Is the U.S. Better at Assimilating Immigrants Than Europe?

Muslim women prepare to take part in Eid al-Fitr prayers in Staten Island

Muslims are assimilating more successfully in America because of the fundamental differences between American and European societies and their conception of citizenship.

Since the rise of the Islamic State in 2014, the United States and Europe have seen a dramatic increase in the number of terror attacks and attempted attacks perpetrated in the name of Islam. Concurrently, the migrant crisis has brought a massive flood of immigrants to Europe from Muslim-majority countries, which has resulted in a rise in sexual assaults, among other things. The combination of these two phenomena has launched a debate about Muslim immigration and whether Europe is able and equipped to assimilate such a large influx of newcomers. That conversation has also spread to the United States as fears of terrorism continue.

Europe’s experience with Muslim immigration is, of course, vastly different than America’s, where assimilation of immigrant populations into mainstream society has been more successful. There are a number of reasons for this, all of which should give Americans confidence and provide an example for Europe to emulate as it grapples with the migrant crisis.

Last week, the Pew Research Center released its latest survey of American Muslims (previous surveys were conducted in 2007 and 2011), providing the public with an updated peek into the views and religious practices of Muslims in America. The 3.35 million adult Muslims living in America today make up about one percent of the population. Of these adult Muslims, about 82 percent are U.S. citizens. While the center asked a large array of questions, let’s just take a look at a few of the highlights.

American Muslims, according to the survey, are fairly observant, including their dress, daily prayers and mosque attendance. A slim majority appears not to adhere to fundamentalist views. Of those surveyed, 52 percent said that traditional understandings of Islam need a new interpretation and a majority (64 percent) said that there is more than one true way to interpret Islam. While a significant percentage obviously have a strict interpretation of Islam, it is encouraging that they do not make up the majority.

An important question that the Pew Research Center has asked in its three surveys of American Muslims concerns views about homosexuality. This is used as a metric for assimilation because the center has found that in most Muslim-majority countries, views toward homosexuality are extremely negative. Any evidence that this has changed among Muslim immigrants in the United States would be a sign of assimilation to liberal-social norms. The center found that “today, about half of U.S. Muslims say homosexuality should be accepted by society (52%), while 33% say homosexuality should be discouraged. By comparison, in 2011, 39% of Muslims said homosexuality should be accepted; in 2007, just 27% held this view.”

Another important metric for measuring assimilation is the extent to which immigrant populations mix with members outside of their community. The survey found that Muslims are less likely to say all or most of their friends are Muslim than they were in either 2011 or 2007. Today, only 36 percent made that assertion compared with 49 percent in 2011. Also, 55 percent said that Americans are friendly toward them, which is up from 48 percent in 2011, although 75 percent said there is a lot of discrimination toward Muslims.

One major concern about Muslim immigration has to do with the compatibility between Islam and the democratic system. Islam, beginning with its inception in the seventh century, has always been a fundamentally juridical religion. Its texts, including the Quran and the Hadith, outline the laws by which Muslims should live, from laws about stealing to inheritance. Up until the end of World War I, the Ottoman Empire was the Islamic caliphate, a theocracy based on Islamic law. Pew asked whether Muslim Americans see any natural conflict between Islam and democracy. Of those surveyed 65 percent said that there is no such conflict, while 35 percent said there is.

But despite the number of Muslims who see such a conflict, almost all expressed strong patriotic sentiments. According to Pew, “the vast majority of U.S. Muslims say they are proud to be American (92%), while nearly all say they are proud to be Muslim (97%). Indeed, about nine-in-ten (89%) say they are proud to be both Muslim and American.” Pride in one’s country is a vital part of assimilating and becoming a full participating member of a society and nation. The kind of patriotism that is often found among immigrants can have much to do with appreciation of opportunities and freedoms that a country can provide, especially in comparison to their country of origin.

So what does all this mean? It would seem to imply that the Muslim American community is making significant strides toward assimilating into American society while still retaining its religious and cultural beliefs. Muslim Americans vote and participate in the democratic system and believe that through hard work anyone can succeed, the bedrock of American political philosophy.

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