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U.S. Muslims, tallied at 1.56M, far below leaders’ 6-7M claims

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Muslim leaders have registered displeasure over the headcounts in a new study on religion in America.

The study’s estimate of the number of Muslims in America — 1.56 million — is far below the 6 million to 7 million adherents Muslim leaders often assert in the media.

“They may claim whatever they want to claim, but we refuse to accept this report,” Faiz Rehman, communications director for the American Muslim Council, told the Washington Post after the mid-September release of “Religious Congregations and Membership,” a sweeping study conducted each decade for the past 50 years.

Tallies for Muslim and Jews are new features of the study during the 1990s.

The Post contacted the director of the Catholic-affiliated Glenmary Research Center, which published the study, for comment.

“There was no intention, desire, question of trying to distort or fudge the data at all,” said Ken Sanchagrin, who also is a professor and chairman of the department of sociology at Baptist-affiliated Mars Hill (N.C.) College.

The Muslim estimate, Sanchagrin told the Post, was based on reports received from about a third of the 1,209 mosques across the country. Also factored into the count were comparisons with statistics related to immigrant and conversion to Islam.

The American Muslim Council places the number of Muslims in the United States at 7 million.

The Religious Congregations and Membership researchers “are grossly wrong,” Rehman contended in the Post, “and they are not serving the country well if they continue to marginalize Muslims.”

The Post cited two studies last year that sided with the Glenmary data: The City University of New York’s Graduate Center, which tallied 1.1 million Muslims in America, and 1.8 million if children are counted, and the American Jewish Committee, which reported 2.8 million U.S. Muslims. The Associated Press noted, meanwhile, that the researchers for the Glenmary study described their 1.56 million estimate as reflecting those active in mosques, not the total American Muslim population.

Ergun Caner, professor of theology at Criswell College in Dallas and coauthor of “Unveiling Islam” (Kregel 2002), observed, “One of the variables which may mitigate the numbers of the study is a relatively new phenomena in Islam — casual American Muslims. For centuries, Muslims would attend the mosque near their homes regularly — there was no question. It is this way in most countries around the world.

“But now, we are seeing more Muslims who are ‘cultural’ Muslims — Muslim in heritage and raising, but only sporadically in practice. Thus, when an imam does a count of Muslims in the area, he only includes those who are regular, faithful or steady in attendance. We may now see a Muslim populace, for the first time, untied from the mosque,” Caner said.

Other religions counted for the first time in the 2000 U.S. study include:

— Buddhist, 1,656 temples/communities across the country.

— Hindu, 629 temples/communities.

— Baha’i, 1,198 centers/communities, with 146,756 adherents.

Black denominations also are skeptical of the study, Tim McDonald, a Baptist minister and president of Atlanta’s Concerned Black Clergy organization, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“We don’t trust them,” McDonald told the newspaper. “Historically, surveys of that nature haven’t adequately reflected the strength of the black church.”

The 1990 study included an estimate of 8,737,667 black Baptists, but the 2000 study included no estimate, nor any figures from such black denominations as the Church of God in Christ and African Methodist Episcopal.

Dale Jones, who chaired the committee of statisticians who compiled the report, told the Journal-Constitution that none of the major African American denominations was able to provide the county-by-county data that comprise the database.

The Religious Congregations and Membership study, while published by the Glenmary center based in Nashville, Tenn., is sponsored by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies, with the Lilly Endowment, Inc., as the study’s chief financier.