IIL Banner 2013
Stoked emotions and cultural ignorance are making the inclusive goals of the social worker more essential than ever today. Islam is a minority-minority religion in America, and our national ignorance makes integrating Muslim immigrants a formidable task. Current media coverage and public discussion has ignored the successful settlement of millions of Muslims during this generation and political rhetoric diverts attention from the positive outcomes of this immigrant population.

Having taught multiple summers in the neighborhoods of Molenbeek (Brussels) and St. Denis (Paris) in which radicalized young adults have created renewed negative focus on Muslim integration, this commentary offers a subjective summary of observed lessons. It begins by noting the ignorance in Western society about Islam. Here are 10 simple facts about Islam as background:
  1. Fewer than 1% of Americans are Muslims (approximate 2% are Jewish, 22% unaffiliated, 70% Christians, and 5% other religions or unknown).
  2. 2.6 million Americans are Muslim (Pew Research Center, 2015) (PBS states 6 million).
  3. Illinois and Virginia have the highest concentrations of Muslims (and Islam is the second largest religious affiliation in 20 states)(Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies, 2015).
  4. Muslim immigrants are equally as educated as native born Americans.
  5. Most Muslims have arrived in the last 25 years. Half are under 30, and 37% of adult Muslims are American-born. 65% have naturalized, a rate higher than Latino or Asian immigrants.
  6. Weekly worship in the 2,106 U.S. mosques is at about the same rate as native-born Christian Americans (47%).
  7. American Muslims watch TV, follow sports and play video games at nearly identical rates as the general population (Lawrence, 2014).(1)
  8. Of the 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, 87% are Sunni. Most American Muslims are also Sunni.
  9. The Shia/Sunni division began after the death of the Prophet Mohammed some 1,400 years ago as a disagreement about who should succeed him. The Sunnis felt that Abu Bakr, a close friend of the Prophet's, ought to be the next Muslim leader. 40% of Sunnis reject Shias as true Muslims (Pew Research Center, 2015).
  10. The largest Muslim countries are not in the Middle East. While 60% of Muslims live in Asia, one third of the world's Muslim population lives in Indonesia, India and Pakistan. A bonus fact: two thirds of Arabs in the U.S. are Christians. 
First and second generation immigrants who face visible differentiation need attention in differentiated ways. An in depth study by Claire L. AdidaDavid D. Laitin, and Marie-Anne Valfort, Identifying Barriers to Muslim Integration in France,(2) provides important lessons to the U.S.  The study, which uses the methodology of the NAS to study discrimination, focuses on religious affiliation as the factor associated with discrimination. The authors note that in France, a Muslim candidate is 2.5 times less likely to receive a job interview callback than is his or her Christian counterpart. A high participant number survey reveals, consistent with expectations from the correspondence test, that second-generation Muslim households in France have lower incomes compared with matched Christian households. The U.S. pattern is notably different: U.S. Muslims have higher than native-born income, higher employment levels and report less discrimination than their European counterparts. 

Overt prejudice has risen sharply in the U.S. and may make Muslim integration increasingly similar to France, that is to say, less integrated.  After the Paris terrorist attacks, U.S. political figures repeatedly pursued policy directed at all Muslims with disregard for the facts. Donald Trump called for closing mosques, a database of all Muslims and barring Muslim admissions while Ted Cruz goes in an opposite direction than President G.W. Bush's explicit respect of Islam by making "Syrian Muslim terrorists" his catch phrase. States seek to ban Muslims refugees. U.S. foreign policy includes increasing Middle East attention, from Iraq to Afghanistan and Syria, and a public impression has arisen that conflates geopolitics and religious affiliation. References to Islam differ from the coverage of other violent minorities, such as gang cultures of "Catholic" Central and South America or the shooter at Planned Parenthood in Colorado.  Anti-Muslim discrimination is often directed at Arabs although in the U.S. two thirds of all Arabs are Christians.
Taking the lesson that discrimination leads to disaffection, it follows that increasing negative rhetoric, overt prejudice, misinformation and discrimination in the labor market can increase the potential cultivation of a radicalized second generation element.

On the broad scope, adherents to Islam have done well as a minority in the U.S.- having one of the highest rates of naturalization, having earnings above the national average, having distributed themselves across the states and having high civic engagement, all of which suggests successful integration. It might be argued on one hand that, being such a small minority, Muslim Americans have engaged fully with the dominant culture. At the same time, some commentators note that there is a high correlation between Islamic and American values.  Islam revolves around a people and law, a non-racist ideology and a common language. It is 'conservative' by a few decades (think of the U.S. in the 60's) on many gender issues but it has a long history of resistance to ideologies that lead to war and fascism.  Women were given property rights long before the West afforded equality, and most large Muslim-dominated cities have been much safer and less violent than other cities of similar size.  Muslims moving into the West have generally brought appreciation for tolerance and acceptance of those of different faiths and race. Mosques have one of the most diverse memberships by nationality of any organization in the U.S. 
Family stability and abhorrence of social violence are cultural manifestations of primary values. The pillars of Islam that include acknowledgement of one God, prayer, charity, and fasting (as repentance) are Heartland values of the American that wants to be "One nation under God," based on the Ten Commandments. The faith leads to a culture that is family based.

Working with Islamic youth is more effective with some appreciation of the prevalent inherent cultural distinctives.  Social Work and the House of Islam: Orienting Practitioners to the Beliefs and Values of Muslims in the United States (3) by David R. Hodge, PhD, offers a perspective.  Social workers are most effective when there is understanding that often Western self-expression is foreign and the values of modesty and family are prevalent. There is little reason for the Muslim first generation to trust others who do not share their priorities, and this barrier to social services is often underappreciated. The second generation of religious minorities experience their minority status as discriminatory while the first generation affirms the tolerance they find in their new country (Kibria, 2009)(4). At the same time, the second generation rapidly adjusts: " I found a discourse of resistance to the changing orientations of youth to be prominent among British Bangladeshis, in contrast to a discourse of accommodation among Bangladeshi Americans."  Kibria (2009)(4).

Effective providers will learn which mosques have social services and utilize them (many mosques do not have the care function often associated with Christian parishes). Almost all newcomers have a primary need to connect with those of like experience and background, and gaining that security serves as a base for the harder work of cultural bridging that follows. Recognizing that faith is often a primary resource can foster friendships and turn providers into allies.
Practicing Muslims believe we are all children of God and seek to live by high ethical standards, functioning as good neighbors and business partners. There is virtually no ethnic pattern of deceitful dealing or social violence to be found in this newcomer population. Wading into the most dangerous neighborhood divided in a civil war of the Central African Republic, Pope Francis said last month, "Christians and Muslims are brothers and sisters. Those who claim to believe in God must also be men and women of peace." Overreaction to current events can sweep away decades of positive integration in the U.S. If political leaders fail to use their positions for the public good, then like the Pope, it must be religious leaders calling their community together and to foster the aspirations of shared humanity, peaceful coexistence and mutual respect. Social workers remain the cultural navigators and often build the environments of trust to foster mutual understanding and acceptance.
Boston College Professor Peter Skerry writes: "In the wake of 9/11, Americans demonstrated significant forbearance and understanding of their Muslim neighbors and fellow citizens. Today, the Muslims who I know well are as concerned and alarmed for themselves and their families as they were back then. In the weeks and months ahead we shall see-Mulsim and non-Muslim-what, if anything, we have all learned about American religious pluralism and tolerance since that horrendous day more than fourteen years ago."
U.S. citizens control the outcome of increased diversity of religion as well as of race and national origin. How we live with diversity is a critical agenda for all.

Westy Egmont, Director
BCSSW, Immigrant Integration Lab

  1. Lawrence, L. (2014, February 16). Islam, the American way. Boston, MA: The Christian Science Monitor.
  2. Adida, C. L., Laitin, D. D., & Valfort, M. (2010). Identifying barriers to Muslim integration in France. PNAS, 107(52), 22384-22390.
  3. Hodge, D. R. (2005). Social Work and the House of Islam: Orienting practitioners to the beliefs and values of Muslims in the United States. Social Work, 50(2), 162-173.
  4. Kibria, N. (2009). Diaspora diversity: Bangladeshi Muslims in Britain and the United States. Diaspora: A Journal of Transnational Studies, 18(1/2), 138-158.

ICNA Relief USA is the social services division of the Islamic Circle of North America, headquartered in New York with 14 field offices all over the United States. ICNA Relief USA's mission is to address the unmet needs of underserved communities in the United States by partnering with Islamic Centers, faith based organizations, and civic and governmental agencies. ICNA Relief USA focuses their work in the areas of domestic disaster relief and family support services, including crisis intervention, housing, hunger prevention, burial assistance, and health clinics, among other areas. While they partner with and work on behalf of people of all faiths, ICNA Relief USA is a "Muslim agency and feel[s] the responsibility to help and support the needy as [their] religious responsibility."
ICNA Relief USA has been offering assistance to refugee families in the United States for over a decade by providing food and cash assistance, language and job training. In light of the recent announcement that the United States will be accepting 10,000 Syrian refugees in the near future, the organization is making preparations to work with these new immigrants to help them transition to life in the United States. Because the assistance provided by the Office of Refugee Resettlement is limited, ICNA Relief USA works to fill the gaps in three important ways: 1)donation of household items, clothing, and money; 2) provision of case management services; and 3) connection of refugee families to mentors within their community.

Al Wazni, A. (2015)
Social Work, 60(4), pp. 325-333
Al Wazni presents an exploratory, qualitative study of 12 Muslim women living in the Triangle area of North Carolina, who were interviewed regarding their voluntary practice of hijab (the Muslim tradition of veiling), exercise of choice in hijab, their relationship to feminist belief and identity, female empowerment, and body image. Through examining the influence of political movements in the context of market capitalism, this article examines how the hijab and those who voluntarily practice this Muslim tradition challenge or contradict mainstream images of what is marketed in the West as feminist. Moreover, this article seeks to examine how, if at all, the hijab empowers those women who practice it, whether it offers an avenue of female empowerment and liberation not traditionally included in prevailing feminist thought, and how this may contribute to third-wave feminist theory. This study informs social work practitioners of the strength of Muslim women, the exercise of choice in hijab, and contributions to feminist thought as participants respond to assumptions of oppression, patriarchal control, and prejudice in a post-9/11 society.
Gould, E. D., & Klor, E. F. (2015)
The Economic Journal, pp. 1-51
Between 2000 and 2001, hate crimes against Muslims went from 28 to 481 reported incidents. Gould and Klor examine how, after the 9/11 attacks, backlash against Muslim communities within the U.S. has affected the rate of assimilation for Muslim immigrants in the West. Data were gathered from the Census and American Community Surveys from 1990-2010. The authors found that Muslim immigrants living in states with the biggest increase in hate crimes after 9/11 also have 1) greater chances of intra-marriage (marriage of two people from Muslim countries); 2) higher fertility; 3) lower female labor force participation; and 4) lower English proficiency. These findings shed light on the increasing use of terror and concurrent rise in social tensions surrounding Muslim immigrants in the West.
Read, J. G. (2014)
Sociology of Religion, 76(1), pp. 30-48
Although research on Arabs and Muslims in the United States expanded after 9/11, there is a gap in research about the experiences of women of Arab, Muslim, and Middle Eastern descent. Read works to close this gap by examining gender differences in Arab Muslim voluntary and civic engagement, and assessing the influence of religious identity on their participation. The study uses data from the Georgetown University's Muslim Americans in Public Spaces (MAPS) and from two national telephone surveys of Muslim Americans administered by Zogby International in 2001 and 2004. The study found that Arab Muslims are highly engaged in their communities, especially in programs that help the young, elderly, and the homeless. Women have similar overall levels of participation compared to men. However, women tend to participate more than men in school/youth organizations, and they participate less than men in professional, trade, and civic/neighborhood organizations. Additionally, the study found that organizational religiosity increases the likelihood of Arab Muslims being civilly active. Compared to the general U.S. population, Arab Muslims are equally involved in civic organizations. These findings mirror past research and indicate that Arab Muslims may be more integrated and active in U.S. society than commonly believed.
Bulut, E., & Ebaugh, H. R. (2014)
Journal of International Migration and Integration, 15(3), pp. 487-507
This article examines the assimilation rates of both practicing and non-practicing Turkish Muslim immigrants in the U.S. Turkish immigrants represent the largest Muslim immigrant population in the United States, but until recently, this population has been largely ignored by Islamic scholars. Using comparative analysis, the authors aim to bring some understanding regarding the differences between the rate of assimilation between non-practicing and practicing Turkish Muslim immigrants and how stricter adherence to religious practices might actually aid in the assimilation process. The authors found that both non-practicing and practicing Turkish Muslims have been successful in engaging in the practice of "selective" assimilation, but the practicing Muslims have been able to embrace the assimilation process more fully, leading to the conclusion that religion can provide an important protective factor that positively contributes to the assimilation process.

Salem, J. M. (2013)
Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, 33(1), pp. 77-92
In this comparative study analysis, Salem explores concepts of citizenship and religious expression among communities of Muslim immigrants who are residing in three different western countries: France, Germany, and the USA. The author's findings reveal that although all three countries have some similarities to the extent in which Muslim immigrants have been able to successfully integrate into the host country's society, there are also many differences, particularly between the USA and the two other European countries. Salem found that France's and Germany's more restrictive policies regarding immigration, lesser acceptance of religious symbols, and the patterns of Muslim immigrants tending to have a low socioeconomic status upon migration, might be contributing to Muslim immigrants in these two countries having a slower rate of assimilation than that of Muslim immigrants in the USA.  However, Salem does examine how post-9/11 policies, specifically the passing of the Patriot Act in 2001, have negatively impacted Muslim immigrant communities in the USA in more recent years, leading Muslim communities to feel an increase in discrimination and hostility from the mainstream culture.

Kibria, N. (2009)
Diaspora: A Journal of Transnational Studies, 18(1/2), pp. 138-158
Approaches toward religious practice and identity in Muslim immigrant communities differ across generations. Muslim youth are identifying more with pan-national Muslim institutions and distancing themselves from the ethnonational institutions that unite the immigrant population. This 'Muslim generation gap' has been a widely reported phenomenon throughout North America and Western Europe. However, the gap has developed differently in Bangladeshi-origin communities in Britain and the United States. Bangladeshis in the United States are more accepting of this change than Bangladeshis in Britain. This difference reflects the varying influence of the "1971 generation" in the U.S. compared to in Britain. The 1971 Bangladesh war of independence and its ideals of secular nationalism have been more influential in Britain than in the United States. For Bangladeshis in Britain, the 1971 war is a defining moment in the history of their community. Whereas, Bangladeshis in the U.S. are more likely to view 9/11 as the defining moment in their community's history.

The Oxford handbook of American Islam
By Haddad, Y. & Smith, J.
Oxford University Press (2014)
Islam is a diverse religion practiced by a variety of races, ethnicities, economic classes, and immigrants from all over the world. This handbook contains an analysis from thirty top scholars, both Muslim and non-Muslim, and a discussion on how Islam has grown in America. It covers areas from the first Muslims that came to America to the current struggle of Islamophobia.

Between Islam and the American dream: An immigrant Muslim Community in post-9/11 America
By Wang, Y.
Routledge Press (2013)
"Chinese-born sociologist Wang (American University of Sharjah, UAE) brings a helpful outsider perspective to the role of religion and, in particular, Islam, in American life... The division indicated by the title--Between Islam and the American Dream--aptly details how Muslims everywhere must negotiate spirituality and nationalism in different ways. Wang's book is a helpful examination of how this messy process is taking place, with a focus on American "values." Summing Up: Highly recommended' - A. H. Fabos, Clark University, CHOICE

Islam is a foreign country: American Muslims and the global crisis of authority
By Grewal, Z.
NYU Press (2013)
"This book provides a window into Muslim American debates around religious authority and identity. Its vast subject matter, timeliness, and fluidity are sure to leave readers wanting more; not in the sense of having been deprived, but out of a desire to explore the expansive subject that Grewal has opened up for us....This book is a valuable contribution to the study of Muslim Americans and will be of great interest to scholars of Islam and Americanists alike." -Journal of the American Academy of Religion
Young American Muslims: Dynamics of identity
By Kabir, N. A.
Edinburgh University Press (2013)
"This book presents a journey into the ideas, outlooks and identity of young Muslims in America today. Based on around 400 in-depth interviews with young Muslims from Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York and Virginia, all the richness and nuance of these minority voices can be heard. Many young Americans cherish an American dream, 'that all men are created equal'. And the election of America's first black President in 2008 has shown that America has moved forward. Yet since 9/11 Muslim Americans have faced renewed challenges, with their loyalty and sense of belonging being questioned."--Publisher's website
Why the West fears Islam: An exploration of Muslims in western liberal democracies
By Cesari, J.
Palgrave Macmillan (2013)
Do Muslims pose a threat to the core values of western societies? This is one of the central questions that Why the West fears Islam: An exploration of Muslims in western liberal democracies attempts to answer. Drawing upon large scale research focusing on Muslims in the United States, France, the United Kingdom, Germany, and the Netherlands, the author challenges the prevalent fearful ideologies toward Muslims and concludes that the presumed incompatibility between Islam and civic/political loyalties is not upheld by the empirical data. By bringing Muslim's voice into discussion, Cesari contributes to the deconstruction of Islamophobia and argues that Muslims who live in the West are overall integrated into society and value western political institutions.

The Cambridge companion to American Islam
By Hammer, J., & Safi, O. (Eds.)
Cambridge University Press (2013)
The Cambridge companion to American Islam is a scholarly work providing a comprehensive overview of the historical and current situations of Islamic immigrants in the United States. The twenty chapters cover various aspects of American Muslim communities, to many of which previous studies have put little attention. Topics introduced in this book include areas such as cultural and literary production, political participation, media, conversion, religious practice, education, interfaith dialogue, and marriage and family among all other aspects. This book provides readers a landscape of the challenges, controversies, and opportunities faced by Islamic communities in the United States. This volume is highly evaluated in the field of Muslim research. According to Sherman A. Jackson, University of Southern California, "This important collection is likely to inform discussions on Islam in America for generations to come. If nothing else, it shows how 'Islamic Studies' as a whole is being redefined as we speak."
Follow Professor Egmont on Twitter @wegmont
EDITORS: W. Egmont, K. Kalliontzi, J. Margolis, K. Medeiros, J. Ozieblowski, C. Palleschi, A. Spalding, & Q. Zhang-Wu