The Thriving American Muslim - Macleans.ca

The Thriving American Muslim

New data shows that Muslims in the U.S. are pretty well assimilated. Here’s a theory or two on how to explain it.

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Yesterday’s NYTimes reported a pretty interesting Gallup poll that took a 2008 survey on quality of life indicators and focused on the results for American Muslims. According to the poll, Muslims in the US are far more likely to see themselves as “thriving” (41%)  than Muslims in any other country except Saudi Arabia (51%)  and Germany (47%). The comparable figure for Turkey is 18%, Egypt 13%, Pakistan 11%.  France is 23%, and England it is a eyebrow-raising 7%.

Furthermore:

Asian-American Muslims (from countries like India and Pakistan) have more income and education and are more likely to be thriving than other American Muslims. In fact, their quality of life indicators are higher than for most other Americans, except for American Jews.

Meanwhile:

American Muslim women, contrary to stereotype, are more likely than American Muslim men to have college and post-graduate degrees. They are more highly educated than women in every other religious group except Jews. American Muslim women also report incomes more nearly equal to men, compared with women and men of other faiths.

But this isn’t because of a relative lack of religiosity amongst American Muslims. In fact, “American Muslims are generally very religious, saying that religion is an important part of their daily lives (80 percent), more than any other group except Mormons (85 percent). The figure for Americans in general is 65 percent.”

As for politics: “By party identification, Muslims resembled Jews more than any other religious group, with small minorities registered as Republicans, roughly half Democrats and about a third independents.”

So the upshot of this seems to be that Muslims in the US are pretty well assimilated. Their profile along a host of quality of life indicators seems to track, or even exceed, figures for the US population as a whole.

Anyone have any thoughts on how to explain this? Some possibilities:

1. The Richard Posner argument: American-style capitalism is the most powerful mechanism for social integration in the world. By having a system with a relatively weak social safety net (compared to Britain and France), everyone is forced to work, which (paradoxically, perhaps) socializes people into that very system.

2. America attracts a much more ambitious and upwardly-mobile Muslim immigrant. These are the people who would likely be thriving no matter where they live. This skews the US numbers.

3. American Muslims are as likely as any other American to buy into the cult of optimism and self-advancement in that country; so even though they may not be doing as well by objective measures as Muslims in other countries, they self-report as far more satisfied because of ideological commitment.

I’m sure there are other more plausible explanations for the data. It is probably a combination of factors — if I read Posner right, he sees 1 and 2 as complimenting one another.  It might help to have a better sense of the racial cross section of American Muslims – the poll reports that 35 percent are African Americans, but that’s it. Thoughts?

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