In her recent response to a Muslim student (Saba Ahmed), Brigitte Gabriel has stated:

There are 1.2 billion Muslims in the world today. Of course not all of them are radicals. The majority of them are peaceful people. The radicals are estimated to be between 15-25% [of the Muslim population] according to all intelligence services around the world.

Is this true? Are there any stats that could back her up? This number seems very high.

  • 4
    This is going to depend on the definition of 'radical', and if you are talking about worldwide or some other Muslim population. Jun 20, 2014 at 20:19
  • 3
    @Articuno Flimzy "(...) according to all intelligence services around the world".
    – MMM
    Jun 20, 2014 at 20:53
  • 5
    I might also submit that one could make the claim that radicals make up "15-25%" of absolutely any group, as "radical" is generally defined as someone at one of the extreme edges of a demographic. Therefore, given any demographic metric, those who fall at 15-25% of either end are, by definition, "radical".
    – Flimzy
    Jun 20, 2014 at 21:04
  • 1
    @MMM: Clarification is needed because the meaning of the claim varies widely based on definitions of terms which are currently un-defined. Specifically, the following terms need definitions before an answer can be provided: 'Muslim', 'Radical', 'Intelligence service'. Is Muslim defined by anyone who claims to be a Muslim? Or must one regularly attend a mosque, or have membership in some Muslim organization? Or simply being born of Muslim parents? Any of these definitions may be reasonable, but will naturally change the population base significantly. Also, what constitutes a "Radical" Muslim?
    – Flimzy
    Jun 20, 2014 at 21:11
  • 3
    I am simply asking if there is there any source, using any interpretation of those terms that would confirm what she's saying. That's all.
    – MMM
    Jun 20, 2014 at 21:20

4 Answers 4


The numbers are realistsic ...

I haven't found sources for the whole world yet, however the numbers presented are not that surprising given that 2/3 of Western European Muslims can be considered fundamentalist or radical believers, according to a 2013 poll.

The author analyzed data from a representative survey among immigrants and natives in six European countries. Two thirds of the Muslims interviewed say that religious rules are more important to them than the laws of the country in which they live. Three quarters of the respondents hold the opinion that there is only one legitimate interpretation of the Koran.

... but misused

The key problem in the original statement is the not-so-subtle indication that fundamentalists are all potentially violent terrorists, but that's not how it goes. By the same definition a Catholic nun is probably a Catholic fundamentalist, but not necessarily a commando-style terrorist!

More interesting information which I've found is this document: it has no numbers but it's a really interesting description of all the facets of Islamic radicalization, and you might find it useful: Studies into violent radicalisation -- The beliefs ideologies and narratives

  • 2
    I think the problem is using the word "radical" when "fundamentalist" or "devout" would be more appropriate. The former implies at least a support of violence, the latter does not. Jun 21, 2014 at 17:40
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    There's a fairly strong selection bias in that only 3% of muslims live in Europe and the survey is on a minority group. Also large portions are 1st or 2nd generation refugees and immigrants from Africa and the Middle East, while the majority of muslims live in Asia Pacific. I highly doubt muslim minorities in Europe are representative of the larger world.
    – Kit Sunde
    Jun 22, 2014 at 21:48
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    One important missing fact -- what do non-muslims think about the same question? While 2/3 of western muslims think religious laws are more important than secular ones, only 12% of Christians think the same. Apr 16, 2015 at 8:36

That 15%-25% range seems reasonable

Without an exact definition, it is difficult to say. From the same article though, Saba Ahmed asks:

"But my question is how can we fight an ideological war with weapons? How can we ever end this war? The jihadist ideology that you talk about - it's an ideology. How can we ever end this thing if we don't address it ideologically?"

It appears that Brigitte Gabriel was speaking of jihadist, that are fighting a war to defend or spread their Muslim beliefs. With that definition, we can look at some of the polls by the Pew Research Center regarding support for suicide bombing. They have been performing this poll of Muslims in various countries since 2002, with some variation of the question below.

"Q89. Some people think that suicide bombing and other forms of violence against civilian targets are justified in order to defend Islam from its enemies... Do you personally feel that this kind of violence is:" [blank] justified

The results of those polls fluctuate quite a bit from year-to-year. For example, Indonesia fluctuated from %10-15% most years, with the Spring 2013 percentages listed below being an outlier. With Indonesia representing almost 13% of the world Muslim population, differences like that and the margin of error of +/-4% can make a big difference. The table below lists % [of world Muslim population] and Total % of Muslims worldwide that support suicide bombings against civilians in defense of Islam (I.e. the product of Muslims that answer Often/Sometimes suicide bombings are justified and that countries ratio of all Muslims.)

                       Some-              Know/|/Some
Country    |  % |Often|times|Rarely|Never| Ref.|Total
Albania    | 0.2|  2  |  4  | 10   | 82  |  3  | 0.012
Bosnia     | 0.1|  1  |  2  | 10   | 86  |  1  | 0.003
Kosovo     | 0.1|  2  |  9  | 11   | 71  |  7  | 0.011
Russia     | 1.0|  1  |  3  |  4   | 86  |  7  | 0.04
Azerbaijan | 0.5|  0  |  1  |  5   | 91  |  3  | 0.005
Kazakhstan | 0.5|  0  |  2  |  2   | 93  |  3  | 0.01
Kyrgyzstan | 0.3|  1  |  9  | 16   | 66  |  8  | 0.03
Tajikistan | 0.4|  1  |  2  |  9   | 76  | 12  | 0.012
Turkey     | 4.6|  3  | 12  |  8   | 70  |  8  | 0.69
Indonesia  |12.7|  2  |  5  | 11   | 81  |  1  | 0.889
Malaysia   | 1.1|  3  | 15  | 10   | 64  |  9  | 0.198
Afghanistan| 1.2| 18  | 21  | 18   | 40  |  4  | 0.468
Bangladesh | 9.2|  9  | 17  | 20   | 51  |  3  | 2.392
Pakistan   |11.0|  4  |  9  |  3   | 77  |  6  | 1.43
Egypt      | 4.9| 11  | 18  | 28   | 40  |  3  | 1.421
Iraq       | 1.9|  3  |  4  |  8   | 83  |  3  | 0.133
Jordan     | 0.4|  4  | 11  | 29   | 53  |  3  | 0.06
Morocco    | 2.0|  5  |  4  |  6   | 68  | 16  | 0.18
Palestinian| 0.3| 18  | 22  | 15   | 34  | 10  | 0.12
Tunisia    | 0.6|  5  |  7  | 11   | 73  |  5  | 0.072
           |52.2|                              | 8.176

Of the countries that were polled, which represent half of all Muslims worldwide, 15.66% of those Muslims admitted to pollsters that it is justified to use suicide bombs against civilians to defend Islam. These "radial Islamist" would account for 8.176% of all jihadists worldwide. The low figure of the range seems reasonable, but the chart above is missing some notable countries with large Muslim populations Nigeria (4.7%) and India (10.9%). Pew hasn't polled India to my knowledge, but Nigeria has and the results were wildly different for radical Islamists (8% 2013 and 34% 2010).

  • 9
    If we accept "when polled, accepts military violence against civilians" as the definition for "radical", we must also accept that 67% of US Mormons, 58-60% of US Protestants and Catholics and 55% of US Jews are "radical Americans". That's not inconsistent or wrong; it just accepts a loose definition that leads to misleading headlines.
    – Oddthinking
    Jun 22, 2014 at 10:02
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    @Oddthinking, perhaps, but then you have those moderate Muslims that want to establish Sharia (64-84%), whose religious law should apply to non-Muslims (40-49%), a woman must obey her husband (70-93%), favor stoning for adultery (29-90%), in about 2/3 of the countries >50% say honor killing women is ok, etc. Has your poll result been duplicated?
    – user1873
    Jun 22, 2014 at 22:07
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    experiments should be repeatable -- The poll question was, "is violence (against civilians) justified in defence of the nation (of Islam)?" IMO repeated experiments show that violence "in defence of the nation" has been very popular, including in Christian and in Atheist counties: the invasion of Iraq after 9/11 for example (with internet hot-heads saying "if they're going to attack America we should carpet-bomb Baghdad"), or for example wars to 'defend the nation' against Communism, or against Fascism (or against Jews, Croats, Tutsis, etc.).
    – ChrisW
    Jun 23, 2014 at 9:42
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    then you have those moderate Muslims that want to establish Sharia Lots of people say they want to impose their own laws on others: laws about abortion, immigration, taxes and import duties, gun control, death penalty, religious education, speaking the same language as me. If that's part of the definition of "radical" then "15% - 25%" doesn't surprise me at all: instead it's IMO normal to hear people say things like that.
    – ChrisW
    Jun 23, 2014 at 9:50
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    @Oddthinking - given the disparity of wording (Gallup poll wording was very vague and validly included military attacks on civilians in ALL circumstances and for all goals - such as when they are used as human shields for high-value military target, OR are illegal militants masquerading as civilians in violation of Geneva accords). Given modus operandi of various international actors and implied contexts, you are comparing apples to oranges.
    – user5341
    Aug 16, 2014 at 14:45

A Case Study in Sincere Hypocrisy: Brigitte Gabriel claims that she defines a "radical muslim" as follows:

... a practising Muslim who goes to mosque every Friday, prays five times a day, and who believes that the Koran is the word of God, and who believes that Mohammed is the perfect man and (four inaudible words) is a radical Muslim.

I can't find the original quote online; the existence of this definition is also alleged by a New York Times editor, who wrote here,

A blog on The Australian Jewish News quoted Gabriel as saying last year, “Every practicing Muslim is a radical Muslim.”

  • 2
    This helps to clarify the claim, but doesn't answer the question.
    – Flimzy
    Jun 20, 2014 at 22:12
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    This certainly demonstrates she uses a pretty meaningless definition of "radical", but I've argued in the comments on the question it is the definition used by the intelligence services that is relevant. Additionally, this doesn't answer the question. Might make a powerful comment on the question though.
    – Oddthinking
    Jun 21, 2014 at 3:30
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    @Oddthinking IMO the claim is "The radicals are estimated to be between 15-25%", and "according to all intelligence services around the world" is the most obvious hyperbole, probably intended to lend authority to the claim. In context the claim is, "according to my ass, a signficant minority are radical, and they're important to this conversation whereas you and the majority are not." I don't think any other definition of radical (other than her definition) is relevant to understanding/assessing her claim; I doubt that "all intelligence services around the world" have agreed on some other ...
    – ChrisW
    Jun 21, 2014 at 7:12
  • ... definition of radical, used that definition to estimate a number of radical muslims, and published their definition and their estimate.
    – ChrisW
    Jun 21, 2014 at 7:14
  • 1
    @ChrisW: I am torn. That's also seems a valid reading of the claim. The trouble with that reading is the terms are so malleable, it has no real meaning; why would we waste time on it? (Are 15-25% of atheists 'militant atheists'? Not if you use a reasonable definition of 'militant'. Yes, if you use some people's definition.)
    – Oddthinking
    Jun 21, 2014 at 10:45

The claim is, at best, very poorly stated. No external sources are necessary to prove this. Consider the following quotes from the article:

There are 1.2 billion Muslims in the world today. Of course not all of them are radicals. The majority of them are peaceful people. The radicals are estimated to be between 15-25% according to all intelligence services around the world.

The claimant is drawing a line between "peaceful" Muslims and "radical" Muslims, claiming that 15-25% are radicals, while the others are peaceful.

This is re-enforced two paragraphs later:

"So why should we worry about the radical 15-25%? Because it is the radicals that kill. Because it is the radicals that behead and massacre," Gabriel said.

So the claim is that 15-25% of 1.2 billion Muslims participate in beheadings and massacres. That's 180,000,000 - 300,000,000 Muslims who are supposedly involved in beheadings and massacres.

Unless we are going to assume a huge media cover-up of Muslim-initiated beheadings and massacres, there simply are not enough beheadings and massacres to involve that many perpetrators.

Although that doesn't mean there's not some element of truth to such a claim--it only means the claim is made in very sloppy terms.

This post summarizes an article in The Weekly Standard, which in turn summarizes a book by John Esposito and Dalia Mogahed, which analyzes this issue, and includes the result of its own study, which defines a radical Muslim as those who say the 9/11 attack was “completely justified,”, and this group comprises 6.5 percent of the sample.

I can find no evidence to support (or contradict) the claim that "world wide intelligence services" support her 15-25% claim, but I stand by my belief that this is a meaningless claim anyway, as "intelligence service" is far too vague or ambiguous to possibly be meaningful.

TLDR The specific claim is confused, but with a properly-conducted survey, with meaningful definitions, we can determine how many Radical Muslims there are, and one such study found that number to be 6.5%.

  • 5
    Sorry, but your sources are really poor IMO. Politically opinionated people providing their opinion are not good sources.
    – Sklivvz
    Jun 21, 2014 at 7:29

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