Muhammad Ndiaye is halfway through his Friday sermon when he realizes his Northwestside mosque is so crowded that men are listening from a kitchen in the back.
He halts his lecture — about the narrow path to heaven — to urge the men and boys already seated on the floor to scoot up.
“Make room for others,” Ndiaye said, “and Allah will make room for you.”
Making room for others has been an ongoing task around Indianapolis in recent years, as existing local mosques have swollen in size and other fledgling prayer groups have blossomed into full-blown congregations in need of bigger quarters.
In Indianapolis and across the country, though, efforts to gauge the size of the Muslim population seem to miss that sense of growth. Muslims are particularly concerned that surveys have vastly underestimated the real size of their population, which could undermine their political clout.
So, beginning this week, Muslim organizations have taken it upon themselves to start an ambitious new census: an attempt to account for every mosque and Muslim in America.
A key sponsor is the Plainfield-based Islamic Society of North America, which hopes data from the count also will help Muslims better understand where mosques and Islamic schools are needed. That could be especially helpful in ISNA’s effort to build an “American Islam” that avoids the sectarian or ethnic lines that divide Muslims elsewhere.
Numbers raise questions
Muslim advocacy groups such as the Council on American Islamic Relations routinely cite a span of 6 million to 8 million people in describing the size of Islam in America.
That would be between 2 percent and 3 percent of the U.S. population and make Muslims greater in number than Mormons or Jews.
That claim stands in sharp contrast to the results of a survey last year by the Pew Research Center, which found the population was 2.35 million, or 0.6 percent of the U.S. population, based on phone surveys.
In fact, Pew’s finding means Muslims are fewer in number than Buddhists or Jehovah’s Witnesses, and only slightly more numerous than Hindus.
The number matters to Muslim leaders who have watched their community bear a burden of suspicion since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Being able to show a big number, they hope, might give Muslims more clout in Washington. . . .
The treatment of women and the presence of professional leadership have been key issues for ISNA. The society, for example, has pushed to ease strict separation of the sexes during prayer. Political involvement has been a higher priority for the Council on American Islamic Relations, the survey’s co-sponsor and the loudest voice for Muslim civil rights. (MORE)


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