American Muslims are increasingly concerned about their recognition in society and about the ability to freely practice their faith. As this report indicates, Muslims experienced 240 acts of, discrimination violence and harassment in the last twelve months, a threefold increase over the previous year. These incidents ranged from Muslim women being fired or denied jobs because of their religious garb, to harassment of Muslims at the nation’s airports, other public facilities, schools, and government agencies because of the persons’ apparent religious affiliation. There is also a lack of religious accommodation in the military and the prison system. In relative terms, claims of discrimination and bias increased from 50 percent of the total experiences in 1995/1996 to 65 percent in 1996/1997, while reports of incidents of violence and harassment declined from 50 percent to 35 percent.
The majority of the experiences documented in the report deal with how public perceptions influenced acts of bias. Such experiences appear to be associated with three identifying factors whereby a person’s religious, ethnic, or group affiliation became “known.” Chief among these is religious practice (significant in 53 percent of the cases), which includes Muslim women wearing a head covering, or men wearing a beard and kufi (a cap worn by Muslim men). The other identifying factors are ethnicity (significant in 32 percent of the cases)—physical features or a “Muslim-sounding” name—and association with the Muslim community through sociopolitical activism (significant in 14 percent of the cases).
American Muslims are becoming more willing to defend their rights. Across the United States, Muslims are establishing precedents for religious diversity in the workplace, in schools, in government institutions, and even in the military. In some cases, these precedents are being established in the courts, including a case of a Muslim worker in California who was recently awarded about $3 million in a discrimination law suit. As a result of this increased level of activism, about 10 percent of the experiences discussed in this report represent victories in the American Muslim community’s quest for tolerance, justice and religious freedom.
The backgrounds of individuals taking their experiences to government and nongovernment agencies reflect the diverse nature of the American Muslim community. Individuals of Middle Eastern descent make up the largest segment (45 percent) of those taking action to redress their claims, followed by Africans/African-Americans (25 percent) and then by people whose families originated in Southwest Asia (17 percent) and Europe (8 percent).
Evidence presented in the Case Summaries section of this report will demonstrate that the largest number of claims centered on fair employment practices and religious accommodation in the workplace. It is also in the work setting that American Muslims have been most able to win recognition of their religious rights.