Mosque study shows rapid U.S. growth in last decade

February 29, 2012

The number of mosques in America has jumped 74 percent since 2000,
and the majority of them—56 percent— espouse a less-than-literal
approach to interpreting Islam's holy texts.

These are some of the
findings of a major new survey of American mosques that was released
February 29, the third study produced by a coalition of Islamic civic
groups and Muslim and non-Muslim religion scholars. "Islam," said David
Roozen of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, part of Hartford
Seminary, "is one of the few growth spots in America's religious
mosaic."

Leaders of the institutions that sponsored the survey
offered it as a counterargument to the currents of Islamophobia that
they say have tainted much political and personal discourse during the
past ten years. The report, they said, shows a strong willingness on the
part of mosque leaders to encourage worshipers to engage in American
society, including its politics.

"Post-9/11, I was really afraid
of the new negative attitude Muslims were receiving," said Safaa
Zarzour, secretary general of the Islamic Society of North America. "It
made me feel that Muslim communities would feel marginalized from
American society, and that to me is where things can become dangerous."

But
that did not happen, he continued. "We see outreach and engagement
among mosques—mosques with food pantries, medical clinics. You have
people who can look at mosques in their neighborhood and see Muslims as
people who can help, not people to be feared."

The survey, "The
American Mosque 2011," counted 2,106 mosques in the nation and reported a
spike in the number of people who attend prayers during Eid, the Muslim
holy days that tend to attract more people than any other. In 2011, the
survey found 2.6 million people had gone to Eid prayers, up from 2
million in 2000.

That last figure challenges many previous
estimates of the U.S. Muslim population, which generally fall well below
3 million. Given the number of Muslims who do not pray the Eid prayers,
the total number of Muslims in the U.S. likely exceeds 3 million,
perhaps by more than a million, the study's authors conclude.

Within
those mosques, a more flexible attitude toward the interpretation of
Islam is the most typical, with 56 percent of mosque leaders describing
their own approach as one that sees the Qur'an and other Muslim holy
writings as a guide relevant to modern life.

Of the remaining
mosque leaders surveyed, 31 percent take a more conservative approach
and base their interpretations on centuries of Islamic scholarship.
Another 11 percent follow a single, traditional religious school of
thought. Just 1 percent followed a strict interpretation that the
study's authors likened to Wahhabism, the brand of Islam that
predominates in Saudi Arabia.

Zahid Bukhari, president of the
Islamic Circle of North America, suggested that American
politicians—from presidential candidates to local office seekers—should
reach out to Muslim voters. "Visit a mosque," he said.

The study
also reveals the diversity of American mosques. Among regular mosque
participants, 33 percent are South Asian, 27 percent are Arab and 24
percent are African American.

Among other findings of the report:

  • A steady conversion rate. In 2011, the average number of converts per mosque was 15.3, compared to 16.3 in 2000.
  • A decrease in the number of mosques in urban areas and an increase in
    suburban mosques. In 2000, 16 percent of mosques were located in the
    suburbs, compared to 28 percent in 2011.
  • A shift in geographic
    distribution of mosques, which in 2000 were mostly concentrated in the
    Northeast. In 2011, the South had the greatest number of mosques, 34
    percent, compared to 26 percent in 2000.
  • About 7 percent of the mosques surveyed identified as Shi'ite, with the greatest proportion located in the West (37 percent).

The survey is part of a larger, continuing study of American congregations called Faith Communities Today, a multifaith effort.

Sponsors
of the mosque survey in addition to the Hartford Institute were the
Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies, the Council
on American-Islamic Relations, the Islamic Society of North America, the
Islamic Circle of North America and the International Institute of
Islamic Thought.  —RNS