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U.S. Mosque Attendance Rises Sharply; Study Finds Average Doubles in Six Years

U.S. Mosque Attendance Rises Sharply; Study Finds Average Doubles in Six Years

Apr 28, 2001

The Washington Post
April 28, 2001 | Bill Broadway
Average weekly attendance at U.S. mosques nearly doubled during the last six years, and the number of mosques increased by one- fourth to more than 1,200, according to a study released this week by four major Muslim organizations.

The study is the most comprehensive analysis so far of Islam in the United States and a major step toward clarifying the size and role of Muslims in American society, said Ihsan Bagby, a professor at Shaw University in Raleigh, N.C., and the project’s lead researcher.
“We recognize we’re growing and it’s time for us to evaluate ourselves, to open up ourselves to scrutiny so we can plan better in the future,” said Bagby, 52, a former United Methodist who converted to Islam at age 20. “We’re no longer [just] little communities. Many of us have buildings with multimillion-dollar projects.”
Demographers for years have noted the increase of Muslims in the country, mainly through immigration and conversion, but the amount of growth has been a matter of debate. Unlike churches and synagogues, most mosques do not maintain membership rolls, making precise counts difficult.
Some observers have called Islam the “fastest-growing religion in the United States,” providing estimates of 10 million to 12 million U.S. Muslims. Others say that such totals are inflated and estimate the Muslim community at less than 2 million.
Bagby said his report falls between those extremes and called his estimate of 6 million to 7 million a “reasonable guess.” He derived the figure by multiplying the number of mosque participants by three – – a rule of thumb he developed through a decade of observing American Islamic practices.
Although mosques usually don’t have membership rolls, most track the number of people who attend Friday services (Jum{grv}ah Prayer), the main communal service for Muslims; children’s Sunday School; and major festivals, Bagby said.
As part of the study, “The Mosque in America: A National Portrait,” Bagby’s research team last year queried leaders at 416 mosques about the frequency of participation.
They determined that the mosques on average have about 1,625 Muslims “associated in some way with the religious life,” including those who attend infrequently. Multiplying that figure by the 1,209 mosques in the United States, the researchers got a total number of “mosqued Muslims” of about 2 million.
The report does not calculate Muslim populations by city. But using his formula and the verified presence of 45 mosques in the Washington area, Bagby estimated that 219,375 Muslims live in this region.
Paul M. Perl, one of the co-authors of the report and a data analyst at the Center for Applied Research in the Apostalate at Georgetown University, said there is no universal formula for calculating religious populations from attendance figures.
Previous telephone surveys indicated that Muslims represent 1 percent to 1.5 percent of the U.S. population, or 3.5 million to 4 million, Perl said. But some immigrant Muslims might have declined to participate because of a language barrier, he said.
The center analyzed the data and provided a preliminary report for the survey, which was sponsored by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Islamic Society of North America, the Ministry of Imam W. Deen Mohammed and the Islamic Circle of North America.
The mosque study was part of a larger congregational survey undertaken by the Institute for Religious Research at Hartford Seminary and released last month. Some mosque questions duplicated a smaller, unpublished survey Bagby conducted in 1994 and offered the first scientific analysis of the growth of Islam in this country.
According to the report, the number of mosques — from small houses to large sanctuaries — increased from 962 in 1994 to 1,209 in 2000. Average attendance at Friday prayer nearly doubled, from 150 to 292. Overall mosque participation grew from 500,000 to 2 million.
Immigrants from South Asia and the Middle East account for the major increases, with conversion contributing at the same rate as in 1994 — about 16 converts annually for each mosque, Bagby said.

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