- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 29, 2012

NEW YORK — The number of American mosques has increased dramatically in the last decade despite protests aimed at Muslim houses of worship in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, according to a new study.

Researchers conducting the national count found a total of 2,106 Islamic centers, compared to 1,209 in 2000 and 962 in 1994, the increase reflecting Muslims moving into the suburbs and the arrival of newer immigrants from Africa, Iraq and elsewhere.

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, a protest against a mosque near the former World Trade Center site erupted into a national debate over Islam, extremism and religious freedom. Anti-mosque demonstrations spread to Tennessee, California and other states.

Ihsan Bagby, a professor at the University of Kentucky and lead author of the study, said the findings show Muslims are carving out a place for themselves despite the backlash.


“This is a growing, healthy Muslim community that is well integrated into America,” he said. “I think that is the best message we can send to the world and the Muslim world in particular.”

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 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.

The study found the ethnic makeup of mosque participants largely unchanged from 2000. South Asians comprise about one-third of participants, while Arabs and blacks are about one-quarter each. Mr. Bagby found a slight increase in the percentage of Muslims from West Africa and Somalia.

An influx of Iraqi and Iranian refugees is behind a jump in the number of Shiite mosques since the 1990s, though Shiites still represent a very small percentage of the U.S. Muslim population.