Study on Bay Area Muslims Reveals Social Needs and Philanthropic Potential

Source: San Francisco Foundation
Source: San Francisco Foundation

Touted as the first study of its kind, One Nation Bay Area’s recently released report on Bay Area Muslims is something of a watershed moment in understanding the growth of this emerging community.

The report, entitled “The Bay Area Muslim Study: Establishing Identity,” confirms what many of us have probably intuited–that Bay Area Muslims fill a wide cultural, racial, and regional swath. There are now about 250,000 Muslims living in the Bay Area, and most are settled in Alameda County (37%), followed by Santa Clara County (27%), and Contra Costa Country (12%). San Mateo, San Francisco, and Marin County together account for about 10% of Bay Area Muslims. Racially and ethnically, the breakdown is as follows: 30% are South Asians; 23% are Arabs; 17% are Afghans; 9% are African Americans; 7% are Asian/Pacific Islanders; 6% are white; and 2% are Iranians.

But beyond these demographic discoveries alone, the study also underscores the community’s many needs still overlooked by the social sector and hints at the potential for philanthropy to help overcome these challenges.

Because of the different factors that led to their arrival in the Bay Area–ranging from recent political refugees seeking asylum to highly-educated Muslims securing employment during the 1980s – 1990s tech booms–there is much socioeconomic disparity within the community. For instance, while a plurality of South Asian Muslims in the South Bay earned incomes of $100,000 and above, 23% of the total Muslims surveyed earned below $40,000. The majority of these lower income households were concentrated in San Francisco and Alameda counties, and many tended to be newer immigrants or refugees who experienced feelings of isolation or depression due to a lack of a support network.

To close that socioeconomic gap, the social sector, foundations, and philanthropists can play a role in uplifting struggling community members. The community’s own support infrastructure certainly exists — a growing number of Muslim community organizations, as well as mosques, often serve as the center of Muslim civic and social participation. But these organizations lack the resources to effectively pursue community-wide outreach and lack the expertise it takes to sustain an organization.

To this end, philanthropists need to invest in capacity-building, helping establish professionally-run organizations with viable service models. In particular, organizations that focus on legal aid, refugee and immigration services, job and language training, adult literacy, anti-domestic abuse service, and civic engagement will be essential to positive change in the community.

With the Muslim community itself espousing principles of generosity (over 71% believe in the importance of zakat, an Islamic pillar that emphasizes charity,  and 62% reported volunteered their time), these goals should not feel like far-off dreams. The challenge will be in getting Muslims to embrace institutionalized philanthropy and strategic giving. Up to now, philanthropy in the community has been more reactive than proactive, and internal discord in community leadership has hindered the community’s ability to create a planning framework.

But again, as a growing number of Muslims feel the need to engage beyond their community bubbles and counter Islamophobia through positive action, there is growing momentum for engagement in the community. Now, more than ever, the Bay Area Muslim community is ready to solidify its connections while also building coalitions and partnerships with organizations outside the Muslim community. Bay Area Muslims are deeply motivated by their faith, and nonprofits, foundations, and philanthropist should work with them to leverage their faith-based ethics for good.

To read the entire report and review its additional insights on Muslim identity, the role of women in the community, and prejudices still encountered by Muslims post 9/11, click here.

About the Author

DSC_7053 final_smallAnh is the communications and development coordinator at Vietnam Health, Education & Literature Projects (VNHELP), a nonprofit dedicated to transforming the lives of Vietnam’s poor.  Prior to her current position, Anh worked with Give2Asia in the business development department to research and develop material for Vietnamese American and corporate philanthropy. She also served as managing for Vietnam Talking Points (part of OneVietnam Network), where she wrote about Asian American identity and culture.

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