How Many Muslims?

How Many Muslims?

Large estimates of the U.S. Muslim population have been cropping up every since the 9/11 attacks. Too large, say some experts.

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“The Muslim Population of the United States: The
Methodology of Estimates” by Tom W. Smith, in
"text56">Public Opinion Quarterly (Fall
2002), Journals Fulfillment Dept., Univ. of Chicago Press, P.O. Box
37005, Chicago, Ill. 60637.

How many Muslims live in the United States? The news
media have reported many estimates—most of them vastly inflated,
according to Smith, who is director of the General Social Survey at the
University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center. And the
estimates have become more inflated since 9/11.

During the past year, news media reports have put the
Muslim population at between five and eight million. These calculations
average out to 6.7 million, or 2.4 percent of the U.S. population. But
about half of these estimates come from Muslim organizations such as the
Islamic Society of North America; most of the rest come from general
reference works such as
The World Almanac class="text4">. Not one, Smith writes, is “based on a scientifically
sound or explicit methodol­ogy. . . . All can probably be characterized
as guesses or assertions.”

Smith thinks the most reliable numbers come from
public-opinion surveys in which people are asked about their religious
affiliation. He cites 11 surveys conducted since 1998. Their results:
Muslims make up between 0.2 and 0.6 percent of the U.S. population.
Allowing for the fact that language barriers and other problems probably
lead to an undercount of Muslims, Smith estimates that America’s
Muslim population might constitute as much as 0.67 percent of the
population. That’s only 1.9 million people, a far cry from the five
to eight million routinely suggested in the nation’s newspapers and
TV news shows.

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