Analyst Mogahed: Muslims in US mixed story of progress, challenges

Analyst Mogahed: Muslims in US mixed story of progress, challenges

Dalia Mogahed (Photo: Today's Zaman)

August 12, 2012, Sunday/ 15:18:00/ YONCA POYRAZ DOĞAN

‘Muslim-Americans have made a lot of progress, and they also face a lot of challenges. One thing that has grown is awareness of Muslim religious practices, for example, Ramadan. Today, almost every government agency has an iftar dinner. It is very common now, especially for people here in Washington, to know the greetings that we use for special holidays -- like Ramadan Mubarak or Eid Mubarak'


Muslims who live in the United States continue to face challenges with some segments of society, but they have also made a lot of progress, according to this week's Monday Talk guest, who is a practicing Muslim living in the US.

“It's really a mixed story of progress as well as continued challenges,” says Dalia Mogahed, executive director and senior analyst for the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies.

Mogahed, who leads the analysis of surveys of Muslims worldwide, including in the US and Europe, shares her observations and findings regarding the Muslim community in the US.

Consistent poll results show that 9 percent of Americans admit to having “extreme prejudice” towards Muslims, but that a much larger percentage has “some” prejudice.

“But if you just look at the ‘extreme prejudice,' it's 9 percent. That's quite high, and it's much higher than it is for any other groups,” Mogahed states.

In addition, she shares information about the trends in the Middle East following the Arab Spring in regards to public opinion regarding Turkey, women's rights and how people feel about the future.

Originally from Egypt, you were raised in the US. How have things been developing for the Muslims in the US?

Muslim-Americans have made a lot of progress, and they also face a lot of challenges. One thing that has grown is awareness of Muslim religious practices; for example, Ramadan. Today, almost every government agency has an iftar dinner. It is very common now, especially for people here in Washington, to know the greetings that we use for special holidays -- like Ramadan Mubarak or Eid Mubarak. So there is a greater familiarity with some of the aspects of Muslims faith. At the same time, Muslims continue to face challenges with some segments of the American public, a small portion of the American government and some legislators who view the Muslim community with suspicion. So it's really a mixed story of progress as well as continued challenges.

Do you think those challenges have been mostly related to the aftermath of 9/11?

Certainly the aftermath of 9/11 has made things much worse and more difficult for people. At the same time, though, it's important to note that in terms of public opinion, public opinion of Muslims and Islam before 9/11 was slightly worse. It would be wrong to think that things were perfect before 9/11 and that everything became difficult afterwards. This is something the community has been struggling with for a long time.

Would you share with us some of the poll results that you have in regards to American public opinion of Muslims?

We do have polls that look at American public opinion of Muslim-Americans, as well as Muslims broadly. We also look at how Muslim-Americans view their own lives and compare that to Americans of other faiths. Some of the most interesting findings are that Islam and Muslims tend to be among the most negatively viewed religious communities in America. This self-reported prejudice that Americans have -- by no means a majority of Americans, but a significant minority of Americans -- does say that they are prejudiced against Muslims.

Any percentages?

Nine percent of Americans say that they have “extreme prejudice,” but a much larger percentage has “some” [prejudice]. But if you just look at the “extreme prejudice,” it's 9 percent. That's quite high, and it's much higher than it is for any other group. For example, only 1 percent says that they have “extreme prejudice” against Jews, compared to 9 percent against Muslims. This group of people who have “extreme prejudice” towards Muslims tends to be people who also harbor “extreme prejudice” -- although smaller amounts -- toward Jews. One of the interesting things that we found is that there is actually a link between anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment in America.

Hate acquired through partial information

How so, would you explain that?

Someone who admits to having “extreme prejudice” against Jews is actually more likely to have “extreme prejudice” toward Muslims. Some people might think that anti-Jewish sentiment is something that is connected to sympathy for Muslims, but that's not the case. It is important to keep this in mind.

Do you think this might be related to the Palestinian issue?

It's hard to say exactly what it's related to. We do find that people who are prejudiced against Muslims are more likely to have prejudice against Islam as a faith. So a lot of it is what they see Muslims as believing. What we found is an interesting paradox. We found that people who know nothing at all were not prejudiced against Muslims; if they were admitting to having no information, they were more likely to have no prejudice. People who had a great deal of information were also likely to have no prejudice. It's actually people in the middle -- who had some information -- who were the most likely to have prejudice against Muslims. So it appears that by themselves, left alone, Americans don't have prejudice, even when they know nothing, but that this kind of hate is something acquired through partial information.

Personally, how has it been for you to live in the US as a practicing Muslim?

I have personally had generally very positive experiences. The majority of the American public is very accepting, and probably among the most accepting societies in the world. So my personal experience has been very positive. I just returned to the US from the Middle East, where I had been living for almost two years, and I really feel that I've come home. I feel very happy to be back and very optimistic about the future of this community and this country.

Where were you in the Middle East and for what kind of work?

I was in Abu Dhabi setting up a Gallup office there.

Arab people more likely to feel they have a role to play

While living in the area, did you notice signs indicating that the Arab Spring was coming?

I didn't expect it at all. Interestingly, I was in Cairo in December 2010, just a few weeks before the revolution began; and I had no idea. What was striking to me was how bad things had gotten and how hopeless everyone that I talked to seemed, how they seemed resigned to the fate of the country, simply being passed down to [Hosni] Mubarak's son -- like [the leadership] was something to inherit. And people were unhappy about this and even outraged, but felt like there was no way to change it. But at the same time, as depressed as it seemed everyone had become, I also noticed a certain amount of growing refusal to stay quiet about things. I did see people responding unusually to situations that they felt were unfair in a vocal way, which I hadn't really seen before. Maybe that was the beginning of protest and dissent.

As a polling professional, you have been observing the trends in the region. What have you found striking that you can share with us?

Several things are changing. I'll start with the negative side. What is changing negatively is that people are much more negative about the economy, especially in places where there have been revolts, in Egypt, in Tunisia and in other places. Their view is that their standard of living is lower, their economic situation is lower. And this reflects reality, that the economic situation has gotten much harder for people. But what has improved is people's sense of ownership and empowerment in the affairs of their country. People are now much more likely to feel that they have a role to play in building their countries, rather than thinking of themselves as observers like before. Today, people are actually -- in Egypt specifically, not everywhere else -- more optimistic than they were before the revolution. So there are some positive changes as well as very serious challenges ahead.

Egypt used to have a leadership role in the region, but now it has been dealing with domestic turmoil. What trends do you observe in Egypt?

Egypt is a very complex picture. Egyptians are struggling today more than they were before the revolution. But at the same time they believe that life in the future will be brighter. And that's what is really different between now and right before the uprising. Right before the uprising, people not only felt that their lives were hard, but they didn't believe that anything would ever change that; the future would be just as bad as the present. Today, that's changed. In Egypt, there is a fatigue with protests. People generally want stability and a return to normalcy. At the same time, they want their country to be civilian-run. Although they respect the military, they want the military to stay out of politics. There is a minority, however, who want the military to remain in power.

Discontent with Islamists grows in Egypt

What are the percentages?

In April, when we last measured, roughly 58 percent [of Egyptians] said that they thought the military staying out of politics was a good thing for the country. The remainder is split between people who don't know and people who want military to stay -- this group of people is around 25 percent. We will be measuring again after Ramadan, so it will be interesting to see how that changes. There is also a growing discontent with the Islamists -- the Muslim Brotherhood as well as the Salafis. They were much more popular right after the parliamentary elections, but now their approval has come down significantly. What's interesting is that declining approval of the Islamists hasn't [bolstered] the liberal parties, as we thought it would. Liberal parties are not popular, either. Fewer people are pleased with any of the political actors in Egypt today. There is more fear and insecurity in Egypt than there ever was before. People are afraid to walk outside alone at night; they don't feel safe. In Egypt, there is almost no difference in regards to the views of liberals and Islamists on some key issues -- their views of women, free speech and freedom of religion. Even when it comes to the peace treaty with Israel, liberals and Islamists are the same in their level of support for the peace treaty. People assume that there is an ideological difference on these key issues, but we see no ideological difference in the evidence.

Would you elaborate on this issue more? For example, what were the most important questions and answers in regards to women's issues and how Islamists and liberals viewed those issues?

We looked at questions of a woman's right to work in any job, to equal legal rights and even to initiating divorce. On all these topics, supporters of liberal and Islamist parties in Egypt were equally likely to support these rights. Women are as likely as men to support Islamists and liberals. It is not true that women tend to be more liberal. This is not the case.

You conducted a major survey this summer about how Arab women feel about their societies in the aftermath of the Arab uprisings. What are the challenges facing women after the uprisings? How similar or different are women's views as compared with men's?

Many have written that the biggest challenge facing women in Arab countries that have had an uprising is the rise of the Islamists. This is not supported by the evidence. Men and women are equally likely to support Islamist parties, and are similar in their views of Shariah in public life. The biggest challenges to women after the uprisings are economic and security issues. Life has gotten more difficult and feels much less safe.

Egyptians see Turkey as partner, not model

How is Turkey viewed by Egyptians, according to your findings?

Turkey is viewed from neutral to positive in most cases. The idea that Turkey is a model is not supported by most people, but there is a significant minority that sees Turkey as a political model for Egypt. People who do support Turkey as a model tend to be educated and more affluent than the majority. But where Egyptians really see Turkey is as a partner. The majority of Egyptians favor closer relations between Egypt and Turkey, though they don't see it as a model. They want more engagement with Turkey, whether through trade, diplomacy or anything else. But Egyptians don't see any country as a model at this point, and feel that they want to build their own unique model.

What are the views of other people in other countries of the Middle East in regards to Turkey?

In 2011, Turkish leadership enjoyed approval by majorities in Algeria, Iraq and Palestine. More people in Morocco and Tunisia approve than disapprove of Turkey's leaders. Turkey is seen more positively in the Arab world than Iran or the US, but most Arabs still see the Gulf countries more positively than Turkey. Turkey can build on this positive image by increasing partnership and trade with the Arab world.


Opposition to US economic aid keeps growing

Your polls have also found that most Egyptians oppose US economic aid and most favor aid from Arab nations. Is this now a consistent trend?

It is a consistent trend. In fact, opposition to US economic aid keeps growing. It started out as roughly 53 percent opposed to economic aid and now it's closer to 83 percent. It has grown significantly over the past 18 months. We attribute that to a growing suspicion. There have been so many stories about foreign intervention and foreign manipulation of Egypt's political system and Egyptian society. Unfortunately, these kinds of rumors are really penetrating society and turning people against this kind of aid and assistance. At the same time, though, people are increasingly viewing aid not as a help but rather a hindrance to their economic development. As much as Egyptians are suffering economically today, they want to build a future where they can be economically independent.



Dalia Mogahed


Executive director and senior analyst for the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies, Mogahed leads the analysis of surveys of Muslims worldwide, including in the US and Europe. With John L. Esposito, she coauthored the groundbreaking book “Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think” (2008). In 2009, US President Barack Obama appointed Mogahed to the President's Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, making her the first Muslim-American woman to hold a position of this seniority. Mogahed was invited to testify before the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations about US engagement with Muslim communities, and she made significant contributions to the Homeland Security Advisory Council's Countering Violent Extremism Working Group recommendations. She also joined Madeleine Albright and Dennis Ross as a leading voice in the US-Muslim Engagement Project. Mogahed is a member of the World Economic Forum's Global Agenda Council on the Arab World, serves on the boards of Freedom House and Soliya and is a nonresident senior public policy scholar at the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut. Mogahed earned her master's degree in business administration with an emphasis in strategy from the Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business at the University of Pittsburgh.

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