Who cares about their Imam?

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As we approach Ramadhan, when we will be going to the Masjid more frequently, it’s appropriate to think about our Imam. The man who calls the Adhan in your ear after your birth; blesses you with a beautiful name on the seventh day, when you are five years old, he starts your journey of learning the Quran. He does your Nikkah and marries you to your sweetheart. He will possibly lead your funeral prayer as well when you die. So, he’s responsible for great milestones in your life. But who is he? Here I’ve been reflecting on this elusive, enigmatic member of our society.

My Journey as an Imam

I’ve been an Imam since I was 15 years old (that’s more than 50 years Alhamdulillah), a voluntary one, back in the seventies, when there were only a handful of us. 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 and make a commitment and devotion to our Lord. It also meant uniting for social good and humanitarian work. I have never shied away from using my position as an Imam to start positive social and humanitarian projects, I think my namazis (congregation) 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 incomplete.

Since 1990 when I founded the Karimia Institute in Nottingham, I have worked with more than two dozen competent Imams, who I employed. It’s been a rollercoaster for me in terms of my development and theirs. I have developed leadership training programs, supervising and monitoring others, running Quran Schools effectively and engaging with the congregation. Over the years, I’ve learnt that there are three types of people within the congregation, which one are you?

  1. Those who care about their Imam, adore them and support them with their work and fully back them.
  2. Those who are respectful towards their Imam but have no personal contact with them, they listen to their sermons and sometimes praise and at other times criticise them.
  3. Those who are always negative and dismissive of their Imam, they can’t stand them and are always criticising them.

What is the role of a good Imam?

The greatest Imam ever was our beloved master, the leader of humanity Muhammad (peace be upon him). The Imam is not merely a prayer leader, but someone responsible for helping us with our journey towards Allah. The Majestic Quran says, “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:71). The leader here is interpreted as the Imam, the spiritual guide.

Let me share a couple of experiences from my role as an Imam (identities anonymised for privacy). I once visited a congregant, ‘Jamil’ alongside ‘Rafiq’ a social worker experienced in dealing with substance abuse. Jamil was concerned about his son, ‘Kamal’, who he suspected of drug use. During our visit, Kamal, a tall, young man with a pale complexion, joined us in the living room, prepared to share his experiences. It quickly became clear from our conversation, especially when Kamal mentioned hearing voices, that he was struggling with drug abuse. Rafiq engaged him with thoughtful questions to understand his situation better, while I listened intently to his story.

Later that same day, while in my office, there was a knock on the door. It was ‘Habib’ the father of one of our students, coming to express his frustration over not being informed sooner about his son’s poor performance at school, which was only revealed during a recent parents’ evening. I was asked to arrange a meeting with the school to hear his concerns and how they could support his son.

Many people never see this part of my job. Sometimes I deal with domestic violence cases, parents’ anguish and anxiety about their children as well as a range of marital issues. People even come for career advice. The Imam is never looked on as a social worker, a youth advisor or a marriage counsellor; but these are precisely the roles that a good Imam will be carrying out from his Masjid.

Balancing Expectations with Support

We need to have high expectations of our Imams. After all, he is a man of character, trustworthy, honest and truthful. He has your best interests at heart and wants to bring you closer to your Lord. However, we must recognise that the Imam is also a human being who will not always live up to that high standard and sometimes will make mistakes. When he acknowledges a mistake, we must offer forgiveness rather than exaggerating the issue or resorting to public criticism on Facebook and TikTok, a practice that has become all too prevalent, unfortunately.

Imams often feel underappreciated by both the Masjid congregation and the committees. While I advocate for excellence in all aspects, expecting high standards is one thing; the real question is, are we ready to back them up with adequate support and recognition? It’s crucial that we not only demand the best but also provide the necessary resources and encouragement to achieve it.

How can you help your Imam?

Here are four things that you could do to make your Imam’s work enjoyable and yourself benefit from him:

  1. Pray for yourself and your Imam and seek guidance for yourself and him.
  2. Be regular and consistent in your Masjid attendance as well as carrying out voluntary duties for your community, and do so in partnership with the Imam. This is your social responsibility, be ever-ready to support him.
  3. Be a critical friend of your Imam, and observe him thoughtfully so you can support him with the aim of his and your improvement.
  4. A good Namazi is a serious Muslim who shows loving, tender care for the Imam and all the members of the congregation.

This isn’t about personal gain or boosting my profile; it’s far more significant than that. It’s about paying homage to a key figure in our community, recognising their dedication and tireless service to the faith. It’s a gesture of respect and gratitude for their invaluable contribution.

Let me know what you think of your Imam and how you support him. What else would you like him to do for your community? What can you do for his Continuous Professional Development?