An Oklahoma City imam has expanded Friday prayer services due to growth of the local Muslim population.
That’s why Imad Enchassi, imam and president of the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City, said he is not surprised by a recent report predicting that the U.S. Muslim population will double in the next 20 years.
He said Juma prayers, the requisite Islamic congregational prayer services on Fridays, have been so crowded at the society’s mosque that two additional services are being held at a recently opened Islamic school.
“Muslims in Oklahoma, we can feel the growth,” Enchassi said.
The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released its report, “The Future of the Global Muslim Population,” on Jan. 27. The report said the increase in the Muslim population is fueled by immigration and higher-than-average fertility rates.
According to the report, the number of Muslims in the United States is projected to rise from 2.6 million, or 0.8 percent of the U.S. population, to 6.2 million, or 1.7 percent in 2030.
That rate of growth would make Muslims about as numerous as Jews or Episcopalians in the U.S. today, the report said.
The report comes as some critics accuse Muslim Americans of seeking to impose Shariah, or Islamic law, in the U.S., and some Europeans raise the specter of a Muslim-dominated “Eurasia” if countries don’t tighten immigration. In Oklahoma, a majority of voters approved a constitutional amendment prohibiting the use of Islamic law or international law. A federal judge imposed a temporary injunction on the ban after a Muslim leader filed a lawsuit saying the amendment is unconstitutional.
Even so, the Pew report authors said fears of a Muslim takeover of Western society or Muslim global domination are overblown.
“The numbers are very far away from the Eurasia scenario of runaway growth,” said Alan Cooperman, one of the report’s co-authors.
Although Muslim populations in some Western countries are expected to double in the next 20 years, they would still not be high enough to fundamentally shift the religious or ethnic balance of European societies, the authors said.
Even some conservatives expressed skepticism at the idea of homegrown Islamic fundamentalism threatening to overtake the U.S.
“We welcome all Muslims here who pledge allegiance to the Constitution, and believe in the separation of religion and state,” said the Rev. Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Liberty Commission. “I don’t worry about Shariah creep, because Americans won’t let it happen.”
Researchers also found that nearly two-thirds (64.5 percent) of Muslim Americans are immigrants, while 35.5 percent were born in the U.S. — a figure that is projected to rise to almost 45 percent by 2030.
Assuming that many of these young immigrants start families, the number of U.S. Muslims younger than 15 will more than triple by 2030, to 1.8 million in 2030.
According to the report, the world’s Muslim population is expected to increase by about 35 percent in the next 20 years — rising from 1.6 billion in 2010 to 2.2 billion by 2030 — compared to general population growth rate of about 16 percent.
If current trends continue, Muslims will make up 26.4 percent of the world’s total projected population of 8.3 billion in 2030, up from 23.4 percent of the estimated 2010 world population of 6.9 billion.
Enchassi said mosques in Oklahoma have been doubling and even tripling in size.
He said the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City started in 1997 with about 67 people attending services at the mosque. He said the mosque at 3815 N St. Clair has been expanded twice since then and still needs additional space.
Enchassi said he now offers a Juma prayer service that draws between 700 and 800 people to the mosque each week. He said to combat overcrowding, local Muslims also have been encouraged to attend two Juma prayer services offered each week at Mercy School in northwest Oklahoma City. Enchassi said each of the services at the school has drawn about 300 people in recent weeks.
He said those numbers increase when there is an Islamic holiday, and leaders have installed TVs in some areas of the mosque to accommodate the overflow crowd.
Enchassi said he attributes the numbers to immigration and fertility rates, like the report. But he said the Midwest has seen an increase in Muslims due to the economic woes of other states. He said many Muslims have moved from other states to places such as Oklahoma to open their businesses and shops.
Enchassi also said more people are converting to Islam, particularly people who are marrying into the faith. He said blacks continue to make up a large portion of the conversions.
Sheryl Siddiqui, of Tulsa, is spokeswoman for the Islamic Council of Oklahoma.
Like Enchassi, she said the Pew report held no surprises.
She said that more than half of the Tulsa-area Muslims are American by birth, and a majority of that group is black. She said the next-largest group of American-born Muslims is children of immigrants who came to the United States to study or lend their technical expertise to some business venture. She said first-generation immigrants often move to rural areas to open medical practices or small businesses, and this is common among Oklahoma Muslims.
She said converts and children of converts, too, make up a large portion of the growth.
“A common theme from converts is that their view of Islam was diametrically changed by studying the faith’s respected sources,” Siddiqui said.
Enchassi said he has seen negative publicity about Islam serve to increase the public’s curiosity about the faith. Some of those who start out curious about the faith have now converted, he said.
“Several people have learned more about the faith and decided to convert,” he said.
He said negativity toward Islam has also spurred some Muslim youths to promote the positives of their faith at their schools and universities. Enchassi said he believes this increased evangelization also has contributed to more conversions.
Meanwhile, Siddiqui said she doesn’t think it is appropriate for people of other faiths to feel threatened by the statistics.
“Unanticipated events will occur, changing trends and forecasts, especially 20 years out,” she said.
“It is more important for all of us of all beliefs to live out our values by working together to address the crises before us today — poverty, unemployment, unequal access to academic opportunities, injustices and security issues.”
CONTRIBUTING: Religion News Service