What does an Imam's role encompass? What should an Imam be paid? Should religious leadership be seen as a career or a calling? These are just some of the questions that Muslim communities across the UK have been debating over the years.
As Chief Editor of Imams Online, I am hoping that with the launch of our 'Fair Wage Campaign' for Imams, we can spark a serious, much needed and wholly overdue discussion on current salaries, wage structures and professional rights of Imams across the UK in the hope of bringing about fundamental change that considers the changing roles and responsibilities placed on 21st century religious leadership.
The Roles and Responsibilities of a 21st Century Imam
There is no doubt that the roles and responsibilities of contemporary Imams have fundamentally changed over the years. Whereas initial Muslim migration to the UK would have been content with the Imam that led them in the five daily prayers, today's society requires a faith leader that provides a holistic service within the Mosque and effective engagement and representation outside.
Within the context of social media and with the growth of third and fourth generation Muslim communities in the UK seeking religious guidance and a contextual understanding of their faith, the expectations on the Imam have grown and evolved. What we are trying to say with this campaign is that Imams need to take an honest look at whether they are fulfilling their roles as faith leaders to the fullest extent, employers of Imams i.e Mosques and Islamic Centres need to appreciate the demands on Imams both professionally and in their familial obligations and ensure they are paid a respectable living wage and finally, that seminaries graduating Imams incorporate leadership and skills based training in their education to compliment religious knowledge and effectively prepare prospective Imams to meet the demands of their profession.
The following infographic we have produced summarises what the work of a 21st Century Imam should encompass:
The Professional Rights of the Imam
Taking into the account the duties and expectations of the Imam in contemporary society, it is crucial that employers i.e Mosques and Islamic Centres afford them their employment rights as laid down in a formal contractual agreement between the Imam and his employer.
In my role as CEO of Faith Associates, I have always been a strong proponent of the need to professionalise the Imam as a career. Given what is expected of an Imam, it is only fair that there is an agreement between him and his employer that ensures they are afforded their employment rights and given clarity around grounds for dismissal and on reporting grievances.
Below highlights some of the key rights that need to be afforded to an Imam in their initial contract:
- Clearly define when employment begins
- Clear working hours per week
- Details of key expected duties in addition to leading prayer
- Clearly defined p/a remuneration and method of payment
- Holiday entitlement per year and rate of pay (including bank holidays)
- Sickness/injury pay and conditions
- 'Notice of Termination' period for employer and employee
- Grievance procedures as stated in statutory rights
- Understanding of procedures and grounds for dismissal
- Clear pension schemes available
What Are We Paying Our Imams?
Arguably the biggest grievance from today's Imams is that their commitment and hard work is not accurately reflected in their salary.
If we accept that the role and responsibilities of Imams has changed and if as a community, we are committed to encouraging young seminary graduates to pursue this as a viable career and want to ensure we attract our best and brightest to this profession, it is crucial that salaries are reflective of this and consider the housing and familial obligations an Imam also has.
In a recent analysis by 'MuslimView' that looked into Imams' pay, it found that in addition to being paid well below the national average (currently at £28,000), Imam salaries were not informed by pay scales and their employment rarely involved any opportunities for professional development and additional training.
The salary grievance of Imams is a perennial issue that needs to be addressed. We cannot begin to talk about respecting each other if this is not a principle we apply to our leaders. The infographic below compares the average wage of similar level professions as Imams.
Within this context and considering the evolving roles of an Imam, it is important that we establish benchmark figures for an Imam's salary, provide increases based on experience and ensure they are given avenues for professional development.
The 'Fair Wage Campaign' hopes to act as a catalyst for discussions around defining the role of a 21st Century British Imam and instilling into Mosques and Islamic Centres the need to professionalise the employment practices concerning them.
It is crucial that Imams are respected for the hard work, commitment and services they provide to the community.
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