First of all: What is an Imam and who should be an Imam?
- An Imām is someone who leads the 5 daily prayers (Salaah) at the mosque.
- Ideally he should be a fully-qualified Islamic scholar and a role model for his congregation.
- He should have a fixed contract with clear aims and objective which can be reviewed regularly.
- He should be on a good salary in order to be dedicated to his job as community leader.
- The Imam is accountable to the public.
So… Imāms. They get a raw deal. It's easy to slate them, but for some reason much harder to come up with "constructive criticism". Instead of just jumping on the bandwagon of Imam-bashers, The Revival will present what we think a GOOD Imam should do:
1. Speak English
Aside from having a sound knowledge of Quran, Hadith, Fiqh, and Arabic, Imams should speak English so that they can give sermons which have an impact on their congregation. Those who are not fluent in English should seek to improve it through English classes. The Imam has to be "in touch" with the Muslim community (especially the youth), so it is vital that he is aware of contemporary issues.
Friday Khutbahs and other speeches delivered in the mosque are a guidance for the community; as well as containing the knowledge which is essential for every Muslim, they should relate to current affairs. Half of the Friday Khutbah should be in English - if sermons are not in a common language, many people miss out.
2. Stop Sectarianism!
The Imam must always speak out against sectarianism and promote unity and brotherhood. As leaders, Imams can make or break this Ummah – they must show solidarity with their fellow Muslims, regardless of race or sect.
Imams of different mosques must communicate with each other and show support for one another, demonstrating to their community that at the end of the day, whether 'Pakistani', 'Bangladeshi' or 'Arab', 'Hanafi' or 'Shaf'i', 'Deobandi' or 'Barelvi', 'Sunni' or 'Wahabbi', we are all Muslims and Islam unites us all.
3. Set an Islamic Curriculum
Many mosques run evening classes for kids, commonly known as "madrasah" (Arabic for school). The books used are often in a language other than English (Urdu, Bengali etc). Whilst it is always benefi cial to learn multiple languages, one cannot expect children to fully relate to Islamic issues which they have to translate before they even arrive at understanding it.
It is vital for the Imam to set up an appropriate curriculum whereby the learning process is made easier for children by the information being available in English. GCSE and A-level Islamic Studies should be available for older students.
The Imam should also ensure that no teacher hits the students, as this is far from the example of the Prophet (s.a.w) and often turns children away from the Deen. An Imam must make sure that all his teachers go through Child Behaviour management training.
4. Cater for the Community
The Imam should ensure that the mosque is there to cater for ALL the needs of the community – including sports, social events, Islamic entertainment, Internet and library facilities for the youth as well as women's facilities.
The Imam should hold a weekly or a monthly/bi-monthly youth programme where guest speakers are invited and youngsters are encouraged to participate. Such activities are needed to attract the youth, educate them about their religion, and erase the perception that the mosque is a place for elderly people alone.
It is vital that the Imam is able to communicate and be approachable to youngsters.
5. Set up Social Organisations
The concept of the "Ummah" is fast vanishing; it is a sad state of affairs when Muslims in need of financial/emotional support are left with no other option but to turn to non- Muslims for help. The Imam should set up social organisations in affi liation with the mosque to help disadvantaged sectors of society such as the old/disabled/single mothers etc.
6. Drugs Counselling
The Muslim community, like any other, has issues. Over 1000 of the 5840 Muslim prison inmates have committed crimes relating to drug use or drug pushing – that's one in fi ve.1 Among the youth this problem is widespread. We need to stop brushing such issues under the carpet and start addressing them properly.
This issue tears families apart, and as the leader of a community, the Imam must also put in an effort to resolve it. Drugs counselling from an Islamic perspective will inshaAllah help the affected youth and their families.
Unfortunately it is common nowadays for families to fall into petty disputes, and the Imam has the potential to be a perfect mediator as he is impartial, respected, and can advise from an Islamic point of view which no Muslim can refute.
The Imam can offer marriage counselling and help resolve family disputes by judging solely from an Islamic perspective; he should stop and monitor sham marriages and prevent honour marriages/killings by openly condemning these actions and offering guidance.
Aside from disputes within a family, the Imam can also advise and assist on issues affecting individuals and the local community, such as antisocial behaviour, financial problems, racism, alcohol abuse and so on.
8. Visit Hospitals and Prisons
Whenever the Prophet heard that someone was ill, he would rush to visit them (Muslim or non-Muslim), pray for them and show that he was there in their time of need. We do not see enough of such compassion in today's society.
Everyone is too busy doing their own thing to go and visit people who are ill, see if they need anything, etc. InshaAllah if Imams regularly visit ill people in their community, this will not only be a great form of da"wah, but it will also set an example for other Muslims to follow
The Imam should organise his congregation in a way that makes it possible for members of the community to take on this responsibility too.
Muslims already form 8% of the prison population. Over 65% of these prisoners are young men between the ages of eighteen and thirty. This does not include youngsters under the age of 18 who are in custodial care.(2) These people should not be abandoned, rather they should be guided and helped by their Muslim community.
Imams should visit prisons at least once a week (especially in those prisons where an Imam is not already appointed) to counsel Muslim prisoners, help with their rehabilitation, and ensure that they are not abandoned by fellow Muslims on their release.
9. Hold Da'wah Programmes
The Imam should organise an "open day" at the Mosque at least once a year, have regular interfaith forums, invite school children to the mosque as part of their Religious Education classes, produce literature which can be distributed to non-Muslims, etc.
The Imam is a representative of the Muslims in his community and so he has a responsibility to inform non-Muslims of who we really are, as well as making Muslims aware of the responsibility they have - each as a walking, talking advert for Islam.
10. Practice what you preach
Above all, the Imam is a role model for the Muslims in his community. No human being is perfect, but it is imperative that the Imam does not come across as having double-standards. Imams will always be good role models for the youth and elderly in their community as long as they practice what they preach.
NOTE: All of the above can only be achieved with active help and support of the Mosque Management committees.
1,2: See "Gangsterism" article of The Revival, Issue 4.