TEXAS – A severe shortage of imams is increasingly disturbing the Muslim community in the United States, who are already affected by absence of religious leaders who can easily connect to the younger generations of US-born Muslims.
"I've had the opportunity to travel to maybe 150 mosques across the country. And the vast majority of them, actually, did not have a full-time imam," Nouman Ali Khan, who heads Bayyinah, an Arabic-language institute in Dallas that educates future imams, told US National Public Radio (NPR)."The ones that did are very happy to have them and the ones that didn't are constantly asking me when I go for a seminar, 'Hey, so you know anybody?'"
As the number of Muslims in the United States grows, the number of mosques has also jumped 74 percent over the past decade.
However, there is a severe shortage of full-time imams to meet the religious needs of growing worshippers.
Another problem is that there is a shortage of young American imams who can easily connect to the younger generations of US-born Muslims.
A recent survey by the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) showed that only 44 percent of American imams are salaried and full-time. The rest are volunteer religious leaders.
Four out of five imams in the United States were born and educated outside the country, mostly in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and India.
Raised in a different culture from their parents, third-generation American Muslims feel alienated from mosques and from religious culture altogether.
Therefore, mosques in the US not only need trained imams, but also need religious figures who possess good English skills and a thorough understanding of American culture.
"You may have a scholarly religious figure that can speak to the older congregation, but he's not able to connect as well with the youth," Ali Khan said.
"And in a lot of the interviews, it's even sort of a primary concern how well can you connect with the young in our community."
American ImamsThe Mid-Cities Mosque in Colleyville, Texas, was one of lucky Muslim worship facilities that managed to hire a full-time American imam.
"I was a sponsored skater at the age of 10 ... and after breaking my arm, my grandmother told me I [had] to put it off," Yahya Jaekoma, a cherubic, 23-year-old of Thai and Afghan descent, who was born in San Diego, said.
"So she sent me to a madrassa, which is an institute to study the Quran, at the age of 14."
At the age of 18, Jaekoma had memorized the entire Qur’an and dedicated his life to religious study.
His time as a hip-hop skateboarder gives him a unique voice for young American Muslims in his mosque.
"I tell them my life story," he says.
"I tell them where I came from. I tell them what I've done."
US-born Muslim worshippers at the mosque say that American imams are better to understand their thoughts.
"By having someone that was born here, it's easier to relate to them, and it's easier for them to understand our view on what we're dealing with and, like, the difficulties we have with our faith in, like, such a modern environment," said Sijil Patel, a 16-year-old Pakistani-American who is thoroughly modern with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, crazy-colored sneakers, and a headscarf.
Some of those things include dating, drugs and alcohol.
"We've been strictly taught in Islam that vulgar language is not allowed," Patel says.
"I try my best to, like, not engage in that type of thing, and I've told my friends, too."
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