ALBANY — With the new semester starting this week at the University at Albany, US, the Muslim Students Association is searching for an imam to join the Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish chaplains at the university’s Interfaith Center, Times Union reported.
“Just to have someone to support you and be able to help you when you have questions, that would be really nice to have here,” the President of the association, Nusrat Bhuiyan, said.
“We’re in total need for them, chaplains host worship services, organize events and hold office hours to counsel students,” expressed the association’s Vice President, Nana-Hawwa Abdul-Rahman.
The student leaders hope to see an imam instated before they graduate this spring, but the hunt has proved harder than expected. The first challenge is finding someone, the second is paying them.
Ekow King, the school’s director of intercultural student engagement who oversees the Interfaith Center, clarified that chaplains aren’t paid by the university.
“We don’t take the lead on determining what type of faith leader should be volunteering here. We see if there’s a need and discuss the need with students. It’s a lot of reflective listening. We ask, what would make the experience more inviting for Muslim students on our campus?” King said.
“Over the past two decades, I’ve seen a steady increase of students wearing hijab and expressing their Muslim identity. Actually, 2.5% of the student body self-identified as Muslim in 2017 survey, the 5th largest religious group after Protestant Christians, Catholics, Jews, and Buddhists,” he informed.
The association hopes to find someone for at least one day a week. They prefer an imam, who has formally studied religious texts but would welcome anyone who has religious knowledge even if they don’t have a degree.
“Someone who could be sponsored by one of the local mosques would be great, and someone who can relate to the students and be able to work with the other chaplains here and the students, Muslims, and non-Muslims,” Bhuiyan said.
On her behalf, the President of Albany Collegiate Interfaith Center, Dr. Amina Mahmood said: “Our center has always been committed to bringing together people of every spiritual and faith background. We fully support any effort to strengthen the interfaith community in the Capital Region and abroad.”
Finding the right imam or religious leader is becoming a mission impossible for many US Muslim communities.
According to the report “The American Mosque 2011” by University of Kentucky professor Ihsan Bagby, half of all mosques in the US have no full-time staff, and only 44 percent of imams work as paid, full-time leaders.
According to Bagby’s study, only 36 percent of mosques with attendance between 101 and 200 have a full-time, paid imam.
Four out of five imams in the United States were born and educated outside the country, mostly in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and India.