Jewish Journal


September 20, 2007

The fastest growing religion


Have you heard this phrase: _____ is the fastest growing religion in the U.S.?

That blank is often filled with Wicca, Mormonism, some even claim atheism (seriously). These numbers are notoriously difficult to verify, but earlier this month the Delaware News Journal ran a big Sunday piece headlined “More Americans converting to Islam.”

Drew Marshall could have been any of the dozen or so university students studying and sipping coffee at a Newark cafe.



About 6 feet tall, with a close beard and a light blue shirt, not much about him stands out.



Until he offers an Arabic greeting.



Marshall, or Ahmad, as the 23-year-old white American from Hockessin now calls himself, converted to Islam two years ago.



Wearing a dress shirt and slacks, carrying his school bag like a briefcase, Marshall looks more like a member of the faculty than a college senior.

But is Ahmad part of a movement or simply a novelty (which is how the lede treats him)? Certainly, Islam is drawing converts in Europe. But what about here in the States? What kind of numbers are there to support the article’s headline?

Despite or perhaps because of Sept. 11, conversions to Islam have increased, making it the fastest-growing religion in the world, said Muqtedar Khan, associate professor of political science and international relations at the University of Delaware. About 23 percent of American Muslims are converts, about half of which turned to Islam before age 21, according to a May report from the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan think tank.



“There’s a curiosity about Islam today,” Khan said. “Islam has become the major thing everyone in the world is talking about.”



According to the Pew report, there are an estimated 2.35 million American Muslims, about 35 percent of whom were born in the United States. About 850,000 are under age 18.

Well, I like that turn of phrase—“despite or perhaps because of”—but unfortunately this article doesn’t support the headline’s premise with facts, simply anecdotes. Is 23 percent a larger portion of American Islam than it was five years ago? Have the numbers of all American Muslims increased or decreased during that time? Demographers and Muslims organizations can’t even agree on how many Muslims are in the United States (Pew says its about 2.35 million while CAIR says six million plus).

What to believe?

* Updated: No matter how many Muslims there exactly are, Rep. Peter King from New York thinks it’s too many.

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