COLUMBIA - Muslims in the central US state of Missouri are complaining from a severe shortage of mosque imams, missing spiritual guidance in their daily life.
Without an imam, you won't have someone who you can ask questions to frequently, mosque Secretary Rafa Nizam told KBIA, Mid-Missouri Public Radio.The access to knowledge might not be as easy.
Since 2008, the Islamic Center of Central Missouri has been without an imam.
The problem started when Abdullah Smith, the city's imam until 2008, decided to move to Texas.
Mosques in Jefferson City and Rolla also do not have imams.
Although the Muslim community in Columbia has tried to find ways to stay active, it is without a formally trained spiritual leader.
As many Columbia Muslims already know Arabic and have memorized the noble Qur'an, the Islamic center was able to find a person who leads prayers.
Without an imam, we would just need someone who has memorized the Qur'an cover to lead prayers, Nizam said.
In their case, Said Mohamed; called Sheikh Said, is filling the role of an imam and went to school to study the Quran.
But even though he is often called Imam or Sheikh, he has not gone through formal training to become an imam.
In addition to leading prayers, imams are usually entitled to serve as religious scholars and assist with weddings and lectures.
This mosque, I only lead the prayers, Mohamed said.
I don't do anything else.
The situation in Columbia reflects a nationwide problem of imam shortage.
Communities are not providing the right setting for imams, Omar Shahin, secretary of the North American Imams Federation, said.
Shahin noted that there are about 2,500 mosques in the US, and he estimates only 1,000 of them have imams.
The federation has 470 members in the US and Canada and receives nearly 20 imam requests a week from small Muslim communities across those countries.
Shahin noted that small communities are unable to offer salaries for full time imams.
When small communities can't gather the funds for a salary, imams have to find additional work or move to cities with larger Muslim communities that can pay them more, he said.
A shortage in colleges to train imams in Islamic theology has also added to the problem.
Opened in California in 2009, Zaytuna College was the country's first Muslim university.
Imams hold degrees in Islamic theology, and until recently, the only institutions that offered this course of study were outside the US.
But to conduct lectures and theological discussions, the community has to bring in outside scholars, Nizam said.
We function alright in the absence of an imam, Nizam said.But because we don't have someone with that kind of knowledge in our community, every weekend we invite a guest speaker from a local community or a big-shot imam.