Muslim-Americans Say Belief in God, Promoting Justice, And Protecting Environment Central to Religious Identity

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Muslims say prayer during the ‘Islam on Capitol Hill 2009’ event at the West Front Lawn of the U.S. Capitol, on September 25, 2009. Thousands of Muslims gathered for the event to promote the diversity of Islam. Alex Wong/Getty Images

Most Muslim-Americans say that religious beliefs are not the only essential components of their identities as Muslims, according to a Pew Research Center poll published on Friday. For many, working for justice and protecting the environment are also integral to being Muslim.

The vast majority, or 85 percent, of Muslim-Americans say that belief in God is essential to what it means to them to be Muslim, with another 10 percent saying it is important but not essential. The responses are almost identical to those given by Christians in a 2014 poll, which found that 86 percent of Christians said belief in God is essential and 10 percent said it was important but not essential.

The survey also asked about other possible components of respondents' identities as Muslims. About 72 percent said loving the Prophet Muhammad was essential and 59 percent said the same about following the teachings in the Quran and Sunnah, 48 percent about eating halal foods, 44 percent about dressing modestly and 41 percent about getting married. More than two thirds, 69 percent, said that working for justice was essential, and 62 percent said the same about protecting the environment.

The questions did not parallel exactly those asked of Christians in the 2014 survey, which found that 63 percent said praying regularly was essential to what being Christian means to them, 42 percent said so about reading the Bible and other religious materials, 35 percent about attending religious services, 52 percent about working to help the needy and 14 percent about buying from companies that pay fair wages.

The most comparable numbers show that only 22 percent of Christians in the 2014 survey said working to protect the environment was essential and 26 percent said dressing modestly was essential, both significantly lower than among American Muslims. That survey also found that 35 percent of religiously unaffiliated respondents thought working to protect the environment was essential to what being a moral person means to them.

The line of inquiry about Muslim identity was included in a broader survey of 1,001 Muslims in the United States conducted between January and May 2017. It also found that three-quarters of respondents thought there was a lot of discrimination against Muslims in the U.S., 68 percent said Donald Trump made them feel worried and half said being Muslim in the U.S. has gotten harder in recent years.

The percent of Muslims who were dissatisfied with the direction the country was going rose dramatically from 38 percent in 2011 to 64 percent in 2017. While in 2011 only 4 percent said then-president Barack Obama was unfriendly toward Muslims, six years later, 74 percent said Trump was unfriendly toward Muslims.