According to the Pew Research Center, Muslims will become the second largest religious group in the US by 2040. John Esposito, professor of Religion & International Affairs and of Islamic Studies and founding director of the Alwaleed Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University, told Radio Sputnik what's driving the trend.
Sputnik: The study mentions migration and a high fertility rate, but do you think conversion to Islam is also a contributing factor to this increase?
John Esposito: Migration and fertility are the most important factors. I think it is important to also note that there has been, if you will, a very fairly strong conversion rate to Islam: one of the groups in the last years has been Hispanics. And so I think that this does play a role but again I would emphasize that the fertility rate is very common within Muslim cultures and that results in people having children, maybe not as many as they might have had living in other countries but certainly, you know, it is not all that common for American Muslims to decide not to have children or not in any great numbers.
Sputnik: Do you have any information why there has been such a high conversion rate into the Muslim religion within America? It obviously sounds very interesting.
John Esposito: The reality of this is [that], first of all, America is a country in which... the history of America recently is one that emphasizes religion. I think that part of the difficulty sometimes with people's understanding why the conversion rate to Islam [is growing] is that they don't have a sense of the fact that there are aspects of Islam that make it very attractive to people who convert. If you look at Islamic beliefs and ideals, the idea of belonging to a single community, the ritual practices, particularly prayer five times a day creates a sense of community and spirituality that many find significant.
Sputnik: What are the other consequences that this increase could have on American society?
John Esposito: I think it will all be to the good. I mean, I should start like saying that that data that we have many polls here in the US in recent years show that Muslims are now part of the mosaic of America. They are economically, socially, educationally and increasingly politically integrated. They bring a real strength to the American scene. Unlike years ago when I first got into the field it is now very common to see Muslims across the board in all the professions and in so many phases of our life. A very strong factor that a lot of people are not aware of [is that] educationally American Muslims are second to American Jews in terms of religious communities and an emphasis on education. And this is true for both men and women. And the result, therefore, it's not surprising that we increasingly see them as doctors, the lawyers, heads of NGOs [non-governmental organizations] and right down to people who have private car services. I think they have played a significant role in America and the increasing numbers will only enhance that.
Sputnik: If we look at the Muslim migration from the Middle East to America, this has been migration historically, we know that. What could be the potential outcome of the continued migration of Muslims from the Middle East into America?
Speaking to Sputnik, Besheer Mohamed, a senior researcher focusing on religion at Pew Research Center, has also commented on the trend. According to Mohamed "religious conversions haven't had a large impact on the size of the US Muslim population."
"[It is so] largely because about as many Americans convert to Islam as leave the faith. Indeed, while about one-in-five American Muslim adults were raised in a different faith tradition and converted to Islam, a similar share of Americans who were raised Muslim now no longer identify with the faith," the scholar told Sputnik.