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The Bay Area Muslim Study:

Report Authors:

  • Farid Senzai, Director of Research - ISPU, Assistant Professor, Santa Clara University
  • Hatem Bazian, Ph.D. - UC Berkeley Professor, Zaytuna College Co-Founder

The San Francisco Bay Area has one of the largest Muslim populations in the United States: nearly 250,000 Muslims live in the six counties surrounding the city of San Francisco. It is home to a large number of immigrants who sought economic and educational opportunities, as well as refugees and their American-born children who fled strife, violence, and economic hardship. Many work in Silicon Valley, but survey results show the existence of clear regional socioeconomic disparities. This region is also attractive to immigrants because its diverse and inclusive atmosphere allows religious and cultural diversity to flourish. It also hosts a significant African American Muslim community and a growing number of converts.

Over the past thirty years, the Bay Area in general, and the Muslim population in particular, has experienced significant growth brought on by the region’s economic transformation and the emergence of an information technology industry that required a massive infusion of educated and skilled labor. This growth has resulted in the proliferation of mosques as well as community institutions.

This benchmark study, the first of its kind on the Bay Area’s Muslim community, serves many purposes including providing groundbreaking data on its demographics, sense of identity, economic well being, political and civic engagement, and the challenges that it faces. The resulting data is useful for academics and practitioners wishing to pursue further research, as well as for the community and its leaders, philanthropists and foundations, policymakers, and the general public. As a source of information, it will serve as an important tool for advocacy and media purposes, given that data about the community has often been misrepresented. Finally, the report will add to and complement the growing body of empirical data on local Muslim communities and the national portrait.To download the full report, click here.

Key Findings

Overall Racial/Ethnic and Residential Demographics

We estimate the Bay Area Muslim population to be approximately 250,000. The community, therefore, constitutes 3.5 percent of the area’s total population and is one of the highest concentrations of Muslims in the country. The community is made up of a diverse mix of racial and ethnic groups who maintain their own cultures: South Asians (30%), Arabs (23%), Afghans (17%), African Americans (9%), Asian/Pacific Islanders (7%), Whites (6%), and Iranians (2%). Based on the survey findings, the majority of Muslims live in the following counties: Alameda (37%), Santa Clara (27%), and Contra Costa (12%).

A much smaller percent lives in San Mateo (6%), San Francisco (3%), and Marin counties (1%). The heart of San Francisco (the Tenderloin district) has a heavy concentration of Yemeni, Iraqi, Moroccan, Algerian, Indonesian, and Malaysian Muslims, most of whom are working class and small business owners. South Asian and Arab Muslims tend to cluster in the South Bay, Afghans are dominant in the East Bay, and African/African American Muslims mostly reside in Oakland. Overall, the bulk of the community lives along the “880 and 101 corridor,” the primary throughways to Silicon Valley and the East Bay.

Educational Attainment Levels

Many Muslim immigrants arrived already highly educated; others attended colleges and universities after their arrival.

The survey indicated that 74 percent of respondents have completed at least some college or more.  Nearly 25 percent have completed graduate school, and 5 percent have earned a Ph.D.

In comparison to the 2010 U.S. Census data examining other minority groups, the Muslim population is doing as well or better with regard to educational attainment. Among immigrant Muslims, 67 percent spoke at least three languages. Over 71 percent of all respondents spoke a language in addition to English. This high percentage of bilingualism may be due to the fact that India and Pakistan have been primary targets for recruitment to the high tech industry and English is the language of instruction in these countries.

Levels of Income

The Median household income is $70,686, lower than the average for the general Bay Area region ($77,879). This is significantly higher, however, than the national median household income for the general public ($50,054 in 2011). However, the cost of living in the Bay Area is significantly higher than the national average. 

Significant income disparities are evident across geographic, occupational, and racial/ethnic lines. About 11 percent of Muslim households make below $20,000, almost 23 percent make below $40,000, and 34 percent make below $60,000. San Francisco had the highest percent of Muslims at the lower income level: 39 percent indicated they had less than $40,000 in household income. This was followed by Alameda County, where one-third indicated they had less than $40,000 in household income. Those whose household incomes had less than $40,000 are distributed among Marin (27%), San Mateo (18%), Contra Costa (17%), and Santa Clara (10%) counties.

South Asian Muslims had the highest income levels, with nearly half (49%) of them having a household income above $100,000. In comparison, those groups with the lowest proportion of household incomes above $100,000 were Hispanic Muslims (15%), Afghans (10%), and African American Muslims (10%). These latter communities, as well as large numbers of South Asians, Iraqis, and Yemenis, are primarily employed in blue-collar professions, such as custodial staff and taxi cab drivers. An analysis of the qualitative data, presented in greater detail below, will illuminate the findings further.

Religious Practice and Identity

On the whole, the majority of participants state that religion is important in their daily lives. A majority reported that they prayed five times a day, considered himself or herself religious, and identified themselves as Sunni Muslim. Based on the survey, more than half of the respondents identified as Muslims first (54%), felt that the Muslim experience has affected their life greatly, and felt that they have a fair or great amount in common with other Muslims (84%). Most of the respondents (68%) reported attending a mosque at least once a week. The survey indicates that just over 11 percent of the respondents were converts to Islam.

After 9/11, Muslims were put in the national spotlight and many utilized the opportunity to educate and inform the public about their community and religion. According to the focus group discussions and interviews, the increasing amount of Islamophobia has added to a sense of urgency. Some Muslims did not identify as such prior to 9/11. But as Muslims were increasingly portrayed in negative terms and Islam came under attack, they became more assertive in practicing and identifying with Islam and other Muslims. The data validates this. Nearly three out of four respondents felt that what happens to other Muslims has a “fair amount” or a “great” effect on their lives.

The vast majority of Muslims believe in giving to charity, including the obligatory annual alms (zakat). Over 71 percent of participants felt that giving zakat was somewhat or very important. Of those who responded, a plurality (18%) of Muslim households gave at least $100 and $100-$500 (16%), followed by those who gave $1,000-$5,000 (15%). Those who reported contributions between $1,000 and $5,000 per year were in line with the average charitable donations of Americans and the other ethnic groups more specifically.

Civically and Politically Engaged

The majority of participants were civically engaged. When asked if they had volunteered recently, 62 percent said they had volunteered in the past year by donating time to local charities and nonprofit organizations, being involved in their local mosque, or in similar activities. Some were involved in more indirect ways, such as helping extended family members by babysitting or driving children to soccer practice, providing meals for a sick relative or sending money back to their country of origin. Many of them, regardless of their type of civic engagement, can be seen as “promoting the quality of life” in their communities (Muslim and non-Muslim) and felt part of the “larger social fabric” while personalizing community-wide problems.

The survey suggested that Muslims who attend the mosque once a week were the most likely to have volunteered in the past year (72%). Muslims who rarely or never attend the mosque were the least likely to volunteer (25%).

Respondents were informed about politics, and there was strong agreement that American Muslims must be actively involved and politically engaged. Muslims in the study increasingly vote and are engaged in addressing local and national social problems, as well as protesting U.S. domestic and foreign policies since 9/11.

Funders of the study include the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, The San Francisco Foundation, Marin Community Foundation and Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy (AAPIP) who partnered with the One Nation Foundation to create the One Nation Bay Area project in 2010 and subsequently commissioned ISPU to produce the report.