“If your religious beliefs are in conflict with the law, which takes precedence?”, Journey into America Questionnaire data

In the wake of the congressional hearings held by Representative Peter King last week, I decided to take a look at the questionnaire data from Journey into America. Some of it never made the book because space is limited. It was a huge task to fit all of the information we gathered during the journey into one book. So, naturally, some got left out.

While it is always difficult to see something important cut from the book, the information remains relevant, especially in light of the hearings. Specifically, I wanted to look at the Muslim population in America in comparison with other religious groups as they relate to America and “being American”, something that the upcoming hearings seem to be challenging.The results are a bit too data-heavy for a fill on article, so we’ll be posting them here.

About the questionnaires: In addition to participant observation and interviews, while traveling we conducted about 2,000 questionnaires among both Muslims and non-Muslims living in the United States. We asked specific questions about politics, religion, America and the media in order to try to further understand the diverse population. We distributed the questionnaires to people from all backgrounds—immigrant Muslims who now call America their home, people born and raised in America, and second or third generation immigrants and refugees. In all, we covered 50 states and US territories, people from all ages, races, socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds and immigrants from 84 different countries.

“If your religious beliefs are in conflict with the law, which takes precedence?”

One of the most important factors for many Americans in judging their Muslim neighbors, as we heard on our trip, in the media and on the internet, is the idea that Muslims will not be loyal to America when push comes to shove and value Islamic law over the law of America. Although some Muslims may feel this way, which strikes many Americans as being disloyal, we found that Muslims were not dissimilar to people of other faiths on this question.

For many Americans from all backgrounds and faiths, religion is just as important if not more so that the law of the land. Belief that law is corrupt, synthetic, and ever changing confirm for many the belief that religion, made by God and therefore infallible, would take precedence.

We asked, “If your religious beliefs are in conflict with the law, which takes precedence?” Out of all the people who filled in the questionnaire, 41 percent said that religion, 35 percent said law and 13 percent said that it depends on the belief or law.

Mormons actually answered that religion would take precedence 69 percent of the time. Much lower were the Protestants at 40 percent and the Catholics at 43 percent. The religious group that answered religion in the lowest numbers were the Jews, who said religion would take precedent only 24 percent of the time versus 51 percent who said the law and 16 percent who said it depends.

Muslims answered religion slightly more often than Christians at 57 percent. Sunni Muslims answered that religion takes precedence more often that Shia at 59 percent to 38 percent respectively.

The negative implications and perceptions that would come along with expressing your loyalty to something greater than law may have had something to do with the fact that 17 percent of Muslims refused to answer this question.

Even some atheists and Agnostics, held that since law is created and often changed by corrupt people and therefore fallible, their moral beliefs would take precedence. 20 percent of Atheists and 17 percent of Agnostic people said that their beliefs would come first.

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11 responses to ““If your religious beliefs are in conflict with the law, which takes precedence?”, Journey into America Questionnaire data

  1. Pingback: “If your religious beliefs are in conflict with the law, which takes precedence?”, Journey into America Questionnaire data « An Organic Intellectual

  2. Dear Akbar Ahmed and team:

    Thank you for your valuable and very important work on Muslims in America. My campus (University of Wisconsin-Parkside) has hosted a reading group that focuses on your book, and on April 8 we are presenting a 4-hour event (titled “Islamerica”) that will feature a showing of your film, a discussion led by the reading group, an interactive theatre performance investigating misunderstanding and discrimination in a variety of settings, and an interview and dialogue with the Imam of the Islamic Center of Sheboygan, Wisconsin (a Muslim community that faced strong opposition from some sectors of the larger community when they tried to establish a mosque (they were eventually successful)). We are hoping that a good number of our small Muslim community in southeastern Wisconsin will attend this event, so that we can optimize the opportunity for contact, dialogue, and increased understanding.

    Regarding the data you report here, a couple of brief observations:

    I wonder why considerably more Sunni said that religion takes precedence over law.

    If 50% of the Muslims who refused to answer believe that religion takes precedence, then 66% of all Muslims taking the survey would believe this, putting them very close to Mormons.

    best regards,

    Jonathan Shailor

  3. This is a very good study you did. However the question, in order to be truly revealing, needs some modification. If we are interested in discerning whether people of Islamic ideology can be peaceful citizens within the original constitutional values and morals on which America is based, then we must ask the question this way:
    “If your religious beliefs were to call for you to fight against and subdue (implying physical violence) those who do not follow your religious beliefs, which would take precedence: Your religious beliefs or the law?”
    I would be interested to see another survey conducted, specifically of the Muslim community, based on that question.

  4. Dear Protect Liberty,
    In order to be fair and have to have results that allow for comparison, we should ask the question you propose of Christians, including members of hate groups like the Christian Identity Movement.

  5. That would be a very good idea, and I would encourage you to do so. This group you mention is in opposition to orthodox Christian belief and to the Injil, whose core message is one of love and good deeds toward one another – love even toward our enemies. Even so, I am not personally aware of any major crimes or terrorist attacks committed by this group recently. The Injil says, “you shall know them by their fruits.” Have you ever compared historically, the numbers of people helped vs. harmed by the Islamic vs. the Christian world views?

  6. Dear Protect Liberty,
    I don’t mean to open ye olde wounds, but what religion was it that sanctioned the Atlantic slave trade and later segregation? How many died in South and Central America at the hands of proselytizers? These events may have taken place long ago, but justice has hardly been served… Or is that what is meant by liberty?
    The Christian world view you speak of is no better nor worse than any other world view out there. In Islam, it is justice that must be protected. In fact, I think most Americans believe justice should be protected over liberty, as evidenced by Patriot acts I and II, among other erosions of our liberties.
    One last thing. No person would be caught dead on a voluntary terrorism propensity survey, which is what I believe you are asking for.

  7. Thanks for interesting website!

  8. Dear Protect Liberty,
    i have learn a lot from your blog. thansk

  9. The only religious beliefs who can go against american values is Islam. A criminal can go against the law but not againt values. You question is flawed.

  10. I for one am very excited, that finally some of the more advanced technology is being used in archaeology beside shovels and brushes.

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