Just over a month after the Boston Marathon bombings and subsequent arrest of one of the Muslim suspects, the spotlight has once again fallen on the American Muslim community. Yet, very little data exists about American Muslim communities.
A new study, released by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU), provides a detailed examination into one of the largest Muslim communities in the United States.
“The Bay Area Muslim Study: Establishing Identity and Community,” by authors Farid Senzai and Hatem Bazian, is a groundbreaking study providing valuable data on the San Francisco Bay Area Muslim community’s demographics, sense of identity, economic well being, political and civic engagement, and challenges.
The authors estimate the population to be around 250,000, or about 3.5 percent of the entire Bay Area population.
The study, which surveyed more than 1,100 Bay Area Muslims, found a tremendously diverse community that should not be viewed as a monolith.
Bay Area American Muslims hail from across the globe, with over a third (34 percent) born in the United States. Despite the trials faced by American Muslims in a post 9/11 environment (60 percent said they knew someone who had been discriminated against, and 23 percent indicated that they themselves were victims of a hate crime), Bay Area Muslims are civically engaged, well educated, believe that Islam is compatible with political participation, make charitable contributions at a high level and volunteer at a rate much higher than the national average.
According to the data collected, 62 percent said that they had volunteered in the past year (as opposed to 27% of the general public), by donating time to local charities and nonprofit organizations, being involved in their local mosque, or in similar activities. The authors note that “many of them, regardless of their type of civic engagement, can be seen as ‘promoting the quality of life’ in their communities,” and volunteer efforts were not limited to Muslim community causes. African American Muslims were the most likely to have volunteered, with 80 percent saying they had done so during the last twelve months.
The report concludes with recommendations for community leaders, local philanthropic organizations and policymakers, and offers a blueprint for future studies on American Muslim communities.
Supporters of the study include the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, The San Francisco Foundation, Marin Community Foundation and Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy (AAPIP), who partnered with the One Nation Foundation to create the One Nation Bay Area project in 2010 and subsequently commissioned ISPU to produce the report.
Key findings include:
• The Muslim community is incredibly diverse, ranging from new immigrants from various world conflicts, to highly educated and well established professionals, to native-born Muslims and recent converts, among many others.
• More than 30% of its population is foreign-born, and close to two-thirds of its residents, under the age of 18, are the children of immigrants.
• Nearly 250,000 Muslims–one of the highest concentrations of Muslims in the country–live, study, volunteer, work and contribute to the economies and communities of the Bay Area.
• Nearly 30 percent of Bay Area Muslims have earned a B.A., nearly 25 percent completed graduate school, and 5 percent had earned a Ph.D. These numbers are higher than those for the general Bay Area population, of which slightly more than 41 percent, aged twenty-five or older, have a B.A. (25.2%) or higher (16.3%). This also appears to be higher than the general public at the national level.
• In comparison to other minority groups, Muslims are doing fairly well in regards to educational attainment. According to this survey, nearly 30 percent of Bay Area Muslims had a college degree. This is equivalent to Asians (29%) among the general public nationally, and significantly higher than Hispanics (9%) and African Americans (12%)
• As a whole, the Muslim community suffers from a significant socio-economic gap, with median household income below the Bay Area average.
• Huge disparities exist within the community as well. While a highly educated, highly paid segment of the community exists -- largely in Silicon Valley -- a disproportionate number of Muslims live below the poverty line, particularly in San Francisco and Alameda County. South Asian Muslims have the highest incomes in the community, with nearly half having a household income above $100,000.
• Among immigrant Muslims, 67 percent speak at least three languages.
• The institutional support -- the mosques, nonprofit organizations and government agencies required to serve the community -- is still underdeveloped. Poorer Muslims, particularly clusters of refugees living in larger cities, are particularly vulnerable.
The Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU) is an independent nonprofit public policy research organization. Its mission is to provide expert analysis, insight and context to critical issues facing the nation, with an emphasis on those issues related to Muslim communities in the U.S. and abroad. For more on ISPU visit www.ispu.org.
• This study was conducted by Farid Senzai and Hatem Bazian. Senzai is a fellow and the director of research at ISPU, as well as an assistant professor of political science at Santa Clara University. Bazian, a senior lecturer in the department of Near Eastern and Ethnic Studies at University of California, Berkeley, is co-founder and Academic Affairs Chair at Zaytuna College, the first four-year liberal arts Muslim college in the United States.
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