AMERICA’S MOST DIVERSE COMMUNITY
The Muslim American community is the most diverse faith community in America. Did you know that approximately 30 percent of Muslim Americans are Black? Another third are of South Asian descent, and around one-quarter are of Arab heritage. There are White Muslims, Hispanic Muslims, and Muslims representing just about every imaginable race and ethnicity. This racial and ethnic diversity is also accompanied by diversity in sects (religious schools of thought), geography, educational level, income, and place of birth (American and foreign-born). This diversity can also be found in the political arena.
Prior to 9/11, Muslims tended to align more with the Republican Party because of its socially conservative and pro-business agenda.
Entrepreneurialism is prevalent in the Muslim community, as many Muslims own businesses—small and large. Still, Muslims have always cared deeply about social justice and helping those less fortunate, as seen in policies often espoused by the Democratic Party. Islam mandates Muslims to give to orphans, the poor, the widowed, and the needy. In fact, zakat, or almsgiving to the needy once per year, is one of the five pillars of Islam. Businesses are mandated to give an even bigger percentage of their profits.
"THE MUSLIM AMERICAN COMMUNITY IS THE MOST DIVERSE FAITH COMMUNITY IN AMERICA. DID YOU KNOW THAT APPROXIMATELY 30 PERCENT OF MUSLIM AMERICANS ARE BLACK? ANOTHER THIRD ARE OF SOUTH ASIAN DESCENT, AND AROUND ONE-QUARTER ARE OF ARAB HERITAGE."
After 9/11 and the Republican Party’s very public demonization of the Muslim faith and community as a security threat, Muslims began to shift toward increased alignment with the Democratic Party. This was understandable, as the community felt besieged and misunderstood by Republicans. This trend continued under the Trump Administration, especially following the imposition of the Muslim Ban, which ended immigration from certain Muslim-majority countries.
In 2020, our organization, Emgage, found that Muslim voters were nearly unanimous in their support for Joe Biden: Eighty-six percent of Muslims voted for President Biden, while just 6 percent voted for former president Trump. Given its young demographics (44 percent are aged 18–29), which skew more liberal, the Muslim community has been trending more progressive in recent years. A majority believes that government programs and services to support the poor do more good than harm.
"MUSLIM AMERICANS ALSO WANT TO SEE AN END TO THE RHETORIC AND POLICIES OF DIVISIVENESS WHERE THEIR FAITH IS QUESTIONED AS INHERENTLY INCOMPATIBLE WITH AMERICAN DEMOCRACY. THIS CANNOT BE FURTHER FROM THE TRUTH, AS WE HAVE SEEN A MARKED INCREASE IN MUSLIM AMERICAN CIVIC PARTICIPATION AND VOTING PROPENSITY."
On some issues, the community is largely aligned. For example, many Muslim Americans care deeply about how the United States behaves abroad. Since over half are first- or second-generation immigrants, they want to see US foreign policies that uphold human rights and the rule of law. All too often, the US government turns a blind eye to, or even collaborates with, authoritarian governments and human rights violators in countries with significant Muslim populations. These marriages of convenience have had a negative impact on Muslims in America. From terrorism to mass migration, the root causes all too often can be found in poor governance and terrible human rights records that the United States either ignores or enables. Muslim Americans also want to see an end to the rhetoric and policies of divisiveness where their faith is questioned as inherently incompatible with American democracy. This cannot be further from the truth, as we have seen a marked increase in Muslim American civic participation and voting propensity.
"BEFORE EITHER PARTY MAKES ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT OUR COMMUNITY, THEY NEED TO KNOW THAT BECAUSE OF ITS DIVERSITY AND COMPLEXITY, AS OUTLINED ABOVE, THERE ARE MANY ISSUES AND VALUES CENTRAL TO OUR COMMUNITY THAT WILL NEED TO BE ADDRESSED."
The community still isn’t monolithic, however. According to a 2020 Pew Research Center survey, 22 percent of Muslims identify as conservative and, as such, hold onto beliefs and views that match those of other religious conservative Americans. One instance in which Muslims are falling on both sides of the aisle is the current debate about parental rights to oversee what and when children are exposed to sensitive social issues, especially when they contradict established religious dogma. It is possible that this issue is an indication that recent voting trends will reverse and that more Muslims will begin voting Republican, but it is difficult to determine to what degree without updated polling.
Before either party makes assumptions about our community, they need to know that because of its diversity and complexity, as outlined above, there are many issues and values central to our community that will need to be addressed.
Therefore, it is incumbent upon both parties, as well as Independents, to engage the Muslim community seriously and thoughtfully. If they do, they will find a receptive and informed community that can be a fantastic partner in making our country stronger than ever.
Wa’el Alzayat is CEO of Emgage, a national nonpartisan voter mobilization organization. He previously served as a policy expert at the US Department of State.