Asking more of our religious leaders? Or should we ask less?

August 5, 2016

Photo by Nicole Najmah Abraham

Photo by Nicole Najmah Abraham

What is the job of an Imam? In the most basic sense it is simply to lead the prayers including the Friday Jummuah. But what does it usually mean in our communities? Often the Imam becomes our prayer leader, our counselor, our adviser, our teacher, Masjid maintenance, our match maker, etc. It’s not to say that’s wrong but when the average salary of an Imam is $30,000 it may be too much to ask. The job of our Imam becomes a full time never ending task list and worst yet none of this is really in the job description.

When someone becomes an Imam they’re usual called to do so because they are the most knowledgeable in Islamic matters in their community. Fundraising for a leaky roof, answering 2am calls from a single mother kicked out of her home and helping congregants get married isn’t explained as part of the job. Worse of all is this, when an Imam allegedly falls short of his duties he is blamed as being unworthy of a position whose expectations were never clearly laid out. How many other positions work that way? How can we accuse any religious leader of being incompetent if we keep the job position so vague?

More recently I’ve heard talk from many that religious leaders need to be trained counselors, trained in leadership, trained in social media, etc.  Well two issues I find with this is one questioning the merit of increasing the role of the imam instead of inviting more people in to take on the leadership work in the Muslim community, secondly if we are going to officially increase the responsibility of the Imam and increase his necessary qualifications, are we willing to officially increase their pay? Are we willing to pay for this increased training? In my opinion the idea of the Imam being the end all be all in any community is a bad one. We have Muslim psychologists, building maintenance workers, fundraising professionals, etc. in our communities, instead of asking the Imam to do more why not ask less? While others help with community leadership by contributing their skills? Why would we want one man to to be our end all only to then criticize him when he falls short? More of us Muslim professionals -especially in high paying professions, need to volunteer our time to help in our communities. I see the job of the Imam as being closer to a ‘scholar in residence’, the Imam has usually spent years of his life studying Islam, let him teach the people, answer their fiqh questions, lead the salah, etc. and free him of periphery responsibilities that can be better filled by people trained in those areas. But whatever any community decides an Imam should be, let the job description be clear before hire.


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