WASHINGTON — Mosques are taking root across the United States “at a tremendous rate,” but there’s no proof that radicalism is brewing among young Muslim Americans, a report published Wednesday says.
The US Mosque Survey 2011 counted 2,106 mosques in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia, up 74 percent from 2000 — the year before the September 11 attacks — when 1,209 mosques were counted.
Some 192 mosques are in the greater New York City area, and 120 in southern California, but there are as many as 166 in Texas, 118 in Florida, and even two in Montana where fewer than one percent of the population is non-Christian.
“Over the past decade, the total number of mosques in the United States has continued to grow at a tremendous rate,” says the report, part of a larger multi-faith study of American congregations called Faith Communities Today.
That overall figure pales against the 322,000 Christian churches in the United States, as estimated by the Hartford Institute for Religious Research.
But amid the boom, the vast majority of mosque leaders — 87 percent — told the report’s field researchers they disagreed with a perception that radicalism is increasing among Muslim youth.
In fact, for many mosque leaders, “the real challenge for them is not radicalism and extremism among the youth, but attracting them and keeping them close to the mosque,” the report said.
That issue is not unique to Islam, said David Roozen, director of the Hartford Institute, who explained that in the United States today, “the fastest growing group are the non-religious.”
The report also found that only 25 percent of mosque leaders in 2011 thought “American society is hostile to Islam,” down from more than 50 percent in 2000. And 55 percent disagreed when asked if American society was “immoral.”
Ninety-eight percent felt Muslims should be involved in American institutions, and — in this election year — 91 percent agreed that Muslims should be involved in politics.
“The Muslim community in America is genuine, healthy, vibrant and becoming more and more a part of the American landscape,” said associate professor Ihsan Bagby of the University of Kentucky, who wrote the report.
“The reality is that every middle-sized town in America has a mosque,” Bagby told reporters in Washington, adding that even in his adopted state, “all through the mountains of Kentucky you’ll find mosques.”
The surge in mosques — in a nation still traumatised by 9/11 — is due in part to an influx of Muslim immigrants and refugees, notably Somalis, Iraqis, west Africans and Bosnians, in recent years, the report states.
Other factors include a migration of Muslims to residential suburbs and a growing prosperity among Muslim Americans that enables them to pool funds for new mosques in their communities, it added.
Largely stable over a decade has been the ethnic diversity of regular mosque-goers. Nationwide, one-third of them were of South Asian heritage, 27 percent of Arab descent and 24 percent African American.
“We’re sure that American Muslims feel at home,” said Nihad Awad, national executive director of the Council on America-Islamic Relations. “They believe in the American dream and they believe in their fellow Americans.”
“The Muslim community has kept its eye on the prize… to strive to become part of the mainstream of America,” added Safaa Zarzour, secretary general of the Islamic Society of North America, who also attended the report’s launch.