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Part 1

The number of Muslims in the world.
Estimating their numbers in the U.S.
The ethnic origins of U.S. Muslims

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Estimates of the number of Muslims in the world:

Estimates of the total number of Muslims in the world have varied greatly over the past two decades. Seven estimates from credible sources, sorted in order of increasing population, were :

bullet 0.700 billion or more, Barnes & Noble Encyclopedia (1993)

bullet 0.817 billion, The Universal Almanac (1996)

bullet 0.951 billion, The Cambridge Factfinder (1993)

bullet 1.1 billion, The World Almanac (1997)

bullet 1.2 billion, Council on American-Islamic relations (2012)

bullet 1.57 billion, Pew Research (2016) 1

bullet 1.6 billion, Pew Research (2013) 2

Many people in North America consider Islam to be primarily a Middle Eastern religion. That may be because news reports most often involve events from that area. However, most Muslims actually live in the Asia-Pacific region. Indonesia has the largest population of Muslims of any country in the world.

The Pew Research's worldwide estimate of Muslims during 2013 included:

  • 986 million Muslims living in Asia-Pacific,

  • 317 million in the Middle East and North Africa,

  • 248 million in sub-Saharan Africa,

  • 43.5 million in Europe,

  • 3.5 million in North America, and

  • 0.84 million in Latin America & the Caribbean. 2

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As of 2016-JAN, we assume that the Pew Forum's most recent worldwide estimates of 1.6 billion as the most reliable. With that number, Muslims represent about 22% of the world's population. They are currently the second largest religion in the world. Only Christianity is larger at 33%, with slightly more than 2 billion adherents.

The number of Muslims is growing about 2.9% per year, worldwide. This is faster than the total world population itself which is increasing by about 2.3% annually. Islam is thus attracting a progressively larger percentage of the world's population, and appears to be the fastest growing major religion in the world. If these rates continue, Islam will become the largest religion in the world by the middle of this century.

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Attempting to estimate the number of Muslims in the U.S.:

Nobody knows precisely how many Muslims live in the United States. With the recent rise:

  • In Islamophobia, the fear of, and active discrimination against, Muslims, and

  • Terrorism by a small minority of extremist Muslims which is expanding worldwide,

many Muslims in the U.S. are reluctant to share their religion with anonymous telephone callers, including callers from polling agencies.

Estimating numbers of religious adherents is a political hot-potato. Some non-Muslims have accused Muslims of exaggerated their numbers in order to obtain more political clout. Some Muslims have accused non-Muslims of releasing false, low numbers in order to "marginalize" Islam. 3 In religion, as in war, truth is often the first casualty.

Another cause of the disagreement appears to be related to the  percentage of Muslim immigrants:

  • Who have abandoned Islam since they arrived in the US, or

  • Who still consider themselves to be Muslims, but who no longer participate in religious activities.

As a result, recent estimates of the number of Muslims in North America have ranged from a little over one million adults to seven million adults and children.

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Ethnic origins of Muslims in the U.S.:

According to the "Faith Communities Today" report, by the Hartford Institute for Religious Research, the ethnic origins of regular participants in U.S. mosques are as follows:
bullet South Asian (Pakistani, Indian, Bangladeshi, Afghani) = 33 %

bullet African-America = 30 %

bullet Arab = 25 %

bullet Sub-Saharan African = 3.4 %

bullet European (Bosnian, Tartar, Kosovar, etc.) = 2.1 %

bullet White American = 1.6 %

bullet Southeast Asian ( Malaysian, Indonesian, Filipino) = 1.3 %

bullet Caribbean = 1.2 %

bullet Turkish = 1.1 %

bullet Iranian = 0.7 %

bullet Hispanic/Latino = 0.6 % 4

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This topic continues in the next essay

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Besheer Mohamed, "A new estimate of the U.S. Muslim population," Pew Research Center, 2016-JAN-06, at:
  2. Drew Desilver, "World’s Muslim population more widespread than you might think," Pew Research Center, 2013-JUN-07, at:
  3. David Cho, "Evangelicals Help Pace U.S. Growth in Church Attendance; Tally of Muslims Rejected as Low By Islamic Groups," Washington Post, 2002-SEP-16, at:
  4. "Faith Communities Today: Mosque in America: A National Portrait," April 2001. Hartford Seminary's Hartford Institute for Religious Research. Quoted in the "Demographic Facts" report by the U.S. Department of State's, International Information Programs, at:

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Site navigation: Home page > World Religions > Islam menu > here

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Copyright © 2002 to 2016 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2002-SEP-18
Latest update: 2016-JAN-08
Author: B.A. Robinson

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