WASHINGTON – Two-thirds (67 percent) of all converts to Islam in the United States came from a Protestant background, according to the first nationwide survey to measure the demographics, attitudes, and experiences of Muslim Americans.
Not much was formerly known about the Muslim American population in terms of their attitudes and opinions, but the new survey by the Pew Research Center found that Muslim Americans, in comparison to the rest of the world, have the unique feature of consisting of a relatively large number of converts to the religion – nearly a quarter. Almost all conversions are native-born (91 percent) and almost three-fifths (59 percent) of converts to Islam are African American.
Most converts to Islam gave as reasons for their conversions: the appeal of Islam's teachings, the belief that Islam is superior to Christianity, or that religion "made sense" to them.
Only 18 percent of converts said family reasons, such as marrying a Muslim, was reason for conversion.
The new landmark study seeks to understand the growing segment of American society when little quantitative research about the attitudes and opinions of Muslim Americans has been conducted. It compares the attitudes of the Muslim population with those of the general U.S. population and Muslims worldwide and understanding the similarities and differences of this American population.
The study found that not only are Muslim Americans largely similar to the rest of the country in terms of income, education level, and economic satisfaction, they also share common values and attitudes and, in general, subscribe to a "decidedly" American worldview.
The majority of Muslim Americans have a generally positive view of society and believe in the American dream. A full 71 percent said they believe that if a person works hard they can be successful in the United States.
Moreover, despite the fact 65 percent of Muslims in the country are first-generation Americans they believe that Muslims living in the United States should try and adopt American customs instead of trying to remain distinct from society.
U.S. Muslims were also more likely than most European Muslims to describe themselves by nationality before religion. Only forty-seven percent of Muslim Americans think of themselves first as a Muslim before an American compared to Britain where 81 percent said they are first Muslim and then British.
Furthermore, an overwhelming majority of Muslim Americans – nearly two-to-one (63 percent – 32 percent) – do not see a conflict between being a devout Muslim and living in a modern society.
Yet most U.S. Muslims still say that religion is very important to them, similar to other Americans. Most pray every day and four-in-ten attend a mosque at least once a week. The majority of Muslims also accept the Koran as the word of their god, but only half says that it should be taken literally, according to the study. Instead, most Muslims say there are multiple ways to interpret the teachings of Islam.
Furthermore, U.S. Muslims, for the most part, reject Islamic extremism. However, there are sectors of the population where acceptance of the ideology is more popular.
For instance, younger U.S. Muslims are more likely than older Muslim Americans to say suicide bombing in defense of Islam can at least be sometimes justifiable.
Meanwhile, U.S.-born African American Muslims were less likely than other Muslim Americans to condemn al Qaeda.
The Pew Research Center conducted over 55,000 screening interviews in order to find a national sample of 1,050 Muslims living in the United States for the study.
There are an estimated 2.35 million Muslims out of a population of 301 million in the United States according to Pew Research Center.