Short Answer: Being an imam or scholar, and especially being a good one, requires full-time dedication. These men and women have families and responsibilities, so of course they should be paid a salary for their work for the Muslim community. But, they should not use their position to become rich or to pressure people to give them gifts.
Wa alaykum salaam, sister, and thank you for this excellent question.
Dr. Shabir Ally from Let the Quran Speak answers your question in this video:
Aishah Khaja: “Is there any proof that an imam or a scholar should be paid a salary? And did the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, and other prophets receive a paid sum for their work or did they have a separate daily job?”
Dr. Shabir Ally: “Okay, so it’s an important question.
The great scholar of Islam from the medieval times, Jalaladdin As-Suyuti, who was the subject of my PhD studies—he wrote a treatise in which he argued that scholars of the faith should be paid, just simply for being scholars, before they actually start doing any particular work.
And his reasoning basically amounts to saying that we need scholars and they need to have a living like everybody else, as well.
And their involvement in study actually is a serious endeavor and it requires a full-time dedication. You can’t do this part-time.
And so naturally the community needing its scholars should pay people, just for the fact of their being scholars.
But, okay, I don’t want to take it to that extent. Let’s take it to a more practical level.
A person is employed as an imam in a mosque or in an organization and he’s fulfilling a certain role, just like any other job, but he needs to be paid because he has a life to live.
He probably has, or she can have, family and children to take care of.
And if we did not employ these people within these organizations and paid them then we will not attract the brains.
Anyone who wants to earn a living and has the brains to do so and make a comfortable living outside of the Muslim environments would obviously be attracted away.
If we go back to the Quran and from the life example of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, what did we find?
First of all, we know from the Quran that the prophets preached selflessly.
And the Prophet, peace be upon him, himself, he had his own means of livelihood as a trader before he got the revelation
But once he got the revelation he became so busy with preaching that he did not have time to continue with his own trading.
But people brought him gifts, and so without demanding anything from anybody, people who were close to him and who liked his message, they saw the obvious and gave him gifts.
But he did not go appealing to them: “Look, you know, I need you to bring me more gifts.”
In fact, it is mentioned that on occasion the Prophet, peace be upon him, was so hungry and that he tied a stone to his tummy to alleviate the pangs of hunger.
And when he died he did not leave any noticeable property of his own, just some barley in a corner and a shield that was used obviously for protection.
So this was the example that is left before us.
Aishah Khaja: So, final answer: should an imam get paid or not? Yes or no?
Dr. Shabir Ally: Well, yes, the imam should get paid, but at the same time the imam should be conscious to not misuse his or her position for personal gain.
One should not be seeking this as a means of getting rich. If you want to get rich, go through business or something like this, or politics maybe, but decent politics.
But if you want to serve God and then this is your way, and at the same time you need to make a living, then the community should take care of that.