Category Archives: Islam

Armenian Genocide International Remembrance Day

Editor’s note: This post did not get posted on Tuesday (April 24) because of edits to this site.

Christine Moughamian

By Blogger Christine Moughamian
One Yogini, Many Paths

Today, April 24, 2012 is the International Day of Remembrance for the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1923, when the Muslim Ottoman Empire systematically killed an estimated 1-1.5 million Christian Armenians.

The commemoration is marked in the United States by David Godine’s

release of Franz Werfel’s novel ‘The Forty Days of Musa Dagh.’ The new, expanded translation by James Reidel demands recognition as a major literary and cultural event.

Although a work of fiction, the 1933 novel is based on historical events. In his introduction to the book, Vartan Gregorian, President, Carnegie Corporation of New York, writes:

“…I had read ‘The Forty Days of Musa Dagh’ in Armenian, when I was a teenager, and it had made quite an impression on me…I believed – and still do – that ‘The Forty Days of Musa Dagh’ saved the Armenian genocide from being neglect and gave a literary symbol of survival and renewal to the Armenians.”

The novel centers on the struggle of a small Armenian community in a mountainous region of the former Ottoman Empire as they are deported and exterminated by a totalitarian regime. First published in Austria in November 1933, it achieved international success.

Gregorian says:

“To Armenians, Franz Werfel still embodies the conscience of European literature and its commitment to universal justice and the dignity of man.”

Moreover, it foreshadows the Jewish Holocaust by the Nazis during WWII.


“Project Conversion” – A Lumberton man’s year of burying hatred by exploring 12 different faiths

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Andrew Bowen sat yoga-style in his armchair, absentmindedly fingering a set of Muslim prayer beads in his left hand as he talked about 2011 – his year of conversion.

But he’s not Muslim. In fact, the 29-year-old Lumberton resident doesn’t call himself by any of the 12 faiths he practiced for a month at a time last year.

Not Hindu (January). Not Baha’i (February). Not Zoroastrian (March). Not Jewish (April). Not Buddhist (May). Not agnostic (June). Not Mormon (July). Not Muslim (August). Not Sikh (September). Not Wiccan (October). Not Jain (November). And not Catholic (December).

Finding faith in God again was not Bowen’s aim. This young father of two was looking for faith in humanity.

The hardest decision

Bowen became a Christian in high school and took “a nose dive into fundamentalism,” he said. “It just ignited a furnace in me.”

As a teen, Bowen said he was extremely critical of faiths different from his own. Once when a pair of male Mormon missionaries visited his home, Bowen said he chased them down the street as they retreated on their bicycles.

After high school, Bowen met his wife, Heather, at East Carolina University.

The Bowens had two girls, Shaylie and Nevaeh, and thought their family was complete. But in 2008, Heather’s tubal ligation failed, and she was pregnant with their “miracle baby.”

But the doctors discovered the baby was behind her ovaries, an ectopic pregnancy which threatened Heather’s life.

And Heather and Bowen had to choose to abort the baby, something the couple never dreamed they would do. They were devastated.

“It was a really dark time. I went into a very deep state of depression,” Heather recalled.

Project Conversion

But Heather and her husband dealt with the baby’s death in polar opposite ways.

She bought a devotional Bible and was baptized at a local Baptist church. He plunged into a “two-year stint of just seething hatred toward God.”

The couple fought each time Heather wanted to talk about her growing faith. Still, deep down, Bowen worried his hatred would consume him.

“The best way I can describe it was flying down the road like a bat out of hell toward a wall,” Bowen said. “With any transformation, there’s a fire that has to be applied.”

So Project Conversion was born. He would study and practice one faith each month, guided by a mentor from each belief system. But this was no reality TV stunt.

It was an obsession – his own personal intervention.

“It was 110 percent balls to the walls for me,” Bowen said, describing his dedication to the project.

To find his mentors in late 2010, he had to look outside his tiny, mostly Baptist farm town. His Zoroastrian mentor lives in Chicago. His Jewish mentor lives in Charlotte. His Muslim mentor lives in Fayetteville.

Truthfully, Heather was skeptical about Project Conversion at first.

But she “saw changes in him. He was more patient. There was more of a sense of peace about him,” she said.

His first two weeks each month were spent intensely reading and learning a faith’s tenets and the last half was spent exploring the faith’s practices and rituals and visiting nearby congregations if possible. For his Sikh month, he spent five hours watching YouTube videos on how to tie a turban. During his Jewish month, he spent a weekend visiting different congregations with his Jewish mentor, journalist Michael Solender in Charlotte. He’s filled an entire bookshelf with holy books from his research.

Now as he’s writing a book and speaking about Project Conversion and blogging about the experience for, Bowen is still exploring all he’s learned.

“The most important thing I learned in Buddhism was how to wash dishes. Like there is nothing but this dish. It taught me finally to be quiet,” he said. “With the Mormons, the first thing I did was apologize. It was about humility and being one of them and serving them.”

Islam “showed me how much I was wasting in my life from food to activity. Bowing with the men in the mosque was astounding,” he said.

Catholicism was “a wellspring of expression and arts in worship. It was an ocean I could bury myself in for days and not come up for breath.”

The project also touched the lives of his mentors.

“It was energizing in that it allowed us to really put on the table and discuss conversations my wife and I wouldn’t normally have had with other people,” Solender said.

Bowen was one of the best students of Wicca Greenville resident Melissa Barnhurst has had.

“On the first week, he’d already run into tons of public backlash in the stereotypes against Wicca. But he stuck with it,” she said. “He gave it a lot more than some students who’ve come to wanting to become Wiccan.”

Meanwhile, his wife was still working as a labor and delivery nurse at a local hospital. Things were hard financially, at times, because Bowen wasn’t working.

And then there was November, Jainism and Heather’s least favorite

Andrew Bowen during his Jain month, November 2011. Photo courtesy of Andrew Bowen.

month. Bowen loved becoming a monk, meditating wrapped in his grandmother’s sheets, not bathing and walking with a broom to whisk away any creature in the Jain tradition of respecting all life.

“It was the not bathing or washing your hands,” she said. “The nurse in me was beginning to have a fit.”

Though he admits his experiment caused hardship, the couple had a deal. Bowen put his wife through nursing school. She carried the financial burdens through Project Conversion.

“It was entirely disruptive to our family. We argued more than we ever did, but my kids participated in celebrations, and my wife’s Christianity opened up a whole lot more,” Bowen said.

His wife agrees.

“Faith has become a constant topic in our house,” Heather said. “We may not share a faith. We may never share a faith, but there’s definitely a respect there.”

And now?

Bowen still meditates daily using various prayer books, and he attends Mass occasionally at a Catholic church in Lumberton.

At its essence, Project Conversion was about burying his hatred and learning tolerance.

“For so long, I suffered with ego so now I’m just going to make the faiths of others more beautiful to themselves,” he said. “I don’t think about God now. I just participate.”

Why Muslims are angered by the burning of their holy book

Philip Stine

By Contributor Philip Stine

Many Christians have trouble understanding why the destruction of copies of the Quran brings about such violent reactions from Muslims. This response comes whether the destruction was accidental, as recently occurred on a military base in Afghanistan, or deliberate, as when an American pastor announced his intentions to do this. Westerners tend to think the scriptures or holy writings of other religions have the same significance as the Christian or Jewish scriptures do in their contexts. This is not the case.


Quran (Photo credit: manitoon)

The importance of the Quran in the Muslim faith and in practice is, in some part, derived from the emphasis on the holy writ of Islam’s older sibling traditions of Judaism and Christianity. But Islam is not just one of the three “book religions.” It is significantly more radical in terms of the exalted place it assigns to its book.

A major point of view of the Quran is that throughout history God has sent to nation after nation either a prophet or apostle to lead people in correct understanding. Examples include the Torah being given to Moses, the psalms given to David and the Gospel sent to Jesus, as well as the Quran revealed to Muhammad. The belief is that in the earlier cases the community strayed from the right path and allowed its scripture to be either lost, changed or debased. Consequently, to Muslims, the Quran is a final divine revelation.

Further, because the Quran in Arabic is God’s direct discourse, in Islam there has been a consistent rejection of the notion of translation into other languages. This contrasts with Judaism. Although there has been a tenacious insistence upon the study and use of the Hebrew language, the pragmatic need for congregations who do not know Hebrew to understand the content of the Torah led first to the translation into Greek, the Septuagint. And then there were the post-exile targums, which are Aramaic paraphrases of the Torah. Christianity translated the sacred texts into the vernacular languages from the very beginning, believing that the word of God was compatible with the speech of everyday life in any culture.

Another contrast relates to the understanding of how different writings became recognized as “scripture.” Christians and Jews see the writings collected over a period of time as God dealing with God’s people in different ways at different times. But Muslims see revelation as having been sent in one final culminating time in the course of one prophetic career.

Most significantly, Jews and Christians accept their scriptures contain the word of God. Muslims see the Quran as the verbatim speech of God, given once and for all through a single chosen prophet. The very word Quran is a verbal noun derived from the Arabic root Q-R-‘, the basic sense of which is “to recite, read aloud.” The Quran is the recitation God gave to Muhammad. As followers recite it, they are reminded constantly of God’s presence.

For Jews, the prime medium of encounter between God and humans is the Torah. But this is not understood simply as scriptural text but as divine will, cosmic order, and human responsibility, to which the Torah is the guide.

For Christians, the encounter comes first and foremost through the person and life of Christ. This is accessible, but not exclusively so, in scripture.

In Islam, on the other hand, it is in the concrete text, the very words of the Quran, that Muslims most directly experience God. Scripture in Islam is itself the divine presence as well as the mediator of divine will and divine grace. In the Quran, God speaks with his own voice, not through inspired human writers. Thus it is not an exaggeration to compare Quran recitation with the Christian Eucharist. Nor is it exaggeration to say that the closest equivalent to the Quran for the Christian is not the Bible but the person Jesus Christ, who is the word of God incarnate in the Christian tradition.

It should be no wonder then that the desecration of copies of the Quran by non-believers brings about deep sadness and anger for Muslims, and in recent cases, retribution.

Study offers view of religious life behind prison walls

Two inmates in the InnerChange Freedom Initiative at the Minnesota Correctional Facility-Lino Lakes, join together in prayer as part of the Christian-based program in their medium-security unit. The program developed by Prison Fellowship aims to reduce the chances they'll return behind bars, but has been labeled unconstitutional in a lawsuit. Photo by Steve Wewerka.

c. 2012 Religion News Service
Reprinted with permission

WASHINGTON (RNS) Behind high prison walls and rolls of barbed wire, Muslim and pagan inmates are most likely to have extreme religious views and be the least assisted by religious volunteers.

Most prisoners who want religious books will get them, but wearing a beard is far less likely to be permitted. And the majority of chaplains who serve convicted murderers, thieves and other criminals are satisfied with their jobs.

Those and other findings form a snapshot of religious life behind bars in a report that was released Thursday (March 22) by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, based on the perceptions of 730 chaplains who serve in the nation’s state prison systems.

As the U.S. has grown more religiously diverse, the prison population has, too, but often in different directions, said Stephanie Boddie, a senior researcher on the study.

“The unaffiliated is growing in the general population but it’s decreasing in the prison population,” said Boddie, who noted the Pew findings are based on the impressions of chaplains rather than official prison statistics.

“We also have 1 percent of Muslims in the general population but in some of the prisons we had as high as 20 percent, and in some prisons they had 0 percent.”

The majority of chaplains reported a significant amount of “religious switching,” and said it’s common for inmates to try to convert other prisoners. But Cary Funk, another senior researcher with the study, said chaplains report that some of those conversions may be short-lived.

“Inmates can be motivated by things that on the outside we might take for granted but on the inside have a lot more value — things like special food, special holidays,” she said. “One chaplain put it that they were privilege-based conversions not religious-based conversions.”

While a sizable minority of chaplains says religious extremism is common among prisoners, only 4 percent said it “almost always” poses a threat to prison security. Muslim chaplains were less likely to say they had encountered widespread religious extremism.

Boddie said generally the chaplains were not dealing with what might usually be considered “extremism” by people outside prison walls.

“They don’t talk as much about some of the ways that possibly are more commonly thought of in terms of anti-government or anti-authority and violence,” she said.

The chaplains described extremism as intolerance of racial or social groups, religious exclusivity and particular requests for accommodation, such as asking for raw meat for a Voodoo ritual. Close to half said their prisons have consulted with experts about suspected religious extremism or provided extra supervision for religious meetings.

The vast majority of chaplains are Christian and they are mostly white, male, middle-aged and conservative in their theological and political beliefs. The chaplains often reported that they had more Christian volunteers than necessary but lacked Muslim, pagan and Native American volunteers.

Tom O’Connor, a former Oregon prison chaplain who runs the company Transforming Corrections, said more trained volunteers are needed to help move inmates away from anti-social behavior. But he said he was heartened to learn that researchers found that Muslim chaplains constituted 7 percent of the respondents, and cited a program at Hartford Seminary that is training new prospects.

“More and more, Islam is producing chaplains in America because we desperately do need more of them,” said O’Connor, who advised researchers on the study.

But O’Connor cautioned against lumping too many diverse beliefs together when considering what might be extreme behavior. In the Pew report, Muslims included the Nation of Islam, a movement founded on black pride and racial separation, and pagan and earth-based religions included Asatru, which is sometimes associated with white supremacists.

“I’ve never come across a racially superior-inclined Wiccan,” he said.

Prisoner requests for religious accommodation reflect a range of faiths. Chaplains said about half of the requests tend to be granted for special religious diets and sacred items such as turbans, crucifixes and eagle feathers.

Despite the lack of certain kinds of volunteers and the time spent on paperwork rather than religious services, about two-thirds of chaplains report high job satisfaction.

But they say work needs to be done. Hardly any think the prison system is doing an excellent job on preparing prisoners to re-enter society. And there is near consensus among the chaplains that first-time nonviolent offenders should be sentenced to community service or mandatory drug counseling instead of prison terms.

The survey was based on a response rate of about 50 percent from 1,474 chaplains who were asked to complete Web or paper questionnaires last year, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.6 percentage points.

A prison chapel that started with a plow – Pender Correctional breaks ground on its new chapel

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Since the future prison chapel at Pender Correctional Institution in Burgaw began as a community effort, with more than 100 local churches and individuals giving money, its groundbreaking today (March 14) was no different.

“At most groundbreakings, you see folks with their shiny silver or gold shovels turning a little bit of dirt,” said the prison’s contract Chaplain Jimmy Joseph. “But we have a lot of dirt to move today so you all get to be the mules.”

In the prison yard, about 30 corrections officials, leaders with N.C. Baptist Men, the Burgaw mayor and community members grabbed a long thick rope attached to an old farm plow with Joseph at the helm.

“And pull,” the chaplain shouted. Tug-of-war-style, attendees in coats, ties and skirts leaned back on their rope section, pulling that plow and breaking ground on the 4,200 square foot facility. The community has been planning and fundraising for this day for the last six years.

In his speech chronicling the long road to building the chapel, retired Chaplain James Spiritosanto said: “It took King Solomon 46 years to build the Temple, and I’m happy to report, we are ahead of schedule.”

The need for a chapel became apparent to the prison’s chaplains over years of trying to schedule the hundreds of inmates who wanted to participate in the prison’s faith curriculum into a classroom that will only fit 30 at a time.

The new building’s auditorium will seat 200. There are 768 inmates in the prison, Joseph said.

The chapel will also have two classrooms, offices for the chaplaincy staff, restrooms and storage space. A large stained glass window in the gable of the auditorium will capture eastern light in the mornings. The building will be a wood-framed structure with brick veneer to match the other buildings in the prison.

With the help of volunteer labor from N.C. Baptist Men, Joseph hopes to be cutting a grand opening ribbon on the chapel in six months. Pender’s chapel project is the first construction task inside a prison for the N.C. Baptist Men.

“We found it to be a worthy project. How could we say no?” said Gaylon Moss, coordinator of disaster relief and volunteerism for the group.

This project was also a first for the North Carolina Department of Corrections. Usually, the prison system takes bids from licensed contractors to complete prison building projects. But the majority of labor on this project will be volunteers, along with area contractors who are overseeing the construction.

His voice shaking with emotion, the project’s contractor Billy Soots told attendees, “I hope this project is a light to this community, to this campus and enriches the kingdom of God.”

Belief Bytes: Tuesday’s Religion News Roundup

A slam-dunking elephant, courtesy of RNS archives.

Here is your Religion News Roundup for today:

c. Religion News Service 2012
Reprinted with permission

“Meanwhile, American Atheists are putting up billboards in Jewish and Muslim neighborhoods, and the Freedom From Religion Foundation is proselytizing: their NYT ad calls on liberal Catholics to leave the church, and to stop “enabling” all the Bad Things That Have Ever Happened Anywhere.

The church’s lawyers may be doing the FFRF’s job for them: Laurie Goodstein reports on a Catholic legal crusade against the organization that has helped thousands of people who were abused by clergy as children. Interesting PR strategy.

The Anonymous hackers just can’t quit on the Vatican. This time they are targeting Vatican Radio. (That is your scribe’s alma mater, so I take it personally. But don’t hold it against me, hackers. Please.)

News Lead of the Day: ‘Four Amish youths were charged with underage drinking after they crashed their horse-drawn buggy into a police cruiser in upstate New York…'”

Read the rest of the article here:

-Samantha Freda, Wilmington Faith and Values, news intern

Pender prison to break ground on its chapel Wednesday

Wilmington Faith and Values

It’s been six years of fundraising with donations coming from 74 area churches and 88 people in Southeastern North Carolina. But this week Pender Correctional Institution in Burgaw will break ground on its freestanding chapel.

PCI will hold a groundbreaking ceremony for the 4,200 square foot facility at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday. Only invited guests can attend.

With labor donated from N.C. Baptist Men, the Pender County prison hopes to complete its new chapel in six months.

For many years, the space used as the chapel in the prison was a 20 foot by 24 foot classroom space, the walls lined with bookshelves full of holy texts and reference material for different faiths.

In the North Carolina prison system, privately-funded chapels are fairly rare. According to N.C. prison system records, as of 2010, out of the state’s 70 prisons with chapels, only nine were built with private money.

The new building’s auditorium will seat 200, where the former room seated 30. There are 768 inmates in the prison, said Pender Correctional Chaplain Jimmy Joseph.

The chapel will also have two classrooms, offices for the chaplaincy staff, restrooms and storage space. A large stained glass window in the gable of the auditorium will capture eastern light in the mornings, “creating a worshipful atmosphere in the building,” Joseph wrote in an email. The building will be a wood framed structure with brick veneer to match the other buildings in the prison.

Stay tuned for more on this story. Wilmington Faith and Values reporters will attend the ceremony on Wednesday.

BREAKING NEWS: Raleigh judge overrides Wilmington judge’s ruling, releases N.C. teacher on bond in beheading plot case

Nevine Aly Elshiekh's police mugshot

The News & Observer in Raleigh is reporting Nevine Aly Elshiekh, a Morrisville teacher allegedly involved in a murder for hire plot and who was being held without bail in the New Hanover County Detention Center, will be released to her 80-year-old father next week.

Prosecutors allege Elshiekh was the go-between for

Dr. Aly Elshiekh, the father of Nevine Aly Elshiekh talks with his family after testifying at his daughter Nevine Elshiekh's first hearing Friday Feb. 3 in Wilmington, NC. Photo by Sara Clark

Hysen Sherifi, a convicted terrorist giving her instructions to hire a hit man to behead former witnesses in his case. Sherifi was being housed in the New Hanover jail, and prosecutors say meetings about a hit man took place in Wilmington.

Judge Will Britt oversaw Elshiekh’s appeal hearing in Raleigh Thursday. He overruled Judge Robert Jones’ former decision not to grant a release for Elshiekh. But there are special conditions for her release and bond is set at $1 million.

Read more about those conditions here.

– Amanda Greene

Muslims launch campaign to ‘understand’ Shariah

Anti-Shariah demonstrators rally against a proposed mosque near Ground Zero in New York. RNS photo courtesy Asterio Tecson.

c. 2012 Religion News Service
Reprinted with permission

(RNS) Against a backdrop of heartland fears that U.S. Muslims seek to impose Islamic law on American courts, a leading Muslim group will launch a campaign on Monday (March 5) to dispel what it called misconceptions about Shariah.

The “Defending Religious Freedom: Understanding Shariah” campaign comes at a time when more than 20 states are considering or have passed laws forbidding judges from considering Shariah in their deliberations.

Many Americans associate Shariah with the harsh punishments carried out in a few Muslim countries like Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia, even as U.S. Muslim groups insist they have no desire to introduce Islamic law on themselves or others.

“There were all these wrong notions about Shariah,” said professor Zahid Bukhari, president of the Islamic Circle of North America, which is sponsoring the campaign.

The most worrisome thing, he said, was that the level of hatred toward Shariah had spread from the margins of society to the mainstream. The ICNA campaign has already drawn fire from “anti-Shariah” groups in the United States.

The roughly $3 million dollar campaign will feature billboards in at least 15 U.S. cities, “Shariah seminars” on 20 college campuses, and town hall-style forums and interfaith events in 25 cities.

A Shariah billboard encourages readers to ask questions and call the toll-free number or visit the campaign website. RNS photo courtesy ICNA.

Sponsors also set-up a 1-855-SHARIAH hotline where callers can ask volunteers about Islamic law, and has even hired an outside public relations firm, The TASC Group in New York City, to shepherd the effort.

At least two billboards are already up. “Shariah is not scary” is the message that flashes on an electronic billboard above New York City’s Holland Tunnel, seen by an estimated 120,000 people every day. Another billboard on I-70 in Kansas City reads “Shariah: Got Questions? Get Answers,” and lists the toll-free number and campaign website.

In March, ICNA will sponsor town hall meetings or lectures in Dallas, Houston, Chicago, Boston, and several other U.S. cities and college campuses.

Even before the campaign was launched, there was already pushback from two groups, the American Freedom Defense Initiative and Stop the Islamization of Nations, both categorized as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Pamela Geller, a founder of both groups and a lead organizer of the opposition to a proposed Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero, called the campaign “a complete whitewash.”

The two groups have designed a billboard parodying ICNA’s Kansas City billboard. “Shariah: Got Fatwa? Get help!” it says, along with a toll-free number and website, neither of which worked.

Geller wrote on her blog that the Quran endorses wife beating and mandates that a woman’s testimony is worth half that of a man’s. Shariah, she said, mandates the death penalty for apostasy and the subjugation of non-Muslims.

Muslim scholars counter that Geller and like-minded critics cherry-pick from Islamic scripture or quote it out of context to paint a false picture of Shariah.

Sheikh Abdool Rahman Khan, an ICNA Shariah expert and resident scholar at the Islamic Learning Foundation outside Chicago, acknowledged that early Islamic law said a woman’s testimony was worth half a man’s, but only in some areas, such as finance and medicine, where there were few women bankers or doctors.

“It wasn’t about equality, it was about participation of women in certain professions,” Rahman said.

Modern Shariah scholars reason that because there are now many women in finance and business, their testimonies are equal to a man’s, Rahman said. In practice, that means a woman can certify a medical diagnosis or sign a business contract by herself.

“If you are looking for problematic texts in the Quran, yes, they exist. They also exist in the Bible and Torah and other books,” said Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im of the Emory University School of Law in Atlanta.

“But Christians aren’t judged based on what the Bible said 2,000 years ago, but on how they behave today. Why are Muslims judged according to these literalist interpretations, and not according to how the vast majority of good Muslims behave today?”

Bukhari acknowledged that some imams interpret Shariah in misogynistic or intolerant ways, and that ICNA recognizes the problem. The solution, he said, was better training for imams.

“The Muslim community also needs to be educated about Shariah,” said Bukhari, “and we will be having these programs also for Muslims.”

U.S. mosques report rapid growth in last 10 years, much of it in the South

Worshippers pray during Friday prayers at the Muhammad Islamic Center in Hartford, Conn., which was founded 50 years ago by Malcolm X. Religion News Service photo by Michael Falco.

c. 2012 Religion News Service
Reprinted with permission

WASHINGTON (RNS) The number of mosques in America has jumped 74 percent since 2000, and the majority of them — 56 percent — espouse a less-than-literal approach to interpreting Islam’s holy texts.

These are some of the findings of a major new survey of American mosques that was released Wednesday (Feb. 29), the third study produced by a coalition of Islamic civic groups and Muslim and non-Muslim religion scholars.

“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

English: African American Muslim convert, Imam...

Imam Siraj Wahhaj, at the 42nd Islamic Society of North America convention in Chicago, September 2007. Image via Wikipedia

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.

But the 524 mosque leaders who were interviewed for the report tell a different story, according to the survey. Asked whether they agree that American Muslims should be involved in American institutions, 98 percent agree or strongly agree; none strongly disagree.

And 91 percent of mosque leaders either agree or strongly agree that Muslims should participate in the American political process.

Zahid Bukhari, president of the Islamic Circle of North America, suggested American politicians — from presidential candidates to local office seekers — should reach out to Muslims voters. “Visit a mosque,” he said.

The study also reveals the diversity of American mosques. Among regular mosque participants, 33 percent are South Asian, 27 percent are Arab, and 24 percent are African-American.

Other findings of the report include:

— A steady conversion rate. In 2011, the average number of converts per mosque was 15.3 compared to 16.3 in 2000.

— A decrease in the number of mosques in urban areas and an increase in suburban mosques. In 2000, 16 percent of mosques were located in the suburbs, compared to 28 percent in 2011.

— A shift in geographic distribution of mosques, which in 2000 were mostly concentrated in the Northeast. In 2011, the South had the greatest number of mosques, 34 percent, compared to 26 percent in 2000.

— About 7 percent of the mosques surveyed identified as Shiite, with the greatest proportion located in the West (37 percent).

The survey is part of a larger, continuing study of American congregations called Faith Communities Today, a multifaith effort.

The mosque survey in particular was sponsored by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research at Hartford Seminary; the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies; the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Islamic Society of North America, the Islamic Circle of North American and the International Institute of Islamic Thought.