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America's elusive minority: Muslims

A new study finds them wealthy, educated, growing fast. But old suspicion from 9/11 complicates their plight.

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Muslims are taking root in America. Though small in number, they're growing fast and setting up enclaves in some of the largest cities. A study released today shows they're better educated and almost as well paid as the non-Hispanic white population. But if American Muslims are poised to join the mainstream economically, politics and religion are roiling the confluence.

The aftermath of Sept. 11 and tension with Iraq has exposed a dual response to Muslims living here. There's both suspicion and outreach – discrimination and efforts to bridge the religious divide.

"Islam has become a part of public discourse and people are making up their minds," says Mohamed Nimer, author of a new book, "The North American Muslim Resource Guide." "America is confronting ... what we might call a precursor to being a truly pluralistic society."

While no one knows how many Muslims live in the US – estimates span 1.2 million to 10 million – their numbers are growing fast. Between 1990 and 2000, the Muslim-origin population grew 40 percent, according to the new study by the Lewis Mumford Center for Comparative Urban and Regional Research at New York's University at Albany. And they're more integrated than larger minorities.

"They're rather highly concentrated in certain metropolitan areas," says John Logan, Mumford Center director. "But in those areas they tend to live in neighborhoods where they're a distinct minority."

Four metropolitan regions – Los Angeles, New York, Detroit, and Washington – boast more than 100,000 American Muslims. A decade earlier, only Los Angeles could make that claim. Detroit's population includes more Muslims than virtually any city. But much smaller Jersey City, N.J., which saw a doubling of its Muslim population in the 1990s, now boasts the identical concentration: 2.8 percent.

Tricky to count – and difficult to see

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