How Muslim are we?


A couple of days ago, President Barack Obama conducted a few interviews in anticipation of his speech to Muslims in Cairo. In one of the interviews, he made a statement about the religious make-up of the United States of America.

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Here's how the New York Times wrote it up:

In an interview with Laura Haim on Canal Plus, a French television station, Mr. Obama noted that the United States also could be considered as "one of the largest Muslim countries in the world." He sought to downplay the expectations of the speech, but he said he hoped the address would raise awareness about Muslims.

Here's the relevant quote:

The president said the United States and other parts of the Western world "have to educate ourselves more effectively on Islam."

"And one of the points I want to make is, is that if you actually took the number of Muslim Americans, we'd be one of the largest Muslim countries in the world," Mr. Obama said. "And so there's got to be a better dialogue and a better understanding between the two peoples."

There are all sorts of interesting things about his statement, none of which seem to be explored by the mainstream media. One thing I find curious is how during a recent trip abroad, President Obama emphasized that we're not a Christian country.

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But perhaps the most important thing that journalists should be noting about this statement is, well, that it's just not true. I'm not referring to the fact that no matter how many particular religious adherents live within our borders, it doesn't change the secular make-up of our government. I simply mean that if you actually take the number of Muslim Americans, the United States would not be one of the largest Muslim countries in the world. The New York Times simply quotes Obama and doesn't mention anything about the statement's inaccuracy!

Let's go to the numbers. You can see the results from the Pew Forum's Religious Landscape Survey to the right. Muslims account for 0.6% of the U.S. population. While some groups say there are millions more, Pew's results would mean there are fewer than 2 million Muslims in the country.

Wikipedia has a list of 38 countries with a majority Muslim population. Obviously we're not on that list. And if you go by sheer numbers, we're not one of the largest by that measure either. Or, as Noah Pollak writes over at Commentary:

Obama is right -- we're one of the largest, only outranked by Indonesia, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Turkey, Egypt, Nigeria, Iran, Algeria, Morocco, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Iraq, Uzbekistan, Ethiopia, Russia, Yemen, China, Syria, Malaysia, Tanzania, Mali, Niger, Senegal, Tunisia, Somalia, Guinea, Azerbaijan, Burkina Faso, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Cote d'Ivoire, Congo, Libya, Jordan, Chad, Turkemenistan, Philippines, France, Kyrgyzstan, Uganda, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Cameroon, Thailand, Mauritania, Germany, Oman, Albania, Malawi, Kenya, Eritrea, Serbia and Montenegro, Lebanon, Kuwait, the UAE, and … well, at some point here you get to the United States, which has (estimates vary) around 1-3 million Muslims.

Has anyone seen any mainstream media outlet crunch the numbers -- much less discuss how such a statement was made? Other than the Washington Times, I haven't seen anything. For his piece, reporter Joseph Weber speaks with various Middle East policy wonks about the statement's accuracy -- they all agree it's not -- and what it means for foreign relations. It might also be nice for some religion reporters to look at the issue as well.

As one reader wrote to us, how does Obama make such an outrageous comment and not get called on it? I know the mainstream media is busy covering other important Obama angles, but this is seriously getting out of hand.




Mollie Hemingway. "How Muslim are we?" Get (June 4, 2009).

Reprinted by permission of and Mollie Hemingway. The original posting of this article is here.


Mollie Hemingway is a Washington writer who writes for Get Religion. She is the author of Losing Our Religion.

Copyright © 2009 Get Religion

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