No Signs of Growth in Alienation or Support for Extremism

Washington, D.C. — As the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks approaches, a comprehensive public opinion survey by the Pew Research Center finds no indication of increased alienation or anger among Muslim Americans in response to concerns about home-grown Islamic terrorists, controversies about the building of mosques and other pressures on this high-profile minority group in recent years. Nor does the new polling provide any evidence of rising support for Islamic extremism among Muslim Americans.


Mary Schultz
Communications Manager

Jemila Woodson
Communications Associate

On the contrary, as found in the Pew Research Center’s 2007 survey, Muslims in the United States continue to reject extremism by much larger margins than most other Muslim publics around the world, and many express concern about the possible rise of Islamic extremism. Very few Muslim Americans – just 1% – say that suicide bombing and other forms of violence against civilian targets are often justified to defend Islam from its enemies; an additional 7% say suicide bombings are sometimes justified in these circumstances. Fully 81% say that suicide bombing and other forms of violence against civilians are never justified. Comparably small percentages of Muslim Americans express favorable views of al Qaeda, and the current poll finds more holding very unfavorable views of al Qaeda now than in 2007.

Nevertheless, a significant minority (21%) of Muslim Americans report that they see a great deal or a fair amount of support for extremism in the Muslim American community. That is far below the proportion of the general public that sees at least a fair amount of support (40%). And while nearly a quarter of the public (24%) thinks that Muslim support for extremism is increasing, just 4% of Muslims agree.

Since 2007, Muslim American views of U.S. efforts to combat terrorism have improved. Currently, opinion is divided – 43% say U.S. efforts are a sincere attempt to reduce terrorism while 41% do not. Four years ago, during the Bush administration, more than twice as many viewed U.S. anti-terrorism efforts as insincere rather than sincere (55% to 26%).

However, concerns about Islamic extremism coexist with the view that life for U.S. Muslims in post-9/11 America is difficult in a number of ways. Significant numbers report being looked at with suspicion (28%), and being called offensive names (22%). And while 21% report being singled out by airport security, 13% say they have been singled out by other law enforcement. However, about the same percentage today as in 2007 say that life for Muslims in the U.S. has become more difficult since 9/11. The percentage reporting they are bothered at least some by their sense that Muslim Americans are being singled out for increased government surveillance also is no greater now than four years ago (38% vs. 39%).

Politically, Muslim Americans, who lean strongly Democratic, are much more satisfied than they were four years ago. Fully 76% approve of Barack Obama’s job performance; in 2007, about as many (69%) disapproved of the way George Bush handled his job as president.

The survey of 1,033 Muslim Americans, conducted April 14-July 22 in English, Arabic, Farsi and Urdu, also finds:

  • Overall Satisfaction: Muslim Americans are overwhelmingly satisfied with the way things are going in their lives (82%) and continue to rate their communities very positively as places to live (79% excellent or good). Strikingly, Muslim Americans are far more satisfied with the way things are going in the U.S. (56%) than is the general public (23%). Four years ago, Muslim Americans and the public at large rendered fairly similar judgments about the state of the nation.
  • Muslim or American: A majority of Muslim Americans (56%) say that most Muslims who come to the U.S. want to adopt American customs and ways of life. In contrast, just a third (33%) of the general public believes that Muslims who come to the U.S. want to assimilate. Asked to choose, nearly half of Muslims in the U.S. (49%) say they think of themselves first as a Muslim, 26% say they think of themselves first as an American, and 18% say they are both. Among U.S. Christians, 46% say they identify as Christian first, while the same number identify as American first.
  • Demographics: Based on data from the survey, Pew Research Center demographers estimate that there are about 1.8 million Muslim adults and 2.75 million Muslims of all ages (including children under 18) living in the United States in 2011. A 63% majority of Muslim Americans are first-generation immigrants to the U.S., with 45% having arrived in the U.S. since 1990. Slightly more than one-third (37%) were born in the U.S., including 15% who had at least one immigrant parent. About one-fourth of all Muslims are immigrants from the Middle East or North Africa, while 16% come from South Asia.
  • Leadership: Nearly half of Muslim Americans (48%) say that Muslim leaders in the United States have not done enough to speak out against Islamic extremists; only about a third (34%) say Muslim leaders have done enough in challenging extremists. At the same time, 68% say that U.S. Muslims themselves are cooperating as much as they should with law enforcement.
  • Mosque Controversy: A clear majority (72%) of Muslim Americans who are aware of the plan to build a mosque and Islamic center near the site of the World Trade Center say it should be allowed. More than a third (35%) say either that the project should not be allowed, or say it should be allowed but say it is a bad idea. A quarter of Muslim Americans report that mosques or Islamic centers in their communities have been the target of controversy or outright hostility.

The full report, Muslim Americans: No Signs of Growth in Alienation or Support for Extremism, is available on the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press website. In addition, the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life offers a variety of related online resources, including an updated interactive map, which shows the locations of 37 proposed mosques and Islamic centers that have encountered community resistance in the last three years.


The Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank that provides information on the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world. The center conducts public opinion polling, demographic studies, content analysis and other empirical social science research. It does not take positions on policy issues. The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life is a project of the Pew Research Center; it delivers timely, impartial information on issues at the intersection of religion and public affairs in the U.S. and around the world. The Pew Research Center is an independently operated subsidiary of The Pew Charitable Trusts.