The man who calls the Azan in your ears soon after your birth; on the seventh day he blesses you with a beautiful name, when you are five years old, he starts your journey of Quran reading. When your parents have arranged your marriage, he does your Nikkah, marries you to your sweetheart. He will possibly lead your funeral prayer when you die. So, he’s responsible for great milestones of your life; hatch, patch and dispatch. Who is he?
I’ve been invited to be a member of the steering group for Cardiff University that’s working on the project ‘Understanding British Imams’. So, I have been reflecting on this elusive, enigmatic and an omnipresent member of our society. Here are my reflections!
I have been an Imam since I was 15 years old (a voluntary one), back in the seventies, when there were only a few Imams in the United Kingdom. As a serious student of the Quran, I often had the privilege of leading the prayers, which I relished. For me, it was an opportunity to gather together to worship, make a commitment and devotion to our Lord. It also meant encouraging social good and humanitarian work. I have never shied away from using my position as an Imam to initiate community projects; I think my namazi’s now expect it from me. Since the worship of Allah instils a sense of service to his creation, worship that does not motivate you to support the needy is worship incomplete. In the 90s, I founded the Karimia Institute in Nottingham. Since then, I have worked with more than two dozen competent Imams, who I’ve employed. It’s been a rollercoaster for me in terms of my own development and theirs.
Many worshipers often never see the different aspects of my life as an Imam. It’s not uncommon for me to make home visits. On one occasion, I rang the doorbell and waited anxiously for it to be opened. “I have come with my social worker ‘Rafiq’ to visit Mr Jamil” (names have been anonymised). I’ve called to help support your son who is addicted to drugs. Mr Jamil sat us in his lounge and asked his son to come and sit with us. His son was aware that we were coming and would be listening to his story. His son introduced himself, “I am Kamal”. He was tall with a pale complexion and a stubble beard. I asked him about his health and what he was up to. It became apparent he was on drugs, he talked about how he was hearing voices and that they were tormenting him.
As a local Imam, I deal with a range of issues, domestic violence, parents anguish and anxiety about their children, husband and wife falling out. People even come for career advice. The Imam is never looked on as a social worker, or a youth advisor or a marriage counsellor, but these are precisely the roles that we carry out from the Masjid.
What is the role of a good Imam?
The greatest Imam ever was our beloved master, the leader of Humanity Muhammed (may peace be upon him). He was not merely a prayer leader, but the person responsible to help humanity’s journey towards Allah. The Quran mentions leaders of the community: “The Day We call the communities along with their leaders, some will be given their book in the right hand and will happily read it; they will not be treated unjustly in the least” (Al-Isra:70).
The leader here is interpreted as the Imam, the spiritual guide. So, the Imam will be of service to you on the day of Judgement, so he has to be a sincere, wise and hardworking. Other role models are Syeduna Abu Bakr, Umar, Usman and Ali (may Allah be pleased with them all).
How can you help your Imam?
Over these 45 years of Imamat, I have observed that there are three types of people in any congregation:
- A special few, who really cared about their Imam, adored and supported my work, yes my fans!
- There is a majority who are respectful but have little personal contact, they listen to my sermons and sometimes praise and other times criticise.
- A minority, with negative opinions and sometimes dismissive towards them.
I believe you should have high expectations of your Imam; a man of character, trustworthy, honest and truthful. He has your best interests at heart and wants to bring us closer to our Lord. However, we must recognise that the Imam is a human being who also needs support from his congregation. A lot of the time Imams feel that their work is not being valued by the members of the mosque and the committees who are responsible for paying their salary. I believe in high standards all around, however it is easy to expect them, but are we prepared to support them?
What you can do today to make a difference to your Imam’s work:
Here are a few things that you could do to make your Imam’s work enjoyable and yourself benefit from it:
- Pray, for yourself and your Imam and seek guidance for yourself and him.
- Be regular and consistent in your Masjid attendance, as well as carrying out services for your community, do so in partnership with your Imam. This is your social responsibility, be ever ready to support the Imam.
- Be a critical friend of your Imam, observe him thoughtfully so that you can support him with the aim of his and your own improvement.
- A good Namazi is a serious Muslim who shows loving, tender care for the Imam and all the members of the congregation.
Please let me know what you think of your Imam, how do you support him? What else would you like him to do for your community? What can you do for his continuous professional development?