Guess what faith group fits this description:
• Has between 6 million and 7 million followers in America.
• Is the fastest-growing faith group in this country.
• Its oldest surviving American place of worship built expressly for that purpose was constructed in 1934 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa (see photo).
The faith is Islam, whose American practitioners outnumber U.S. Presbyterians, Episcopalians and possibly Jews.
In A New Religious America (HarperSanFrancisco, 2001), Harvard researcher Diana Eck describes the rise of Islam in this country, as well as other faiths, such as Hinduism and Buddhism.
Whether you live in a small city like Columbia, Mo., or a larger one, such as Toledo, Ohio, you likely have Muslim neighbors. Eck says the religious landscape is pluralistic not only in major metropolitan areas such as Detroit (considered the center of American urban Islam) but also in less-populated regions. She identifies Hindu, Buddhist and Islamic communities in such places as Salt Lake City and Jackson, Miss.
But with diversity comes tension. Eck says religious pluralism will prove more significant in cultural, political and social battles than race, ethnicity or nationality.
Harold Vogelaar, resident scholar of missions and world religions at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, says tensions among Muslims and non-Muslim neighbors may include differences in dress and diet and the construction of mosques and schools. But with diversity also comes the opportunity for "real friendship," he adds.
"To meet and greet and talk face-to-face with [Muslims] is a wonderful opportunity, so you don't have to depend just on the headlines," Vogelaar says. "Another opportunity is for Christian witness. Muslims aren't afraid to talk about religion or their faith. Probably the only Christianity they see portrayed is on television, so this may be an opportunity to discuss what Jesus means. It may be the first time they've talked to a Christian face-to-face."
© 2013 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers