Latino Attitudes Toward American Muslims and Islam


Youth making sandwiches and packing supplies for IslamInSpanish's 'Project Downtown' outreach event providing essentials for the homeless of downtown Houston, TX.
Youth making sandwiches and packing supplies for IslamInSpanish's 'Project Downtown' outreach event providing essentials for the homeless of downtown Houston, TX.

Factors that explain the persistence of Islamophobia among Latinos 

This research identified three common themes that stood out as factors that explain the persistence of Islamophobia among Latinos: perceived misogyny, stereotypes of Muslims as violent or terrorists, and religion as a point of difference. Because perceived misogyny was especially central to Latinos’ Islamophobia, we further break this theme down into subthemes that help to characterize the many ways misogyny manifests in Latinos’ attitudes of American Muslims.

Youth making sandwiches and packing supplies for IslamInSpanish's 'Project Downtown' outreach event providing essentials for the homeless of downtown Houston, TX.
Youth making sandwiches and packing supplies for IslamInSpanish's 'Project Downtown' outreach event providing essentials for the homeless of downtown Houston, TX.

Factors that explain the persistence of Islamophobia among Latinos 

This research identified three common themes that stood out as factors that explain the persistence of Islamophobia among Latinos: perceived misogyny, stereotypes of Muslims as violent or terrorists, and religion as a point of difference. Because perceived misogyny was especially central to Latinos’ Islamophobia, we further break this theme down into subthemes that help to characterize the many ways misogyny manifests in Latinos’ attitudes of American Muslims.

Theme 1: Islamophobia manifests through misogyny

Perceived misogyny is central to the persistence of Islamophobia in the general public (AMP2022) and, among Latinos, and it manifested in their attitudes about American Muslims and Islam in various ways. One common subtheme was the perception that Muslim men mistreat Muslim women. A second subtheme was framing Islam as a patriarchal religion. A third subtheme was misogyny through comparison to Christians/Catholics. Finally, a fourth subtheme was the connections made between machismo in Latino culture and Islam and Muslim culture.

Subtheme 1: Perceived mistreatment of women 

One of the most common forms of Islamophobia that we observed in this research was the perceived mistreatment of Muslim women by Muslim men. We found that participants often expressed this sentiment by referring to the treatment of Muslim women outside of the United States. At the same time, however, some participants did make direct references to the treatment of American Muslim women.

We offer the following quotes as evidence that perceived misogyny is a key mechanism that explains the persistence of Islamophobia, despite Latinos’ lower levels of Islamophobia relative to other racial groups in the United States.

I got a different take. I respect everybody. But, you know, I just look at them different. Okay, and [it’s] based [on] the way they treat their women in their country. I mean, it’s just tough. You’re gonna kill a woman because she wants to be educated (Man, age 49).

[Muslim women] live in fear; you know there’s fear. And it’s the same thing, as you know. I’m Cuban, and it’s the same thing as in Cuba. You know, we live in fear of [the] government. I think Muslims, probably the women, are more fear[ful] of [men]. You know, the men, because they’re not looked at as you know they’re not equal, and I say it right exactly. Not equal. So yeah … definitely fear. You know there’s a lot of fear (Woman, age 59).

 I had a Muslim woman who was in one of my classes, and it was a blessing to have her because her … husband died suddenly, and she found herself … All she knew to do was to cook and house chores—that’s it. And when her husband died, you know, then they had [no] money, so she found herself totally lost, because she didn’t know what to do, how to man [the house]. … There’s just so much bondage and so much fear, and the way that her husband, you know, she was in so much fear. … Today she goes “I love my husband, but if he wouldn’t have passed away, I wouldn’t have been free, and I wouldn’t have been where I am today” (Woman, age 59).

 When I speak to a Muslim family, I always speak to the husband and the wife is there, and I never get to interact with the wife. And I always have an issue with that, because the one who’s not going to be home is the husband. [It will] be the wife that’s gonna be home taking care of the children, and he’s doing all the questions. But she doesn’t know how to do what she has to do to raise the children. So that’s been my interaction. That’s why I always have an issue with the male side of Muslims (Woman, age 44). 

 I think [Muslim men] treat [Muslim women] as inferior beings. Completely … like if they were things, objects. I’ve seen that (Woman, age 62).

The woman is a possession for them. It is the man who is in control … I think that women don’t have the freedom to do, well, many, many things, I mean, as long as they can’t answer the door. I did know an American girl who married a Muslim and, yes, she totally lost control, I mean, to the point that she said, ‘I can’t go out.’ And it was the store next door without a man of the family accompanying me, or the mother-in-law. So the woman has, I mean, … she has no freedom at all. She is simply a possession of the man (Woman, age 51).

The culture is not the same. … Women, at least in our country, Latinos are more liberal; they can do many things. While [Muslim] women can’t do anything, they can’t do anything because they are very restricted (Man, age 49).

Subtheme 2: Patriarchy in Islam

In addition to perceiving that Muslim women are mistreated by Muslim men, Latinos in our focus groups perceived Islam as a patriarchal religion. We differentiate this evidence from perceptions that women are mistreated because participants drew explicit connections to the practice of Islam rather than general relations between Muslim women and men. 

One participant, for example, discussed how the Old Testament is the same in the Bible, Quran, and Torah but then distinguished Muslims as restrictive. They stated:

The Old Testament is the same in the Bible, the Quran, and the Torah. So we shared that. And I know that most of the [Muslim] people being … I know that they are very … they shelter very much. Their wives and everything, and I know that some of them can be very, I will say, protective. But, sometimes, the line is crossed. You know, to be restrictive … He doesn’t allow … [his] wife to go out, or he doesn’t allow his wife to be seen (Woman, age 59).

The perception that Islam is a patriarchal religion also emerged when we asked participants about their views regarding Muslim women who choose to wear a hijab. The following quotes show how many of our participants perceived the hijab as a symbol of Muslim men’s dominance over Muslim women.

I do have a question, though I mean all the power to [Dalia for wearing a hijab], and if, you know, if it’s your decision, or whatever you want to wear … but my frustration that I don’t understand why women have to cover their hair. And how, in a way, how sick can you be to sexualize women’s hair to have to cover it? (Woman, age 44).

They’re, like, some kind of belonging to the husband and they … don’t want [their hair] displayed in any way to any other man outside or for anybody to see it (Man, age 38).

The perception that Islam is a patriarchal religion was especially prominent when we asked participants about whether they would be concerned if someone close to them was planning to convert to Islam. Many respondents stated that they would be concerned if the person close to them was a woman. The following exchange in one of our focus groups characterizes this perception:  

It depends if it is about women. I do not admire them. So, there’s very little to respect [about] the way they treat women in that religion. And, if they’re okay with that, super. But I’m not in favor of the way women are treated, so if it’s a woman, a friend of mine, a sister of mine, I obviously think I’m going to help her do a lot of research on what it’s all about and what she’s getting into … (Woman, age 51). 

[Another participant responded:] … Like she said, if it’s my sister or an acquaintance, I’d say, ‘You know what? Are you sure about what you’re going to do? Think twice.’ Because going in there, there’s probably not a way out. Because unless this person is so submissive, they have to take orders … I would say think twice, think about it, or, you are really in love, but you have to change all your habits. It is a very drastic change. It is not just anything and for a man I think it would be easier because men are like that—it is easier for them because they have more freedom than a woman (Woman, age 39).

[A third participant replied as a response to a statement about men being allowed to have multiple wives:] Well, if she were a man … I would understand why she wants to convert to that religion. If she is a woman, more than advising her, I would ask her more, to learn about her reasons for wanting to get into it. The only option I see is that she is very, very much in love, because it is a change, totally, a radical change of life. And even more so if she is a Latina like us. It is a very, very, very, very, very radical change of life. So, more than advising her, I would like to learn and know what her reasons are, especially if she is a person close to me (Woman, age 33).

Subtheme 3: Perceived misogyny through comparison of Catholicism/Christianity to Islam

We found that when participants distinguished between Catholicism/Christianity and Islam they often centered gender relations as a point of difference. In one focus group, for example, a participant talked about how Muslim women and men do not worship together. He stated: 

I think the men are in one place, and the women are in another place. It’s not like church, where the men and women are together. Men in one place, women in another place, and it’s definitely like that when it comes to a wedding (Man, age 50). 

Similar attitudes emerged in the conversations our participants had regarding conversion to Islam. When discussing their concerns regarding women converting to Islam, the participants in our focus groups would mention how they were Catholic/Christian, suggesting that they perceived their religion as more open than Islam. Since many of these quotes are similar to those in the previous section, we simply note this general trend as a source of how religion and perceptions of gender roles interact to shape Islamophobia among Latinos. 

In the focus groups, we also asked participants about whether Catholic Latinas wearing a veil and Muslim women wearing a hijab had the same cultural and religious meaning. While some participants perceived both as a display of respect, many viewed them as different. The following quotes are examples of how participants viewed wearing a veil and wearing a hijab as culturally and religiously different. 

The question was whether the motivations for Catholic Latinos to wear a veil is that similar or different than the motivations for a Muslim woman to wear a hijab. I think it’s different because with the Muslim[s], it’s like I said earlier: You have no option. The woman [covers] herself, doesn’t show … you can barely see her eyes, and with the other religion, it’s just like it used to be more often. And now, you don’t see that much back. Then it was normal. It’s a way of respect to the church, but it’s not the same to me, [not] the same thing (Man, age 39).

They’re completely different from what we believe. At least to me, they seem a little bit weird because of the way they think. Weird because they are very orthodox in some things. For example, the way they treat women, right? That seems completely retrograde to me (Woman, age 62).

Of course it’s very different because I understand that Muslims already do it for a matter of purity and exclusivity, for their husband, whereas what we see in some Spanish-speaking religions is that they wear the veil on their head at the time of the ceremony, as if to understand that maybe above their head there is a superior being. Those are feeling their worship, and I think that is the difference (Man, age 38).

I think the Latino women… they just [wear it] to church as a respect to God or to the home of God. But they don’t really use it outside (Woman, age 42). 

I would always say that I was always told that the veil for women in church was more so of a reflection of the Virgin Mary. So that’s what I remember… I don’t think it’s the same as a hijab at all. There’s nowhere within the Bible that tells you that you should or that you must. I think it’s more of an act of respect, I guess, kind of like if you have a hat on and then you walk into church, and you take it off, or if you’re eating at a table, or you’re at the dinner table, and then you just take your hat off (Man, age 39).

They do wear that kind of attire, but I imagine that it’s only for that moment that they go to worship God and it’s like something of a ritual instead. That of the Muslims. The woman is different, because it’s everywhere (Woman, age 40).

Subtheme 4: Comparisons to machismo culture

Finally, we observed that Latinos compared gender relations among Muslim men and women to machismo culture in the Latino community. Participants saw these as a point of cultural similarity, but they also viewed Latinos as more progressive than Muslims. In other words, they were more likely to perceive machismo culture as a problem from the past while perceiving gender relations among Muslims as a problem in the present. Some of our women participants also mentioned how Latinas were more willing to push back on this culture than Muslim women. 

The following evidence demonstrates how perceptions of machismo culture were linked to perceptions of gender relations among Muslims. 

I feel like it’s called ‘machismo’ in the Latino community, which is actually very common. They’re not allowed to have so many wives, but as far as the responsibility of the woman, it’s always to take care of the house and take care of the children. But I think that was back in the day, not so much now anymore, especially in the United States. … It’s kind of changing now, where women are more advanced than the men. So the men have to take a little, you know, like a break from all that machismo and all that, because women are kind of becoming more independent, especially in the Latino community (Woman, age 37). 

Well, I grew up hearing mainly that Mexican men were machistas. I really never experienced that … in my life, I will say. … But yeah, I guess in the Latin culture we do have a lot of machistas to a certain point (Woman, age 42). 

We’re not very submissive, you know. Not at all. You know you’re gonna find a fight with a Hispanic girl, you know. So, we’re not gonna be quiet (Woman, age 52). 

I’ve seen it in the Honduran community, and you know it probably does happen in the Muslim religion as well with Muslims. … But we say that it is different because we don’t hear much about Muslim women rebelling (Man, age 29). 

They don’t see us [Latinas] as equal. I understand. You know, I’ve dealt with a machismo because Puerto Ricans … also have that problem, but they don’t humiliate, and they don’t make us walk behind them … [or] cover us (Woman, age 66). 

My wife just came home. I’m in the basement. She just came home with my two kids, and I’m thinking, ‘Oh, man… I gotta give my girls a shower.’… Times have changed. You know I mean … I don’t consider myself a machista (Man, age 39).

The first thing that came to my mind was the word Arabic. I know it’s not just the Arabs; they are Muslims. I also think about women, the oppression of women, the clothes they wear, the covering of their hair, and their faces; as a culture, they’re quite dominated by machismo (Woman, age 51). 

Generally, the interactions I have had with Muslims have been positive. As I had a friend of mine and we were very close friends. So, if I went to his house and things like that, where his parents were, and the only thing I noticed negative, to say, was the way they treated the woman. For example, when they are husbands, mmm … a lot of machismo, a lot of ‘whatever the man says goes.’ So, there is not much. … The woman does not have much authority in the house, if she is respected, in such a way, but between the husband and the wife, there is a lot of talk about the woman being lesser than the man (Man, age 38). 

Theme 2: Stereotypes of Muslims as violent or terrorists 

As with previous research⁸ ⁹ ¹⁰ ¹¹ we found that American Muslims continue to be stereotyped as terrorists and extremists. A common response to our word association exercise was that the average American thinks about violence, extremism, and terrorism when they hear the word Muslim. Latinos in our study perceived the media as a key institution that shaped this negative stereotype of Muslims. We also found that Latinos expressed similar sentiments about their community being negatively portrayed by the media. Despite this similarity, some participants perceived Latinos as too different from Muslims to work together. Since this stereotype is well established by previous research, we note these general trends rather than presenting detailed quotes.

Theme 3: Religion and religiosity as a point of difference

As previously mentioned, we observed that religion was central to Latinos’ perceptions that gender relations were different in their community compared to American Muslims. In addition to that subtheme regarding misogyny, we also found general comparisons between religions as points of difference. 

One participant, for example, perceived Christians as accepting of everyone and used this belief to differentiate Christians from Muslims. He said:  

But I got a better story—like my son. He went out with a Muslim girl, but she wouldn’t dare take him to meet her family or anything. If you’re not Muslim, you won’t be accepted like that. You know, like you won’t be able to marry into the family unless you yourself become Muslim. If not, you won’t be accepted. There is a lot to that religion. It’s tough. It’s not even like that, you know, for regular Christians because Christians are accepting of everyone for the most part, right, because I’m a Christian myself (Man, age 49). 

 We found other types of evidence where participants did not view their religions as similar. The following quotes demonstrate how this evidence emerged as a factor that leads to the persistence of Islamophobia. 

[Whether Muslims and Latinos can work together] As long as it has nothing to do with religion, with one’s faith, I think it’s fine (Man, age 37).

No, I don’t. They don’t believe in the same God. It’s like oil and water, pretty much (Man, age 39). 

I tried reading the Quran … the majority of the religions are … the same. … They pretty much change the names and so on. … The Quran, however, was one of the religions that was so extreme … I’m not going to lie. A lot of things in the Bible make … sense (Woman, age 40).

Christians are accepting, and we’re okay with the fact that God will love and allow anyone into heaven as long as they’re a good person, and they do certain things. … If you’ve been a good person, and you’ve done the right things. If you’re living like Jesus, even if you’re an atheist, I feel like you should be, or will be, accepted into heaven, and other religions don’t really follow that (Woman, age 49).

For me, I would be concerned about their salvation because … I believe that you only go to heaven … through Christ. (Man, age 28). 

Their [Muslims’] religion seems a little bit more legalistic in the sense that you have to pray five times a day. I [don’t] see Christians praying five times a day. … I fast when I pray, but to go a whole month fasting from sunset to sundown. It’s really tough. … Once they start putting a whole lot of restrictions, then, I don’t know, it goes from religion to something else (Man, age 29).


This publication was produced by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU) with support from and in partnership with IslamInSpanish, alongside additional generous support from the Doris Duke Foundation and El Hibri FoundationISPU would like to acknowledge our research partner, Latino Decisions.

IslamInSpanish in collaboration with Masjid Istiqlal in Houston, TX put together a Carnival celebrating Hispanic Heritage.
IslamInSpanish in collaboration with Masjid Istiqlal in Houston, TX put together a Carnival celebrating Hispanic Heritage.

Mitigating Islamophobia

One goal of this research was to probe whether it was possible to mitigate Islamophobia by providing participants with information about Islam. We incorporated the following approach into our research design to test this hypothesis. First, we asked focus group participants about their knowledge of Islam. Then we showed them a two-minute video clip that provided information about the pillars of Islam. After watching the video, participants were asked whether they learned something new from watching the video as well as to reflect on whether the new information changed their views regarding the questions that were asked immediately prior to watching the video clip.

Providing foundational information about Islam

We found that after watching the video clip, they were more likely to perceive Islam as a religion that was similar to Christianity and Judaism. This included drawing connections between Ramadan and Lent, religious fasting, and believing in one higher being:

I was surprised by the fact of the pilgrimage [Hajj] and the number of people that went. And I know obviously all religions do it. They go to the Vatican; they go to St. Peter’s Square; and the Jewish go to the Wailing Wall. In the end, you see the same principle of all religions as well. I mean, where people when they do collective meditation, they’re looking for the end and it’s God. The pilgrimage that I saw there, I think it’s the same, when the Catholics come and come and come and come and gather at mass, and a lot of people are at least in St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican. I think it is the same as long as what I was telling you is not bad. As long as you go looking for God, everything is fine. And that’s what caught my attention too—that it is practically seemed to be the same, the same purpose … (Man, age 37). 

The following statements further characterize the evidence that lead us to conclude that providing Latinos with information about Islam led them to update their beliefs and that exposure to information can help mitigate Islamophobia: 

I was really surprised to see what are the beliefs and the five pillars that they have to follow. Yes, something very interesting and look there [in the video] and much …  of those pillars are good things, are things that understand, help the society and each person that follows it. And, well, there we also learned about who Mohammed is and that in the end, he is a messenger (Man, age 38). 

So that video in and of itself was very peaceful and positive and educational. And it made it, you know, put it in plain language, what the followers of Islam believe. And I don’t think that is any of the stuff that is portrayed in the media, or, you know, like just everyday conversations between people who exist anywhere. [Whether representations of Muslims and Islam in media are accurate representations of Islam based on the video] No, not at all, not at all (Woman, age 49).

Centering women’s voices

After observing that misogyny was central to the persistence of Islamophobia in our initial eight focus groups, we organized an additional focus group of Latinas to further examine these attitudes. In this final focus group, we incorporated two additional tests into our research design to determine whether it was possible to mitigate the influence of misogyny on Islamophobia. This decision was motivated by our observations that the initial video clip had an influence on participants. In addition to watching the video clip about Islam, participants in the final focus group watched a second video clip about why some Muslim women may choose to wear a hijab. We found that Latinas were more likely to attenuate their negative attitudes about Muslim women and American Muslims when they were provided with information that brought them to reconsider previously held beliefs. 

I think [the woman in the video] was very articulate to me. I felt like she was very articulate, and she was able to express herself and what her belief was … I feel like some women do make the decision based off their devotion to the faith (Woman, age 43).

This is the first time in my 39 years that I see a lady with a hijab talk that way. You know, like I’ve always, [in] the long history of Islam, it’s always been negative, you know. So I guess I’m glad that I got to see that. It kind of changes my perspective (Woman, age 39). 

The final focus group concluded with a conversation between participants and a Latina Muslim who provided new perspectives about her life experiences as a Muslim woman as well as other Muslim women. She provided participants with additional information about what it means for Muslim women to wear hijab and, more generally, what it means to be a follower of Islam. While these types of interventions are less scalable than other approaches to mitigating Islamophobia, we find similar evidence that providing Latinas with information about Islam and Muslim culture influenced their attitudes. The evidence from this intervention corroborates the evidence we observed in the video clip interventions. This suggests that increasing interactions between these groups may further attenuate Islamophobia. This research suggests that many Latinos do not have crystallized attitudes about American Muslims and that interventions and the dissemination of information through outreach in the Latino community can help build stronger bonds between these groups.

Yes, [the discussion did change my perception and understanding of Muslim women that wear a hijab] because it’s different. It’s different to hear it from somebody than to not know and get to hear her say they have to wear this … so you know they just have to do it then (Woman, age 39).

Some people do it out of devotion, like they feel like they’re doing that for God, and it makes them feel good like you do. What makes you feel good … it makes them feel good to wear that (Woman, age 39).

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