Cathy Lynn Grossman reports on the growth of Islam in the United States.
Islam in America is wider, deeper and more diverse than ever in its history, and Muslims are poised to bring their faith, politics and culture into the mainstream of national life, according to a new, comprehensive study, "The Mosque in America: A National Portrait."
The study, scheduled to be released today, is based on a scientific sampling of all 1,209 U.S. mosques — from lavish new suburban complexes to storefront and university student centers — and lengthy interviews with mosque leadership. It was conducted by a consortium of academic and Islamic groups, coordinated by Hartford Seminary Institute for Religious Research.
Researchers have compared the new portrait of mosques with a similar study in 1994. Some key findings:
• The number of mosques has increased 25%, from 962 in 1994 to 1,209 in 2000.
• Average mosque attendance at Friday prayers has nearly doubled, up 94% from 150 to 292.
• Most have an ethnic diversity unmatched in Christian and Jewish congregations, with 90% of mosques reporting a mix of South Asian, African-American, Arab and other groups born in the USA and abroad worshiping together.
• There may be more than 6 million Muslims in America today, researchers calculate, based on 2 million people who are formally affiliated with mosques, up from 500,000. They attribute the growth primarily to immigration.
But the most newsworthy finding is the determination of Muslims to make mosques "the platform for full participation in American life," says Ihsan Bagby, co-chairman of the research committee. "The Muslim community is maturing and coming into its own."
"We found that 90% of mosque leaders said yes, Muslims should become involved in American society and in the political process. I thought they would be more reticent. Because mosque leadership is still primarily based on immigrants, I thought they would be more socially and politically conservative than the general public," says Bagby, of Shaw University in Raleigh, N.C.
"Mosques today are not only centers for spirituality, they are also bases for political and social mobilization, focal points for Muslim life in a way they may not have been in more traditional Islamic societies," says Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, one of the study sponsors with Hartford, the Islamic Society of North America and the Muslim American Society.
"Muslims believe that by involvement with the larger society, they can do service to America," Awad says, citing last year, when mosques conducted their biggest and most visible voter registration drive.
"We have a local face now. We can begin to break down animosity and fear as people see this is a godly religion, a comprehensive way of life and a diverse community committed to equality," Awad says.
Look for new voices in schools, workplaces and voting booths, says David Roozen of Hartford Seminary, which led an overview study on American congregations, "Faith Communities Today."
"Increasingly, they are going to be claiming a place in the public square. They still see themselves as an 'out' group rather than a 'core' group in American life right now, but that is going to change as they move into positions where they can assert their heritage."
It's a red-white-and-blue pattern in American history as each immigrant group has developed a congregational, organizational life different from their home countries, Roozen says. Their houses of worship are "more than just houses of prayer, but centers for a whole range of fellowship and community programs just as the German Lutherans, the Irish and Italian Catholics and the Dutch Reform did in centuries before."
The Rev. Eileen Lindner, editor of the Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches, says the integration of Muslims in the mainstream will help break down stereotypes that she calls "ruinous and silly." As American perceptions of Islam change, "we are heading toward true religious pluralism."
Source: USA TODAY, June 18, 2001