Another agenda-driven survey by the PEW

It is a well-established fact that the wording of the questions, the order in which they are asked and the number and form of alternative answers offered can influence results of polls or surveys which are sophisticated propaganda tools. From its inception a century ago, and in its current construction, the terrain of public opinion polls is far from being neutral.

This applies to the latest survey results of the PEW Institute survey “The World’s Muslims: Unity and Diversity”, released on August 9, 2012.

According to the PEW survey, the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims are united in their belief in God and the Prophet Muhammad and are bound together by such religious practices as fasting during the holy month of Ramadan and almsgiving to assist people in need. But they have widely differing views about many other aspects of their faith, including how important religion is to their lives, who counts as a Muslim and what practices are acceptable in Islam, according to the survey.

The latest PEW survey is based on more than 38,000 face-to-face interviews conducted in over 80 languages with Muslims in 39 countries and territories that collectively are home to roughly two-thirds (67%) of all Muslims in the world. The survey includes every country that has a Muslim population of more than 10 million, except those (such as China, India, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Syria) where political sensitivities or security concerns prevented opinion research among Muslims.

Perhaps, one of the most intriguing findings of the survey was hidden in the subtitle of the report - Core Beliefs - which said that 46 percent Muslims of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and 41 percent Muslims of Guinea Bissau say that the Quran is not a word of God.

Interestingly, the PEW report pointed out that the question if the Quran is the word of God was asked only in the sub-Saharan Africa where almost 25 percent Muslims in Kenya, Chad, Mozambique and Uganda and about 20 percent Muslims in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Liberia and Senegal do not consider the Quran a word of God.

It is a common knowledge that just as a Chrisitian cannot call himself/herself a Christian unless he or she believes in Christ, similarly a Muslim cannot call himself/herself a Muslim unless he or she believes in the divinity of the Qur'an.

One may ask why the PEW researchers asked this question from the Muslims in sub-Saharan Africa? Why not in the Muslim majority countries like Indonesia, India, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Interestingly, only 1.5 percent population of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is Muslim and around 35 percent adhered to the faith of Islam in Guinea Bissau.

The results of the latest PEW survey may be read in the context of the current anti-Islam and anti-Muslim environment in the country. Not to mention the Islamophobia in the 2012 election campaign and the suggestion of David Yerushalmi’s Society of Americans for National Existence (SANE) to banish Islam from America by making adherence to Islam a felony punishable by 20 years in prison, the semi-official US think tank, the Rand Corporation in March 2004 suggested that the Quran is a legend. The Rand Corporation report titled “Civil Democratic Islam: Partners, Resources, and Strategies”  pleaded that in order to promote the US policy objectives we should support the Modernist Muslims who believe that the Quran is a legend.

Not surprisingly, in December 2004, another Rand Corporation study suggested that Sunni, Shiite and Arab, non-Arab divides should be exploited to promote the US policy objectives in the Muslim world. “The majority of the world’s Muslims are Sunni, but a significant minority, about 15 percent of the global Muslim population, are Shi’ites….. The expectations of Iraqi Shi’ites for a greater say in the governance of their country presents an opportunity for the United States to align its policy with Shi’ite aspirations for greater freedom of religious and political expression, in Iraq and elsewhere,” the study said.

The Dec 2004 Rand study - titled “U.S. Strategy in the Muslim World After 9/11” - was conducted on behalf of the US Air Force. One of the primary objective of the study was to “identify the key cleavages and fault lines among sectarian, ethnic, regional, and national lines and to assess how these cleavages generate challenges and opportunities for the United States.”

Similarly, the latest PEW survey asked if you are a Sunni Muslim or a Shiite Muslim. Under the title “Sectarian Differences Vary in Importance,” the survey finds that sectarian identities, especially the distinction between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, seem to be unfamiliar or unimportant to many Muslims. This is especially true across Southern and Eastern Europe, as well as in Central Asia, where medians of at least 50% describe themselves as “just a Muslim” rather than as a follower of any particular branch of Islam. Substantial minorities in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia also identify as “just a Muslim.”

Sectarian identities appear to be particularly relevant in South Asia and the Middle East-North Africa region, where majorities identify as Sunnis or Shiites. In the Middle East and North Africa, moreover, widespread identification with the Sunni sect is often coupled with mixed views about whether Shiites are Muslims, the study pointed out. In a multi-part survey question, the PEW first asked if an individual was Muslim, and if yes, if they were Sunni, Shiite or “something else.”

“The World’s Muslims: Unity and Diversity,” is not the first agenda-driven survey of the PEW Institute.  Its most misleading survey is regarding the estimate of Muslim population of America. The PEW survey claims that the current population of Muslim Americans is no more than 2.75 million. Not surprisingly, it is basing this calculations on its own 2007 survey that estimated the Muslim American population at 2.4 million which was closer to the estimates announced by the American Jewish Committee in October 2001.

The AJC study - titled “Estimating the Muslim Population in the United States” - claimed that the best estimate of Muslims in the United States is 2.8 million at most, compared to the 6 or 7 million figure used by many researchers and Muslim organizations.

The PEW surveys, just like the AJC report, seem to undercut the influence of American Muslims. It looks another desperate attempt to discount the role of American Muslims.

The PEW survey of 2007, titled “Muslim Americans: Middle Class and Mostly Mainstream,” claimed to be the most extensive, covers the views of 1,050 Muslims interviewed in English, Arabic, Urdu, and Farsi. According to Luis Lugo, director of the Pew Forum, the Washington-based organization spent $1 million on the poll. It paid $50 to each of the 1,050 Muslims surveyed.

The PEW survey of 2011, titled, “Muslim Americans: No Signs of Growth in Alienation or Support for Extremism,” is based on the interviews with 1,033 Muslim American. Interviews were conducted by telephone between April 14 and July 22, 2011 by the research firm of Abt SRBI. Interviews were conducted in English, Arabic, Farsi and Urdu.

Associated Press reporting the survey result said the findings offer an uncommon portrait of the Muslim American community, which Pew estimates at roughly 2.75 million, or nearly 1 percent of the U.S. population.

The PEW’s misleading demographic figures of American Muslims already made an entry into Wikipedia’s article on American Muslim population estimates. Pew numbers are now quoted as authentic reference when estimate of American Muslims is given.

Religious denominations, like all interest groups, can gain or lose political clout based on perceptions of their size, according to J. Gordon Melton, director of the Institute for the Study of American Religion in Santa Barbara, Calif. In the case of the U.S. Muslim community, Melton says, its efforts to influence policy in the Middle East would get a boost if it were viewed as being larger than the country’s Jewish population, which is estimated at 6 million. “It’s a political question: How does it sway votes?” he argued.

The American Jewish Committee’s executive director David Harris has warned that the increasingly visible American Muslim lobby posed a challenge to U.S.-Israel relations. In an article published by the “Jerusalem Report” in May 2001, Harris urged American Jewry to unite with Israel to battle against the growing Arab and Muslim lobbies here and the challenge they present to long-standing U.S. support for Israel. Harris cited the “myth” of high Muslim population figures as one tactic Muslims are using to advance their position.

The American Jewish Committee and other groups estimate the number of Jews in this country is about 6 million. “Six million has a special resonance,” Harris wrote in the Jerusalem Report magazine. “It would mean that Muslims outnumber Jews in the U.S. and it would buttress calls for a redefinition of America’s heritage as ‘Judeo-Christian-Muslim,’ a stated goal of some Muslim leaders.”

The American Jewish Committee survey of Muslim population was conducted by Tom W. Smith of the National Opinion Research Center in Chicago who questioned the study, “The Mosque in America: A National Portrait,” released in April 2001 by the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

The CAIR study reported that the number of mosques rose by about 25 percent, to more than 1,200, from 1994 to 2000. Based on reports of attendance at some mosques, researchers estimated the number of American Muslims at 6 million to 7 million. The project surveyed individual mosques, finding that 340 adults and children participated at an average mosque and that another 1,629 were “associated in any way” with the average mosque’s activities, yielding a figure of 2 million Muslims. The authors then adjusted the estimate to 6 million to 7 million overall to take into account family members and unaffiliated Muslims.

Based in part on that report, most media organizations, as well as the White House and the State Department, have said that there are at least 6 million Muslims in the country.

The American Mosque 2011 Survey

CAIR’s 2001 study findings were reaffirmed by another major survey of the Mosques in the United States. On February 29, 2012 a comprehensive study of the mosques - “The American Mosque 2011: Basic Characteristics of the American Mosque, Attitudes of Mosque Leaders” - was released.

Sponsors of the U.S. Mosque Survey 2011 include the Hartford Institute for Religion Research (Hartford Seminary), the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies (ASARB), the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Islamic Society of North American (ISNA), the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), and the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT).

The U.S. Mosque Survey 2011 is part of a larger study of American congregations called Faith Communities Today (FACT), which is a project of Cooperative Congregational Studies Partnership, a multi-faith coalition of denominations and faith groups.

One of the major finding of the study is related to the estimated population of American Muslims. The study finds:

“Muslims who attend Eid Prayer (the high holiday prayers after Ramadan and Hajj) increased from about 2 million in 2000 to about 2.6 million in 2011. The total Muslim population cannot be determined by this figure, but it does call into question the low estimates of 1.1-2.4 million Muslims in America. If there are 2.6 million Muslims who pray the Eid prayer, then the total Muslim population should be closer to the estimates of up to 7 million.”

It may be recalled that the former Congressman, Paul Findley, in his book “Silent No More: Confronting America’s False Images of Islam”, estimates that about 3.2 million Muslims turned out for vote and 65 percent voted for President Bush in November 2000 elections. According to Mr. Findley, “Best estimates put the national Muslim population at seven million, 70 as the percentage of those eligible to vote, and 65 as the percentage of those eligible who actually voted. This means that the national turnout of Muslims on Nov.7, 2000 came to 3.2 million.”

It is important not to overlook the positive aspects of the Gallup and PEW surveys  which clearly showed that American Muslims are mainstream, highly educated, middle-class people who believe that hard work pays off. It also confirmed that, overall, American Muslims have a positive view of the larger society. They are overwhelmingly satisfied with their lives in the United States, and most say their communities are excellent or good places to live.

Not surprisingly, the Associated Press, reporting about the latest American Mosques study tried to give credence to the biased PEW estimates about the population of American Muslims while undermining the estimates of the latest Mosque study. The AP report said: “the estimates of the total American Muslim population have become a contentious issue as Muslims seek to have a voice in public life. The U.S. Census does not ask about religion. Pew conducted a survey last year that estimated the American Muslim community encompassed 2.75 million people, or nearly 1 percent of the U.S. population, a finding similar to that of other recent surveys. Bagby’s 2000 report had estimated the U.S. Muslim population to be as high as 7 million, a number widely criticized as inflated. In this latest report, Bagby did not report a definitive population number, but stood by his earlier assertion that the United States could be home to as many 7 million Muslims.”   Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Chief Editor of the Journal of America ( Email: asghazali2011 (@)