CALIFORNIA - Immersed in American culture, US-born Muslims are increasingly taking leadership roles in mosques, presenting a new generation of imams entitled to guiding youths through the post-9/11 era.
These are the people who know the culture, who know how to eat hamburgers and know baseball, Sudanese-born Mustafa Kuko, the imam of the Islamic Center of Riverside, told Standard Examiner earlier this week with a laugh.
Becoming the imam of Riverside Islamic Center in California in 1998, only about 2 percent of those attending the mosque were born in the US, Kuko, 63, said.
Currently, about 15 percent are, and the number continues to rise.
However, he sees that young, US-born imams would be better for Muslims than a foreign-born man like himself.
Imam Mohamed Mabrouk, a 21-year-old leader of the Islamic Center of Temecula Valley in California, was a good example of this new generation of young, US-born imams.
Though Mabrouk usually dons the traditional white robe of an imam, he speaks with the Detroit accent he has carried with him from childhood instead of the foreign-accented English that for decades has been the norm among American Muslim religious leaders.
His appointment last month gave a clear sign of a changing Muslim community that is shifting from being almost entirely immigrant-led to one in which young, US-born people are increasingly taking leadership roles.
Murrieta mosque has also appointed a US-born imam recently after the Syrian-born Mahmoud Harmoush declined to renew his contract in November.
Hadi Nael, 57, chairman of the Murrieta mosque, said the mosque made youth and US-born status among its top factors in its search for a new religious leader.
The new imam needed to attract the youth of this community because the future generation will be leading this community, Nael said.
The United States is home to an estimated Muslim minority of seven to eight million.
Post 9/11 Era
Being familiar with specific problems that faced Muslims in post 9/11 America, US-born imams were urged to guide youths through the post-9/11 era of Islamophobia and hate attacks.
It helps young people develop a Muslim-American identity - not just a Muslim identity and not just an American identity, but a Muslim-American identity, Munira Syeda, spokeswoman for the greater Los Angeles office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said.
Facing prejudice and misunderstandings, US Muslims needed imams who understood the American culture and challenges it poses to Muslims, Syeda added.
The Islamic Center of Temecula Valley, where imam Mabrouk has been appointed recently, endured protests when it applied to construct a new, permanent building in Temecula to replace its temporary locations.
The city in January 2011 approved the request.
Syeda said that the growing US-born population in Muslim congregations is producing imams immersed in American culture.
Muhamad Ali, an assistant professor of religious studies at UC Riverside, agreed on the importance of American-born imams.
He added that foreign-born imams in the United States were recruited directly from abroad and had little knowledge of US culture, Ali said.
Since 9/11, US Muslims have become sensitized to an erosion of their civil rights, with a prevailing belief that America was stigmatizing their faith.
Anti-Muslim frenzy has grown sharply in the US in recent months over plans to build a mosque near the site of the 9/11 attacks in New York, resulting in attacks on Muslims and their property.
The Republican Party has also been dismissive to Muslim voters over the anti-Islam campaigns played by its candidates to win votes before the looming 2012 presidential elections.