Religious Protection
by Spencer Ackerman


Muslims Against Terrorism

It's difficult to document trends among American Muslims, since census data do not track religion. Yet, in 2003, John R. Logan, a sociologist now affiliated with Brown University's American Communities Project, used ancestry and place-of-birth information to conduct perhaps the most comprehensive demographic study to date of the American Muslim population. (Accordingly, Logan couldn't track African American Muslims, believed to comprise one-third of all American Muslims.) That population increased by about 85 percent since 1990 and now totals nearly 3 million Americans, though some Muslim organizations claim the figure is too low. Even accepting the blurred edges of his report, Logan found several surprising facts about the American Muslim population: Unlike other recent immigrant groups, and distinctly unlike Muslims in Europe, American Muslims are solidly middle-class and solidly integrated with their non-Muslim neighbors.

American Muslims tend to live in a few population centers, along the coasts and around Midwestern and Southern cities like Detroit, Chicago, and Houston. But, inside those metropolitan areas, enclaves--homogenous population clusters historically favored by recent immigrant groups--are surprisingly few. The ten metropolitan regions with the greatest concentration of Muslims tend to be ethnically integrated. With Detroit as the only exception, in both 1990 and 2000, every neighborhood with notable concentrations of Muslims was at least 60 percent white and only around 5 percent Muslim

Within those neighborhoods, American Muslims display healthy indications of upward social mobility. The median household income of American Muslims in 2000 was over $52,000, nearly the $53,000 reported by the median white household. Even the poorest households among American Muslim groups, North Africans, earned $40,000 on average in 2000--$6,000 more than blacks. The typical American Muslim in 2000 possessed 14 years of education (more than whites, Latinos, blacks, and Asians); and American Muslims of Middle Eastern descent, who possess the lowest levels of education, still record higher levels of education than whites, blacks, and Latinos. American Muslims are presently living in census tracts where nearly 60 percent of residents own their homes and over 35 percent of residents have college educations. "Overall," writes Logan, "the Muslim-origin population is characterized by high education and income with low unemployment."

An important contribution to Muslims' comfort with the United States comes not only from the diversity of the neighborhoods they live in, but from the diversity of the Muslims themselves within those neighborhoods. While Middle Easterners still constitute a plurality of foreign-origin American Muslims--at 49 percent of the American Muslim population--South Asians represent nearly 23 percent of the total American Muslim population, North Africans nearly 15 percent, and Iranians 13 percent. For Patel, the high levels of internal diversity within Muslim communities coupled with high levels of integration and have allowed American Muslims to avoid the theological and ethnic rigidities that often characterize Muslim discourse in the Middle East and South Asia. "There are no Muslim 'apostates' here," he says. "That's a huge thing."

The contrast with Europe couldn't be sharper. There, Muslim populations are heavily ghettoized, as becomes quickly apparent during a walk through Brussels or Amsterdam. Muslim immigration to Europe, like Mexican immigration to the American Southwest, is motivated chiefly by the pursuit of jobs--often any job, which frequently means menial employment with little prospect for advancement. A recent State Department study found that, in the most Muslim-populous European countries--Great Britain, France, Germany, Spain, and the Netherlands--the vast majority of Muslims have no access to higher education. Unemployment is disproportionately high: British Pakistani men have almost a 15 percent jobless rate, compared with 5 percent for white men; some French Muslim ghettos record 40 percent unemployment, compared with a national 10 percent. Muslim populations in Europe tend to be as homogenous as American Muslim communities are diverse: In the United Kingdom, most Muslims are South Asian; French and Spanish Muslims are overwhelmingly North African; German Muslims are predominantly Turkish. (Only in the Netherlands is there regional Muslim diversity, with relatively equal numbers of Turks and Moroccans.) Not surprisingly, most respondents told the State Department that they identify more as Muslim than with their European country of residence.