The majority of Americans say they do not know a Muslim. For many of these Americans, what they know about Muslims is informed by media representations. However, according to media content analysis, more than 80% of television media coverage of Islam and Muslims in the United States is negative. Such narrow media depictions open the door to distorted public perceptions of American Muslims, especially in the absence of any firsthand knowledge of this diverse community. These misperceptions contribute to high levels of institutional and interpersonal discrimination for American Muslims, particularly when they are applying for a job and interacting with peers at work. In fact, this group faces the highest levels of discrimination of any faith or non-faith group measured in ISPU’s 2020 American Muslim Poll.
This lack of accurate information, coupled with negative media portrayals, also presents challenges for federal, state, and local government officials who wish to knowledgeably and confidently engage Americans who are Muslim; it creates barriers for officials that want to involve American Muslims not only as citizens or constituents, but also as government employees and public servants.
Who are American Muslims? What do they really believe? How do they experience discrimination? What should a government administrator looking to engage with an employee or job candidate who is Muslim know about this group? What should a federal, state or local official understand about American Muslim within their communities or public institutions?
This guide was created to help.
The Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU) and the Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research – two leading research and education organizations focused on the study of American Muslims and Islam – created the resources contained in this toolkit. Inspired by the needs of Muslim Americans in Public Service (MAPS), a national, non-partisan, non-profit network of professionals and organizations that aims to create an enabling ecosystem for Muslim American public servants and the public institutions they serve, ISPU produced this toolkit to provide government administrators with authoritative information about American Muslims’ identity and faith.
The Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU) is a non-religious, nonpartisan nonprofit organization that provides objective research and education about American Muslims to support well-informed dialogue and decision-making. Founded in 2002, ISPU has been at the forefront of discovering trends and opportunities that impact American Muslims for almost 20 years. ISPU builds understanding and strengthens communities by laying a foundation of actionable research. As the only organization of its kind, it is the go-to source for anyone seeking objective information about Muslims in America and the issues that impact them.
Since 2002, ISPU has equipped tens of thousands of change makers including:
Islam has a centuries long tradition of inspiring its adherents to contribute to humanity based on conviction in its tenets. Previous generations of Muslims were on the forefront of contributing to medicine, philosophy, architecture, and governance among other areas. We are an institute aiming to rekindle this tradition.
Constant negative portrayals of Islam have put Muslims in a defensive position in which they constantly have to justify their convictions, while fighting off the natural doubts and insecurities that arise in such a climate. As such, young Muslims should be intellectually equipped and spiritually anchored in a way that empowers them to deal with the onslaught of doubt-inducing claims routinely leveled against Islam.
Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research is a nonprofit think tank launched in 2016 to counter this narrative by magnifying trusted voices within the Muslim community to tell their own story. Yaqeen is dedicated to providing academic research on Islam from foremost Muslim scholars and academics, making it an authoritative reference point on contemporary Islamic discourse and Muslim identity formation. Yaqeen aims to directly address these topics by producing quality research that is carefully disseminated through articles, surveys, journals, videos, infographics, conferences, toolkits, curriculum, mobile applications, and more. By ensuring that their content is fully accessible, Yaqeen seeks to nurture conviction in Muslims to inspire positive change and contribution to society as a whole.
Muslim Americans in Public Service (MAPS) is a national, non-partisan, non-profit network of professionals and organizations that aims to create an enabling ecosystem for Muslim American public servants and the public institutions they serve. The first organization of its kind, MAPS serves as an educational and professional resource for Muslim American public servants and the local associations that support them, to while cultivating the next generation of Muslim American public service leaders.
Little understanding or misunderstanding of Islam, a lack of data on American Muslims, and a dearth of Muslim voices in policy circles in America
Research organizations focused on the study of normative Islam (Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research) and the trends, opportunities, and challenges of American Muslims (Institute for Social Policy and Understanding)
The latest survey data on American Muslim demographics, religiosity, civic engagement, contributions, and attitudes toward political and social issues
Digestible, data-based recommendations gleaned from ISPU’s rigorous research publications in accessible formats, including toolkits, videos, and infographics
Background on issues seldom discussed to help bring new perspectives to understanding community and current events
Direct access to more 50 experts on issues related to Muslims in the United States through ISPU’s scholar network
Signature trainings tailored to equip policymakers, media professionals, educators, and faith leaders with facts on American Muslims
Research that is produced by mainstream Muslim scholars and academics that demonstrates the beauty of the Islamic tradition often obscured by Islamophobic narratives and extremist distortions
A research engine that has published over 130 high-quality, peer-reviewed research papers on Islam
Academic papers systematically converted into videos, audiobooks, infographics, live broadcasted Q&A sessions, curricula, journals, and other media assets distributed online
Structured learning for Muslim institutions, media outlets, policymakers, youth groups, and self-paced individual learners looking to navigate complex topics with simplicity and cutting-edge technology
A platform to highlight present-day efforts of Muslims who have been inspired by their faith to contribute positively to humanity, with ideas and recommendations to inspire many more
Founder and President of The Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research
The diversity of Muslim communities results in a wide array of terminology. Here are some commonly used terms:
“God is greater”
A Muslim holiday
Holiday that marks the sacrifice of Abraham coinciding with the Hajj pilgrimage
Holiday that marks the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting
An Islamic term that denotes a religious duty commanded by God
A religious opinion given by an Islamic scholar or jurist
Traditions containing sayings and actions of the Prophet Muhammad
Pilgrimage to Mecca
A meal eaten by Muslims breaking their fast after sunset during the month of Ramadan
A Muslim prayer leader; can also mean congregation leaders that fulfill organizational and pastoral needs of a mosque
Friday noon prayer
Sermon given during the Friday noon prayer
A Muslim place of worship
“Peace Be Upon Him”; a prayer said by Muslims after the Prophet’s name out of reverence
Central religious text of Islam, which Muslims believe to be a revelation from God
Month of fasting, when the Quran was first revealed
Greeting of peace
A prayer; usually referring to the five daily prayers required of all Muslims as one of the pillars of Islam
The testimony of faith (“There is no deity but God. Muhammad is the messenger of God”)
A path that leads to water; the way of God
A religious leader
The example or precedent of the Prophet Muhammad that constitutes the major source of guidance for Muslims apart from the Quran
Shia is an Arabic word that means “the followers.” It generally refers to Twelver Shia Muslims, and may include subsects like the Ismaili and Zaidi Muslims. There are approximately 200 million Shia Muslims worldwide, and nearly 800,000 living in the United States. Shia Muslims come from diverse backgrounds, originating from the Middle East, Europe, Africa, and South Asia. The main distinction from Sunni Muslims today are their sources of knowledge and religious leadership. Historically, the difference originated from the question of succession after the death of the Prophet Muhammad and is related to differing views about appropriate leadership for the Muslim community.
The largest division of Islam representing close to 90% of the world’s Muslim population. They are understood as an umbrella identity with no centralized clerical institution. Their sources of religious knowledge are the Quran and Sunnah. The Sunnah is a compilation of the Prophet Muhammad’s compiled sayings and actions which serve as the authoritative interpretation of the Quran. The consensus of Muslim scholars is also binding, starting with the Companions of the Prophet Muhammad. Sunni Muslims include adherents to the four extant schools of fiqh including Hanafi, Maliki, Shafii, and Hanbali. They believe in the legitimacy of the order of succession of the first four Muslim caliphs.
These words have been politicized, misrepresented, or misused, and are often used as slurs.
According to a recent study, the word terrorist was used in media headlines far more often in reference to perpetrators perceived as Muslim than those who are not for similar ideologically motivated crimes.
These are neutral, clear, informative alternatives to commonly misused words.
When speaking on ideologically motivated violence, use fact-based language to describe groups, persons, and events at hand. For example, describe perpetrators as “militia,” “gunmen/women,” “bombers,” etc. Calling them “Islamic” gives them a sense of religious validity they do not deserve.
As Imam Omar Suleiman, founder and president of Yaqeen Institute, stated in an article for The Dallas Morning News, “When Islamophobes, politicians, or pundits deem these groups to be ‘Islamic,’ they give them a sense of legitimacy and authority that actual Muslims do not endow them with. They make it harder for us as Muslim scholars to address these degenerates for what they are: outcast criminals. They have no claim to our text. They have no authority in our midst.”
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, this term refers specifically to “a popular reform movement advocating the reordering of government and society in accordance with laws prescribed by Islam.” The majority of these movements are nonviolent and should not be lumped together with those claiming Islam sanctions their violence.
There is no causal relationship between religious adherence and violence. The Lord’s Resistance Army and the Ku Klux Klan aren’t lumped together as “Christianist terrorists,” even though both claim to act in the name of Biblical teachings. Instead the group’s name is used. Do the same for all groups.
Literally, the word jihad means “struggle” and most often refers to the inner struggle against one’s own evil impulses, such as greed, anger, and malice. According to Muslim theologians, armed jihad is a heavily regulated military engagement where non-combatants, livestock, and even trees cannot be harmed.
Individuals who commit ideologically motivated violence and claim their actions are sanctioned by Islam should not be referred to as engaging in “jihad,” nor should they be called “jihadis” or “jihadists.” Use fact-based language to describe groups and events. Use the same standards when describing ideologically motivated violence in your communications.
The group that refers to itself as “The Islamic State,” known also as ISIS/ISIL, has been denounced by nearly every major cleric of Islam as violating normative Islamic teachings.
Current guidelines recommend Daesh, which is the acronym of ISIL in Arabic, just as Hamas, which is the acronym for a longer Arabic name for the group, is used regularly. Current AP style guidance doesn’t use “The Base” for Al-Qaeda. Similarly, don’t translate other words. In all instances possible, use accurate, unloaded terms. The alternatives are ISIS/ISIL.
Muslims’ top priorities for the nation are the economy and civil rights.
Removing systematic bias in law enforcement and the criminal justice system is a top priority of American Muslims.
Feeding the hungry is a critical religious duty for Muslims. According to ISPU research, alleviating domestic poverty is among the most important charitable causes for Muslims in the U.S., and the majority of Muslims believe poverty is the result of bad circumstances, not bad character. Moreover, a full third of American Muslims live at or below the poverty line, the largest portion of any faith community.
By Imam Omar Suleiman
Muslims wish to be able to practice their faith in their daily lives and institutions without interference. This means being able to live in accordance with Islamic scripture and not be forced to violate any religious tenets. The community seeks assurances that Muslims will be able to worship and abide by Islamic obligations without facing discrimination or being legally penalized for being faithful. Any legislation that infringes on the right of the community to live in accordance with Islamic teachings in peaceful co-existence can be perceived as threatening and bigoted. Politicians and policymakers need to take the time to understand how Muslims have felt left out of religious freedom initiatives, often led by Evangelicals, and have been made uneasy by certain proposals from liberals that seem to rob the community of self-determination.
By Imam Omar Suleiman
While Islamophobia has been on the rise in the United States, Muslims in America are deeply concerned with the global dehumanization of Muslims and oppression that often is fueled by the rhetoric and policies of our own government officials. It is not just the ideologically motivated perpetrators who have attacked Muslims in places like Quebec and New Zealand and who have cited President Trump as inspiration, but the Uyghur concentration camps administered by the Chinese government, the fascism in India using white nationalist rhetoric to disenfranchise millions of Indian Muslims and occupy Kashmir, the continued denial of Palestinian dignity, and the genocide of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. All of these causes, and many more, are rooted in the dehumanization of Muslims often inspired by our current Islamophobic climate. Muslims seek more unqualified affirmations of the dignity of oppressed Muslim minorities worldwide, and a consistent application of human rights standards that does not exclude the aforementioned.
ISPU’s Muslims for American Progress study quantifies the impact of Muslims on U.S. communities across eight areas, including civics and democracy, economic development, medicine, STEM, philanthropy and nonprofits, arts and entertainment, sports, and education.
In the state of Michigan alone, for example, where Muslims make up only 2.75% of the population, Muslims contribute to every sector of society. A Michigan without Muslims would lose:
Muslims also make important contributions to New York City:
American Muslims’ commitment to poverty alleviation is demonstrated through their charitable giving. ISPU’s 2018 American Muslim Poll included questions aimed at uncovering American philanthropic practices. These data-driven insights shed light on American Muslims’ commitment to charitable giving to causes and institutions within and outside of their faith community.
What would an America without Muslims look like? Watch this short video based on ISPU’s Muslims for American Progress (MAP) project to learn more.
The Islamophobia Index is a measure of the level of public endorsement of five negative stereotypes associated with Muslims in America, fielded via ISPU’s American Muslim Poll for three years. These are the items used to construct the index:
Please indicate how much you agree or disagree with the following statements, where 1 means you strongly disagree and 5 means you strongly agree in regards to most Muslims living in the United States.
ISPU analysts chose these five variables based on previous research  linking these perceptions with greater tolerance for anti-Muslim policies such as mosque surveillance, racial profiling, and greater scrutiny of Muslims at airports, the so-called Muslim Ban, and even taking away voting rights from Americans who are Muslims. These five measures are not meant to cover the totality of public Islamophobia, which can and does include many other false beliefs about Muslims. They are instead meant to offer an evidence-based measure of five perceptions known to be linked to acceptance of discriminatory policies.
Answers to this battery of questions were used to construct an additive scale that measures overall anti-Muslim sentiment.  The resulting Islamophobia Index provides a single metric that is easy to understand, compare, and track over time. The Islamophobia Index measures the endorsement of anti-Muslim stereotypes (violent, misogynist), perceptions of Muslim aggression toward the United States, degree of Muslim dehumanization (less civilized), and perceptions of Muslim collective blame (partially responsible for violence), all of which have been shown to predict public support for discriminatory policies toward Muslims. 
It is noteworthy that this index, while called simply the “Islamophobia Index,” only measures anti-Muslim sentiment among the public and not the degree to which Islamophobia is institutionalized by the state. Islamophobia is not simply a phenomenon of societal sentiment, but is a structural phenomenon, manifesting in legislation, budget decisions, and law enforcement practices at the local, state, and federal levels. While our index does not measure structural Islamophobia, public tolerance for many of these practices is linked to higher scores on the Islamophobia Index. 
While levels of Islamophobia among the general public have remained relatively stable, Jewish opinions of Muslims have steadily improved between 2018 and 2019:
Politics, not religion, predicts Islamophobia in the general public. The following factors are associated with higher scores on the Islamophobia Index among the general public:
ISPU’s 2020 American Muslim Poll found Muslims are more are more likely than other groups to experience religions discrimination in institutional and interpersonal settings.
We asked those who reported experiencing any religious discrimination about places where the discrimination may have occurred. Muslims are more likely than Jews and the general public to face religious discrimination in institutional settings such as at the airport (44% vs. 2% of Jews and 5% of the general public), when applying for jobs (33% of Muslims vs. 5% of Jews and 8% of the general public), in interactions with law enforcement (31% of Muslims vs. 2% of Jews and 8% of the general public), and when receiving healthcare services (25% of Muslims vs. 5% of Jews and the general public).
Muslims are also more likely to face discrimination on an interpersonal level such as at a restaurant or other public place (49% vs. 30% of Jews and 23% of the general public) and when interacting with peers at work or school (42% of Muslims vs. 22% of Jews and 24% of the general public). Muslims, Jews, and the general public are equally likely to experience religious discrimination from family and friends (30%, 27%, and 33%, respectively). Unlike prior years, Muslim men are as likely as Muslim women to experience religious discrimination, in general and by setting.
Higher scores on ISPU’s Islamophobia Index are associated with:
ISPU Director of Research
Founder and President of The Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research
ISPU Director of Communications
Yaqeen Research Fellow and Director of Expanded Learning
ISPU Outreach & Partnerships Manager
ISPU Research Project Manager
ISPU Communications & Creative Media Specialist
ISPU Communications & Creative Media Specialist
ISPU Educator & Contributor
Abed Ayoub, National Legal and Policy Director, American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee
Wa’el Alzayat, Chief Executive Officer, EMGAGE
Dr. Hatem Bazian, Co-founder and Professor of Islamic Law and Theology at Zaytuna College and Founder and Director of Islamophobia Research and Documentation Project (IRDP) at UC Berkeley’s Center for Race and Gender
Zahra Billoo, Executive Director, Council on American-Islamic Relations, San Francisco Bay Area
Imam Zaid Shakir, President of New Islamic Directions
Imam Dawud Walid, Executive Director, CAIR-Michigan