About 1.6 billion of the world’s population are Muslim, collectively comprising the world’s second largest religion and 23 percent of the world’s population. Contrary to popular association, the vast majority of Muslims live in Asia and the Pacific Rim, rather than the Middle East. The Middle Eastern Islamic population is more comparable to Sub-Saharan Africa’s 248 million than Asia’s nearly one billion. But the distribution of Islam throughout the world is not the only perception radically distorted by our current foreign policy and political fixation on Muslim populations. It turns out that most of us don’t even know how many Muslims live in the US.

Muslim Population in the US - Misperceptions

A new poll conducted by Ipsos MORI, the second largest polling organization in the United Kingdom, tracks perceptions varying nationalities have about the demographics of their own country. The results reveal the incredible disparity between our perception of the Muslim population and the reality in the US. And while the poll can’t reveal the motivations behind the way Americans answered, drawing a connection between our demographic misperceptions and the current media and political fixation on radical Islam seems reasonable.

muslim islam prayer A Bangladeshi immigrant practices evening prayer in the Times Square subway station. Reuters

 

According to the new poll, US citizens guessed the Muslim population of the US to be about 15 percent when asked “Out of every 100 people, how many do you think are Muslim?” This would mean that the US has 47.4 million Muslims. The reality is quite different, with current research putting the percentage of Muslims in the United States at about .8 percent of the population, with an estimated 2.6 million Muslims in the US as of 2010. Even higher estimates find that there are between five and eight million Muslims in the entire country.

This incredible disparity between reality and perceptions regarding the Muslim population in the US is indicative of American fears regarding Islamic terrorism. It has been so consistently trumped up by our media and our politicians, so consistently been conflated with Muslims generally, that the US respondent imagines the Muslim “threat” to be immense. The view that a large portion of the US population is Muslim results in spectacles like state legislatures passing panicked laws against “creeping Sharia.”

The poll also found a corresponding belief that the Christian majority is far less dominant, with the average US respondent guessing that only 56 percent of the US population is Christian. In reality America is 78 percent Christian. This jives perfectly with the perception regarding Muslims: the “enemy” is bigger than reality, and the “good guys” are so much smaller.

While it seems unlikely to get much reporting from a press that’s done more than just about anyone to perpetuate the mass generalization of Muslims as Arabic radical jihadists, this is the kind of poll that Americans should see before worrying about immigrants taking over and destroying “traditional values.” The real numbers reveal a minority population in far more danger from their fellow citizens’ prejudice than a fifth column in US society.