Islam in the United States

Islam in the United States
American Muslims
Nadia Ali.jpgJermaineJackson2007(cropped).jpg
Malcolm X NYWTS 4.jpgKareem-Abdul-Jabbar Lipofsky.jpg051207-MPLS-011MazJobrani.jpg
Muhammad Ali NYWTS.jpgRima Fakih b.jpgShohrehAghdashloo08TIFF.jpg
Dave Chappelle (cropped).jpgImam Hassan Qazwin 2.jpgSiraj Wahhaj.png
Nadia Ali • Jermaine Jackson
Malcolm X • Kareem Abdul-Jabbar • Maz Jobrani
Muhammad Ali • Rima Fakih • Shohreh Aghdashloo
Dave Chappelle • Hassan Al-Qazwini • Siraj Wahhaj
Total population
1.8 Million (2011)
0.6% of the U.S. population (2011)[1]
(CIA World Factbook)

2.6 Million (2010)
0.8% of the U.S. population (2010)[2]
(Pew Research Center)

Regions with significant populations
New York metropolitan area, Michigan, Illinois, all along the Northeast Megalopolis in the Northeastern United States, Florida, Washington DC area, the West Coast (especially the Los Angeles and Bay Area), Chicago, Houston and Dallas, as well as the rest of Texas and very rapidly growing population in the Southern United States

American English, Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Urdu


(Mainly Sunni, minority Shi'a, and others)

From the 1880s to 1914, several thousand Muslims immigrated to the United States from the Ottoman Empire, and from parts of South Asia; they did not form distinctive settlements, and probably most assimilated into the wider society.[3]

Once very small, the Muslim population of the US increased greatly in the 20th century, with much of the growth driven by rising immigration and conversion, and a comparatively high birth rate.[4][5] In 2005, more people from Islamic countries became legal permanent United States residents — nearly 96,000 — than in any year in the previous two decades.[6][7]

American Muslims come from various backgrounds, and are one of the most racially diverse religious group in the United States according to a 2009 Gallup poll.[8] Native-born American Muslims are mainly African Americans who make up about a quarter of the total Muslim population. Many of these have converted to Islam during the last seventy years. Conversion to Islam in prison,[9] and in large urban areas[10] has also contributed to its growth over the years. The immigrant communities make up the majority, with mainly people of Arab and South Asian descent.



Muslim children in New York City supporting Park51.
A group of immigrants, most wearing fezzes, surrounding a large vessel which is decorated with the star and crescent symbol of Islam and the Ottoman Turks (1902-1913)

The history of Islam in the United States can be divided into two significant periods: the post World War I period, and the last few decades, Although some individual members of the Islamic faith are known to have visited or lived in the United States during the colonial era.[11]

Earliest records

Estevanico of Azamor may have been the first Muslim to enter the historical record in North America. Estevanico was a Berber originally from North Africa who explored the future states of Arizona and New Mexico for the Spanish Empire.[12][13] He was raised as a Muslim, but was converted to Roman Catholicism upon enslavement.[14]

Early national period

American views of Islam affected debates regarding freedom of religion during the drafting of the state constitution of Pennsylvania in 1776. Constitutionalists promoted religious toleration while Anticonstitutionalists called for reliance on Protestant values in the formation of the state's republican government. The former group won out, and inserted a clause for religious liberty in the new state constitution. American views of Islam were influenced by favorable Enlightenment writings from Europe, as well as Europeans who had long warned that Islam was a threat to Christianity and republicanism.[15]

When Benjamin Franklin helped establish a non-denominational religious meeting house in Philadelphia, he emphasized its non-sectarian nature by stating that "even if the Mufti of Constantinople were to send a missionary to preach Mohammedanism to us, he would find a pulpit at his service".[16] Franklin also wrote an anti-slavery parody piece claiming to be translation of the response of a government official at Algiers to a 17th-century petition to banish slavery there; the piece develops the theme that Europeans are specially suited for enslavement on cultural and religious grounds, and that there would be practical problems with abolishing slavery in North Africa; this satirizes similar arguments that were then made about the enslavement of Blacks in North America.[17]

Peter Salem, a former slave who fought at the Battle of Bunker Hill, is speculated to have Muslim connections based on his Islamic-sounding name. "Saleem" means "one who is peaceful" in Arabic and is related to the word salaam. Salem's name was said by a Jewish man to be similar to the word shalom, which also means peace. Other American Revolution soldiers with Islamic names include Salem Poor, Yusuf Ben Ali, Bampett Muhamed, Francis Saba, and Joseph Saba.[18]

Between 1785 and 1815, over a hundred American sailors were captive in Algiers for ransom. Several wrote captivity narratives of their experiences that gave most Americans their first view of the Middle East and Muslim ways, and newspapers often commented on them. The views were generally negative. Royall Tyler wrote The Algerine Captive (1797), an early American novel depicting the life of an American doctor employed in the slave trade who becomes himself enslaved by Barbary pirates. Finally Presidents Jefferson and Madison sent in the Navy to confront the pirates, and ended the threat in 1815.[19][20][21]

Bilali (Ben Ali) Muhammad was a Fula Muslim from Timbo Futa-Jallon in present day Guinea-Conakry, who arrived at Sapelo Island during 1803. While enslaved, he became the religious leader and Imam for a slave community numbering approximately eighty Muslim men residing on his plantation. During the War of 1812, Muhammad and the eighty Muslim men under his leadership protected their master's Sapelo Island property from a British attack.[22] He is known to have fasted during the month of Ramadan, worn a fez and kaftan, and observed the Muslim feasts, in addition to consistently performing the five obligatory prayers.[23] In 1829, Bilali authored a thirteen page Arabic Risala on Islamic beliefs and the rules for ablution, morning prayer, and the calls to prayer. Known as the Bilali Document, it is currently housed at the University of Georgia in Athens.

Religious freedom

In 1776, John Adams published "Thoughts on Government," in which he praises the Islamic prophet Muhammad as a "sober inquirer after truth" alongside Confucius, Zoroaster, Socrates, and other thinkers.

In 1785, George Washington stated a willingness to hire "Mahometans," as well as people of any nation or religion, to work on his private estate at Mount Vernon if they were "good workmen." It was a rhetorical statement, as he hired no such people.[24]

In 1790, the South Carolina legislative body granted special legal status to a community of Moroccans. In 1797, President John Adams signed a treaty declaring the United States had no "character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Mussulmen".[25]

In his autobiography, published in 1791, Benjamin Franklin stated that he "did not disapprove" of a meeting place in Pennsylvania that was designed to accommodate preachers of all religions. Franklin wrote that "even if the Mufti of Constantinople were to send a missionary to preach Mohammedanism to us, he would find a pulpit at his service."[26]

Image of Alexander Russell Webb who was the U.S. ambassador to the Philippines and a Protestant convert to Islam.

Thomas Jefferson defended religious freedom in America including those of Muslims. Jefferson explicitly mentioned Muslims when writing about the movement for religious freedom in Virginia. In his autobiography Jefferson wrote "[When] the [Virginia] bill for establishing religious freedom... was finally passed,... a singular proposition proved that its protection of opinion was meant to be universal. Where the preamble declares that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting the word 'Jesus Christ,' so that it should read 'a departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion.' The insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend within the mantle of its protection the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo and infidel of every denomination."[27] While President, Jefferson also participated in an iftar with the Ambassador of Tunisia in 1809.[28]

Anti-Islam sentiments

However, not all politicians were pleased with the religious neutrality of the Constitution, which prohibited any religious test. Anti-Federalists in the 1788 North Carolina ratifying convention opposed the new constitution; one reason was the fear that some day Catholics or Muslims might be elected president. William Lancaster said:.[29]

Let us remember that we form a government for millions not yet in existence.... In the course of four or five hundred years, I do not know how it will work. This is most certain, that Papists may occupy that chair, and Mahometans may take it. I see nothing against it.

Indeed, in 1788 many opponents of the Constitution pointed to the Middle East, especially the Ottoman Empire as a negative object lesson against standing armies and centralized state authority.[30]

19th century

There are recorded instances of Muslims in the United States military during the American Civil War. Muhammad Ali ibn Said (also known as Nicholas Said), formerly enslaved to an Arab master, came to the United States in 1860 where he found a teaching job in Detroit. In 1863, Said enlisted in the 55th Massachusetts Colored Regiment in the United States Army and rose to the rank of sergeant. He was later granted a transfer to a hospital department, where he gained some knowledge of medicine. His Army records state that he died in Brownsville, Tennessee in 1882.[31] Another Muslim soldier from the Civil War was Max Hassan, an African who worked for the military as a porter.[32]

A Muslim named Hajj Ali (commonly spelled as "Hi Jolly") was hired by the United States Cavalry in 1856 to raise camels in Arizona and California. He would later become a prospector in Arizona.[33][34] Hajj Ali died in 1903.[31]

During the American Civil war, the "scorched earth" policy of the North destroyed churches, farms, schools, libraries, colleges, and a great deal of other property. The libraries at the University of Alabama managed to save one book from the debris of their library buildings. On the morning of April 4, when Federal troops reached the campus with order to destroy the university, Andre Deloffre, a modern language professor and custodian of the library, appealed to the commanding officer to spare one of the finest libraries in the South. The officer, being sympathetic, sent a courier to Gen. Croxton at his headquarters in Tuscaloosa asking permission to save the Rotunda. The general's reply was no. The officer reportedly said, "I will save one volume as a memento of this occasion." The volume selected was a rare copy of the Qur'an.[35]

Alexander Russell Webb is considered by historians to be the earliest prominent Anglo-American convert to Islam in 1888. In 1893 he was the only person representing Islam at the first Parliament for the World's Religions.[36]


Drawing of Abdulrahman Ibrahim Ibn Sori who was a Muslim prince from West Africa and made a slave in the United States.

Many of the slaves brought to colonial America from Africa were Muslims.[37][38] By 1800, some 500,000 Africans arrived in what became the United States. Historians estimate that between 15 to 30 percent of all enslaved African men, and less than 15 percent of the enslaved African women, were Muslims. These enslaved Muslims stood out from their compatriots because of their "resistance, determination and education".[39]

It is estimated that over 50% of the slaves imported to North America came from areas where Islam was followed by at least a minority population. Thus, no less than 200,000 came from regions influenced by Islam. Substantial numbers originated from Senegambia, a region with an established community of Muslim inhabitants extending to the 11th century.[40]

Michael A. Gomez speculated that Muslim slaves may have accounted for "thousands, if not tens of thousands," but does not offer a precise estimate. He also suggests many non-Muslim slaves were acquainted with some tenets of Islam, due to Muslim trading and proselytizing activities.[41] Historical records indicate many enslaved Muslims conversed in the Arabic language. Some even composed literature (such as autobiographies) and commentaries on the Quran.[42]

Some newly arrived Muslim slaves assembled for communal Salah (prayers). Some were provided a private praying area by their owner. The two best documented Muslim slaves were Ayuba Suleiman Diallo and Omar Ibn Said. Suleiman was brought to America in 1731 and returned to Africa in 1734.[40] Like many Muslim slaves, he often encountered impediments when attempting to perform religious rituals and was eventually allotted a private location for prayer by his master.[42]

Omar Ibn Said (ca. 1770–1864) is among the best documented examples of a practicing-Muslim slave. He lived on a colonial North Carolina plantation and wrote many Arabic texts while enslaved. Born in the kingdom of Futa Tooro (modern Senegal), he arrived in America in 1807, one month before the US abolished importation of slaves. Some of his works include the Lords Prayer, the Bismillah, this is How You Pray, Quranic phases, the 23rd Psalm, and an autobiography. In 1857, he produced his last known writing on Surah 110 of the Quran. In 1819, Omar received an Arabic translation of the Christian Bible from his master, James Owen. Omar converted to Christianity in 1820, an episode widely used throughout the South to "prove" the benevolence of slavery. However, some scholars believe he continued to be a practicing Muslim, based on dedications to Muhammad written in his Bible.[43][44]

Modern immigration

Turkish immigrant in New York (1912)

Small-scale migration to the U.S. by Muslims began in 1840, with the arrival of Yemenites and Turks,[40] and lasted until World War I. Most of the immigrants, from Arab areas of the Ottoman Empire, came with the purpose of making money and returning to their homeland. However, the economic hardships of 19th-Century America prevented them from prospering, and as a result the immigrants settled in the United States permanently. These immigrants settled primarily in Dearborn, Michigan; Quincy, Massachusetts; and Ross, North Dakota. Ross, North Dakota is the site of the first documented mosque and Muslim Cemetery, but it was abandoned and later torn down in the mid 1970s. A new mosque was built in its place in 2005.[36]

  • 1906 Bosnian Muslims in Chicago, Illinois, started the Džemijetul Hajrije (Jamaat al-Khayriyya) (The Benevolent Society; a social service organization devoted to Bosnian Muslims). This is the longest lasting incorporated Muslim community in the United States. They met in Bosnian coffeehouses and eventually opened the first Islamic Sunday School with curriculum and textbooks under Bosnian scholar Sheikh Ćamil Avdić (Kamil Avdich) (a graduate of al-Azhar and author of Survey of Islamic Doctrines).
  • 1907 Lipka Tatar immigrants from the Podlasie region of Poland founded the first Muslim organization in New York City, the American Mohammedan Society.[45]
  • 1915, what is most likely the first American mosque was founded by Albanian Muslims in Biddeford, Maine. A Muslim cemetery still exists there.[46][47]
  • 1920 First Islamic mission station was established by an Indian Ahmadiyya Muslim missionary, followed by the building of the Al-Sadiq Mosque in 1921.
  • 1934 The first building built specifically to be a mosque is established in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
  • 1945 A mosque existed in Dearborn, Michigan, home to the largest Arab-American population in the U.S.

Construction of mosques sped up in the 1920s and 1930s, and by 1952, there were over 20 mosques.[36] Although the first mosque was established in the U.S. in 1915, relatively few mosques were founded before the 1960s. Eighty-seven percent of mosques in the U.S. were founded within the last three decades according to the Faith Communities Today (FACT) survey. California has more mosques than any other state.

Chinese Muslims have immigrated to the United States and lived within the Chinese community rather than integrating into other foreign Muslim communities. Two of the most prominent Chinese American Muslims are the Republic of China National Revolutionary Army Generals Ma Hongkui and his son Ma Dunjing who moved to Los Angeles, California after fleeing from China to Taiwan. Pai Hsien-yung, son of the Chinese Muslim General Bai Chongxi, is a Chinese Muslim writer who moved to Santa Barbara, California after fleeing from China to Taiwan.

Black Muslim movements

Malcolm X was one of the main leaders of the Nation of Islam, until he left in 1964 and became a Sunni Muslim

During the first half of the 20th century, a small number of African Americans established groups based on Islamic and Black supremacist teachings.[48] The first of such groups created was the Moorish Science Temple of America, founded by Timothy Drew (Drew Ali) in 1913. Drew taught that Black people were of Moorish origin but their Muslim identity was taken away through slavery and racial segregation, advocating the return to Islam of their Moorish ancestry.[49]

The Nation of Islam (NOI) was the largest organization, created in 1930 by Wallace Fard Muhammad. It however taught a different form of Islam, promoting Black supremacy and labeling white people as "devils".[50] Fard drew inspiration for NOI doctrines from those of Noble Drew Ali's Moorish Science Temple of America. He provided three main principles which serve as the foundation of the NOI: "Allah is God, the white man is the devil and the so called Negroes are the Asiatic Black People, the cream of the planet earth". In 1934 Elijah Muhammad became the leader of the NOI, he deified Wallace Fard, saying that he was an incarnation of God, and taught that he was a prophet who had been taught directly by God in the form of Wallace Fard. Although Elijah's message caused great concern among White Americans, it was effective among Blacks attracting mainly poor people including students and professionals. One of the famous people to join the NOI was Malcolm X, who was the face of the NOI in the media. Also boxing world champion, Muhammad Ali.[48] Malcolm X was one of the most influential leaders of the NOI, he advocated complete separation of blacks between whites. He left the NOI after being silenced for 90 days, he then formed his own black nationalist movement, and made the pilgrimage to Mecca, converting to Sunni Islam. He is viewed as the first person to start the movement among African Americans towards Sunni Islam.

W.D. Mohammed moved most of his followers into practising orthodox Islam

After the death of Elijah Muhammad, he was succeeded by his son, Warith Deen Mohammed. Mohammed rejected many teachings of his father, such as the divinity of Fard Muhammad and saw a white person as also a worshipper. As he took control of the organization, he quickly brought in new reforms.[51] He renamed it as the World Community of al-Islam in the West, later it became the American Society of Muslims. It was estimated that there were 200,000 followers of WD Mohammed at the time.[52]

WD Mohammed introduced teachings which were based on orthodox Sunni Islam.[53] He removed the chairs in temples, with mosques, teaching how to pray the salah, to observe the fasting of Ramadan, and to attend the pilgrimage to Mecca.[54] It was the largest mass religious conversion in the 21st century, with thousands who had converted to orthodox Islam.

A small number of Black Muslims however rejected these new reforms brought by Imam Mohammed, Louis Farrakhan who broke away from the organization, re-established the Nation of Islam under the original Fardian doctrines, and remains its leader.[55] As of today it is estimated there are at least 20,000 members.[56] However, today the group has a wide influence in the African American community. The first Million Man March took place in Washington, D.C. 1995 and was followed later by another one in 2000 which was smaller in size but more inclusive welcoming individuals other than just African American men[57] The group sponsors cultural and academic education, economic independence, and personal and social responsibility. The Nation of Islam has received a great deal of criticism for its anti-white, anti-Christian, and anti-semitic teachings,[58] and is listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.[59]


Source Year Muslim population % of
U.S. population
American Religious Identification Survey 2008 1.3 million[60] 0.6
CIA World Factbook 2010 1.8 million[61] 0.6
Pew Research Center 2009 2.5 million[62] 0.8
Council on American-Islamic Relations 2011 7 million[63] 2.2

The U.S. Census Bureau does not collect data on religious identification. Various institutions and organizations have given widely varying estimates about how many Muslims live in the U.S. Tom W. Smith, author of "Estimating the Muslim Population in the United States," said that of twenty estimates he reviewed during a five year period until 2001, none of them were "based on a scientifically-sound or explicit methodology. All can probably be characterized as guesses or assertions. Nine came from Muslim organizations such as the Islamic Society of North America, the Muslim Student Association, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the American Muslim Council, and the Harvard Islamic Society or unspecified “Muslim sources.” None of these sources gave any basis for their figures."[64]

Others claim that no scientific count of Muslims in the U.S. has been done, but that the larger figures should be considered accurate.[65] Some journalists have also alleged that the higher numbers have been inflated for political purposes.[66] On the other hand, some Muslim groups blame the lower estimates on Islamophobia and the fact that many Muslims do not attend mosques.[67]

According to a 2001 study written by Ihsan Bagby, an associate professor of Islamic studies at the University of Kentucky, of American converts to Islam, 64% are African American, 27% are White, 6% are Hispanic, and 3% are other. Around that time increasing numbers of American Hispanics converted to Islam. Many Hispanic converts in Houston said that they often had been mistaken as of being of Pakistani or Middle Eastern descent, due to their religion. Many Hispanic converts were former Christians.[68]

According to a 2007 religious survey, 72% of Muslims believe religion is very important, which is higher in comparison to the overall population of the United States at 59%. The frequency of receiving answers to prayers among Muslims was, 31% at least once a week and 12% once or twice a month.[69] Nearly a quarter of the Muslims are converts to Islam (23%), mainly native-born. Of the total who have converted, 59% are African American and 34% white. Previous religions of those converted was Protestantism (67%), Roman Catholicism (10%) and 15% no religion.

According to the U.S. Department of State, the largest ethnic groups of American Muslims are those of South Asian, Arab and African-American descent

Mosques are usually explicitly Sunni or Shia. There are 1,209 mosques in the United States and the nation's largest mosque, the Islamic Center of America, is in Dearborn, Michigan. It caters mainly to the Shi'a Muslim congregation; however, all Muslims may attend this mosque. It was rebuilt in 2005 to accommodate over 3,000 people for the increasing Muslim population in the region.[70][71] Approximately half (50%) of the religious affiliations of Muslims is Sunni, 16% Shia, 22% non-affiliated and 16% other/non-response.[72] Muslims of Arab descent are mostly Sunni (56%) with minorities who are Shia (19%). Bangladeshis (90%), Pakistanis (62%) and Indians (82%) are mainly Sunni, while Iranians are mainly Shia (91%).[72] Of African American Muslims, 48% are Sunni, 34% are unaffiliated (mostly part of the Community of W.Deen Mohammed), 16% other (mostly Nation of Islam and Ahmadiyya) and 2% Shia.[72]

Since the arrival of South Asian and Arab communities during the 1990s there has been divisions with the African Americans due to the racial and cultural differences, however since post 9/11, the two groups joined together when the immigrant communities looked towards the African Americans for advice on civil rights.[73]

Tucson Islamic Center, Tucson, Arizona

In many areas, a mosque may be dominated by whatever group of immigrants is the largest. Sometimes the Friday sermons, or khutbas, are given in languages like Urdu, Bengali or Arabic along with English. Areas with large Muslim populations may support a number of mosques serving different immigrant groups or varieties of belief within Sunni or Shi'a traditions. At present, many mosques are served by imams who immigrate from overseas, as only these imams have certificates from Muslim seminaries.[74] The influence of the Wahhabi movement in the US has caused concern.[75][76][77]

Contrary to popular perceptions, the condition of Muslims in the U.S. is very good. Among South Asians in this country, the large Indian American community stands out as particularly well educated and prosperous, with education and income levels that exceed those of U.S.-born whites. Many are professionals, especially doctors, scientists, engineers, and financial analysts, and there are also a large number of entrepreneurs. The five urban areas with the largest Indian populations include the Washington/Baltimore metropolitan area as well as New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. The 10 states with the largest Muslim populations are California, New York, Illinois, New Jersey, Indiana, Michigan, Virginia, Texas, Ohio, and Maryland. 45 percent of immigrant Muslims report annual household income levels of $50,000 or higher. This compares to the national average of 44 percent. Immigrant Muslims are well represented among higher-income earners, with 19 percent claiming annual household incomes of $100,000 or higher (compared to 16 percent for the Muslim population as a whole and 17 percent for the U.S. average). This is likely due to the strong concentration of Muslims in professional, managerial, and technical fields, especially in information technology, education, medicine, law, and the corporate world.[78]

In 2005, according to the New York Times, more people from Muslim countries became legal permanent United States residents — nearly 96,000 — than in any year in the previous two decades.[6][7][79] In addition to immigration, the state, federal and local prisons of the United States may be a contributor to the growth of Islam in the country. J. Michael Waller claims that Muslim inmates comprise 17-20% of the prison population, or roughly 350,000 inmates in 2003. He also claims that 80% of the prisoners who "find faith" while in prison convert to Islam.[80] These converted inmates are mostly African American, with a small but growing Hispanic minority. Waller also asserts that many converts are radicalized by outside Islamist groups linked to terrorism, but other experts suggest that when radicalization does occur it has little to no connection with these outside interests.[81][82][83]


Islamic Society of Northern Wisconsin Mosque in Altoona, Wisconsin

Muslims in the United States have increasingly contributed to American culture; there are various Muslim comedy groups, rap groups, Scout troops and magazines, and Muslims have been vocal in other forms of media as well.[84]

Within the Muslim community in the United States there exist a number of different traditions. As in the rest of the world, the Sunni Muslims are in the majority. Shia Muslims, especially those in the Iranian immigrant community, are also active in community affairs. All four major schools of Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) are found among the Sunni community.

Some Muslims in the U.S. are also adherents of certain global movements within Islam such as the Salafi, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Gulen Movement, and the Tablighi Jamaat.


Historically, Muslim Americans tended to support the Republican Party. In the 2000 Presidential election, nearly eighty percent of Muslim Americans supported Republican candidate George W. Bush over Democratic candidate Al Gore. However, support for the Republicans among Muslims declined sharply. By 2004, Bush's Muslim support had been reduced by at least half, who would vote for Democratic candidate John Kerry or a third party candidate.[85] By 2008, Democratic candidate Barack Obama got 67% to 90% of the Muslim vote depending by region.[86]

On July 31, 2000, Talat Othman opened the Republican National Convention with a Muslim benediction, marking the first time a Muslim had addressed a major US political gathering.[87]


According to a 2004 telephone survey of a sample of 1846 Muslims conducted by the polling organization Zogby, the respondents were more educated and affluent than the national average, with 59% of them holding at least an undergraduate college degree.[88] Citing the Zogby survey, a 2005 Wall Street Journal editorial by Bret Stephens and Joseph Rago expressed the tendency of American Muslims to report employment in professional fields, with one in three having an income over $75,000 a year.[89] The editorial also characterized American Muslims as "role models both as Americans and as Muslims".

Unlike many Muslims in Europe, American Muslims do not tend to feel marginalized or isolated from political participation. Several organizations were formed by the American Muslim community to serve as 'critical consultants' on U.S. policy regarding Iraq and Afghanistan. Other groups have worked with law enforcement agencies to point out Muslims within the United States that they suspect of fostering 'intolerant attitudes'. Still others have worked to invite interfaith dialogue and improved relations between Muslim and non-Muslim Americans.[90]

Growing Muslim populations have caused public agencies to adapt to their religious practices. Airports such as the Indianapolis International Airport, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport[91][not in citation given], Kansas City International Airport have installed foot-baths to allow Muslims, particularly taxicab drivers who service the airports, to perform their religious ablutions in a safe and sanitary manner.[92][dead link] and Denver International Airport included a masjid as part of its Interfaith Chapel when opened in 1996[93][dead link] although such developments have not been without criticism.[94]

As of May 30, 2005, over 15,000 Muslims were serving in the United States Armed Forces.[95]

Frocking ceremony for U.S. Navy's first Muslim chaplain, when Navy (rabbi) Chaplain Arnold Resnicoff attaches new shoulder boards with Muslim Chaplain crescent insignia to uniform of Imam Monje Malak Abd al-Muta Noel Jr, 1996

A Pew report released in 2009 noted that nearly six-in-ten American adults see Muslims as being subject to discrimination, more than Mormons, Atheists, or Jews.[96] While Muslims comprise less than two percent of the American population, they accounted for approximately one quarter of the religious discrimination claims filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission during 2009.[97]


One of the largest Islamic organizations is the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) which says that 27% of mosques in US are associated with it.[98] ISNA is an association of immigrant Muslim organizations and individuals that provides a common platform for presenting Islam. It is composed mostly of immigrants. Its membership may have recently exceeded ASM, as many independent mosques throughout the United States are choosing to affiliate with it. ISNA's annual convention is the largest gathering of Muslims in the United States.[99]

The second largest is the community under the leadership of W.Deen Mohammed or the American Society of Muslims with 19% of mosques, mostly African-Americans having an affiliation with it.[98] It was the successor organization to the Nation of Islam, once better-known as the Black Muslims. The association recognizes the leadership of Warith Deen Mohammed. This group evolved from the Black separatist Nation of Islam (1930–1975). The majority of its members are African Americans. This has been a 23-year process of religious reorientation and organizational decentralization, in the course of which the group was known by other names, such as the American Muslim Mission, W.Deen Mohammed guided its members to the practice of mainstream Islam such as salah or fasting, and teaching the basic creed of Islam the shahadah.

The third largest group is the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA). ICNA describes itself as a non-ethnic, open to all, independent, North America-wide, grass-roots organization. It is composed mostly of immigrants and the children of immigrants. It is growing as various independent mosques throughout the United States join and also may be larger than ASM at the present moment. Its youth division is Young Muslims.[100]

The Islamic Supreme Council of America (ISCA) is a small organization representing Sufi teachings, which, according to adherents, is the inner, mystical dimension of Islam. The ISCA's stated aims include providing practical solutions for American Muslims, based on the traditional Islamic legal rulings of an international advisory board, many of whom are recognized as the highest ranking Islamic scholars in the world. ISCA strives to integrate traditional scholarship in resolving contemporary issues affecting the maintenance of Islamic beliefs in a modern, secular society.[101] It has been linked to neoconservative thought.

The Islamic Assembly of North America (IANA) is a leading Muslim organization in the United States. According to its website, among the goals of IANA is to "unify and coordinate the efforts of the different dawah oriented organizations in North America and guide or direct the Muslims of this land to adhere to the proper Islamic methodology." In order to achieve its goals, IANA uses a number of means and methods including conventions, general meetings, dawah-oriented institutions and academies, etc.[102] IANA folded in the aftermath of the attack of September 11, 2001 and they have reorganized under various banners such as Texas Dawah and the Almaghrib Institute.

The Muslim Students' Association (MSA) is a group dedicated, by its own description, to Islamic societies on college campuses in Canada and the United States for the good of Muslim students. The MSA is involved in providing Muslims on various campuses the opportunity to practice their religion and to ease and facilitate such activities. MSA is also involved in social activities, such as fund raisers for the homeless during Ramadan. The founders of MSA would later establish the Islamic Society of North America and Islamic Circle of North America.[103]

The Islamic Information Center (IIC) (IIC) is a "grass-roots" organization that has been formed for the purpose of informing the public, mainly through the media, about the real image of Islam and Muslims. The IIC is run by chairman (Hojatul-Islam) Imam Syed Rafiq Naqvi, various committees, and supported by volunteers.[104]

Muslim Congress is another National Muslim Organization. It is primarily a Social Welfare organization and runs many social projects, including Food Distribution to the homeless in their "No More Hunger" project and also provides Scholarship. It is under the leadership of Islamic Scholars.

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has claimed to the be the oldest Muslim community in the United States,[where?] settling in 1921,[105][106] before the existence of Nation of Islam. This sect, however, is considered heretical by mainstream Muslims and not considered a part of the Ummah, or worldwide community of Muslims.


Muslim political organizations lobby on behalf of various Muslim political interests. Organizations such as the American Muslim Council are actively engaged in upholding human and civil rights for all Americans.

  • The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is the United States largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy group, originally established to promote a positive image of Islam and Muslims in America. CAIR is the voice of mainstream, moderate Islam on Capitol Hill and in political arenas throughout the United States. It has repeatedly condemned acts of terrorism and has been working in collaboration with the White House on "issues of safety and foreign policy."[90] The group has been criticized for alleged but unfounded links to Islamic terrorism by conservative media, and its leadership strenuously denies any involvement with such activities.
  • The Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) is an American Muslim public service & policy organization headquartered in Los Angeles and with offices in Washington, D.C. MPAC was founded in 1988. The mission of MPAC "encompasses promoting an American Muslim identity, fostering an effective grassroots organization, and training a future generation of men and women to share our vision. MPAC also works to promote an accurate portrayal of Islam and Muslims in mass media and popular culture, educating the American public (both Muslim and non-Muslim) about Islam, building alliances with diverse communities and cultivating relationships with opinion- and decision-makers."[107]
  • The American Islamic Congress is a small but growing moderate Muslim organization that promotes religious pluralism. Their official Statement of Principles states that "Muslims have been profoundly influenced by their encounter with America. American Muslims are a minority group, largely comprising immigrants and children of immigrants, who have prospered in America's climate of religious tolerance and civil rights. The lessons of our unprecedented experience of acceptance and success must be carefully considered by our community."[108] The AIC holds an annual essay writing competition, the Dream Deferred Essay Contest, focusing on civil rights in the Middle East.
  • The Free Muslims Coalition states it was created to "eliminate broad base support for Islamic extremism and terrorism" and to strengthen secular democratic institutions in the Middle East and the Muslim World by supporting Islamic reformation efforts.[109]
  • Muslims for Bush was an advocacy group aiming to drum up support from Muslims for President George W. Bush. It was co-founded by Muhammad Ali Hasan and his mother Seeme, who were prominent donors to the Republican Party. In 2010, co-founder Muhammad Ali Hasan left the Republican Party. Muslims for Bush has since been reformed into the bipartisan Muslims for America.


Islamic Society of Boston mosque in Roxbury

In addition to the organizations just listed, other Muslim organizations in the United States serve more specific needs. For example, some organizations focus almost exclusively on charity work. As a response to a crackdown on Muslim charity organizations working overseas such as the Holy Land Foundation, more Muslims have begun to focus their charity efforts within the United States.

  • Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN) is one of the leading Muslim charity organizations in the United States. According to the Inner-City Muslim Action Network, IMAN seeks "to utilize the tremendous possibilities and opportunities that are present in the community to build a dynamic and vibrant alternative to the difficult conditions of inner city life." IMAN sees understanding Islam as part of a larger process to empower individuals and communities to work for the betterment of humanity.[110]
  • Islamic Relief USA is the American branch of Islamic Relief Worldwide, an international relief and development organization. Their stated goal is "to alleviate the suffering, hunger, illiteracy and diseases worldwide without regard to color, race or creed." They focus of development projects; emergency relief projects, such as providing aid to victims of Hurricane Katrina; orphans projects; and seasonal projects, such as food distributions during the month of Ramadan. They provide aid internationally and in the United States.[111]


There are two museums dedicated to the history of Islamic culture in the US and abroad. The International Museum of Muslim Cultures in Jackson, Mississippi opened in early 2001. [112] America's Islamic Heritage Museum in Washington, DC opened on April 30, 2011. [113]


American populace's views on Islam

A nationwide survey conducted in 2003 by the Pew Research Center and the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life reported that the percentage of Americans with an unfavorable view of Islam increased by one percentage point between 2002 and 2003 to 34%, and then by another two percentage points in 2005 to 36%. At the same time the percentage responding that Islam was more likely than other religion to encourage violence fell from 44% in July 2003 to 36% in July 2005.[114]

July 2007 Newsweek survey of non-Muslim Americans[115]
Statement Agree Disagree
Muslims in the United States are as
loyal to the U.S. as they are to Islam
40% 32%
Muslims do not condone violence 63%
Qur'an does not condone violence 40% 28%
Muslim culture does not glorify
Concern about Islamic radicals 54%
Support wiretapping by FBI 52%
American Muslims more "peaceable"
than non-American ones
52% 7%
Muslims are unfairly targeted by
law enforcement
38% 52%
Oppose mass detentions of Muslims 60% 25%
Believe most are immigrants 52%
Would allow son or daughter to date
a Muslim
Muslim students should be allowed
to wear headscarves
69% 23%
Would vote for a qualified Muslim
for political office
45% 45%

The July 2005 Pew survey also showed that 59% of American adults view Islam as "very different from their religion," down one percentage point from 2003. In the same survey 55% had a favorable opinion of Muslim Americans, up four percentage points from 51% in July 2003.[114] A December 2004 Cornell University survey shows that 47% of Americans believe that the Islamic religion is more likely than others to encourage violence among its believers.[116]

A CBS April 2006 poll showed that, in terms of faiths[117]

The Pew survey shows that, in terms of adherents[114]

A 2011 Gallup poll found that 56% of Protestants, 63% of Catholics, and 70% of Jews believed that American Muslims had no sympathy for Al Qaeda.[118]

American Muslims' views of the United States

PEW's poll of views on American Society[119]
Statement U.S.
Agree that one can get
ahead with hard work
71% 64%
Rate their community as
"excellent" or "good"
72% 82%
Excellent or good
personal financial situation
42% 49%
Satisfied with the
state of the U.S.
38% 32%

In a 2007 survey titled Muslim Americans: Middle Class and Mostly Mainstream, the Pew Research Center found Muslim Americans to be "largely integrated, happy with their lives, and moderate with respect to many of the issues that have divided Muslims and Westerners around the world."[119]

47% of respondents said they considered themselves Muslims first and Americans second. However, this was compared to 81% of British Muslims and 69% of German Muslims, when asked the equivalent question. A similar disparity exists in income, the percentage of American Muslims living in poverty is 2% higher than the general population, compared to an 18% disparity for French Muslims and 29% difference for Spanish Muslims.[119]

Politically, American Muslims were both pro-larger government and socially conservative. For example, 70% of respondents preferred a bigger government providing more services, while 61% stated that homosexuality should be discouraged by society. Despite their social conservatism, 71% of American Muslims expressed a preference for the Democratic Party.[119] The Pew Research survey also showed that nearly three quarters of respondents believed that American society rewards them for hard work regardless of their religious background.[120]

The same poll also reported that 40% of U.S. Muslims believe that Arab Muslims carried out the 9/11 attacks. Another 28% don't believe it and 32% said they had no opinion. Among 28% who doubted that Arab Muslims were behind the conspiracy, one-fourth of those claim the U.S. government or President George W. Bush was responsible. Only 26% of American Muslims believe the U.S.-led war on terror is a sincere effort to root out international terrorism. Only 5% of those surveyed had a "very favorable" or "somewhat favorable" view of the terrorist group Al-Qaeda. Only 35% of American Muslims stated that the decision for military action in Afghanistan was the right one and just 12% supported the use of military force in Iraq.[119]

In 2011, a Gallup poll found that 93% of Muslim Americans considered themselves loyal to the United States.[121]

American Muslim life after the September 11, 2001 attacks

After the September 11, 2001 attacks, America saw an increase in the number of hate crimes committed against people who were perceived to be Muslim, particularly those of Middle Eastern and South Asian descent. A publication in Journal of Applied Social Psychology found evidence that the number of anti-Muslim attacks in America in 2001 increased from 354 to 1,501 following 9/11.[122] The same year, the Arab American Institute reported an increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes ranging from discrimination and destruction of private property to violent threats and assaults, some of which resulted in deaths.[123][124][125]

In a 2007 survey, 53% of American Muslims reported that it was more difficult to be a Muslim after the 9/11 attacks. Asked to name the most important problem facing them, the options named by more than ten percent of American Muslims were discrimination (19%), being viewed as a terrorist (15%), public's ignorance about Islam (13%), and stereotyping (12%). 54% believe that the U.S. government's anti-terrorism activities single out Muslims. 76% of surveyed Muslim Americans stated that they are very or somewhat concerned about the rise of Islamic extremism around the world, while 61% express a similar concern about the possibility of Islamic extremism in the United States.[119]

On a small number of occasions Muslim women who wore distinctive hijab were harassed, causing some Muslim women to stay at home, while others temporarily abandoned the practice. In November 2009 Amal Abusumayah, a mother of four young girls, had her hijab pulled following derogatory comments while grocery shopping.[126] In 2006, one California woman was shot dead as she walked her child to school; she was wearing a headscarf and relatives and Muslim leaders believe that the killing was religiously motivated.[127][128] While 51% of American Muslims express worry that women wearing hijab will be treated poorly, 44% of American Muslim women who always wear hijab express a similar concern.[119]


Daniel Pipes, Steven Emerson and Robert Spencer believe that a segment of the U.S. Muslim population hate America and a wish for violence towards the United States.[129][130][131] Journalist Stephen Schwartz, American Jewish Committee terrorism pundit Yehudit Barsky, and U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer have all separately stated that there is growing "radical Wahhabi" influence in American mosques, financed by extremists. Barsky claims that 80% of U.S. mosques are radicalized.[132][133][134]

Peter Bergen responds, by stating that Islamism is adopted only by a minority of U.S. Muslims, and that a "vast majority of American Muslims have totally rejected the Islamist ideology of Osama bin Laden".[135] International Institute of Islamic Thought Director of Research Louay M. Safi has questioned the motives of several noted critics, stating that members of the "extreme right" are exploiting security concerns to further various Islamophobic objectives.[136] A 1998 United Nations report on "Civil and Political Rights, including Freedom of Expression" in the United States sharply condemned the attitude of the American media, noting "very harmful activity by the media in general and the popular press in particular, which consists of putting out a distorted and indeed hate-filled message treating Muslims as extremists and terrorists", adding that "efforts to combat the ignorance and intolerance purveyed by the media, above all through preventive measures in the field of education, should be given priority."[137]

Nevertheless, Muslim groups such as the ISNA have taken steps to counter any extremist influence, and implemented assorted programs and guidelines in order to help mosques identify and counter any such individuals.[138]

The Texas Board of Education passed a resolution accusing textbooks of taking a "pro-Islamic" bias and devoting more lines to explaining Islam than Christianity.[139]


Some Muslim Americans have been criticized because of perceived conflicts between their religious beliefs and mainstream American value systems. Muslim cab drivers in Minneapolis, Minnesota have been criticized for refusing passengers for carrying alcoholic beverages or dogs. The Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport authority has threatened to revoke the operating authority of any driver caught discriminating in this manner.[140] There are reported incidents in which Muslim cashiers have refused to sell pork products to their clientele.[141]

Public institutions in the U.S. have also drawn fire for accommodating Islam at the expense of taxpayers. The University of Michigan–Dearborn and a public college in Minnesota have been criticized for accommodating Islamic prayer rituals by constructing footbaths for Muslim students using tax-payers' money. Critics claim this special accommodation, which is made only to satisfy Muslims' needs, is a violation of Constitutional provisions separating church and state.[142] Along the same constitutional lines, a San Diego public elementary school is being criticized for making special accommodations specifically for American Muslims by adding Arabic to its curriculum and giving breaks for Muslim prayers. Since these exceptions have not been made for any religious group in the past, some critics see this as an endorsement of Islam.[143]

The first American Muslim Congressman, Keith Ellison, created controversy when he compared President George W. Bush's actions after the September 11, 2001 attacks to Adolf Hitler's actions after the Nazi-sparked Reichstag fire, saying that Bush was exploiting the aftermath of 9/11 for political gain, as Hitler had exploited the Reichstag fire to suspend constitutional liberties.[144] The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Anti-Defamation League condemned Ellison's remarks. The congressman later retracted the statement, saying that it was "inappropriate" for him to have made the comparison.[145]

At Columbus Manor School, a suburban Chicago elementary school with a student body nearly half Muslim Arab American, school board officials have considered eliminating holiday celebrations after Muslim parents complained that their culture's holidays were not included. Local parent Elizabeth Zahdan said broader inclusion, not elimination, was the group's goal. "I only wanted them modified to represent everyone," the Chicago Sun-Times quoted her as saying. "Now the kids are not being educated about other people."[146] However, the district's superintendent, Tom Smyth, said too much school time was being taken to celebrate holidays already, and he sent a directive to his principals requesting that they "tone down" activities unrelated to the curriculum, such as holiday parties.


The number of terror incidents involving Islamic radicals who are U.S. citizens has seen an uptick in recent years.[147] The September 11, 2001 terror attacks by al-Qaeda killed nearly three thousand people. Between 2001 and the end of 2009, the U.S. government reported forty-six incidents of "domestic radicalization and recruitment to jihadist terrorism" that involved at least 125 people. There had been an average of six cases per year since 2001, but that rose to thirteen in 2009.[147]

A March 2010 Bipartisan Policy Center paper points out an increasing number of American Muslims are playing high-level operational roles in al-Qaeda and aligned groups, as well as a larger numbers of American Muslims who are attaching themselves to these groups.[148]

A 2007 Pew poll reported that 15% of American Muslims under the age of 30 supported suicide bombings against civilian targets in at least some circumstances, while a further 11% said it could be "rarely justified." Among those over the age of 30, just 6% expressed their support for the same. (9% of Muslims over 30 and 5% under 30 chose not to answer).[119]

More than 80% of all convictions tied to international terrorist groups and homegrown terrorism since 9/11 involve defendants driven by a radical Islamist agenda, a review of Department of Justice statistics shows.[149]

Though Muslims represent about 1% of the American population, they constitute defendants in 186 of the 228 cases DOJ lists.[149]

Disaffected Muslims in the U.S.

There is an openly anti-American Muslim group in the U.S. The Islamic Thinkers Society [3], found only in New York City, engages in leafleting and picketing to spread their viewpoint.

At least one American not of recent immigrant background, John Walker Lindh, has also been imprisoned, convicted on charges of serving in the Taliban army and carrying weapons against U.S. soldiers. He had converted to Islam in the U.S., moved to Yemen to study Arabic, and then went to Pakistan where he was recruited by the Taliban.

Other notable cases include:

  • The Buffalo Six: Shafal Mosed, Yahya Goba, Sahim Alwan, Mukhtar Al-Bakri, Yasein Taher, Elbaneh Jaber. Six Muslims from the Lackawanna, N.Y. area were charged and convicted for providing material support to al Qaeda.[150]
  • Iyman Faris In October 2003 Iyman Faris was sentenced to 20 years in prison for providing material support and resources to al Qaeda and conspiracy for providing the terrorist organization with information about possible U.S. targets for attack.[150]
  • Ahmed Omar Abu Ali In November 2005 he was convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison for providing material support and resources to al Qaeda, conspiracy to assassinate the President of the United States, conspiracy to commit air piracy and conspiracy to destroy aircraft.[150]
  • Ali al-Tamimi was convicted and sentenced in April 2005 to life in prison for recruiting Muslims in the US to fight U.S. troops in Afghanistan.[150]

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Primary sources

  • Curtis IV, Edward E., ed. Columbia Sourcebook of Muslims in the United States (2007), 472pp table of contents

Further reading

  • Curtis IV, Edward E. Muslims in America: A Short History (2009)
  • Curtis IV, Edward E. Encyclopedia of Muslim-American History (2010), 715pp
  • GhaneaBassiri, Kambiz. A History of Islam in America: From the New World to the New World Order (Cambridge University Press; 2010) 416 pages; chronicles the Muslim presence in America across five centuries.
  • Haddad, Yvonne Yazbeck, Jane I. Smith, and Kathleen M. Moore. Muslim Women in America: The Challenge of Islamic Identity Today (2006)
  • Kabir, Nahib . Muslims in Australia: Immigration, Race Relations and Cultural History, London: Routledge ISBN 9780710311085 (2005)
  • Kidd, Thomas. S. American Christians and Islam - Evangelical Culture and Muslims from the Colonial Period to the Age of Terrorism, Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 2008 ISBN 9780691133492
  • Koszegi, Michael A., and J. Gordon Melton, eds. Islam In North America (Garland Reference Library of Social Science) (1992)
  • Marable, Manning; Aidi, Hishaam D, eds (2009). Black Routes to Islam. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 1-4039-8400-X. 
  • Smith, Jane I; Islam in America (2nd ed. 2009)

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