Monday, June 04, 2007

More On Imams

I’ve written elsewhere on the rumblings at the Canberra Mosque here, here and here. Yet the Canberra Mosque issue does raise interesting issues about the roles imams play in different countries and cultures. It also raises issues about the terms and conditions in which imams are employed. Perhaps now is a good time to revisit some of these issues.

Typically, imams deliver Friday sermons and lead the Friday congregational prayers. However, many mosques and other locations where Friday prayer is held (such as musallahs and prayer rooms on university campuses) don’t employ full-time imams. Typically, members of the congregation take it in turns to deliver the Friday sermon.

A common problem in Muslim communities is the status of imams. In many parts of the Muslim world, imams are at the lower end of the social and financial ladder. There is a perception that you become an imam because your grades weren’t good enough to get into anything more ‘useful’.

Hence many trained imams have had to find other things to do. Many imams are self-employed. In Turkish-speaking communities, it isn’t uncommon to find one’s local kebab store being owned or managed by an imam. Other imams are employed in Muslim independent schools as teachers of Arabic or Islamic studies. Still, others try to enter academia (perhaps the most successful in this regard as been Professor Abdullah Saeed, who holds at least one degree in Islamic sacred law from an Islamic university in Saudi Arabia).

The situation in the United States isn’t much different. However, in the US, a number of imams have set up their own think tanks and academies. Some imams in Australia are trying similar projects. One American imam, Na’eem Abdul Wali, works under the auspices of a college in Auburn.

Imams are frequently criticised for overseeing an environment where women and youth are driven away from mosques. Yet often this environment existed before the imam first arrived. To survive in their position, imams must gain the confidence of the congregation, especially of the executive committee of the mosque managing society which employs them. This often means not rocking the boat too much initially.

In classical Islamic sacred law, the imam should abandon his post when he loses the confidence of the bulk of the congregation for reasons recognised by the sacred law e.g. having a blameworthy source of income, keeping company with oppressive rulers etc. Yet how is this to be implemented in practice? In this sense, there is a real tension between the role of imam as employee accountable to the executive and the role of imam as someone with whom the congregation are satisfied. After all, not all members of the congregation are necessarily members of the mosque management society. And it is generally the case that few mosque executive members regularly attend prayers at the mosque.

© Irfan Yusuf 2007

Stumble Upon Toolbar

No comments: