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Muslims have the same fears about terrorism as other Americans

Picture of Shiite Muslims praying and demonstrating for peace outside the White House
After the attack in San Bernardino, California, Shiite Muslims pray while demonstrating for peace outside the White House on December 6, 2015.
Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

The Pew Research Center is a think tank based in Washington, DC. In 2011, it asked over 1,000 Muslims living in the US and over 1,000 other Americans: Do you think American Muslims want to adopt American customs — or remain distinct from larger society?

Most American Muslims said they thought Muslims wanted to assimilate into American customs. Responses from the general public, however, were quite different: 51 percent said they thought American Muslims wished "to be distinct from the larger American society."

Percentage of Muslims who want to become part of American culture is higher than what the general public believes Sarah Frostenson/Vox

The survey showed that the American public has misconceptions about how American Muslims envision their place in the country. And that allows politicians like Donald Trump to continue to claim that "there's no real assimilation" of Muslim Americans. This feeds into a xenophobic narrative that Muslims are so intrinsically different from the rest of America that it makes sense to bar their entry into the country.

The problem is this isn't true. When you start looking at how Muslims see their role in American society — and some of the mundane facts about how Muslims spend their time — you start to realize that American Muslims look a whole lot like any other American.

An estimated 3.3 million Muslims live in the United States

The Pew Research Center estimates that roughly 3.3 million Muslims lived in the US in 2015 — or, more simply put, Muslims make up about 1 percent of the entire US population.  But because the US Census does not collect religious data, firm numbers are difficult to come by and estimates can vary.

Pew anticipates the share of Muslims in the US will continue to grow. They project subtle increases; the share of Muslims is anticipated to hit 2 percent by 2050.

The majority, or 63 percent, of Muslim Americans are first-generation immigrants. But the Muslim American population isn't growing just because of immigration — 37 percent of Muslim Americans were born in the US, and Pew said immigration only accounted for half of the increase in the Muslim population from 2010 to 2015.

There are a few states, however, that have a larger share of Muslims living within their borders.

A map of where Muslims live in the US Sarah Frostenson/Vox

New Jersey has the highest number of Muslims — Muslims account for 3 percent of the population. And in states like New York and Arkansas, Muslims make up 2 percent of the population. In Washington, DC, Muslims also make up 2 percent of the population.

Pew’s work surveyed over 1,000 American Muslims about big issues — like how worried they are about terrorism — and small issues — like how much time they spend on Facebook

And they found that, in a lot of ways, American Muslims just look like the rest of the population.

To start, Muslims' everyday activities are just as mundane and predictable as the rest of the general public’s. Muslim Americans watch at least an hour of television every night, regularly recycle, and are avid college sports fans, as are other Americans.

Chart showing that Muslim Americans have many of the same behaviors and hobbies as other Americans Sarah Frostenson/Vox

And there are a whole bunch of other demographic ways where Muslim Americans essentially reflect the rest of the country. Here are a few more of the Pew survey’s findings:

  • Muslims are just as likely as other Americans to have a college degree — 26 percent of Muslim Americans, 28 percent of the general public.
  • Muslims chances of being self-employed or owning a small business are practically identical to other Americans — 20 percent of Muslim Americans, 17 percent of the general public.
  • Muslims are just as likely to be married as other Americans — 55 percent of Muslim Americans are married compared to 54 percent of the general public. Fewer Muslim Americans report being divorced, however — 6 percent versus 13 percent of the general public.
  • Most Muslim Americans registered to vote, and in the 2008 presidential election, 64 percent of Muslim Americans voted compared to 76 percent of the general public. An overwhelming 92 percent of Muslim Americans said they voted for Barack Obama; Only 71 percent voted for Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry in 2004.
  • Muslims are nearly as likely to live in a household that makes more than $100,000 as other Americans — 14 percent of Muslim Americans versus 16 percent of the general public. More Muslims do live in poverty than the general public, however — 45 percent of Muslim Americans report household incomes of $30,000 or less compared to 36 percent of the general public.
  • And like many other Americans, Muslims have close friends from a variety of backgrounds and faiths. Only 7 percent of Muslims interviewed said all of their close friends were also Muslim.

Muslim Americans have similar concerns about terrorism as the general population

Sixty percent of Muslim Americans expressed concerns about the rise of Islamic extremism in the US, compared to 67 percent of the general public.

Additionally, 72 percent of Muslim Americans said they were concerned about the rise of Islamic extremism around the world, compared to 74 percent of the general public.

Chart showing Muslims are just as concerned about terrorism as American public Sarah Frostenson/Vox

But there was one key difference: The general public was more likely to say Muslims supported extremist views than Muslims themselves

It makes sense that most Muslims in the US would say they were less likely to support extremist views, as the majority of Muslims denounce Islamic extremism, so why would Islamic extremism be increasing in their community?

Yet 40 percent of the general public believes there is a "great deal" of support or a "fair amount" of support for Islamic extremism among Muslim Americans, whereas only 21 percent of Muslim Americans agree.

Chart showing that Muslims do not perceive the same level of support for extremism among Muslims as the general public Sarah Frostenson/Vox

And 64 percent of Muslim Americans said there is no support for extremism or "not too much" support among Muslim Americans, compared to 45 percent of the general public.

Yet despite these glaring differences in perceived support of Islamic extremism among Muslim Americans, 66 percent of Muslim Americans still view their life as better in the US than in most Muslim countries. And only 16 percent have said that the American people are generally unfriendly toward Muslims.

So while some politicians are determined to portray Muslims as fundamentally different than the rest of America, this is an unfounded fear. Muslims have the same habits and same concerns as other Americans — they're just as worried about terrorism as anyone else living in the country. And they’re also just as likely to enjoy the same hobbies and pastimes as other Americans.

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