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date: 14 December 2019

Abstract and Keywords

The following analysis examines the trends and challenges that have come to define American Muslim religious leadership over the past forty years. By concentrating on personal narratives and institutional expectations of imams and chaplains, the objective is to present a picture of the new and evolving understanding of these leaders in the United States. Conceptually, this entails reimagining religious leadership and adapting the distinct but deeply interrelated notions of ‘ulama and clergy to an American Muslim context. Furthermore, although there is a direct, fluid, and organic connection between the titles of imam and chaplain, the importance of differentiating one profession from the other, in terms of the contexts in which they work and the responsibilities they carry out, cannot be overstated. Given the increasing importance of chaplains and imams, this process involves negotiating crucial issues related to the cohesion of the American Muslim community, such as ethics, law, and cultural practice. In addition it means the professionalization of leadership, creating standards that meet the multifaceted needs of the Muslim and non-Muslim communities. Last, the relationship between imams and chaplains speaks to the new and adaptive roles that Muslim women are playing as religious leaders in America and the strategies being employed as a result.

Keywords: American imam, Muslim chaplain, professionalization, clergy, `ulama

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