Objectives: Know and be able to explain the role of the Imam.
Imām: “A person who leads the congregational prayers” (i.e. the prayers in Jamā’ah). It can also refer to a Muslim ruler or a great scholar. Make sure that you use the word in its correct context.
The role of the Imām: If two or more Muslims are praying together, one will be chosen to act as the Imam. When a family prays together the father will be the Imam. He will face the Qiblah (i.e. Makkah) and the people will take their places behind him. The rows directly behind him consists of males and behind them, the females. Today, the title of Imam is used for the one appointed by the Mosque committee to lead the prayers, preach the Friday sermon (khutbah), conduct the funerals and provide guidance and advice on matters of Muslim belief and behaviour. An Imam will also teach Arabic, Qur’an recitation and study. This gives the Imam a lot of influence in the Mosque so he should be a knowledgeable and pious man, who follows the Islamic teachings and is a good example.
Qualities of an Imam: An Imam will be someone respected by the people for his views, his knowledge, his religious adherence and for the way in which he leads his life. An Imam with this responsibility cannot be one who is ignorant of the Islamic beliefs and methodology – he must be well versed in “fatwas” of the great Muslim Scholars of our times and the past. He will be wise in his understanding of how that teaching can apply to modern situations. He must not be an extremist or a political agitator as that is not from the behaviour of the Prophet (ﷺ). He should be a wise and calming influence. Likewise, he must not be an open sinner and one who is deficient in fulfilling the obligations. It is important in the Western (English-speaking) countries that he is able to understand Arabic, and speak English and be able to communicate well with the worshippers. If he speaks eloquently, then that is even better. He should be able to understand the way of life of the people he is helping – so in the United Kingdom or the USA, he should have a good understanding of the culture and environment. The Prophet (ﷺ) informed Mu’ādh Ibn Jabal of the type of people and that circumstances in Yemen before sending him there so he would be a wise and capable caller: “I am sending you to a people from the People of Book (Jews and Christians), so let the first thing that you call them to be: that they establish the worship of Allah alone.” Bear in mind that the Prophet sent Mu’ādh because he was from the most knowledgeable of his Companions – showing the importance of knowledge when preaching. The Imam should be able to present Islam to non-Muslims, and talk directly to young people and understand their concerns.
Young people are encouraged to go to the Mosque, but they often understand only English, so the Imam should be able to reach out to them in the language they understand. It is important that the Imam (or any religious teacher) makes his talks interesting and relavant for them, both in what he says and how he presents it. This does not mean that he must water down (or dumb down) religious knowledge, rather he must maintain a high standard of teaching and expectation – and at the same time make it accessible and interesting. So he begins with the essentials of the Religion, the pillars of Islam and Imān (faith).
The Imām, with the backing of the mosque committee, can make the Mosque an important centre for all Muslims in the community. The Salafi Mosque in (SalafiMosque.com) runs activities in many different languages including English, Arabic, French and Somali to meet the needs of the many different nationalities that live in the area. There are regular classes throughout the week, over twenty in fact, as well as Qur’an and Arabic classes for young and old, men and women. There is also a fulltime school building at the back of Mosque and an Islamic Bookstore at the front.
Can the Imam be a woman? If they are praying with one other, women and girls, then yes. One of the ladies leads the others in prayer by standing in the middle of the front row. This is proven by hadeeth and the traditions of the Companions. However, it is not proven by any Quranic or hadeeth text that a woman ever led the men in Prayer in the time of the Prophet (ﷺ) or his Companions, or in the early generations and centuries. Muslim jurisprudence (fiqh) is clear in the appointment of men as Imams of Mosques, and as Mu’adhins. Those who advocate women leading the prayer in Mosques and delivering Friday sermons have innovated an affair that was never practiced in the era of the Prophet and his Companions – and is therefore forbidden.
In Islam, women are given a high and noble station and Allah has designated for them roles, just as He has done for men – and Allah will reward women with Paradise as He will reward men so long as they worship Him and obey Him as He has prescribed, and fulfil their respective duties.
The Qur’an and Hadeeth, unlike other scriptures, have been preserved and are easily accessed, so one cannot invent doctrines, ideologies and practices upon the claim that the Islamic faith is “incomplete”. Rather the Qur’an and the Sunnah was completed and perfected in the lifetime of the Prophet. The Islamic faith does not belittle or demean women in the least. Allah’s favours the dutiful and pious regardless of gender, wealth or skin colour. A few years ago, Amina Wadud was invited to lead Friday prayers for a male and female congregation at the Muslim Education Centre, Oxford. This was a first in the UK. The very heartlands of Islam in Makkah and Madīnah (and elsewhere) had never seen such a sight, yet the organisers ‘were sure’ that she had the right qualities – but did she have the right to lead prayers according to Islamic texts, Prophetic Tradition, consensus of the early generations or by the rules jurisprudence?
A mosque needs to appoint a new Imam. Imagine that you are writing the job description for the position.
- What would you expect the Imam to do?
- What type of character and personality should the Imam have?
- What would you advise a woman who wishes to be an imam of a mosque?
- Do you think the Imams you have listened to on Fridays at sermons connect with young people? What can they do to reach out to young people?
I initially compiled these worksheets for my students at the Redstone Academy (aged between 13 and 16 years), Moseley Road, Birmingham, UK who were working towards their General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE). I felt that others who do not attend the school could also benefit from these topics since they are presented in simple bitesize chapters. I have relied upon GCSE text books and adapted them for my classes.