Young Scholar Awards

for Outstanding Research on American Muslims

A man in graduation robes and glasses

The Young Scholar Awards for Outstanding Research on American Muslims, sponsored by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, recognizes an emerging leader whose research focuses on American Muslims. Over the last year, we asked you to send in your applications for our Young Scholar Awards. And you did! After reviewing all of the applications, our Award Committee has selected nine finalists. Their research is exciting, vital, and impactful. Take a look at their research profiles to see for yourself. The finalists include:

Now it is your turn to tell us what you think. We would like your input on which applicant we should select to be one of our three winners. Please vote for the one candidate whose research best exemplifies leadership, relevance, and impact. The Award Committee will make the final decision on the top three winners, taking your votes into account.

The deadline to vote is August 28. Don’t miss this chance to weigh in on who you think should be our 2019 ISPU Young Scholar!

A man in graduation robes and glasses
Young Scholar Awards

for Outstanding Research on American Muslims

The Young Scholar Awards for Outstanding Research on American Muslims, sponsored by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, recognizes an emerging leader whose research focuses on American Muslims. Over the last year, we asked you to send in your applications for our Young Scholar Awards. And you did! After reviewing all of the applications, our Award Committee has selected nine finalists. Their research is exciting, vital, and impactful. Take a look at their research profiles to see for yourself. The finalists include:

Now it is your turn to tell us what you think. We would like your input on which applicant we should select to be one of our three winners. Please vote for the one candidate whose research best exemplifies leadership, relevance, and impact. The Award Committee will make the final decision on the top three winners, taking your votes into account.

The deadline to vote is August 28. Don’t miss this chance to weigh in on who you think should be our 2019 ISPU Young Scholar!

Saadia Ahmad

University: Master of Arts in Conflict Resolution, University of Massachusetts,

Research Topic: The Politics of Identity and Condemnation: Understanding and Improving American Muslim Response(s) to Islamic-Claimed Terrorism

What did Saadia do? Saadia’s work investigates and analyzes how Muslim leaders in America respond to Islamic-claimed terrorism. The data comes from interviews with 27 Muslim leaders across America representing the diversity of the American Muslim community.

What did Saadia’s research discover? Saadia’s work argues that there are distinct benefits, costs, and risks associated with the decision to condemn and the decision not to condemn Islamic-claimed terrorism. Her research found that condemning created a somewhat permeable shield against backlash that Muslims in America often encounter in the aftermath of Islamic-claimed terrorism. Costs include reinforcing the notion that the causes of violence are religious alone in nature. The decision to continue condemning also validates and normalizes the expectation that Muslims must condemn; it is a significant drain on resources, organizations, and leaders and shifts the focus away from those who need it the most—the victims of the violence—and places it upon those demanding a condemnation and those responding to that demand.

Why does it matter? Most significantly since 9/11, Muslims in America have been called upon by fellow Americans to condemn Islamic-claimed terrorism. This work is a resource for Muslims to utilize when discussing, discerning, and determining if and how to issue a response, and for non-Muslims to understand past and present responses, and some of the tensions, concerns, and dilemmas involved.

Rafee Almansur

University: Master’s in Couple and Family Therapy, University of Maryland, College Park

Research Topic: American Muslims and Spouse Selection

What did Rafee do? Rafee’s work was focused on one of the major challenges facing the Muslim American community today: getting married. Rafee sent approximately 80,000 verified U.S. users of Muzmatch (a matchmaking app for Muslims) a message inviting them to participate in his anonymous survey. Recipients were given four weeks to answer questions about the process of finding a spouse, resulting in 962 completed responses.

What did Rafee’s research discover? Rafee’s study shows a major shift away from the traditional Muslim paradigm of a high level of parental involvement. His study also found that most survey respondents would not be open to entering a romantic relationship with someone that they do not intend to marry, which is for the most part consistent with previous findings.

Why does it matter? These findings indicate that many Muslims in America are caught between two predominant models of mate selection: they are not open to traditional arranged marriages, nor are they open to American norms of casual dating. These results help explain the factors underlying how Muslims find partners in the U.S, which can help us better understand the challenges to Muslim American mate selection and develop potential solutions.

Nina Daoud

University: PhD, University of Maryland

Research Topic: Verily, with Hardship There is Ease: Examining the Intersections of Race, Religion, and Gender for Black Muslim Women in College

What did Nina do? Nina’s research on Black Muslim women recognizes the distinct experiences of this population, using an intersectional approach to understanding how their college experiences are shaped by multiple identities. She conducted interviews about pre-college experiences and the college transition, and completed on-campus observations.

What did Nina’s research discover? Nina’s written portraits present a glimpse into how the pre-college experiences of Black Muslim women shape their college experiences, particularly as they relate to their multiple identities. Her findings demonstrate that Black Muslim women’s college experiences are inextricably linked with their experiences outside college, particularly as it relates to their sense of belonging while in college. Her study offers a snapshot of how anti-Muslim rhetoric post-9/11, historical and current manifestations of anti-Blackness, and the culture of patriarchy shapes the experiences of Black Muslim women college students.

Why does it matter? Nina’s research complicates our understanding of what it means to be Muslim, challenging the notion that Muslims in the U.S. are primarily Arab or South Asian, as often portrayed in the media. Understanding the college experiences of this population can assist student affairs practitioners in creating programs to better support students from diverse racial and religious backgrounds

Hena Din

University: PhD candidate at University of California, San Diego

Research Topic: Pathways to Wellness: Exploring Muslim mental health promotion in the digital age

What did Hena do? Hena’s study explores the use of social networking sites for mental health promotion by organizations serving American Muslims, and provides recommendations for effective mental health promotion. She invited organizations that provide mental health education and that primarily serve American Muslims as well as actively using social media platforms to participate in her study. Hena’s work included a survey, interview, and assessment to determine the organization’s goals, strategies, policies, and evaluation for their social networking site usage. She also explored the barriers of effective use of sites for mental health topics.

What did Hena’s research discover? Among the six organizations Hena studied, four stated reducing stigma around mental health as one of their main goals for their social networking sites. Hena’s study’s findings indicated that American Muslim organizations are turning to social networking sites to help reduce stigma and increase MHP, but that they’re late adopters compared to other nonprofits. Hena’s study included recommendations and strategies for American Muslim mental health organizations to better utilize social networking sites to reduce stigma, provide education, and encourage others to seek mental health resources when needed.

Why does it matter? Mental health topics are often stigmatized and hard to address within the Muslim community. However, this community encounters serious mental health issues that are necessary to address across all ages, especially youth. There is a need for innovative ways to reach young populations who are at risk and need access to education and resources. Hena’s study will help organizations improve their message and communication online to reach more youth with essential resources.

Layla Khayr

University: PhD candidate at Jane Adams College of Social Work UIC

Research Topic: Bicultural Identity Integration-Cultural Conflict of Muslim American Emerging Adults

What did Layla do? Many Muslim Americans between the ages of 18 and 30 must negotiate their Muslim and American identities while experiencing varying levels of discrimination. This study explores how bicultural identity integration and cultural harmony levels of Muslim American emerging adults are jointly influenced by stigma consciousness and congregational support. Her work was a secondary analysis of a sample from the Ann Arbor and Dearborn Area Religion Study, which looks at religious identity, participation, and well-being of emerging adults living in those two cities.

What did Layla’s research discover? Layla found that although biculutral identity integration among Muslim Americans transitioning into adulthood are adversely affected by stigmatizing perceptions related to their Muslim identity, the adverse effects can be offset through congregational support from within the Muslim community.

Why does it matter? Stigmatized experiences of Muslims have not been widely researched. Layla’s results suggest that promoting youth engagement in American Muslim communities may allow this group to feel more supported by the Muslim community, which fosters positive bicultural identity integration.

Nazita Lajevardi

University: PhD, University of California, San Diego

Research Topic: Invisible No More: The Politics of Resentment Toward Muslim Americans

What did Nazita do? Nazita’s work focuses on a broad question: to what extent do Muslim Americans face discrimination by legislators, the media, and the masses? She used survey experiments, field experiments, and text analysis of media transcripts to explore this question, including the development of a tool she developed to assess anti-Muslim attitudes, called Muslim American Resentment (MAR).

What did Nazita’s research discover? Muslim Americans are grossly marginalized. The public views them negatively, legislators ignore them, and the media communicates them frequently in gross disproportion to their group size. In her research, Nazita traces the diverse history of Muslim in America, introduces the a tool she developed to assess anti-Muslim attitudes (MAR), shows the impact of MAR on public opinion and political behavior, assesses anti-Muslim sentiment from mainstream news broadcasts from 1992 to 2015 compared against Latinos, Asian Americans, and Black Americans, and uses framing experiments to improve mass attitudes about and policy preferences affecting American Muslims.

Why does it matter? Nazita’s work is the first to provide a comprehensive assessment of discrimination by the legislators, the media, and the masses—and shows that this treatment isn’t inconsequential. Muslim Americans are affected by this discrimination in significant and anti-democratic ways.

Amelia Noor-Oshiro

University: PhD student at Johns Hopkins University

Research Topic: Muslim Visibility, Islamophobic Discrimination and Hypervigilance as Predictors of Stress and Depression among Muslims in the United States: A Cross-Sectional Study

What did Amelia do? Amelia’s study explored how Muslim visibility, Islamophobic discrimination, and hypervigilance relate to outcomes of stress and depression among Muslim men and women. In particular, the study sought to capture how visibility as a Muslim contributes to previously studied concepts of minority stress.

What did Amelia’s research discover? Amelia’s findings indicate that visibility is associated with more hypervigilance for women, and that hypervigilance is associated with more perceived stress and depressive symptoms among women and men. Visibility also marginally predicts depressive symptoms among women. For men, visibility is a significant predictor of depressive symptoms. Among both genders, Islamophobic discrimination was significantly associated with hypervigilance, perceived stress, and depressive symptoms.

Why does it matter? Amelia’s study is the first rigorously conducted research that aims to capture the question on the minds of many Muslims in America today: What difference does it make to my health to be visibly Muslim? This is the first study to capture both Muslim visibility and hypervigilance, and contributes to the discovery of how being visibly Muslim affects mental health. This research was utilized for training mental health professionals and to propose clinical interventions.

Laila Noureldin

University: PhD candidate at University of Chicago

Research Topic: American v Muslim? Religiosity as a Marker of Fragmented Identification among American Muslims

What did Laila do? Muslim and American identities are often portrayed as being in conflict with one another. Yet, few studies analyze how American Muslims view their own self-identifications, an important conceptual component of social integration, especially among large immigrant populations, both in number and diversity. Using a nationally representative sample of American Muslims conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2011, this study examines the association between religiosity markers and self-identification among American Muslims, while determining the likelihood of one identification category over another.

What did Laila’s research discover? Close to half the population assumes a primarily Muslim identity, 30% report a primarily American identity, while 20% and 4% reporting “Both equally” and “Neither,” respectively. This study’s findings point to a fragmented American Muslim identity, from the perspective of American Muslims themselves, as opposed to a wholly collective one. Laila’s work shows American Muslims are not only an ethnically diverse population, but one that possess varying national and/or religious self-identifications.

Why does it matter? Laila’s study examines identity in a variety of ways. Islam has become a key public and political concern, leading to growing interest in American Muslim religiosity as the subject of empirical social research. A significant segment of the American Muslim population are new immigrants with large ethnic diversity and differing processes of assimilation, thus raising questions of cultural identity. Despite their centrality within the public discourse, scholarship on American Muslims, specifically markers for American Muslim identity, is highly limited. This absence restricts our understanding of assimilation processes, undermining American pluralism.

Fred Sahakian

University: PhD in public policy and administration from Walden University

Research Topic: Perceptions of Problems, Policies, and Politics of a Controversial Pacific State Mosque

What did Fred do? The Muslim population in the U.S. is increasing, yet little research has been conducted on the problems Muslim communities may experience when building a new mosque, community center, or cemetery. Fred’s five-year case study set out to identify the key elements that led to community protest and the ensuing lawsuit against the Cordoba Center, a proposed mosque, community center, and cemetery planned to be built in the San Francisco Bay Area by the South Valley Islamic Community.

What did Fred’s research discover? Results of participant interviews and the review of public documents and media reports helped shape several recommendations, both for Islamic communities and for policymakers. In his recommendations, Fred found that given the complexity of siting a mosques, Groups should not attempt to move forward in the development process without first understanding the political climate of the community in which they wish to build a mosque or community center. For policymakers, Fred recommends reviewing existing policies to make sure they’re prepared to meet the growing need of Islamic prayer spaces.

Why does it matter? Understanding the events surrounding the siting of a controversial mosque provides much-needed information to help Muslims, policymakers, and communities address the needs of a growing Muslim population in the U.S. Fred’s recommendations may also prove helpful to other religious groups, who could benefit from understanding the history, culture, and political climate of a community in which they want to build a house of worship.

2017 Winners

1st Place

Marwa Abdalla

Marwa I. Abdalla

University: MA candidate in Communication, San Diego State University

Research Topic: How do I explain this to my children? An Auto-Ethnographic Investigation of Mother-Child Communication Surrounding Sexism, Racism, and Islamophobia

What did Marwa do? Marwa’s research explores how parents communicate with their children, answer difficult questions, and share their past experiences with complex and often painful topics. In this study, Marwa and two other mothers recorded notes of moments in which they communicated with their children about negative social phenomena over the course of 12 weeks. They also conducted and transcribed interviews with their spouses and children. Throughout their research, the three discussed their data in-person in an effort to refine their focus and better identify the most prominent patterns.

What did Marwa’s research discover? Marwa’s research showed that there are many ways for parents to communicate with their children about their gender, racial, and religious identities and to encourage them to challenge sexism, racism, and Islamophobia. Rather than focus on just one type of communication, Marwa hoped the personal experiences highlighted in the study show that when it comes to family communication, one size does not necessarily fit all.

Why does it matter? For many parents, explaining sexism, racism, and Islamophobia to their children is a challenge. There is a need, especially among Muslim parents, to better understand how to communicate with their children in the face of such negative social phenomena. Communication scholarship has given much focus to representation of Muslims in the media but little scholarship on the personal experiences of Muslims. Marwa’s research aims to fill this gap. Marwa has thus shared this work with university audiences, government officials, in radio and television interviews, and at numerous faith centers.

2nd Place

Laila Noureldin

Laila Noureldin

University: PhD candidate in Sociology, University of Chicago

Research Topic: Assimilation and/or Alienation? Construct Reconceptualization Using American Muslim Religiosity and Immigrant Generation-Levels

What did Laila do? Laila’s study examined how religiosity and immigrant generation-level are related to American Muslim assimilation and alienation using the nationally representative 2011 Pew Muslim American Survey.

What did Laila’s research discover? ‘Very Religious’ American Muslims have both the highest levels of assimilation and alienation. Those Muslims born outside the U.S. who immigrated before the age of 18 have the highest assimilation levels, while native-born American Muslims have the highest alienation levels.

Why does it matter? The American media often depicts Muslim and American identities as incompatible; yet, few studies analyze how American Muslims view their own social integration. Assimilation literature primarily focuses on Hispanic immigration. As an ethnically diverse religious population, the American Muslim experience is missing from this literature. What’s more, immigration research and policy has been a hotly debated subject, and the American Muslim experience, especially with increases in Syrian refugee migration, further complicates this issue. Laila hopes this work will fill this gap in our understanding of integration processes and will create networks for social change for American Muslims through interfaith dialogue and civic engagement.

3rd Place

Youssef Chouhoud

Youssef Chouhoud

University: PhD candidate in Political Science and International Relations, University of Southern California

Research Topic: Modern Pathways to Doubt in Islam

What did Youssef do? Youssef’s research explores what drives religious doubt among American Muslims. His study consists of 31 in-depth interviews with imams, university chaplains, and youth coordinators. Because this is the first study of its kind, Youssef’s objective was to provide a baseline reference point for understanding the sources of doubt in the American Muslim community.

What did Youssef research discover? Youssef identified three core sources of doubt:

  • Moral and social concerns (e.g., gender roles, sexuality)
  • Philosophical and scientific concerns (e.g., theory of evolution, the problem of evil)
  • Personal trauma (e.g., abuse, community racism, a family death)

He also found that the problem of doubt in the American Muslim community is not simply of magnitude but also of frequency; interviewees reported encountering doubting people semi-regularly, on average.

Why does it matter? At a time when the U.S. population as a whole is becoming less and less religious, the need for a more systematic assessment of doubt in the American Muslim community is especially urgent. As religious minorities, American Muslims find themselves in an environment that presents unique challenges to the maintenance of their faith. Youssef’s study provides an easy-to-understand framework for making sense of this complex subject. He is also currently working on a survey that would assess how much his findings coincide with the reality at the broader community level. Additionally, a number of youth groups, mosques, and Muslim Student Associations have already used this work as a teaching tool.

1st Place

Marwa Abdalla

Marwa I. Abdalla

University: MA candidate in Communication, San Diego State University

Research Topic: How do I explain this to my children? An Auto-Ethnographic Investigation of Mother-Child Communication Surrounding Sexism, Racism, and Islamophobia

2nd Place

Laila Noureldin

Laila Noureldin

University: PhD candidate in Sociology, University of Chicago

Research Topic: Assimilation and/or Alienation? Construct Reconceptualization Using American Muslim Religiosity and Immigrant Generation-Levels

3rd Place

Youssef Chouhoud

Youssef Chouhoud

University: PhD candidate in Political Science and International Relations, University of Southern California

Research Topic: Modern Pathways to Doubt in Islam

Share via