By Ian Simpson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The vast majority of U.S. mosque leaders said Muslim youths are not becoming more radical because Islam is increasingly woven into American society, according to a survey by a multifaith coalition released on Wednesday.
The Mosque Study 2011 survey shows that the number of U.S. mosques is growing fast and Muslims are more mainstream. This is despite a backlash after the militant attacks on New York and Washington on September 11, 2001, and suspicion about militant Islam, the authors of the study by and sponsors said.
"The Muslim community in America is growing, vibrant, and becoming more and more a part of the American landscape," Ihsan Bagby, one of the authors, told a news conference.
"9/11 has not detracted, has not been an obstacle in the growth of the Muslim community."
The survey showed that 87 percent of the mosque leaders disagreed with the survey statement that "radicalism and extremism is increasing among Muslim youth -- in their own experience."
Only 25 percent of leaders last year believed that American society was hostile to Islam. In 2000 54 percent agreed that U.S. Society was hostile to Islam.
More than 98 percent of mosque leaders agreed that Muslims should be involved in American institutions, and 91 percent agreed that Muslims should be involved in politics.
SECULARISM A THREAT
Despite the leaders' upbeat assessments about Muslim integration, the survey comes a week after the New York Police Department defended targeting Muslims in a surveillance operation in nearby Newark, N.J. Police denied they had broken any laws in the 2007 operation.
The survey was sponsored by a raft of organizations, including the Hartford Institute for Religion Research and the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies, and such Muslim associations as the Council on American-Islamic relations.
The mosque survey is part of a larger study of U.S. religion by the Cooperative Congregational Studies Partnership, a multifaith coalition. Similar surveys were carried out in 1994 and 2000.
In carrying out the study, surveyors selected a sample of 727 mosques for questions, then interviewed the imam, president or board member at 524 mosques. The margin of error is 5 percent.
David Roozen, director of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research and another survey author, said the greater threat to Islam came not from radicalism but from secularization that has led to a steady drift away from religion in the United States.
Bucking an overall U.S. drift away from religion, the number of mosques counted reached 2,106 last year, up 74 percent from 2000, the survey showed.
The fastest growth has come in U.S. suburbs and the South as Muslims set up mosques closer to their homes rather than driving long distances to reach one, said Bagby, an associate professor of Islamic studies at the University of Kentucky.
"If the mountains of Kentucky can have mosques, you'll find mosques everywhere," he said.
The survey suggests that the number of American Muslims could be at the top end estimates.
Muslims who attended prayers for Eid, the high holiday prayers, reached about 2.6 million in 2011, up from 2 million in 2002, it said.
That could mean the number of Muslims is closer to estimates of up to 7 million than a lower range of 1.1 million to 2.4 million, the survey said.
(Reporting By Ian Simpson; Editing by Greg McCune)