U.S. Muslim Population Figures Examined

October 23, 2001

October 23, 2001 -  NEW YORK -- Estimates of the Muslim population in the United States are lower than widely believed, according to a new study issued today.

“The average number being cited by the media at present – 6.7 million Muslims – is 2.4 to 3.6 times greater than the best available estimates, which are 1.9 million to 2.8 million,” concludes Dr. Tom W. Smith, who authored the study, "Estimating the Muslim Population in the United States."

Dr. Smith, a nationally recognized expert in survey research, is director of the highly regarded General Social Survey at the National Opinion Research Center of the University of Chicago. Last month, AJC published Dr. Smith’s “Intergroup Relations in a Diverse America," a comprehensive attitudinal study.

For his new report on the Muslim population, Dr. Smith exhaustively analyzed all available demographic survey data and scholarly sources.

“The best adjusted, survey-based estimate puts the total Muslim population at 1,876,000,” writes Dr. Smith. “Even if high side estimates based on local surveys, figures from mosques, and ancestry and immigration statistics are given more weight than the survey-based numbers, it is hard to accept estimates that Muslims are greater than one percent of the population, or 2,814,000.”

The Muslim population study is one in a series of reports on emerging religious groups in the U.S. that Dr. Smith is carrying out for the AJC.

“In all of our work with other groups, there always is a need to better understand our interlocutors and the profile of the communities they represent,” said David A. Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee. “Dr. Smith has made an important contribution to advancing that understanding.”

The American Jewish Committee’s pioneering, decade-long initiatives in Muslim-Jewish relations, both in the U.S. and around the world, are detailed in an AJC report, “Seeking to Advance Muslim-Jewish Ties.”

As one example, AJC sponsored the first national conference of Muslims and Jews, held at the University of Denver in 1993.

“Since the Sept. 11 terror attacks, the media has used estimates of the Muslim population in the United States of 5 million to 8 million, with an average of 6.7 million or 2.4 percent of the total population,” writes Dr. Smith.

In preparing his study, Dr. Smith examined existing demographic studies and scholarly surveys of the American Muslim population.

“None of the 20 estimates during the last five years is based on a scientifically-sound or explicit methodology,” Dr. Smith states. “All can probably be characterized as guesses or assertions.”

In “Estimating the Muslim Population in the United States,” Dr. Smith:
--reviews estimates of the Muslim population in the U.S. used by the mass media;
--describes estimates that have been proposed during the last five years;
--evaluates the few existing attempts to measure this population based on data and an explicit methodology;
--marshals the best available information from national surveys;
--considers what government Census and immigration statistics suggest about the Muslim population of the U.S.
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Contact: Kenneth Bandler (212) 891-6771 PR@ajc.org

        Lisa Fingeret Roth (212) 891-1385 rothl@ajc.org

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