WASHINGTON — A Gallup poll released Tuesday found that most Muslim Americans are very optimistic about their lives in the United States and loyal to a country that's given them a wealth of economic opportunities even though some Americans continue to treat the community with hostility.
But the report also identified one area of concern: how to improve the strained relationship between Muslims and other Americans.
Experts said the survey findings were important because they could mitigate some of the concerns Americans have about the susceptibility of American Muslims to extremist causes. The thinking goes that if people are satisfied with their lives, they're unlikely to get sucked into radical movements, which often prey on economically vulnerable people.
Asked to rate what their lives would be like in five years, Muslim Americans gave higher ratings than members of most other religious groups did. On a 1-to-10 scale, Muslims rated their future lives at 8.4, while Americans of other religious groups give average ratings of 7.4 to 8, Gallup pollsters said.
Mohamed Younis, a senior Gallup analyst, attributed Muslims' positive outlook to a range of reasons, from political factors to the slowly recovering economy having improved their standard-of-living expectations.
"We definitely see a lot of approval for President Barack Obama and a changed rhetoric around the role of Muslims in America and Muslim-U.S. relations globally," Younis said. The survey found Obama's job approval rating at 80 percent among American Muslims.
The survey, which consisted of two polls conducted from January 2010 to April 2011, comes from the Abu Dhabi Gallup Center with some financial support from the crown prince of Abu Dhabi. The firm surveyed 1,500 Muslim Americans and thousands of Americans from other faiths, with a margin of error of 0.3 to 6.6 percentage points.
With the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks approaching, some Americans are still skeptical of the allegiances of Muslims who live in the United States. The poll found that more than a third of Protestants and Roman Catholics didn't believe that Muslim Americans were loyal to the U.S.
More than nine in 10 Muslims surveyed thought that their community was loyal.
The concerns of some Americans may have been raised by incidents such as the November 2009 shooting spree that killed 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas, and the attempted bombing of New York's Times Square in May 2010. U.S. citizens of Muslim extraction have been charged in the first case and have pleaded guilty in the second.
Panelists who introduced the survey at the National Press Club said those events didn't represent the true face of Muslims in this country, a group that on average is younger, holds a greater percentage of professional graduate degrees and earns a higher income than average Americans.
"There are so many American Muslims who (have) served in the Army and in law enforcement. Those stories have not been told. All that you hear about is the negative view of Islam and Muslims," said Imam Mohamed Magid, the president of the Islamic Society of North America.
Law enforcement agencies remain concerned, however, about certain corners of the American Muslim community, such as Somali Americans living in Minnesota. Several dozen young Somali Americans have traveled in recent years to their East African home country to fight for al Shabab, a State Department-designated terrorist group that's currently blocking famine-starved civilians from leaving areas under its control.
The poll also found that many Americans of different religious groups say that Muslims aren't speaking out enough against terrorism. More than 60 percent of Protestants, Catholics and Jews say that Muslims should condemn terrorist attacks more publicly.
Rabbi David Saperstein, the director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said interfaith leaders had been unsuccessful in promoting how well-assimilated most Muslims were in America. This is in contrast to some European countries, where many Muslims have found integrating into the mainstream culture difficult.
"We really need to change the images of Islam to more accord with the reality. (The survey) gives us a lot to work with," Saperstein said.
D. Paul Monteiro, the associate director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, said that one way for Muslim Americans to increase other Americans' level of trust was to engage person-to-person with people of other faiths.
"When a person who is a Protestant or any other religion meets a person who is Muslim, the conversation changes. The perception changes," Monteiro said.
"As long as someone ... doesn't know personally someone who is Muslim, then they're open and susceptible to some of this rapidly spreading misinformation that even in some parts of the press presents a not-so-great picture of Muslims or Islam as a whole."
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