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ANCHORAGE—On the edge of this northern outpost an unfamiliar sight is emerging: twin minarets. Alaska’s small but growing Muslim community is building the state’s first newly constructed mosque.
The 15,000-square-foot mosque, taking shape near a Sons of Norway Viking Hall, will eventually include a Sunday school and a community center. Heated floors will make worship in the bitter winters more comfortable.
The mosque is perhaps the clearest sign yet that Islam in the U.S. is rapidly pushing beyond traditional population centers such as Detroit and Los Angeles. As the number of American Muslims grows through both immigration and higher-than-average birthrates, domes and minarets are sprouting in areas as varied as the eastern mountains of Kentucky and Louisiana’s parishes.
“This is our future,” said Osama Obeidi, one of the Muslim-Americans leading the building effort for the Islamic Community Center of Anchorage. “We have second-generation Alaskans now, and new people coming all the time. We need a place to call home.”
The building boom reflects American Muslims’ desire for a sense of permanence as their religion shifts from one mainly imported by immigrants to one practiced by their American-born children and grandchildren, Muslim leaders say.
The Muslim population in the U.S. is expected to more than double by 2030, to 6.2 million, according to a 2011 Pew Research Center study. By then, Muslims are expected to represent 1.7% of the U.S. population, making them as numerous as American Jews or Episcopalians today, the study says.
But rapid expansion has brought growing pains. Congregations are competing for construction funds and religious leaders, or imams, since both are in limited supply. And directing cash toward buildings can leave little for programming to retain young followers and offer professional counseling and educational services, some Muslim leaders say.
“There’s this ‘edifice complex,’ ” said Jihad Turk, president of Bayan Claremont, the Islamic graduate school at Claremont School of Theology in Claremont, Calif. “You have incredible enthusiasm and energy around fundraising and building these buildings. But there’s little attention given to the programming, best practices and governance.”
A 2011 survey of U.S. mosques found a 74% increase in the number of Muslim congregations established between 2000 and 2011, rising to 2,106 from 1,209. About 30% of those congregations built new mosques, said the report sponsored by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research and a coalition of Islamic organizations.
In 2000, the study counted 314 “purpose-built” mosques; by 2011, that number had more than doubled to 632.