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HARTFORD, CT, December 6, 2001 – End of Ramadan December 16th (Eid ul-Fitir) – Muslim mosques are springing up in cities and suburbs across America where the holy month of Ramadan currently is being celebrated as it is around the world.
According to a study now being analyzed at Hartford Seminary, the rapid growth in the number of mosques in the last decade parallels the development of Latter-day Saints (Mormon) and Assemblies of God congregations in the country.
Professor David A. Roozen, director of the Seminary's Hartford Institute for Religion Research, notes that although the first U.S. Muslims came to this country in the 17th century as slaves, the present rapid development of mosques and Islamic centers followed changes in U.S. immigration laws in 1965.
Dr. Jane I. Smith, co-director of the Duncan Black Macdonald Center for the Study of Islam, also located at Hartford Seminary, says that while Muslims have immigrated to America since the late 19th century for a variety of personal, economic and political reasons, it is only fairly recently that, along with African American Muslims, they have reached a "critical mass."
She points out that in the 1980s and 90s mosques and Islamic centers were built with generous contributions from abroad. Now, she says, most are being constructed by American Muslims.
The newest research, completed earlier this year, was part of a massive study of American congregations known as Faith Communities Today. The study was coordinated at Hartford and involved 41 Christian, Jewish and Muslim faith groups.
According to the FACT survey, the number of mosques in the United States increased 42 percent between 1990 and 2000, compared with a 12 percent average increase for the study's evangelical Protestant denominations, and a two percent average increase among oldline Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox groups. The Latter-day Saints and Assemblies of God congregations exceeded the evangelical average, but fell short of the growth in the number of mosques.
The Muslim congregations (also known as by the Arabic term "masjids") generally include several national and ethnic groups. According to Professor Ihsan Bagby, of Shaw University in Raleigh, N.C., who directed the research related to mosques, "most U.S. masjids are intercultural, and include Muslims from Asia and Africa and Europe as well as from several Arab countries." Bagby points out that a racial or ethnic focus is contrary to Qur'anic teaching.
He reports that 93 percent of all U.S. mosques are attended by more than one ethnic group.
"As a matter of fact," Bagby says, "only about 27 percent of U.S. mosques emphasize an ethnic focus and most of these are located in African American neighborhoods." By contrast, among Christians 64 percent of Latino congregations in the United States and 50 percent of African American congregations place a high priority on preserving their racial, ethnic or national heritage.
The study also measured certain devotional and other emphases within congregations. Among mosques for example, 90 percent placed a high emphasis on fasting during the sacred month of Ramadan which Muslims are currently celebrating. By comparison, less than 20 percent of all U.S. congregations put such emphasis on fasting during seasons such as Lent. That figure includes Greek and other Orthodox bodies in the United States that consider fasting a major spiritual discipline. The Ramadan fast is one of the major practices of the Muslim faith.
Abstinence from alcohol is another practice that mosques generally emphasize. Bagby's research indicates that 96 percent of all masjids give significant attention to the Muslim prohibition of drinking alcoholic beverages. Among all religious groups in the U.S. 38 percent of congregations emphasize this.
The Muslim research, co-sponsored by FACT and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), shows that 69 percent of all mosques in the country provide for prayer services five times daily year round. Seventy one percent of all mosques have weekend religious education classes, Bagby reports. (Muslim data can be reviewed at www.cair-net.org/mosquereport)
In terms of membership growth within congregations, the so-called Mega-churches far outdistanced all others. The FACT study measured the percentage of congregations in each faith group that reported at least a 10 percent increase in the number of regularly participating adults between 1995 and 2000. A whopping 83 percent of the mega-churches reported that significant membership growth. Muslim communities were next, with 60 percent of American mosques reporting the rapid increase, followed by 48 percent of Latter-day Saints congregations. Within the Roman Catholic and Orthodox group, 29 percent of the parishes noted such growth. Thirty nine percent of evangelical Protestant congregations and 27 percent of old-line Protestants registered that growth. (see FACToid)
Roozen noted that there has been considerable debate about the number of Muslims in the United States. "There are credible arguments for both the high and the low ends of the projected Muslim population," he said. "We simply don't know how many Muslims there are, but the FACT data certainly suggest that Islam is one of the fastest growing religious groups in the United States."
Roozen credits several factors as contributing to the Muslim growth in the last decade. "Immigration of Muslims who are professional people is significant," he says. "There now are many affluent Muslims in America-individuals with organizational skills and with sufficient financial means to build the mosques and Islamic centers that are now common all across our nation."
There is also a growing self-consciousness and self-confidence among American Muslims, according to the Hartford professor. The events since September 11 of this year indicate that American Muslims are eager to be full participants in the mainstream of U.S. cultural and political life, he said.
Bagby's research, conducted well before the attacks, indicated that 77 percent of Muslims in the U.S. "strongly agree" that they should be involved in American institutions. Another 17 percent "somewhat agree." When asked about participation in the U.S. political system, 72 percent "strongly agreed" that they should be involved with another 17 percent "somewhat agreed."
The Faith Communities Today research was made possible through a grant from the Lilly Endowment. Roozen and Professor Carl S. Dudley are co-directors of the FACT study.
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