INDIANAPOLIS, AP (July 5) -- Mosques in America are generally places with agrowing community of believers that have a vital spiritual life andoffer social services to the faithful - so says the leader of the firstcomprehensive survey of Islam in the United States.

Ihsan Bagby of Shaw University in Raleigh, N.C., led a project in whichthe leaders of 416 of America's roughly 1,200 mosques were interviewedlast year.

The survey was released in April and analyzed at length last weekend ata meeting of the Islam in America conference in Indianapolis. Themeeting was organized by the Islamic Society of North America, one ofthe co-sponsors of Bagby's research.

The survey provided the first hard numbers on the extent of the faith inAmerica. Today, an estimated 6 million to 7 million Americans considerthemselves orthodox Muslims.

It also allowed Bagby to create a sort of snapshot of the life ofAmerican mosques.

Bagby said 77 percent of the imams and other mosque leaders his teaminterviewed reported increases in the number of regular participantsover the previous five years, with 61 percent of mosques seeing 10percent growth or more.

``We are probably experiencing the greatest growth rates of any faithgroup in America,'' said Bagby, a former United Methodist who convertedto Islam 32 years ago.

Five percent of mosques reported declines, and Bagby said they tended tobe smaller, inner-city and black.

Growth at U.S. mosques is coming largely in three ways, Bagby said.About 15,000 people a year are converting from other faiths, someMuslims are immigrating to America and others are beginning to practicetheir faith at mosques for the first time - often when the worship spaceis expanded, he said.

When Masjid El Fajr in Indianapolis expanded to accommodate 300 forprayers rather than 75, the mosque filled up the second week as word gotout, Bagby said.

He linked mosques' sense of vitality to their strictness in followingthe Sunnah, the authoritative sayings and practices of the ProphetMuhammad.

Ninety percent of mosque leaders considered their congregations strictin this practice, and 79 percent considered their mosques spirituallyalive and vital.

``There is a tradition that you feel you have to live up to. And themore you follow that tradition, the better you feel, the more alive youfeel,'' Bagby said.

Mosques in the United States also are reaching out to their members andto non-Muslims in ways that go beyond prayer services, Bagby said. Three-quarters or more of those surveyed offered talks, classes in Islamand Arabic, and programs for women and children, he said. When it cameto social services, at least 60 percent offered cash assistance tofamilies or individuals, counseling services, prison programs andservices to the poor.

In reaching non-Muslims, 60 percent or more of mosques reported visitingschools or churches to present programs on Islam, contacting the mediaor political leaders, and participating in interfaith dialogues. ``Mosques are doing very well, on average. Mosques are doing whatchurches are doing'' in terms of community involvement, Bagby said. Only 7 percent of U.S. mosques are homogenous ethnically, and most ofthose have black memberships, Bagby said.

While Muslims abroad generally worship only with others from the sameethnic group, the opposite is true in the United States, said SulaymanNyang, who directs the Muslims in American Public Square project atGeorgetown University's Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding. ``You will find a rainbow coalition of Muslims,'' Nyang told theconference.

However, Jimmy Jones, a panelist during a discussion on communityinvolvement, said Muslims still must find a way to speak in a unifiedway on political issues. After some Islamic groups endorsed George W.Bush in last year's presidential election, many black Muslims resentedit, he said.

``It is really a shame the so-called immigrant Muslims and the so-calledindigenous Muslims don't work together more,'' said Jones, a professorof world religion at Manhattanville College in New York.

The mosque survey was cosponsored by ISNA, based in nearby Plainfield,Ind.; the Council for American-Islamic Relations based in Washington,D.C.; the Islamic Circle of North America in New York; and the MuslimAmerican Society, the orthodox black Muslim group based in Chicago andled by Imam W. Deen Mohammed.

The project began by compiling a list of the 1,209 known orthodoxmosques, and from a random sample of 631, leaders from 416 responded tophone interviews. The sampling margin of error was 5 percentage points. The project was planned by Bagby, Lawrence Mamiya of Vassar College andMohamed Nimer of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
It was partof an interreligious study of 14,300 U.S. religious congregationssponsored by Hartford (Conn.) Seminary and funded by the LillyEndowment.