WASHINGTON (AFP, 9/04/2008) — As Islam makes inroads in the United States, American Muslims are setting up mega-mosques that combine religious tradition with typical American convenience.
Modelled on the huge, non-Catholic churches that offer their congregations of at least 2,000 members several different sites for worship, US mega-mosques have become a necessity in some places.
"Frequently, we have buildings designed for the Friday prayer, which is the largest, for 1,000 people and you have 2,000 to 3,000 show up," said Corey Saylor of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR).
To accommodate the overflow, which also results in traffic jams when prayer is over, US Muslim congregations have set up satellite places of worship, again following the lead of the Christian mega-churches.
That is just one way in which US mega-mosques are decidedly American.
They also offer worshippers a progressive form of Islam, in line with the profile and desires of many Muslim Americans.
While more than two-thirds of Muslim Americans are immigrants, mainly from the Middle East, they are also "decidedly mainstream in their outlook, values and attitudes," a report published last year by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life said.
They have embraced what is often called the Protestant work ethic and believe, as do many Americans, that hard work pays off.
And Muslim Americans reject Islamic extremism by larger margins than do Muslim minorities in western European countries, the Pew report said.
One mega-mosque in Virginia even rents space from a synagogue.
"This mosque, this branch, is part of a synagogue. Where have you seen that, a synagogue and a mosque? It's a completely American experience," Muslim prayer leader Mohamed Magid said.
That "completely American experience" is particularly attractive to young Muslim Americans, who like the way religious traditions and US efficiency and convenience are married in their places of worship.
In a message to Muslims around the world on the eve of the holy month of Ramadan, US President George W. Bush singled out for praise "the men and women of the Muslim community for their contributions to America."
"Your love of family, and gratitude to God have strengthened the moral fabric of our country," Bush said.
"Our nation is stronger and more hopeful because of the generosity, talents, and compassion of our Muslim citizens," he said.
During Ramadan, which in the United States started on September 1, according to calculations by the Islamic Society of North America, observant Muslims eat a light pre-dawn meal and fast until sunset, a practice aimed at fostering self-discipline, sacrifice and empathy for the poor.
Mosques tend to be heavily frequented during Ramadan, with some remaining open 24 hours a day.