The program continued with looking at the information about American Muslims, what previous studies have shown and what their limitations have been. Dr. Karim then presented his approach to more accurately estimating the population of Muslims in America and collecting data about the needs and interests of Muslims that can inform policies and programs relevant to them.
Worldwide Muslim population is estimated to be approximately 1.6 billion, with the largest concentration in Asia, followed by the Middle-East and North Africa, and then Sub-Saharan Africa. Significant also among the global data is how young the population is with around one third under the age of 15 and another approximate third between the ages of 16 & 30, statistics that show us the priority that must be given to providing educational programs and services targeting younger generations of Muslims. Additional statistics showed that the rate of number of children among Muslims has gone down and that the life expectancy in Muslim countries has increased over the last decade. Dr. Mehtab also clarified that the data has not supported the idea circulated that Muslims are taking over Europe, noting that the growth of Muslim in Europe has leveled out as immigration has been slowed down and the birth rates among Muslims in these countries are adjusting to the normal rates of the larger society.
The American context proves particularly challenging as the separation of church and state in the constitution prevents the government from asking about religion. While the government census is an extensive resource for information on the American population, religion is the one area where the government cannot look into. While some studies have been done estimating the population of American Muslims, including the Pew study that estimated 2.5 million, this remains disputed as the population sample and collection methods have been limited. The smaller the demographic as part of the total population, the larger the sample size needed to collect information about the group. Muslims thought to be near 1% or 2% of the population requires a large sample size to properly gain insights into the community. Some estimates about Muslims in America are taken from immigration data, such that if 90% of the total population of Egyptians are Muslim, then it is estimated that 90% of immigrants from Egypt can be presumed to be Muslim as well.
Canada and Australia have similar immigration patterns to that of the U.S. as relates to those coming from the Muslim world. As the reported population of Muslims in both Canada and Australia as percept of total population is significantly higher than the Pew study’s estimate for Muslims in the U.S., this further adds question to whether Muslims are properly being estimated in the U.S. when the percentage Muslims is less than half compared to these countries.
Another factor that immigration statistics are unable to account for in the U.S. is Indigenous Muslims, a factor not found in Europe, Canada or Australia. According to the Mosque Study project, more than 20% of Muslims in America are African-American and consequently are not included in estimates of the Muslim population based on immigration statistics.
Among the concerns that Dr. Mehtab raised about the Pew study was the collection of data through the use of landline telephones. Referencing textbook research methods he noted that the more sensitive a question, the more important that the interviewer develop report with the respondent. It is questionable in a phone call from a stranger respondents would feel comfortable disclosing their religious affiliation, particularly among Muslim populations not accustomed and potentially suspicious of such questions. The other issue raised is the exclusion of those choosing not to respond and those who may not have landline phones, as is more common among the younger population.
Dr. Mehtab proposes an alternative approach to sampling and collecting data about Muslims in America. While the Pew study had sampled 50,000 households and made phone calls, his proposal is to instead sample clusters and canvass these areas to collect data. Clusters, consisting of 200 to 300 hundred homes, are the smallest area used by the U.S. Bureau of Census for sampling. This would allow for a larger sample and building of more trust and report with respondents. Dr. Mehtab has further suggested starting with a local pilot study in the greater Washington D.C. area before conducting a nationwide study.