The muezzin’s call echoes around the mosque here, beckoning the Muslim faithful to midday Friday prayers.

Stragglers scurry to take their places, as imam Yassir Fazaga – at 35, younger than many in attendance – comes down from his office ready with this week’s sermon on lessons from the recent violence at a mosque in Islamabad, Pakistan, that left more than 100 dead.

During the 20-minute prayer and talk, Fazaga moves fluidly from Arabic to English. Afterwards, he stands outside the mosque entrance, where congregants line up to speak with him.

Omar Azizi, 21, and his brother Mostafa, 16, of Mission Viejo, hug the sheik and exchange greetings.

The Azizi brothers represent the growing ranks of Muslims in Southern California and in the United States. By some estimates more than half of the 5 million to 7 million Muslims in America are under 18. While the East Coast has more native and native-trained imams than the West Coast, there’s a shortage of such imams in the country, especially of Middle Eastern heritage, and difficulty connecting with the youth.

An imam is the religious leader of a mosque, helping worshippers fulfill their spiritual needs, performing services and counseling them. There is no system of ordained clergy in Islam. Ultimately, the community picks the person it trusts and who is educationally qualified to be an imam, Muslim leaders say. . .

The urgency for more U.S.-bred and -raised imams is being recognized in the Muslim world.

“Every center is looking for someone who can connect with our youth, because the youth is our future,” said Masoud Nassimi, acting president of the Council on American Islamic Relations in Southern California.


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