should be given priority.”
Nevertheless, Muslim groups such as the ISNA have taken steps to counter any extremist influence, and implemented assorted programs and guidelines in order to help mosques identify and counter any such individuals.
After the September 11, 2001 terror attacks by al-Qaeda, there was concern about the potential radicalization of American Muslims. A 2007 Pew poll reported that 15% of American Muslims under the age of 30 supported suicide bombings against civilian targets in at least some circumstances, while a further 11% said it could be “rarely justified.” Among those over the age of 30, just 6% expressed their support for the same. (9% of Muslims over 30 and 5% under 30 chose not to answer). A March 2010 Bipartisan Policy Center paper points out an increasing number of American Muslims are playing high-level operational roles in al-Qaeda and aligned groups, as well as a larger numbers of American Muslims who are attaching themselves to these groups.
More than 80% of all convictions tied to international terrorist groups and homegrown terrorism since 9/11 involve defendants driven by a radical Islamist agenda, a review of Department of Justice statistics shows.  Between 2001 and the end of 2009, there were 46 publicly reported incidents of “domestic radicalization and recruitment to jihadist terrorism” that involved at least 125 people between 2001 and the end of 2009. There had been an average of six cases per year since 2001, but that rose to 13 in 2009.
While the seeming increase in cases may be alarming, half “involve single individuals, while the rest represent ‘tiny conspiracies,’ ” according to Congressional testimony. Furthermore, a 2012 study by the University of North Carolina indicated that the yearly number of cases of alleged plots by Muslim-Americans appears to be declining. The total of 20 indictments for terrorism in 2011 is down from 26 in 2010 and 47 in 2009 (the total since 9/11 is 193). The number of Muslim-Americans indicted for support of terrorism also fell, from 27 individuals in 2010 to just eight in 2011 (the total since 9/11 stands at 462). Also in apparent decline is the number of actual attacks: Of the 20 suspects indicted for terrorism, only one was charged with carrying out a terrorist act. This number is down from the six individuals charged with attacks in 2010. The study’s author concludes that the “limited scale of Muslim-American terrorism in 2011 runs counter to the fears that many Americans shared in the days and months after 9/11, that domestic Muslim-American terrorism would escalate.”
Concern could also be expressed because of the number of Muslim-Americans among terrorism suspects: Though Muslims represent about 1% of the American population, they constitute defendants in 186 of the 228 cases DOJ lists. However, they also are significantly represented among those who tip authorities off to alleged plots: Muslim-Americans have given 52 of the 140 documented tips regarding individuals involved in violent terrorist plots since 9/11.
Disaffected Muslims in the U.S.
At least one American not of recent immigrant background, John Walker Lindh, has also been imprisoned, convicted on charges of serving in the Taliban army and carrying weapons against U.S. soldiers. He had converted to Islam in the U.S., moved to Yemen to study Arabic, and then went to Pakistan where he was recruited by the Taliban.
Other notable cases include:
- The Buffalo Six: Shafal Mosed, Yahya Goba, Sahim Alwan, Mukhtar Al-Bakri, Yasein Taher, Elbaneh Jaber. Six Muslims from the Lackawanna, N.Y. area were charged and convicted for providing material support to al Qaeda.
- Iyman Faris In October 2003 Iyman Faris was sentenced to 20 years in prison for providing material support and resources to al Qaeda and conspiracy for providing the terrorist organization with information about possible U.S. targets for attack.
- Ahmed Omar Abu Ali In November 2005 he was convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison for providing material support and resources to al Qaeda, conspiracy to assassinate the President of the United States, conspiracy to commit air piracy and conspiracy to destroy aircraft.
- Ali al-Tamimi was convicted and sentenced in April 2005 to life in prison for recruiting Muslims in the U.S. to fight U.S. troops in Afghanistan.