A new study shows that the number of mosques in the United States increased 74% between 2000 and 2011:
Researchers conducting the national count found a total of 2,106 Islamic centers, compared to 1,209 in 2000 and 962 in 1994. About one-quarter of the centers were built between 2000-2011, as the community faced intense scrutiny by government officials and a suspicious public. In 2010, protest against an Islamic center near ground zero erupted into a national debate over Islam, extremism and religious freedom. Anti-mosque demonstrations spread to Tennessee, California and other states.
While some are pleased as this suggests Muslims feel comfortable enough in the United States to establish religious congregations, I think there are two other interesting things about these findings:
1. The methodology for counting mosques:
The report released Wednesday, “The American Mosque 2011,” is a tally based on mailing lists, websites and interviews with community leaders, and a survey and interviews with 524 mosque leaders. The research is of special interest given the limited scholarship so far on Muslim houses of worship, which include a wide range of religious traditions, nationalities and languages.
Researchers defined a mosque as a Muslim organization that holds Friday congregational prayers called jumah, conducts other Islamic activities and has operational control of its building. Buildings such as hospitals and schools that have space for Friday prayer were not included. Chapters of the Muslim Student Association at colleges and universities were included only if they had space off-campus or had oversight of the building where prayer was held…
The 2011 mosque study is part of the Faith Communities Today partnership, which researches the more than 300,000 houses of worship in the United States. Among the report’s sponsors are the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, the Islamic Society of North America and Islamic Circle of North America.
I wonder if other researchers might disagree with this methodology, particularly with how a mosque was defined. This is a reminder that it can be difficult to track or count religious groups because there are no master lists, not everyone is in the phone book, and not everyone has a web site. Additionally, religious congregations can quickly form and disband.
(I assume the researchers talk about this in their report but could the increase in mosques could be related to doing a more comprehensive search this time around?)
2. It is interesting to note where the mosques are located:
The overwhelming majority of mosques are in cities, but the number located in suburbs rose from 16 percent in 2000 to 28 percent in 2011. The Northeast once had the largest number of mosques, but Islamic centers are now concentrated in the South and West, the study found. New York still has the greatest number of Islamic centers — 257 — followed by 246 in California and 166 in Texas. Florida is fourth with 118. The shift follows the general pattern of population movement to the South and West.
I am most interested in the figures about the suburban growth as I have tracked several cases of proposals for mosques in the Chicago suburbs. This article doesn’t say but I wonder if the greater number of suburban mosques is because city mosques have moved from city to suburb (which would mirror the movement of Protestant churches out of the city in the post-World War II suburban boom) or because these are new suburban mosques built in response to a growing suburban Muslim population.