The New York Times today comments on the results of a new Gallup survey of American Muslims which suggests that, on the whole, followers of that faith are more hesitant to express patriotism and confidence in national institutions than Americans of other religious groups.
Among the most intriguing findings: two-thirds of American Muslims say they identify strongly with the United States, about the same percentage as those who say they identify strongly with their religion. But other religious groups identified far more than Muslims with the United States. Protestants, Catholics and Jews said they identified with the United States far more strongly than they identified with their respective faiths.
Some of the doubts expressed by American Muslims in the poll are understandable in light of the September 11, 2001 attacks and any unjust targeting of their faith that may have occurred in the aftermath. Yet it is impossible not to wonder whether there is more to this story. Namely, whether American Muslims who, it seems, largely take their faith seriously, understand something which has been forgotten by the majority of professing Christians and Jews in this country: that allegiance to political authorities (however just or deserving those authorities are) must ultimately be subordinate to allegiance to God and the exigencies of religion.
The Gallup results suggest that many Americans have allowed patriotism to consume their faith rather than complement it, and the comparisons of American Muslims to other citizens of faith causes one to wonder whether U.S. Muslims will eventually come to value patriotism above all else, as well—that they will identify with the nation first and treat their faith simply as an interesting add-on. Some authorities on the matter, like one quoted in the article, are already enthusiastic about this prospect: the hope is that Muslims can become “full-fledged Americans.”
Gallup’s poll results are also particularly striking in that they suggest members of longer-socially-established American religions (specifically Catholicism and Judaism, no strangers to discrimination either) have come to value patriotism far more than their faith. It would be a loss for public life if the majority of American Muslims began simply to favor a vague, inoffensive civic faith (something on the order of what Will Herberg identified in his memorable essay “Protestant, Catholic, Jew”) at the expense of the centrality of their religion.