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In a recent PRI broadcast, a British news outlet suggested that the use of Sharia law among non-Muslims is spreading throughout the nation.

As a photojournalist, London Shearer Allen’s eyes act as her primary means of catching seemingly paltry details.  However, even in the midst of chasing around three boys all under the age of five, she heard something suspicious while listening to a radio broadcast by PRI’s The World a few days ago.

The March 15 PRI broadcast discussed the growth of support by non-Muslims for the use of Sharia law to settle legal disputes in Britain.  The World’s reporter Laura Lynch said that according to Sheikh Faizul Siddiqi, the co-founder of the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal, an organization that provides legal alternatives for Muslims that coincide with Islamic laws, non-Muslims are using Sharia arbitration for practical reasons, such as the lower costs.

Lynch went on to explain that although the numbers are still small––possibly 20 non-Muslims in Britain turned to Sharia last year––that number has increased by roughly 15% in 2010.

Hmmm. Now take a minute to do the math on those numbers.  Fifteen percent of 20 people equal three people.

To confirm her calculations Allen, also a contributor to StinkyJournalism.org, checked The World’s Web site where she found a transcript for the radio show and indeed, confirmed in writing what she believed Lynch had said: “[T]he numbers are still small, perhaps 20 non-Muslims in Britain turned to Sharia last year.  But [Siddiqi] says it’s growing by about 15% this year.”

The problematic use of data in this example raises the issue of the misuse of statistics in the media.

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In quickly hearing or reading those statistics in a media report, one would likely get the mistaken impression that the percentage quoted was important and large enough for public concern. But a three-case increase hardly merits much concern, let alone alarm. The opposite point is made. There are not hundreds or thousands of British non-Muslims opting for Sharia law.

Only careful media listeners who take the time to confirm and then crunch the numbers will be able to avoid the sensational but unsupported implications. Within Britain’s more than 61 million people, 1.6 million are Muslims.

Fareed Chedie, the personal assistant to Siddiqi, verified in an email correspondence that “[t]he 15% increase is not in relation to the population of this country [Britain] but the non Muslims who are applying to MAT for consultation in relation to the numbers of Muslims applying.”

StinkyJournalism would suggest in this case, that when the media cite statistics that only involve, in reality, three additional non-Muslims, this statistic itself presents more of a societal risk by fueling bias against Islam than it does to reveal any true or troublesome trend about the employment of Sharia law in Britain.

Ann F. Lopez, Radio Producer for The World, responded to an email inquiry, informing us that our query has been forwarded to the editor of Lynch’s story for clarification and comment on the percentages.

Updated: March 24, 2010 at 2:34 p.m.

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