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Muslims in Europe and the U.S.

As part of the current refugee crisis hitting the EU from countries such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, the share of Muslim populations living in Western countries has moved into the center of debate. We wonder: What is the percentage share of Muslims in the total population of the United States today?

A. Less than 1%
B. 5%
C. 7.5%
D. 10%

A. Less than 1% is correct.

At 2.8 million people, the share of Muslims in the total population of the United States is just under 1%. (Nearly four in 10 of them are U.S.-born.)

In the four EU countries that recently voted against a common approach to distributing the refugees — the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania – the percentage level of Muslims is even lower than in the United States. Among the four, Romania is the one with the highest share of Muslims in its population, at 0.3%.

In absolute terms, about 70,000 Muslims live in Romania, while the other three have Muslim populations of fewer than 10,000 each. If these four countries were to match the U.S. share of 0.9%, they would have Muslim populations of close to 200,000 in Romania, 95,000 in the Czech Republic, 90,000 in Hungary and 50,000 in Slovakia.

The United States has welcomed some refugees from the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – and plans to welcome a small number from Syria – but the total number of admissions has been about 100,000. Many who have been granted asylum are non-Muslim religious minorities.

On average, according to the Pew Research Center, Muslim Americans – including U.S.-born and foreign-born residents – track closely with the overall U.S. population on education level and are only slightly less wealthy.

A significant number of Muslim refugees began arriving in the United States around 1975, as the long and brutal Lebanese Civil War broke out. Several years later, more refugees – including both Muslims and many religious minorities – fled the Iranian Islamic Revolution of 1979 to come to the United States.

Ethnically Arab citizens have also been a prominent minority group in the United States since the late 19th century. Today, there are at least 1.8 million Arab-Americans. Until recently, however, Arab-Americans were overwhelmingly Christian.

B. 5% is not correct.

It is Germany – and not the United States – where the current share of Muslims, as a percentage of the overall population, now reaches above the 5% mark.

This is broadly in line with the current Europe-wide percentage of less than 6%. There were a total of 43 million Muslims in Europe as of 2010 (the latest year for which there are globally comparable data.

If the United States had the same share of Muslims in its population today as Germany, nearly 19 million Americans would be Muslim – far greater than the actual figure of 2.8 million.

Nearly three million people in Germany’s Muslim population are ethnically Turkish, Kurdish or from another minority group in Turkey. Many arrived as part of a guest worker program in the 1960s and 1970s or were born to parents who did so.

C. 7.5% is not correct.

It is France – and not the United States – where the current share of Muslims now reaches 7.5% of the overall population.

If the United States had the same share of Muslims in its population today as France, 24 million Americans would be Muslim – nearly ten times as many as there are in reality.

At the height of French imperialism, French territories and control extended across the heart of Muslim West Africa, North Africa and much of the Levant. Many of France’s Muslim residents and citizens today are immigrants from those countries or descended from people born in those places.

Similarly, many Muslims in the UK – where they currently account for 4.8% of the overall population — have backgrounds in the South Asian countries that made up the colonial British Raj in India’s subcontinent.

D. 10% is not correct.

According to the Pew Research Center, by 2050, Muslims will have reached a share of 10% of the population across Europe (or 71 million people). This projection, which includes the large native-born Russian Muslim populations, was made prior to the 2015 refugee crisis.

In contrast, the United States is expected to just cross the 2% mark for the share of its Muslim population by 2050. This low share of Muslims in the U.S. population will be more consistent with the levels in Latin America and Caribbean island nations (0.1%) than with Canada (5.5%) or Europe.

By 2050, among Western Europe’s larger nations, the highest population share of Muslims will be in the UK (11.3%), followed by France (10.9%), Germany (10%), Italy (9.5%) and Spain (7.5%).

If the United States were to have a similarly large share of Muslims in its population as Europe will have then, the U.S. would be home to least another 30 million Muslims than currently anticipated.

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