Spokane Islamic Center/SpokaneFāVS file photo

Attendee numbers at Spokane Islamic Center increase, in line with national report

Attendee numbers at Spokane Islamic Center increase, in line with national report

By Tracy Simmons

When the Spokane Islamic Center was built in 2008, people said it was too big, recalled board member Mamdouh Elaarag.

Now, 13 years later, the Spokane Valley masjid is filled to capacity for Friday night worship.

This is in line with a report released earlier this month showing mosque participation is on the rise across the country. The U.S Mosque Survey 2020 is an ongoing comprehensive statistical study conducted in collaboration with Faith Communities Today.

The study, authored by Ihsan Bagby, found average Jum’ah attendance in 2020 was 410, which is a 16% increase over the 2010 Jum’ah attendance of 353. Jum’ah prayer is the weekly Muslim congregational prayer held on Fridays.

In Spokane, about 300 people attend Friday services.

“In 2008, I’d say it was about half that,” Elaarag said. “Now people know why we built it [the mosque] so big.”

For Eid, he said the mosque now offers two prayer services. Between 500-600 people attend each service. Eid was held in May this year.

He added, however, that the number of attendees ebbs and flows as students come and go from the Spokane area.

The U.S. Mosque Survey found that one-fourth of mosque participants are aged 18-34. In comparison, about 11% of churchgoers are that age.

“My colleagues who work in Jewish and Christian congregations say to enjoy it while it lasts, that this is not sustainable … I think it is too early to say a long-term decline is unavoidable or predetermined,” Bagby told the Religion News Service.

Elaarag said about a quarter of the Spokane Islamic Center participants are between 20-30 years old, but those more active in leadership and other programming are aged 60 and older.

He added that the mosque no longer has Sunday school for youth, though they hope that will pick up again in the future.

“Mosques have not lost the battle for the hearts and minds of young adult Muslims, but they have not won the battle either,” Bagby wrote in the study.

Another finding from the study was that there’s been an uptick in mosques being able to hire full-time imams. Half of American mosques now have a full-time paid imam, compared to 2010 when 43% of mosques had a full-time paid imam.

The Spokane mosque has had a full-time imam – a refugee from Syria –  for about five years now.

The mosque draws worshipers from across North Idaho and Eastern Washington. The closest mosques to Spokane are in Pullman, the Tri-Cities and Boise.

Because it’s the only mosque in the area, the Spokane Islamic Center is culturally diverse. That’s one of the things Elaarag appreciates about it.

“That’s one of the things I enjoy, the diversity. Even though it has its challenges, and they’re all good challenges, that’s the way it’s supposed to be. We’re supposed to get along together and come together in the same space,” he said.

The Spokane Islamic Center was closed for about a year during the pandemic. However, it started to open up again for in-person services a few months ago and will continue to open up more for lectures and other programming. Those wanting to attend are asked to make reservations, wear masks and maintain social distancing.

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About Tracy Simmons

Tracy Simmons is an award winning journalist specializing in religion reporting, digital entrepreneurship and social journalism. In her 15 years on the religion beat, Simmons has tucked a notepad in her pocket and found some of her favorite stories aboard cargo ships in New Jersey, on a police chase in Albuquerque, in dusty Texas church bell towers, on the streets of New York and in tent cities in Haiti.
Simmons has worked as a multimedia journalist for newspapers across New Mexico, Texas and Connecticut. She serves as the executive director of SpokaneFAVS.com, a digital journalism start-up covering religion news and commentary in Spokane, Wash. She is also a Scholarly Assistant Professor at Washington State University.

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