Lifting the stigma on American Muslims

The Trump campaign presents a fear of Muslims that does not hold up in a new poll of American Muslims.

A man passes a poster promoting the new documentary film "The Muslims Are Coming" inside a subway station in New York City, March 7. Humorous ads for a documentary film that aims to promote understanding and tolerance of Muslims went up in New York subways on Monday after the movie's production company won a legal battle with the city's transit authority.

One reason Donald Trump keeps winning GOP primaries is the popularity of his call for a temporary ban on Muslim immigration. Exit polls show nearly two-thirds of those voting in the Republican contests favor such a ban. And the idea attracts many independents and Democrats.

Just how well the United States screens Muslim immigrants may be a legitimate issue, especially after the San Bernardino, Calif., shootings. But Mr. Trump’s notion of a ban, combined with his call for closing all mosques in America to prevent radicalization, has painted a different political picture.

Perhaps not since the 2010 midterm election, with its debate over the ground zero mosque, have American Muslims been made to worry so much about being stigmatized for their faith. 

Yet branding Muslims as potentially dangerous does not fit what American Muslims say about themselves, according to a new poll. A nonprofit group, the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, conducted a survey earlier this year and found this counternarrative fact: Muslims with the strongest religious identity are also the most engaged in American civic life and have a stronger American identity.

“Islam doesn’t weaken Muslim patriotism, it actually strengthens it,” concluded Dalia Mogahed, research director for the poll.

The survey also looked at Roman Catholics, Jews, and Protestants and found that Muslims are just as likely as those religious groups to cooperate with people in their neighborhoods to solve problems. And like other Americans, they list the economy as their top concern. Estimates of the number of American Muslims varies from 1 to 3 percent of the population.

The survey also provides an answer to the idea of closing down mosques. The poll found that the frequency of mosque attendance by American Muslims has no correlation to their views on violence. Muslims in the US oppose military targeting and killing of civilians more than any other faith group. And, suggests Ms. Mogahed, their involvement in a mosque may actually improve opportunities for better engagement with American society.

Any election debate about Muslims must be based on facts. And just as presidential candidates do not need to pass a litmus test about their religion, US citizens should be treated simply as citizens – no matter their faith.


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