October 22, 2001 | RACHEL ZOLL, AP Religion Writer
RACHEL ZOLL, AP Religion Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — The American Jewish Committee, concerned by the growing political influence of U.S. Muslims, released a report Monday saying commonly used estimates of the Muslim population in this country are too high, likely by millions.
The study concludes that the best estimate of Muslims in the United States is 2.8 million at most, compared to the 6 million figure used by many researchers and Muslim organizations. Muslim leaders said the report was an attempt to undercut their influence.
David Harris, the committee’s executive director, said his group commissioned the review just after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
At the time, President Bush was making an unprecedented effort to reach out to American Muslims, as he built his anti-terrorism coalition and tried to stem harassment of Muslims in this nation.
“This study sheds some light on what the actual numbers are. I’m sure that will be of interest to many throughout the country,” Harris said.
Ibrahim Hooper of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Washington lobby group, called the report a “desperate attempt to discount the role of American Muslims.
“Very often the representatives of the extremist wing of the pro-Israel lobby such as the American Jewish Committee seek to block Muslim political participation,” Hooper said.
In the past, Harris has warned that the increasingly visible American Muslim lobby posed a challenge to U.S.-Israel relations.
The American Jewish Committee and other groups estimate the number of Jews in this country is about 6 million.
“Six million has a special resonance,” Harris wrote in a May 21 article in Jerusalem Report magazine. “It would mean that Muslims outnumber Jews in the U.S. and it would buttress calls for a redefinition of America’s heritage as `Judeo-Christian-Muslim,’ a stated goal of some Muslim leaders.”
Since the census does not consider religion, researchers must use other means to determine membership in a denomination.
The American Jewish Committee report, written by Tom Smith of the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, concluded that unsound methods have been used in several studies to estimate the number of Muslims.
In some cases, he says mosques likely counted members who are no longer active and that some intentionally overstate their rolls — criticisms made of nearly every denomination in this country.
In other studies, he says researchers used experts, such as a U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, who gave no basis for their estimates, or counted immigrants as Muslim if they came from a predominantly Muslim country.
The assumption that Muslim immigrants likely wouldn’t come forward to be counted was inaccurate, since demographic data indicate many Muslims are better educated and wealthier than the general public, Smith said.
Smith also questioned the most recent study, “The Mosque in America: A National Portrait,” released in April by the Islamic Circle of North America, Hooper’s council and other groups.
That review estimated that about 2 million Muslims were active in mosques and concluded that the Muslim population in the United States was between 6 million and 7 million.
“This assertion seems untenable,” Smith wrote.
Professor Ihsan Bagby of Shaw University in Raleigh, N.C., who wrote the mosque report, acknowledged that his 6 million to 7 million figure was a “guestimation,” but argued it was an accurate one.
He said he calculated that number by multiplying by three the number of families associated with a mosque. He said he was following the lead of other researchers who adjust for the fact that most Muslims do not affiliate with a mosque, leading to underestimates of the population.
“I’m not going to hang my hat on 6 million, but I think it’s reasonable in terms of guesses,” Bagby said. “We need more thorough and accurate studies and more comprehensive studies. I think this is the best that we have now.”
Smith disagrees. He said adjusted data from surveys of Muslim households would put the Muslim population around 1.9 million. If statistics on mosque participation, ancestry and immigration were adjusted and used, the highest estimate would be 2.8 million, he said.