Religiosity and Muslim American attitudes towards political violence

Posted:
02 December, 2015

To what extent does the religion of Islam condone or promote the justification of suicide bombings?

While recent fears and tensions surrounding radical Islam are focussed on Europe in the aftermath of the Paris terror attacks, much of the “war on terror”-inspired policies and political rhetoric continue to flourish in the United States. Consequently, Muslims in the United States confront a growing anti-Muslim sentiment manifested in alarmist political rhetoric and verbal and physical abuse. Since the majority of Muslims in the US are foreign-born, this anti-Muslim backlash is further intertwined with a flourishing anti-immigrant rhetoric.

For instance, in the weeks since the Paris attacks, US presidential candidate Donald Trump has advocated for the creation of a national registry to monitor all Muslims in the US and halting efforts to take in Syrian refugees. In addition, several Muslims in American cities have been subjected to physical and verbal abuse – most recently the shooting of a Muslim taxi driver on Thanksgiving night in the American city of Pittsburgh. While these events reflect the popular and political tendencies to conflate Islam with terrorism, the assumption that Islam promotes or condones political violence is generally misunderstood.

In a recently published entitled Religion, Cultural Clash and Muslim American Attitudes towards Political Violence which I co-authored with Gabriel Acevedo of the University of Texas, we used nationally representative US data to analyse the effects of religiosity on Muslim American attitudes towards political violence in the form of suicide bombing.

In contrast to the alarmist political and public discourse surrounding Islam, our findings show that there is no significant relationship between Muslim American religiosity and support for politically motivate violence. Furthermore, the study reveals that Muslim Americans with the most fundamentalist interpretations of the Koran are actually the least likely to believe that Islam can justify politically motivated violence.

The results from this study offer the first nationally representative analysis of the effects of religiosity on Muslim American attitudes towards politically motivated violence – suggesting popular discourses conflating the religion of Islam with political violence are unwarranted in the case of the US.

To be sure, there is a correlation with recent acts of terrorism and individuals with Muslim backgrounds. But such correlations should not be construed as primary causes for engaging in terrorism. By avoiding anecdotal wholesale positive or negative interpretations of the global community of Muslims, we can rely on empirical research to help us better understand why some individuals with Muslim backgrounds engage in terrorism while the vast majority of Muslim Americans do not.

The complete results of the study are published in the May 2015 issue of the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion.

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About the author(s)
Ali Chaudhary
Marie Curie Research Fellow, IMI