Imams as public servants

If Imams are public employees they will be loyal to the government rather than different groups, sects or influential individuals

Dr Anwar Dabour, Professor of Shari’ah at the Faculty of Law, Cairo University, has stated that there is nothing wrong with the imam who delivers the khutbah (sermon) in a Mosque obtaining a salary from either the Mosque board or from the government. Those imams should be supported by the states where they live in order to enable them to meet their requirements as well as family responsibilities.

Three years after the APS tragedy, where do we stand as a nation in our battle against terrorism, extremism and radicalisation? It is a very valid question posed on this day. For a short while the tragedy brought all political parties on the same page. A twenty-point National Action Plan was devised and announced on 24 December 2014, yet a lot is to be done as far as this plan is concerned. This is what former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said in his speech.

We have to act fast and whatever is agreed on has to be implemented immediately. This agreement is a defining moment for Pakistan and acting on it has the potential to rid Pakistan of terrorism forever.

The 20 points of the NAP are meant to target different factors which allowed terrorism to thrive in this country. Military courts were established and capital punishment was reintroduced. This was the easy part. The NAP’s fourth point is aimed at cracking down on hate speech and involves taking action against publications engaging in hate speech. The NAP is also meant to prevent banned outfits from operating under different names, protecting the rights of minorities, reforming Madaris and preventing sectarian violence. Events since December 2014 have clearly exhibited that the NAP has failed to bring about any of the aforementioned changes. The layman still doesn’t know where his freedom of speech begins and where it ends.

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government recently announced that it will be regularizing the services of Imams and Khateebs, giving them the status of government employees with a regular monthly salary. The initiative has already generated a debate. Some religious parties have questioned the intentions behind this step, but it will definitely have many positive effects. However, making this happen involves several challenges.

In Turkey, Friday sermons are provided to Imams by the government so the whole community can be on the same page regarding different issues

Muslim history is full of various contributions and measures taken by the Muslim rulers for Ulema and religious leaders as the very first step in this regard was taken by the second Caliph Hazrat Umer Farooq, when stipends were officially announced for Imams. The practice continued later on. Talking about the Sub-Continent till 1857, the mosques and madaris were considered a responsibility of the state and Imams were provided for by the state as well. Also if we look around in various Muslim and non-Muslim countries the Imams and Khateebs are paid regular salaries by the state.

Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states are also employ Imams as public servants. The initiative can have many positive aspects. It will provide a respectable status to the Imams and Khateebs as equal citizens of the state. They usually seem to be living in isolation as their lives are fully dedicated to religious services, this step will mainstream them giving them a feeling of social inclusiveness. Secondly the reliance upon funding and donations by the masses or other sources will be reduced which is of course inconsistent at times. Thirdly mainstreaming the Imams will create an opportunity for them to lead a self reliant life. Hate speech can be effectively dealt with as the Imam will be owned by the state and will not be obliged to certain groups or sects.

A very good example is of the Friday sermons in Turkey which are unified and centralized provided by the state so that the whole Muslim population is on the same page whatever the issue is. Selection criteria for Imams will also be looked into as currently the Imam is either a nominee of the community, or it continues as a family affair. In some case they are nominated by the influential individuals of the community or the person who donates for the construction of the mosque concerned .The initiative can pave the way for well qualified Imams , may be from a madrassa or college , though there is a rare trend to look at Imamat as job rather it’s taken as a religious obligation and duty.

Looking at the challenges, firstly it’s the political opposition by some religious parties as they are looking at the initiative with doubt. Provincial government can take these parties on board and clear the queries they have before practical implementation of the said proposal

The second challenge is the humongous task of data Collection of mosques and the Imams serving them, it really needs to be done very effectively and sensibly.

Thirdly what are the criteria for the selection and eligibility for salary as there is a big number of Afghan Khateebs Imams currently working in KP and FATA as well.

The clarity is further needed about the status and regularisation the systems and procedures for hiring /payments to the Imams, service, pension the additional benefits and tenure of the Imam .Again the whole process needs to be time bound so that the benefits should reach to the beneficiaries as soon as possible. Let’s hope the initiative achieves its desired objectives so that a very important keeping in view the role of religious leaders.

The writer has experience in the field of education and is currently working as a resource person in the development sector

Published in Daily Times, December 28th 2017.