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Muslims In The U.S. Face Increased Discrimination, PEW Report Says


There are an estimated 3.3 million Muslims in the United States, and that number is growing. Today the Pew Research Center released a wide-ranging poll on Muslims in America. And while almost half the Muslims surveyed reported incidents of verbal or physical abuse in the past 12 months, many still say they are optimistic about their future and about this country. To talk about this, we're joined now by NPR's Leila Fadel. You might remember her from her time as NPR's Cairo correspondent. Now she has taken on a new job covering culture, race and diversity here in the U.S. She is with us from her new base in Las Vegas. Hi there.


MCEVERS: So what were the most striking findings in this poll of Muslim-Americans?

FADEL: Well, this is the third Pew poll on Muslims in America in 10 years. And I think the first thing that's so noticeable is the incredible diversity of Muslim communities in this country. Often Muslims are spoken about as a monolith when, in fact, this is a population that's really a diverse mosaic. There's no one ethnic group that dominates the population. It's African-American. It's white. It's Asian. It's Arab. It's Latino. And list goes on. And it's really young. The majority of Muslims in America are under 40.

MCEVERS: And what about that finding that I mentioned in the introduction that Muslims are feeling optimistic?

FADEL: Yeah, it's interesting. Despite this feeling that they're not accepted as part of the mainstream, that the president is unfriendly toward Muslims and that discrimination is going up, 7 in 10 respondents really believe in the American dream still, that if you work hard, you can get ahead. And the overwhelming majority are proud to be both American and Muslim. This is what Besheer Mohamed, lead author of the report, had to say.

BESHEER MOHAMED: There's a thread throughout the survey of this tension that our Muslim respondents tell us about where on the one hand, they're uncertain about their acceptance by the larger society. But on the other hand, they're committed to an American identity. And I think this finding that 9 in 10 say they're proud to be American is sort of a perfect example of that commitment.

MCEVERS: Who did the poll survey?

FADEL: So the poll was conducted on a sample size of about a thousand Muslim adults living in the U.S. And really there's not that much data out there on Muslims in the U.S. Muslims are a group of people in America that are often spoken about and scrutinized, but there's very little data, including how many there are because being Muslim is not something you check on the census form.

MCEVERS: You've been traveling and visiting a lot of different Muslim communities across the U.S. Does this poll reflect what you've been seeing?

FADEL: Well, yeah. I visited communities in Texas and California as well as cities like Chicago and New York and spoke to Muslims in all parts of the country. And it's funny because in the poll, it seems that women are more worried about discrimination. They're more worried about their place in society. And I really felt that same way in doing interviews across the country. And I think that's really because when a woman decides to put a scarf on her head and cover her hair, she suddenly becomes unmistakably Muslim and de facto ambassador of the faith and a de facto target for the faith.

So, you know, I met people like a young girl in California who's being bullied at school. And she decided to put on the scarf because her mom does, and she loves her mom and admires her mom. And she found at school that suddenly kids were whispering behind her back allahu akbar, pinning things to her backpack. And the teacher was handing out articles about stonings in Afghanistan as an example of her faith. And this is what she was having to deal with and answer for in her faith at just 14 years old while her sister, who doesn't cover her hair, didn't have to deal with any of that.

MCEVERS: NPR's Leila Fadel, thank you so much.

FADEL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kelly McEvers
Kelly McEvers is a two-time Peabody Award-winning journalist and former host of NPR's flagship newsmagazine, All Things Considered. She spent much of her career as an international correspondent, reporting from Asia, the former Soviet Union, and the Middle East. She is the creator and host of the acclaimed Embedded podcast, a documentary show that goes to hard places to make sense of the news. She began her career as a newspaper reporter in Chicago.
Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.