These are 4 different hats that a masjid imam often has to wear:
- Prayer Leaders/Khatībs
Note that each of these require completely different skill sets – and therefore should ideally be serviced by different individuals. Let’s go through the qualifications for each.
Prayer Leader - On a day to day basis, this person truly only needs about a half juz memorized, and needs to have fluent reading and an intermediate level of tajweed. In Ramadan, this person needs to be a ḥafiẓ, but special arrangements can usually be made for that.
Khatīb - Needs to have an above-average understanding of the religion. This person also needs to be charismatic, a good public speaker, able to relate to diverse crowds, motivational, inspirational, and also a good prayer leader.
Educators/Professors - These are the research buffs. They can plow through books for hours on end. Personality and charisma is not required. Their time is spent with advanced and intricate issues. They are well versed in the minutiae of Islamic jurisprudence while understanding its application to their local time and place. They are the ones that the community can go to for rulings and direction on things such as moon-sighting, zakat calculation, inheritance, learning Arabic, learning Qur’an, learning hadith, and so on.
Activists - This person can go out, roll up their sleeves, and get behind a cause. This might include interfaith activities, volunteering at humanitarian/social events, organizing programs and inviting guest speakers [and therefore be well-connected]. An activist also needs a good working knowledge of basic management principles and work well with different teams of people. This is who the community goes to in order to figure out how to increase attendance, and come up with creative activities. This imam may also be the one that can spearhead a construction project or a school.
Counselors - This person needs to be extremely kind and patient. They must be well versed in Islamic law, but also understand the basics of communication and psychology, have a sympathetic heart, and open ears. They need to have a naturally loving personality. This is the person the community comes to for personal counsel, marital issues, addictions, and a host of other issues.
How do we ensure that our imams are being trained for this? Shaykh Nomaan Baig shares this:
Number 1: That training environment needs to be created which is currently non-existant. Number 2: Experienced Shuyukh need to share their experiences and what they lack to ensure the new graduates don’t have those shortcomings as far as education and training goes. It’s just like parents and their children: Parents of every generation want to ensure that their children are better prepared than they were.
It’s understandable that not every community can hire four different individuals. That time will come soon, and some communities are getting there. What is important for communities to understand is that if they expect their imam to fulfill all of these roles, it will inevitably fail. While there are certainly individuals who can perform all 4 functions well, there are not enough of them to go around for each and every community. Time to assess the skill set realistically and set expectations accordingly. Know who you are getting, why you are getting them, and work with it.