Counting Islamists


By Daniel Pipes

The recent distribution of some 28 million copies in the United States of the 2005 documentary Obsession has stirred heated debate about its contents. One lightening rod for criticism concerns my on-screen statement that “10 to 15 percent of Muslims worldwide support militant Islam.”

                    obsession movie

Actually, Pipes did provide answers. He collected and published many numbers at “How Many Islamists?” a weblog entry initiated in May 2005.

First, though, an explanation of what I meant by Muslims who “support militant Islam”: these are Islamists, individuals who seek a totalistic, worldwide application of Islamic law, the Shari‘a. In particular, they seek to build an Islamic state in Turkey, replace Israel with an Islamic state and the U.S. constitution with the Koran.

As with any attitudinal estimate, however, several factors impede approximating the percentage of Islamists.

  • How much fervor: Gallup polled over 50,000 Muslims across 10 countries and found that, if one defines radicals as those who deemed the 9/11 attacks “completely justified,” their number constitutes about 7 percent of the total population. But if one includes Muslims who considered the attacks “largely justified,” their ranks jump to 13.5 percent. Adding those who deemed the attacks “somewhat justified” boosts the number of radicals to 36.6 percent. Which figure should one adopt?
  • Gage voter intentions: Elections measure Islamist sentiment untidily, for Islamist parties erratically win support from non-Islamists. Thus, Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) won 47 percent in 2007 elections, 34 percent of the vote in 2002 elections, and its precursor, the Virtue Party, won just 15 percent in 1999. The Islamic Movement’s northern faction won 75 percent of the vote in the Israeli Arab city of Umm el-Fahm 2003 elections while Hamas, the Palestinian terrorist organization, won 44 percent of the vote in the Palestinian Authority in 2006. Which number does one select?
  • What to measure: Many polls measure attitudes other than application of Islamic law. Gallup looks at support for 9/11. The Pew Global Attitudes Projectassesses support for suicide bombing. Nawaf Obaid, a Saudi security specialist, focuses on pro-Osama bin Laden views. Germany’s domestic security agency, the Verfassungsschutz, counts membership in Islamist organizations. Margaret Nydell of Georgetown University calculates “Islamists who resort to violence.”
  • Inexplicably varying results: A University of Jordan survey revealed that large majorities of Jordanians, Palestinians, and Egyptians wish the Shari‘a to be the only source of Islamic law – but only one-third of Syrians. Indonesian survey and election results led R. William Liddle and Saiful Mujani in 2003 to conclude that the number of Islamists “is no more than 15 percent of the total Indonesian Muslim population.” In contrast, a 2008 survey of 8,000 Indonesian Muslims by Roy Morgan Research found 40 percent of Indonesians favoring hadd criminal punishments (such as cutting the hands of thieves) and 52 per cent favoring some form of Islamic legal code.


The Islamic Supreme Council of America’s Hisham Kabbani says 5-10 percent of American Muslims are extremists.

Given these complications, it is not surprising that estimates vary considerably. On the one hand, the Islamic Supreme Council of America’s Hisham Kabbani says 5 to 10 percent of American Muslims are extremists and Daniel Yankelovich, a pollster, finds that “the hate-America Islamist fundamentalists … averages about 10 percent of all Muslims.” On the other, reviewing ten surveys ofBritish Muslim opinion, I concluded that “more than half of British Muslims want Islamic law and 5 percent endorse violence to achieve that end.”


These ambiguous and contradictory percentages lead to no clear, specific count of Islamists. Out of a quantitative mish-mash, I suggested just three days after 9/11 that some 10-15 percent of Muslims are determined Islamists. Subsequent evidence generally confirmed that estimate and suggested, if anything, that the actual numbers might be higher.

Negatively, 10-15 percent suggests that Islamists number about 150 million out of a billion plus Muslims – more than all the fascists and communists who ever lived. Positively, it implies that most Muslims can be swayed against Islamist totalitarianism.

Mr. Pipes ( is director of the Middle East Forum and Taube distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University.

3 thoughts on “Counting Islamists”

  1. If you hate the West then just leave. It’s not perfect, even for infidels, but it doesn’t need Koranists coming over and trying to impose the nonsense of the old country. If the old country was so great then why did you come West for?

  2. I think that islamic violence around the world is becoming so serious that muslims are going to find themselves unwelcome in any decent country. I do not believe that the majority of muslims approve of violence (although I find the numbers apparently thinking that 9/11 and 7/7 etc were *justified* very disturbing,) but the various polls seem to indicate that far too many want to destroy our cultures and substitute their own. If their own culture (including sharia) is so wonderful then why did they leave their own countries in the first place?
    This has to stop.
    If they won’t stop then all the PC/far left socialist politicians who have appeased/supported them are going to be finding themselves without a job in the near future and if they think the Russians and Chinese are going to tolerate this sort of violence within their societies they are going to have a nasty shock. I believe that it is getting so bad it could see the UN going out of business (not a bad thing judging by their ludicrous performance over the last few years). I don’t necessarily believe in *end of times* but I do think we are rapidly heading towards a seismic shift in the division of the worlds’ countries between muslim and non-muslim with some exceptions. Pushed to wall people will fight, if forced, no good ever comes of it but it could come to it because Islamists are intent upon world domination and they think they can win. I disagree. They really haven’t seen westerners get ruthless yet. I hope it won’t come to that but I see Europe going right as the people reach breaking point and start to push back. There could then be a domino effect as other countries act to save their cultures and it would spread like fire. We have already seen riots re oil, we must use our ingenuity and inventiveness to wean ourselves off it then tell the ME and Russia to take a hike, bereft of this income they will crumble and we can dismantle the Islamist threat through various other measures.
    I am a fre-born Englishwoman. I intend to stay that way.

  3. Spitty Kitty

    That is a well written and incisive piece by you, 9/10.
    I agree with you whole heartedly. However I am afraid the Brits are a lost cause and that is a great shame and with the Americans in dire straits having endured the most incompetent President in history I doubt that they will ever recover their status and strenght in the world.If they do it will be a long time.

    Places like Australia seem to have their act together, but the next year or so of the Rudd Goverment will see how they respond to the expected increase in boat people who are mainly middle eastern Muslims who pass through several islamic countries on the way to try and get here. The agenda is blindingly obvious.

    The UNHCR and the UN generally is beyond contempt whilst the organsiation of Islamic countries OIC is pushing hard to alter the frabric and framework of westen societies that have delivered so much.The OIC has to be the most hypocritical organisation ever,calling for standards of behavior that not one of its members can be used as an example.

    The ex PM of Malaysia and the speech he gave at the 2004 conference of the OIC in KL has to be the most anti semitic, anti western diatribes ever given by a leader of a supposedly civilised nation, and on par with that mad dog Ahmeddinejad.

    I think things are going to get lot worse before it gets better but we will prevail–we have to.

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