Who are American Muslims?

July 30, 2019

Since achieving National Board certification in adolescent social studies several years ago, I have felt a need to continue to educate myself and lead in my specific passion — religious literacy. One religious community that continues to face alarming amounts of discrimination in and out of the classroom is the American Muslim population.

This summer I was fortunate enough to be selected by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding to serve as one of their educators. ISPU conducts objective, solution-seeking research that empowers American Muslims to develop their community and fully contribute to democracy and pluralism in the United States. A Dearborn, MI and Washington, D.C.-based think tank, ISPU accomplishes their mission by conducting and publishing rigorous, empirical research, and then coordinating and participating in events that educate the public and enable changemakers with the data.

Ignorance is rampant and too often it impacts the way we treat others. It’s really important to me that Americans understand information about the American Muslim population. Being armed with these facts is essential for educators to build safe and welcoming schools for all students. When roughly half of Americans do not know a (real) Muslim and 90% of coverage of Islam and Muslims in the US negative, more work is needed.

So here is what you should know:

  • There are an estimated 3 million Muslims in America,
  • Muslims are the youngest faith community in America, with nearly a quarter between the ages of 18-24 years old,
  • Muslims are also the most ethnically diverse faith community in America — the only faith group to have no majority race,

Sadly, according to the FBI, hate crimes targeting Muslims were higher in 2016 than any year on record, including right after 9/11. This hatred towards Muslims finds its way into our schools. In fact,

  • 42% of Muslim families with kids in grade school report that their children experienced bullying because of their faith, higher than any other faith community surveyed.

What was especially unsettling, however, was the fact that a quarter of the bullying incidents involved a teacher or administrator as the bully. This underscores our need for better training of our fellow educators, especially if we consider this important fact: Bias-based bullying has more negative affect on children than regular variety – as it is seen to be based on an integral part of who they are, something they can’t change – so the child anticipates it to keep happening over and over.

It is then not surprising that Muslims are the most likely to express anxiety and fear for their personal safety. Though hate crimes are rare, their psychological impact on the wider targeted community is more widespread. As such:

  • 60% of American Muslims report experiencing some frequency of faith-based discrimination, higher than any other group.
  • 86% of Americans say they want to live in a country where no one is targeted for their faith identity.

Islamophobia is about fear. When we are afraid, according to neuroscience research, we are not only more likely to be biased toward people who are different from us, but we are more likely to accept conformity and authoritarianism.

Fear has no place in our classrooms. I encourage you to help bring this data into your schools and districts to reach out to ISPU to have one of their trained educators provide training for you.

ISPU has a wealth of other resources for teachers in their educators toolkit. That includes a report on religious-based bullying that covers a set of recommendations for teachers, administrators, parents, and more.

((1 According to a study by Media Tenor, a media content analysis firm based in Germany, 90% of US TV news media portrays Islam and Muslims negatively.))

Chris Murray, NBCT

Chris Murray is a National Board Certified teacher who teaches Social Studies at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School (Montgomery County). Over the past decade he has taught and created a wide variety of courses while creating and facilitating a religious literacy professional development program. Chris lives in Rockville with his wife and two sons.