From Religion News Service
Religion News Service | By Omar Sacirbey
SHARON, Mass. (RNS) The Islamic Center of New England has always been led by imams born outside America. The two-campus mosque would like to change that, but it’s proving harder than leaders had thought.
The ICNE’s mosque here on the South Shore of Boston has been without an imam since 2006, when the last imam was arrested for immigration fraud. A rotating cast of lay and trained imams have led congregational Friday prayers and other mosque functions since then.
After dozens of interviews, the mosque board is eyeing a U.S-born convert who’s familiar with American culture and who studied Islam and Arabic in Saudi Arabia. The imam’s academic pedigree impressed the immigrant members of the mosque, while his fluency in American pop culture helped him connect with mosque youth.
“The issue here is we’re looking for the future, and the future of Islam in this country are the children,” said Rashid Noor, head of the ICNE board. “So we need someone who can connect with the youth.”
Far from certain, however, is whether the Sharon mosque will able to pay the salary demanded by the imam — nearly double the salary earned by the Egyptian-born imam at Sharon’s sister mosque in Quincy, 23 miles away. If the center can’t afford this imam, Noor said it will continue looking.
As this suburban mosque has discovered, American-born imams are nearly impossible to find. Ads from mosques seeking imams who are fluent in English are readily found in Muslim-American magazines and newspapers. The North American Imams Federation, an advocacy group founded in 2002, gets more than 100 requests for help every year from mosques seeking religious leaders.