Muslim Americans are markedly more liberal than Muslims elsewhere. U.S. Muslims—81 percent of whom are immigrants or children of immigrants—are the most socially liberal and religiously tolerant in the world and becoming more so with each passing year. Muslim-Americans are rapidly abandoning beliefs widely held in their native countries and adopting the more liberal social and political beliefs of other Americans. Many Muslims in the United States may have adjusted their views on Islam’s scripture. Increased Muslim immigration is not detracting from those changes and may even be contributing to them. Another significant point of equal significance: These changes do not include those who abandoned Islam, and it’s safe to assume that these are the people who are likely to be the most liberal.
The vast majority of Muslims around the world are fiercely opposed to homosexuality. Worldwide, the average country-level support across 39 countries is just 5 percent, with 80 percent opposed. Yet in the United States in 2011, 45 percent of U.S. Muslims considered homosexuality morally acceptable—the highest in the world—compared with 47 percent who did not. Opposition to homosexuality fell 14 percentage points from 2007 to 2014, while acceptance gained 18 percentage points—a 32-point swing in less than a decade.
Another signal of their more tolerant attitudes is that a majority of Muslim Americans accept other faiths as spiritual equals. U.S. Muslims in 2011 were unique among Muslims around the world in that they rejected the idea that Islam is the only faith leading to eternal life, instead believing that many other religions can also do so. This pluralistic faith could be a consequence of the fact that in the United States only 48 percent of Muslim-Americans say that “all or most” of their friends are other Muslims, compared with 95 percent globally. It is also not very surprising that Muslim-Americans appear to be the most permissive regarding interfaith marriages. 62 percent of U.S. Muslims said that it would be “OK” to marry a non-Muslim in 2007. 16 percent of U.S. Muslims were already living with a spouse or partner of a different religion in 2007. Muslim-Americans were the most likely to never wear a hijab and the least likely to always or usually wear one—just 41 percent of U.S. Muslims do so, compared with 61 percent internationally. Muslim-Americans are half as likely as other Muslims to believe that the Koran should be taken literally. A plurality in the United States favors not taking the Koran literally—43 percent to 42 percent—compared with the strong majority in other countries that favors literal interpretation—79 percent to 17 percent.
While the number of Muslim immigrants and their children doubled from 2007 to 2015—from 1.4 million to 2.7 million—the native Muslim population fell by more than a third—from about 917,000 to 594,000. This provides evidence that the immigrants themselves are taking part in the recent changes.
In 2014, 23 percent of all U.S. residents raised in Muslim households had left their religion, according to Pew. Another estimate placed the share at 32 percent. The number of Iranian Americans who identify as Muslim dropped from 42 percent to 31 percent from 2008 to 2012.
The Institute for Social Policy and Understanding in 2016 found that 55 percent opposed using “their religion” as even one source out of many for U.S. laws. Among all religious groups in the United States, Muslim-Americans are the least likely to identify strongly with members of their religion internationally. Just 37 percent do so, despite the fact that Muslim-Americans are the least likely to be U.S. citizens.
Just 5 percent of Muslim-Americans had a favorable view of the Sunni groups Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State militant group (ISIS), compared with 81 percent who did not. The opposition was more pronounced among U.S. Muslim immigrants—just 2 percent saw Al-Qaeda favorably, compared with 83 percent who didn’t. Pew asked Muslims in 23 countries how often suicide bombing “and other forms of violence against civilian targets in order to defend Islam from its enemies” is justified. Muslims around the world are overwhelmingly opposed to this type of violence. At a country level, 67 percent of Muslims oppose these attacks in all cases, compared with 27 percent who believe they can be justified at times (“rarely, sometimes, often”). In the United States, Muslims oppose all such attacks to defend Islam 81 percent to 13 percent. Among Muslim immigrants, opposition is more pronounced—82 percent to 10 percent.
Muslim-Americans have taken markedly more liberal views on social, religious, and political subjects than Muslims elsewhere; second, that Muslim-Americans are quickly adopting the views of other Americans; and third, that Muslim immigrants in the United States are less likely to support Al-Qaeda, violence against civilians and aspects of strict Islamic law than native-born Muslim-Americans. The United States appears to be quickly changing the views of immigrants after they arrive. If the United States does have a liberalizing effect on the views and practices of fundamentalist Muslims, large-scale immigration of Muslims could be a viable way to increase the influence of liberal Muslims in the world.