“Islam,” said David Roozen of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, part of a Protestant 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 10 years.
The report, they said, shows a strong willingness on the part of mosque leaders to encourage worshippers 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 a spike in the number of people who attend Eid prayers, 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 more typical, with 56 percent of mosque leaders describing their own approach as one that sees the Quran 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.
For most of American history, American Muslims have not drawn much attention. That changed on 9/11, but much of the new focus on Muslims has been negative, and depicted American mosques as a breeding ground for radicalism. The House Homeland Security Committee has held a series of widely publicized hearings on the subject.