Even as the Muslim population in the U.S. multiplies, the number of religious leaders, known as imams, lags behind.

Many Muslim immigrants have steered their children away from religious leadership roles and toward careers in medicine, engineering, law and business, said Jihad Turk, an imam and president of Bayan Claremont, the Islamic graduate school at Claremont School of Theology in Southern California. Many American mosques are run on shoestring budgets by volunteers and can't always guarantee a leader a steady paycheck.

According to 2011 study sponsored by a multifaith coalition, only 44% of U.S. imams are full-time and paid, with volunteers filling the role in many congregations.

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