Mosques across the country are beginning to use a model similar to the one used by some megachurches, operating multiple sites to serve a large and dispersed congregation.

Many of these “mosque chains” brand themselves as progressive and sometimes feature gymnasiums and mixed-gender prayer areas for men and women. Some groups even have weekly services at churches or synagogues with the expressed goal of fostering interfaith goodwill.

“If they weren’t Muslim, they’d look like one of the biggest Catholic churches you’d ever seen, from an organizational standpoint,” said Marshall Medaf, president of the Beth Chaverim Reform Congregation in Ashburn, Va., which last month agreed to rent prayer space to the All-Dulles Area Muslim Society.

The society’s main mosque is in neighboring Sterling, Va., near Dulles International Airport, but the mosque runs activities in seven branch locations. Full- and part-time staff and a host of activities are supported by $30 annual dues or $1,000 lifetime memberships.

“They have adult education classes, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts,” Medaf said. “I think they’re even working on their first Eagle Scout.”

The high level of organization reflects a shift among U.S. Muslims from the “immigrant uncles” who once held sway in American mosques to younger, native-born Muslims, said Muqtedar Khan, associate professor of political science and international relations at the University of Delaware.

“A certain kind of sophisticated thinking is now beginning to emerge because people who were born in the U.S. are taking over,” Khan said. “There are lawyers in the Muslim community — they weren’t there before. The management is learning how to work things out.”

Historically mosques have faced logistical challenges in accommodating worshippers, especially for midday Friday congregational prayers, Khan said.

“Of the potential 35 prayers you have in a week, for 34 there will be only about 30 people. But for that one (Friday prayer), there will be, like, a thousand people showing up,” Khan said. “Where do they park? They park on the road, they park here, they park there. The prayer starts exactly on time every day, so it becomes a huge bottleneck of space and time.”

But where high demand once meant a new, independent mosque would spring up elsewhere, mosques today start planning a second location, much like a church might consider extending its reach to “multi-site” campuses.

Despite this trend, independent mosques, rather than multi-site mosques, are still the norm in most cities, say Kansas City area Muslims. The area has about 10 mosques, all independent, said Zulfiqar Malik of Overland Park, editor of a Muslim e-newsletter. (MORE)


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