Survey: Muslim Americans, White Evangelicals Similar in Religious Fervor

The religious intensity of Muslim Americans is most similar to white evangelicals and black Protestants, according to a recent analysis of a landmark survey.

Although believers of Islam and Christianity are often portrayed as polar opposites or even antagonists, the new study on how Muslims compare to mainstream Americans showed that in many aspects Muslims and white evangelicals in America share many commonalities.

The Pew Research Center found that 72 percent of Muslim Americans, 80 percent of white evangelicals, and 87 percent of black Protestants say religion is "very important" in their lives.

These high percentages stand in contrasts to Catholics, only 49 percent of which said religion was "very important" in their life, and white mainline Protestants, only 36 percent of which responded likewise.

Moreover, Muslim Americans are similar to white evangelicals and black Protestants in their tendency to personally identify themselves first by their religion before their nationality.

Sixty-two percent of evangelicals, 55 percent of black Protestants and 47 percent of Muslims think of themselves first as a follower of their religion before describing themselves as an American.

In comparison, only 31 percent of Catholics and 22 percent of white mainline Protestants said they foremost consider themselves Christian before an American.

Religious holy books are also regarded highly by Muslims and the two Christian groups. They are more likely to regard their holy book as the word of God to be taken literally, word-for-word than Catholics and white mainline Protestants.

The majority of white evangelicals (66 percent) and black Protestants (68 percent) said they take a literal view of the Bible, while half of Muslim Americans consider the Koran as the literal word of God.

The percentage of those believing the Bible should be taken literally as the Word of God dropped under 30 percent for both Catholics and white mainline Protestants.

"None of this is to suggest that Muslims and Christians do not have distinctly different religious beliefs and practices," commented the analysis' authors Robert Ruby and Greg Smith.

"Nevertheless, the resemblance in religious intensity of Muslims to many groups that might think of themselves as wholly unlike Muslims is striking."

However, Muslims and white evangelicals are markedly different when it comes to their political orientation. Muslim Americas are more politically liberal than evangelicals and are similar to black Protestants, secular Americans and white mainline Protestants.

Only 11 percent of Muslims say they are Republicans or lean Republican - a figure similar to black Protestants (10 percent). In contrast, 57 percent of white evangelicals responded that they are Republicans or lean politically right.

Muslim American's left-leaning political stance was displayed during the 2004 presidential election where eight of ten Muslim voters (85 percent) supported John Kerry – a value similar to black Protestants (86 percent) and secular voters (67 percent).

Yet on the issue of homosexuality, Muslims take a similar position to white evangelicals with 61 percent saying the lifestyle should be discouraged by society. Similarly, 63 percent of white evangelical are oppose to homosexuality, according to Pew Forum.

"In many ways, Muslim Americans seem like a mosaic of many other American groups, sharing certain traits with these other groups while not being identical to any of them," concluded the study's authors. "They are anything but wholly apart; indeed, in important respects, Muslim Americans reflect the religious and political values held by most other Americans."