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Muslim Culture in America, A Sociology Essay

Updated on September 27, 2014

Abstract


Islam is the fastest growing religion is the United States, and is also the fastest religion to get discriminated against. This is an important topic to research since many United States citizens are being portrayed as “terrorists”, just for practicing their religion. Additionally, by recognizing and pointing out racism and cultural bigotry, our nation can make steps to prevent injustice against our own citizens. This core assessment will evaluate this culture, research Muslim history, identity, and current and past discrimination.

What do most people think about when they hear the word Muslim? Some people think of a devoted follower, or even a religious person that helps the community. Unfortunately, some individuals might think negatively and ponder words like terrorist, radical or murderer. Despite all the negative publicity that Muslims and Islam have gone through recently; they still have a rich history and a wonderful culture. This core assessment will evaluate this culture, research Muslim history, identity, and current and past discrimination.


Recently, Muslims have been under attack in America, and in their “homeland”. They have been called “terrorist”, “foreigner”, and even “murderer”; they have been hated because of their radical counterparts. Little do many know, Muslims have been in America for many years! Everyone knows that “in 1492 Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue”, thinking that he was the first person to discover the “New World”. When in fact, other discoverers like the Muslims arrived here in 1178 (Dawanet, 2006) This voyage was recorded in a publication known as the “Sung Document” (2006). The Muslims were so acquainted with the New World, that even Columbus used Muslim Portuguese sailors to help navigate his precious three ships (Ahari, 2005).


There was a large gap in reference to Muslim history in America; they resurfaced in the 1800's in the form of slaves. Interestingly, “at least ten percent of the African slaves came from Muslim backgrounds” (Siddiqu, 2006). Additionally, these slaves were not just different because of their Muslim background, they were “special” because they had a high percentage of literacy (2006). This was a positive and a negative thing; they were punished for their intelligence through physical means, but they were able to keep their heritage strong through literary works (2006). Small African American Muslim communities survived throughout the United States, handing down precious traditions to their kin, who also did the same.


During the next century, Muslims have a difficult situation a head of them: they could either stay in their economically devastated homeland which included: Palestine, Lebanon, and Pakistan,or they could come to the United States and live in bad neighborhoods, work bad jobs, and put up with racism. Many chose the latter, working in the automobile industry, most notably Detroit, Michigan (2006). Some, who were from Panjab, found refuge in Sacarmento, working in comparable jobs.

The 1950s were a better time for Muslim-Americans. Many Muslims from their homelands received professional degrees such as medical and law degrees (2006). After they earned their education, they moved from the “motherland” to the United States, in the mist of ethnic riots, and the racial revolution. These professionals, migrated to the Muslim communities which was predominantly located in: “Detroit, Ann Arbor, Gary (Indiana), Cedar Rapids (Iowa), Sacramento” (2006). This surge of immigrants sounded off an alarm with the dominant ethnic group, despite their educational background, (which were, the White Anglo-Saxon Protestants).
During the time of the Black Panthers, Ku-Klux-Klan, and other racially motivated associations, arrived the Muslim Student Association of the United States and Canada (MSA), who were later re-named the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) (2006). This, and other comparable associations helped Muslims who never practiced their religion, to get in touch with their “roots” (2006).

These associations were notorious for holding many positive conferences, which encouraged people from all over the globe to come to America, and add to our nation's melting-pot.
Islam is not solely for people of Middle-Eastern descent. During the Martin Luther King, and Malcom-X era, came the “black movement”. The black movement was lead by “prophet” Elijah Muhammad. Elijah Muhammad was a “self-proclaimed” prophet; as in, he first initiated that he was sent from God, or Allah. But this “Black Muslim” movement did not last long because of Elijah Muhammad had sexual skeleton's in his closet.

Fortunately, Islam and the Muslim culture did not die out after the “black movement”, but has flourished in recent times, and is actually one of the fastest growing religion in the United States. Currently, there are around 5 to 8 million Muslims in the United States, and is growing around 135,000 annually (Siddiqui, 2006).

There are currently 1,209 official Mosques in the United States; half of them have been built in the past twenty-years (Muslim World, 2002). Recently, the dominant group's response to the Muslim culture and the Islamic religion is not favorable. Even though one in ten Muslims in America have a doctorate, and 67% or higher (while only 44% of American-born citizens) have a doctorate degree, they are treated as peasants (Allied Medical Corporation, 2005).

The rates of discrimination have been increasing, “There is an almost 30 percent increase in the number of anti-Muslim bias incidents from 2004 to 2005, the annual report by a leading civil rights group said. The Council on American-Islamic Relations' (CAIR) report - the only annual study of its kind - outlines 1,972 incidents and experiences of anti-Muslim violence, discrimination and harassment in 2005, the highest number of civil rights cases ever recorded in the group's annual report” (Ghazali, 2006).

Muslims have been on constant guard in America, especially after 9/11. At airports, bus stations, train stations, and any other public event, they are stared at, booed at, and looked at with suspicion, especially if they are carrying a backpack or handbag. “For Muslims, Bush Administration’s “global war on terror” has become euphemism for racial profiling at airports and borders, monitoring of mosques, closing down of charities, FBI moles in their community, sting operations, high profile arrests on terrorism charges which are seldom proved in a court of law, and discrimination and harassment by law enforcement” (2006). This is an unfortunate time for Muslims. There was a point in the United States' history that we profiled and judged amongst our citizens without fair trial, it was called the Salem witch-hunts. Muslims are proud people; they have a rich heritage and a strong sense of identity.


A Muslim is defined as, “Of or pertaining to the religion, law, or civilization of Islam” (Dicitonary.com, 2006). Most Muslims would characterize themselves, as “submitters”, submitting to the teachings of the Koran and of Allah (Cline, 2006). They believe that their soul depends upon their submission to the Koran, and if not followed very adherently, their soul faces a possible consequence of hell. Additionally, Muslims believe in being around other Muslims. They actually have a word for this community; it is called “Ummah” (2006).

Another characteristic that Muslims have is a sense of purity. This purity gives their culture meaning; they forbade themselves alcohol, drugs, gambling and pork (2006). One commonality that all (good) Muslims follow is the seven principles, which are:

1. Tawheed- Muslims believe in the unity of God.

2. Risallah- Muslims believe that Muhammad was the messenger of God

3. Mala'ikah- Muslims believe in angels.

4. Kutuballah- Muslims believe in God's books. These books are the Psalms of David, and the Koran.

5. Yawmuddin- Muslims believe in Judgment Day.

6. Al-Qadr - Acceptance of pre-destination.

7. Akhriah- Muslims believe that the dead will resurrect one day.

Mainstream may give Muslims a different sense of identity, characteristics that many Muslims adhere to, and believe. For instance, mainstream may say that Muslims can be easily identified with their turban. This is a sense of identity for Muslims, but not alone. Originally, turbans were used as a cloth that covered their body once they died (Wikipedia, 2006).

Now, turbans have a wide variety of uses, including: indicating social status, fending off dessert heat, and protecting the scalp from sunburn (2006). This paper will cover stereotypes later. Another characteristic that mainstream gives Muslims, that they are all terrorists, related to a terrorist, or someway connected to terrorists. Driving down a city road and seeing a mosque, can give a person a sinking feeling in their stomach.

Many Muslims have, and are trying to fit in to the American culture; it has not been easy. Muslims are inflicted with so much discrimination, it is almost impossible for them to truly assimilate, “many Muslim community representatives say assimilation has become more difficult as Islamic extremism has risen to have an impact on the West. And they add that addressing the isolation and fanaticism that can feed homegrown extremism has to be the work of both the Islamic community and the broader society” (Lafranchi, 2005).

However, more and more Muslims are becoming assimilated, even if they are not becoming aware of it. It is even estimated that one in three Muslims hold a professional job; for example, Wall Street Journal brokers, doctors, lawyers, and make over $75,000 a year (Wikipedia, 2006).

Discrimination is not however the only thing stopping their attempts of assimilation. There are many Muslims who are worried about their two choices: assimilation or isolation (Media Guide to Islam, 2003). They feel guilty over wanting things that American life offers; such as civil liberties, right for education, their children's safety, their spouse's equality, freedom of speech, and freedom to worship how they choose.

However, they worry about the evils of American society, how America feeds off of sex, drugs, alcohol, and other “evils”. They are worried about their souls, and the souls of their children. They do not want their children to be seduced into American living, and possibly abandoning their beloved faith. The next way that American-Muslims have “carved their nice into American society” is isolation.

Discrimination is not however the only thing stopping their attempts of assimilation. There are many Muslims who are worried about their two choices: assimilation verse isolation (2003). By forming small communities around the United States, Muslims (as well as many other groups who have strong religious beliefs (i.e. Mormons, Amish, and so on) protect themselves against discrimination. They also give themselves other comforts, such as employing “Their own”, schooling “Their own”, and marrying “Their own”. They get all the rights of being an American, but they get all the values of home.

However, there are some issues in America that is against their religion, like abortion, marriage, divorce, inheritance, child custody, child support, and alimony (Haddad, 1997). Also, when they live in these tight-knit communities, they understand certain ideologies and requirements that come with being a Muslim, such as fasting during Ramadan. Additionally, Muslims are required to pray so many times a day, as well as attending Friday mid-day services (Haddad, 1997).

Muslims have special holidays, which do not necessarily coincide with the traditional Christian or Jewish holidays. An employer many not award breaks for all theses prayers, fasting, special holidays, and mid-day services. Furthermore, by Muslims forming these small communities, they do not have to worry about their children marrying “outsiders”. Interestingly, some Muslim communities have actually imported potential spouses for their children (Haddad, 1997).

The dominant group (White Anglo Saxon Protestant) response to American Muslims has not been pleasant. Fear and ignorance has made many Americans prejudice towards ”Hadjis”. “Some types of persecution toward Muslims has been unwarranted arrest, imprisonment, beating, torture, or even execution” (Wikipedia,2006). Discrimination and persecution comes in many forms, whether it is not going into a store because it is owned by someone that “looks” Muslim, or flat out instigating violence against them. The dominant groups view. Of American Muslims is a very sad one.

Stereotypes are a problem that every culture faces; the Muslim culture faces many themselves. Some people believe that every Muslim is part of a “holy war”, but that is far from true. A pamphlet for the media published by the American Muslim Council explains “ the word “jihad” is more accurately translated as an “exertion of effort”, not a holy war (Harvard College, 2006). This sort of stereotyping has been compared to Muslims for hundreds of years, with majorities of the information being incorrect. “ In the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, there were claims that people of “middle eastern descent” running away from the building” (2006). “Many “experts” stated that it was “Islam Extremists”, and before the dust even settled there were over 200 attacks on Muslim homes and mosques”(2006). When in reality, it was two Caucasian men that were not Muslim, or even Middle Eastern.


It is ignorance and hate that fuels many of the rumors. Every religion has had moments that would not be considered “fantastic”. The media focuses on the bad parts of the Muslim culture, not the good. “A common opinion about Muslims is that people think that a Muslim terrorists comes from poverty, broken families, ignorance, immaturity, lack of family or occupational responsibilities, weak minds susceptible to brainwashing - the sociopath, the criminals, the religious fanatic, or, in this country, some believe they’re just plain evil people” (2005).


Shockingly, Marc Sageman, a former CIA case officer in Afghanistan, says that most of the worlds known terrorist were not from bad homes, but are very well educated (almost 90 percent) (2005).
Some other stereotypes are: all Muslims are Arabs, they all live in the hot desert they are camel jockeys, they still use the sword, every Arab/Muslim has an oil well, they are filthy rich, they strongly “appreciate” feminine beauty, they “collect” women in a harem, and most famously, they are terrorists who “hate us”.

On the other end of the stereotype is the Muslims view on Americans. In an article written by Ken Hughes, he wrote about comments he heard about how Muslim people think about Americans. The first thing he mentioned was Israel, “Your government for mysterious reasons supports a terrorist regime Israel, have you ever wondered it might have bad consequences?” (Hughes, 2005). With statements like that, it is no wonder why propaganda videos and foreign news displays America as an advocates to terrorism. They also question our culture and the way we treat females in our nation. “Islam respects women more than any other society in the world, letting women be treated like objects by filthy perverted men is not what you call a civilized society” (Hughes, 2005).


Being Muslim in today’s society can be very difficult and have some disadvantages. Muslim people in American are treated with many acts of discrimination and racism. The President of the United States even made an Anti-Islamic claim stating “The recent arrests that our fellow citizens are now learning about are a stark reminder that this nation is at war with Islamic fascists who will use any means to destroy those of us who love freedom, to hurt our nation”(The White House, 2006). The attitude toward people of Middle Eastern decent is very poor; especially since there is the stereotype that all people from the Middle East are Muslim.

Following the events of September 11th, the amount of discrimination and racism has gone up. “In 2002, in the best interests of ‘national security,’ immigration authorities ordered young men from predominantly Muslim countries to "voluntarily" present themselves to be questioned, fingerprinted, photographed and assigned a registration number. More than 14,000 of the 83,000 men who complied with the order were deported, forced to leave their families behind--most for minor immigration violations--all without generating a single charge of terrorism” (Smith, 2004).

People in America have a moderately distorted view of Muslims, and people with Middle Eastern descent. Some Americans ask “Why do Muslims hate Americans.”, or “What did we do?”, in response to poor relations post September 11th. “The truth is that at present the Muslims severely loathe America and now, they hate not only its policymakers but large portions of the American people since they have shown without a shadow of doubt that they agree with their discrimination be re-electing our current President,.”(Al-Faisal, 2005). It is this kind of discrimination that makes the abuse and racism toward Muslims an easy task.

As was previously said, there are many types of discrimination that Muslims face here in America. Weather it is boycotting, assault, or just being treated unfairly there is a very definitive amount of prejudice and discrimination directed toward Muslims, even if it is unintentional.
Even with all the discrimination that goes on in America, many Muslims are advancing in American society.

Many people who are immigrating from the Middle East to the United States are educated and are ready to work. Unfortunately, sometimes being educated and motivated is not enough. There are many “societies” that have been established to better help make more progress for the people of Islam.

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    • Alli Rose profile image
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      Alli Rose Smith 3 years ago from Washington, DC

      Thank you, Adventure Traveks!

    • Alli Rose profile image
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      Alli Rose Smith 3 years ago from Washington, DC

      Swisstoons, what is wrong with you???!! I'm a Christian, but we have a checkered past like EVERY religion. Let's see we have the crusades and murdered innocent Muslims who were minding their own business on their own land. Let's not forget all the murders in medieval Europe against Protestants and Christians. Oh yes, we murdered thousands of native Americans because they didn't convert to Christianity. Our country had slaves because we used the Bible to condone it. In the Old Testament, if your gay your dead, get a accused of being a witch, your dead. Lots wife looked back and she turned into a pillar of salt. People like you give Christians a bad name.

    • Swisstoons profile image

      Thomas F. Wuthrich 3 years ago from Michigan

      FYI: There are thousands of hadiths (or traditional stories) which reinforce the teachings of the Quran. I've just read a translation of the first forty of these hadiths, most of which claim to quote Mohammed. This is Hadith 14 which explains the instances in which the life of a Muslim can be lawfully taken: "The Messenger of Allah, May the blessings and the peace of Allah be upon him, said: 'The blood of a Muslim person who testifies no one is God except Allah and that I am the Messenger of Allah, is lawfully taken in only one of three instances: the adulterer/adulteress who had been in a valid marriage, death penalty for one for killing another, and leaving the group by LEAVING ISLAM.' (My capitalization.)

      In other words, if you become a Muslim, you are forbidden from having second thoughts under penalty of death. Does that sound like a "religion of peace?" Elsewhere in the first forty hadiths believers are commanded to follow the imams unquestioningly and reject any "innovation" of Islam. "Moderation" (and modernization) would seem to me to be forbidden. So, where are the moderate Muslims?

    • Adventuretravels profile image

      Giovanna Sanguinetti 3 years ago from Perth UK

      Racial hatred and discrimination in any nation will lead to a more dangerous world for us all. This article is very well written. Thank you for your efforts in educating us all. What did you think of the president's speech: http://youtu.be/7gzFPI11jp8

    • vkwok profile image

      Victor W. Kwok 3 years ago from Hawaii

      Acts of violence and war always give rise to unreasonable bigotry. As a sociology major, I say bravo for an awesome essay. I can see a lot of work and thought was put into this hub.

    • Venkatachari M profile image

      Venkatachari M 3 years ago from Hyderabad, India

      Hi, Javed. I appreciate you also along with Alli Rose for this wonderful awareness. Humans as a whole are very wonderful creatures. I hope they do possess all good qualities of humanity. But they need to be reminded from time to time of their innate good nature so that they can try to control their unwarranted emotions peeping out suddenly making them fall prey in committing wrong acts spontaneously.

    • m abdullah javed profile image

      muhammad abdullah javed 3 years ago

      Hi Rose, many congrats for putting things right from your heart, may God bless you with more opportunities to be a torch bearer of justice, humanity and love.

      We should come forward to lead the humanity to ensure a rich intellectual and cultural heritage for the future generations to follow, by taking into confidence different communities in particular the Muslims. I think it should be a top priority, because it is a fact that hatred towards America has increased after the events followed by 9/11 incident, and the presence of US military in Muslim nations has further added to their woes.

      We deem it a matter of our faith to deal sternly with the terrorists and their inhuman activities, what procedure is being followed by US is a matter of pride for us. We consider it as a noble initiative towards establishing stability and peace in the society, mutual co-operation and support for this becomes one of our duties as a Muslim. But needless hatred towards the Muslims, seems below par the dignity, it doesn’t suit. What I feel is undue hatred towards anyone reveals the negativity within.

      As far the Muslims, I should say that they need to re-organize themselves. What Islam is and what not, already been explained and it is there in the authentic books. There is absolutely no need to define Islam or any wish to suit the human desires and designs. If situation worsens, it is not the responsibility of an individual or a few to decide what to do, but this matter rests with a State to look into it. According to the Islamic norms and values for such a situation it becomes imperative for the State to arrive at a humane solution, and look into it with profound seriousness in particular when the issue has a connection with the world communities. And if they are being oppressed and denied of their rights, it becomes obligatory on them to resort to constructive efforts and try to gather the support of International communities. Islam doesn’t appreciate upholding of rights at the cost of violating other’s rights. The Quran clearly says:

      “O believers! stand out firmly for Allah, as witnesses to fair dealing, and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just: that is next to piety: and fear Allah. For Allah is well-acquainted with all that you do. (Ch5-Al Maeda: Verse8)”

      Simply raising flags, announcing statehood, beheading innocents, claiming to be the sole authority has absolutely no legal sanctity, at times it appears a childish approach. According to the teachings of the Quran and Hadith (Shariah), any act that disturbs the peace and displaces the order of society is severely condemnable. The Quran says:

      “Call on your Lord with humility and in private: for Allah doesn’t love those who trespass beyond bounds. Do not spread mischief on the earth, after it has been set in order, but call on Him with fear and longing (in your hearts): for the Mercy of Allah is (always) near to those who do good.(Ch7-Al Araf: Verses 55-56)”

      I am sure nobody can dare to disprove this fact. Let us hope that the humanity in humans will prevent humans from falling prey to the inhuman acts of so called ‘humans’.

    • m abdullah javed profile image

      muhammad abdullah javed 3 years ago

      Yeah you are right sir turban is one of the common forms of tradition that we share, hope this common thing that rest on our heads, refresh our minds and hearts to share what all commonness we have in our religions.

    • Venkatachari M profile image

      Venkatachari M 3 years ago from Hyderabad, India

      Then I am sorry, if I am wrong in my perception. I see here most people wearing the white cotton caps on their heads in Hyderabad and also when I was in Uttar Pradesh for 25 years. I have seen Punjabis (Sikhs) wearing turban on their heads which contain knife and comb also inside. So, I was telling what I have seen mostly.

    • m abdullah javed profile image

      muhammad abdullah javed 3 years ago

      Pls excuse me Venkatachari sir I think Rose is correct in her description of turban, especially Arab people used to wear in view of the prevailing atmospheric conditions of that region and culture. Now it's a common practice among Muslims to wear turban, in fact it is regarded as tradition of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).

    • Venkatachari M profile image

      Venkatachari M 3 years ago from Hyderabad, India

      Hi, Alli Rose. It's very interesting and informative. Collected so much detailed statistics. Very great hub. Voted up and interesting.

      But, one thing I feel. Turbans are not Muslim identity. Muslims are identified by their caps and long kurtas. Women by black covers. Turbans are the religious wear of a Sikh or Pathan.

    • rebelogilbert profile image

      Gilbert Arevalo 3 years ago from Hacienda Heights, California

      Well researched article, Allison. You list some good qualities about the Muslim people. It's too bad much of it unrecognized in prejudicial society. Acts of violence against our country is tragic. 9/11 certainly raised a red flag about terrorist involved against N.Y. World Trade Center twin towers. The Japanese people suffered greatly after the attack of Pearl Harbor in World War II. It took many years for condition to improve for them. Hopefully, an optimistic outlook can shape itself for the Muslims.

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      Farhat 3 years ago from Delhi

      Kudos Alli Rose, I salute to your guts that in this atmosphere of hatred towards Muslims all over, you bravely put the facts honestly in a very justified powerful way. It will definitely be of some solace to those who are suffering the prejudice & unfair behaviour towards them , that some wise & just people are still there who think honestly….Your honesty really touched me…you are not only a worthy soldier but a sensitive human too. I was weeping all the time while reading this hub...God bless You dear!

      Islam is the most misunderstood religion & Mulims are the most illfated people who are undergoing so many types of discrimination all over the world because of the negative publicity against them… I,m not saying here that there is no blackship in Islam's followers ...but then it's there among the followers of other religions as well...so the question is, why only muslims as a whole society are targeted....that perhaps may be as a conspiracy or lack of proper knowledge about them ….God knows better!... It’s really the need of time that more & more honest & effective people like you should come forward to help people to understand the reality & reason behind every mess....lack of honesty in thoughts and efforts/action gives birth to dissatisfaction which is the main reason of every evil....So I wish lots of people to read this Hub and share it widely in order to prevail the truth and establishing peace among societies and world...Voted up+ & shared.

    • Alli Rose profile image
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      Alli Rose Smith 3 years ago from Washington, DC

      Your right, I need to change that. I meant to write of people with doctorates, 44% are white. I was trying to say that a growing amount of Muslims are getting their doctorate. Thank you all for reading, I actually wrote this 5-years ago, so some of the math isn't up-to-date. I'll work on it. Thanks!

    • Edward J. Palumbo profile image

      Ed Palumbo 3 years ago from Tualatin, OR

      I think this is very informative, and I thank you for writing it.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 3 years ago from Southern Illinois

      Thank you for writing this essay. I learned much that was new to me. I think it's terrible how the Muslims are treated in America.

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      sheilamyers 3 years ago

      Great hub and I hope many people read it and learn something valuable. I hate when I hear people saying nasty things about Muslims. It's true that not all of them are bad. There are extremists (the true terrorists) who use Islam as their reasoning just as there are extremists in other religions who use their religion as an excuse to do nasty things to other people.

    • goatfury profile image

      Andrew Smith 3 years ago from Richmond, VA

      Tons of info! I think the gist, as I understand it, is that most Americans ought to "seek first to understand." I really wish more people took this "live and let live" mentality.

    • GuitarGear profile image

      Walter Holokai 3 years ago from Youngstown, Ohio

      Great essay! Well thought out and beautifully written. You give us a lot to think about. I have a number of Muslim friends. It's funny but I look at Islam and Hasidic Judism in the same light. They remind me of one another. There are fanatics in all religions including Christianity. In today's political atmosphere the trend seems to encourage the practice of labeling a religion, race or culture based on a small outspoken or maligned faction of a particular group. It seems intellectual evolution has been stalled for thousands of years. Maybe some day we will evolve to accept, embrace and celebrate our commonality as humans.

    • Sandra Eastman profile image

      Sandra Joy Eastman 3 years ago from Robbinsdale MN

      Valid comments and arguments. It is the media that is responsible for a lot of misunderstandings in America and that is quite a shame.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 3 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Excellent and important work here, we must strive to learn more. But it sure seemed like you said 44% of American born people had doctorates. I surely thought it was closer to 3% and less for Muslims.

    • m abdullah javed profile image

      muhammad abdullah javed 3 years ago

      Hi Rose. Voted awesome above. Shall get back with more. Thanks for sharing.