With a spotlight cast on American Muslims since Sept. 11, one seemingly simple question has defied a clear answer and become the focus of a politically charged dispute: What is the size of the U.S. Muslim population?
Four major Muslim organizations released a study in April that estimated the population at 6 million to 7 million. Based in part on that report, most media organizations, as well as the White House and the State Department, have said in recent weeks that there are at least 6 million Muslims in the country.
But two studies released last month, including one commissioned by the
American Jewish Committee, concluded that the total is much lower: no more than 3.4 million and perhaps as few as 1.5 million.
Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, one of the sponsors of the April report, condemned the AJC-sponsored study, calling it part of an effort by the Jewish community to "marginalize" Islam in the United States.
"Why are they worried about our numbers? What's it triggering?" Awad asked. "We have never misrepresented our figures and have never been interested in competing with any other faith or ethnic community…"
…Awad said the council's interest in U.S. Muslim population estimates has more to do with its desire to have a voice on domestic issues such as health care, education, crime and drug abuse…
…The April report co-sponsored by CAIR, titled "The Mosque in America: A National Portrait," was the Muslim portion of the largest U.S. denominational survey ever, a project coordinated by the Hartford Institute for Religious Research.
...The AJC's Harris said his group knew it would be criticized for commissioning Smith to do the study. Smith was known to be skeptical about the figure of 6 million U.S. Muslims; last year, he told the Los Angeles Times that the number was "completely invalid" and that Muslim groups were "inventing an estimate..."