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How Much Should Islamic Clergy Make?

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IbnabeeOmar blogs about organizational development at the Muslim Strategic Initiative. This article was initially posted there and is cross-posted here with a new epilogue.

Slate raised the issue of the salaries of religious clergy highlighting salaries of Priests and Rabbis. Data about Imam salaries was (un)surprisingly hard to find.

The topic of imams’ salaries is for some reason a touchy one, but it is not a complicated issue if approached objectively. We have previously discussed what to look for when hiring an imam. Communities though, set extremely high expectations of what they want.

If those qualifications and expectations were to be put on someone in any other working environment, I would venture to guess the salary discussion would start somewhere in the neighborhood of $200,000 a year.

If your community wants a Superman imam, then they need to be ready to pay a Superman salary.

Aside from that, an imam should be assessed by any other normal scale. Check a person’s qualifications. Someone with a Master’s in Islamic Law and 15 years experience leading a community should command a higher pay than a fresh graduate with no experience. Most masjids though, just have a set amount that they throw at whoever fills the position regardless of qualification.

Along with qualification there needs to be a built in growth mechanism (or career advancement). As the imam gains tenure in the community, the salary should be raised accordingly based on their performance [something ideally settled on in the interview process].

The problem that we run into is we want imams who will give 80 hours a week, but be paid based on 20. In our secular fields, if we have a 4 or 6 year degree, we expect a certain minimum salary to be commensurate with our experience and education. For some reason, we feel this does not apply to imams as if studying Islam and serving or leading a community do not really count.

If we need someone to spend 30-40 hours a week in the masjid, provide 10-20 hours a week of counseling, and on top of that be constantly on-call for marriages, funerals, and other emergencies, then a pay structure should be built to reflect that. Regular jobs that have such requirements will either pay high enough that they can make someone salaried and they will deal with the hours, or there are incentives built in (overtime and on-call pay).

Unfortunately, not only are we not there yet, but we don’t even offer the most basic of benefits yet such as healthcare and reimbursements for education and development. The fact that Slate could so readily collect salary data from the Jewish and Christian communities, but had no starting point for the Muslim community speaks volumes about how far behind we are.

If we truly want community leaders who lead us in prayer, deliver the khutbah on Fridays, counsel our families, and teach our children then it behooves us to make sure they are so well paid that they never have to worry about money. Buy them a house and pay them a full time salary on top of it. We need to take the benefits of a corporate pay structure and apply it to the masjid – with one huge caveat. We cannot adopt the ruthlessness and attitude that people are dispensable that permeates corporate leadership. These are our community leaders, the people we have entrusted our spiritual education to – make sure they are taken care of.

I personally feel that the imam position should be a 6 figure income (adjusted according to cost of living and so on). Smaller communities should still aim to pay at least 50-60 (if not closer to 80). These are simply rough numbers, but I want to throw them out there and move our communities past the expectation that we get tenured scholars who are on the same paygrade (or less) than most entry level positions.

Many communities are still living in a naive reality where they expect an Imam to take a pay of 30-40k just because they are “working for Islam” without any regard to supporting their family. Then we get upset when they take a second job to make ends meet, insisting instead that they dedicate their time to the community. In our non-Islamic professions we aim to secure the highest salary possible and feel insulted if someone offers less than our worth. Let’s stop doing that to our community leaders.

We don’t live in a Muslim country where there are endowments and government grants to support our scholars. Our communities have the money. Fund-raising is not the problem. We just need to understand that our investment in human resources should take precedence over our investment in architectural ones.

Epilogue


In the 2 days since posting this article on muslimsi.com, there has been an outpouring of feedback via comments, Facebook shares, and even personal emails. Based on that feedback I felt it important to highlight a few points.


Most obviously, this is an extremely contentious issue in our community, and it is one that must be resolved in a way that allows our communities to grow and move forward.

When it comes to opposing higher pay (or even pay altogether) for Imams, it comes from a few very specific perspectives. First is the view that people who do Islamic work should not be paid at all (a view that I feel is naive and somewhat ignorant). Second is the view that if an Imam is paid, then it means he must be a perfect human being, or at worst, be like one of the Sahabah in all his actions. Third is the view that if a board pays an Imam, then it means they somehow have total ownership of him.

In all these cases, the root of the problem is a lack of respect for the scholars and community leaders of our ummah. They are not perfect, but if they don’t guide us, who will? Our responsibility as community members is to help them grow, because the more that they grow, the better equipped they are to lead our communities. Instead, we find masjids that are expecting one of the khulafā’ al-rashīdūn to magically come and lead their masjid (and do so for a minimum wage salary at that). Many of our boards have yet to realize that the job description of an Imam in America is vastly different from what an imam does in nearly any other country in the world. The expectations we put on them are herculean to say the least.

This lack of respect comes from not understanding what function the Imam plays in the community. 99% of the people will never see the hours of marital counseling, family counseling, and late night phone calls that imams have to yield. They’ll never see the people who randomly walk into the masjid at odd hours dealing with drug abuse, emotional abuse, physical abuse, and sometimes worse trying to find help from the imam. They won’t see the hours of work that will go into preparing a 45-minute halaqah that is then only attended by 10 people.

Our communities are growing rapidly, and with that growth comes new problems and new situations that we must deal with. If we want to live our lives in a way pleasing to Allah, then it is imperative we supply our communities with people capable of leading them and helping us deal with those problems. I find instead that many masjids treat their imams even more ruthlessly than the worst of corporations, not realizing the need the community has for spiritual leadership. They nitpick at them in ways that make it appear as if they consider themselves to be angelic.

Aside from the arguments resulting from a lack of respect, the only other issue is money. I do not think money is an issue. In some smaller communities, it will be, and they’ll have to work through it. But I cannot fathom how seemingly every other masjid has multi-million dollar blueprints and expansion plans, but they can’t afford to invest in quality human resources. This is a joke. Without proper human resources, we will just have empty (but beautiful) structures. Put the money where it’s needed most.

One of the most promising developments I have seen is that there is a surge of people who want to serve this deen full time. They want to study Islam, they want to work for the community full time. But they are held back. Their parents will not stand for them taking a career in the service of Islam and instead push them into other professions. Now it may be easy to criticize a parent and say they are being short-sighted or materialistic, but I do not think that is the case at all. I think most parents have seen the way our communities treat Imams – the most telling sign of which is their low salary (as the saying goes, “put your money where your mouth is”) – and they do not want their children to have to face that.

If our masajid do not get their acts together on this issue, then we are planting a destructive seed that will prevent our development of sustainable scholarship in this country.

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Omar Usman is a founding member of MuslimMatters and Qalam Institute. He teaches Islamic seminars across the US including Khateeb Workshop and Fiqh of Social Media. He has served in varying administrative capacities for multiple national and local Islamic organizations. You can follow his work at ibnabeeomar.com.

64 Comments

64 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Naseer

    January 16, 2012 at 6:53 AM

    Could you have said it better? NO!
    it’s pathetic truly, I wish we could wake up and do something, I’m doing my studies now and planning on furthering it soon overseas and my intentions on coming back are limited because I want to actually make a living. Being an Imam from the get go has a negative connotation, which is confusing because of their importance. Oh well, the youth who are interested in studying Islam will do one of two things.

    1. Find the 4% of Masajid in the states that actually pay.
    Or
    2. Move overseas where they are better cared for and can continue to submerge themselves in studies in countries that will better care for them.

    • Avatar

      Joe

      January 17, 2012 at 11:29 PM

      Salam Alaikum

      This article touches on a few important issues, but in my estimate (and I say this working as an Imam) in all of our comments we have missed the mark. We are either concentrating way too much on measurable minutia, or on intangible feelings. We are asking the wrong questions, its not what he does or how much he makes. Those changes with time and place. We should be asking: “What is an Imam?”

      We have no shortage of funding, resources, or facilities in our community. What we also have no shortage of is disjunctive approaches to community advancement . We have a leadership crisis, in which competing visions vie for prominence in a closed environment. This results in hegemony and chaos. Our problem is more psychological than anything; we have a phobia of clear delineated leadership. We hold anarchy as “Shura”, we hold leaders as underlings, we hold trusteeship as oligopoly.

      In summary, the Imam is a leader. He lends organizational representation to his organization, he is a gatekeeper to the institution he is associated with. Due to his religious training, he is the person best fit to design and implement strategic plans for the furtherance of the Mosque’s mission, which at its core is religious in nature.

      We must realize that all other services support the religious nature of our Mosques, and that institutions need leaders to succeed. We will always remain marginalized, because we marginalize our leadership, by either not empowering them, or by not identifying and training potential leaders.

      The Prophet (عليه السلام) said: (إنما جعل الامام ليؤتم به) “The Imam is only there to lead.”
      Allow leaders to lead.

  2. Avatar

    Umm Sulaim

    January 16, 2012 at 7:33 AM

    Great reminder. I think I had a similar debate over a decade ago. Some people would rather the Ambassadors of Islam lived on crumbs.

    The only point on which I disagree with you is good Imams have more or less the same responsibilities everywhere. In fact, those in the developing world face the added problem of lack of access to up-to-date information on some of the issues you mentioned. Some of these societal problems are considered taboo, unlike in the west where it is a daily reality in the news, except for those more comfortable with a conspiracy of silence.

    And is that 50-60 cents? Haha. I think you meant 50000-60000 dollars.

    Umm Sulaim

  3. Avatar

    Mehzabeen (iMuslim)

    January 16, 2012 at 8:49 AM

    Masha’Allah, I agree: investing in people is paramount to investing in architecture. The first caliphs, radiallahu anhum were paid so that they could commit their entire time to the leadership of the Muslim community. Imams should not be made to feel like beggars – especially when it is we who are the needy ones.

    • Avatar

      The Shardul of Allah

      January 16, 2012 at 1:44 PM

      The first caliphs, radiallahu anhum were paid so that they could commit their entire time to the leadership of the Muslim community.

      Yes, the first Caliphs were allowed to take their portions from the national treasury, but they would only take the bare minimum. In fact, Abu Bakr (R) did not take anything from the national treasury. He used to live on his own. As for the Umar (R), he would also take extremely little. Uthman (R) did not need anything from the treasury because he himself was very wealthy. Ali (R) was also a great ascetic.

      Despite surviving on their own, the Caliphs had served the ummah in the best possible way. Despite being a caliph, Abu Bakr (R) would go out in the outskirts of Madina to milk the goats of some old women. Umar (R) saw this one day and asked those women, “Do you know who this man is?” They replied in negative. Umar (R) then cried and said,”O Abu Bakr! Indeed you have raised standard of khalifah to a very high place.”

      Uthman (R) had the highest number of camels among the Arabs. Yet when he became the Caliph, he had only two camels. He donated the rest in the cause of Allah.

      I am not saying that imams should not be paid. We should offer them a salary that commensurate their experience, knowledge, and the hours they spent each week for community service. However, it should be up to the imams whether they would take such a high salary.

      In my humble opinion, although imams are giving a lot of their time and effort in their professional role, it would be unfair to compare imamah with other profession. Because there will be no more prophets, and thus the duty of keeping the ummah guided has been transferred to the shoulders of imams. Thus the profession of imam is noble profession and people serve as imams for the sake of Allah and reward in the hereafter first, and for the sake of money second.

      Again I am not saying that imams should not be paid, but I will recall this incident only to highlight the nobility of this career: The Messenger of Allah used sleep in a bed made up of dates palm barks. When he would sit on it, it create marks on his body. Umar (R) saw this one day and cried, “O The Messenger of Allah! The Romans and the Persian Emperors sleep on comfy beds despite being kuffars and you sleep on such rough beds despite being the Messenger of Allah?” The Messenger of Allah become angry hearing this statement. He reminded Umar (R) that we have akhirah while the Roman and Persian Emperors had only duniya.

      • Avatar

        mw_m

        January 16, 2012 at 4:17 PM

        You make a very good point akhi. However, you have to keep in mind that being Muslim in America raises some new issues that the khulafa did not have to deal with:

        Transportation: It’s becoming pretty much a necessity for families with children to have two cars. One for the breadwinner, one for the parent who’s taking care of the children to drive them to and from school, extracurricular activities, Islamic weekend school, etc. Two cars means double the expense. Say the imam drives a Toyota Camry and his wife drives a Honda Accord (neither of which are extravagant). That’s a substantial sum of money.

        Education: Sure, public school is an option, but many imams might prefer to send their children to Islamic school or private school. That’s a substantial expense right there. Add to that children who are going to college. Even a public university where the child stays at home runs close to $10,000 a year. Three children in college at once ad you’re looking at $30,000 in tuition alone.

        Vacation: This might seem like a luxury that the khulafa did not have but in reality, this is a necessity. Families no longer spend as much time together and if the imam never goes on vacation with his family, you’re looking at some serious domestic problems. Add in some expenses here as well.

        And finally, take into account the high school student with a 90 percentile plus ACT/SAT score. He tells his parents he wants to become an imam, what do you think their response is going to be? 30k a year for the rest of his life, being a slave to the masjid board (since he has no way to save up and is living hand to mouth) or 300k a year as a physician where he can “learn some Islam on the side.” The fact of the matter is that, with the rare exceptions that we know so well, the majority of people who are able to actually go on to become imams in America are not the most intelligent young men we have. I can easily think off the top of my head at least 4 or 5 brothers who would have loved to become imams but because of the concern of their parents are currently pursing the path to become physicians.

      • Avatar

        James

        January 17, 2012 at 8:34 AM

        Salaam.

        You mentioned the poverty that the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) and some of the Khulafa experienced. Keep in mind that this poverty was optional. In hadith, the prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) mentioned that he was given the choice to live as a prophet and king or a prophet in poverty, and he opted for the latter.

        It is the responsibility of masjid boards to give Imams a decent salary that allows them to not constantly be worrying about covering expenses, etc. If the Imams choose to donate majority of it in the path of Allah, and live hand to mouth, that is their choice. However, there is a fine line between masjid boards imposing poverty on imams and masjid boards giving imams a decent salary with the imams deciding for themselves how they want to use it.

      • Avatar

        Zebram Zee

        February 9, 2012 at 9:30 PM

        I dont agree completely.  While Imams should not take ostentatious salaries, also keep in mind that the caliphs took little in part because taxes are forced contributions, and they did not want to force people to pay up so they could live a nice life.  In the case of Imams here, however, they are being paid through voluntary contributions.

      • Avatar

        ummabduWahab

        June 27, 2016 at 10:30 PM

        JAZAKALLAHUKHYRE for that brother MASHALLAH ALLAHUMAH barik lak you have spoken with knowledge and understanding of it may ALLAH reward you for reminding us.. I do agree that sometimes a Imam is over worked and sometimes doing what a scholar should be doing. There is responsibility on the directors of masjids that each person is in the places of there capacity that is another topic a very important topic that does need to be addressed. However if we concentrate just about the pay of the Imam this is what I have to say: What we know from the book of ALLAH is that this world is a delusion and most are deluded by the pomp and glitter of it.

        “Indeed, We have made that which is on the earth adornment for it that we may test them (as to) which of them is best in deed” Quran surah 18 verse 7

        ” But you prefer the worldly life. While the hereafter is better and more enduring”
        Quran surah 87 verse 16&17

        “And what is the life of this world except the enjoyment of delusion”
        Quran surah 3 verse 185

        Any Imam must first and foremost know that the service they are doing is for ALLAH and with ALLAH is the best of provision and reward in this world and the next and if one is sincere in their service to ALLAH, they will never regret, suffer or complain. However an Imam must live, eat, cloth and shelter himself and family and normal necessities etc but not to delude oneself to what the normal necessities are. So to ask or to be paid to what is necessary for his position and the rest he can feel safe that his reward is with ALLAH..
        There is no worldly price on this work and I have heard much people value the Imams work in worldly terms which is an obvious lack in faith or understanding. The Imam should be paid to live within his means. So he is able to keep his role as Imam so not to pass his time else where in order to provide. But if he has higher expectations or desire for worldly benefits maybe he could leave his role to a more humble sincere individual who has the right understanding and intention of being Imam INSHALLAH.
        The first and foremost the intention should be to please ALLAH and serve his deen for the sake of ALLAH and not for the pay check that’s if he wants to receive the real benefits and sweetness of being Imam and receive the true rewards in this world and the next. And ALLAH knows best.
        May ALLAH guide us and guide our Imams to guide us.

  4. Avatar

    Basil Mohamed Gohar

    January 16, 2012 at 9:02 AM

    Baarak Allaahu feek wa jazaak Allaahu khayran, yaa akhee, for sharing this with us. I had just received a link to that Slate article a few days ago, and I debated whether or not to even share it with our own imaam – would it make him feel better or worse, given that we’re facing exactly this situation in our community.

    I think there’s another shade to this problem. Some people, especially in the administration and/or amongst the elders/uncles of the community, don’t even want an imaam in the true sense. They want a Quran teacher, an imaam only for prayers, and a worker for the masjid. Beyond that, they think that their (the uncles’) own secular education will be enough to lead the community Islamically. You’ve hinted at this, I think, in that the administration might want complete control over the imaam.

    There’s a real failing in our communities in accepting that we need to have sound and strong Islamic leadership to achieve anything close to the concept of an Islamic community. We should strive hard to find good leaders, compensate them appropriately, and once they’re in place, support them in all the good that they do, and most importantly, have a degree of trust in their choices and decisions, and follow them as long as they are in line with Quran & Sunnah.

    I could probably go on until I hit the comment length limit, so I’ll leave it this, and I just want to share that it’s a problem felt far-and-wide. May Allaah correct our understanding of Islamic scholarship and its worth and necessity in our communities.

    • Avatar

      mw_m

      January 16, 2012 at 4:20 PM

      I think there’s another shade to this problem. Some people, especially in the administration and/or amongst the elders/uncles of the community, don’t even want an imaam in the true sense.

      This.

      We actually had an uncle of the community stand up and say quite explicitly that American Muslims have no need for an “imam.” All we need is a hafidh to lead the prayers and taraweeh. Any “imam” duties can be taken over by the non-religiously trained uncles (he clearly stated this very sentiment). As long as communities don’t see a need for imams, we’re going to run into this issue.

  5. Avatar

    Teaching Kids the Holy Quran using toys

    January 16, 2012 at 10:01 AM

    I think the Muslim community should split the roles. An imam is someone who leads you in prayer (probably because he knows more of the Holy Quran). A scholar is someone who knows a lot about fiqh and can give fatwas. Every mosque should have a resident scholar who lives in the community and “gets” them. You can probably have 2-3 imams who rotate their schedule. Marriage counsellors should be separate and should work in hand with the scholar, but should be specialized to save marriages.

    It is hard to have a super human imam that can do all.

    Another idea that needs to take hold in the community is that these people should not be paid highly as they are distributing Islamic knowledge and “working for Islam”. Why should they not be paid? They are providing a service.

    And finally, I have seen many people illegally record lectures and made dvds from original lectures sold by the scholars, because “it’s for Islam” (so copyright laws don’t apply?). This also needs to be tackled with.

    — Mezba

    • Avatar

      Siraaj

      January 16, 2012 at 1:14 PM

      Mezba, my thoughts exactly. Oftentimes, imams and scholars are lumped together in one bundle, but the needs of the community are becoming more and more compartmentalized and we’re finding it’s better to have trained specialists in an area rather than a jack of all trades.

      I believe another problem our community faces is the belief that knowing the Qur’aan or understanding jurisprudence equals leadership capability, marital counseling specialties, and so on. I think these and other skills have to be both trained in some academic sense and then practiced, otherwise it becomes on the job training with the barometer being the satisfaction of the board, and if their standard is too low, then the community suffers for it, and if it’s too high, too much stress is placed on the imam.

      Siraaj

  6. Avatar

    Jo

    January 16, 2012 at 10:17 AM

    as salaam alaikum,

    Actually, in my mind it makes more sense to pay an Imam a housing allowance than to buy a house.

    My father is the treasurer of his church and he knows all the ins and outs of clergy pay so that it is beneficial for both the church and the pastor.

    Maybe we as an ummah should use some of our interfaith connections to talk to churches who have been doing this for decades in order to learn what we’ve been missing.

    http://www.freechurchaccounting.com/housingallowance.html

    • Avatar

      ahmed

      January 16, 2012 at 11:58 AM

      this link is very interesting, jazakum Allahu khairan.

      • Avatar

        Jo

        January 16, 2012 at 1:14 PM

        waiyyakum

    • Avatar

      Siraaj

      January 16, 2012 at 1:07 PM

      This is a great suggestion – it would be great if individuals could come together and put together a suggested package for taking care of Imams and community leaders, and researching models that already exist in other communities to brainstorm what is appropriate for their own.

      Siraaj

  7. Avatar

    Bader

    January 16, 2012 at 1:18 PM

    Clergy = a term for and used by Christians about their own qississin;
    Imam (of a Masjid) is the proper term. Walhamdulillah.

    • Avatar

      ibnabeeomar

      January 16, 2012 at 1:28 PM

      the term clergy was used because it was in response to an article by slate that used the term [see the initial link in the article]

  8. Avatar

    AycaB

    January 16, 2012 at 2:40 PM

    It is permissable to take money for teaching our deen. A person has to earn a living, and the best way to earn a living is one which strives for Allah’s cause or to spread His message. So, for example, just like lawyers who fight for Muslims in court cases for the sake of Allah, just like doctors in Palestine operate on wounded citizens for the sake of Allah, just like judges want to do justice for the sake of Allah, it is no different than imams, sheiks, or alimas who teach and preach for the sake of Allah. I mean Allah didn’t expect people to work for free in dunya and beg people for money!! It is instructed for Muslims to go into professions for the sake of Allah, so this whole paying imams, sheiks, and alimas should be a non-issue. Moreover, Imams, sheiks, and alimas do more than teach and preach, they put up with their congregates myriad of problems! They remind me of college deans….they do it all. Moreover, Islamic religious preachers these days almost always have advanced degrees too. Who do you think will pay for their loans if they aren’t paid well?!

  9. Avatar

    AbdelRahman Murphy

    January 16, 2012 at 3:32 PM

    Observation: interesting that people who don’t serve as imams or full-time community workers feel so strongly about the issue. For those who support adequate salaries, this is comforting. For those who are still a little stuck in the dark ages, this is frightening.

    I’d like to hear reflections from some imams or full-time community workers.

  10. Avatar

    bint

    January 16, 2012 at 5:05 PM

    jazakAllah khayr for raising this issue that certainly needs to be touched on. I completely agree with you. My husband serves as an Imam and I can attest to how much overtime hours he puts into his community. He even spends time at the masjid on his days off. Unfortunately, he hardly has time to spend at home with family. And he’s always on the phone, either counseling or dealing with masjid-related issues. The point I’m trying to make is that Imams definitely work hard and put a lot of time and effort into their jobs and should be paid accordingly. There is nothing wrong with taking money for serving the deen, after all they do have families to support just like everyone else.

  11. Avatar

    Nahyan

    January 16, 2012 at 6:32 PM

    Excellent article akhi.

  12. Avatar

    Abdullah

    January 16, 2012 at 9:29 PM

    It’s interesting that we like to make fun of Jewish people and we have a stereotype about them being stingy, but in this case, it is the Muslims who are at the bottom when it comes to spending on their Imams. There are MANY communities in the US, that if you were to add all the wages of the community members, it would run into the MANY millions! Every year, so many Muslim communities are making tens of millions of dollars prior to taxes and they aren’t even ready to pay $50k per year to the Imam. Then they complain that their kids have gone astray and their kids have abandoned them in their old age and other complaints. Well, maybe if the kids were attracted to Islamic teachings because of having a good Imam, then they would be more religiously inclined. But your whole life was all about making money and religion played a very minimal role and your children saw that. So don’t go crying about your children not caring about you. They might have cared if they had a better Imam who influenced them in a positive way.

  13. Avatar

    Abdullah

    January 16, 2012 at 9:56 PM

    @The Shardul of Allah

    Masha Allah, beautiful advice for the Imams.

    I guess the advice to you would be to leave whatever you are doing and go and become an Imam because Masha Allah, you write like an intellectual.

    If you don’t want to, even though Islamic rewards wise, the Imam position is the most rewarding, then please make sure that you never buy a house. Make sure that your car does not cost more than $5,000. Also, please make sure that whatever money you earn, that ALL of it is donated to your local Masjid because that is what Abu Bakr r.a. did right?

    Along with financial hardships, the Imam must also bear taunts of certain segments of the congregation. Your recitation will always be compared to Shaikh Sudais or Shatri and every speech of yours will be compared to the speeches of Shaykhs Hamzah Yusuf or Yasir Qadhi. So you must recite like Sudais, speak like Yusuf, be as handsome as Pitt (that was so random :) ), and live on minimum wages with no health insurance for the whole family.

    God Forbid! If you get a house, or start driving a decent vehicle, or start wearing decent clothes, then you will once again have to face the jealousy and hatred of some parts of the community. Along with all that, you will rarely get a word of appreciation from the community. If you make a mistake, you will be compared to public figures who earn millions of dollars, but when it comes to actual pay, your pay will be paid less than a school teacher.

    But financial hardships can be tolerated, but what can never be tolerated is when Imams are disrespected when they are treated as the doormat of the community. Anyone can say or do anything to the Imam, but the board will not side with you. Welcome to the life of an Imam! :) Go and show your appreciation to the Imam the next time you see him. I know I am going to do it the next time I see him.

  14. Avatar

    Shirtman

    January 16, 2012 at 10:31 PM

    Salaam,

    So it’s been like years since I have posted on here. But thank you Omar for bringing this into light. I have worked full time in the Islamic realm making a very modest salary, but having to go through alot of pain and suffering. I have also volunteered as an Imam as well, paying for gas etc. To be very honest, the salary should be greater than our Jewish cohorts. The reason is that the Jewish community focuses on one main ethnic group with a slight variance of Ethiopians, Persians etc. While American Imams have to deal with people from all regions of the world, following various madhahib both theological and jurisprudential. They also have to deal with the culture clash of U.S. raised Muslims and immigrant Muslims, converts, African American community and so on. The expectations are out of this world. It would honestly take someone about 20 years of study and experience to meet all of the demands, SubhanAllah and then expect them to take 30k, and be on call, is ridiculous. May Allah bring honor back to the positions of Islam.

    Shirtman

  15. Avatar

    Carlos

    January 17, 2012 at 1:08 AM

    The largest mansion near my house is owned by a televangelist. Makes me mad.

    • Avatar

      Anonymous

      February 9, 2012 at 4:02 AM

      It shouldn’t make you mad.  Our imams are supposed to be an example.  Zuhd is something this ummah is lacking, especially those of us in the west, and the imams ought to set an example for us in zuhd – and many do which is just fine alhamdulillah.

      If an imam had the largest mansion, that would make me mad.

  16. Avatar

    ِابو سهل الملون

    January 17, 2012 at 5:52 AM

    Assalamu Alaikum .W.B.

    a vital matter, and very enlightening contributions.

    I would think this is a two pronged issue, As a preamble… No community would ever be able to pay an Imam for any service of Deen that he has offered, remember that if He taught me or my son / daughter to read a surah nay a verse or for that matter even a word, the worlds riches would be small to repay him. AND THIS IS NO SUPERNAL/PLAIN SPIRITUAL REPERTOIRE, THIS IS A FACT Which we need to concede to and accept. However, as SHARDUL of Allah correctly states that this position is similar to the post held by the Khulafaa and Hukkaam of the Golden Era (khayrul Quroon), and the directives or inspiration we draw from their blessed lives should be the benchmark and blue print of a scholar today too. A student of deen who studies the sciences, pursues this NOT with the intention of enhancing his absorption in worldly pursuits, instead one is motivated by a far more loftier and nobler purpose. and thus one will accept ineluctably and naturally that pursuing this career would not yield to me a lavish “living like the Jonses” kind of life, instead I would be inheriting the legacy of the Prophet A.S. which is “I eat one day and I thank HIM and I stay hungry one day and say Alhamdulillah….” (bear in mind that The prophet S.A.W said that amongst the signs of the hour is that KNOWLEDGE WILL BE PURSUED FOR PURPOSES OTHER THAN THE PLEASURE OF ALLAH. (Tirmidhi) ” so the student of Islam attempts for a degree in philosophy, arts religion to enhance his/her vehicle of delivering the message or even understanding, and NOT for the sake of adding another appellate , title to one’s name hence increase the bid or stakes… Now heres the twist, all this is for the STUDENT/scholar to know and digest and internalize and NOT, yes NOT for the committee members to brandish when interviewing him!! otherwise priorities are messed up and muddled. The committee on the other hand should be focused on sustaining and maintaining that Imam somewhat like the way the Ansaar of Madinah did for our Nabi S.A.W and the muhaajireen, that we will take care of you, your needs your requirements as we would do for our own folk, NOT BECAUSE WE DOING A FAVOR TO YOU, BUT VERY MUCH THE OPPOSITE,,, YOU are DOING A GOOD TURN TO US. This attitude can bring about the correct ideals in both. Now a practical step: we pay the Imam for the time He gives (not his service) so Have the Imaam do office hours e.g 9-5 including mornings and pay him for that time as we would pay a community worker as per his credentials/experience etc. the Imam will run the Masjid office for all social/domestic/school visit/ official work.(Believe me there’s alot of work out there , open an office and you’ll see for yourself….. the Masjid will become a hub, the Imam could then be sent for training/qualifications as per the need) counselling, rehab, support worker . that time spent should be
    remunerated for. Over and above that time , the community should take it as his favor upon them, He’s our asset and thus it is our duty and we need to make his life easier in what ever way possible. decent house, However, individual gifts of money etc. should be avoided as it carries the risk of polluting thoughts of the Imam as well as that of the community.
    Dearest Brothers, in conclusion let me say that this is workable, and it is currently happening. I share this humbly because I am an Imam, and the last four years this is how we’ve “brokered the deal” and sincerely request your Duas.

    • Avatar

      ummabduWahab

      June 27, 2016 at 11:28 PM

      JAZAKALLAHUKHYRE, may ALLAH reward you for your efforts. And there’s alot you said I agree with may ALLAH guide us on the path of guidance and cause us to be among the best and most pleasing to Him.

    • Avatar

      ummabduWahab

      June 27, 2016 at 11:42 PM

      JAZAKALLAHUKHYRE to the brother post ابو سهل الملون ALLAH reward you for your efforts. And there’s alot you said I agree with may ALLAH guide us on the path of guidance and cause us to be among the best and most pleasing to Him.

  17. Avatar

    Abdullah

    January 17, 2012 at 7:12 AM

    Brother ibnabeeomar, Jazakumullah for the wonderful article. I just hope that picture of the check with something like the $150 amount is not an Imam’s monthly pay check. : )

  18. Avatar

    ummMaryam

    January 17, 2012 at 9:22 AM

    salamu ‘alaykum,

    my husband is the principal of an islamic school…was wondering if the author would agree to apply a similar logic to such positions. the community expects the principal of the school to also be the janitor of the school and consider it a huge favor upon him that he is paid over 40000. when he works 70 hours a week like a doctor on call. shouldn’t imams and those taking care of the youth and the “spiritual hearts” of the muslims be valued a bit more? when i say doctor on call, i am serious. muslims use the “akhee” factor too much. you see the islamic school principal in the masjid for isha, catch him for a one hour discussion about your child. would a person ever think of calling their child’s middle or high public school principal on weekends or evenings on a regular basis, and think they own him like that? or if they see him at a restaurant, would they say : do you have a few minutes and then chat for a couple hours? likewise, anytime there are community events to be held at the school, who do you call to open the building and clean up aftewards? oh yeah the school building maintenance person (ie principal).

    then, when the board discusses a possible salary increase, they put the guilt factor on the person by saying something like: “you know the financial situation of the school, but how much of a raise would you need to be comfortable?” and a person as nice as my husband, will only ask for 1 or 2 thousand increase when what he really needs is at least 10 more so that he can visit his old parents and take care of basic needs.

    inshallah he’s planning to quit islamic schools within a year or two so he can work for a public elementary school or a school district to earn normal pay for his education and experience.

    • Avatar

      ahmed

      January 17, 2012 at 1:51 PM

      subhaan Allah sister, these problems are so widespread

      May Allah bless you and your family with Jannatul Firdaws among the Prophet SAWS

  19. Avatar

    Filisteeniyyah

    January 17, 2012 at 10:52 AM

    MashaAllah a great article! Alhamdulillah I’ve been blessed to be a wife of a full-time da’ee, and let me tell you I’ve seen some very shallow minded Masjid admins over the years that my husband had to deal with. By the Qadr of Allah we came across some really bad admins, e.g. at the last Masjid my husband was Imaam, we used to get 800-1000 people during jumu’ah! During his regular weekly halaqaat about 100 atleast would show up. For the weekend school we had more than 200 kids. Ya’ni a very big community. Yet the admin paid my husband literally peanuts to the point that we couldn’t even afford rent for apartment! We didn’t care because this is what he loves. Then the admin used to have meetings with my husband every few days complaining that their sons were becoming too religious and their daughters were starting to veil up through hanging around with me. They wanted to control my husband’s mouth and removed me from teaching at the weekend school. So my husband told them “you pay me an amount with which i can’t even afford rent and with this lousy amount you even want to buy my mouth!” We left that community Alhamdulillah.
    This is just one example. I can give worse stories about how he was seen as nothing but a doormat by the “elite uncles” of the community. He actually served as Imaam for 3 different Masaajid over the past 7years. My husband mashAllah is very good with money management and we were able to get by the Rahmah of Allah. But eventually guess what, we both really got fed up with administrations and he has not served as an Imaam any where during this past year. He just teaches classes here and there on a weekly basis and helps brothers & sisters with their personal problems.
    But wallah, the youth of the community, the mothers, etc still keep in contact with my husband and are happy with what he did for them.
    And I am witness to what my husband does and I say wallah I could not be happier than to be married to someone like him who never cares about how deep of a financial crisis he’s in but he’ll never water the Sunnah down just to please mafia administrations. These admins do not care to see what good Imaams do for the community. SubhanAllah even at 2AM my husband went to do ruqyaa for a family that was effected by sihr. This is what he learned from his shuyookh and this is the effort he puts in towards the Ummah. This is what it means to be caller to Tawheed. Doesn’t matter what the elites do, but you can not deprive the innocent laymen of the community.
    We struggle a lot and I mean a lot Alhamdulillah. There have been times when we could only afford one meal a day due to our circumstances but wallah my husband always tells me that no salary will ever equal to knowing that there were teens who used to commit zina but after sitting through kitaab at tawheed gave up that life and now is doing his best to follow the Sunnah.
    Gone are the times of ‘Umar radiyaAllahu ‘anhu who used to personally make sure the governors, judges, imaams were being paid proper salary. Most admins in the West do not even understand the value of a Sheikh, Taalib ul ‘ilm & du’aat. Some admins do understand as long as the Imaam will speak according to their watered down and deviant ideologies. At the end of the day we’re left with an extremely small percentage of Masaajid admins who value a da’ee based on his adherence to the Sunnah.
    And you know, my husband had some of his engineer friends tell him on his face “bro quit and do something else, people don’t understand these days…just take care of your family”
    To all the hyped up kids who think life of a da’ee must be very cool…yes Alhamdulillah for some it is very easy financially but for a lot of others, Alhamdulillah, it is filled with obstacles. You must always prepare for such hardship. Like the saying goes “hope for the best but be prepared for the worst”. And remember once you put your foot in this profession, you cannot quit and go do something else. How will you face Allah? Just because Allah gave you some financial hardship you quit calling people to His Deen & Sunnah of His Messenger??
    My husband has options of leaving USA and teaching in a school in some other country but he feels (and I do too) that there is a far bigger need for du’aat upon the Sunnah, even small ones like himself, here. The younger generation are hungry for knowledge and the door to perverted ideologies is easily available too and therefore every Sheikh/Taalib ul ‘ilm/Da’ee…famous or unknown…big or small timers…need to play a collective role in calling people to the Tawheed of Allah and the authentic Sunnah of His Messenger sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam.
    Once I’m done with my own studies InshaAllah I really want to write a book about all the things I’ve faced and seen my husband face being a da’ee. Sincere Muslims need to hear these things more so that they can work together and build better communities away from mafia admins that are so common these days.

    • Avatar

      ahmed

      January 17, 2012 at 1:47 PM

      Jazaky Allahu khairan sister, a very important and heartbreaking look into the life of an Imam and his family.

      May Allah bless you and your family with Jannatul Firdaws among the Prophet SAWS

  20. AnonyMouse

    AnonyMouse

    January 17, 2012 at 12:10 PM

    What I find ironic is that people are so willing to fork over hundreds and thousands of dollars to take a course by a superstar shaykh, but are unwilling to part with a couple hundred dollars for their local Imam who shows up for salah 5 times a day, teaches Arabic, Qur’an, Islamic studies, etc. another X number of days a week, and on top of that, serves as a counselor in practically every other field as well (all during totally random hours, including the very wee hours of morning)!
    These are the people who don’t just spend a weekend or two with you – these are the people who are living with you and serving you every single day!

    • Avatar

      mw_m

      January 17, 2012 at 7:04 PM

      but…..but….they’re not FAMOUS!

  21. Avatar

    Abdullah

    January 17, 2012 at 10:26 PM

    A commentator mentioned this previously, and the same comment is used by some people to look down on imams when they try to insinuate that you only became an Imam because you weren’t doing well in school. Do you know how offensive that sounds? I would totally disagree with that generalization. I have come across so many Imams and Islamic scholars who were amazingly smart. They could easily have gone to work in the most rewarding of professions. The way I see it is like this. Parents who are not religiously inclined will never permit their children to become Islamic scholars and Imams even if their children are not doing well in their secular education. Most Imams and Islamic scholars had parents who cared about Islam and that is why they encouraged their kids to become Islamic scholars. From these, there are intellectuals and there are others who are not. Just like in any other profession. But I find it offensive that we dismiss Imams and Islamic scholars by saying that they only chose that profession because they were weak at school.

    On another point, if you look at all the major famous Islamic scholars and speakers in the US, majority of them are not Imams. They are running their own thing because they don’t want to deal at times with low wages and power hungry board members. I’m surprised that Shaykh Yasir is an Imam in Memphis and I notice that he only delivers two Jumahs a month even though Masha Allah, he is an amazing scholar. (http://www.memphisislamiccenter.org/) I would be EXTREMELY surprised if Imam Suhaib stays in the same Boston masjid as an Imam for five years (http://isbcc.org/).

    • Avatar

      Fezz

      January 18, 2012 at 2:11 PM

      No I think you misread the point. There was a time where parents would love for their children to take up a full scholastic education and go on to become scholars/imams (look at the time of the early generations etc). We need to acknowledge that ON AVERAGE this is not the case anymore. However many of the top scholars/Imams are – of course – exceptional talents and inshAllah will continue to be so.

  22. Avatar

    Brother

    January 17, 2012 at 11:48 PM

    Unfortunately the local scholar in my community has attracted hoards of youth to his nightly talks yet the masjid hasn’t even considered paying him. The actual Imam of that masjid only comes on specific days and leaves the masjid on the days that he isn’t there for the laymen to lead the prayers. Yet the uncles have all the money in the world to make the masjid even larger than its original form even though it’s been in construction for 5+ years! Also, the youth in my community are scared of even considering a life as an Imam/Scholar to serve the community due to the fact that their is no one that will help them maintain a living if they do come back. Tawakaltu Al Allah.

  23. Yahya Ibrahim

    Yahya Ibrahim

    January 18, 2012 at 9:10 AM

    Bismisllah,

    The one who sets on the path of dawah MUST prepare for a life of austerity and prepare his family for limited resources.

    Sometimes it would cost considerable money to attend a conference for a speaking engagement.

    You take unpaid leave from work, travel around the world, leave your family, park your car at the airport at 30 dollars a night, buy gifts for the family, and receive a box of chocolates as a gift after speaking to an audience of thousands who paid tickets to see you and others live.

    You return home to line up in Immigration and be picked up/taxi/drive home out of pocket and seek Allah’s reward.
    WALLAHI it is a blessed life that you cannot appreciate until you experience it. Allah provides Alhamdulillah.

    That is the reality. Wa Alhamdulillah. You must have another career to survive.

    Eventually some give up, or begin charging a modest fee…even though it pains them to do so.

    I ask Allah to increase our rizq and put baraka in our families and preserve our health and honour.

    Some superstars of course do not experience the above anymore, but 100% of them have in the past.

    yahya
    http://www.facebook.com/yahya.adel.ibrahim

    • Avatar

      ahmed

      January 18, 2012 at 11:20 AM

      That is the reality. Wa Alhamdulillah. You must have another career to survive.

      Subhaan Allah, this is the truth. A relative of mine is kind of on the board of a couple of masajid and he sees how the Imams get treated, but cannot do anything about it. He says exactly the same as you mentioned Shaikh.

      Jazakum Allahu khairan.

    • Avatar

      ummMaryam

      January 18, 2012 at 1:13 PM

      alhamdulillah, you are right. Allah ‘azza wa jall takes care of everyone. The point is rather, so if an islamic school principal with a family of 6 is not making enough from the “poor” school whose board is pouring in thousands to have hi tech facilities and take seniors on an school paid senior trip during spring break, and then the principal chooses as a result to take a different job because he can’t even pay his own rent or visit his 80 year old parents across the country once a year, THEN it is up to the community to decide how much do they really want this principal (or same could go for imam scenario) with whom they are entrusting their kids. it’s not about having a huge salary, it’s about the following:

      for the sake of da’wa to the whole community and their kids, a person may not be able to fulfill the rights of old parents…so then yes, it’s the right of the person to change jobs, but at the community’s loss.

      it is not fair to expect the islamic worker to be there round the clock and not give him a chance for the tarbiya of his own kids (i’m sure everyone knows the scenario of the imam with the naughtiest kids in town)…

      alhamdulillah, we are content with our situation, but at some point, my husband’s parents and our own kids must come before the kids of the rest of the community… we have to save ourselves and our families from the fire before the rest of the town,,,

      so the smart thing: if there is a really talented imam/principal: ask him: what do you need to stay here? what tutoring needs do your kids have? we wil pay for those since we are taking you away from your own family. it’s not about having the designer clothes, nice house or sporty car. we’ll stick with our ’95 corolla.

  24. Avatar

    Sabour

    January 18, 2012 at 12:52 PM

    Great points in the article and in the comments.

    I agree that our resident imaams, scholars, counselors etc. should be selected carefully based on their relevant qualifications – and as a result they should be paid well and taken care of thoroughly.

    The biggest concern should be mismanagement of masjid funds for other expenses, because masjid boards and leaders may not be carefully chosen based on qualifications, and as a result they can be horribly incompetent. How many of them have the years of education to manage such a huge community structure? Almost none.

    Considering the embarrassing and unprofessional levels most communities go to to collect donations (especially during Ramadaan), and the sheer magnitude of funds that are collected, it should set off an alarm that we’re even discussing the pay of our highest priority expenses. How many million dollar masjids do we have with half a dollar khutbahs?

    Our management and finances are at the crux of the issue, and if we don’t fix this we’re going to be paying the price (pun intended).

    • Avatar

      ibnabeeomar

      January 18, 2012 at 12:56 PM

      agree completely.. we’re hoping muslimsi.com starts making small inroads in fixing the management issue :)

    • Avatar

      ummMaryam

      January 18, 2012 at 1:20 PM

      salamu ‘alaikum,

      jazakAllah khair. you are spot on.. thousands will go into facilities without a single raised eyebrow, but pay an islamic worker over 40,000 and the rumor mills abound…”Wallahi, how could he? Take that much from the community?” And if he tries to do private tutoring or other programs on the side for the income his family needs, everyone is taking account as if it’s their own bank savings they’re worried about losing.

      Remember the one saved on the day of J is : illa man ata Allaha bi qalbin saleem. so shouldn’t the spiritual heart doctor of islamic communities be considered of value?

  25. Avatar

    Fezz

    January 18, 2012 at 2:24 PM

    Are they that desparate for a pay increase? I disagree that we should regard this as another “labour market” issue. Being an imam is not “just another job” There are many Imams already on MM who could comment better.

    More money would probably help and form reading the above seems warranted. But I suspect what many would value far far more is primarily respect, freedom and the autonomy to lead and develop services for their community. Give them the funds to invest in professional development be that futhering a specialist interest (educating children / marriage counselling) or even on general scholarly development (budgets to expend on overseas courses, seminars and workshops etc)

    The modern western mosque is evolving from being merely a prayer area to a community centre/educational establishment/youth centre etc. (infact as it orginally was and should be!). The role definitions of imams are changing (although not uniformly) and I guess there is a lag behind in this for renumeration.

    Ultimately, we should look at the transformative effect highly motivated scholastic imams can have on our community. Their salary is not just a paycheck. Given to the right person its a crucial investment in the community and our future.

  26. Avatar

    Fezz

    January 18, 2012 at 2:38 PM

    Arrgh! My orginal post got lost but the essence of it was;
    Do imams want more pay? MM has many people better able to comment but perhaps not all do. I supect many are underpaid (although I dont know what the average available supply of mosque funds would be in any case). I hesitate about looking at this as a ‘labour market’ issue; its not ‘just another job’.

    I suspect what many would much rather have just more respect, and the freedom and autonomy to develop services to meet the needs of the community. Particularly funds for develping specialist interests (marriage, educating children etc), profressional developement (overseas study, courses and seminars) and also to bring in other committed and talented people to support them in this work (yes that includes bringing in the YOUTH)

    We need a better understanding of what we want from Imams as they evolve from just someone who reads the prayer to a Leader of the Community. The prayer centre is now a centre for youth work, marriage counselling and so much more. Centres and talent vary; a ‘one-size fits all’ salary is clearly inadequate.

    We can see what a transformative effect some of the scholared imams can have not just on their community but on the regions around them as well. Utlimately paying an imam is not just a salary, its an investment in the commnity.

    jzk

  27. Avatar

    none

    January 18, 2012 at 3:28 PM

    The issue at hand is not for the present but also investing in our future. There is a bright, young hafidh of Quran somewhere today who can soak up knowledge and dispense it with wisdom who might be goaded towards an attractive profession in the dunya because of some needs his family has. If you want to be a zahid, please feel free to pack up and get out of America because zuhd over here still requires money. Zuhd can’t be practiced at the expense of someone else’s life. These imams are not celibate, they have families, kids, expenses.These imams are born of parents and may have to provide for them especially after they invested 25K in that special islamic school to keep the imams away from loose women in junior high school (rolls eyes) .

    Having said that the salary range is ridiculous. Many people have to wear numerous hats at their job and are not blessed with a 100K salary. It should be region specific and it should be based the masjid’s viability in the business arena. Masjids have to figure out how to generate income and get their communities involved. My dollars will get stretched thin if the leaky roof has to get fixed, the electric bill needs to get paid and an imam hasn’t gotten his $7000 paycheck, apart from the barakah Allah puts in the donation. We have blessings and we have miracles, we can’t count on the imam’s paycheck materializing from blessings. They aren’t Maryam (alayhis salaam).

    And while Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman, Ali, Hasan, and Muawiya are excellent examples, we are going to have some bad imams, some worldly imams, some imams who want to be ballers. We are talking about a budding industry, a profession, not about character. Their talents need to be utilized not shunned due to poor income.

  28. Avatar

    Yasmin

    February 6, 2012 at 3:06 PM

    Jazakallah khair for shedding light on this very important issue! I was one of those naive people who thought Imams didn’t get paid. However, after reading this informative article I am confident that our Imams should be paid a reasonable and fair salary!

  29. Avatar

    Patent A Program

    February 8, 2012 at 1:41 AM

    After serving our community for the past five years, I have come
    away with certain lessons. We have gone through our fair share of
    challenges, and we have been blessed with our fair share of success by
    Allah (swt). The next few essays are my personal opinion on what worked
    for us and what I suggest may work for you. Again, its just an opinion.

  30. Avatar

    K1hay

    February 11, 2012 at 6:51 PM

    Is there a clergy(priest) class in Al-Islam? When did it start? Was there such a group in the time of PM(saw)? If there was no clergy class during the time of PM(saw) Is this then bida? Helllp me

  31. Avatar

    Jamilah

    February 13, 2012 at 10:40 AM

    Very interesting. I agree that they need to get paid more in general but I also really believe most masjids need TWO imams because between the prayers, counseling, marriage rights, death rights etc…no matter how much you pay one imam you are going to be stretching him too thin and his family life will suffer too much. Perhaps paying a bit less than what you stated and having TWO imams at most masjids is the way to go.

  32. Avatar

    Gailani90

    February 13, 2012 at 10:27 PM

     who will be paying the money, it depends on the community. I believe no imam should be hired to work in the masjid full time, unless he is really exceptional like Imam Siraj Wahaj or Hamzah Yousif, they already know what is going on in the street. Brining an imam from overseas and ask him to work full time is a crazy decision. what is he going to tell people???

  33. Pingback: Life of a Da’ee – An Anonymous Response to ‘How Much Should Islamic Clergy Make?’ - MuslimMatters.org

  34. Pingback: Life of a Da’ee – An Anonymous Response to ‘How Much Should Islamic Clergy Make?’ | Peachy Parenting

  35. Avatar

    Asma

    March 7, 2012 at 5:06 PM

    “But I cannot fathom how seemingly every other masjid has multi-million dollar blueprints and expansion plans, but they can’t afford to invest in quality human resources. This is a joke. Without proper human resources, we will just have empty (but beautiful) structures. Put the money where it’s needed most.”
    Gold. 
    JazakAllahu Khair for the insightful post. 
    hats off. :)

  36. Avatar

    Abu Hafsa

    March 17, 2012 at 12:23 AM

    Same problem in Islamic schools. I’m an Islamic studies teacher and I’ve been working for almost 8 years in this field making low 30’s with no insurance. I have an IT background and am now considering to go back to that field rather than serving Allah swt’s deen.

  37. Avatar

    Adam

    March 18, 2012 at 1:51 AM

    May Allah subhanahu we ta’ala reward you with nothing less than being the neighbor of the prophet peace be upon him. ameen

  38. Avatar

    Asim Esen

    April 12, 2014 at 3:39 AM

    I was taught that a major difference between Islam and Christianity was that Islam does not have a “Ruhban” class, namely a paid clergy and institutions similar to those in Christianity. I was taught that there was no pre-designated Imam to lead the prayer and perform other religious functions and rituals. Each time, Muslims gather and form a Jamaat, whoever is most qualified among the Jamaat leads the prayer and perform other functions. Thus, imam would change from prayer to prayer. In fact, my father was an imam. He led Friday prayers, perform burial prayers, and other functions; he was never paid a salary or its equivalent. Once a year, during the month of Ramadan, some people would bring gift as a way of appreciation for his services. He used to say “When I lead a prayer, I am also praying myself and doing my duty to Allah, why should I accept payment for something that I was going to do it anyway?”

    There were other qualified prayer leaders like my father in those days; they attended their daily business (farming, storekeeping, etc.) and led prayer, but did not get paid a salary. I see now, especially in Turkey, Imams are government employees and paid salaries from government treasury. They are a privileged class that did not exist during even the Ottoman time and in the Republic of Turkey until the 1980s. What Ayat (or Surah) in the Koran and what authenticated hadith says that there is designated and paid imam in Islam? I do not accept excuses and traditional reasons that people often use to legitimize the things they do that are not in the book. So, I would appreciate if an Islamic scholar would comment on this matter.

  39. Avatar

    ElvenInk

    April 12, 2014 at 10:59 AM

    The concept of hired Imams isn’t something I agree with. At least not the way it’s implemented here in Canada. People often want to bring in an Imam from overseas and pay them to sit in the masjid and give halaqas, advice and fatwas to people. But how can we expect someone who just moved to the country and doesn’t interact with the outside world or face the struggles that his congregation faces in terms of work, school, etc, to be able to give sound advice and fatwas that are relevant to specifics of the community?

    I think Imams should be volunteers – people who are respected in the community and willing to give a couple hours a week to give a khutba or answer people’s questions while at the same time having another job and life to support themselves. It should also be a shared responsibility with many volunteer Imams sharing the hours of work at each masjid.

    The problem, I think, is that people expect too much. They want an Imam who will sit in the Masjid 24/7 and be available for them to randomly drop by and ask him for advice whenever they feel like it. Nothing works like this.

    Keeping in mind that I say this with a distinction in my mind between an Imam who leads prayer at a masjid and answers day to day questions and an Islamic Scholar. Islamic scholars will of course be people who dedicated their lives to learning about Islam and passing on their knowledge and usually they will have formal/paid positions in universities or islamic conventions, etc. Often, however, these scholars will have other professions anyway because our religion as someone already mentioned before me doesn’t have this concept of rahbania.

  40. Avatar

    Gio

    August 2, 2016 at 7:17 PM

    The author lives under the delusion of bourgeois privilage (six figure salary?)…most of us are struggling to pay for rent.

  41. Avatar

    Dr Umar Khalid

    August 4, 2016 at 8:22 AM

    Imam should not paid , this is called selling Islam for petty gains. IF they need money they should earn other than just leading Prayers or friday sermons..
    That is why now a days every second mosque in world fight for Imams. because this is very lucaritive offer.. See Dr Yasir Qadhi , Omer Sulaiman etc imams in West living on Imams salary luxury ..

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#Society

Black Youth Matter: Stopping the Cycle of Racial Inequality in Our Ranks

In Malcolm X’s Letter from Mecca, he said, “America needs to understand Islam, because this is the one religion that erases from its society the race problem.” Yet, as Muslims living in America, we are not fulfilling our role in eradicating racism from our own ranks. We are making race our problem. With so much injustice plaguing the world, the time is now to embrace the youth, celebrate their diversity, and let them know there is a place for them in Islam.

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As we joined the rest of America in celebrating Black History Month and commemorating the legacy of the civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, Jr., with tweets, infographics, and sharing famous quotes, racism and colorism continue to plague the Muslim community. 

When we hear of a weekend course about the illustrious muadhin of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, Bilal Ibn Raba’ah, may Allah be pleased with him, or a whitewashed cartoon movie based loosely on his life, we flock to the location. When the imam retells his story during a Friday sermon, we listen intently and feel inspired, we smile in awe upon hearing about his fortitude in the face of incessant torture. We cry while reliving the part where he enters the city of Makkah alongside the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) victorious, and calls the adhan atop the Ka’aba. 

Then, we leave. 

We return to our homes and all but forget about it until the next time he is brought up— unless we are Black Muslims. Like King, his impact comes in waves, maybe once a year like MLK Day or like Black History Month, for many of us. Yet, there were more Black companions and renowned Black Muslims in our history, just as there were countless civil rights leaders who fought for racial equality in America. For many of us who are not American of African descent, we live our lives unperturbed by the implications of ignoring the racial disparities that exist within our own places of worship.

However, it is our youth that bear the brunt of this injustice. 

A few weeks ago, I witnessed an incident that made me reflect deeply on the effects of racism and fear on our youth and the Muslim community. After picking up my son from middle school in Baltimore County, I drove to a nearby 7-Eleven for some snacks. While I was standing in line to pay for my groceries, I noticed that the man behind the counter was Muslim. From his outward appearance, accent, and name tag, I guessed he was South Asian. We greeted each other with salaam, a smile, and a head nod of camaraderie.

As he was ringing up my items, a group of chattery students still in school uniforms, approached the entrance of the convenience store. The cashier looked up horrified, and in mid transaction swung his arm back and forth as if swatting a fly. I turned to look at who he was gesturing to and saw the children were swinging the door open to enter. They were about 6 African American children from the same public middle school as my son. In his school, each grade level wears a different color polo with khaki pants as part of their uniform, so I could tell that most of them were in his same grade level.

“No! No! No!” the cashier cried harshly, “Out!”

I turned to him grimacing in disbelief, surprised at his reaction to the kids and then I noticed his expression. He had a look on his face of fear coupled with disgust.

One child cheerfully told him, “I got money, man!” My head turned back and forth from the students to the cashier. He reluctantly said, “Fine,” but as more students followed, he added sternly, “Three at a time!” I wondered if this was a rule when one of the girls in the group said, “Yeah, three at a time y’all,” and the majority stayed back, as if they were familiar with the routine. Some of them rolled their eyes, others laughed, but they remained outside the door. The cashier followed the ones who entered with his eyes intently as he finished bagging my items. He looked genuinely concerned. I tried to make light of the situation and get his attention away from the children, asking, “The kids give you a hard time, huh?” He smiled and nodded nervously, but I was not satisfied with his answer. 

As I swiped my debit card to pay, I felt troubled. My maternal instincts were telling me that I should defend these children. I felt anger and helplessness at the same time. These kids were tweens or barely 13 years old, yet they were being judged because of the color of their skin. There was no other logical explanation. They were not rowdy or reckless, not any more than any other child their age. They did not look menacing; in fact, they were all smiling and joking with one another.

Yet, this cashier, my Muslim brother, was looking at them as if they were a threat. The same way some white American may look at a Muslim sporting a beard and thobe boarding a plane.  

I tried to find excuses for his behavior. Perhaps he had a bad experience, or he was having a bad day. Could some of the kids from the middle school have stolen something before and this prompted his apprehension? There is some crime in this neighborhood located in the southwestern part of Baltimore County, on the outskirts of the City. Could he have suffered from some type of trauma that led to his anxiety? Maybe there was a fight in his store one day? Yet, even if any of these assumptions were true, I still felt like he was overreacting.

After all, these were just kids.

In Dr. Joy Degruy’s book Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing, she mentions that policing continues to represent one of the most pervasive and obvious examples of racial inequality; one that even the youth are unable to avoid. She cites an article published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, highlighting a study by UCLA, the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Boston, Massachusetts, Penn State, and University of Pennsylvania that investigated how black boys were perceived as it related to childhood innocence. They found, “converging evidence that black boys are seen as older and less innocent and that they prompt a less essential conception of childhood than do their white same-age peers.” Consequently, African American youth are often unfairly singled out as troublemakers. 

They found, “converging evidence that black boys are seen as older and less innocent and that they prompt a less essential conception of childhood than do their white same-age peers.” Consequently, African American youth are often unfairly singled out as troublemakers. Click To Tweet

On November 22, 2014, a 12-year-old African American child, like my son and his middle school peers, was fatally shot by police while he played with a toy gun in a playground. The child, Tamir Rice, was just a young boy playing cheerfully outdoors, but police officers regarded him a threat, demonstrating the ghastly reality of the above-mentioned study. After hearing about this atrocity, I remember telling my own children that they can never play outside with nerf guns or water pistols, out of fear of this happening to them. This is the type of world our children are living in. As Muslims, why do we choose to be part of the problem and not its solution?

Black youth

Junior football team huddling together

As I walked through the door and past the group in front of the 7-Eleven, all I could think about is that the kids were no different than my son who was sitting in the car, hungry, waiting for me to bring him some food. The only difference was that I was there to defend him, if need be. The children did not have an adult to stand up for them against the discrimination to which they were being subjected. I felt guilty for not saying more. I also remembered an incident where a group of African American youth were turned away from the tarawih prayers at a local mosque, not too far from the 7-Eleven, during the month of Ramadan, because they were perceived to be “too rowdy.” This prompted me to write about this incident; to speak up for them now, and to remind myself and other Muslims that the Prophet, peace be upon him, taught us compassion. 

He said, “Whoever does not show mercy to our young ones, or acknowledge the rights of our elders, is not one of us.” (Musnad Ahmad)

Even when a bedouin came into the masjid, the House of Allah – a place much more sacred than any convenience store – and urinated, yes urinated there, he still treated him with dignity. (Muslim)

The students standing at the door of the 7-Eleven were just going in for a snack. Even if they had been misbehaving, the gentleman at the counter could have addressed them with kindness. Similarly, the youth at the local mosque just wanted to pray tarawih. Now imagine the impact it had on them to be turned away from praying with their brethren during the month of Ramadan. 

I sat in the car where my son was waiting and found him looking out the window, unaware of what was happening. We were parked far from the entrance.

“Do you know any of those kids?” I asked him. “Yeah, the girl on the right is in my gym class,” he said.

My heart sank more and as we sat in the car, I wondered, what would have been the cashier’s reaction if the kids had been white? More than likely, he would not have treated them the same way. This racial profiling leads to devastating consequences. A recent news report by WUSA9 revealed that the state of Maryland leads the nation in incarcerating young black men, according to experts at the Justice Policy Institute. Their November Policy Briefs for 2019 entitled, Rethinking Approaches to Over Incarceration of Black Young Adults in Maryland, revealed that disparity is most pronounced among emerging adults, or youth ages 18-24, where, “Nearly eight in 10 people who were sentenced as emerging adults and have served 10 or more years in a Maryland prison are black. This is the highest rate of any state in the country.”

“Nearly eight in 10 people who were sentenced as emerging adults and have served 10 or more years in a Maryland prison are black. This is the highest rate of any state in the country.” Click To Tweet

What was most troubling about the incident at the 7-Eleven was that the students had been conditioned; they were already used to being treated that way. It was routine for them and business as usual for the Muslim cashier. While he may believe that he is doing the right thing, by averting a potential “problem,” the harm that he is causing has greater ramifications. He is adding to the trauma these children are already experiencing being black in America. Black students in Baltimore County were not even allowed by law to earn an education past 5th grade in 1935, and 65 years after Brown vs. Board of Education, the county’s schools are still highly segregated. Local and federal leadership in America have continuously failed African Americans, and it is disheartening to think that the immigrant Muslim community is headed in the same direction. 

I was haunted by this incident and returned to the 7-Eleven a week later to ask the cashier or the owner of the store about their (mis)treatment of the middle schoolers. I parked directly in front of the glass doors of the entrance and it was there where I saw a sign typed in regular white computer paper that read, “AT A TIME NO MORE THAN THREE (3) SCHOOL KIDS ARE ALLOWED IN THE STORE & please do not bring bags inside the store. Thanks.” I had not seen the sign before, maybe I overlooked it the day of the occurrence. Nevertheless, I went inside and spoke with the owner of the franchise, a Muslim gentleman who greeted me with salaam. I asked him about the sign outside the door and the reason why the middle schoolers were treated like would-be criminals. He explained that students from local schools have stolen goods from the convenience store on many occasions. To prevent this, they established a rule that only three unaccompanied school children could enter at a time and they were not allowed to bring their backpacks. The owner further added that crime and vandalism were prevalent in the area. Unfortunately, because this side of town is predominately African American, the blame falls disproportionately on this group. 

Nevertheless, patrolling and intimidating the African American youth in the area is not the solution. As Dr. Degruy stated in her book, “The powerful oppress the less powerful, who in turn oppress those even less powerful than they. These cycles of oppression leave scars on the victims and victors alike, scars that embed themselves in our collective psyches and are passed down through generations, robbing us of our humanity.”

A thirty-four-year veteran police officer named Norm Stamper wrote a book about racism in the criminal justice system entitled, Breaking Rank, (2005) and he mentioned that, “It is not hard to understand why people of color, the poor, and younger Americans did not, and do not, look upon the police as ‘theirs’… Do the police protect ‘the weak against oppression or intimidation’ or do they oppress and intimidate the very people they’ve sworn to protect?” Likewise, this young generation will begin to see Muslims of all colors as no different, if we take the role of the oppressor. 

When Abu Dharr insulted Bilal ibn Rabah, may Allah be pleased with them, by calling him, “O son of a black woman!” and the Prophet, peace be upon him heard of this, he rebuked Abu Dharr and said to him, “By the One who revealed the Book to Muhammad, no one is better than another except by righteous deeds. You have nothing but an insignificant amount.” We may have read or heard this and other narrations before, however, we fall short in implementing these teachings.

In Malcolm X’s Letter from Mecca, he said, “America needs to understand Islam, because this is the one religion that erases from its society the race problem.” Yet, as Muslims living in America, we are not fulfilling our role in eradicating racism from our own ranks. We are making race our problem. With so much injustice plaguing the world, the time is now to embrace the youth, celebrate their diversity, and let them know there is a place for them in Islam.

Sometimes it takes one person to stand up and point out the wrong to set the right tone. The sign at the 7-Eleven in my neighborhood has been taken down.

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No-Nuptial Agreements: Maybe Next Time, Don’t Get Married

marriage
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 “Nikah is part of my sunnah, and whoever does not follow my sunnah has nothing to do with me.”

–Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), Narrated by Aisha raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her)

Many Muslims have experienced marriage, then suffered a subsequent divorce as a financial, emotional, and social meat grinder. Some critics have noted the divorce system seemingly exists primarily to benefit itself; the lawyers: mental health experts, investigators, forensic accountants.

They form an entire industry dedicated to extracting the wealth of a disintegrating family, often forcing the middle class or working class into poverty and bankruptcy. All of this happens without any noticeable benefit to society. It’s a self-licking ice cream cone.

For many, divorce happens multiple times. A divorced person who gets remarried is more likely to get divorced again.

While men often complain about how the “family court” system is against them, the reality is that women often bear the financial brunt of divorce. Divorce is more likely to drive women to bankruptcy than men.

After one or two divorces and a few lost years of retirement savings or a decade or more of home equity, another “marriage” starts to look downright irrational. My advice to such people: stop getting married, at least under state law. Get a nikah and a “no-nuptial agreement” instead. Allow me to explain.

Fun with Words

It is impossible to have a meaningful conversation about virtually anything unless we have a common understanding of the meaning of words we are using.

In law, even ordinary words have definitions that defy conventional understanding or even common sense. Basic familial terms like “son,” “daughter,” “father,” and “mother” have state law definitions that are different from what those words mean in Islam or our understanding. Under state law, “parents” can adopt adult “children” a similar age to them or even older, and have the same status as a biological child. In Islam, an adopted child is not the same as a biological child and does not have rights to inheritance in Islam.

In law, even words like “life” and “death” don’t always mean what you think they mean. A living person can go to court to dispute his death, demonstrate he is living, breathing, speaking, and everyone agrees he is the “dead person” in question, yet, he is ruled legally dead. Famously, corporations are legally people and are immortal.

Law is not the same thing as truth.

Similarly, it is folly to conflate nikah, the thing that exists in Islam, with marriage under state law. In different states, rules for who and under what circumstances people can get married can vary. One thing that all the state law definitions have in common is that they are not marriage in Islam.

What is Marriage?

For marriage, there is a state law definition, there is an Islamic definition, and there is the definition that the individual married couple has. Under state law, two men can be married to each other, but three men cannot be. In Islam, marriage (let’s call it nikah to be more precise) is a halal social and sexual relationship, and there are rules in the fiqh that are different from state law.

Under some state laws, “secret marriages” with no witnesses or publicly available registration are part of the law and commonly used. In Islam, there is a witness requirement for nikah. None of the rules in Islam require the state’s approval for nikah.

The third definition is how each couple sees their marriage. It is a flexible institution. To the extent it is an economic, social or familial partnership can vary widely. Couples may live together or apart. They may have one income or two.  They may share the same social circles or share none of them. The variations are endless.

Domestic Partnerships

For most of the history of legal marriage in the United States, marriage can only be between one man and one woman. States started allowing for “domestic partnerships” to give some “benefits” of marriage to same-sex couples, like employer health benefits and hospital visitation.

In many instances, these were available almost exclusively to same-sex couples, even after same-sex marriage became part of the law in all states. However, as of January 2020, California opened up domestic partnerships to everyone, including different-sex couples.

As a practical matter, domestic partnerships are simply state-sanctioned marriage by another name. It is notable though some jurisdictions may have limited domestic partnerships that are something less than marriage. In most states that have it, the same family law system, for good or ill, that comes with marriage under state law is also true of domestic partnerships.

While domestic partnership combined with a nikah is available to Muslims in states where it exists, there is no real advantage to using it.

No-Nuptial Agreements

For decades now, in the United States, there has been no taboo against men and women openly having sexual relationships with each other, living and raising families together outside marriage. Courts have long recognized these people should have contractual rights with each other.

When a man and women live together, those involved may be gaining something and giving something up. So if a man promises a woman something, and the agreement is not founded merely on sexual services, the state should enforce those promises, not in family court but civil court.

Marvin started it all

The principle case that established this is the California case of Marvin v. Marvin in 1976. A couple broke up, but the woman wanted to enforce promises made to her by the man. The man felt such a commitment should not be enforceable because, among other reasons, he was legally married to a completely different woman when this non-marital relationship started. Under California law, at the time (abolished by the time the case got to the court), this was criminal adultery.

No-nuptial agreements (sometimes called cohabitation agreements or Marvin agreements) can be used by couples when they want to have enforceable contracts but do not want to subject themselves to the family court system or the family code. They can include provisions of mahar, sharing expenses, equity as well as dispute resolution processes like arbitration and mediation.

The couple can also document limits on what they agreed to to what is in writing. For example, during a breakup, one party may be able to claim an oral promise the other party never made and potentially have it enforced in court. A written agreement protects both parties and the understanding they had when they entered into the relationship.

These agreements have a broad utility for many different kinds of couples. However, for some couples, the main benefit would be documentation that nobody is under the illusion that this is a marriage under state law. It is a private contract between two individuals.

Example of a No-Nuptial Agreement

Salma, 58, does a nikah with Sheher Ali, 62. They also create a no-nuptial agreement. Sheher Ali is a widower, and Salma is a divorcee. They both have their separate assets, including their own homes. Each has adult children and young grandchildren. Both want to put their adult children at ease that this relationship does not exist for predatory financial reasons – a common fear when parents marry later in life.

Salma, 58, does a nikah with Sheher Ali, 62. They also create a no-nuptial agreement. Sheher Ali is a widower, and Salma is a divorcee. They both have their separate assets, including their own homes. Each has adult children and young grandchildren.Click To Tweet

Salma and Sheher Ali do not plan to live together, which is common for couples their age. They mostly pay for their expenses themselves. They may spend the night at each other’s homes whenever they want but will split time with their separate children, grandchildren and social circles. Sheher Ali pays for joint vacations and outings. He agreed to a mahar. Both agree in writing they did not marry under state law.

Sheher Ali and Salma can still call each other husband and wife, since that is true for them and everyone they know. Both keep all of their finances separate, and each does their independent estate planning where they name each other as partial beneficiaries of their estates as required in Islam. The two also complete HIPAA forms allowing each to see the other’s private medical information and name each other in Advance Healthcare Directives so they can make healthcare decisions for each other.

Legal Strangers

Unmarried couples are “legal strangers.” Doctors won’t share healthcare information. Islamic spouses don’t get an inheritance from a no-nuptial agreement spouse by default. They don’t get things like tenancy by the entirety, community property, or elective shares in places where such things exist. As I described above, though, this can be remedied. However, as I described in the example above, the “legal stranger” aspect of the relationship may be more of a benefit than a downside in some cases.

Some “benefits” of marriage under state law are against Islamic principles.  For example, some state laws that provide for “elective shares” are diametrically opposed to the Quran’s share of inheritance.  Muslims must follow Islamic rules of inheritance anyway, which are different from default state rules, so being under state law is no special advantage. Even with proper planning, the downsides of the “legal stranger” problem still may come up in extraordinary contexts, however, such as lawsuits.

Immigration and Taxes

Another concern is that employee benefits to spouses and dependents don’t generally extend to those with no-nuptial agreements. Immigration law does not allow a path to the United States through the “family unification ” process for those with a no-nuptial contract. Marriage under state law (or the law of a foreign country recognized in the United States) may be the most practical solution in such cases.

In some cases, state-sanctioned marriage may lead to lower taxes. Other legally married couples may experience the so-called “marriage penalty” and pay higher taxes than couples with a no-nuptial agreement. Couples may often find they will pay less in taxes with a no-nuptial agreement than they would if they were married under state law.

Prenuptial and Postnuptial Agreements

One may wonder, to avoid the “meat grinder” of the family court system, why not just get a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement? It’s accurate that in general, having such arrangements are superior to not having them. These agreements offer greater certainty, though by no means total confidence, on how a divorce would end. There are disadvantages to such an agreement over no-nuptial agreements, however. A big one is that divorce is still in the family court system.

Many Muslim men, especially immigrants, may perceive cultural biases cause a stacked deck against them in family court. The nature of these agreements may make this perception worse. Sometimes, courts treat prenuptial and postnuptial agreements with a presumption of coercion. It is different from an ordinary contract. The family court system is often free to be more paternalistic and make a husband prove he did not force his wife to sign a document.

The Uniform Premarital Agreement Act, which will be worded differently in the different states that adopted it, provides for a process to make these marital agreements harder to defeat. However, the process is perhaps arguably more expensive, cumbersome, and awkward for a couple than a no-nuptial contract. Talking about a prenuptial agreement with a fiancé may be more uncomfortable than bringing up a no-nuptial arrangement and nikah. Without a state-sanctioned marriage, a written agreement is essential. Many people perceive the pre-nuptial and post-nuptial agreements as both optional and, perhaps unfairly, as a sign of mistrust.

Custody and Child Support

Unfortunately, there is no agreement you can come up with that will pre-settle child support and custody. A judge will decide those things.

It does not matter if you have a “plain vanilla” marriage governed entirely by your state’s family code, a prenuptial agreement, or a no-nuptial agreement. Children are not parties to such a contract. No court anywhere will subject a child’s care and welfare to such things.

For custody and child support, courts in family court will use the sometimes hard to define standard of “best interests of the child.” One Massachusetts family law attorney in a popular divorce documentary cryptically joked that she called children in the system  “little bags of money.” They are often a significant reason family law cases are so profitable for lawyers, mental health professionals, investigators, and everyone else.

No Protection for Poor Life Choices

A good rule to follow is never to do nikah with a person capable of having children unless you are sure she or he can be trusted to raise your future children, and you have made peace with making child support payments to this individual if your relationship ends. If you have a child, you may be suck with a child support order. There is no getting out of this one.

As an Islamic estate planning lawyer, the most important advice I can ever give anyone is not to get a proper estate plan. It is not to get a good lawyer. Of course those things are good, indeed no-brainers, but they have limits. The most important advice is to choose a spouse wisely. If you fail here, there is no law, no lawyer or document in existence that can turn back the clock. A no-nuptial agreement may make a future breakup easier than a family court divorce. There is still no guarantee it won’t be a complete mess anyway. Good documents are never a substitute for poor life choices.

“The Law of the Land”

Islamic institutions like masajid are conservative don’t like taking needless risks, as they should be. Many will not officiate a nikah unless there is a marriage license. They usually will not officiate bigamous marriages, on account of it being illegal.  Of course bigamy, like marriage, has a specific legal definition under state law. One almost universal refrain is that as Muslims we need to follow “the law of the land.”

No-nuptial agreements are in full conformity with the 'law of the land.' It is not a marriage under state law. Nobody is claiming that it is. Limiting nikah to marriage under state law not based on Islam.Click To Tweet

But what if that term did not mean what you think it means? No-nuptial agreements are in full conformity with the “law of the land.” It is not a marriage under state law. Nobody is claiming that it is.  Limiting nikah to marriage under state law not based on Islam. Recently, the Islamic Institute of Orange County, a large masjid in the Los Angeles area, changed its nikah officiating policy. Instead of always requiring marriage certificates, they will also recognize no-nuptial agreements.

Masajid Should Welcome No-Nuptial Agreements

Masajid should have standardized policies and procedures in place. Every masjid should have carefully considered policies to protect the vulnerable and the institution. No masjid wants to open themselves up to a “drive-by nikah” or other nonsense. One policy may well include mandating a no-nuptial agreement when there is no marriage certificate. There is no reason to believe one protects people and institutions better than the other.

Nikah is a vital sunnah for us. It is not something that should be in the shadows, secret, or something shameful. It is fundamental to how we organize our families and communities. When it’s done right, it helps us strengthen our iman, bring us closer to our communities and our loved ones. State definitions of words should not always be your guide to right and wrong.

It is appropriate that Muslims want to do the sunnah of nikah at the masjid, publicly and with friends and family watching.  We should recognize and celebrate every new couple that has done a nikah in our communities. Never mind the state has not sanctioned it.

The state statute book has its definition, we have ours.

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The Culture Debt of Islamic Institutions

The reality across America is that too many people have used the masjid to serve their own egos, fulfill their desires for power, and give themselves a big building as something to point at and say, “I built that.” Too few have created a vision for the spiritual upliftment of a community and then worked to serve it.

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Our community institutions are in debt – cultural debt. And the bill is due.

There are major consequences when the bill comes due on a debt you owe. Personal debt can lead to bankruptcy or foreclosure and the loss of your home.

If paid off before the bill comes due, debt can be a tool. Many communities in North America have utilized the qardh hasanah (goodly loan) as a way to expedite construction projects and then pay people back over time. When businesses fail to pay debt back, they are forced to liquidate and go out of business to satisfy their creditors. In extreme cases, like the economic crisis of a few years ago, major institutions repeatedly utilizing debt as a tool became over-leveraged, creating a rippling collapse.

Financial debt is not the only type of debt an organization carries. Every decision made by an organization adds to a balance sheet of sorts. Other types of debt can be technical, or even cultural.

Consider a new company that keeps making the decision to cut corners with their technology infrastructure – creating ‘technical’ debt. At a certain point, the infrastructure will need to be replaced. If not properly planned for, the cost to fix it could cripple the company.

Put another way, impatience and short-term decision making create (non-financial) debts that can destroy an organization.

The cultural debt for an organization, especially Islamic organizations, can be the most devastating.

These decisions may appear rational or well-intentioned compromises, but they come at a cost.

For example, if a community prioritizes money into a construction project instead of an imam or youth director, what is the cost of the compromise? A 5-year construction project means an entire segment of youth who will be aged anywhere between 13 and 18 risk being disconnected from the masjid.

What about the cost of marginalizing the one sister on the board multiple times such that other sisters become disenchanted and unengaged. Or what if the marginalized board member is a youth, or a convert, or a person of color? How is the collateral damage to those segments of the community assessed?

What about when the same 2 or 3 people (even without an official title) remain in charge of a masjid and aggressively push out people not in line with their agendas? Dedicated and hard-working volunteers will end up leaving and going to other communities.

What about when a few people are responsible for creating an environment so toxic and exhausting that volunteers don’t want to come to the masjid anymore? And they get so burned out that they refuse to get involved in a masjid again? Who is going to pay the bill for all the talent that’s been driven away?

What is the spiritual debt on a community that refuses to invest in an Imam or scholar for over 10 years? An entire generation will grow up in that masjid without a local resource to take guidance from. What is the impact on those kids when they grow up to get married and have their own children?

What is the cost of having overly-aggressive daily congregants who yell at people, make people feel uncomfortable, and ultimately make them want to stay away from the masjid?

Will the construction committee that decided to build a customized dome instead of a more adequate women’s prayer space ever make it up to them?

What is the cost on a community of building a massive albatross of a school that can’t cover its own overhead – and yet services less than 5% of a community’s children?

What is the cost on a congregation when the Friday khutbah becomes associated entirely with fundraising instead of spiritual development?

Did anyone plan to repay this cultural debt when they were making decisions on behalf of the community? Who is paying attention to it?

Some communities are able to shift, and make strides. Some communities are able to recognize a larger vision for growing and developing a community spiritually.

For other communities, they are now over-leveraged. The culture debt is due. To continue the financial analogy, they’re at the point of declaring bankruptcy.

These are the masjids that are empty. These are the ones where, pardon the crassness, after a few people die off, the masjid will most likely die out as well because there is no community left to take over.

These are the communities that people avoid, where they refuse to volunteer, and eventually where people stop donating.

The culture debt of the community is that people no longer feel a part of the community, and therefore the infrastructure they worked so hard to build will crumble.

Cultural bankruptcy is the loss of people.

Can the culture debt be repaid? Is there a way out? How do you undo the loss of people?

I was really hoping to have a nice and tidy 5-step action plan to fix this. The reality is, it’s not going to be easy. People don’t realize the collateral damage they’ve caused over the course of 10-20 years despite the good intentions they had.

How do you get them to accept responsibility, much less change?

It’s not going to happen. The change will be outside the masjid. This means there will be a continued rise in third spaces. Parents are using online tutors instead of Sunday schools, making their children even less attached to the masjid. There will be an increase in small groups of families getting together in their homes instead of the masjid to try and build a sense of community. There will be an entire generation of new adults who will not even desire an attachment to the masjid beyond the Friday and funeral prayers.

People will replace the local community with online communities (and sometimes the dubious online personalities leading them)

People will replace the local community with online communities (and sometimes the dubious online personalities leading them).Click To Tweet

We all see the masjids in our community that have been hit hardest by this culture debt. They’re the ones that used to be full and are now empty – while the same 2 or 3 people remain in charge for literally decades. They’re the ones that we fear will eventually close down or be sold off due to a lack of any real community – because the community was never invested in to begin with.

Those in positions of influence should seriously take account of the consequences of their actions on the community. Recognize the wrongs that were done and do your best to rectify them. At the least, seek forgiveness for the ramifications of your actions.

We can no longer make the excuse of having to do what we had to do in order to get institutions up and running from scratch. As the saying goes – what got you here won’t get you there. The reality across America is that too many people have used the masjid to serve their own egos, fulfill their desires for power, and give themselves a big building as something to point at and say, “I built that.” Too few have created a vision for the spiritual upliftment of a community and then worked to serve it.

And now we see the consequences of those decisions. The culture debt is due, and we might not be able to pay it back.

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