Gallup released a new study on Monday examining American Muslims. Some of the results:
- Muslims are highly educated. More so than most of the American population. Muslims are only second to Jews in educational attainment.
- American Muslims are an incredibly diverse group comprised of 35% African Americans, 28% whites, 18% Asians and 1% Latinos.
- American Muslim women are actually more slightly educated than American Muslim men and more educated than U.S. women overall.
The results were not very surprising to me. However, the study does raise the question of what is a Muslim American identity? Having lived in a city where the majority of Muslims were African American and other cities where the majority of Muslims have origins in other countries, how Muslims experience life in America isn’t just influenced by our religion, but our ethnicity as well. For instance, 9/11 hasn’t impacted me much as a Muslimah, even with hijab. I’ve never been stopped at an airport or anything of that sort. I’ve received stares but that’s about it. So I hope future studies focus on how Muslims of various ethnicities and classes experience being American Muslims.
More interesting than study’s results was how the results were framed. An article published in The Washington Times reveals how the results can be interpreted to fit into a publication’s ideology.
The Washington Times piece started off in a disturbing manner with the headline: “Survey: U.S. Muslim women liberated”. Okay, that certainly is not the what the study claims, nor was that the intent of doing the study, especially considering that the findings of the study focused on a number of issues affecting Muslims. Considering that The Washington Times is a conservative publication, I’m sure the intent of the headline was to provoke this thought: U.S. Muslim women are liberated while their oppressed sisters in Muslim nations aren’t. The headline is very jingoistic and self-congratulatory. It reads like, “see America is giving Muslim women liberation!”
What, exactly, are we being liberated from? Muslim women being liberated, of course, assumes that we were initially oppressed by either Muslim men or simply being Muslim (many of the commentators on The Washington Times article seem to believe that Islam is inherently oppressive to women).
It doesn’t get any better in the first paragraph, with the first sentence reading “American Muslims include some of the world’s most liberated Islamic women and the largest percentage of young people of any religious community in the country, according to a new report issued Monday by the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies.” Again, why is there is a need to call us “liberated”? Is this supposed to be a compliment to American Muslims? It doesn’t feel like a compliment to me. Not only does using the word “liberated” make us seem oppressed, it treats us as if we are victims and it makes Muslimahs seem one-dimensional. Either we are oppressed or liberated, no in-between. Applying these terms to Muslim women makes some non-Muslims and even some Muslims ignore the complexity of Muslim women’s experiences; in the process, it dehumanizes and otherizes Muslim women by making them fit into roles that non-Muslim women do not.
Naturally, we are then compared to Muslim women in Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia (so typical) and Egypt. Besides the fact that the study did not compare American Muslims to other Muslims but to other American religious groups, mentioning predominately Muslim countries in this context evokes a comparison that is meant to make the U.S. look favorable compared to these two nations. It seems that the comparison is brought up to highlight the idea that America is liberating Muslim women, while Muslim nations oppress Muslim women. American women’s own choices and observation of Islamic traditions isn’t given any credit. Judging from the majority of comments on the Times site, it seems that at least some people took away this message.
Then, we’re given a partial quote by Ahmed Younis, a Senior Analyst for the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies. Actually, it’s not even a partial quote: “It’s ‘not true’ that U.S. Muslim women are oppressed, Ahmed Younis, a senior analyst for the center said. ‘Muslim women are roughly equal to men in education, income and mosque attendance.'”
I wonder if Younis actually said, “It’s not true that U.S. Muslim women are oppressed.” I doubt he did, considering his position at Gallup, and I would assume that he knows the complexity of gender relations among American Muslims. Muslim women’s equality in education, income and mosque attendance rates does not equate to Muslim women not dealing with oppression.
The most unrelated feature of the article to the actual study was a picture of what I assume to be Harvard University’s gym with the caption “Harvard University has established women-only hours to accommodate Muslim women who say their religion does not permit them to exercise in front of men.” What this has to do with the study is beyond me, especially since the people in the photo do not look like Muslim women. Then again, I guess if you want to make a study that called itself a “national portrait” of American Muslims into one exclusively focused on Muslim women, I guess putting up that picture with that caption would help.
Though the Gallup study is an important once that illustrates the diversity and spirit of America’s Muslims, The Washington Times doesn’t seem to understand the whole picture.