Growth of Islamic community in U.S. explored in new survey

American Muslims becoming more active in political process

April 27, 2001|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - The number of American mosques increased by 25 percent over the past seven years, a response to the rapid growth of the Muslim community fueled by immigration, conversion and a higher than average birthrate, according to a national survey released yesterday.

"The Mosque in America: A National Portrait," which its authors called the largest and most comprehensive look at Islam in the United States, also found that four-fifths of mosques are in metropolitan areas, most are decidedly nonfundamentalist in outlook and three-quarters reported increased attendance over the past five years.

And Muslims say they are increasingly inclined to be involved in the political process.

Last year, for the first time , the nation's major Islamic groups organized themselves into a bloc that endorsed George W. Bush for president and worked hard to register voters and increase Muslim turnout at the polls.

"Muslim involvement in the political process is relatively new," said Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, at a news conference to release the survey.

"Muslims are uniting themselves to vote together on issues, not on candidates. It happened to be George Bush [last year]. It may be another person in four years."

Black membership grows

The study was coordinated by the Hartford (Conn.) Seminary Institute for Religious Research as part of an interreligious study of 14,300 U.S. congregations.

It highlighted the increasing embrace of Islam by African-Americans. It found that blacks form the second-largest Muslim group in this country, accounting for 30 percent of the total, while South Asians represent 33 percent and Arabs make up 25 percent.

"Any one of the three groups are represented in nearly every mosque in America," said Ihsan Bagby, a professor of international relations at Shaw University in Raleigh, N.C., and the survey's primary researcher.

But African-Americans represent 63 percent of all converts to Islam, with whites accounting for 27 percent and Hispanics 6 percent of the total. The survey counted only those most Muslims would recognize as practicing orthodox Islam and therefore did not count members of the Nation of Islam.

Muslims are fairly evenly spread over the country, with 30 percent of mosques in New England and the East, 29 percent in the Midwest, 26 percent in the South and 15 percent in the West.

John L. Esposito, director of Georgetown University's Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, said the study "shows not just the growth of Islam, but the fact that Muslims can be found throughout the landscape of the United States."

The survey also attempts to answer the thorny question of how many Muslims there are in the United States. Estimates have ranged from about 4 million, based on telephone surveys, to as many as 12 million.

50,000 in Maryland

The new report estimated that about 2 million Muslims are associated with about 1,200 mosques and Muslim Student Associations in the country, meaning they customarily attend prayers on the major Muslim holidays. About a quarter of that number attend with regularity.

Extrapolating from that figure, Bagby estimates a Muslim population of between 6 million and 7 million, a figure that will undoubtedly be challenged by other researchers. There are an estimated 50,000 Muslims in Maryland.

Islamic leaders say they hope the results of the survey will convince the public that Muslims have joined the mainstream.

"Muslims are beginning to be seen as people in this society and no longer just these foreign, exotic people overseas that are easy to stereotype," said Ibrahim Hooper, the communications of the Islamic Relations council director and himself a convert.

"Therefore it's harder to stereotype people - maybe your child's doctor is a Muslim, the bus driver is a Muslim, the checkout person at Wal-Mart might be a Muslim."

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