Muslims in the U.S. are a sorely misunderstood group—diverse in myriad ways and yet quickly stereotyped, especially since Sept. 11. But a brand new study of Muslims in California’s Bay Area sheds light on one pocket of American Muslims, and shows that the community is extremely diverse and defies easy generalizations.
So what do you need to know? According to The Bay Area Muslim Study: Establishing Community and Identity, the first-ever benchmark study of the community:
Muslims in the Bay Area have diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds. The Bay Area Muslim community is large, with nearly 250,000 members. More than a third of Muslims in the Bay Area—which includes San Francisco, Alameda, Contra Costa, Santa Clara, San Mateo and Marin Counties—are of South Asian descent, 23 percent are Arab, 17 percent are Afghani, 9 percent are African-American, 7 percent are Asian-American, six percent are white, and 2 percent are Iranian. (But, it’s important to note that ethnicity is not automatically synonymous with religious affiliation; not all South Asians, Arabs and Middle Easterners are Muslim.) And 34 percent of Muslims were born in the U.S.
Bay Area Muslims occupy both very high and very low economic tiers. While some Muslims in the Bay Area do very well economically—nearly half of all South Asian Muslims make more than $100,000 annually—in the aggregate, Bay Area Muslims’ median household income is 11 percent lower than the average Bay Area household income. And more than a third of Muslims in the Bay Area have a combined household income of less than $40,000 a year.
Bay Area Muslims are enthusiastic community volunteers. The study’s findings also squash plenty of stereotypes about Muslims, such as the notion that deeper Muslim religiosity is correlated with greater isolation from the broader community. Researchers found, in fact, that 62 percent of Bay Area Muslims did some kind of volunteering in the previous year, compared with 27 percent of all Americans. And actually, Muslims who attended religious services were more likely than Muslims who rarely attended a mosque to volunteer in the community.
Bay Area Muslims are linguistic pros. While over a third of Muslims in the Bay Area speak one language, nearly 70 percent of Muslim immigrants in the Bay Area speak at least three languages.
Sept. 11 still has a profound impact on Muslims’ everyday lives. Despite this kind of variance within the Bay Area Muslim community, one challenge almost all Muslims in the Bay Area deal with is continued discrimination and Islamophobic harassment in the wake of Sept. 11. “More than a decade after 9/11, we see that Muslims of all ethnicities and backgrounds are still dealing with a lot of anxiety, a lot of fear, a lot of bias,” Hatem Bazian, UC Berkeley professor and one of the study’s principal researchers, said in a statement.