Islamic Trends in America


This briefing is provided by a friend of RZIM.

Data (Statistics taken from the 2017 Pew Survey unless otherwise stated)

  • The total number of US Muslims is 3.45 million (approx. 1.1% total population)
  • 14% of US Muslims are Shi’a and 85% are Sunni
  • The state with the largest percentage of Muslims is New Jersey (3%) and second is New York with 2%. All other states have approximately 1%
  • The state with the largest number of Muslims is California (3.7 million). Texas has the second largest Muslim population (2.5 million) and Florida has the third largest purely in terms of numbers, not percentage of the population.
  • 44% of US Muslims are aged 18 – 29 years. Only 5% are over 65 years old.
  • There is a significant gender imbalance in the US Muslim population: 65% are male and 35% are female.
  • 38% Muslim are White (statistics include Arab peoples), 28% are Black and 28% are Asian population.
  • 18% of Muslim Americans are third generation immigrants or higher. 64% are first generation immigrants.
  • Income distribution amongst Muslim American is quite even: 34% have incomes less than $30,000 per year whilst 20% earn over $100,000 per year. These figures almost precisely match those who describe themselves as religiously ‘Unaffiliated’ and are very slightly better than those who describe themselves as ‘Evangelical Protestant’ (which is differentiated from ‘Mainline Protestant’ in the statistical breakdown).
    • The two groups with significantly better average incomes are Jews (44% earning more than $100,000), Orthodox Christian (29% earning $100,000 or more) and Hindus (38% earn over $100,000 per year)
    • The key disadvantaged group are labelled ‘Historically Black Protestant’ where 53% earn less than $30,000.
  • 41% of US Muslims are married; 8% say they are divorced; 4% admitting to living with a partner and 45% stating that they have never married.
  • 36% of US adult Muslims have a high school diploma or less with 50% having gone to university, including post-graduate level education.
  • Interestingly, the percentage of US Muslims who believe in God has actually increased since 2007 (the last survey) with 84% claiming certain belief now, as compared to 82% in 2007.
    • However, only 45% of US Muslims claim to go to Mosque every week and 22% say they never attend Mosque.
  • Politically, US Muslims appear overwhelmingly Democrat (62%) with only 17% claiming Republican allegiance. However that 17% represents a significant increase from the 7% who claimed Republican affiliation in 2007.
  • In terms of religious practice 46% of US Muslims claim to read scripture at least once a week with 28% saying they never (or seldom) read scripture. Compared to Protestant Evangelicals there is quite a disparity here with 63% of Protestant Evangelicals claiming to read scripture at least once a week.
    • 64% of US Muslims say that religion is very important to them
    • 42% of US Muslims say that the word of God should be taken literally.
    • 41% of US Muslims believe that there has been no human evolution.
  • In relation to mental health issues; small scale studies on US Muslims have found that the most common issue that US Muslims report is ‘Adjustment Disorder’, (43%) with ‘Anxiety Disorder’ (15%) at number two. (Aftab and Khandai, 2018)
  • The numbers of former US Muslims appears to match those converting to Islam in the US. Evangelical Christians are the principle group increasing their numbers with just over 1.2% more people coming to Evangelical Christianity than leaving it. (Smith, 2015)

In 2018 the National Geographic published a feature-length article about Muslims in America. (Fadel, 2018) The central premise of her argument was based around economic data which, as was reflected above, showed that Muslim Americans were either matching, or even bettering, a number of other religious groups in economic performance. This, she argued was in spite of the prejudice that they encountered. As such, the tenner of her article was a story of triumph over adversity, but also of Muslims becoming increasingly politicised as a result of the discrimination they faced.

In order to evidence the premise of the article, there were a number of charts which focussed specifically on ‘hate crime’ data, along with general data about the Muslim population in the US, much of which matched the data given in the previous section above.

Fadel’s article is interesting as an ‘insider’s’ perspective of what it means to be a US Muslim. However, there are two points which would be important to highlight that offer a slightly different perspective on the claims that she is making.

Firstly, Fadel’s contention that Muslims have become increasingly politically organised because of prejudice that they have experienced misses the fact that Muslim communities began to become far more politically active from the 1960s onwards when Muslim Brotherhood affiliates such as the Muslim Student Association came into being. (Vidino, 2010) Indeed, whilst Muslim activism occurred before the 1960s, such as with the work of Abdullah Igram who successfully petitioned to have an ‘I’ for ‘Islam’ included amongst the options for soldier’s religious affiliations during the Second World War, it was with the arrival of large numbers of South Asian Muslims following the Hart-Cellar Act 1965, that Muslim political activism began to take off in the US. (Oliver-Dee, 2020: 24)

Secondly, the perception of tight-knit, united US Muslim communities that she paints glosses over the tensions that exist between differing sects and ethnicities, as well as ignoring the tremendous social upheavals which are taking place due to the rapidly changing role of women within Muslim communities. For it has been Muslim (South Asian specifically) girls that have been consistently out-performing Muslim boys (and many other religious groups except Jews) academically for more than a decade and, with that success, has come the aspiration for college and careers which has taken them away from their communities, brought them non-Muslim partners and, moreover, when they have married other Muslims, have meant that they have been the higher earners. Consequently, divorce-rates have been increasing rapidly and the number of children per family has been declining as well. Indeed, many families have moved towards returning to South Asia for brides for their sons. (Riley, 2013; Siddiqui, 2009)

Thirdly, Fadel does not discuss the growing radicalism of US Muslims. It is important to note the ‘conservative literalist’ orientation of US Muslims as shown in the figures in the ‘Data’ section. Fadel does not touch on this, but it is suggestive of a growing orientation towards Salafi Islam. (Grewal, 2014) If that is indeed the case, then the numbers point towards a growing ‘radicalism’ which would have multiple implications for security and activism in the area of (for example) shari’a advocacy.

These criticisms aside, Fadel’s article is not without value for it offers insight into the perspective of an American Muslim on the situation of her fellow believers in the country. Yet it glosses over significant internal tensions and dynamics which are impacting the multiple communities she speaks about as a single entity. Perhaps this is unavoidable in an article with very limited scope for nuance, but the two points highlighted above, along with the insights offered by the data cited above (and other available data) suggest that Fadel’s article barely scratched the surface of dynamics and issues which have a long distance to run and which will, by the very nature of the growth, diversity and geographical spread of US Muslims, have a significant impact on wider US culture in the decades to come.

Aftab, Awais and Chandan Khandai (2018) Mental Health Disparities American Psychiatric Association,
Anon, (2017) Religious Landscape Survey Washington DC: Pew Research Center.
Fadel, Leila (2018) ‘How Muslims, often misunderstood, are thriving in America’ National Geographic Magazine 2nd May.
Grewal, Zareena (2014) Islam is a Foreign Country: American Muslims and the Global Crisis of Authority New York, London: New York University Press.
Oliver-Dee, Sean (2020) Courting Islam: US-British Engagement with Islam since the European Colonial Period Lanham MD: Rowman and Littlefield.
Riley, Naomi S. (2013) ‘When Muslims intermarry, do they keep the faith?’ The Washington Post 23rd December.
Siddiqui, Samana (2009) ‘Divorce among American Muslims: Statistics, Challenges and Solutions’ 20th December.
Smith, Gregory et al (2015) ‘Religious Switching and Intermarriage’ in America’s Changing Religious Landscape Washington DC: Pew Research Center.
Vidino, Lorenzo (2010) The New Muslim Brotherhood in the West New York: Columbia University Press.