While I’m searching for a masjid interested in hiring someone like myself, I look at the requirements and expectations of each, and sometimes feel perplexed by what I read. While the tasks an imam is expected to perform or be able to perform are numerous, what is often neglected is mention of the qualifications for those non-traditional tasks. It also makes me wonder, if a good candidate meets most but not all desired attributes, is that center willing to assist them in any way to round out their credentials? For example, having an ijaza in Quran or a degree from an Islamic institute may demonstrate fiqh and hifz–the two most central and expected traits of an imam–they almost never mention any certificates or degrees in counseling, sociology, media relations, NPO management, etc. It is simply expected that the imam should know and be prepared.
But are they really?
And what if a candidate or current imam is realized essential within the community, beloved by all, and providing an inspiring example, yet he is utterly clueless when it comes to marital counseling? What will the community do to repair this, especially if his bad advice led a prominent donor family to break up in what could have been avoided as some suspect? Some influential Muslims may work hard so that they no longer have to see that imam ever again in their local masjid. Or what if he is inept in youth engagement? Or he doesn’t know when the camera stops rolling in interviews?
Scenarios like these, when the overburdened imam has a glaring weakness, an Achilles heal or kryptonite that must be patched are not uncommon. Too often, masjid communities may simply want the imam to play the part so that they have someone there, while their community is suffering greatly in that spot, and might even be better off if it was left vacant. Rather than pay extra to hire an assistant imam or youth minister or other individual to come and fill that role, a middle-ground stance would be to sponsor the imam‘s training and education in that sore spot. This could require a weekend seminar or it could require a genuine sabbatical in order for the imam to return with the skills, qualifications and confidence required to properly guide the community.
In this post, I read aloud and comment on two back-to-back excerpts from a book on church administration regarding continuing education for religious leaders. As a member of the US Muslim community, I recommend you listen to these excerpts and discuss them with your masjid representation and imams, to see if these ideas are needed in your community.
The author in the first piece basically says that continued education:
- Refreshes preachers
- Fills in the gaps of their knowledge that their schooling did not cover or they did not get a chance to take or audit
- Retools outdated information–especially important for secular fields like therapeutic techniques, etc.
He also says costs should be shared between the imam–since it’s his credentials that will be boosted–and the community, since they will be the ones who receive the most direct benefit from the imam‘s brief absence to seek more knowledge.
The author here says that sabbaticals give the imam well needed:
- Rest, which should allow him to think longer and deeper, and not always defensively with short weekly deadlines in mind.
- Travel, to observe other communities and network.
- Research, getting over a big hump in a post-grad degree, for example, or conducting all the research needed for a book or new program and phase in the masjid‘s vision, or job shadowing someone who properly fulfills a non-traditional imam role, e.g. youth organizing or family counseling.
If the imam has a family, carefully plan the schooling, and stress that the time away is not a vacation, but simply restructured work, taking in new knowledge, before returning to giving it out again. Most importantly, the sabbatical should be planned far in advance, with clear objectives, expectations, etc., where the imam will be able to debrief the committee upon return regarding his experience and quantified accomplishments of the purposes originally set out to achieve. Full salary should continue but the expenses of the sabbatical should be shared.
Elsewhere in the book, authors note that many churches have a separate fund for their ministers’ continued education. A few hundred dollars are added yearly to this fund that may be tapped into as necessary when good educational opportunities arise.
And Allah Knows best.