But the reality is that most of our Imams in the West are overloaded with a wide variety of tasks. This is especially the case in our larger mosques in London, Toronto, Chicago, New York, Paris, etc.
Not only are the Imams responsible for preparing and delivering the Friday speech and leading congregational prayers, but they are also responsible for many administrative and religious tasks. These include answering fatwa questions, welcoming non-Muslim visitors, interacting with the local community, attending mosque board meetings, etc.
And as the Imams of mosques serving large communities are no super-men, they do need formal support and assistance. One suggestion is to appoint deputy Imams, especially in the larger mosques. The deputies would help them out with the tasks they don’t have enough time to deal with.
Prophet Muhammad, Abu Bakr & Umar
If we go back to the Sunnah, we find that Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was accompanied most of the time by his two aides: Abu Bakr and ‘Umar.
Upon the death of Umar, Ali ibn Abi Talib said in a hadith reported by Imam Al-Bukhari:
“… I used to hear the Prophet (peace be upon him) saying: ‘I, Abu Bakr and `Umar went (somewhere); I, Abu Bakr and `Umar entered (somewhere); and I, Abu Bakr and `Umar went out.” (Al-Bukhari)
This shows how Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) used to always involve his companions and close aides in bearing the responsibility of leading the Muslim community. He would distribute tasks and responsibilities based on the capabilities and strong points of his companions.
By having his two closest aides with him most of the time, he would consult with them and train them for the future when they would be in-charge as Caliphs.
Deputy Imams for Youth Matters
There are not many mosques in the West today we can classify as youth-friendly mosques. Most Friday speeches do not address youth issues, but instead address issues “back home” in the Indian Sub-Continent or the Middle East.
A western young Muslim, if he happens to understand Urdu or Arabic, does not connect with matters “back home”. What is important to him are matters he faces in daily life at school, university or work and among his circle of family and friends.
So till we are able to improve the topics of Friday speeches to make them more relevant to the younger generation, we need an urgent solution. And one suggestion is to appoint deputy Imams for the youth. Their main tasks would be to cater to the real needs of young Muslims, to offer them counseling when needed and a program of youth activities to support their development and keep them attached to the mosque.
If our busy imams don’t have enough time to take care of all these activities, they should delegate them to qualified candidates from their community. This would be a win-win situation for all.
Deputy Imams for Converts to Islam
The good news today is that the number of new converts to Islam is steadily growing in the West. But the other side of the coin is unfortunately not good news.
If we perform a survey among new converts to Islam, we would find that more than 50% are totally detached from their local Muslim community. Not only that, but the majority don’t go near their local mosques. Why?
They are too frightened to do so, as when they go, they are either not welcomed or they are judged and criticized for their lack of hijab or the way they pray or dress, etc.
This is very sad, especially when we remember the challenges new converts face after they take Shahadah.
A focal point for new converts to Islam is urgently needed in all mosques in the West and in the larger mosques with a big convert community we need deputy Imams for new converts.
Is this really asking too much?
Some mosque administrators will claim that there is no budget and human resources to support such programs. And the answer is that this is because they send “back home” a large percentage of Zakah and charity collections, instead of spending it on local priorities, like support to the youth and to new converts.
If we are serious about reforming Islam in the West, we must address these challenges in a transparent and frank way.
And one area in need of urgent reform is making all our mosques women-friendly.
It is unbelievable that in the 21st century there are still many mosques in the West that don’t even have a place for women to pray, let alone being women-friendly.
It is high time to change this wrong understanding of Islam, especially that Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said:
Do not stop Allah’s female slaves (women) from going to Allah’s Mosques‘. (Al-Bukhari)
For a full refutation of the opinion to restrict women from going to the mosque, please check this article by Dr. Jasser Auda: Did the Prophet Discourage Women’s Visits to Mosques?
A female deputy-Imam would be most suitable for dealing with women issues at our mosques and making our mosques more women-friendly.
And to conclude, the delegation of tasks is the only way our Imams can deal with all these challenges and community requirements. Our mosque board members must support them with the resources needed, if we are really serious about reform.
Now your turn: Is your local mosque youth, convert and women-friendly?