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ING Responds to Recently Released Pew Poll Released, May 22, 2007: “Muslim Americans: Mostly Middle Class and Mainstream”
*Key Findings: Muslims are Mainstream
*Islam’s View on Terrorism is Clear & Unequivocal
*Media Coverage of Poll is Imbalanced
*Shared Responsibility in Advocating Against Violence and For One Nation
*Are Links Between Islam and Suicide Bombings Legitimate? Frequently Asked Questions and Answers
KEY FINDINGS: MUSLIMS ARE MAINSTREAM
The poll describes its key findings on the Pew website, or in the report. Generally positive, they include findings that Muslim Americans:
- Are largely assimilated, happy with their lives, and moderate with respect to many of the issues that have divided Muslims and Westerners around the world.
- Are a highly diverse population, yet one that is decidedly American in its outlook, values and attitudes. This belief is reflected in Muslim American income and education levels, which generally mirror those of the public.
- Are similar to American Christians in their religiosity. For example, U.S. Muslims are a little more likely than American Christians to say religion is “very important” in their life (72% and 60%, respectively) but a little less likely to say that they pray every day (61% vs. 70%). The two religious communities are about equally likely to attend religious services at least weekly (40% for Muslims vs. 45% for Christians). Thus in terms of the broad patterns of religiosity, American Islam resembles the mainstream of American religious life.
- Have a generally positive view of the larger society. Most say their communities are excellent or good places to live.
- Are hard-working and believe that hard work pays off in this society. Fully 71% agree that most people who want to get ahead in the United States can make it if they are willing to work hard.
- Are highly assimilated into American society. With the exception of very recent immigrants, most report that a large proportion of their closest friends are non-Muslims.
- Mostly believe that Muslims coming to the U.S. should try and adopt American customs, rather than trying to remain distinct from the larger society.
- Do not see a conflict between being a devout Muslim and living in a modern society by nearly two to one (63% to 32%).
- Reject Islamic extremism by larger margins than do Muslim minorities in Western European countries.
- Are far more likely than Muslims in the Middle East and elsewhere to say that a way can be found for the state of Israel to exist so that the rights of the Palestinians are addressed. In this regard, the views of Muslim Americans resemble those of the general public in the United States.
- Reject Islamic extremism by larger margins than do Muslim minorities in Western European countries, when compared with results from a 2006 Pew Global Attitudes Project survey.
Despite overall data widely indicating assimilation and mainstream attitudes, the most troubling aspect of the report was the finding that a number of younger Muslims expressed support (2% often, 13% sometimes, and 11% rarely) for suicide bombings in the defense of Islam under some circumstances. More on this finding later in this document.
ISLAM’S VIEW ON TERRORISM IS CLEAR & UNEQUIVOCAL
Just as Christian utterances and behavior do not always reflect mainstream teachings of Christianity, Muslim utterances and behavior do not always reflect mainstream teachings of Islam. There is absolutely no sanction or justification in Islam for suicide bombings that target civilians, regardless of the cause. Islam forbids the targeting or wanton killing of innocent civilians. Taking an innocent life is considered the most serious crime a person can commit against another, as is taking one’s own life through suicide. This principle is upheld by the Qur’an and prophetic sayings, and neither oppression nor injustice can contravene a moral principle. Those who adhere to such views are misguided about the very teachings of their faith and are conflating Islam with political struggles that affect Muslims. Islam is not a tribe or nation, but a moral and ethical code; those who use it for political purposes and objectives are defaming and negating the very spirit of religion, which is to uphold a moral and ethical value system.
MEDIA COVERAGE OF POLL IS IMBALANCED
Despite Muslim American repeated condemnations of terrorism and the fact that according to this poll most Muslim Americans overwhelmingly reject the tactic and are critical of Islamic extremism and al Qaeda, most of the media coverage has focused only on the one statistic involving Muslim youth, linking Islam with suicide bombings. Instead of focusing on the vast commonalities between all Americans, the media exploited pervasive stereotypes and enflamed our worst fears of terrorism by repeatedly citing, over days in most cases on cable news channels, only one statistic. In today’s political climate, this is very sad, as it is irresponsible. This poll could serve as a tool for dialogue and outreach on a number of important issues to all Americans, including non violence, rather than a source of fear and distrust that only serves to polarize communities instead of bringing us together as one nation.
SHARED RESPONSIBILITY IN ADVOCATING AGAINST VIOLENCE & FOR ONE NATION
Despite the low number that, according to the poll, believed harming civilians is justified, especially when contrasted with the overwhelming majority of Muslim Americans who reject that view, the reality is that even one person who holds this view is one person too many. This is why we have to continue to bring all people, Muslim youth included, closer together and why we must continue to engage in dialogue in order to build on our commonalities. We must all work together to emphasize that violence is not acceptable, and this is something that ALL Americans need to address because surveys have shown that it’s not only Muslims who may have this view.
The University of Maryland’s highly respected Program on International Public Attitudes, in December 2006, conducted a concurrent public opinion poll of the United States and Iran to determine the comparative views of each country’s citizens on a variety of questions (See: http://www.worldpublicopinion.org/pipa/pdf/jan07/Iran_Jan07_rpt.pdf).
One of the questions they asked was whether “bombings and other types of attacks intentionally aimed at civilians are sometimes justified?”
According to this poll, 80% of Iranians took the strongest position that such attacks “are never justified,” and another 5% said they were “rarely justified.” Only 11% called them “sometimes” (8%) or “often” (3%) justified.
Americans largely concurred, but at much different levels. 46% said that such attacks “are never justified,” while 27% said they were “rarely justified.” 24% saw them as “sometimes” (19%) or “often” (5%) justified. (p. 10 of report).
These figures are also strikingly higher than the 8% for the general Muslim American public quoted in the recent Pew poll (1% “often” and 7% “sometimes”) and about equal to the number quoted for young people under 30 (2% “often,” 13% “sometimes,” and 11% “rarely”).
So the problem of radicalism among old and young people is a shared challenge that must be addressed by all of us, not merely the responsibility of one community alone. As a nation, we must work together to challenge even one person in the community who may advocate violence against innocents, whether that violence takes place in schools, universities, or is connected
to a political cause. This is an effort and a conversation that we all need to be part of in addressing the general question of violence and related issues of alienation and exclusion.
ARE LINKS BETWEEN ISLAM AND SUICIDE BOMBINGS LEGITIMATE?
Absolutely not,is the short answer. Attempting to understand why then would anyone identifying with Islam justify suicide bombings, we’ve prepared the following answers to questions that are raised by the Pew poll statistic concerning the minority view of some Muslim youth on suicide bombings.
1)Who are these younger Muslim Americans who justify suicide bombings?
The Pew poll found that some younger Muslims expressed support (2% “often,” 13% “sometimes,” and 11% “rarely”) for suicide bombings in the defense of Islam under some circumstances. Since we have no more information about the respondents than anyone reading the report, it is difficult to speculate their demographics and what drove them to answer as they did. While this does not justify terrorism, the Pew poll did show that younger Muslim Americans often feel less assimilated than older members of the community. They may be, as young people often are, searching for their identity and feeling alienated due to perceptions of discrimination and disenfranchisement or lack of belonging and world events. Identifying with a more radical vision of Islam may be a way of anchoring themselves, and is symptomatic of many youth who don’t feel accepted by the mainstream society.
2) Why do you think they feel the way they do?
That’s a very difficult question to answer because it’s like asking someone to get into the mind of someone else who justifies suicide bombings. Moderate Muslim Americans can’t know the answer to that as much as Americans in general can’t speak for those who justify criminal activity. Moderate Muslims do know that anyone who justifies terrorism in the name of Islam does not speak for them nor should those individuals be allowed to speak for Islam.
While this issue can NOT be used to justify suicide bombings, according to the poll, younger Muslim Americans are more likely to say they have been victims of discrimination or intolerance based on their religion, and that around 42% (nearly half) of Muslims under the age of 30 say in the past year they have experienced verbal taunts, been treated with suspicion, been physically threatened or attacked, or been targeted by police because they are Muslims, compared with 29% (1 in 3) of Muslims who are 30 years old or older (p. 38)
They may also be feeling a sense of victimization borne out by a deep sense of injustice against Muslims worldwide. Part of this sentiment can be traced to foreign policy issues such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and other global conflicts where Muslims have often suffered as the victims, such as in Bosnia, Chechnya, Kashmir, Afghanistan, and recently in Iraq.
However, their view about suicide bombings is more likely due to their misguided understanding of Islamic responses to conflict, not having the benefit of adequate or appropriate information or knowledge about Islam.
3) What are moderate Muslims Americans doing about people within the Muslim American community who justify suicide bombings?
It is incumbent upon moderate Muslims, whom the poll has identified as the majority, to take this issue seriously and address it through education & other means in the mosques, Islamic centers, youth centers and weekend and fulltime schools. The true Islamic position on issues of terrorism must be clarified in those institutions.
Our organization, ING & all its affiliates since 1993 are playing an important role in increasing Islamic literacy of Muslims by addressing contemporary issues and teaching about Islamic perspectives through our speakers’ trainings and community seminars we conduct at Islamic centers and conferences throughout the nation. ING has also produced content that includes presentations on contemporary issues and answers to 150 Frequently Asked Questions about Islam and Muslims that could be put to use in this effort of educating Muslims about Islam.
Institutions and Seminaries of traditional learning and other national organizations such as the Nawawi Foundation, Zaytuna Institute, Alim Institute, Islamic Society of North America are similarly important in providing tools and knowledge to young people that is based on scholarly foundations rather than on random interpretations made by lay people.
Other mainstream regional and local organizations can and are playing a critical role in focusing upon and educating our young people in the true principles of Islam, fostering a sense of Muslim American identity, and cultivating a practice of Islam that is moderate and balanced.
4) What can Americans of other faiths be doing to help address this problem within the Muslim American community?
It is also vital for our friends and neighbors from other faiths to help in this effort by learning more about their Muslim neighbors, reaching out to them, providing consultation, advice or tools and being vigilant against stereotyping and prejudices that often lead to a sense of alienation that can result in such attitudes. Americans of other faiths must openly SPEAK OUT against stereotyping about any people when you confront it. It is also important to put this issue in perspective and see that violence is not only restricted to certain groups of people in the world, but unfortunately shared by all communities who perpetrate it in the name of nations, ethnic groups and ideologies. It’s also important that we address the root causes of violence, which are generally oppression, injustice and a suppression of human rights. The cycle of violence can only continue to hurt and destroy innocent lives and communities. Let us work together to end this cycle and create a society and world of peace and understanding.
We hope this bulletin helps to clarify a few of the issues raised by the recent Pew poll. Thank you. Feel free to write to us at [email protected]