But some Muslim leaders are beginning to wonder whether this assimilation will weaken their religious communities. Will people continue to adhere to the faith? Will the mosques continue to be a center of community life? Will the holiday traditions simply pass away with an older generation?
The high rates of interfaith marriage are a cause and an effect of lower attendance rates at mosques, Turk says. He says that of the roughly 750,000 Muslims living in Southern California, just 30,000, or about 4 percent, regularly attend Friday prayer.
But few Muslim leaders I spoke with had thought about this trend’s long-term effects. Because the Jewish community has been wrestling with this issue for so long, some of its leaders were willing to speculate about the road that Muslims are headed down. Jonathan Sarna, a history professor at Brandeis University, has studied intermarriage of Jews and other religious groups. Although Muslims worldwide are in no way facing the kind of demographic decline that Jews are, he says that if American Muslims want to encourage Muslims to marry Muslims, they could create more opportunities for men and women to meet long before they’re considering marriage — be it at summer camps, youth groups and certain kinds of schools or colleges.
“Throwing people together in intensive kinds of activities is so wonderful because on the one hand, people are making free choice, the ultimate American value,” Sarna says, “and on the other hand, people they can choose from conveniently all have the same faith background.”
But there are less concrete ideas that Muslim leaders might consider, Sarna says. He thinks they need to explain to young people and their parents why they should marry among themselves: “Even as we celebrate America for making the melting pot possible — and I at least celebrate the America that has allowed people of different races to marry — nevertheless they need to articulate a rhetoric that they want to preserve Islam in America.”
And that can happen, he says, only “if Muslims marry other Muslims.”
Naomi Schaefer Riley is the author of “ ’Til Faith Do Us Part: How Interfaith Marriage Is Transforming America.”
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