U.S. Muslim Population Tops Jews, Says Scholar

Haverford College political scientist Harvey Glickman stated during a recent presentation that various population studies now show that Muslims, and not Jews, represent the largest non-Christian religious group in the United States.

Glickman, also a fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, said that estimates as to the number of Muslims residing in America range from between 3 million to more than 6 million, though he believes the true figure to be closer to the higher end of the spectrum. According to the 2000-01 National Jewish Population Survey, an estimated 5.2 million Jews live in the United States.

The Main Line Reform Temple-Beth Elohim member made his remarks during a lecture last week at La Salle University titled "The Challenges Facing Muslim Americans Since 9/11 — The Political Context."

He said that American Muslims — the majority of whom are not Arab, but hail from South Asia or are African-American — are going through an assimilation process, complete with certain discrimination, similar to what Jews and Catholics before them experienced. In addition, the entire process has been complicated by the war on terror and the American presence in Iraq.

"Muslims are a large and growing minority in the United States, and they will probably begin to assert their interests. The larger they are, the more people have to pay attention," Glickman explained in an interview following his talk.

Glickman's was the first segment in a multi-day program on Muslims in post-Sept. 11 America; the remainder of discussions took place during Passover.

The other topics on the agenda included: The impact of radical Islam on Muslim youth and women; how the bombings in Madrid and London, as well as the Iraq war, have affected the European Muslim community; and American Muslims and civil rights. Among the speakers for the last topic was Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which critics have claimed has ties to radical groups like Hamas.

Glickman said in his lecture that while America is doing a far better job than Western Europe at integrating its Muslim population, more work remains to be done. At the same time, he felt that moderate "elements" within American Islam have not spoken out enough against radical interpretations.

The political scientist, whose daughter married a Muslim man, often cited his own in-laws as particularly representative of what faces the group, saying that the extended family concerns itself with typical immigrant issues, including a focus on education and moving up in the world. But he said a number of his son-in-law's family members have also complained of feeling harassed when they've traveled by air.

Later in his talk, the academic broke with his scholarly assessment and argued that the United States would need to make major policy changes in order to win the hearts and minds of Muslims at home and abroad.

"We have to — if not get out of Iraq — at least end the occupation," said Glickman, adding that whether or not it's based in fact, there's an overwhelming sense in the Muslim world that American foreign policy is biased toward Israel. "We have to figure out a policy in the Middle East where we don't antagonize everybody."

Separation Process

During the question-and-answer period, a Muslim man in the audience reiterated that Glickman was, in fact, Jewish, then asked if he read or spoke Arabic. "No — and I don't speak Hebrew either," answered Glickman.

The man chided the speaker for apparently mispronouncing the word Muslim — making the "s" sound like a "z" — thereby changing the Arabic connotation and making it sound, he said, like the word for "oppressor."

Eventually, Cornelia Tsakiridou, a philosophy professor who helped organize the program, interrupted for another question.

After the program, alluding to the exchange, she noted that for many Muslims, it's impossible to separate themselves from their religion, and difficult to understand that Glickman spoke as a scholar and not as a Jew.

She added that, in a civil society, "you have to be able to separate yourself."



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