Accurate demographic information is a powerful tool for determining
the credit needs of emerging communities. It allows financial institutions
to gauge the size of new markets and tailor their products accordingly.
But when a community is based on faith, accurate market figures
can be difficult to find.
The difficulty arises from the fact that the U.S. Census Bureau
(Census Bureau), the nation's primary source of reliable demographic
information, is prohibited from asking questions about religion
on its census forms. Anyone seeking population figures for faith-based
communities must rely on alternate sources of information. The situation
presents a challenge for the organizations involved in efforts to
develop Riba-free lending products in the Twin Cities, because
estimates of the area's Muslim population range from approximately
20,000-130,000, depending on the source.
The Somali question
The Muslim community in the Twin Cities includes individuals with
roots in Africa, South Asia, Eastern Europe and the Middle East,
plus members of the Nation of Islam and other groups. The largest
group of Twin Cities Muslims is made up of immigrants from the East
African nation of Somalia. Because nearly all Somalis are Muslim,
many estimates use the number of Somalis in the area as a basis
for calculating the larger Muslim population.
Unfortunately, there is no authoritative estimate of the Somali
population in the Twin Cities. The Census Bureau collects information
on race and ancestry, but such data from the 2000 census are not
yet available. And although the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization
Service counts the immigrants from Somalia and other nations who
enter the country in a given year and notes their initial destinations
in the U.S., it does not track immigrants' resettlement to other
cities or regions after their arrival. Minnesota is typically a
second or third destination for Somali immigrants, so it is difficult
to determine their numbers in the state through immigration records.
Existing estimates of the Somali population vary widely. For example,
the State of Minnesota puts the number of Somalis at 14,000-15,000
statewide, with the majority located in Minneapolis. This figure,
drawn from Minnesota Department of Children, Families and Learning
data on children in public schools who speak Somali at home, differs
from many Somalis' own estimates of their numbers at 80,000 or more
Somalis only began arriving in Minnesota in significant numbers
after 1990, when civil war forced them to flee their native country
by the thousands. According to Barbara Ronningen, a research analyst
at the Minnesota Planning Department's State Demographic Center,
Somalis' recent arrival complicates attempts to determine their
population in the Twin Cities.
"Usually, with ethnic groups, we can hope for baseline data
and then use subsequent data to determine proportions and perform
calculations to arrive at an estimate," says Ronningen. "But
since Somalis didn't arrive until the 1990s, we don't have any baseline
from the 1990 census."
Determining the non-Somali Muslim population in the Twin Cities
is also a challenge. Relying on estimates from various faith-based
and community organizations, social-service agencies and other sources,
the Islamic Center of Minnesota puts the number of non-Somali Muslims
in the state at 55,000. But this estimate is problematic because
it is not based on scientific sampling or other standard survey
U.S. estimates differ
Some research centers and other organizations use more scientific
methods when studying the Muslim population in the U.S. The resulting
findings are rarely broken down by city or metropolitan area, so
the numbers offer little help in determining the Muslim population
in the Twin Cities. But it is interesting to note that even these
scientific approaches often arrive at vastly different estimates.
For example, four national Islamic organizations sponsored the
Mosque Study Project 2000, which gathered data from telephone interviews
conducted with a random sampling of mosque leaders across the country.
The project counted 2 million adult American Muslims who are associated
with mosques. Adding in children and other family members, plus
Muslims who are not affiliated with mosques, the number supports
an estimate of 6 million to 7 million Muslims nationwide. Another
major study, conducted by The Graduate Center of the City University
of New York, produced a much lower estimate. Basing its findings
on a random-dial telephone survey of over 50,000 American households,
the American Religious Identification Survey 2001 estimates the
total U.S. Muslim population at just under 3 million.
A significant population
Considering the broad range of estimates at the local and national
levels, it seems likely that the actual number of Muslims lies somewhere
in the middle. With a range of 3 million to 7 million Muslims throughout
the U.S., the best estimate might be around 5 million. In the Twin
Cities, where the numbers range from approximately 20,000-130,000,
a narrower range of 70,000-80,000 might be more realistic. But because
of the inherent challenges to collecting demographic information
about faith-based communities, the true number is not available.
Yet even the lowest estimates for the Twin Cities reveal a significant
and—by all accounts—steadily increasing Muslim population. Although
the individuals and organizations involved in alternative-lending
initiatives cannot be certain of the area's exact Muslim population,
they can be certain that any lending options they develop will be
received by a sizable community.