Rice University: Muslims of Middle Eastern or North African descent most likely to report police harassment, study shows

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New research from sociologists at Rice University and West Virginia University finds that almost 20% of Muslims report having been harassed by the police specifically because of their religion, more than four times the rate reported by people of other faiths.

“Sociologists understand how race impacts experiences with police. However, there is less work examining how religion specifically shapes people’s experiences with police,” said lead author Jauhara Ferguson, a Ph.D. student in sociology at Rice and graduate fellow of Rice’s Religion and Public Life Program. “We believe it’s an important topic to explore, and it can help us understand the connections between religion and race in experiences with police harassment.”

The study found that Muslims who identify as Black or Middle Eastern, Arab or North African (MENA) are more likely than Muslims who identify as white to say they have been harassed by the police because of their religion. Moreover, regardless of their religion, Black and MENA individuals are more likely to say they have been harassed because of religion — which the researchers said appears to be a function of them being more likely than white people to report police harassment due to race, and the perception of MENA individuals as being Muslim regardless of their actual religious background.

“These results reveal the consequential and overlapping nature of racial and religious identities,” said Elaine Howard Ecklund, the Herbert S. Autrey Chair in Social Sciences at Rice and director of the university’s Boniuk Institute for Religious Tolerance.

The researchers hope the study will shed light on the relationship between race and religion and how they can compound during law enforcement interactions.

“Ultimately, our findings show that religion, both in itself and in its interaction with race, is relevant to conversations about how the police are perceived and how they interact with their communities,” said co-author Christopher Scheitle, an associate professor of sociology at West Virginia University.

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