The growing number of people turning to Islam in the last few years shows that the true answer to this question is starting to be discovered. Every day, interest in Islam is increasing throughout the world, and many people are converting after reading the Qur’an and studying the Prophet Muhammad’s life. In addition, there are people who may have not started to practice Islam yet but who are very influenced by the Qur’an’s moral teachings and say that the best way of life for human beings is the one described in the Qur’an.
Thirty or forty years ago, the great majority of people knew almost nothing about Islam; now, Islam has become the most talked about, written about, and researched religion in the world, as well as the religion about which the most programs have been prepared. Of course, this state of affairs has contributed to society’s learning about Islam. On the one hand, those involved in such activities have expanded their knowledge about Islam; on the other hand, those to whom this information is directed may have taken the opportunity for the first time in their lives to gain knowledge about Islam. So, it is from the lack of information or wrong information that people who have had little contact with Islam are coming to this religion in droves.
This movement is quite noticeable in the United States, a country founded on religious values. When Americans speak about their country, one of the things they stress is that people from every religious background are free to live together in peace and security. This situation has given Muslims immigrants a place to practice their religion freely and to talk about their faith. As a result, the number of Muslims increases daily. In spite of this, for years Muslims have remained small in numbers and economically and politically weak.
But over the past 10 years, these economic, social, and political difficulties have begun to disappear. In some states, existing mosques are filled to overflowing and new ones have been built. Hundreds of Islamic schools, both full-time and weekend, have opened and have had to expand to meet enrollment figures. Many companies have begun to set aside rooms for their Muslim employees, many banks have begun to open departments that operate according to Islamic law, and many state institutions have begun to hire Muslims for high-level positions.
A recent issue of Christianity Today, one of America’s best-known magazines, contained an article entitled “Are Christians Prepared for Muslims in the Mainstream?” It gives this account of Islam’s rise in America:
Islam could be the second-largest religion in America by 2015, surpassing Judaism, according to some estimates. By other estimates, Islam has achieved that rank already.
Muslims moving to the West are changing the cultural and religious landscape. A hospital in Detroit offers Muslim patients copies of the Qur’an; Denver International Airport includes a chapel for Muslim prayers; the U.S. Senate has invited a Muslim cleric to open its session in prayer; the military has hired four Muslim chaplains; the White House sends greetings (like its Christmas cards) on Id al-Fitr, the feast that ends Ramadan; the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Washington D.C. sends 100 Qur’ans a month to prisons while imams (spiritual leaders) send volunteers to teach Arabic. “On Capitol Hill … weekly Muslim prayer services and forums to expose congressional staffers to Muslim viewpoints have become regular fare,” notes Ira Rifkin of Religion News Service (Nov. 30, 1999), “and a bill has been introduced in Congress to issue a postage stamp commemorating Ramadan.”38
These striking developments have attracted the interest of many sociologists. One of the most important names associated with this issue is Professor Dianne Eck, known for coining the name “Pluralism Project” for an enterprise in interfaith dialogue. In her book, A New Religious America, she gives an account of what she has determined about Islam’s rapid rise:
As Muslims become more numerous and visible in American society, public officials have begun to shift from speaking of “churches and synagogues” to “churches, synagogues, and mosques.” The annual observance of the Ramadan month of Muslim fasting now receives public notice and becomes the occasion for portraits of the Muslims next door in the Dallas Morning News or the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The fast-breaking meals called “iftar” at the close of each day have become moments of recognition. In the late 1990s there were iftar observances by Muslim staffers on Capitol Hill, in the Pentagon, and in the State Department. In 1996 the White House hosted the first observance of the celebration of Eid al-Fitr at the end of the month of Ramadan, a practice that has continued. The same year also saw the U.S. Navy commission its first Muslim chaplain, Lieutenant M. Malak Abd al-Muta’ Ali Noel, and in 1998 the U.S. Navy’s first mosque was opened on the Norfolk Naval Base in Virginia, where Lieutenant Noel was stationed. When 50 sailors attend Friday prayers at this facility, they signal to all of us a new era of American religious life.
Eck considers these developments a sign of the beginning of a new age, one in which Islam will spread quickly, not only throughout America but throughout the world.