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February 2007

March 2006

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by dgrobinson & 77 others (via)
To a reader of popular news reports, it might appear likely that there would be a huge body of expert literature about the Muslim populations of the United States and United Kingdom. The status of Muslim communities in these countries is a top public concern. The threat of terrorism from individuals who describe themselves as Islamic fundamentalists is among the most widely discussed domestic political problem in both the UK and the US. Both countries are currently conducting military operations in Iraq and in Afghanistan with the stated aim of impairing international networks of Islamist (that is, self-described fundamentalist Muslim) terrorism that extend, or are feared to extend, into domestic Muslim communities. These issues make the Muslim populations of the US and UK unusually important to the wider politics of their respective countries. The security implications of Islam have also led to a broader interest in Islam and in the lives of Muslims amongst Americans and Britons generally. Enrolment in Arabic language classes in the United States nearly doubled in 2002, following the September 11, 2001 attacks by Islamist terrorists in Washington, Pennsylvania and New York. The American media sought articulate, westernized representatives who could explain Islam to their fellow Americans in print and on television. There was a raft of new books about Islam published, a trend that continues to the present. Following the recent July 7, 2005 attacks by Islamist terrorists in London, one might reasonably expect to see a similar surge of interest in the UK. In fact, the startling truth is that very little is known about these populations. Even the most basic question of all—how many Muslims there are—remains a topic of lively debate in the United States, though the data are somewhat clearer in Britain. Many other, more specialized questions remain fundamentally obscure in both countries. One reason is that the academy moves at a more stately pace than the rate at which public attention has swooped down on this topic, so an increase in academic interest may take longer to show itself in the form of published findings. If students seek out the expertise that will allow them to address the social science aspects of Islam from a posture of special expertise, it will take years before they are in a positfion to contribute to the literature on their chosen subject. Nonetheless, there are other factors to explain the lack of literature in this area, including a deliberate refusal or general disinclination to ask certain questions. The aim of this report at its inception was to find out what was known about the demographics, opinions and political behaviour of Muslim populations in the US and UK, and to use this information to predict the possible future course of Muslim participation in the civic life of both countries. An unstated premise was that there is enough demographic information available to make interesting or useful projections. This premise has proven only partly true. Over and above the general difficulties involved in projecting any future trends based on current data, the data available about Muslim populations—when understood with full appreciation for the methodological issues that bedevil its gathering and the apparent heterogeneity of the population it describes—are such as not to permit much projection of any kind. Thus, although this report remains true to its original aim of reviewing the available information pertinent to the questions with which it was conceived, the bulk of work turns out to consist in the twofold task of describing what is known and considering the shortcomings of the data, possible reasons for these shortcomings, and areas that merit further study.

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