Perceived Religious Discrimination and its Relationship to Anxiety and Paranoia among Muslim Americans

Posted on November 24, 2006


Overview of empirical research article by A. E. Rippy and E. Newman, Journal of Muslim Mental Health, vol 1, Issue 1, 2006, pp. 5-20.

Discrimination is defined as “beliefs, attitudes, institutional arrangements and acts that tend to denigrate or deny equal treatment to individuals or groups based on racial characteristics or group affiliation.” (Clark, Anderson, Clark & Williams, 1999). Discrimination can be experienced in two ways: overt discrimination or covert discrimination. Overt discrimination may be manifested as name-calling or intimidation, while covert discrimination exhibits itself in a passive fashion, for example not being served in a restaurant, or receiving increased attention from law enforcement (Sellers & Shelton, 2003).

Discrimination and hate crimes affect the victim both at the time of the incident and later on. The type and duration of the discriminatory experience affect the victim differently, and may lead to a variety of possible mental health effects such as psychological distress, depression, and anxiety. Individuals with more exposure to discrimination tend to experience higher perceived stress, and this may be linked to detrimental mental health effects (Sellers & Shelton, 2003).

Although the effects of discrimination and hate crimes among various minority member’s mental health is documented, no research to date examines the correlates of perceived discrimination among Muslim Americans. This study focused on perceived discrimination and its association with subclinical paranoia and anxiety among Muslim Americans.

The results of this empirical study are interesting. 91.2% of the sample of 152 Muslim Americans in this study believed that discrimination against Muslims had increased since 9/11. 53% reported that personal exposure to discrimination had increased since 9/11 and 54% reported being the victim of an incident of discrimination or a hate crime at some point during their life. Examples of forms of discrimination ranked in terms of frequency were:
1. Verbal harassment,
2. Passenger profiling on airlines,
3. Unfair employment practices,
4. Government profiling,
5. Job termination or denial of employment,
6. Mail or telephone threats,
7. Denial of religious accommodation,
8. Symbols or slogans of hate on or near property,
9. Harassment by police or FBI,
10. Physical assault,
11. Acts of vandalism, and
12. Attacks on homes.

A statistically significant relationship was found between perceived religious discrimination and subclinical paranoia. Thus, many participants reported an increase perception of societal discrimination against Muslims since the attacks of 9/11 in comparison to discrimination against themselves personally. Further, significant differences were found among ethnic groups, and between convert, immigrant, second-generation Muslims in the perception of discrimination. Results suggest that perceived discrimination among Muslim Americans is related to the expression of increased vigilance and suspicion, and that group differences affect the perception of discrimination. For example, Muslim men were more likely to exhibit suspicion, mistrust and wariness the more they perceived the environment to be discriminatory and hostile. Rippy and Newman suggest that this process may in turn lead such Muslims to engage in social withdrawal and to become hypervigilant, leading some of them to avoid seeking help from non-Muslim medical specialists and clinicians. Muslim Americans who were Arabs experienced significantly more bicultural identification than Southeast Asians or African Americans. In comparison to other groups in this study, Muslim Americans who are white viewed society’s treatment of Muslims as more discriminatory.

Note from Rafik Beekun: Although the sample size in this study is relatively small and may potentially not be generalizable to the whole Muslim American community, the fact that it did uncover significant findings in spite of its small sample size suggests that there are indeed significant underlying relationships. Increasing sample size and making sure it is more representative of the larger Muslim American community can only increase the statistical power of the findings reported in this study. The authors of this study are to be congratulated for taking a first step in studying the effects of discrimination on Muslim Americans in a post 9/11 world.