The New Neighbors
Will Americans embrace gurdwaras and mosques in the suburbs?
What statistics surprised you?
The growth of the Islamic community. They see a growth to 6 million Muslims, 1,200 mosques, and a doubling of the mosque attendance rate. All of us have some sense there are more Muslims here than before, but the dimensions of this, that make the Islamic population virtually equal to the Jewish population in the United States, are arresting.
What trends surprised you?
Zoning difficulties [between religious groups], hate crimes, the ways people in local communities become astounded and even frightened by the fact that there are new Islamic or Sikh communities in town.
Suddenly a Sikh gurdwara will apply for permission to build in a certain neighborhood, or a Vietnamese Buddhist home temple will suddenly be noticed by its neighborhood, and literally the first place they encounter one another as neighbors is in the courts and the zoning board.
One of the things you say is that now, immigrants are beginning to fill in the middle of the country, as opposed to living primarily on the coasts. Were you able to document how far along that trend is?
Certainly the density of the multi-religious population is still in the big urban areas, but there are lots of smaller urban areas and even rural areas where we were surprised to see new communities. For example, in the farmland outside Minneapolis there's a Lao temple and a Khmer temple. And similarly, some of the oldest Islamic communities in the country are in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where there is a very old Syrian and Lebanese Muslim community.