Muslim Canadians increasingly proud of and attached to Canada, survey suggests

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An overwhelming majority of Muslim Canadians have a strong attachment to their country and feel that Canada is heading in the right direction, according to a new survey.

But the survey also finds that young Muslims, a cohort that is increasingly devout, have more attachment to their religious identity than older Muslims and are more likely to be concerned and pessimistic about discrimination.

These are the findings of a survey of 600 Canadian Muslims conducted by the Environics Institute between November 2015 and February 2016. It follows up on a survey conducted 10 years ago and suggests that Muslim Canadians are becoming increasingly integrated into the broader Canadian society.

The survey began in the weeks following last fall’s federal election. A good chunk of that election’s campaign was dominated by the debate about Muslim women’s right to wear the niqab, a religious face covering, as well the Conservative proposal to establish a tip-line to report “barbaric cultural practices” that was widely seen as aimed at Muslims.

Strong sense of belonging

The survey found that 83 per cent of Muslims reported being “very proud” to be Canadian, an increase of 10 points since 2006. This was in contrast to non-Muslim Canadians — only 73 per cent of whom said they were “very proud” to be Canadian.

Fully 94 per cent of respondents said their sense of belonging to Canada was very or generally strong, and 58 per cent said their sense of belonging had become stronger over the last five years. Just five per cent said it was getting weaker.

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An Environics survey says nearly half of Muslim Canadian women report wearing a head covering in public. (CBC)

Muslims reported that Canada’s freedom and democracy was their greatest source of pride (24 per cent), followed by the country’s multiculturalism and diversity (22 per cent). Younger and Canadian-born Muslims were much more likely to choose multiculturalism and diversity, compared to foreign-born Muslims, who valued freedom and democracy.

The biggest knock against Canada was the weather. Just under one-third of Muslims said that was what they liked least about Canada. Another nine per cent highlighted discrimination and the treatment of Muslims. One-in-five could not name anything they disliked about Canada.

Balancing Muslim and Canadian identities

Muslim Canadians surveyed said that being Muslim and Canadian are both very important to their personal identity: 84 per cent said religion was very important; 81 per cent said nationality.

But among respondents who said both were very important to their identity, 50 per cent chose their religion as being most important (27 per cent said both were equally important). By comparison, just 28 per cent of religious non-Muslim Canadians chose their religion over their nationality.

This was most marked among young Muslims who, 61 per cent of whom felt that being Muslim was most important, compared to six per cent who said being Canadian counted the most

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A large majority of Canadian Muslims feel a strong sense of belonging, according to an Environics survey. (CBC)

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Additionally, attendance at religious services is up: 48 per cent of Muslims report attending a mosque or community centre for prayer once a week or more, an increase of seven points since 2006; 33 per cent attend only on special occasions or never or almost never.

Regular religious attendance has increased most among younger Muslims, who are now the most likely to attend mosque regularly.

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The number of Muslim Canadians who go to mosque regularly is up, according to an Environics survey. (CBC)

Among female Muslims, wearing the hijab is now more common, with 48 per cent of respondents reporting wearing the head covering, up 10 points. Another six per cent report wearing a chador, which covers the body, or niqab, which covers the face.

Though Muslims with less education are more likely to wear the hijab, as are those who have been in Canada for less time, the biggest increase since 2006 has come among young Muslims and those with a post-secondary education.

1/3 have experienced discrimination

According to the survey, 30 per cent of Muslim Canadians say they have experienced discrimination because of their religion, ethnicity or culture over the past five years — significantly higher than the reported experience of discrimination among the general population.

Accordingly, discrimination and treatment of Muslims by the broader community was mentioned as the most important issue facing Muslims today.

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Muslim Canadians report having concerns about discrimination, an Environics survey suggests. (CBC)

Fully 62 per cent of Muslims reported being very or somewhat worried about discrimination, increasing to 72 per cent among young Muslims and 83 per cent among Canadian-born Muslims.

Two-thirds of respondents were worried about how the media portrays Muslims in Canada.

Just 29 per cent of Muslims surveyed felt that the next generation of Muslims in Canada would face less discrimination and stereotyping than today. Another 35 per cent think it will be worse, while 21 per cent said it would be the same. Here again, however, younger Muslims were more likely to expect discrimination to get worse.

Nevertheless, 84 per cent of Muslims said that the way they are treated in Canada is better than in other Western countries — up seven points since 2006. Only two per cent said they were treated worse.

Integration and tolerance

A majority of Muslim Canadians agreed that most Muslims coming to Canada want to adopt Canadian customs and ways of life while just 17 per cent thought they want to remain distinct.

Fully 57 per cent of Muslims agreed that immigrants of different races and backgrounds should set aside their cultural backgrounds and try to blend into Canadian culture, and 34 per cent disagreed. But while Muslims over the age of 35 agreed with this by margins of two or three to one, Muslims under the age of 35 were split.

The poll also highlighted some of the ways in which Muslims differ from mainstream opinion: 40 per cent agreed with the statement that “the father in the family must be master in his own home.” Only 21 per cent of non-Muslim Canadians agreed.

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The Environics survey found that more Muslims than non-Muslims felt the country was going in the right direction. (CBC)

And while a 2013 Pew Research poll found that 80 per cent of Canadians agreed that homosexuality should be accepted by society, only 36 per cent of Muslims agreed with that statement.

But Muslims surveyed sense that other Canadians are becoming more tolerant. The Environics survey found that 49 per cent believed very few Canadians were hostile to Muslims, an increase of 14 points since 2006. Just 14 per cent thought many or most were hostile to Muslims. And despite some signs of pessimism about the future, 89 per cent of Muslim Canadians report being satisfied with the way things are going in Canada today.

Other significant findings

  • 44 per cent of Muslim Canadians say there is no domestic support for violent extremists abroad, and 37 per cent say that support is among very few.
  • 65 per cent of Muslims voted for the Liberals in the last election, compared to 10 per cent for the NDP, two per cent for the Conservatives and 19 per cent who refused to say how they voted.
  • 60 per cent of Muslims believe they have the right to wear the niqab while participating in citizenship ceremonies; 24 per cent believe they don’t.
  • 90 per cent of Muslims are optimistic relations between Muslims and other Canadians will improve under the new Liberal government.
  • 79 per cent believe it important for Muslim communities to work with government agencies to address radicalization.

The survey by the Environics Institute, done in partnership with the Tessellate Institute, the Olive Tree Foundation, the Inspirit Foundation, the Canadian Race Relations Foundation and Think for Actions, interviewed 600 adult Muslim Canadians in English, French, Urdu and Arabic between Nov. 19, 2015, and Jan. 23, 2016, by telephone. A probabilistic sample of this size would yield a margin of error of +/- 4 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

A survey of 987 adult non-Muslim Canadians was also completed between Feb. 6 and 15, 2016, by telephone. A probabilistic sample of this size would yield a margin of error of +/- 3.1 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

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Muslim Canadians increasingly proud of and attached to Canada, survey suggests

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