Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Imam Search

There are two interesting pieces that recently came out about the struggles faced by Muslim communities in the US and Germany. The first, published in the Washington Post, tells the story of a young American-Muslim imam who is searching to find a place for himself within the Muslim community. Unlike Christian and Jewish communities who have an established employment network set up for newly minted Rabbis, Priests, Ministers, etc., according to Adeel Zeb, the story’s protagonist, there is no such network for young imams. In fact, many American-Muslim families hope their sons will grow up to be lawyers or doctors rather than men of the cloth. Moreover, the generational divide is a significant obstacle. Imams not only need to be learned, but must also look the part: older (Zeb is 28) and sport a “gray beard.”

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, German Muslims are facing similar problems. At a recent event that addressed the question: “What Role Do Religion and Culture Play in Integration? A Transatlantic Comparison of Muslim Integration in Germany and the U.S.” hosted by the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies (AICGS) in Berlin, the discussion quickly turned to the lack of German-born imams. As Zeb noted in the Post article, “most American mosques are led by imams from overseas who aren't fluent in English. They know how to lead prayers but don't necessarily have the professional credentials or communication skills to become community leaders.” If Germans read this article, I’m sure they could relate. The lack of locally born imams is concerning to a country that still struggles with how to integrate its Muslim population. Moreover, those who do work in Germany often lack language skills, knowledge of the country in which they, and their congregation, live, and are uneducated about the cultural touchstones of their adopted countries.

While Zeb no doubt faces real frustrations, it seems as though, based on these two examples, it is the American-Muslim community that comes out ahead. In the US, at least, there is an opportunity for him to receive the type of training that for German-Muslims is still an abstraction.

The Post article ends on a wistful note offering thoughts about what professions Zeb might enter into, none of them being the one of his choice: imam. Perhaps I have one additional suggestion for him. Learn German and move to Germany. I hear they’re hiring.

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