Feature

The post-9/11 backlash against Islam may be leading Muslim Americans to identify more strongly with their religious values and less with the culture of their adopted home, according to an assessment conducted by Anisah Bagasra, of Claflin University in Orangeburg, S.C.

Bagasra discussed the results of her Acculturation Scale for Muslim-Americans at an APA Annual Convention session exploring new psychological research on Muslims in the United States.

Her measure found that whether they were born in the United States or not, Muslim Americans are wrestling between conforming to American social norms and maintaining a strong Islamic identity.

That struggle comes at a time of rising anti-immigration sentiment in the United States, as evidenced by public support for stronger laws targeting illegal immigration, such as the measure passed in Arizona this year. In fact, in America today there is less public support for the “salad bowl” model of immigration in which one’s ethnic identity is blended into the broader American culture, and more support for the “melting pot” model, in which an immigrant gives up his or her ethnic identity and fully embraces American values, Bagasra said.

Although Islamic religious leaders and groups at the national level such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations are encouraging Muslim-Americans to reach out to their non-Muslim neighbors and to engage in American civic life, that’s not what appears to be happening, Bagasra said. “We’re seeing that the Muslim-American population is actually pulling more inwards toward themselves,” she said.

Her scale examined how U.S.-born and immigrant Muslims viewed their adherence to Islamic values, and whether they were adopting values of the dominant American culture. The measure was completed by 255 people nationwide. Bagasra found that:

  • 75 percent said most of their friends are Muslim.

  • 68 percent said they’re not willing to marry a non-Muslim.

  • 77 percent expressed a strong desire to raise their children as Muslims.

  • 55 percent said it was either slightly true or not at all true that participating in practices or displaying symbols of American patriotism — such as reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, hanging the American flag or standing up for the national anthem — was important to them.

The scale did find that American Muslims were strongly interested in politics, with almost 81 percent of participants agreeing that voting in local and federal elections is important. The measure also found a willingness to participate in social rituals: Sixty percent said they’re comfortable shaking hands with a member of the opposite sex, and 68 percent said they often eat meals with non-Muslim friends.

Other speakers at the session reported on different aspects of Muslim acculturation in America. They included:

  • Farah Khan, a student at the New York University School of Medicine, who has conducted research with African-American Muslim young adults. She has found that although many feel a need to fit in with peers, they have trouble integrating the religious requirements of their Muslim faith with their ethnic identities as African Americans.

  • Mona M. Amer, PhD, of the American University in Cairo, discussed her finding that Christian Arab Americans show greater cultural adaptation, stronger social support networks and better measures of mental health as compared with Muslim Arab Americans.

  • Paul E. Priester, PhD, of North Park University in Chicago, has found that a 12-minute psychoeducational film shown to self-identified Christian American college students changed their belief that Islam endorses terrorism. However, he found the film did not change the students’ desire to maintain social distance from Muslims.