US growth of Islam creates need for religious scholars

Shiite Imam

Imam Sayed Mohammad Baqer Al-Qazwini speaks at the Islamic Institute of America, home of the Al-Hujjah Islamic Seminary, in Dearborn Heights, Mich., Oct. 1, 2019. Qazwini says teaching predominantly in English helps facilitate a more progressive approach, but it also presents a challenge: His preparation time for each class is doubled to ensure that he is authentically translating the text and helping students apply the lessons. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

DEARBORN HEIGHTS, Mich. (AP) — Imam Mohammad Qazwini’s deep understanding of Islam and his formal training at a seminary in the holy city of Qom, Iran, draws students to this suburban Detroit classroom just off the large prayer room of a mosque.

But there’s another attraction. The Quran, Islam’s holy book, is written in classical Arabic, but many of the students aren’t well-versed in the language. Qazwini navigates its intricacies effortlessly — in the everyday English they use, opening a door for many of the students.

An increasing number of U.S. Muslims want guidance from religious instructors who they can understand linguistically and culturally.

For mosques around the country, the need to produce U.S.-trained religious leaders is increasing.

Traditional imams and scholars who once came from the Middle East or were educated in schools there are having more difficulty entering the United States. The Trump administration imposed a travel ban in January 2017 on people from several Muslim majority countries, and the government has made it harder to enter the U.S. entirely, with more rigorous interviews and background checks.

“In many other states there are mosques with no … functional imam, who can assume the responsibilities of the religious leader or even speak,” said Islamic Institute of America leader Imam Hassan Qazwini, who started the seminary with his son. “I thought maybe a long-term solution for facing this shortage is to have our own Shiite Islamic seminary in the U.S., instead of waiting for imams to come.”

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