Expert Calls Claim That 85 Percent Of Mosques Are Radicalized “Nonsense”

Fox News anchor Martha MacCallum granted legitimacy to the claim that 85 percent of U.S. mosques are led by extremists. This claim has been spread throughout the conservative media, but studies of the Muslim community have debunked the claim and an academic who has studied Muslims in America called it “nonsense.”

Fox News Anchor Grants Legitimacy To Claim That “85 Percent Of All Mosques Have Extreme Leadership”

Fox Hosts Rep. King (R-NY) To Discuss Claim That 85 Percent Of Mosques Are Radicalized. On the March 9 edition of America's Newsroom, host Martha MacCallum asked Rep. Peter King (R-NY) whether he had previously claimed that “85 percent of all mosques have extreme leadership.” After King stated that he relied on the testimony of a “national Muslim leader” in making the comment, MacCallum asserted “that has been documented and they've questioned the credibility of that source, but you're laid out your response to that so we're going to leave that at that for now.” From the March 9 edition of America's Newsroom:

MACCALLUM: All right. So New York Congressman Peter King, getting ready for those big hearings tomorrow, joins me now to respond. Good morning, Congressman. Good to have you with us, this morning.

PETER KING (R-NY): Good morning, Martha. How are you?

MACCALLUM: I'm just doing fine, thank you. What about those comments? Did you say that 85 percent of all mosques have extreme leadership?

KING: Martha, let me just first say, to me, it's a badge of honor to be attacked by CAIR, which was named as an unindicted co-conspirator in a major terrorist financing case. Number two, I said in 2004 that up to 80 percent of the mosques in America were controlled by Islamic radicals.

I based that on the testimony of Sheikh Kibani, a national Muslim leader, who was testifying at a State Department hearing in 1999. That was his testimony, saying that the imams in this country were out of touch with the Muslim community. So I was basing my statement on what a national Muslim leader had said.

MACCALLUM: All right. You know, and that has been documented and they've questioned the -- you know, the credibility of that source, but you've laid out your response to that.

KING: Right.

MACCALLUM: And we're going to leave that at that for now. [Fox News, America's Newsroom, 3/9/11]

Conservatives Have Previously Pushed False 80-85 Percent Claim, Dismissed Critics' Concerns. For more than a decade, the conservative media have repeatedly promoted the claim that 80 to 85 percent of mosques are run by extremists. [Media Matters, 2/2/11]

Academic Calls Claim That 85 Percent Of Mosques Are Radicalized “Nonsense”

UC Irvine Historian And Anthropologist Calls 85 Percent Claim “Nonsense.” Karen Leonard, Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Irvine, and author of numerous books, including Muslims in the United States: The State of Research, called the claim that 85 percent of mosques are run by extremists “nonsense”. From her email response to Media Matters:

85%. Nonsense.

American Muslim mosques are run very differently from those in many of the immigrants' home countries, and by adopting a “congregational” model in order to qualify for tax exemption in the U.S., most immigrant mosques now have constitutions and elected governing boards and the elections are open to public scrutiny, thus bringing up, for example, questions about the participation of women as voters or board members. Board members are usually highly educated professionals, and they hire imams, mostly still from abroad since American seminaries producing imams here are just beginning to be established. If an imam is too extreme he will not be hired or retained, in my experience; I know of no extremist mosque in southern California. [Email to Media Matters, 3/9/11]

American University Professor Says “A Lot Of” Comments Like King's “Are Really Not Based On Any Studies.” On NPR's Interfaith Voices, American University Professor Akbar Ahmed, who has written extensively on Islam in America in his book Journey into America, said:

A lot of these well-intentioned comments and observations are really not based on any studies. I mean these are just comments, impressions. People go to a couple of mosques. I don't know how many mosques Peter King has visited, and my impression is this, and again this is based on hours and hours and hours of note-taking and visits. That there is a great variety. That there are certainly some mosques that have a very sullen atmosphere about them. There's the rhetoric of the sermon, at time it gets dangerously close to the borders of non-acceptance as far as I'm concerned, because I do not accept anyone promoting any kind of violence. But 85 percent, I'm not sure at all, because the vast majority of mosques we went to were very self-consciously trying to project the post 9/11 image. [NPR, Interfaith Voices, 3/3/11]

  • Ahmed's Research on American Muslims Included Visits To“100 Mosques,” “Hundreds Of Interviews,” And “2,000 Questionnaire Responses.” Describing the research he had done on the Muslim community in America, Ahmed said in a New York Times op-ed: “To better understand the Muslim community and its attitudes toward American identity, I spent much of 2008 and 2009 traveling the United States. My research assistants and I visited 75 communities, from Dearborn, Mich., to Arab, Ala., and 100 mosques around the country. We conducted hundreds of interviews, and compiled some 2,000 responses to a long questionnaire.” [New York Times, 3/8/11]

Study Finds That Muslim-Americans Prevent “Extremist Ideologues From Preaching In Mosques.” A study by David Schanzer and Ebrahim Moosa of Duke University and Charles Kurzman of the University of North Carolina shows that the Muslim-American community has numerous “self-policing” mechanisms that prevent radicalization. The study states: “The practices range from confronting individuals who express radical ideology or support for terrorism, preventing extremist ideologues from preaching in mosques, communicating concerns about radical individuals to law enforcement officials, and purging radical extremists from membership in local mosques.” From Anti-Terror Lessons of Muslim-Americans:

Our research shows that a variety of practices of Muslim-American communities may be helping to prevent and address instances of radicalization. These practices include the following:

• Public and private denunciations of terrorism and violence. Muslim-American organizations and leaders have consistently condemned terrorist violence here and abroad since 9/11, arguing that such violence is strictly condemned by Islam. Our research found that these statements were not just for public consumption, but were supported by local Muslim religious and community leaders, who consistently condemned political violence in public sermons and private conversations. These statements represent powerful messages that resonate within Muslim-American communities.

• Self-policing. Muslim-Americans have adopted numerous internal self-policing practices to prevent the growth of radical ideology in their communities. The practices range from confronting individuals who express radical ideology or support for terrorism, preventing extremist ideologues from preaching in mosques, communicating concerns about radical individuals to law enforcement officials, and purging radical extremists from membership in local mosques. Muslim-Americans have also adopted programs for youth to help identify individuals who react inappropriately to controversial issues so they can be counseled and educated. [Duke's Sanford School of Public Policy and the University of North Carolina, 1/6/10]

US News & World Report Noted Study Finding That “7 in 10 Mosques Follow A More Nuanced, Nonfundamentalist Approach.” An October 29, 2001, U.S. News & World Report article reported that Muslim leaders and scholars questioned the estimate that 80 percent of mosques are radical or follow Wahhabism, saying that it was “exaggerated” and that they didn't “know where [Khabbani] came up with that” figure. From U.S. News & World Report:

Connections? But while diversity may naturally include the extremes, the question on many people's minds has been what exactly the relationship is between American Islam and the kind of terror and anti-Americanism that came so horribly into focus last month under the guise of religious zealotry. One moderate American Islamic leader, Sheik Muhammad Hisham Kabbani, told a State Department forum in 1999 that 80 percent of the nation's mosques are headed by clerics who espouse “extremist ideology”--which Kabbani associates with Wahhabism, an Islamic fundamentalist movement that began in Saudi Arabia in the 18th century. But Kabbani, head of the Islamic Supreme Council of America, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group, added that “a majority of American Muslims do not agree” with the extremist ideology.

Other American Muslim leaders say Kabbani's estimate of Wahhabi influence in U.S. mosques is exaggerated. “I don't know where he came up with that,” says Ingrid Mattson, a Hartford Seminary professor and vice president of the Islamic Society of North America. African-Americans alone account for a third of the mosques, she notes, “and they clearly are not Wahhabis.” The CAIR-Hartford study found that about 20 percent of mosques say they interpret the Koran literally, but 7 in 10 follow a more nuanced, nonfundamentalist approach. [U.S. News & World Report, 10/29/01, accessed via Nexis]