Converts offset lapsed Muslims in the US

23rd Feb 2018

Hamed Chapman

Unlike other religions in the United States, Islam gains as many converts as those who no longer identify themselves as Muslims, according to two different surveys.

A new analysis of the 2014 Religious Landscape Study found a similarity in numbers between lapsed American Christians and Muslims (22 percent compared with 23 percent.) But while the share of new converts to Christianity numbered only six percent, it was about a quarter (23 percent) among Muslims.

A 2017 Pew Research Center survey of US Muslims, using slightly different questions than the 2014 survey, found a similar estimate (24%) of the share of those who were raised Muslim but have lapsed. Among this group, 55% no longer identify with any religion, fewer identify as Christian (22%), and an additional one-in-five (21%) identify with a wide variety of smaller groups, including faiths such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, or as generally “spiritual.”

Among those who have converted to Islam, a majority come from a Christian background. In fact, about half of all converts to Islam (53%) identified as Protestant before converting; another 20% were Catholic. And roughly one-in-five (19%) volunteered that they had no religion before converting to Islam, while smaller shares switched from Orthodox Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism or some other religion.

In recent years, the number of American Muslims has been growing steadily, by around 100,000 annually. From the studies, it suggests that those no longer identifying with Islam are having no effect being offset with converts, unlike the net decline in Christianity.

Asked to specify why they became Muslim, converts in the 2017 study gave a variety of reasons. About a quarter said they preferred the beliefs or teachings of Islam to those of their prior religion, while 21% say they read religious texts or studied Islam before making the decision to switch. Others said they wanted to belong to a community (10%), that marriage or a relationship was the prime motivator (9%), that they were introduced to the faith by a friend, or that they were following a public leader (9%).

In comparison, a quarter of lapsed Muslims cited issues with religion and faith in general. Some said that they dislike organised religion (12%), that they do not believe in God (8%), or that they are just not religious (5%). Roughly one-in-five cited a reason specific to their experience with Islam, such as being raised Muslim but never connecting with the faith (9%) or disagreeing with the teachings (7%) of Islam.

A striking number of Iranians were found among those who have left Islam that were more likely to be immigrants (22%) than those who have not switched faiths (8%). The spike was thought to be the result of a spike of those seeking political asylum following the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran.

With regard to core identities, comparisons of three previous polls in the last three years found that fewer Americans, both Republicans and Democrats, identify themselves as American citizens first, while at the same time, there is marked an increase of religious identity among Republicans and cosmopolitan identity among Democrats.

Timed with the first anniversary of the Trump presidency, a University of Maryland Critical Issues Poll suggested that the shift in identity may have “its roots in the declining faith many have in the American Dream and American exceptionalism.”
It believed the cosmopolitan, or world-oriented, leanings of young Democrats and their disillusionment with American exceptionalism are likely to have consequences for how this group interacts with the American political system while Republicans’ identification as American first was also found to have declined since 2015.

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