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“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.