Muslims are pretty much like the rest of us: RNS steps lightly through new survey

Despite the furor by Donald Trump and Ted Cruz over Muslims, those believers are pretty much like other Americans, according to a Religion News Service story on a new survey of various kinds of believers.

With this piece, RNS' Cathy Lynn Grossman shows her talent once more for turning survey numbers into timely news copy. She also proves her nimbleness: Just the other day, we shared a stage as speakers for the Reporting on Religion conference in Madison, Wisc.

Right in the lede, Grossman plugs in the survey results with the presidential primaries:

(RNS) This election season, Muslims face a slate of Republican candidates who demand curbs on immigration and compete over how tough they’d be on Islamic terrorism, if elected.
But a new survey finds U.S. Muslims are looking at American society and its future much the same as their non-Muslim neighbors. Like non-Muslims, the economy is their top concern. They are engaged in community life and share similar attitudes on several significant issues.

The article is upfront about the Muslim source of the survey and, through the main researcher, the motives:

The survey was issued Tuesday (March 15) by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, a nonprofit research group founded by Muslim professionals, primarily physicians and business entrepreneurs, to examine issues in the U.S. Muslim community and its relationship with the wider society.
The Muslim community is "both pious and patriotic, optimistic and weary of discrimination, similar to Jews in its politics, and much like Protestants in its religious practice," writes Dalia Mogahed, director of research for the ISPU and author of the report.

Given that, the topline results are still interesting, and Grossman trots through them briskly. They include:

* Muslims say the economy is a top priority in the 2016, just as Jews and Christians do. But Christians place it second, after national security, while Muslims place it third after Islamophobia. Unfortunately, though, the article doesn't define "Islamophobia," a politically loaded term if ever there were one.

* They're strong Americans: 85 percent say they have a "strong American identity," essentially the same as American Christians.

* They say they worship a lot: 4 in 10 say they attend religious services, just as Protestants do.

* Those who attend mosques are more likely to "work with their neighbors to solve community problems" -- a response to Americans who believe Islam is incompatible with American values.

* They often vote Democrat -- 44 percent, compared to 50 percent of Jews, the survey emphasizes.

* They report discrimination more than other believers -- 18 percent, versus 5 percent of Jews and lower rates among Catholics and Protestants.

* Most Muslims condemn targeting civilians -- either by the military or by "individuals or small groups."

The p.r. part of the survey shows through in findings like "There’s no correlation between Muslim attitudes toward violence and frequency of mosque attendance." The story goes straight down the middle in reporting this, neither questioning it nor promoting it. It's a delicate balance, requiring a light step, but RNS manages.

But the article does pick out a couple of paradoxes in the survey. One is that 85 percent of American Muslims say they plan to vote, but only 60 percent are registered. Maybe they don’t understand the process?

The other paradox is that although among Muslims who say they’ve suffered discrimination, they are more socially active than those who don't report having suffered it. Says RNS: "It’s not known from this study whether their experience is driving their activism or, because they are more active, they encounter discrimination more often."

But here's something else to beware: The institute assigned a margin of error of 3 percent for Catholics and Protestants, but 7 percent for Jews and Muslims. The latter is relatively high, especially when Muslims themselves are the main focus.

While praising the quick turnaround for this piece, I would have liked to read some feedback from religious leaders. One would be about the reports of discrimination. Protestants as a whole may say they haven't been targeted by bigotry, but what about the evangelical subset? Those Americans often complain of selective lawsuits, censorship and other marginalization, as Jerry Newcombe did in Worldnet Daily yesterday.

The RNS story would have also benefited from outside reactions. What would people from the Council on American-Islamic Relations or the Islamic Society of North America think of the survey results? How about the imams of major mosques? I'd even like to see reactions from Christian and Jewish leaders, like those in the Jewish-aligned Religious Action Center or the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

I'd recommend you download and read the survey yourself, though. It has a few other interesting items that weren’t in the RNS report (although RNS linked to it).

One item is that "Muslims and Protestants have similar views of the role of religion in law," showing -- according to the survey -- that Muslims "may not envision a theocratic morality police as some have alleged to justify laws to 'ban sharia.' " The pollsters clearly steered clear of the point-blank question: "Do you favor including Shariah in American law?"


Please respect our Commenting Policy