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USA, November 21, 2001: With a spotlight cast on American Muslims since September 11, one simple question has defied a clear answer and become the focus of a politically charged dispute: What is the size of the U.S. Muslim population? Four major Muslim organizations released a study in April that estimated the population at 6 million to 7 million. Based in part on that report, most media organizations, as well as the White House and the State Department, have said in recent weeks that there are at least 6 million Muslims in the country. But two studies released last month, including one commissioned by the American Jewish Committee, concluded that the total is much lower: no more than 3.4 million and perhaps as few as 1.5 million. Political clout in America is very much related to numbers, so these varying estimates are causing considerable controversy. Estimating minority faiths in America is especially difficult, for the official government census cannot, by law, ask about religion. Researchers then have to find other methods, all of which are prone to inaccuracies. Asking organizations their membership -- the method that got 7 million Muslims -- probably gives inflated figures. Calling people on the phone in surveys tends to undercount minorities because many immigrants won't respond to questions out of suspicion of a covert government investigation. Another approach, used by the World Christian Encyclopedia, is to estimate the number of people from a particular country in America from immigration records, and then assume that they are proportioned according to religion the same as their originating country. By this method, 86% of Indian immigrants would be judged Hindus, for example. One still has to guess at the number of indigenous members, such as the Black Muslims, and at the number of second and third generation members born in America. Estimates of Hindus in the USA are also clouded by the same problems.