Young Scholar Award

For Outstanding Research on American Muslims

Malaysian student wearing graduation robes and hat

The Young Scholar Award 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. At ISPU, we believe that research that enables American Muslims to develop their communities and research that ensures a pluralistic and equitable America are essential. Fortunately, there are young scholars currently pursuing groundbreaking work in this field of research. Not only are these scholars vital to America’s future, but they also deserve to be recognized for their contributions.


ISPU is honored to announce the winners of our inaugural Young Scholar Award for Outstanding Research on American Muslims. Thank you to the over 1800 people who voted for their favorite finalist. It was a difficult decision with many worthy candidates across the board, and we are thrilled to honor the following scholars.

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.