Muslims living in the United States are more likely to harbor "Islamophobic" attitudes than the general public according to a recent survey conducted by a Muslim think tank. And while "Islamophobia" has been on a downward trend in non-Muslim communities in the United States since 2018, Muslim belief in "Islamophobic tropes" has increased since then.
"The one and only group that has been trending up have been Muslims, in fact, in their internalization of these tropes and their own endorsement of them," said Dalia Mogahed, director of research for the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU), a Muslim think tank headquartered in Dearborn, Mich.
Mogahed was speaking at an ISPU webinar which announced the findings on Aug. 25. "Islamophobia is not the norm," Mogahed said. "It is not socially normative to endorse these tropes."
Established in early 2002, the ISPU has published an annual "Islamophobia Index" every year since 2018. The index purportedly measures anti-Muslim bigotry expressed by Muslims and other religious groups in the United States. To measure "Islamophobia," the ISPU asked respondents to express their level of agreement (on a scale of one to five) with five statements about Muslim propensity to violence, the tendency of Muslims to discriminate against women, their hostility toward the United States, how "civilized" they are, and whether Muslims are responsible for violent acts perpetrated by their fellow Muslims. In addition to measuring the opinions of the general public, the survey targeted Muslims, Protestants, white Evangelicals, Catholics, and religiously non-affiliated Americans.
To ISPU's obvious dismay, 24 percent of American Muslims believed that their co-religionists are more prone to violence than non-Muslims, while only nine percent of the general public believes this to be true.
And while 19 percent American Muslims believe that their co-religionists are less civilized than other people, only five percent of the general public agrees.
Eighteen percent of American Muslims believe that Muslims are "partially responsible" for terrorism perpetrated by their co-religionists, while only six percent of the general public believes so.
In addition to reporting the level of agreement each community expressed for the five "Islamophobic" tropes, the ISPU complied the data to create a score from one to 100 to measure the overall "Islamophobia" level of each community surveyed.
According to the ISPU, White Evangelicals and Catholics are more "Islamophobic" than Muslims. But even the "Islamophobia" of these two groups has remained steady or decreased over the years.
But Muslims — unlike every other group surveyed — have become more "Islamophobic" in the years since 2018. "In 2022, we find Islamophobia is on the decline among other groups, but not among Muslims," the report states.
For example, white Evangelicals scored 40 on the index in 2018 and 30 in 2022. The American Muslim score on ISPU's Islamophobia index, however, increased from 18 in 2018 to 26 in 2022.
According to the study, Muslims who identified as white exhibited more "Islamophobia" than Muslims who identified as Asian, Arab or black. In response, Moustafa Bayoumi, a professor of English at Brooklyn College, City University of New York, suggested that the "Islamophobia" of white Muslims was a consequence of their living in the United States, a country "driven by conservative politics centered on whiteness."
Muslims have become more "Islamophobic" and willing to believe their co-religionists are more violent than other people, Mogahed said, "because they're consuming the same media as everybody else."
Mogahed, who did not respond to queries from FWI, did not explain how media reports could cause Muslims to become more "Islamophobic" while the general public, which is exposed to the same media, is becoming less so.
Dalia al-Aqidi, a senior fellow at the Center for Security Policy and commentator for the Arab News, says ISPU is misinterpreting Muslims' legitimate concern about the actions of their co-religionists — and the impact these actions have on their lives — as "Islamophobia."
When Muslims engage in jihadist attacks in the name of their faith, al-Aqidi said, they make moderate Muslims in the West feel alienated from both their faith and from larger societies in which they live. Such attacks also remind Muslims in the West of the violence that has taken place in Muslim-majority societies that they or their families emigrated from. It's important to remember that Muslims are more likely to be targets of Muslim terrorists than non-Muslims, she added.
Consequently, it's not reasonable to interpret Muslim concerns about misogyny and violence in the Muslim community as "Islamophobia," al-Aqidi said, because of the personal impact these problems have on their lives.
"Every time an attack takes place," al-Aqidi said, "most Muslims say, 'Let it be someone else.' Anytime someone perpetrates an attack in the name of Islam, it affects moderate Muslims deeply."
The ISPU report does not document "Islamophobia" on the part of Muslims, but instead reveals a desire for reform within the community, said Zuhdi Jasser, president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy and co-founder of the Muslim Reform Movement.
"This is not Islamophobia," he said. "In fact, it is love of our communities and faith that drives this honesty. We recognize that our condition is within and primarily due to a religious leadership that is medieval, draconian and in dire need of major reforms."
Adrian Calamel, an analyst specializing in the Middle East and Islamist activism in the West, said that ISPU and its supporters are engaging in a sleight-of-hand by portraying white Muslims as "Islamophobes."
"They're trying to portray Muslim self-criticism as white supremacism," he said. "This is a clear attempt to stifle reform Muslims in the West."
Calamel is suspicious of how ISPU's survey asked Muslim respondents to describe themselves along racial lines. It would have been better to ask Muslim respondents to report their national origins. With the category of "black" Muslims, the ISPU report obscures differences in attitudes between Muslims from Somalia and African Americans who belong to the Nation of Islam, for example.
"They broke Muslims into categories they do not identify themselves as," he said, adding that this might be an attempt to "weaponize" the survey results to have an impact on the upcoming mid-term elections. The fact that ISPU reports are issued every even-numbered year and highlight hot-button election issues such as gun control, climate change, or this year, concerns about voter suppression, indicate that the reports are more of an attempt to drive voter behavior than to educate the public.
"A while back it was the 'Muslim ban,'" he said. "This year it's white supremacism."
Dexter Van Zile is managing editor of the Middle East Forum publication Focus on Western Islamism.