Monday, August 14, 2017

Fascinating new Pew poll on US Muslims: From religiosity to acceptance of homosexuality

by Salman Hameed

A new Pew poll on US Muslims came out earlier this month and I think it is absolutely fascinating. There is much focus on the way Muslims see themselves in the society and those results by themselves are interesting. For example, close of half of US Muslims report personally experiencing a case of religious discrimination in the past year. However, about half also report that they received expressions of support for being a Muslim. Both of these numbers are significantly up from 2007.

But couple of things that caught my attention. First of all, the opinions on religiosity are fascinating. About 60% of US Muslims identify themselves as "religious". The remaining are split evenly between "spiritual but not religious" (19%) and "neither spiritual nor religious" (21%). Now this last category reminds me a bit of the growing category of "Nones" - people who do not identify with any religious tradition (about 23% of US population). Now of course, here they are identifying themselves as Muslims (and 15% in this category consider religion "very important") and will be interesting to get an insight into this population.

Perhaps not too surprisingly, more than half of US Muslims say that traditional understandings of Islam need new interpretation. Of course, there are a lot of ambiguities in the question - nevertheless, the emphasis is on new interpretations:

Now the respondents were also asked what they think is "essential" for being a Muslim. Not surprisingly, 85% considered Belief in God as being essential - though 15% did not and may be the ones who are "neither religious nor spiritual". Love of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is next. But then it is followed by "Working for justice and equality in society" (69%) and then "working to protect the environment" (62%) before we get to "Following the Quran and Sunnah". Just by comparison, only 22% US Christians thought that working to protect the environment is essential to their Christian identity. So instead of "creeping Shariah", the worry should be creeping environmentalism? 

One of the surprising results from the Pew poll is the rising acceptance of homosexuality amongst US Muslims. This is an issue that was used politically after the Orlando nightclub shooting and Trump presented himself as a defender of LGBTQ rights against Muslims. Of course, we now know where he (and many of the Republicans) really stand on these issues. Nevertheless, over half of US Muslims say that homosexuality should be accepted by society and this number has almost doubled since 2007: 

Considering that 66% of US Muslims identify themselves as Democrats and that they are also likely to be more educated than the US general population, it is perhaps not surprising that the acceptance of homosexuality is high. However, the rate of change is striking and - again - this is something worth exploring. 

And while we are at it, the US Muslims are more against the killing of civilians than the general US public. Now some of this may be an overcorrection for Muslims (i.e. they may feel themselves a bit defensive on this particular question), but still 76% say that the targeting and killing of civilians can never be justified:

These were more or less positive aspects of the poll. On the negative side, half of the US public thinks that Islam is not part of mainstream society, with white Evangelicals expressing the most doubts on the place of Islam in the US society:

There is a lot more to explore in the survey. You can read get the full pdf here


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