Muslims in America

July 28, 2017 – Volume 27, Issue 27
Do Islamic beliefs conflict with American values? By Reed Karaim


Demonstrators at Los Angeles International Airport (Getty Images/Anadolu Agecny/Aydin Palabiyikoglu)  
Demonstrators at Los Angeles International Airport on Jan. 28, 2017, protest a temporary ban on Muslim immigration. Polls show Americans increasingly are concerned about terrorism committed in the name of Islam and question whether Muslim values conflict with U.S. values. But surveys indicate that more than half of Americans know little about Islam. (Getty Images/Anadolu Agecny/Aydin Palabiyikoglu)

Hate crimes against Muslims have been on the rise in recent years. A string of attacks by Islamist extremists has terrorized the United States and Europe, and anti-Muslim rhetoric during the 2016 presidential campaign by then-candidate Donald Trump and some of his supporters has helped create an anti-Muslim climate in the United States. Polls indicate that Americans have growing concerns about Muslim values and Islamist extremism, although surveys show that U.S. Muslims are a diverse community with values generally in line with those of most Americans. The nation's 3.3 million Muslim population is expected to grow to 8 million by 2050, and Islam will have surpassed Judaism as America's largest non-Christian faith. But most Americans say they know little about Islam and haven't had much contact with Muslims. Meanwhile, protests have erupted over a temporary ban ordered by Trump on travelers from six predominantly Muslim countries, and anti-Muslim groups have staged rallies — met with counterprotests — alleging that Muslims want to impose Islamic law in the United States.

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Jeremy Christian, of Portland, Ore., had a history of making hateful comments online about Muslims and other religious groups. But last May, according to police, he took his hatred to a lethal level.

On a train in Portland, Christian began screaming insults at two young women, one wearing a hijab, or Muslim head covering. When three men intervened, Christian fatally stabbed two of them and wounded the third, police said. He has been charged in their deaths.1

“He was saying that Muslims should die,” said Dyjuana Hudson, the mother of one of the two girls who were verbally assaulted in what Oregon Democratic Gov. Kate Brown later called “a crime of hate.”2

Elsewhere, Muslims in recent years have been shot, stabbed, punched while pushing a child in a stroller and beaten outside of their homes and mosques in what authorities consider racially or religiously motivated attacks. Mosques have been firebombed, defaced and otherwise vandalized.3

Such incidents, and especially the Portland attack, have helped focus national attention on a rise in anti-Muslim rhetoric and violence in the United States. Polls show that Americans increasingly are concerned about terrorism committed in the name of Islam and question whether Muslim beliefs conflict with American values. At the same time, surveys indicate that more than half of Americans know little about Islam or the roughly 3.3 million Muslims living in the United States.4

Such a lack of familiarity provides “fertile ground for misconceptions and stereotypes,” says Ihsan Bagby, an associate professor of Islamic studies at the University of Kentucky in Lexington.

Myhanh Best clutches the flag that draped the casket of her husband, Ricky (Getty Images/Scott Olson)  
Myhanh Best clutches the flag that draped the casket of her husband, Ricky, a 53-year-old Army veteran, during services on June 5, 2017, in Portland, Ore. Best was stabbed to death on a commuter train on May 26, along with Taliesin Namkai-Meche, 23, after trying to stop Jeremy Christian from taunting two teenage girls, one of whom was wearing a Muslim head covering. Christian was charged in the attack, which also injured Micah Fletcher, 21. (Getty Images/Scott Olson)

According to the FBI, the number of hate crimes against Muslims in the United States surged 67 percent in 2015, the latest year for which data is available, to 257 incidents — a level not seen since immediately after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York and at the Pentagon. According to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a national Muslim advocacy group in Washington that tracks such incidents, the spike continued in 2016 and in early 2017.5

The rise in violence cited by the FBI comes at a time when anti-Muslim rhetoric online has been on the rise and the number of anti-Muslim groups in the United States has tripled, growing from 34 to 101 between 2015 and 2016, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights advocacy organization in Montgomery, Ala., that tracks such groups.6

Meanwhile, a 2015 poll found that 56 percent of Americans believe Islamic beliefs are at odds with American values and way of life, up from 47 percent in 2011. And a 2017 Pew Research Center poll found that 72 percent of Americans are either somewhat or very concerned about Islamist extremism.7

Analysts cite several reasons for Americans' increasing suspicions about Islam. The United States' 16-year involvement in conflicts in predominantly Muslim countries in the Middle East has played a role, they say, as have multiple violent terrorist incidents in Europe and the Middle East tied to radical Islamist groups such as the Islamic State, or ISIS, and al Qaeda. Americans acting in the name of ISIS also have been responsible for attacks in the United States, including the 2015 killings in San Bernardino, Calif., that left 14 dead, and a mass shooting in 2016 at a nightclub in Orlando, Fla., that claimed 49 lives.8

Many experts also say President Trump's anti-Muslim rhetoric during his presidential campaign helped to create an anti-Muslim climate. Among other comments, Trump said Muslims were “sick people,” that “Islam hates us” and called for surveillance of mosques.9

In fact, surveys of attitudes and beliefs of U.S. Muslims reveal a far more complex picture than most Americans appear to realize. For example, because of the versions of the faith that dominate in conservative Middle Eastern societies such as Saudi Arabia, Islam is widely portrayed as hostile to the rights of women. But 90 percent of American Muslims believe women should be able to work outside the home, and nearly seven in 10 see no difference between male and female political leaders.10

The U.S. map highlights the share of the Muslim population by county.  

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All 50 states have Muslim residents. Most American Muslims live in Illinois, Michigan and New York, with heavy concentrations in Chicago, Dearborn and New York City. Significant numbers of Muslims also live in Texas, Florida and California. Because the information was gathered by surveying mosques, Muslims in counties without mosques might not have been counted.

Source: “Muslim Journeys, Item #169: Distribution of Muslim Population in the United States, 2010,” National Endowment for the Humanities, July 20, 2017,

American Muslims' attitudes toward homosexuality also have been rapidly growing more tolerant, with 45 percent saying in 2015 that homosexuality should be accepted by society, 9 percentage points more than among evangelical Christians.11

Several polls also have found that American Muslims overwhelmingly reject extremist violence. A 2011 Gallup poll found Muslims were “the least likely major religious group in the U.S. to say there is ever a justification for individuals or small groups to attack civilians.”12

American Muslims are also no more likely than Christians to say religion is important in their lives.13 Finally, a 2017 poll found that American Muslims are more likely than any other faith group to say they are satisfied with the overall direction of the country.14

“The single most dangerous stereotype is that Muslims do not like American society, do not buy into the American dream, are not integrating in the American society,” says Bagby.

Such stereotyping resembles past American attitudes toward other immigrant groups, including Irish Catholics and Eastern Europeans, says Zareena Grewal, an associate professor of religious studies and American studies at Yale University in New Haven, Conn. “There's always that bogeyman, this one population that [some people say] can't really be assimilated,” she says. “There's nothing new about this.”

Still, some observers of the Muslim community say that even if the majority fit into the national mosaic of religious and ethnic groups, a significant portion of American Muslims follows a dangerous political ideology they term “Islamism” — the belief all people should eventually come under the rule of a “caliphate,” or a fundamentalist Islamic state.

“What extremism exists is very dangerous and should not be underestimated,” says Sam Westrop, director of Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum, a conservative think tank and advocacy group in Washington that works to counter Islamism. Westrop believes Islamism is disproportionately represented in American Muslim leadership, although he said there is no accurate measure of how prevalent the ideology is. Muslim institutions from schools to mosques to advocacy groups “have been infiltrated by these people,” he contends.

However, the public perception that radical Islamists are behind most terrorist acts in the United States is in error. In the nearly 16 years since the 9/11 attacks, 73 percent of the violent extremist incidents in the United States were perpetrated by members of non-Muslim groups espousing far right political beliefs, according to data compiled by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). Islamist extremists were responsible for the other 27 percent.15

Trump has accused the press of covering up terrorist attacks perpetrated by Muslims around the world. “It's gotten to the point where it's not even being reported,” he said. “And in many cases the very, very dishonest press doesn't want to report it.”16

But Georgia State University researchers found the opposite is true: A terrorist incident committed by a Muslim gets, on average, about 4.5 times as much coverage in the U.S. press as a terrorist act committed by a non-Muslim. The authors of the study concluded this contributes to the American public's exaggerated sense of the threat of Muslim terrorism.17

Observers say groups such as ACT for America in Washington, which fights what it describes as the “threat of radical Islam,” have further stirred anti-Muslim sentiment by raising the specter that American Muslims seek to impose Sharia, or Islamic law, across the United States.

Muslims seem likely to remain at the center of an American political debate for the near future, at least. Trump has proposed temporarily banning immigration and visitors from six primarily Muslim countries, saying the move is necessary to protect Americans. The U.S. Supreme Court on June 26 overturned lower court rulings that the ban was discriminatory and allowed a limited version of it to go into effect. The administration also has not ruled out the possibility of requiring American Muslims to register with the federal government, something Trump mentioned during the campaign.18

As the United States wrestles with these and other issues concerning Muslim Americans, here are some of the fundamental questions being debated:

Are Islamic beliefs at odds with American values?

Islam's harshest critics characterize the religion as intrinsically violent and totalitarian in nature. They cite passages in the Quran, Islam's holy book, and the Hadiths, which contain accounts of the Prophet Muhammad's life and sayings, that they say require submission to Sharia and call Muslims to jihad, which they define as a holy war against nonbelievers.19

Islam, they say, does not recognize the separation of church and state, a bedrock value of secular Western democracies. Virulently anti-Islamic websites such as Jihad Watch paint a picture of Islam that is fundamentally at odds with American beliefs in individual and minority rights, peaceful disagreement and compromise.20

American attitudes about Islam also may be influenced by the attention given to the ultra-conservative and intolerant version of the faith, Wahhabism, practiced in Saudi Arabia, where women's rights are sharply curtailed and the legal system is based on harsh interpretations of Sharia that call for chopping off hands, stoning, flogging and beheading. Although the country's leaders condemn the terrorist acts of groups such as ISIS and have collaborated with the United States and other Western nations in battling jihadists, Saudis also support mosques and religious schools around the world that teach Wahhabi doctrine.21

The pie chart and two bar graphs display the percentage of Americans who know someone who is Muslim.  

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According to a 2016 Pew Research Center poll, 52 percent of American adults said they personally know someone who is Muslim, while 47 percent said they did not. Respondents ages 18 through 29 and those with college degrees were more likely to know a Muslim than older Americans or those with only a high school education. Note that figures do not add to 100 because 1 or 2 percent either did not know or refused to answer.

Source: “Republicans Prefer Blunt Talk About Islamic Extremism, Democrats Favor Caution,” Pew Research Center poll, Feb. 3, 2016,

Data for the graphic are as follows:

Category Percentage, based on age and education, who know someone who is Muslim Percentage, based on age and education, who do not know anyone who is Muslim
Ages 18–29 63% 36%
Ages 30–49 57% 42%
Ages 50–64 50% 49%
Age 65 and over 35% 64%
Post-graduate degree 83% 16%
College degree 72% 26%
Some college 55% 44%
High school or less 32% 66%

But Wahhabism, also called Salafism, is not the dominant strain of Islam across much of the Islamic world. And all but a handful of Muslim-majority countries modernized and secularized their criminal codes decades ago, according to Mustafa Akyol, a visiting fellow at the Freedom Project at Wellesley College.22

Most Islamic scholars and members of the Muslim community flatly reject the view of their faith promoted by Islam's U.S. critics, saying it selectively picks and distorts passages from the Quran and the Hadiths to stir up “Islamophobia,” or fear and hostility toward Muslims.

Corey Saylor, director of CAIR's Department to Monitor and Combat Islamophobia, says it misrepresents Islam to say the faith is hostile to people with different beliefs. “The Quran very clearly says that if God wanted to make everybody in the world Muslim he would have, and he chose not to,” he says, “and so Muslims know through our holy book that we're meant to live alongside others.”

Sharia is not meant to replace American law, he continues, but to guide Muslims in their personal lives and practices. “It's very clear that Muslims are expected to obey the laws of the land in which they live,” Saylor says. “I've been a Muslim for a long time, and there's no conflict in my mind to being a Muslim man in America.”

But Hillel Fradkin, who directs the Center on Islam, Democracy and the Future of the Muslim World at the Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington, says the idea of an Islamic state is a fundamental part of the religion. “It's not a misrepresentation of the faith to say that Islam is political and that the political part is terribly important in the original conception of Islam,” he says. “There's a very famous slogan within Muslim discourse: ‘There's no religion and there's no state in Islam, they're just one.’”

Akyol also points out that Islamist movements across the Muslim world seek to reorder government and society in accordance with Islamic laws, some vowing to do so through peaceful political means and others through violence.23 In addition, a 2013 Pew poll of Muslims worldwide found that a majority of them want Sharia to be the “law of the land” where they live, although interpretations differed on what living under Sharia would mean.24

Fradkin says American Muslims are not necessarily motivated by the idea of an Islamic political system. “There are a lot of Muslims who might accept the general statement that Islam is political without embracing a political [effort], either because they think it's not appropriate today, or they don't like the [particular] effort.”

Fradkin says is he is not surprised by poll results that show a majority of U.S. Muslims are satisfied with the American political system. “Muslims are a minority within this country, and they have every reason within the American context to be supportive of rights that protect them,” he says.

Muslim-American billionaire Hamdi Ulukaya, founder and CEO (Getty Images/Anadolu Agency/Dursun Aydemir)  
Muslim-American billionaire Hamdi Ulukaya, founder and CEO of the Chobani yogurt company, has received death threats for employing refugees. Calling for a boycott of the company, one critic tweeted: “That Muzzie that owns it is hell bent on filling Idaho with Muslims.” Ulukaya, who came to the United States from Turkey 23 years ago, employs both local residents and refugees in his yogurt plants in Idaho and upstate New York. (Getty Images/Anadolu Agency/Dursun Aydemir)

The University of Kentucky's Bagby says the American Muslim community in the 1980s, especially the newest immigrants and college students who had come from the Middle East, was inwardly focused. This was partly because of the religious traditions in their home countries, he says, and partly the influence of the Nation of Islam, an African-American offshoot of traditional Islam that supported black separatism.

“In the 1980s, there was a debate whether Muslims could really endorse a truly democratic system which allowed the ultimate authority to lie with people as opposed to God. There was a debate whether Muslims should really participate in the American system,” Bagby says. But by the late 1980s and into the 1990s, “the pendulum had swung towards a full embrace of principles of democracy and an embrace of the agenda of involvement in the American political system.”

However, Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, president of American Islamic Forum for Democracy, a small think tank in Phoenix that advocates for the separation of church and state, says U.S. Muslim leaders remain largely wedded to a vision of Islam that includes an Islamic state and does not embrace modern ideas involving individual rights and freedoms.

“I believe that 80 percent of American Muslims have values that are in line with American values. [But] they have had to find their way on their own. They have done so despite their leadership,” Jasser says. He asserts that the majority of mosques and Muslim activist groups are led by Islamists, still wedded to a political vision for Islam that is antithetical to modern democracy.

However, Patrick Eddington, a policy analyst in homeland security and civil liberties at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank in Washington, says the leadership record of Muslims in many walks of American life, including politics and the military — where nearly 5,900 Muslims were serving in 2015 — should answer any question about whether their beliefs conflict with American values.25

“We've had Muslim Americans living in this country since the founding, and there's not one instance that I'm aware of where a Muslim American who has run for office has advocated replacing the Constitution with Sharia,” he says. “The public record shows that Arab-Americans and Muslim Americans who have been elected to Congress have served with distinction and honor, so their very presence and commitment to our democratic institutions is a complete refutation of this nonsense.”

Are Muslim-Americans doing enough to discourage homegrown Islamist extremism?

After every significant terrorist attack in the name of Islam, either in the United States or abroad, the question arises in the media of whether American Muslims are doing enough to stop the radicalization of Muslims in their communities.

“Absolutely not,” says Jasser of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy. “They really are not. If you look at the resources — the bandwidth — that the community is spending on anything related to Islam, they are wasting resources on a focus on bigotry against Muslims,” Jasser says. “Yes, we should spend some resources on this, but the best use of our resources to counter bigotry is to lead a reform in our faith.” That reform, he continues, must include focusing on defeating political extremism among Muslims.

The Hudson Institute's Fradkin agrees. “The default position of many public Muslims has been to protest against Islamophobia rather than say that we have a problem here and we have to address it,” says Fradkin. “This is problematic because it discourages people from speaking out [in] their own community.”

But CAIR's Saylor says Muslims face a double standard: “I'm a white male, and nobody called on me to condemn the shooting yesterday,” referring to a June shooting at a baseball practice for Republican lawmakers and staff members in Alexandria, Va. “I'm also a Muslim, and if a Muslim had done that, my phone would not have stopped ringing.”

He also says the question ignores the reality of the responses from the leadership of CAIR and other Muslim organizations to terrorism. “The executive director of my organization was included on a short list of Western Muslims ISIS wanted to see assassinated,” Saylor says. “That is the result of us condemning them repeatedly. You've got to be doing something right if you're being condemned by ISIS.”

But even if they denounce terrorism and terrorists, Islamist Watch's Westrop says too many Muslim leaders and imams preaching in mosques support a rigid version of Islamism. “They may be genuinely opposed to terrorism, but the hatred they preach, the rhetoric they preach, they provide the ideological momentum to inspire these kids to pick up a knife,” Westrop says.

However, the CATO Institute's Eddington says that Muslim community leaders have cooperated with law enforcement officials to identify potentially dangerous individuals, earning praise from the Department of Homeland Security for their effort.26 Many also have worked to steer young Muslims away from the lure of extremist beliefs. Minnesota Somalis, for example, have made a dedicated effort to reach out to alienated Somali youths.27

“I don't think there's any question that folks within the community have done and will do an enormous amount,” Eddington says. But “there's no amount of denunciation of ISIS by the American Muslim community that would ever satisfy some of these critics.”

The constant need to defend Islam while denouncing jihadist groups has taken a toll on the psyche of American Muslims, says Haroon Moghul, author of How to be a Muslim: An American Story. “For Muslims, we continue to live in a permanent state of anxiety, of being blamed,” he says. “It's very hard for a community to mature and develop when it's under permanent scrutiny.”

Moghul, who says he was not particularly devout as a teenager, was an undergraduate leader at New York University's Islamic Center when the 9/11 terrorist attack thrust him into the spotlight as an explainer of his faith. His book is an account of his struggle to forge a unique Muslim identity while serving in the role, as he puts it, of “professional Muslim,” expected to publicly represent Islam.

He finds it frustrating that Muslims are constantly asked to define themselves in relation to terrorism. “As dangerous as ISIS is, as vile as al Qaeda is, these are not existential threats to America,” he says. “As a Muslim, it kind of feels like you're going crazy because you're trying to explain to people that this is a problem, but not the only problem.”

Islam includes people with a wide range of beliefs and personal experiences and different levels of devotion, Moghul continues. “There's not one Islam,” he says. Those who hold all Muslims responsible for speaking out against terrorism, he says, reduce the complexity of Muslim identity while simultaneously elevating its significance.

“It becomes this perverse feeling when you realize that your country is obsessed with you, and not in a healthy way,” Moghul says. “It's a really strange place to be when your [religious] identity becomes a kind of litmus test on where people stand politically.”

Should the United States restrict immigration and travel from Muslim countries?

A centerpiece of President Trump's anti-terrorism agenda has been a 90-day ban on immigration and visitors from six predominantly Muslim countries: Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen.

Shortly after taking office, Trump issued an executive order blocking travel from those nations and Iraq until more stringent screening procedures could be implemented. The order sparked mass protests and widespread confusion at airports about whether legal, green-card-holding residents would be allowed to re-enter the United States.28

The line graphic shows the growth in minority religious group shares of the U.S. population.  

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The 3.3 million Muslims living in the United States in 2015 represented about 1 percent of the U.S. population. By 2050, the number of Muslims is expected to grow to 8.1 million, or about 2.1 percent of the population, making them the second-largest religious group behind Christians, who made up nearly 71 percent of the population as of 2014.

Sources: Besheer Mohamed, “A new estimate of the U.S. Muslim population,” Pew Research Center, Jan. 6, 2016,; “Religious Landscape Study,” Pew Research Center, 2014,

Data for the graphic are as follows:

Year Jews Hindus Muslims
2010 1.8% 0.6% 0.9%
2015 1.8% 0.7% 1%
2020 1.7% 0.7% 1.1%
2030 1.6% 0.7% 1.4%
2040 1.5% 1.1% 1.8%
2050 1.4% 1.2% 2.1%

Federal courts halted the order on the grounds that it unconstitutionally discriminated against a specific religion. The administration responded by issuing a revised order in March, removing Iraq, a U.S. ally in the fight against ISIS, and making other changes designed to help it withstand legal challenges.29 The new order also no longer gave preference to Middle Eastern religious minorities for refugee resettlement, a provision viewed as anti-Muslim and pro-Christian, and clarified that legal U.S. residents would not be affected.30

However, federal judges in Hawaii and Maryland issued injunctions against implementing the revised order, saying it was still discriminatory. But this June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a limited version of Trump's ban could go into effect, pending a hearing on the full proposal this fall.31

When announcing the revised order, Cabinet members described it as essential to national safety. “The Executive Order … will make America safer, and address long-overdue concerns about the security of our immigration system,” said Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly. “We must undertake a rigorous review of our visa and refugee vetting programs to increase our confidence in the entry decisions we make for visitors and immigrants…. We cannot risk the prospect of malevolent actors using our immigration system to take American lives.”32

But critics of the ban say it makes little sense as a security effort. Notably, “it doesn't actually target the countries that have been the primary exporters of terrorism,” says the Cato Institute's Eddington. “The two countries at the top of the list for that are Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, and they're not even on the president's list.” Fifteen of the 19 attackers on 9/11 and mastermind Osama bin Laden were from Saudi Arabia.33

“To me, that alone illustrates that this is about politics, and essentially throwing red political meat at [Trump's] base, and not a serious attempt to address a problem,” Eddington continues.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions defended the choice of countries on the list. “Three of these nations are state sponsors of terrorism. The other three have served as safe havens for terrorists — countries where the government has lost control of territory to terrorist groups like ISIL [another name for ISIS] or al Qaeda and its affiliates. This increases the risk that people admitted here from these countries may belong to terrorist groups or may have been radicalized by them,” Sessions said.34

Flanked by his wife, Muslim-American lawyer Khizr Khan (AFP/Getty Images/Saul Loeb)  
Flanked by his wife, Muslim-American lawyer Khizr Khan brandishes his copy of the U.S. Constitution while speaking at the Democratic National Convention on July 28, 2016, in Philadelphia. Khan, the father of an American soldier killed in action in Iraq, offered to let Donald Trump borrow his copy of the Constitution and said the GOP nominee's promises to ban Muslims violated the document's Equal Protection Clause. (AFP/Getty Images/Saul Loeb)

But Eddington contends the ban would deprive the United States of valuable intelligence about terrorists that could be obtained from refugees as well as voices that could speak out against Islamist extremism.

“Who are the best witnesses we have to the horrors of ISIS?” Eddington asks. “The people who have fled from ISIS, and the vast majority of those folks have been … from Syria and Iraq.” Those are the very people who could “help to refute the ISIS narrative that they're building a Muslim paradise.”

The other key issue in the debate surrounding the executive order is whether it amounts to a de facto Muslim ban. Supporters of the ban contend the order's limited nature indicates it does not single out Muslims. “The seven affected countries represent 12.5 percent of all Muslim-majority states, a mere 8.2 percent of the world's Muslims. Because we Muslims make our homes in more than 183 nations around the world, these orders are neither global nor anti-Muslim,” Qanta A. Ahmed, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, an international affairs think tank in New York, said about the original proposal.35

Former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was among several administration officials who insisted at the time that the order did not target people of any religion. “It's not a Muslim ban,” he said.36

But in a ruling halting the ban, U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson in Hawaii cited the president's own words as contradicting that position. Watson referred to campaign statements in which Trump said Muslims were a national threat and that he planned to bar them from entering the United States.37 The most direct statement, in which Trump called for a “complete and total shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” was still on the campaign's website in May until reporters pointed it out to the White House.38

CAIR's Saylor says targeting Muslims undermines the United States in its battle against extremist groups by betraying the American principle of equal treatment for people of all religions. “Our war with ISIS is a battle of ideals, and I think we should be projecting our ideals because our American ideals are great, particularly in reaction to the devil-inspired ideals of these groups,” Saylor says.

But Jasser of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy believes an expanded list of nations could be in order. “As we develop our vetting system,” he says, “I hope that we start to include our so-called allies,” even those that come from a country with an Islamist ideology.

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Muslims have been part of the American landscape since before the country existed. Early records indicate that some of the first Spanish explorers to arrive in the New World in the 15th century were of Arab ancestry and Muslim.39 Spain, at the time, had only recently become a nation ruled by Christian nobles after several centuries in which North African Muslims, known as Moors, had governed much of the country.40

In the original 13 colonies, historians say, Muslims first arrived in significant numbers as early as the 17th century, brought as slaves from West Africa, where Islam had spread from the Middle East in the seventh century. Estimates of the number of Muslim slaves in early America range from a few thousand to a million or more.41

Although many Muslim slaves lost their faith or converted to Christianity over time, ethnographers in the 1930s recorded that some Islamic religious practices persisted for generations, including praying several times a day in the direction of Mecca. Islam appears to have been particularly strong among African-American families along the Georgia coast, according to historian Edward Curtis IV.42

Thomas Jefferson was one of several of the nation's founders who said the idea of religious freedom in the new nation was intended to include Muslims, referred to at the time as “Mahometans.” In his autobiography, Jefferson noted that Virginia's Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom, the forerunner of the religious freedom guarantee in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, was meant to embrace “within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and the Mahometan.”43

In the 19th century, immigrants from the Middle East, particularly Syria and Lebanon, brought their faith to the heartland of America, settling in Ohio, Michigan, Iowa and North Dakota.44 Muslim missionaries, many from Asia, also began traveling across the country seeking converts. As the 20th century got underway, they would find their most receptive audience within the African-American community.

20th-Century Life

In 1913, Timothy Drew, whose origins are obscure, founded a temple of worship for African-Americans in New Jersey that drew heavily on Islamic practices. In 1925, Drew founded the larger Moorish Science Temple in Chicago. Drew, known to his followers as Noble Drew Ali, taught that blacks were actually Moors whose Muslim identity had been taken away from them through slavery. Ali called for African-Americans to reclaim their Islamic identity, although his teachings differed from traditional Islam in several ways.45

Also in the 1920s, missionaries from the Muslim Ahmadiyya movement in India established their mission headquarters in Chicago, gathering adherents within the African-American community by teaching that Islam treated all followers equally and preaching against racial inequality in the United States.

“The Ahmadiyya newspaper, the Moslem Sunrise, regularly featured articles critical of Christian racism — an easy target to prove in the 1920s, as the Ku Klux Klan rose to prominence based partly on its appeal to a white Protestant version of Christianity,” wrote Curtis.46

These movements provided the roots of an enduring connection to Islam within the African-American community that would grow further in the 1930s with the establishment of the Nation of Islam, by Wallace Fard, whose past is also a mystery. The Nation of Islam combined Islamic practices and beliefs with a message that emphasized African-American self-sufficiency and black separatism.47

After Fard mysteriously disappeared in 1934, his follower Elijah Muhammad assumed leadership of the Nation of Islam, and by the 1960s it became the largest of many African-American Islamic groups in the United States, with more than 100,000 members.48 Among its most famous members were Muhammad Ali, the heavyweight boxing champion, and Malcolm X, an activist and writer who later embraced traditional Islam following a pilgrimage to the Middle East in 1964. Eventually, the Nation of Islam fractured into two different groups, one pursuing a more traditional version of Islam.

Other Islamic groups also attracted significant numbers of African-Americans during the 20th century. Today, African-Americans make up about 40 percent of native-born Muslims in the United States.49

While the African-American Muslim population was growing, immigration from largely Muslim countries in the Middle East had been severely curtailed by the 1924 National Origins Act. The law established quotas for immigrants from different countries and strongly favored Western European white nations. Syria, Turkey and Egypt, for example, initially were each limited to 100 immigrants a year, while Germany was allowed more than 51,000.50

Over the next several decades the U.S. government repeatedly tinkered with its immigration laws, but quotas were not formally abolished until the Immigration and Reform Act of 1965, leading to a wave of immigrants from around the world.

Rep. Keith Ellison, a Minnesota Democrat (Getty Images/Win McNamee)  
Rep. Keith Ellison, a Minnesota Democrat, became the first Muslim elected to Congress in 2007. In the wake of the anti-Muslim incident on a Portland train in May that resulted in the deaths of two passengers, Ellison accused President Trump of implicitly encouraging anti-Muslim acts. “This kind of thing is green-lighted by the president's rhetoric,” Ellison said. (Getty Images/Win McNamee)

From 1966 to 1997, about 2.8 million people from predominantly Muslim countries immigrated to the United States.51 Because immigration officials and the U.S. Census do not generally ask about religious preference, it is impossible to know exactly how many were Muslims, but one estimate places the number at more than a million.52 Students from Middle Eastern countries also began studying at U.S. universities.

The last decades of the 20th century saw a growing interest in religious study and devotion among the Muslim population, along with the growth of Islamic institutions across the country, according to historian Curtis. He estimated that perhaps more than 1,000 mosques and Islamic centers were established in the United States during the last three decades of the 20th century.

“They appeared wherever groups of Muslims lived — in small college towns, suburbs and inner cities,” Curtis wrote. “By 2000, there was no region of the country without some kind of Muslim mosque.”53

The influx of Muslim immigrants did not come without tensions, Curtis noted. Some of the students who arrived were supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, who believe the world would be better off living under Islamic codes.54 U.S. support for Israel was unpopular with members of the Palestinian immigrant community.55 Other Muslim immigrants supported the Iranian Revolution of 1979, in which 66 Americans were taken hostage in Tehran and held for more than a year.56 The U.S. war in Iraq in 1991 also increased tensions with parts of the Muslim world and the American Muslim community.

Between 1993 and 2000, Islamist militants attacked the United States on three occasions: in 1993, when they detonated a truck bomb in the World Trade Center, killing six people; in 1998, when they bombed U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing 226; and in 2000, when suicide bombers attacked the USS Cole in Aden, Yemen, killing 17 American sailors.57

But historians and analysts largely agree that the most significant shift in American attitudes toward Muslims occurred on Sept. 11, 2001, when members of al Qaeda hijacked four jet airliners and crashed three into the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Arlington, Va.58 A fourth plane was overtaken by passengers and forced to crash into the ground in Pennsylvania.

Impact of 9/11

The 9/11 attacks, which claimed nearly 3,000 lives and remains the deadliest terrorist incident in modern history, was perpetrated by 19 supporters of the Qaeda terrorist network, an extremist Islamic group dedicated to purging the Middle East of non-Muslims and establishing a caliphate across the region and, eventually, the world.59

In the aftermath, President George W. Bush made repeated public statements indicating the United States did not blame Islam for the attack and did not see itself at war with Muslims. “The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That's not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace,” Bush said in a speech at the Islamic Center of Washington, D.C., six days after 9/11. “These terrorists don't represent peace. They represent evil and war.”60

All the major U.S. Muslim organizations publicly denounced the 9/11 attacks. “American Muslims utterly condemn what are apparently vicious and cowardly acts of terrorism against innocent civilians,” the American Muslim Public Coordination Council, which included the largest Islamic groups, said in a press release after the attacks. “We join with all Americans in calling for the swift apprehension and punishment of the perpetrators. No political cause could ever be assisted by such immoral acts.”61

Despite these proclamations, a surge in hate crimes against Muslims — and dark-skinned people of other faiths — ensued. The FBI reported 481 anti-Islamic incidents in 2002, up from the 28 the previous year and the highest number ever recorded.62

In one of the most highly publicized crimes, on Sept. 15, 2001, Frank Roque, a 42-year-old airplane mechanic in Mesa, Ariz., murdered Balbir Singh Sodhi, a Sikh of Indian ancestry who owned a gas station in Mesa. Roque evidently thought Sodhi was a Muslim because he was wearing a turban. He also fired shots at the home of an Afghan-American family and the Lebanese-American owner of another gas station. On the night of 9/11, Roque had told patrons at a bar, “I'm going to go out and shoot some towel-heads.” When arrested by police he proclaimed himself “a patriot and an American.”63

The years after 9/11 were marked by increased tensions between the Muslim community, the U.S. government and some conservative Americans. Following the attacks, the U.S. government increased surveillance of Arab-Americans and visitors, a move that angered many Muslims. The U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 in response to claims, later disproved, that Iraq was harboring weapons of mass destruction, was also unpopular with much of the American Muslim population, which felt it was unjustified.64

Continued terrorist attacks made in the name of Islam, along with the rise of groups sharply critical of Islam as a faith, also contributed to rising suspicion about Islam in the United States, particularly among Republicans.65

The power of 9/11 to arouse strong emotions more than 14 years after the event was illustrated during the presidential campaign, when then-candidate Trump made the widely debunked claim that Muslims in New Jersey cheered when the Twin Towers in Manhattan collapsed after the attack.66

Author and former Islamic student leader Moghul believes 9/11 started a chain of events — the Iraq War, which led to the rise of ISIS, which led to increased concern about terrorism — that has contributed to public fears and insecurity, or “a sense of being unmoored,” which resulted in the election of Trump, he says.

“In many respects, we in America continue to live in September 11 even now,” Moghul says.

American Muslims Today

Because the U.S. Census does not ask respondents to identify their religious faith, figures about the U.S. Muslim population are based on polling data. In 2015, the Pew Research Center estimated the American Muslim population at 3.3 million, or about 1 percent of the overall U.S. population.67 About 63 percent of Muslims living in the United States are immigrants, according to Pew.68

Christians made up nearly 71 percent of the U.S. population, distantly followed by Jews at slightly less than 2 percent, according to a 2014 Pew study.69 But the U.S. Muslim population is growing faster than that of most religious minorities. Before 2040, Muslims will overtake Jews as the largest non-Christian religious minority, according to Pew. By 2050, the American Muslim population is expected to reach 8.1 million, or 2.1 percent of the overall population.70

Based on earlier Pew research, the Muslim population has much in common with the rest of the American population. “Comparable percentages say they watch entertainment television, follow professional or college sports, recycle household materials and play video games,” Pew reported in an extensive 2011 survey of U.S Muslim attitudes. The survey also found that about 33 percent of American Muslims say they have worked with other people from their neighborhood to fix a problem or improve a condition in the past year, compared to 38 percent of the general public.71

Pew also found that American Muslims were about as religious as Christians. The majority are not dogmatic about their religious faith: 57 percent said there is more than one way to interpret the teachings of Islam, while 37 percent said there is only one true interpretation of Islam.72

Most also are more tolerant of other religions than evangelical Christians are: Only 35 percent of American Muslims say Islam is the one true faith that leads to eternal life, while 51 percent of U.S. evangelical Christians believe theirs is the one true faith.73

Muslim-Americans, however, are much more likely to support the Democratic Party than other Americans. They also are younger, with very diverse origins. Foreign-born Muslims come from 77 countries, with no single nation accounting for more than 14 percent.74

Eboo Patel, the founder of Interfaith Youth Core, a Chicago group that promotes dialogue and shared community efforts among college students of different faiths, says he believes the diversity and generally tolerant attitudes of Muslim Americans do not get recognized because they don't fit the narratives of either U.S. Islamic leaders or those who fear Islam.

“Part of what Islamophobes want to do is convince people that Muslims are monolithic and that they're all extremist,” he says, “and part of what Muslim religious leaders want to do is convince people that Muslims are monolithic and they're all observant.” In truth, Patel says, his experiences working with young Muslims and the larger Muslim American community have taught him they are neither.

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Current Situation

Trump Policies

The Supreme Court's June 26 decision on Trump's travel ban has rekindled the debate over the president's authority to control immigration.

It also has reignited fears among some U.S. Muslims about the intentions of the administration. Nihad Awad, CAIR's executive director, said the ruling “ignores the anti-Muslim bigotry that is at the heart of the travel ban executive orders and will inevitably embolden Islamophobes in the administration.”75

The president had sought broad authority to block people from Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen from entering the United States for 90 days while the administration developed stricter screening procedures. It also wanted to halt refugee resettlement from all countries for 120 days while it conducted a review of screening policies.76

The lower courts had said the executive order discriminated against people of a particular religion, based on Trump's own prior statements about Muslims. But pending a full hearing on the order this fall, the Supreme Court said the administration can temporarily block the entry of people from the six countries, unless individuals have “a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.”77 In explaining its ruling, the court said the president's powers to control entry into the United States “are undoubtedly at their peak when there is no tie between the foreign national and the United States.”78

Legal analysts were unsure what constitutes a “bona fide relationship,” but some experts felt the decision would include a large number of individuals seeking to enter the country, including relatives of people in the United States, students accepted at a university and those coming for a job or to deliver a lecture.79

Despite the limited nature of the ruling, Trump hailed the decision as a “clear victory for our national security” in a White House statement. “My number one responsibility as commander in chief is to keep the American people safe. Today's ruling allows me to use an important tool for protecting our nation's homeland.”80

The court's decision was unanimous, but Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Neil M. Gorsuch said they would have allowed the entire ban to go into effect. Thomas also predicted the partial ban will result in a flood of litigation by people claiming they were improperly denied entry. “I fear the court's remedy will prove unworkable,” Thomas wrote in his dissent.81

Although the court scheduled a full hearing on the executive order for its next term, beginning in October, it may be unnecessary because the administration's 90-day review of screening policies probably will have expired by the time the court hears the case.82

While the ban was attracting attention, Trump made another decision in June that some Muslims see as evidence of the administration's negative attitude toward them. For the first time in 20 years, the White House did not host a dinner to mark the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month in which Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. When asked why Trump had canceled the dinner, White House press secretary Spicer responded, “I don't know.”83

But several Muslim leaders expressed their disappointment at the decision. It “doesn't send a good message,” said Talib Shareef, imam of Masjid Muhammad, known as the Nation's Mosque in Washington. “You get the chance to go golfing and all this other kind of stuff. How come you don't have time for a population of your society that needs some assistance? The message that it sends is that we're not that important.”84

Banning Sharia

In early June, ACT for America, the group that says it is fighting the “threat of radical Islam,” organized protests in about two dozen cities across the country against the potential imposition of Sharia in U.S. courts. David White, a spokesman for the group, described Sharia as a “barbaric code that executes LGBTQ people for their orientation, mutilates children and subjugates individual rights.”85

Opponents of Sharia believe some Muslims want to impose Islamic rule in the United States. They also say it violates the U.S. Constitution in its view of human rights. During the campaign, Trump seemingly endorsed the view that Muslims wish to follow their own laws, saying, Muslims “are not assimilating … don't want the law we have. They want Sharia law,” referring to the religious law imposed in some Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Iran.86

Demonstrators, including some Trump supporters (AFP/Getty Images/Sandy Huffaker)  
Demonstrators, including some Trump supporters, march along the beach in Oceanside, Calif., one of about two dozen protests on June 10, 2017, opposing what they fear could become the imposition of Sharia — or Islamic law — in U.S. courts. Many protesters were met by counter demonstrations in support of Muslims. Legal and Islamic scholars say there is no chance Islamic law will be imposed in U.S. courts. (AFP/Getty Images/Sandy Huffaker)

The anti-Sharia movement, however, predates the election. It began seven years ago in this country, when Oklahoma in 2010 passed a law banning Sharia from state courts. But a court later tossed it out for discriminating against a particular religion.

Since then nine states have passed similar laws, but to avoid the discrimination problem the subsequent bills did not identify Sharia by name. Instead they prohibited judges from applying any foreign law in a state court. Thirteen states, including Montana, considered similar laws this spring. Only Montana's law made it through the legislature, but the governor vetoed it.87

Muslim leaders and many scholars of Islam say the views of groups such as ACT for America represent a fundamental misrepresentation of Sharia, which Muslims interpret in various ways. Most do not see it as superseding the laws of the state.

“Sharia is not law in the sense that we understand it. Most Muslims who think about Sharia don't think of it as a book of statutes,” says Yale's Grewal. “It's really a body of Quran-based guidance that points Muslims toward living an Islamic, ethical life. When Muslims think of the question of how to be good, Sharia is the answer. “In other words,” she says, “it's the Muslim equivalent of ‘What would Jesus do?’”

Within that context, she says, many Muslims wish to be able to follow Sharia in their personal lives in the same manner that Jews or Catholics would follow the dictates of their faith.

Some conservative Muslims do want voluntary Sharia courts to arbitrate on issues such as marriage, divorce and inheritance, but that desire “should not be confused with making Shariah's harsh penal code the law of the land,” said Akyol, of Wellesley's Freedom Project.88 Such systems are similar to those established by other conservative U.S. religious communities — including evangelical Christians, Catholics, Orthodox Jews and Muslims — who have formed private networks of arbitration tribunals in recent decades to voluntarily resolve disputes within their communities, particularly relating to family law.89

Some anti-Sharia activists have conflated such religious tribunals run by mosques with “Sharia courts,” even though their rulings are nonbinding and work within the guidelines of U.S. law. In 2015 armed protesters showed up outside of a mosque in Irving, Texas, after rumors spread online that the city had imposed Sharia. But the Houston Chronicle tagged the rumor the “2015 Hoax of the Year,” pointing out that it was only a religious tribunal similar to those run by other faiths.90

Both legal and Islamic scholars dismiss the threat of Sharia being imposed in American civil courts as a manufactured concern. “There is no evidence that Islamic law is encroaching on our courts,” said a report by the American Civil Liberties Union. “Courts treat lawsuits that are brought by Muslims or that address the Islamic faith in the same way that they deal with similar claims brought by people of other faiths or that involve no religion at all.”91

Islamist Watch's Westrop believes some conservatives' obsession with Sharia serves as a distraction from the real threat of Islamist political ideology. “Sharia law has never been [fully] implemented anywhere in the history of the world. It's unworkable in modern society,” he says. The American political right “is more interested in Sharia than the Islamists are.”

This June's anti-Sharia protests were met in many cities by counter demonstrations in support of Muslims, which were often larger than the anti-Sharia gatherings.92 And anti-Sharia legislation has faced opposition among some politicians.

When Montana's Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock vetoed such legislation in April, he said, “There is absolutely no need for this bill,” adding that the intent of such bills “is to target a particular religion and group of people for disfavored treatment.”93

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Projections Differ

Most analysts agree the present political environment in the United States is as difficult for Muslim Americans as it has been since 9/11. The experts, however, are divided over whether anti-Islamic sentiment will peak or grow stronger.

The Cato Institute's Eddington believes the next five years could lead to increased government harassment and oppression of American Muslims. He cites the presence within the Trump administration's national security team of Sebastian Gorka, a Hungarian academic who has argued that violence is an intrinsic part of Islam's political ideology, and White House strategist Steve Bannon, who as a filmmaker in 2007 outlined a documentary-style film about radical Muslims taking over the country and remaking it into the “Islamic States of America.”94

With men such as Bannon and Gorka leading the effort, Eddington says, the Trump administration could use the fear of terrorism and the idea that Muslims are trying to establish Sharia in the United States to marginalize and systematically crack down on Muslim-Americans.

“People say there's no way that can happen again here,” Eddington says. “I point them to Manzanar [a U.S. internment camp for Japanese Americans during World War II]. A return to that kind of level of oppression is exactly what I'm really fearful of. Those who value the Bill of Rights and want to avoid the kind of oppression that we saw then need to be very vigilant.”

Retired engineer John Wider welcomes Muslims (Getty Images/David McNew)  
Retired engineer John Wider welcomes Muslims in the arrival hall at Los Angeles International Airport on June 29, 2017, the first day of the partial reinstatement of President Trump's controversial temporary ban on travelers from six Muslim-majority nations. Under a June 26 Supreme Court ruling, travelers from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen who lack a “bona fide relationship” with a person or entity in the United States are prevented from entering the country for 90 days. (Getty Images/David McNew)

Islamist Watch's Westrop also takes a dark view of the future, but for completely different reasons. “The only future I currently see is increased violence and radicalization of the Muslim community,” he says. “If the current level of Islamists in control of the U.S. Muslim community continues, we are simply going to see a greater number of American Muslims fall under the influence of Islamists, see more terror,” he says.

Westrop thinks that could lead to greater anti-Islamic sentiment. “If anything, we're going to see a reaction by certain sections of the American society angry that their politicians aren't doing anything,” he says. “And we're going to see increased acts [of violence against Muslims].”

But several Muslim analysts say the extreme nature of the anti-Islamic forces in the United States was likely to spur a backlash. “I think the tide has turned. I think this is the last hurrah for this Islamophobic sentiment. I think it will lead to a decisive counter-reaction against this narrative of hate and America will swing toward an embrace of the Muslim community,” says the University of Kentucky's Bagby.

Moghul, the author and activist, says the strength of the Muslim community should help it persevere. “There are a lot of reasons to be optimistic if you're an American Muslim — the talent in the community, the energy. There are a lot of good things happening, he says, “and when you add to that the fact that a lot of our most fervent critics are racist, I think it helps. I would much rather have a dumb neo-Nazi as my principal opponent than face a critical, reasoned critique of my religion.”

Yale University's Grewal believes the upcoming generation of Muslims will play a role in reshaping perception. “The Muslim Millennials are a really fascinating and important demographic that the American Muslim community has failed to take seriously enough,” she says. “They act and think much more like Millennials in general than they do like previous generations of Muslims, and they're really going to profoundly shape the future.” In their economic concerns and aspirations and their attitudes toward LGBTQ individuals and justice “they're just culturally, socially and politically much more similar to their generation than they are to their parents,” Grewal concludes.

Patel, founder of Interfaith Youth Core, says he has noticed that the average young person in America today is much more likely to know a Muslim than older generations. As the Muslim population continues to grow, he believes increased interaction will reduce the hostility toward Muslims.

“When people develop meaningful relationships with members of groups that they have generalized ideas about, their attitudes change. This is already happening in our public schools,” Patel says. “It's not just diversity, it's interaction that [enriches] American society.”

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Does Islam need a reformation?


M. Zuhdi Jasser
President, American Islamic Forum for Democracy; Co-Founder, Muslim Reform Movement. Written for CQ Researcher, July 2017

Devout Muslims living happily in America have already modernized and reformed our faith interpretations. On a daily basis, when we autonomously choose to accept the elements of personal Islamic Sharia (jurisprudence) that are compatible with American law and reject the incompatible elements, we have “reformed” our own personal faith interpretations and practice. But that is an artificial construct — a bubble created by an enlightened, free society that allows us that choice.

But Islam is not simply what a handful of Americanized Muslims may choose to do. Islam's legacy is more realistically defined by the dominant schools of thought of the world's 1.8 billion Muslims. And polls show that a majority of Muslims believe Sharia — Islamic law — should be imposed in Muslim-majority societies and the vast majority of the ideas and legalisms taught by the dominant thought leaders of Islam's establishment are Islamist, promoting a Muslim theocracy. These are incompatible with modernity.

With only minor differences, the dominant Sunni and Shia schools of thought worldwide emanate from similar, ultra-conservative Salafi-jihadi (extremist Islamist) interpretations of Islamic jurisprudence. From the Sunni madrassas of Pakistan (Deobandi) to Saudi Arabia (Wahhabi and Salafi), Qatar (Muslim Brotherhood), Egypt (Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi) and to the Shia schools of Iran and Iraq (Jaafari), this theological juristic establishment has fossilized and monopolized the overwhelming majority of what defines “normative” Islam across the planet. Muslims living in freedom undeniably have left these forces unchecked.

In a two-page “Declaration of our Muslim Reform Movement,” 14 Western Muslim thought leaders laid out core principles in desperate need of reform. For example, Islam will not be legitimately compatible with modernity until a majority of Muslims and their leadership believe in equal rights for women and minorities; free speech and the end of blasphemy and apostasy laws; the end of all violent jihad; the end of institutionalized “sharia;” politicized Islam and the idea of an Islamic state and caliphate. Legitimate Islamic reform will be realized only when mosque and state are separated in the minds of the majority of Muslims, when Muslims affirm the right of every individual to participate in reform and when we redefine and expand our ummah (community) to include all of humanity that accepts the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” adopted by the United Nations in 1948, while rejecting the draconian, Sharia-based “Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam.”


Zainab Arain
Coordinator, Department to Monitor and Combat Islamophobia, Council on American-Islamic Relations. Written for CQ Researcher, July 2017

Does Islam need reform? Absolutely not. Do some members of the faith community need to reform? Absolutely yes.

A verse in the Quran states, “This day I [God] have perfected your religion for you.” For Muslims, this is a testament to the perfection and infallibility of Islam as a divinely revealed religion. Muslims also believe that though the religion itself is flawless, human beings are not.

Islam's fundamental principles include justice, freedom, respect for life and the dignity of all people. The application of these ideals has varied across the social, political and geographical context at any given time, thus giving rise to enormous diversity within Islam. It is the drive to live by these religious ideals that animates American Muslim achievements today.

Inspired by the faith they believe is perfected, American Muslims form an integral part of the nation, whether as entrepreneurs like the CEO of the yogurt company Chobani or comedians such as Dave Chapelle. The approximately 50,000 American Muslim medical doctors save lives every day. American Muslims include prominent athletes such as the late boxer Muhammad Ali and Olympian Ibtihaj Muhammad. At a local level, Umma Clinic in Los Angeles provides free quality health care to the underserved. The Inner-city Muslim Action Network works to lift people out of poverty in Chicago. In 2016, Muslims donated 30,000 bottles of water to Flint, Mich., during the peak of its water crises.

The call for a reformation of Islam is often riddled with ill-defined and agenda-driven catchphrases such as “Islamism” and “Islamists,” which have become shorthand for “Muslims we don't like” and are used almost exclusively in a pejorative context.

No religion is inherently prone to violence. Rather, it is people in differing social, economic and political conditions who can be violent. For example, the actions of Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church, Eric Robert Rudolph and the Army of God and the cross-burning racists of the Ku Klux Klan are anomalous to the Christian faith. Rightfully, there has been no outcry or call for a reformation of Christianity because of these twisted uses of the religion. Some Christians need reform, not Christianity itself. This same standard holds true for all religions, including Islam.

Ultimately, it is not religion that needs reformation, but the external conditions and internal problems of people that require positive transformation.

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16th Century–18th CenturySlave trade brings up to 1 million Muslims from West Africa to the United States.
1777Thomas Jefferson writes the Virginia Statute for Establishing Religious Freedom, an early model of the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution; he later clarifies it was meant to include Muslims.
1907–1929Muslim immigrants from Eastern Europe and the Middle East establish a presence in the United States.
1907Tartar immigrants from Poland, Russia and Lithuania start the American Mohammedan Society in Brooklyn, N.Y., the nation's first Muslim organization.
1921The Ahmadiyya movement, started by an Indian Islamic sect, begins converting African-Americans to Islam in Chicago.
1929Muslim immigrants build one of the first mosques in the United States in Ross, N.D.
1930–1965African-Americans mix a message of black pride and nationalism with Islam to create indigenous Islamic movements.
1930Wallace Fard Muhammad, whose origins are obscure, founds the Nation of Islam in Detroit, combining Islamic beliefs with black separatism.
1963Muslim Students' Association is formed on college campuses, fostering a generation of young leaders who will become influential in national Muslim organizations.
1964Heavyweight boxing champion Cassius Clay converts to Islam; changes his name to Muhammad Ali.
1965Malcolm X, a former Nation of Islam leader, is assassinated by the group's supporters…. The Immigration and Naturalization Act eliminates entry quotas that favored European immigrants, allowing a surge in Muslim immigration.
1982–1995Muslim organizations and individuals gain greater prominence and influence in U.S. society.
1982Islamic students, leaders and professionals establish Islamic Society of North America, an umbrella organization for U.S. Muslim groups, in Plainfield, Ind.
1991Charles Bilal becomes the first Muslim elected mayor of a U.S. city — Kountze, Texas.
1993Islamist militants bomb the World Trade Center in New York City, killing six and injuring more than 1,000.
2000Islamist militants attack the USS Cole in Aden, Yemen, killing 17 seamen.
2001-PresentConcern about Islamist jihadism grows in the United States, especially after high-profile terrorist attacks. Donald Trump is elected president after saying Muslims should be banned from entering the country.
2001On Sept. 11, members of the radical Islamist group al Qaeda use hijacked planes to attack the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, killing nearly 3,000 people.
2007Rep. Keith Ellison, a Minnesota Democrat, becomes the first Muslim elected to Congress.
2010Oklahoma bans Sharia, or Islamic law, from state courts. A court overturns the measure as unconstitutional, but more than a dozen other states later consider similar measures.
2015U.S. Muslim population reaches 3.3 million.
2016Muslim American Omar Mateen kills 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., claiming he is acting on behalf of the jihadist Islamic State…. GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump calls for surveillance of mosques.
2017President Trump issues an executive order temporarily banning foreign nationals from certain predominantly Muslim countries from entering the U.S. After lower courts block the order, the Supreme Court rules it can take effect regarding non-citizens without strong ties to the United States.

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Short Features

“It is our responsibility … to reach out.”

In his years working to educate the public about Islam, Irfan Sheikh has been insulted and threatened. He has heard his faith disparaged repeatedly and has been told, via email, that someone was coming to shoot him.

His response has been to contact, whenever possible, the people insulting or threatening him. “I try to talk to them,” he says. “My hope is to be the messenger to tell people how much we have in common.”

Sheikh is the Arizona representative of GainPeace, a Chicago-based nonprofit that is part of an effort by Muslim groups, community centers, schools and mosques around the nation to foster understanding of their faith in the face of rising anti-Muslim rhetoric and hate crimes.

For Muslim immigrants who come from countries that are less open than the United States and who are not yet at ease with U.S. customs, such outreach does not come easy, Sheikh says. But he believes Muslims need to step up to help explain their religion to others.

“We have to realize that it's not one person, or two persons, who can do this. We have to realize it is all our responsibility,” he says. “We have to reach out.”

In Tucson, where Sheikh lives, the Islamic Center of Tucson invited people of all faiths to gather at the center last December to support peace and unity following one of the most divisive presidential elections in history. More than 200 people crowded into the center's prayer hall to hear Islamic, Jewish and Christian speakers resolve not to be divided by prejudice. The event was representative of an interfaith dialogue involving national Muslim organizations and individual mosques around the country.1

GainPeace plans to use billboards, ads on buses and fliers distributed at shopping malls and other venues to spread the message that Islam is not at odds with Christianity, Judaism or democratic principles. Sheikh says the materials will excerpt verses from the Quran that speak to shared values among different faiths.

Muslim schools also are reaching out. The Council of Islamic Schools in North America, the national accrediting agency for Muslim schools, has asked its 78 member schools to set up gatherings between their students and students at non-Muslim schools. For instance, in May on Long Island, N.Y., students at MDQ Academy, an Islamic school in Brentwood, visited a nearby Catholic high school, Saint Anthony's.2

“I hadn't really interacted with many Muslims before,” Chris Beirne, a St. Anthony's senior said while eating lunch with the visiting Muslim students. Beirne said such interaction is key to dispelling a misperception held by some Americans of Muslims as extremists.3

The Islamic schools council also asks its member schools to undertake volunteer efforts outside the Muslim community and to participate in local government.

A February poll by the Pew Research Center backs up the value of outreach. It found that 60 percent of Americans who know a Muslim personally believe there is little or no support for extremism among U.S. Muslims. Among Americans who don't know a Muslim, that falls to 48 percent.4

Some Muslims take an informal approach to encouraging dialogue. Members of the Ahmadiyya, an Islamic sect, with U.S headquarters in Silver Spring, Md., hold Coffee, Cake and True Islam events around the country in which members invite non-Muslims to stop by a local coffee shop for free pastry and coffee, courtesy of the Ahmadiyya members, who then offer to answer questions about Islam.5

Sheikh agrees that direct conversation forges the strongest connections. After the 9/11 attacks on New York and the Pentagon in 2001, he says he went to a Muslim bookstore in Chicago, where he was then living, to talk to friends who were feeling as distressed as he was.

While he was there, “a hostile guy” came in and started to insult Muslims and their faith, Sheikh recalled. But as the Muslims explained their own feelings of pain and anger, the visitor calmed down, and they were able to talk.

“I thought, ‘There are reasonable people,’” Sheikh says. “We will go on.”

— Reed Karaim

[1] “Interfaith Relations,” Muslim Public Affairs Council,

[2] Laila Kearney, “To ease fears, U.S. Muslim schools reach out to neighbors,” Reuters, May 12, 2917,

[3] Ibid.

[4] “Views of Islam and extremism in the U.S. and abroad,” Pew Research Center, Feb. 16, 2017,

[5] Dania Sohail, “Coffee, cake and Islam: U.S. Muslims reach out to explain faith,” The San Francisco Chronicle, June 14, 2017, Also see “Meet a Muslim,”, 2017,

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Muslims already make up nearly a quarter of the planet's population.

Muslims make up only slightly more than 1 percent of the U.S. population, with an estimated 3.3 million followers of Islam living in the United States. But globally, Islam is a proportionately much larger and more significant faith — one analysts expect to surpass Christianity to become the world's largest religion by the end of the century.6

There were about 1.8 billion Muslims in 2015, representing roughly 24 percent of the planet's population, according to an estimate by Pew Research Center. But Muslims have more children, on average, than members of other faiths. In addition, the Muslim population is young, with many just reaching child-bearing years, leading analysts to predict rapid population growth.7

In addition, contrary to popular perceptions, only about one-fifth of the world's Muslims live in the Middle East, where Islam originated in the 7th century. Muslims make up a majority of the population in 49 countries globally, according to Pew Research.8 Indonesia has the largest Muslim population — 205 million; Pakistan is second with 178 million, and predominantly Hindu India trails slightly with 174 million.9

During the hajj, or annual pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca (AP Photo/Sputnik/Mikhail Voskresenskiy)  
During the hajj, or annual pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia, Muslims pray while circling the Kaaba, a building that contains a sacred black stone, located in the courtyard of the Great Mosque. (AP Photo/Sputnik/Mikhail Voskresenskiy)

Islam has many smaller sects but two main traditional branches: Sunni and Shiite. The divide between the two branches dates back to a dispute over who should succeed the Prophet Muhammad as leader of the Muslim community following his death in 632. About 10–13 percent of the world's Muslims are Shiites, while the remaining 87–90 percent are Sunnis. Most Shiites live in just four countries, Iran, Pakistan, India and Iraq.10

Most Muslim nations in the Middle East are governed by authoritarian regimes. Saudi Arabia, a religiously conservative theocracy and one of America's closest Arab allies, is one of the world's worst human rights abusers, according to the nonpartisan Freedom House, based in New York and Washington, D.C., which tracks global democracy.11

Outside of the Middle East, several Muslim-majority countries, such as Indonesia, Mali and Tunisia, are democracies. India is the world's largest democracy.12 But extremist groups are pressuring the more-tolerant and pluralistic versions of Islam that prevail in Indonesia and Mali.13 In addition, predominantly Muslim Turkey — historically a secular, democratic society — has adopted increasingly conservative religious policies in recent years and curtailed the rights of dissidents and journalists under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.14

A survey by Pew Research published in 2013 found that most of the world's Muslims prefer a democratic to an authoritarian leader. The survey also found that overwhelming majorities of Muslims — more than 90 percent in most regions — say “religious freedom is a good thing.”15

Muslims also strongly reject violence against civilians in the name of Islam. “In most countries, the prevailing view is that such acts are never justified as a means of defending Islam from its enemies,” Pew concluded. However, in a handful of countries, a substantial minority of Muslims say violent acts against civilians are sometimes justified. That opinion is strongest in the Palestinian territories (40 percent) and Afghanistan (39 percent), two areas long wracked by violence.16

A majority of Muslims globally say they want Sharia — or Islamic law — to be “the law of the land” where they live, but many say Sharia should apply only to Muslims. Support for Sharia is highest in South Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East-North Africa and Southeast Asia, the 2013 survey found.17 Currently, only about a dozen Muslim countries have criminal codes based on Sharia.18

The survey also shows a wide divergence of opinion on how Muslims interpret Sharia and considerably less support for the most punitive aspects of Islamic law imposed in some strict Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia, where stoning is a legal punishment for adultery and where the government executed at least 157 people in 2015, most by beheading, according to Amnesty International.19

The majority also think “Western music, movies and television pose a threat to morality in their country,” Pew reported. But at the same time, many Muslims around the world say they enjoy Western entertainment on a personal level.20

— Reed Karaim

[6] Michael Lipka, “Muslims and Islam: Key finding in the U.S. and around the world,” Pew Research Center, May 26, 2017,

[7] Ibid.

[8] Drew Desilver and David Masci, “World's Muslim population more widespread than you might think,” Pew Research Center, Jan. 31, 2017,

[9] “Muslim populations by country: how big will each Muslim population be by 2030?” The Guardian, 2016,

[10] “Sunni and Shia Muslims,” Pew Research Center, Jan. 27, 2011,

[11] “Freedom in the World 2016,” Freedom House, 2016,

[12] Ibid.

[13] Krithika Varagur, “Indonesia's Moderate Islam Is Slowly Crumbling,” Foreign Policy, Feb. 14, 2017,

[14] For background, see Brian Beary, “Unrest in Turkey,” CQ Researcher, Jan. 29, 2016, pp. 97–120.

[15] “The World's Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society,” Pew Research Center, April 30, 2013,

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Mustafa Akyol, “Shariah's Winding Path Into Modernity,” The New York Times, July 13, 2017,

[19] “Saudi Arabia: beheadings reach highest level in two decades,” The Guardian, Jan. 1, 2016,

[20] “The World's Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society,” op. cit.

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Curtis, Edward , Muslims in America: A Short History (Religion in American Life) , Oxford University Press, 2009. A professor of religious studies charts the story of Muslims in North America since the arrival of slaves from West Africa to the British colonies.

Grewal, Zareena , Islam Is a Foreign Country: American Muslims and the Global Crisis of Authority , NYU Press, 2013. A professor of American and religious studies explores the struggles of young Muslim-Americans as they seek to balance their national identity and their faith.

Moghul, Haroon , How to be a Muslim: An American Story , Beacon Press, 2017. A Muslim student leader at New York University who unexpectedly found himself a spokesman for his faith following the 9/11 terrorist attacks explores his struggles to forge a unique Muslim-American identity.

Patel, Eboo , Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, in the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation , Beacon Press, 2010. The founder of Interfaith Youth Core, a national group that works to bring together young people of different religions, relates his personal journey of faith, which led him to embrace Islam.

Pipes, Daniel , Militant Islam Reaches America , W. W. Norton & Co.; Reprint edition, 2003. A historian and activist explains the distinction between Islam, the religious faith and the political ideology of militant Islamism, which he considers a significant threat to America.


Beinart, Peter , “The Denationalization of American Muslims,” The Atlantic, March 19, 2017, The anti-Islamic views once considered extreme even within conservative circles have gained currency within the Trump administration.

Burke, Daniel , “Anti-Muslim hate crimes: Ignorance in Action?” CNN, Jan. 30, 2017, Anti-Muslim crimes surged 67 percent last year, with mosques and individual Muslims the target of abuse and violence, even as more than eight in 10 Americans say they know little or nothing about Islam.

Ellis, Burke, and Tony Marco , “Group against Islamic law clashes with counterprotesters,” CNN, June 11, 2017, A series of nationwide protests against Sharia, or Islamic law, which organizers describe as incompatible with the U.S. Constitution, was met by counter-protesters who felt the protests unfairly targeted Muslim-Americans.

Muaddi, Nadeem , “The Bush-era Muslim registry failed. Yet the US could be trying it again,” CNN, Dec. 22, 2016, President Trump's proposal for more stringent screening procedures for visitors from six predominantly Muslim nations resembles a program initiated under President George W. Bush shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks that required males over 16 entering the United States from 25 countries to register and be fingerprinted, photographed and interviewed by government officials. Suspended in 2011, the program never identified a single terrorist and was blamed for harming relations with the Muslim community.

Shear, Michael, and Adam Liptak , “Supreme Court Takes Up Travel Ban Case, and Allows Parts to Go Ahead,” The New York Times, June 26, 2017, The Supreme Court allowed part of President Trump's temporary ban on travel from six predominantly Muslim countries to proceed, pending a full hearing by the court this fall.

Reports and Studies

Lipka, Michael , “Muslims and Islam: Key findings in the U.S. and around the world,” Pew Research Center, May 26, 2017, This compendium of data from reports by the nonpartisan research center provides a wealth of information on the global and U.S. Muslim populations.

Maurer, Diane , et al., “Countering Violent Extremism: Actions Needed to Define Strategy and Assess Progress of Federal Efforts,” U.S. Government Accountability Office, April 2017, The federal agency charged with auditing government programs says the nation has failed to develop a cohesive strategy to counter violent extremism.

Mogahed, Dalia, and Youssef Chouhoud , “American Muslim Poll 2017: Muslims at the Crossroads,” Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, March 2017, A Michigan-based research and policy institute polled Muslims and Americans of other faiths to determine how Muslim-American attitudes and beliefs compared to those of the overall population on a range of issues. They found U.S. Muslims satisfied with the overall direction of the United States.

Telhami, Shibley , “What Americans really think about Muslims and Islam,” Brookings Institution, Dec. 9, 2015, A study of several polls finds Americans have a generally unfavorable opinion of Muslims, although those who know a Muslim have a much more favorable opinion.

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The Next Step

Homegrown Extremism

Pelley, Scott , “How an American became the leader of an ISIS cell,” CBS News, July 2, 2017, The account of how a U.S. teenager from Minneapolis was exposed to the radicalization of Islam perpetuated by the Islamic State, or ISIS, and eventually joined the terrorist group.

Rich, Maxine , “The US cannot arrest its way out of violent extremism,” The Hill, July 2, 2017, After detainment and arrest, authorities must evaluate the dedication of potential homegrown Islamist extremists to determine whether they can be de-radicalized.

Ruiz-Grossman, Sarah , “Most Of America's Terrorists Are White, And Not Muslim,” The Huffington Post, June 24, 2017, Right-wing extremists are found to be twice more likely to commit acts of domestic terrorism in the United States than Islamist extremists.


Bade, Rachael, and John Bresnahan , “House rejects controversial study of Islam,” Politico, July 14, 2017, The House rejected, 208–217, a controversial bill that aimed to better identify potential extremist material, including “Islamic religious doctrines, concepts or schools of thought.” Critics said it would unfairly target Muslims.

Vedantam, Shankar , et al., “When Is It ‘Terrorism’? How The Media Cover Attacks By Muslim Perpetrators,” NPR, June 19, 2017, New research shows that the media labels violent acts by Muslim perpetrators as “terrorism” more often than violent acts committed by non-Muslims.

White, Abbey , “Conservatives claim Linda Sarsour called for holy war against Trump. Here's what she really said,” Vox, July 12, 2017, Critics misquoted Muslim-American activist Linda Sarsour when they accused her of calling for a “holy war” in a recent speech.

Sharia Bans

Akyol, Mustafa , “Shariah's Winding Path Into Modernity,” The New York Times, July 13, 2017, A visiting fellow at the Freedom Project at Wellesley College says some parts of Sharia conflict with Western values, but says American Muslims are not calling for Sharia to be imposed in this country.

Caina Calvan, Bobby , “Montana Governor Rejects Bill Banning Shariah Law in Courts,” The Associated Press, U.S. News & World Report, April 6, 2017, The governor of Montana vetoed a bill that would have banned Sharia and other foreign laws from the state's courts.

Samee Ali, Safia, Ali Gostanian, and Daniella Silva , “ACT for America Stages Marches Against ‘Sharia Law’ Nationwide, Arrests Made,” NBC News, June 10, 2017, An anti-Sharia group led several marches against Islamic law and were met with large numbers of counter-demonstrators supporting Muslims, leading to various confrontations nationwide.

Travel Bans

Dixon, Lance , “A Muslim and a Jew urge the Supreme Court to strike down the Muslim ban,” Los Angeles Times, July 10, 2017, In a joint op-ed, two individuals from different religious backgrounds draw on their shared religious roots and history to argue against the administration's travel ban.

Manchester, Julia , “Hawaii judge weakens Trump travel ban,” The Hill, July 14, 2017, A federal judge has ruled that the government cannot enforce the temporary ban on travel from six majority-Muslim nations on extended family members of U.S. residents.

Ngai, Mae , “Why Trump is making Muslims the new Chinese,” CNN, Jan 30, 2017, The author compares the administration's travel ban on six Muslim dominated countries to another immigration order from U.S. history, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

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American Islamic Forum for Democracy
PO Box 1832, Phoenix, AZ 85001
Founded in 2003 by Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, a former U.S. naval officer, to confront what it describes as “political Islam,” an ideology that rejects church-state separation and fundamental human rights.

Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)
453 New Jersey Ave., S.E., Washington, DC 20003
Muslim civil rights and advocacy group with regional offices nationwide whose mission includes enhancing understanding of Islam, protecting civil liberties and empowering Muslims.

Institute for Social Policy and Understanding
6 Parklane Blvd., Suite 510, Dearborn, MI 48126
Provides research on Muslim life in America and develops policy recommendations.

Interfaith Youth Core
141 W. Jackson Blvd., Suite 3200, Chicago, IL 60604
Promotes cooperation and understanding between people of different religions, faiths and secular communities, focusing primarily on college campuses.

Islamic Society of North America
6555 S. County Road, 750 E. Plainfield, IN 46168
An umbrella organization for Muslim individuals and groups around the nation; promotes public education on Islam and inter-faith dialogue between Muslims, Christians and Jews.

Middle Eastern Forum
500 Walnut St., No. 1050, Philadelphia, PA 19201
Works to define and promote Western values in the Middle East and opposes efforts to bring the world under the control of Islamic law.

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[1] Matthew Haag and Jacey Fortin, “Two Killed in Portland While Trying to Stop Anti-Muslim Rant, Police Say,” The New York Times, May 27, 2017,

[2] Maxine Bernstein, “MAX attack unfolded quickly: Extremist cut three in neck, police say,” The Oregonian/OregonLive, June 2, 2017,

[3] Daniel Burke, “Anti-Muslim hate crimes: Ignorance in action?” CNN, Jan. 30, 2017,

[4] Besheer Mohamed, “A new estimate of the U.S. Muslim population,” Pew Research Center, Jan. 6, 2016, Michael Lipka, “Muslims and Islam: Key findings in the U.S. and around the world,” Pew Research Center, May 26, 2017,

[5] Azadeh Ansari, “FBI: Hate crimes spike, most sharply against Muslims,” CNN, Nov. 15, 2016, Also see “CAIR Report Shows 2017 on Track to Becoming One of Worst Years Ever for Anti-Muslim Hate Crimes,” Council on American-Islamic Relations, July 17, 2017,

[6] Melanie Eversley, “Report: Anti-Muslim groups triple in U.S. amid Trump hate rhetoric,” USA Today, Feb. 15, 2017,

[7] Betsy Cooper et al., “Anxiety, Nostalgia, and Mistrust: Findings from the 2015 American Values Survey,” Public Religion Research Institute, Nov. 17, 2015, Jacob Poushter, “Majorities in Europe, North America worried about Islamic extremism,” Pew Research Center, May 24, 2017,

[8] Kurtis Lee, “Islamist terrorists have struck the U.S. 10 times since 9/11. This is where they were born,” Los Angeles Times, Feb. 7, 2017,

[9] Jenna Johnson and Abigail Hauslohner, “‘I think Islam hates us’: A timeline of Trump's comments about Islam and Muslims,” The Washington Post, May 20, 2017,

[10] “Muslim Americans: No Signs of Growth in Alienation or Support for Extremism,” Pew Research Center, Aug. 30, 2011,

[11] “U.S. Public Becoming Less Religious, Chapter 4: Social and Political Attitudes,” Pew Research Center, Nov. 3, 2015,

[12] “Muslim Americans: Faith, Freedom, and the Future,” Abu Dhabi Gallup Center, August 2011,

[13] Lipka, op. cit.

[14] Dalia Mogahed and Youssef Chouhoud, “American Muslim Poll 2017: Muslims at the Crossroads,” Institute for Social Policy and Understanding,

[15] Diana Maurer, “Countering Violent Extremism: Actions Needed to Define Strategy and Assess Progress of Federal Efforts,” Government Accountability Office, April 2017, p. 4,

[16] Philip Bump, “President Trump is now speculating that the media is covering up terrorist attacks,” The Washington Post, Feb. 6, 2017,

[17] Erin M. Kearns, Allison Betus and Anthony Lemieux, “Yes, the media do underreport some terrorist attacks. Just not the ones most people think of,” The Washington Post, March 13, 2017,

[18] Ben Kamisar, “Tillerson won't rule out Muslim registry,” The Hill, Jan. 11, 2017,

[19] Gregory M. Davis, “Islam 101,” Jihad Watch,

[20] Ibid.

[21] Scott Shane, “Saudis and Extremism: ‘Both the Arsonists and the Firefighters,’” The New York Times, Aug. 25, 2016,

[22] Mustafa Akyol, “Shariah's Winding Path Into Modernity,” The New York Times, July 13, 2017,

[23] Ibid.

[24] “The World's Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society,” Pew Research Center, April 30, 2013,

[25] Mariam Khan and Luis Martinez, “More than 5,000 Muslims Serving in US Military, Pentagon Says,” ABC News, Dec. 8, 2015,

[26] Michael Hirsh, “Inside the FBI's Secret Muslim Network,” Politico, March 24, 2016,

[27] Amy Forliti, “Advocates vow to continue work in Minnesota Somali community,” The Associated Press, Dec. 24, 2016,

[28] Dan Merica, “How Trump's travel ban affects green card holders and dual citizens,” CNN, Jan. 29, 2017,

[29] Steve Almasy and Darran Simon, “A timeline of President Trump's travel bans,” CNN, March 30, 2017,

[30] Katie Bo Williams and Jordan Fabian, “Trump signs revised travel ban that excludes Iraq,” The Hill, March 6, 2017,

[31] Michael D. Shear and Adam Liptak, “Supreme Court to Hear Travel Ban Case,” The New York Times, June 26, 2016,

[32] “Statement by Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly on President's Executive Order Signed Today,” U.S. Department of Homeland Security, March 6, 2017,

[33] “September 11th Hijackers Fast Facts,” CNN, Sept. 15, 2016,

[34] “Attorney General Jeff Sessions Delivers Remarks on Revised Executive Order Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry,” U.S Department of Justice, March 6, 2017,

[35] Qanta A. Ahmed, “Donald Trump's travel ban makes sense,” Newsday, Feb. 1, 2017,

[36] Peter W. Stevenson, “Trump says it's a travel ‘ban.’ His staff insisted it wasn't,” The Washington Post, June 5, 2017,

[37] “Ruling on Trump's second travel ban,” The New York Times, March 15, 2017,

[38] Christine Wang, “Trump website takes down Muslim ban statement after reporter grills Spicer in briefing,” CNBC, May 8, 2017,

[39] Edward E. Curtis IV, Muslims in America: A Short History (2009), p. 5.

[40] “Muslim Spain (711–1492),” BBC, Sept. 4, 2009,

[41] Curtis, op. cit., p. 4.

[42] Ibid., p. 17.

[43] James H. Hutson, “The Founding Fathers and Islam, Library Papers Show Early Tolerance for Muslim Faith,” The Library of Congress, May 2002,

[44] “Islam in America,” The History Detectives, PBS,

[45] “Moorish Science Temple of America, Religious Movement,”,

[46] Curtis, op. cit., p. 32.

[47] “A History of African American Muslims,” The Washington Post, Nov. 5, 2011,

[48] Ibid.

[49] “Muslim Americans: No Sign of growth in Alienation or Support for Extremism, Section 1: A Demographic Portrait of Muslim Americans,” Pew Research Center, Aug. 30, 2011,

[50] “Who Was Shut Out? Immigration Quotas, 1925–1927,” History Matters, A U.S. Survey Course on the Web, Jan. 3, 2017,

[51] Curtis, op. cit., p. 73.

[52] Ibid.

[53] Ibid., p. 91.

[54] Bryony Jones and Susannah Cullinane, “What is the Muslim Brotherhood?” CNN, July 3, 2013,

[55] Curtis, op. cit., p. 63.

[56] Janet Afary, “Iranian Revolution of 1978–79,” Encyclopedia Britannica, May 31, 2013,

[57] For background, see Peter Katel, “Global Jihad,” CQ Researcher, Oct. 14, 2005, pp. 857–880.

[58] “9/11 Attacks,”, 2010,

[59] “Worst Terrorist Attacks In World History,”, April 18, 2017,; Mary Habeck, “What does Al Qaeda want?” Foreign Policy, March 6, 2012,

[60] “Backgrounder: The President's Quotes on Islam,” The White House,

[61] “Muslim Americans Condemn Attack,” Islamicity, Sept. 11, 2001,

[63] Simran Jeet Singh, “A Unique Perspective on Hate-Crimes: The Story of a Convicted Killer,” The Huffington Post, Sept. 19, 2012,

[64] David A. Graham, “How Republicans Won and Then Lost the Muslim Vote,” The Atlantic, Dec. 9, 2015,

[65] “Republicans Prefer Blunt Talk About Islamic Extremism, Democrats Favor Caution,” Pew Research Center, Feb. 3, 2016,

[66] Glenn Kessler, “Trump's outrageous claim that ‘thousands’ of New Jersey Muslims celebrated the 9/11 attacks,” The Washington Post, Nov. 22, 2015,

[67] Mohamed, op. cit.

[68] Lipka, op. cit.

[69] “America's Changing Religious Landscape,” Pew Research Center, May 12, 2015,

[70] Mohamed, op. cit.

[71] “Muslim Americans: No Signs of Growth in Alienation or Support for Extremism,” op. cit.

[72] Ibid.

[73] Ibid.

[74] Ibid.

[75] David G. Savage, Laura King and Noah Bierman, “Supreme Court finds a compromise in reviving Trump's travel ban,” Los Angeles Times, June 26, 2016,

[76] Shear and Liptak, op. cit.

[77] Ibid.

[78] Ibid.

[79] Ibid.

[80] “Statement from President Donald J. Trump,” The White House, June 26, 2017,

[81] Savage, King and Bierman, op. cit.

[82] Ibid.

[83] Elle Hunt and David Smith, “Donald Trump abandons traditional White House Ramadan celebration,” The Guardian, June 26, 2017,

[84] Ibid.

[85] Amy Brittain and Abigail Hauslohner, “Anti-sharia group offers donors a private tour and cocktails at Trump hotel,” The Washington Post, June 20, 2017,

[86] Johnson and Hauslohner, op. cit.

[87] Matt Volz, “Montana Lawmakers Poised to Pass Anti-Sharia Law Measure,” U.S. News & World Report, March 20, 2017, Bobby Caina Calvin, “Montana Governor Rejects Bill Banning Sharia Law in Courts,” U.S News & World Report, April 20, 2017,

[88] Akyol, op. cit.

[89] Michael Broyde, “The rise and rise of religious arbitration,” The New York Times, June 26, 2017, Broyde's book, Sharia Tribunals, Rabbinical Courts, and Christian Panels: Religious Arbitration in America and the West, was published on May 31, 2017.

[90] Matt Levin, “The 2015 Texas Hoax of the Year: Rumors about Sharia courts,” Houston Chronicle, Dec. 23, 2015,

[91] “Nothing to Fear, Debunking the Mythical ‘Sharia Threat’ to Our Judicial System,” The American Civil Liberties Union, May 2011,

[92] James Doubek, “‘Anti-Sharia’ Marchers Met With Counter-Protests Around The Country,” NPR, June 11, 2017,

[93] Calvin, op. cit.

[94] Tina Nguyen, “5 Things to Know About Sebastian Gorka, Trump's Jihad Whisperer,” Vanity Fair, Feb. 21, 2017, Matea Gold, “Bannon film outline warned U.S. could turn into ‘Islamic States of America,’” The Washington Post, Feb. 3, 2017,

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About the Author

Reed Karaim, author of this week's edition of CQ Researcher  

Reed Karaim, a freelance writer in Tucson, Ariz., has written for The Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report, Smithsonian, American Scholar, USA Weekend and other publications. He is the author of the novel If Men Were Angels, which was selected for the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers series. He is also the winner of the Robin Goldstein Award for Outstanding Regional Reporting and other journalism honors. Karaim is a graduate of North Dakota State University in Fargo.

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Document APA Citation
Karaim, R. (2017, July 28). Muslims in America. CQ researcher, 27, 629-652. Retrieved from
Document ID: cqresrre2017072800
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ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Jul. 28, 2017  Muslims in America
Feb. 01, 2013  Unrest in the Arab World
Aug. 07, 2012  Islamic Sectarianism
Dec. 2007  Future of Turkey
Nov. 2007  Radical Islam in Europe
Nov. 03, 2006  Understanding Islam
Mar. 24, 2000  Islamic Fundamentalism
Apr. 30, 1993  Muslims in America
Civil Rights: Women
Diversity Issues
General International Relations
Global Issues
International Law and Agreements
Race and Hate Crimes
Regional Political Affairs: Middle East and South Asia
Terrorism and Counterterrorism
U.S. at War: Afghanistan
U.S. at War: Iraq
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