Answer to Map #32

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Answer: This choropleth depicts the percentage of the population in each county of the United States that identifies as Muslim.

As was the case with Map #20, the data used to make this map came from the 2010 U.S. Religion Census. The data on Islam is collected and helpfully laid out on the website of the Association of Religion Data Archives.

Unlike most of our previous choropleths, this map does not use a linear scale. That’s because it had to cover quite a wide range of values. The overwhelming majority of American counties don’t register at all in this set of data. Many of those counties have no Muslims at all, while others have just a few. It’s also worth noting another interesting feature of this data set. Since its focus is on adherents of particular religious congregations, people are sometimes recorded as being “from” the counties where they worship, not where they live. This distinction didn’t matter much in Map #20, our map of Roman Catholicism, because relatively few people have to drive across county lines to attend a Catholic church. But it does make some difference here because there are fewer mosques in the U.S., and it’s quite plausible that a Muslim family residing in a county with no mosque would drive to another county for weekly prayers.

The scale we ended up using for this map uses the darkest shade of purple to represent all counties where Muslims make up more than 6.4% of the population. Many of the “counties” in this band are, in fact cities in Virginia, which are administered as counties. Thus, the county-level unit with the highest percentage of Muslims is the city of Emporia, Virginia, where Muslims comprise 29.0% of the population. The second highest is Goochland County, Virginia, which is about 15.8% Muslim.

The second darkest color on our map indicates counties where more than 3.2% is Muslim. This band includes some very populous urban counties: Cook County, Illinois (3.9%); Kings County, New York (3.8%); Queens County, New York (3.7%); and Wayne County, Michigan (3.7%). The third darkest color refers to counties where more than 1.6% of the population is Muslim; the fourth darkest color to counties where more than 0.8% of the population is Muslim; and so on.

One conclusion you might draw from this choropleth is that the overwhelming majority of Muslims in the U.S. live near large urban areas—either in big cities such as New York, Chicago, and Detroit, or in suburban areas near big cities, such as in northern New Jersey. Sure, there are a few rural counties that light up dark purple on this choropleth, but those counties have much smaller overall populations.

It makes sense that Muslims would tend to congregate in particular places. Most American Muslims are either immigrants or the descendants of immigrants who have come to the U.S. since World War II. Immigrants tend to move to places where communities of people with similar backgrounds have already been established.

On this choropleth, we can spot a lot of interesting counties that are home to Muslim communities of different backgrounds. The Muslim population of the U.S. is fairly diverse: about 34% are of South Asian origin (Pakistani, Indian, and Bangladeshi); about 26% are of Arab origin; about 25% are of African American origin (this figure includes both the descendants of recent immigrants from Africa and African Americans who belong to the Nation of Islam or another similar religious group); and 15% are of other origins.

Let’s look through some of the counties that stick out on this map. The largest communities of Bangladeshi Americans are in Queens, New York, and in Paterson, New Jersey. The single largest concentration of Somali Americans is in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The largest concentration of Arab Americans is in the Detroit metropolitan area—but quite a lot of the Arab Americans in question are Christian, so only some of the population contributes to this choropleth. And the largest concentration of Iranian Americans is in the Los Angeles area.

If you’re interested in learning more about why particular counties show up clearly on this choropleth, it may or may not be easy to find information. For some areas, such as the Texas Panhandle around Amarillo, you can find lots of news articles about the local Muslim population. But for many other areas, the various human dramas of our time go largely unreported. What explains why Emporia, Virginia, and Calhoun County, Florida, have such sizeable Muslim populations? If you figure it out, let us know!

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