By Imam Ajmal Masroor
I saw a post on one of the WhatsApp groups. A number of things in this advert intrigued and alarmed me. The [organisation] is looking for an Imam who is:
- A Hafiz – someone who has memorised the entire Quran, it has taken that person 2-4 years to complete that.
- Mawlana – an Asian title attributed to those who have completed their Islamic education from a reputable seminary and it takes 8 years usually.
- This Imam must be a British born for obvious reasons, but most important reason probably is to be able to speak English and relate to people.
- The Imam should have graduated from a Qawmi Madrasah which is a non political private seminary usually aligned to Deobandi brand and Hanafi school of thought of interpretation of Islam from Indian subcontinent.
- The Imams job would be leading prayers and teaching children Monday to Friday.
- In return he would be given a salary of £13200 per year which comes to £1100 per month.
This advert raises a number of questions for me. When a person invests 8-10 years of their youth in memorising the entire Quran and studying books upon books of Islamic literature, do they graduate to be paid peanuts by the community they would serve? Would we accept our graduate children earning such a salary after completing their university degrees?
I find it a disgrace that our community – the Muslim community feels no shame in offering such a meagre salary to their imams who would teach their children Islam, prepare them for a life that would be balanced between spiritual and material pursuits, guide the community with spiritual wisdom and be available for many daily issues of the community from funerals, bereavements, births marriages, divorces and personal arbitration in case of disputes between people.
There is an English saying, “if you pay peanuts you get monkeys.” Looking at how terribly undervalued our Imams are no wonder the Muslim community is struggling to attract the best brains and crème de la crème of our youth in this profession. Truck loads of Imams graduate from various U.K. based Islamic seminaries but most of these graduates simply disappear into life of poverty, hand to mouth existence and hardship. They escape their training and take up other jobs that would pay them a decent salary. Some even stop practicing their faith. When a community devalues its imams in this manner this community would never progress.
I see the depth of religious illiteracy and backwardness that prevail in our community as I travel across the country regularly. I also see a desperate yearning for change. Islamic scholars have always played a pivotal role as a catalyst for change and reform but while the communities are unwilling to value their scholars in a fair way I cannot see any change in the Muslim communities approach to Islam. Most Muslims view Islam from a very dogmatic and non rationalist perspectives. They attribute Islam to a few rituals and religiosity to a few outer displays. I believe this aberration stems from inadequate knowledge base, which is based on Imams who were unable to give their best in educating the children in their early years.
I do not blame the Imams for not being fully present in their job. They have to resort to many other side jobs to make ends meet. They have to pay for their house rent, bills, travel and food. If they have a family, I.e wife and children then they are really in a huge pickle. If this job advert is anything to go by, an Imam who is earning £1100 would be unable to even pay his rent in London, never mind bills, travel and food. I have been informed by people that some imams resort to some dubious activities just to be able to survive. We know all unethical earning is totally prohibited in Islam yet the champions of Islam are being pushed to breaking Islamic principles by the Muslim community they serve. It is a tragedy that our Imams are worse paid while they perform the most important role.
If the Imams are the educators and character mentors of our future progeny why does the Muslim community treat Imams in such a despicable manner? When will the community wake up and learn to truly appreciate their scholars who are the heirs of the prophets, accordingly to the saying of the blessed Prophet of God (sallā llāhu ‘alay-hi wa-sallam)? How would you show your face to the Prophet of God (sallā llāhu ‘alay-hi wa-sallam) when you treat scholars of Islam and heir to the Prophets in this manner?
This advert also raises other other serious concerns including sectarianism and narrow minded bigotry. Imagine a job advert in the UK’s mainstream job market that read – “looking for a teacher and ideal candidate must have graduated from university of East London, a vegetarian, and pacifist. The job is located in London and will be given peanuts as salary!” There would be a huge outcry and no one would be remotely interested in even applying. You would not recommend such a job to your friends and family and certainly not to your own children. Yet when this Imams advert appears most people may think that it is pretty normal. Let me tell you that this is not normal. Imams must be given a decent and living salary.
No mosques should be promoting sectarianism, narrow mindedness and bigotry. An Imam is a true champion of all people accordingly to Islam. They should never promote one school of thought while deriding others. They should embrace people of all schools of thoughts. They should understand the diversity of opinions and interpretations that exist with the Muslim community. Their role is to help community to remain cohesive regardless of their opinions. Their role is to unite communities by discouraging division. Their role is to nurture future generations in a balance and wholesome manner. A mosque committee that openly calls for sectarianism must be challenged by the community.
This job advert is inviting a lame duck type of an Imam who can be bullied around by the management committee. That is shame! When an Imam is treated like a slave that community is heading for disaster. Imam should be given a clear job description that outlines the parameters of his job but at the same time offers him freedom to develop his best working environment. If an Imam does not have the freedom to explore and express his intellectual prowess he would be uninspiring and unattractive. He would fizzle away! Imagine if Imam Abu Hanifa, Imam As-Shafi’i, Imam Ahmed, Imam Ibn Taymiyah, Imam Al-Ghazali, Imam Ibn al-Qayyim were managed by narrow minded, backward thinking, sectarian and uneducated management committees of mosques like we see in many cases today. The state of the Ummah would have been far worse. We must thank God that these great scholars with brilliant minds were given freedom to explore and express their thoughts. They were appreciated and respected. If we want to revive the spirit of Islamic scholars and bring about intellectual renaissance we must invest in our Imams and offer them real freedom to shape our future. We must free them of the crippling affect of poverty, hand to mouth existence and the curse of debt.
A true Muslim cannot be a lame duck or pacifist in nature. Imams can never be any of those. They have to lead from the front, they have to get their hands dirty and they have to play an active role in bringing positive and constructive change in the society which will benefit all people. Remember if you pay peanuts you get monkeys. Muslim community needs to up their ante and behave professional and relevant in all walks of life in general but with their imams in particular. Our change begins with ourselves first.
 Article taken from the author’s Facebook post, here. The article has been reproduced as is with minor grammatical changes and removing the name of the organisation that placed the job advertisement.
 Imam Ajmal Masroor is an Imam who leads Friday prayers at various London Masjids and the Chairman of the Islamic Society of Britain which is a community based charity and not-for-profit company.
The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of ahlaldbidah.wordpress.com or hayataluluma.wordpress.com.