Pew Research has released their newest report on Muslims in the United States, and it’s worth a read if you are concerned about sharing the gospel and making new disciples among our Muslim-background communities in the United States.
For the last 10 years, Pew Research has been running what appears to be a longitudinal study, of sorts, concerning the Muslim population in the United States. In 2007, they did their first major survey. Pew followed up with another in 2011 and again this past year.
Below are several things of note I gleaned from the report:
The majority of Muslims in America are foreign-born immigrants, but probably not for long.
According to the study, 58 percent of Muslims in America are immigrants. In other words, they were born in another country and migrated to the United States. This is still the primary means of growth in the Muslim population of the United States. However, immigration may be showing signs of slowing down some and birthrate and conversion are catching up. While the majority are still immigrants, it is not a significant majority, with 42 percent being second-generation or greater. Not a small percentage of this growth in non-immigrant Muslims actually comes from religion switching, especially among the African American and Hispanic communities. In other words, in parts of the United States, Muslim missionary efforts toward blacks and Hispanics are working.
Muslims are a very diverse group in the United States.
Cutting against the stereotype often ascribed to them, Muslims are not all the same ethnicity or culture. In fact, the report highlighted the radical diversity that existed in national, linguistic, and ethnic background within the Muslim population in the U.S. Just within respondents from their survey a total of 75 different national origins were collected. These different groups span the globe, coming from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. It is simply an inaccurate assessment to assume all Muslims are Arab, or to assume they all have similar cultural practices or even worldview values.
There is both continuity and discontinuity between foreign-born Muslims and U.S.-born Muslims.
Of course, on a level, this is a common sense conclusion. However, the study does an exceptional job pointing out the generational differences that exist between Muslims who immigrated to the United States and those either born here or converted to Islam. Both groups exhibit a high level of pride in their Muslim heritage and both groups also demonstrate a pro-America position as well. In other words, they are proud of their Muslim heritage and proud of being American citizens and all that represents. A number of testimonies in the report showcase support for American ideals such as freedom and equality, even compared to other Muslim countries.
However, differences in worldview and position in life were also noticed. Immigrants were largely more convinced that hard work led to prosperity, and on the whole were less likely than their children to cite issues of discrimination against Muslims. On the whole immigrants were more positive about their social location in American society. Second and third generation respondents were more convinced of discrimination based on their cultural and ethnic heritage and claim to have experienced it more than their parents. This could be true for a number of reasons. Immigrants have a prior experience in countries where freedom and non-discrimination are markedly different. Although, the U.S.-born children of these immigrants are most likely more embedded into the broader culture than their parents, raising the likelihood that they would be a target for discrimination.
Muslim immigrants, more than other groups, are not poor.
The report debunks another common misconception of Muslim immigrants. Contrary to the assumption that most immigrants are poor, many Muslim immigrants are wealthy. In fact, Muslim immigrants on the whole were better off than other immigrant groups. A solid 29 percent of Muslim immigrants have a household income over $100,000 per year.
A common thread that ran through the report was the overall conviction of Muslim immigrants that hard work pays off. This conviction did not extend to their children, however, who were half as likely to own a home or have a college degree.
Concerning the Great Commission
Reports like this should do a few things for those of us tasked with making disciples of all nations. They should sensitize us to the reality that our own neighborhoods now have an array of nations, all of which should be the concern of our local churches. However, they should also help us see the real diversity we are trying to reach and create a humility in us concerning our approach. We cannot simply think that doing things the “American way” (whatever that means) will reach people from a completely different culture and worldview. Missions models in our own cities now require us to think about more than gathering extra people into our own churches. Finally, even though these reports are full of numbers and statistics, we need to let them humanize our neighbors that seem very different than us.
At the end of the day, even across great cultural and worldview divides, our Muslim neighbors are trying to make ends meet just like we are. They have families, and their kids don’t always agree with them. If they chose to move to America, they did so because they like it here and care about this country. More importantly than all of that, they are made in God’s image just like you and me. God’s love demonstrated in the death and resurrection of Christ extends to them too, and we’re the ones that should be telling them about it.
You can check out the full report here: