Perhaps surprisingly to a casual observer, there are not any Arab nations in the top five in a list of the world’s most populous Muslim countries. According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, The Global Religious Landscape, the list is headed by Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nigeria. Three of these countries were once joined ̶̶ India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, before embarking on independent political paths. Egypt, the highest ranking Arab nation, is listed sixth with 77.0 million Muslim residents.
While the U.S. Census Bureau does not collect data on religious affiliation, independent polling indicates the U.S. is home to approximately 2.8 million Muslims. Exact figures for the greater Los Angeles area are not available, but the region’s Muslim demographics likely comprise a mix of African-Americans, Arabs and South Asians. Nationally, research conducted by institutions such as Gallup and Pew and analyzed by the Council on Foreign Relations suggests the U.S. is comprised of an eclectic mix of Muslims from as many as 77 different countries. Consequently, there is not a one size fits all policy for outreach and engagement, either abroad or at home.
Local factors will continue to drive the Muslim community’s view of American policies, be they drone strikes or foreign aid. Considering four of the top five countries with the largest Muslim populations lie in Asia the so called “pivot” towards Asia in U.S. foreign policy is important for reasons well beyond the emergence of China as a regional hegemon. Domestically, the ability of members of the Muslim community’s to assimilate into society while maintaining their heritage can be a key driver in counter-radicalization efforts. Some Muslims in the U.S., predominantly men in their early 20s, have chosen to interpret their world view through the spectrum of global jihad, as in the case of young Somali-Americans. More often than not, however, they are simply the neighbors next door. As a nation, moving the dialogue with the Muslim community beyond the rhetoric of transnational terrorism will be a key aspect in repairing the often delicate relationship.