In the wake of the controversial refugee ban from seven Muslim countries as well as political reactions to the mosque shooting in Quebec, one statement has reared its ugly head: Islam is not American.
“Islam is not thought of as American religion,” said Zareena Grewal, a professor of religious studies at Yale University. “However much Muslim-Americans wish that to be true.”
Currently Islam is the second most practiced religion in the world with over 1.3 billion followers, eclipsed only by Christianity as the most popular belief system. 3.3 million of those 1.3 billion followers reside in the United States according to a Pew Center report. With more Muslims making their way to the United States it begs the questions: What needs to happen for Americans to accept Islam? Will Americans ever accept Islam?
In order to find the answer to these questions we must look at the statistics behind the growing population of Muslims as well as disparities in American perceptions of the religion.
Islam Will Eventually Replace Christianity as the Most Popular Religion in the World
The Pew Research Center released estimates stating that Muslims will outnumber Christians worldwide by the year 2070, due largely in part to Muslims having higher fertility rates than their Christian brothers.
“We can be quite confident that Muslims are going to grow rapidly in the decades ahead,” stated Conrad Hackett, demographer and lead author of the Pew report.
Projections included in the report state that Islam will grow an estimated 73% in one generation while Christianity will only grown 35% in that same time interval. The large growth of Muslims will undoubtedly impact the United States as Muslims in Africa and Asia will turn to Western civilization for education, food and a healthy lifestyle.
“The very rapid growth of population, combined with limited opportunities even for the educated young people, but particularly for less educated ones, has created social and therefore political tensions and that has fueled things like immigration to Western countries, political upheaval,” says David Voas a professor of population studies at England’s Institute for Social and Economic Research.
A greater influx of Muslims will certainly place more pressure on Americans to accept Islam as a main religion. By 2050 the Muslim population will more than double to 2.1% and, for the first time in history, will outnumber Jews in America.
Christianity, on the other hand, will not fair as well as Islam in the near future. Research scientists predict that Christianity will lose approximately 106 million followers to unaffiliated religious groups including atheists and agnostics.
The rise of Islam and the fall of Christianity will eventually force a dialogue between Americans as more and more of our friends, coworkers and family members will ascribe to the relatively unknown religion. When that dialogue will occur, however, is yet to be determined.
Most Americans Oppose Islam Without Even Knowing What It Is
In a separate Pew report, a majority of Americans (55%) professed to not knowing a significant amount of information about Islam:
Additional studies conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute reveals that more than 6 out of 10 surveyed Americans recall never having had a conversation with a single Muslim in their lifetime.
What makes these statistics amazing is the fact that 61% of Americans report having an unfavorable view of Islam according to a survey conducted by Shibley Telhami, a researcher at the University of Maryland:
So where does this cognitive dissonance arise from? How can so many Americans have an unfavorable opinion about a religion that they know nothing about? How can businesses declare themselves “Muslim free-zones” without most never having met a Muslim? How can anybody firebomb a mosque without even knowing what is being practiced inside? How can a group of hundreds of people protest, asking “how many of you Muslims are terrorists?” without being aware that Islam is a religion that promotes peace and love?
This is because the only knowledge Americans have of Muslims comes from the 9/11 attacks. Most rural, white republicans fall within the above statistics of not being acquainted with any Muslim personally, causing these people to glean information from the media rather than going out and meeting any Muslims themselves.
Unsurprisingly, anti-Muslim hate crimes spiked sharply after 9/11 as this was the first introduction for many Americans to the world of Islam. The recent political climate, in which politicians associate Islamic groups with terrorism and assert that Islam is a political system and not a religion, has re-sparked attacks against Muslims. The FBI reports a 67% increase in attacks from 2015 to 2016 due largely in part to politics. In fact, the number of hate crimes against Muslims is currently at its highest since the 9/11 attacks.
Tolerance and brotherhood towards Muslims can only be accomplished by Americans when the media ceases to report a connection between Islam and violence. In addition to this, more personal connections to Muslims will override any exaggerated and false claims in the news. Speaking of which:
Americans Who Have Personal Relationships With Muslims View Islam as More Favorable
The slim amount of Americans who have had the pleasure of interacting with Muslims have significantly more favorable views on the religion of Islam according to the same report by Shibley Telhami:
These Americans have been able to develop the empathy necessary to distinguish a traditional Muslim from their extremist counterparts, and to see the terrorists as just that: extremists. This empathy is even strong enough to cross party lines. Whereas most republicans do not hesitate in labeling Muslims as terrorists, a majority of those who have had the opportunity to interact with Muslims can see this as simply untrue.
The influx of Muslim immigrants over the past century has already had an effect on the public perception of Islam. More and more children and young adults are interacting with Muslims and immigrant offspring in schools across the nation, leading to a visible disparity between the perceptions of the religion between younger and older adults. According to a survey conducted by YouGov, only 31% of 18-29 year-olds see Islam as more violent than other religions compared to an overwhelming 63% of Americans aged 65 and older:
As American schools and universities become more diverse, the favorability of Islam is sure to increase as well. The personal anecdotes regarding Muslims that accompany relationships with school peers and friends are sure to last with young adults throughout their lifetimes, thus leading to more acceptance nationwide in the future.
What Does the Future of Islam Look Like for America?
It is clear from all of these statistics that Islam and Muslims are not going anywhere. Despite his best efforts, Donald Trump cannot stop the immense growth of Islam worldwide and within our borders. It is a special time in American politics, a time of ultra-conservatism and a time of dominance for a political party that has always been staunchly anti-Muslim. While four years seems like a lifetime at this point, looking at the data regarding young people should give us solace. Young people are more welcoming of diversity: racially, sexually and religiously. As they say, young people are the future. Remember that in this past election voters 18-25 voted overwhelmingly democratic:
Not to mention they are out there protesting on the streets at this very moment for Muslims. No statistics and data are necessary to see that young people are more tolerable and accepting of Islam, making for a brighter future for not just Islam but all mankind.