American Muslims: Sharia v. Freedom v… “Sampling”?

This Al-Banna (Gamal) Appears Accurate (and Honest):Most Muslims today are Salafis

UCLA Law Professor Eugene Volokh e-mailed me to raise legitimate concerns about the “representativeness” of the n=600 US Muslim sample assessed by Wenzel Strategies, during October 22 to 26, 2012. Due to sampling limitations, Professor Volokh cast doubt on the salient findings, which I summarized, as follows:

When asked, “Do you believe that criticism of Islam or Muhammad should be permitted under the Constitution’s First Amendment?, 58% replied “no,” while only 42% affirmed this most basic manifestation of freedom of speech, i.e., to criticize religious, or any other dogma. Indeed, oblivious to US constitutional law, as opposed to Islam’s Sharia, a largely concordant 45% of respondents agreed “…that those who criticize or parody Islam in the U.S. should face criminal charges,” while 38% did not, and 17% were “unsure”.  Moreover, fully 12% of this Muslim sample even admitted they believed in application of the draconian, Sharia-based punishment for the non-existent crime of “blasphemy” in the US code, answering affirmatively, “…that Americans who criticize or parody Islam should be put to death.”

Also, consistent with such findings 43% of these US Muslims rejected the right of members of other faiths to proselytize to adherents of Islam, disagreeing, “…that U.S. citizens have a right to evangelize Muslims to consider other faiths.” Additional confirmatory data revealed that nearly two-fifths (39%) agreed “…that Shariah law should be considered when adjudicating cases that involve Muslims, ” while nearly one-third (32%) of this American Muslim sample believed “…Shariah law should be the supreme law of the land in the US.”

Professor Volokh, at my urging, contacted Wenzel Strategies directly to clarify the basic methodology, but also followed up on my suggestion that he obtain basic demographic data for not only the Wenzel Strategies US Muslim sample, but a larger, nationally representative sample of US Muslims. He then graciously shared these findings with me.

Here is what Professor Volokh discovered—and kindly relayed to me—about the Wenzel Strategies sampling procedures:

They were working off a list of Muslims “compiled through a self-selection process,” apparently generated from “dozens of methods of self-selection,” such as “information gathered during commercial activity.”…They then randomly selected people to call from the list. Of those they called, they got a response rate of 5.6%.

The basic demographic data from the Wenzel Strategies convenience sample were as follows (compiled from these tables, here and here):

Sex: 58.33% male, 41.67% female.

Geography: 22% West, 20% Midwest, 20% South, 38% East.

Age: 13.5% under 30, 14% 30s, 13.5% 40s, 26% 50s, 18% 60s, 15% 70s.

Income: 44% under $50K, 15% $50K to $75K, 22% $75K to $125K, 15% >$125K, and 4% refused to answer.

Citizen: 98%

Registered to vote: 97%.

Party: 81% Obama/leaning Obama, 11% Romney/leaning Romney, 8% not sure.

For comparison, these summary demographic data were extracted from this 2011 “nationally representative” Pew survey of Muslim Americans.

Sex: 55% male, 45% female.

Geography: No data.

Age: 36% 18-to-29, 23% 30s, 28% 40-54, 12% 55+.

Income: 64% under $50K, 13% $50K to $75K, 8% $75K to $100K, 14% >$100K.

Citizen: 81%.

Registered to vote: 66% certain, 30% no or not certain, 3% don’t know

Party: 70% Democrat/leaning Democrat, 11% Republican/leaning Republican.

However, it is worth noting the following about the final Pew sample of n=1033 American Muslims, obtained with state of the art methodology designed to limit bias and enhance external validity/“representativeness”:

  • It was winnowed, ultimately, from a total of  513,147 land line and 179,608 cell phone numbers
  • It also made use “within the land line random digit dialing frame of US telephone numbers” of 608,397 numbers “that had a high probability of belonging to a household with a Muslim adult” (compiled by the market research firm Experian)

As I explained to Professor Volokh, given the practical constraints of all sampling methodologies—driven, primarily, by the > 90% overall rate of refusal to participate in phone surveys recently lamented by Pew itself—one is always confronted with the dilemma of biased samples, whether overt convenience samples (such as the Wenzel Associates American Muslim study group), or inconveniently obtained, de facto convenience samples such as the 2011 Pew survey of US Muslim participants! Thus the only relevant question remaining once internal validity is established—and it was for the Wenzel Associates sample, which, comparing the consistent responses to independent queries about free speech, “blaspheming Islam” as a criminal offense, and application of the Sharia in the US, makes plain—is whether the bias augmented or reduced the observed outcome/effect.

Apropos, I concur with Professor Volokh’s comparative assessment that the Wenzel Associates American Muslim sample, relative to the Pew sample, was “markedly skewed in favor of older and wealthier respondents.” However, if we accept the current academic (and policymaking) consensus that youth,  and, in particular, lack of socioeconomic advantages, are the drivers of “Muslim radicalization,” the Wenzel Associates sample is biased towards moderation.

Sadly, perhaps these Wenzel Associates survey results from American Muslims, in turn, validate Gamal al-Banna’s recent observation. The eccentric, secular-leaning nonagenarian Egyptian gadfly, whose older sibling and jihadist “martyr” Hasan al-Banna founded the Muslim Brotherhood, remarked during a 2011 interview, “most Muslims today are Salafis”. Gamal al-Banna attributed this mass Muslim phenomenon to the 10th century onset “closure of the gates of  ijtihad ” (ijtihad  being the process whereby the most select, learned Muslim legists were allowed narrow interpretive “flexibility” regarding Sharia mandates), leaving the preponderance of Muslims, ever since, to blindly follow mainstream, traditionalist, i.e.,   “Salafi,” interpretations of Islam.

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