U.S. mosques struggle with shortage of imams

SPOKANE, Wash. (RNS) The Spokane Islamic Center wants something mosques all across the country are seeking and can’t seem to find: an educated, bilingual, experienced imam who understands American culture.

The Spokane Islamic Center wants something mosques all across the country are seeking and can’t seem to find: an educated, bilingual, experienced imam who understands American culture. RNS photo by Tracy Simmons/Spokane Faith & Values. *Note: This image is not available to download.

According to the report “The American Mosque 2011” by University of Kentucky professor Ihsan Bagby, half of all mosques in the U.S. have no full-time staff, and only 44 percent of imams work as paid, full-time leaders.

In Spokane, the Muslim community has been seeking a leader for 18 months and counting.

“It’s hard for a small mosque like ours to compete,” said Mamdouh El-Aarag, who serves on the mosque’s board.

According to Bagby’s study, only 36 percent of mosques with attendance between 101 and 200 have a full-time, paid imam. The Spokane mosque draws about 250 people for Friday prayers.

For now, volunteers take turns delivering sermons and leading prayers; that’s been the routine since the Islamic center was built in 2009. El-Aarag said it’s made the community strong, but has its downsides as well. He said the volunteers aren’t experts in Islamic scriptures and worship attendance isn’t as steady as it would be with a full-time imam.

Report: U.S. Mosques ‘Healthy and Growing,’ Active in Interfaith and Outreach Activities

(WASHINGTON, D.C., 6/20/12) –- The second installment in a series of reports based on the U.S. Mosque Survey 2011 released today indicates that Islamic houses of worship are “healthy and growing” and are engaged in a high level of educational, interfaith and outreach activities.

A coalition of major American Muslim and academic organizations sponsored the comprehensive study of mosques and the attitudes of mosque leaders in the United States from which the latest report, titled “The American Mosque 2011: Activities, Administration and Vitality of the American Mosque,” was compiled.

To view the entire report, click here.

To conduct the survey, researchers counted all mosques in America and then conducted telephone interviews with a sample of mosque leaders. (The study has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent.)

Major findings of the report released today include:

* Full-time Islamic schools have experienced significant growth in the past decade.

* Almost two-thirds (63 percent) of mosques indicated that they have hosted an open house for their neighbors of other faiths in the past 12 months.

* The majority of mosques (70 percent) use only English for the main message of the khutbah (sermon).

* The vast majority (88 percent) of American mosque leaders say domestic abuse should be addressed.

* In terms of social services, mosques compare very well with other religious congregations. For example, surveys show that only 26 percent of congregations of other faith traditions are involved in providing some type of health programing as compared to 45 percent of mosques. Only 29 percent of other religious congregations are involved in community organizing activities, while 47 percent of mosques are involved in these types of activities.

* A majority of mosque leaders (71 percent) agreed that their mosque is working for social justice. African American mosques are the most likely (87 percent) to be active in social justice.

* The role of the religious leader (Imam) is becoming more professionalized.

* The percentage of mosques unaffiliated with any national organization has increased significantly over the past few decades.

The report also outlines challenges faced by American mosques, including:

* Mosques need support and inspiration in establishing and strengthening weekend schools and youth activities.

* Mosques need to be made more women-friendly.

* The American Muslim community needs its own institutions to increase the number of American-born Imams and to supplement the training of Imams from abroad.

The first report based on the U.S. Mosque Survey 2011, released earlier this year, showed that the number of American mosques increased 74 percent since 2000 and that Islamic houses of worship are ethnically-diverse institutions led by officials who advocate positive civic engagement. A third report on women in American mosques is forthcoming.

SEE: The American Mosque 2011

Sponsors of the U.S. Mosque Survey 2011 include: The Hartford Institute for Religion Research (Hartford Seminary), the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies (ASARB), the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Islamic Society of North American (ISNA), the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), and the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT).

The U.S. Mosque Survey 2011 is part of a larger study of American congregations called Faith Communities Today (FACT), which is a project of Cooperative Congregational Studies Partnership, a multi-faith coalition of denominations and faith groups.

Report: U.S. Mosques Ethnically-Diverse, Encourage Civic Engagement

(*WASHINGTON, D.C., 2/29/12*) — A comprehensive study of mosques and
the attitudes of mosque leaders in the United States released today
indicates that the number of American mosques increased 74 percent since
2000 and that Islamic houses of worship are ethnically-diverse
institutions led by officials who advocate positive civic engagement.

A coalition of major American Muslim and academic organizations released
the report, titled “The American Mosque 2011: Basic Characteristics of
the American Mosque, Attitudes of Mosque Leaders,”
at a news conference this morning at the National Press Club in
Washington, D.C.

The report is the first part of the larger U.S. Mosque Survey 2011 to be
published. To conduct the survey, researchers counted all mosques in
America and then conducted telephone interviews with a sample of mosque
leaders. (The study has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent.)

The report’s major findings include:

* *The number of mosques and mosque participants continues to show
significant growth*, from 1,209 mosques in 2000 to 2,106 in 2011.
New York and California have the largest number of mosques.
Seventy-six percent of mosques were established since 1980.
* *Mosque leaders overwhelmingly endorse Muslim involvement in
American society*. More than 98 percent of mosque leaders agree
that Muslims should be involved in American institutions and 91
percent agree that Muslims should be involved in politics.
* *The vast majority of mosque leaders do not feel that American
society is hostile to Islam. *
* *The majority of mosque leaders (56 percent) adopt a flexible
approach to interpretation of Quran and Sunnah* (the normative
practice of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad) that takes into account the
overall purposes of Islamic law and modern circumstances.
* *The vast majority (87 percent) of mosque leaders disagree that
“radicalism” is increasing among Muslim youth*. Many mosque
leaders say the real challenge for them is not radicalism and
extremism among the youth, but how to attract and keep them close
to the mosque.
* *Mosques remain an extremely diverse religious institution*. Only
a tiny minority of mosques (3 percent) have just one ethnic group
that attends that mosque. South Asians, Arab-Americans and
African-Americans remain the dominant ethnic groups, but
significant numbers of Somalis, West Africans and Iraqis now
worship at mosques nationwide.
* *The number of mosques in urban areas is decreasing, while the
number of mosques in suburban areas is increasing*. In 2011, 28
percent of mosques were located in suburbs, up from 16 percent in
2000.
* * The conversion rate per mosque has remained steady over the past
two decades*. In 2011, the average number of converts per mosque
was 15.3. In 2000 the average was 16.3 converts per mosque.
* *Shia mosques are also expanding in number*. Some 44 percent of
all Shia mosques were established in the 1990s.