Given today’s tumultuous social climate, it’s not surprising that a July 2017 study by the Pew Research Center found that “nearly two-thirds of Muslim-Americans say they are dissatisfied with the way things are going in the U.S. today.”
Pew Senior Researcher Besheer Mohamed will explore key findings from the study “U.S. Muslims Concerned About Their Place in Society, but Continue to Believe in the American Dream,” while he is in Philadelphia for two events with AJC Philadelphia/Southern New Jersey at the end of the month.
He will be in town for a private breakfast Oct. 27 to discuss Muslims in America as well as on Oct. 26 at the National Museum of American Jewish History where he will speak at a meeting for Circle of Friends, which started two years ago by AJC Philadelphia to bring Muslims and Jews together for “dialogue on issues of mutual interest, to form new friendships and support social action and human rights.”
“We know that in the Jewish community, [results] in these kinds of studies dictates the kinds of programs that the community does. It talks about the needs, and it helps us to get a clearer picture and helps us to plan for the future so it’s the same with the Muslim community, that this will give us a snapshot and it will help us figure out how we can better work together in the future, what issues might be of interest to both Jews and Muslims to work on together,” according to Marcia Bronstein, the regional director of AJC Philadelphia/Southern New Jersey
Mohamed will seek to highlight parallels between findings of this study about Muslims with that of previous studies on Jews.
He’s contributed to previous studies on other religious groups such as Jews and Mormons, but his core interest has been on Muslims for many years, even serving as the topic for his dissertation.
The Pew Center has done previous studies on Muslim-Americans, the last of which in 2011. Mohamed said the timing seemed right to complete another one.
“We just felt like probably enough has changed that it’s worth exploring,” he said. “And there was some additional impetus or urgency for lack of a better term because Muslims were just such a topic of conversation throughout much of 2016.”
He noted, however, the study began prior to 2017 and even 2016, as it takes time and preparation to create the questionnaire and sampling plan.
The study explored questions about discrimination; societal perceptions of Islam; media coverage; patterns of gender-based discrimination and views, as “more Muslim women than men say that there is a lot of discrimination against Muslims in the U.S. today”; political affiliations; and more.
One of the more interesting results that stuck out to Mohamed was about equal rights.
“We asked some new questions about Muslims’ perceptions of other religious groups and ethnic groups,” he said, citing questions about discrimination toward Jews and Catholics as well as ethnic groups, such as African-Americans. “We specifically for African-Americans asked whether or not Muslims thought blacks have equal rights in the country or if the country still needs to do more to give blacks equal rights.”
The study found that Muslims were more likely than the public overall to believe that the country needs to do more to give African-Americans equal rights, he noted.
There were also new questions about room for interpretation of faith.
For Mohamed, the study provides an opportunity for others to learn more about a group they might not be too familiar with.
“One thing I think is really noteworthy … is the incredible diversity of Muslims in the U.S.,” he said. “We tend to talk about the Muslim American community or Muslim Americans in the U.S. and sort of paint them with a broad brush, but one of the things this survey really highlights is the great deal of diversity.”
The study’s title is noteworthy, too, he added, as it illuminates another key finding.
“There’s this really interesting tension when describing the Muslim community where on the one hand, Muslims do talk about experiencing discrimination, many say that they’ve personally experienced discrimination, and many believe that there is a lot of discrimination against Muslims in the U.S.,” he explained. “And on the other hand, Muslims are very committed to an American identity. The overwhelming majority — more than nine in 10 — said they’re proud to be American.”
Seventy percent expressed belief in the “American dream,” that most people can get ahead if they work hard.
He hopes that the public is able to learn more about those who are different from them in a clear and unbiased way, which makes his work rewarding.
“For a lot of these groups … we’re able to really bring forward information about them that just otherwise isn’t present,” he said. “So to the extent that we can bring to bear unbiased data to give these groups an opportunity to sort of speak for themselves and to represent themselves on issues that the public really is curious about, I feel like it’s a valuable service.”
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