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What Is An Imam Worth? A Living Wage At Least.


imam wallet

The million-dollar question: What should an Imam in the 21st century be paid?

I will begin by telling a story.

There was once an elephant that lived in a village. One wealthy individual offered $1000 to the first person who could make the elephant cry. One by one the people went to the elephant and tried to show or tell the elephant sad things to make him cry, but to no avail. Finally, the village Imam went to the elephant and whispered something in his ear. Immediately, the elephant started bawling and crying his eyes out. The villagers and the wealthy man all were surprised and wanted to know just what the village Imam had whispered in the ear of the elephant. After being pressed for some time, the village Imam finally spoke and said, “It is simple. I just whispered in the elephant’s ear the amount that you pay me for my services.” Although this is a fictional story, the moral contained therein is very relevant.

 The True Value of Islamic Scholars in Society

It is not possible to discuss the salaries of Imams and Islamic scholars without discussing the true value of the work and services they provide. Unfortunately, masjids tend to evaluate their work and services from a purely capitalist perspective. Meaning, they attempt to monetize duties such as leading salah, teaching the Quran and hadith, providing spiritual guidance, etc. The most accurate way to determine the true value of an Islamic scholar is to refer back to the original sources of Islam; the Holy Quran and the teachings of the Holy Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). Although there are multiple verses from the Quran and hadiths and multiple books written on the value of the Islamic scholars, we will suffice by quoting two narrations.

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On one occasion, the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “All the beings in the heavens and on the earth, including the fish in the sea seek forgiveness for an Islamic scholar.” [Abu Dawud and At- Tirmidhi]. In a similar light, he ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “Allah, his angels, and all the inhabitants of the heavens and the earth, including the ants in their holes and the fish pray for the scholar who teaches goodness to mankind.” [Jami` at-Tirmidhi]

These narrations emphasize the important role that the Imam plays in the functioning of human society and the universe at large. The fish in the sea and the ants in their holes and all the beings and animals in the sky and the earth pray for an Imam and Islamic scholar because they clearly understand that their existence and well-being are dependent on the rulings issued by the teaching of the Islamic scholars. It is the Islamic scholars and teachers who taught the people on the earth to recognize Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) and declare His Greatness. The benefit from the services of the Imams extends to all creatures, and as a result, these creatures pray for the forgiveness of the scholars. Likewise, when there are no Imams or when the Imams don’t fulfill their duties, then ignorance and the disobedience of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) will spread. This in turn will directly cause an increase in natural calamities that will adversely impact both animals and man. In sum, the very survival of humanity is directly tied to the work of Islamic scholars and their ability to fulfill their duty to guide mankind toward that which is good.  The work and service of Imams and Islamic scholars are invaluable and is impossible to calculate it in dollar terms.

Shaikh Osman Umarji asks the following rhetorical question, “If the scholar in your community saves and supports your child’s Islamic identity and imaan (faith), how much is that worth to you? If the scholar delivers inspiring lectures that help you spiritually grow as a person, how much is that worth to you? These are some of the questions we need to reflect upon as we try to determine how much to invest in scholars.”

How Much Should Imams Be Paid?

imam salary

PC: Masjid Pogung Dalangan (unsplash)

In light of the foregoing discussion, the question remains: What is an appropriate salary for an Imam? The answer to this million-dollar question can be gleaned from the Muslim community during the golden age of Islam in Iraq in the 9th century. The community at that time placed a high value on everything related to knowledge and was ready to put their money where their mouth was. The Banu Musa brothers were famous in Islamic history for their patronage of Islamic knowledge. “[They] gave free reign to their imaginations, putting the full power of their wealth and intellect into the pursuit of scientific discovery and excellence. The Banu Musa were particularly famous for their patronage of translation. They sent teams of agents out on manuscript-finding missions and spent a fortune on producing books.”1The map of knowledge pg. 90-91

The Banu Musa brothers literally set the gold standard for Islamic scholars and translators. Ibn Nadeem reports that they paid a number of the top translators of the time 500 dinars (gold coins) per month. Using approximate calculations and the current price of gold, this works out to around $130,000 a month and around $1,500,000 a year!2 Although this might not reflect the salaries of Imams and Islamic scholars for all eras and places, it nevertheless does provide a real-life example of individuals in history who recognized the great value of specialized knowledge and were willing to pay top dollar for it.

In comparison, we can ask what is the average salary of an Imam/Islamic scholar in America right now? A 2022 Yaqeen Institute study found that the median income for Imams in North America is $65,000.3 This figure is just barely above the Federal Poverty Level depending on the family size and location of the Imam.4Federal Poverty Level (FPL) – Glossary | This figure is significantly lower than the living wage for Americans in most parts of the country. According to the living wage calculator, for a family of four before taxes, the living wage in 2021 was $100,498 per year.5The living wage in the United States is $24.16 per hour, or $100,498.60 per year in 2021, before taxes for a family of four (two working adults, two children), compared to $21.54, or $89,605.51 in 2020. Living Wage Calculator ( We do recognize that the living wage will vary based on the size of an individual’s family and their geographical location. One can use the living wage calculator to determine the living wage for an Imam based on his location. Likewise, the figure for the average annual salary for an Imam is significantly less than that of their Jewish and Christian counterparts. Although recent data is unavailable, a 2012 study highlighted this difference.

Omar Usman wrote an excellent article in 2012 titled “How Much Should Islamic Clergy Make?“. Although his recommendation needs to be updated and adjusted for the year 2023, the logic behind his conclusion is very relevant. He writes, “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.”

Freeing Up the Imam From Working a Job in Order to Serve the Community

The teachings of the Sunnah also shed light on the real objective of paying a salary to an Imam or religious teacher. These individuals have multiple duties that require long hours and being available throughout the day and often the night. Due to the demanding nature of their positions, they are unable to work a normal secular job like the rest of us, and earn an adequate salary. In such a situation, we have a legal precedent from the life of the first Caliph of Islam, Abu Bakr raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him). The first day that he became the Caliph of the Muslims, in accordance with his usual routine, he went to the marketplace with his clothing merchandise to sell. Umar bin Al-Khattab raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) and Abu Ubaydah Ibn Al-Jarrah raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) met him and questioned why he was going to the marketplace to trade while being appointed as the ruler of the Muslims. Abu Bakr raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) responded, “Then how will I provide for my family?” They responded, “We will fix a salary for you of half a sheep daily [to suffice for your financial needs so that you don’t have to work].”6Fathul Bari v. 4 p. 357)

In another version, Abu Bakr raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) said when he became the Caliph, “My people know that my [previous] occupation was fully able to provide for the expenses of my family. I have now been occupied with the affairs of the Muslims, so my family will eat from the wealth[public treasury] of the Muslims and I will work on behalf of the Muslims.” [Sahih Al-Bukhari : 2070]

In the same way, the objective of paying our Imams a salary is to free them from working a secular job and allow them to dedicate themselves full-time to their important duty of educating and guiding the community. An Imam will be unable to adequately focus on his duties if his salary is insufficient to address his financial needs. This reality often-times leads to Imams spending all their free time on side businesses to make ends meet as we shall soon see in the interviews below.

The Current Financial State of Imams in North America


PC: Bogomil Mihaylov [unsplash]

We conducted an important survey of over 100 Imams and Islamic scholars in North America, and likewise, the Yaqeen Institute also conducted a separate survey of over 200 Imams. We will share the results of both surveys below:

The vast majority of the respondents to the survey that we conducted have full-time jobs as Imams and teachers. (74% vs. 26%). However, these scholars are not able to live off their current salaries and the majority of them also have side businesses and part-time jobs (55%). Luckily, most of these Masjids and Islamic institutions do not contractually limit them to working only for them (82%). Unfortunately, 55% of the Imams don’t have job security and 51% do not consider themselves financially secure. As a result, 47% of respondents have considered leaving their teaching position for a secular job. 17% of respondents already have full-time secular jobs. 29% of respondents said that they have been deserving of Zakat in the past or are currently deserving of Zakat, most likely because of their precarious financial situation. Another important statistic is that 46.5% of the respondents said that they had medical insurance or health coverage for themselves and their family, while only about 14% said that they had a retirement plan such as a 401K. Lastly, only 24% said that they owned the place that they were currently living in.

According to the North American Religious Scholars and Educators Survey conducted by the Yaqeen Institute, from 187 respondents, only 6% of Imams are never called upon by the community outside of typical work hours, 17.6% are called upon once in a while, 27.8% are called upon sometimes, 34.2% are called upon quite often, and 17% are called upon regularly.

26.48% of respondents never thought of leaving their teaching position, 27% thought about it once in a while, 30% think about it sometimes, 10.5% think about it very often, and 6% think about it always.

Only 6 out of 191 or about 3% of respondents made more than $100,000 a year. The average salary for all full-time employees was $54,300. 97 respondents or 53% had savings of less than $5,000. 28% had between $25,000 and $50,000 in savings. Only 4 respondents or 2% had more than $100,000 in savings. 110 out of 164 respondents or 67% had no health insurance. 57% work another job to supplement their salary. They work about 11-20 hours a week to make an additional $10-25,000 a year. 13% do not have enough money at the end of the month to make ends meet, while 35% have just enough to make it.

One of the objectives of this article is to serve as a voice for the Imams and their financial challenges. Most Imams have extreme self-honor and dignity that does not allow them to complain publicly about their low salaries and difficult financial conditions. In our survey, over 40 anonymous Imams from North American Imams commented on their situation and we have included their quotes in this article to allow the reader to get into the mind of the Imam, understand their challenges, and sympathize with their current plight.

It is difficult for an Imam to serve the community with financial worries

Financial difficulties and worries make it difficult for any person to do their job properly, and the same applies to Imams.

“Just that ulama who teach at Muslim institutions or serve as an Imam at masjids should be paid a wage which makes them independent from working a second job. In that way, they can dedicate their full and best to this Muslim institution or masjid. Also, if they are not able to pay in that way then they should at least provide housing for the ulama teachers or Imams or pay the full / portion of the rent. Because many of us do not own our homes. We simply rent.”

“I don’t have official job security but there is a moral understanding in the places I work. Working in two places takes a great toll on performance. The people may or not realize it but in our position understand what the community needs and what we are actually providing.”

“I am currently in a Masjid which cannot offer me a full-time position. The reason is a lack of funds despite this masjid being the first one built in —— Canada. So, I am forced to find a second job just so I can make ends meet. I do want to dedicate myself fully to the masjid but they cannot provide that. F.Y.I., we have many doctors here and other well-established people. Allah knows best if they have the money or not. I left the Greater Toronto Area for this but now I’m stuck.”

“Working as an ‘Alim class teacher and Imam is a full-time, 24/7 job that requires complete devotion and availability to fulfill the rights of these positions. Financial stress doesn’t allow for one to not only give the time needed but also hurts the sincerity, mental clarity, and طيب النفس (the ability to keep a clean heart) of the Imam, resulting in a deficiency in the services provided. This harms both the ‘Alim (Islamic scholar) and the general public”

“I am working 3 Islamic jobs serving the community to get by.”

Attending to one’s side business makes it difficult to fulfill the rights of being an Imam

How would a CEO or doctor do his job properly if he had a part-time job to take care of during their off times? The same applies to an Imam.

“I have a part-time imamat job, but teaching makes it full-time work. My biggest challenge is to balance imamat/teaching and my business. I feel like since I’ve started my business, my optional efforts for ummah have decreased and I only perform what is required by management, and the rest of the time I spend on business.”

“It’s a struggle having to save up for vacation, having to work extra so that I can save up to buy a house. It takes away precious time that I could be increasing my knowledge and focusing on things that could benefit the community.”

“I am not involved in imamat nor Islamic teaching at the moment. I have an Islamic side business ——–, and work for ——. I would love to dedicate time to teaching and Islamic programs.”

Many Imams have either left teaching for a secular job, or are considering it

The current financial crisis of Imams is extremely worrisome. Many North American Imams and Islamic scholars have left or are considering leaving full-time Islamic teaching and have obtained regular jobs, and the community will suffer greatly as a result of this. We are losing many Islamic scholars and Imams daily as they finally give up the fight and take a secular job where they can get a living wage and obtain peace of mind.

“I used to be a maktab teacher/Imam earning $100, and when my family couldn’t bear it anymore I had to leave to get a full-time job elsewhere. I wish I could devote my full time to doing some service of Islam, but I have to take care of my family.”

“I originally taught full-time for little or no pay. After marrying and finding I had a child on the way I couldn’t continue making excuses to my family about maintaining my teaching. So I went back to school and started a career as a computer programmer. Things did not last with that marriage due to those initial issues. But now, although I can care for my family and friends, I no longer have as much time to teach and have been away from it so long, only leading Jumu’ah (Friday prayers) or Eid.”

“I am a part-time Imam at the jail. About 25-30 hours. Yes, I am currently looking for a secular job but do not plan to leave part-time Khidmah (service of Islam by teaching, etc.) inshaAllah. I will be honest, one of the main reasons I am looking for a secular job is due to financial instability, especially with the current economy and how the economy might become worse as time goes on.”

“I am not a full-time teacher or Imam. I have a full-time secular job. However, I do occasionally teach workshops and deliver Friday sermons on a weekly basis.”

“Working with Islamic Institutes is definitely very rewarding but something that they fail to remember is that Imams and Shuyookh also need money to take care of themselves and their families. The value given to secular education over Islamic education is very sad. Alhamdulillah I am not in poverty, but I definitely had to leave my job in the Islamic field so I can make a better amount. Imams study mainly to become an Imam. The public needs to understand that the services we provide should not be for free. The services we provide are backed up by years and years of effort and education just like other professions. Not every scholar is able to do something on the side with their future towards the masjid or the madrasah and the people should never even expect such a thing. They should have enough respect and common sense to provide enough so that the scholar does not need to have a side hustle.”

“I teach in an Islamic school but I cannot afford to send my own kids to an Islamic School. I am honored to be involved in educating the children of my community and helping to secure their Islamic faith, but my own children are enrolled in public school due to my financial situation putting their Islamic faith at greater risk. I have considered quitting for a non-religious position because of this reason.”

“Alhamdulillah, at the moment my current position is good compared to my previous employment, where I used to teach 10 hours a day, from 8:30 am to 7:30 pm with an hour break in between. Basically working full-time and a part-time job as is the norm in Greater Toronto Area and other cities in Canada/USA. I have colleagues who gave up teaching in the evenings to work other part-time jobs like Amazon delivery, Uber, Instacart, etc. saying it’s better pay and less headache.”

 Shaikh Osman Umarji has written an article on the rise of the ‘scholarly gig economy.’ He writes,

“What are the natural consequences of the financial situation that these young men were put in? By looking at many of our communities, the answer is rather obvious. These young scholars often left their positions in the masjid, painstakingly leaving their passion to serve their communities behind in pursuit of a decent wage. Some had degrees to fall back on and went back to careers in engineering or business. Others decided to learn new marketable skills such as data science and accounting. Others went back to graduate school in search of new careers. Another group decided to become independent contractors, offering their services to any community willing to compensate them for their services of teaching or even fundraising. They would travel long distances to speak, hoping to help others and make an income.

In this new Islamic gig economy, the youth and their families are the casualties, who have been left without guidance and mentorship. After their local scholar left the masjid seeking greener pastures, their masjid may have completely stopped having regular programs, resorted to finding underqualified community members to speak, or hired other popular scholars to guest lecture once in a while and run back home. All of these stopgap measures have left the community without religious leadership.”

 The level of financial stress on Imams


PC: Tierra Mallorca (unsplash)

“We don’t get paid as much as we would with our college degrees however we opt to stay in khidmah (serving the Muslim community). The masjid and schools know this and pay the bare minimum. We don’t say anything because it feels like a conflict of interest with our intention. Some masjids have us drive 30-40 miles and deliver a newly prepared khutbah in front of 500 people and no honorarium for gas.”

“I am living paycheck to paycheck. I have to depend on government assistance despite teaching 10 hours [a day] Mon-Fri.”

“Maybe a good question to ask is what is your current salary and what is your monthly rent? This will show what percentage of salary goes into just rent. My current salary is $7000 and my rent is $3000. If I do not freelance by giving talks on the side or teaching on the side then it will be difficult for me to live comfortably. My finances would be very tight.”

“I am a homeowner but need more empathy from masjid board members when it comes to salary, days off, small tokens of appreciation, working with the Imam rather than against the Imam. Imams need some type of job security. We serve the communities for 15-20 years and imams are removed from their positions overnight. More needs to be done about having board members who understand the challenges faced by imams in the West. Board members should leave their politics aside for the betterment of the imam and community.”


“I’m finding it difficult to work towards a home which is a current need in my family and am not able to find a halal finance provider for a car. Also due to my recent increase in family count, we need a new car but are finding difficulty due to no finance options available.”

“I am struggling in school but hope to be financially well off afterward.”

“There are many challenges in my personal life due to working in Madrasah. I am always late on payments. Madrasahs don’t pay on time. So it is hard to just stay working in a madrasah and the job is very difficult. The apartment office charges a late fee if we don’t pay in time. I don’t want to use credit cards but applied for a few just to get by. And I have to pay late fees. Car insurance can’t set up for auto pay for extra discounts due to making commitments.”


“I’m a full-time Hifz (Quran memorization) and academics teacher. I work 10-hour days. I am currently single and living with my parents. If I wanted to move out and start a family, I would not be able to do so due to my current salary. To put it into perspective, a McDonald’s worker makes more than me. I get paid according to my marital status and not because of my credentials. Because of my financial and living situation, I am forced to look for a partner overseas. Since I would be considered rich by a woman back home rather than in the US. I am actively looking for a secular job to replace my current job. I am overworked by the institution I work for. I feel I will be replaced as soon as someone better comes along. I thank Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) that he has given me a bit of Islamic knowledge, yet I feel like I wasn’t told the whole truth when deciding to join the ‘alim course. There is no money in this line of work unless you have excellent oratory and social skills. I did not know the reality of the sacrifice I was making. Certain wealthy individuals come to my house and brag about their children making 6-figure salaries knowing well how much we struggle. It hurts to know that I am not able to financially support my parents but rather they have to support me. I can sense my father’s disappointment. Sometimes I leave the house and hope I never come back. I was not always like this, but seeing my peers move forward in their lives, get married, and have children whilst knowing I would never be able to afford it whilst at my current job has changed me. I feel nothing but disdain and disappointment in my community and institution. They want the best from me but don’t care at all about my best interests. I ask Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He)for forgiveness and help. Surely Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is the best of helpers. I would not dare say this to anyone but I feel someone should know. There are many people in situations worse than mine but these are thoughts that enter my mind on a day-to-day basis.”

“Alhamdulillah, we are a family of 5 with a monthly salary of $3000. We get by with the fadhl (grace) of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). All I would say is, we can’t imagine having any savings. By the end of the month, we’re almost at negative in the bank account. So, vacations, holidays, and traveling are all unimaginable.”

“I had been a full-time Imam for a good 5 years since I graduated. I was given a two-bedroom house. It was pretty old but enough for my needs at that time. One day an unfortunate incident occurred that compelled me to be financially independent. One of the Shura members said, amongst other things, that “don’t think that the house belongs to you.” I was heartbroken and said to myself that I need to step up and not be dependent upon Shura members. I was paid $2000 before taxes with the house for residence. To make a long story short, I started my own business and now I consider myself financially secure. The current Shura members are all my friends and they respect me quite a bit. I’ve been at this place for about 17 years.”

“Money is very tight and I have fallen into debt, I am praying that some door or avenue will open up for me, inshaAllah. Everything is from the side of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). Du’as are requested. Alhamdulillah”

“The fact that I frequently don’t get paid on time makes my financial situation extremely difficult, hence I have to control my expenses.”

“Prior to the COVID situation becoming dire, the masjid paid me less than the caretaker of the masjid while giving me more work mentally. I am married and my expenses have increased as a result. Masjids want full-time work for part-time pay, and they want us available at beck and call.”

“There are too many ulema dictators who pick and choose who they want to use based on their own personal gains. In the meantime, the average ‘Alim has to either do secular things, live with parents, or travel very far to do some sort of religious work.”

“I am working part-time as a chaplain and am looking for a masjid to work as an Imam. My financial situation isn’t good right now. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is most giving.”

“I was previously a full-time assistant Imam and was making 40k a year. Now I am a volunteer Imam at a community that I’ve served for several years, giving khutbah (Friday sermon) every week, leading 3-5 salah a day, convert support, Sunday school, etc.”

“I have a single-family income, so I had to move out of my previous city/state to be able to afford a home to buy. Alhamdulillāh. I was successful at that and my salary is 70k this year Alhamdulillāh.”

“I am unable to purchase a house with the current economic situation.”

“I have a lot of credit card debt and am unable to afford the mortgage for a home, and am losing money by renting. House prices are very expensive.”

“When you are an employee at the masjid and you are living in the West, naturally the same attitudes [prevalent around the masjid] will rub off on each individual. Therefore imamat will be looked at as employment for which you can’t be your own boss and have dual income etc.”

“Although the masjid pays well, it’s not enough to live in a safe neighborhood with good school ratings. The only place I can afford to live off their salary alone is 25 min from the masjid in a gang-infested area.”

“I receive $200 each month as payment in a high-cost-of-living area. Upon consulting senior scholars and describing my duties in the community, they estimate a fair salary for duties would be $2,500.”

“My current salary is not enough nowadays. Medical is a big issue.”

Survey Analysis      

From these two surveys above, we can see the areas of need and improvement in the financial state of North American Imams. Most of the Imams don’t own a home, most don’t have any retirement plans, and most don’t have medical insurance. Many lack job security or financial security. Imams are overworked and underpaid, many are in debt and or have almost no savings. Very few of them are financially stable or well-off. They are under great financial stress and often consider leaving their teaching positions for secular jobs.

29% of Imams who responded to the survey said that they have been deserving of Zakat in the past or are currently deserving of Zakat. In other words, these Imams were living in poverty and deserving of our financial aid. In many cases, the salary of the Imam is insufficient for his/her needs and causes them to be deserving of Zakat. The dignity and self-respect of an Imam will not allow him/her to beg or publicly ask for donations. How can we allow our hired Imams and Islamic teachers to fall into such poverty that they end up being eligible recipients for Zakat? The stark reality is that we are failing our Imams and making it very difficult for them to survive, let alone serve their community. Likewise, many Imams who teach or serve the community cannot get by without governmental assistance. The Muslim community is not paying them a sufficient salary, so they have to rely on the government to survive.

In the same light, I vividly recall a personal incident that took place at the home of a senior Imam who had served the community for 30+ years. His adult son came out and one of the guests asked him if he planned to be an Imam one day like his father. The son replied that he would never do so because he sees how the Masjid treats his father and provides him with no retirement account or medical benefits.

I would like our readers to reflect on the financial conditions described above.  How many of us as educated professionals would stay in a job position that had the financial challenges presented above which include not being paid on time, not being paid a living wage, not receiving medical benefits, not having a retirement plan, etc.? How many potential Imams will quit their studies and choose another career path after hearing about the financial difficulties of Imams in North America? Many of our masjid board members are doctors and well-to-do professionals with comfortable salaries and lifestyles. If we would not be willing to accept such a financing situation for ourselves, how are we willing to accept such a situation for our Islamic scholars and Imams who we are commanded to respect and revere? As the Holy Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him)  said, “None of you truly believes until you desire for your brother what you desire for yourself.” [Al-Bukhari & Muslim] Our faith dictates that we work towards the same financial security and well-being which we have worked so hard for ourselves for our fellow Imams and Islamic scholars.


Shaikh Osman Umarji writes,

“However, acquiring talented scholars to address the needs of our communities requires giving proper respect, which in its most basic form is providing reasonable wages. If we decide otherwise, we should not be surprised when communities fail, youth and families become lost, and capable scholars end up far away from their communities.”


PC: Rumman Amin (unsplash)

Many years ago, the slogan for a college fund was, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.”  In response to this, I say, “An Islamic scholar is a terrible thing to waste.” Imagine the scenario in which a young individual that grew up in North America spends 6-10 years studying advanced Islamic studies and has plans to serve the community and impart their knowledge after graduation. However, due to financial reasons, this individual leaves teaching Islam and instead gets a software job. Would we be happy if all of the doctors in our community worked as janitors? What a tremendous loss for the community and mankind! We are losing scholars every day and many are considering leaving for secular jobs as we discussed above.

Many masjids and board members will in turn respond that we can’t afford to pay our Imams more. Shaikh Umarji explains, “The knee-jerk response that we often hear from board and community members in affluent communities when discussing salaries is ‘brother, we would love to pay our scholar more, but we don’t have the funding.’ This would be a reasonable response until you look at the multi-million-dollar renovations to make the masjid aesthetically pleasing and the tens of thousands of dollars spent on catering lavish iftars and interfaith dinners. Ultimately, the use of masjid funds is a value judgment. It is a value judgment that board members have to make on how to use funds that the community has provided, and a value judgment for community members on how much to invest in their masjid.” We as the Muslim community need to prioritize and allocate the community funds that we collect in order of importance. One of the best ways to invest in our future and the future of our children is to pay our Imams and Islamic teachers a living wage. “What I am suggesting is that we completely rethink the value of a religious scholar in our community as an investment, not a charity cause.” We also need to realize the importance of human capital and investing in humans who will do their utmost to serve and uplift the community over just physical capital such as glamorous chandeliers, minarets, calligraphic writing, and even bathrooms!  Otherwise, what value is a beautiful building if it is devoid of congregants and someone to provide guidance to the community

Proposed Solutions

The main objective of writing articles like this is to call each other to action and take practical steps to change the status quo. I propose five immediate action items that we all work to implement

  1. Working to pay all Imams in North America living salaries

Thinking globally, and acting locally entails coordinating with our local masjid to pay the teachers of our children and the Imams in our community living wages. Community members should be proactive and raise funds privately to raise the salary of their Imams. Likewise, we should attend masjid meetings and request board members to do the same. There are many deserving and worthwhile causes in the Muslim world today, but how many of us have ever heard of a fundraiser or Gofundme dedicated to paying the Imams a living wage or raising their salary? The gold standard for a living wage is around $200,000 a year as discussed above. We can also utilize the latest technology and crowdfunding platforms to independently raise money to support our Imams. Gofundme and Patreon are good platforms.

  1. Setting up retirement funds for Imams.

Most Imams in America have no savings and no retirement funds. We should gain coordinate with masjid boards and advocate that all Imams have a retirement fund and have financial arrangements for when they retire and are no longer able to serve.

  1. Setting up a housing fund to purchase homes for Imams

The vast majority of Imams in America do not own a home and are renting. Rent and payments for homes form a significant percentage of an Imam’s monthly expenses. A fund to buy homes for Imams would greatly assist Imams in becoming financially independent and in serving the community.

  1. Medical insurance fund

Many Imams do not have medical insurance and health coverage, meaning that a simple surgery or mishap at home can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Medical coverage would greatly help Imams in paying for the medical needs of their families. We should advocate that all masjids should provide medical insurance for Imams and their families.

  1. Setting long-term endowments through Waqf

All of the solutions above are simply short-term fixes and are not sustainable in the long term. Even if we were to immediately fix the situation and pay every single Imam a living wage right now, we would still face a similar situation in the next generation in a few decades. We desperately need Muslims to set up waqf (endowments) by donating property, shares of stock, businesses, etc., and allocating the revenue to the salaries of Imams, retirement funds, etc. This will serve as a perpetual charity and continue to benefit Imams as long as the property or business exists.

Another option is to bequest up to 1/3 of one’s wealth and set up an endowment for one of the worthy causes mentioned above. A good estate lawyer would be able to advise on the practicalities of doing so.  Refer to this article for more details on the benefits of setting up an endowment.


Fixing the current financial crisis facing Imams is a communal obligation upon all of us. If we as a community collectively do not take steps to resolve this, we will be held responsible. We hope especially that supporters of scholars and Islamic knowledge, students, well-wishers, and those who have benefitted in any way from the Imams will step up to fix the situation before it is too late. Although this situation is very depressing, I am confident that there is goodness in the Muslim community and there is hope. Before even writing or publishing this article, I had concerned community members reach out to me when they heard I was conducting a survey about the financial condition of Imams and offer their assistance to Imams in need. Another concerned Muslim working in Silicon Valley was deeply touched by the draft version of this article and decided to set up an organization in order to address the issue. I am sure that many others will also respond accordingly after reading this article.

The beauty of Islamic teachings can truly be seen in this act of collaboration between the Muslim community and the Imams. Those who contribute to the financial uplifting of Imams and their long-term support too shall share in all the rewards of the service and good done by the Imams throughout their lives, without decreasing the rewards of the Imams in any way. “That is the bounty of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) which he grants to who he wishes.” This is an amazing way for us to do our part and contribute to the betterment and Islamic education of our community while attaining great rewards in the hereafter. Compared to all worldly investments, investing in Imams is the real million-dollar investment with the greatest returns that will last forever.



The Rise of the Scholarly Gig Economy and Fall of Community Development –

How Much Should Islamic Clergy Make? –


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Mufti Abdullah Nana Abdullah Ebrahim Nana was born in Novato, California in 1978, and attended elementary, middle and high school in his hometown. After graduation from high school, Abdullah enrolled at the University of California at Berkeley, one of the top public universities in the country. He continued to excel academically while participating in extra-curricular activities, including serving as Treasurer for the Muslim Student Association at UC Berkeley during his sophomore year. Through hard work and the grace of Allah , he was able to finish the four-year degree in two and a half years. He graduated with honors in 1998 with a degree in Business Administration. In order to quench his thirst for Islamic knowledge, Shaikh Abdullah traveled to an Islamic University in South Africa, where he studied for seven years. He completed the rigorous and intensive syllabus which covers many of the Islamic Sciences, including but not limited to Fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence), Arabic Grammar, Arabic Morphology, Hadith (Sayings of the Holy Prophet), Tafsir (Commentary of the Quran), Aqidah (Islamic Beliefs and philosophy), Tajwid (Canonical Intonation of the Quran), Arabic Literature, and Islamic History. The Shaikh also completed his post-graduate studies while specializing in Islamic Jurisprudence and obtaining an authorization from his teachers to issue legal opinions, or fatwa, thus earning the title of a ‘Mufti.’ Mufti Abdullah does his best to serve the American Public - Muslim and non-Muslim - in a variety of ways. He currently serves as an Imam at the Islamic Center of Mill Valley. He delivers the Friday sermon in multiple locations in the Bay Area, including some of the local universities and colleges. He teaches Arabic and Islamic sciences full-time at school in San Francisco. The Shaikh was a guest speaker on Comparative Religion at the Dominican University, on Comparative Law at the San Francisco State School of Law, for an English class at the University of California at Berkeley, and on Islamic Insurance at the Harvard Islamic Finance seminar. Along with this, he has delivered talks in many cities throughout the U.S on various contemporary issues. In his capacity as a specialist in Islamic Law, the Shaikh assists Muslims all over America with their personal, legal, and economic problems. He has answered hundreds of written questions on a variety of contemporary issues, such as Islamic Finance, Medicine, Inheritance, Food Science, Drug Problems, etc. Mufti Abdullah also counsels Muslims with their personal problems and does his best to provide practical solutions. In the past, he has advised Muslim Medical Clinics, Halal Food companies, Investors, IT Professionals, Muslim Websites, Stores, and other organizations. Mufti Abdullah has authored four books on a variety of topics, including The Virtues of Islamic Knowledge, Stoning to Death in Islam, Legal Rulings on Slaughtered Animals, and The Maidens of Paradise. He currently lives in Mill Valley and is happily married with six children.



  1. Lion

    June 5, 2023 at 11:14 AM

    In our building we had rented one flat which we turned into a mosque, and everyone contributed towards the rent. No one particular person lead the salah. No one got paid. Leading salah is not some duty that should pe paid, and the work of deen should not have monetary value attached to it, and should not be done with the intention of earning money.

  2. Ibn Adam

    June 5, 2023 at 10:59 PM

    Much needed article. Those testimonies are heart breaking. Its worth noting though that Mufti Nana’s family runs a masjid which is infamous for not paying imams. Every prayer there is lead by a volunteer as I have confirmed several times with people in that masjid.

  3. Truth

    June 7, 2023 at 2:23 PM

    Cannot see my comment. All I wanted to say was that the argument that the work of an Imam is invaluable so they should get paid more is the same of public school teachers who demand higher salaries quoting salaries of other professions but you cannot ignore the fact that it is easier to become an Imam (or a public school teacher) than become an engineer, lawyer, doctor, CEO, etc. hence the difference in pay.

  4. Guest

    June 7, 2023 at 9:16 PM

    In response to Lion in particular, do you believe that Imam’s are only there for the prayer and not have any other duties? Even in your own situation you have a musalla where people can pray, the position is volunteer and their are different people leading the prayers and presumbly having regular jobs thus the responsibility is shared this is pretty differet to a masjid where there are 1-3 imams there regularly who spend most of the day there.

    As for work of the deen not being paid, Umar R.A himself instituted a salary for Quran teachers. Of course one should not be in it for financial or avraicious reasons, but most of these complaints seem to be valid in the fact that they are asking for a reasonable standard rather then being forced to live in a poor state.

    I agree with most of the article, but the only contention I would make is that 200,000 yearly salary seems unrealistic given both given the average salaries in most places as well as the fact that most masjid’s are solely run through donations and often do not have budget to support that amount. However of course a fair wage is necessary for all imams and scholars.

  5. Nabeel

    June 21, 2023 at 12:59 PM

    Alhamdulillah & Jazakallah for highlighting this issue.

    One action that perhaps a central influencing body like Yaqeen etc could do is to prepare an employment standards certification for the masajid. Something that would insist on adherence to a set of practices for Imams and scholars. This can then be pushed to the masajids for acceptance, and incentivized through the extended services from central institutions and more famous Imams( Eg fundraising attendance by popular scholars only if the masjid accepts the certification, course discounts, counseling access etc whatever). The ordinary Imams will not be able to form a pressure group, so it’s upon the more well known Imams to use their clout and push this to the community on behalf of the ones who are struggling.

  6. Hassan

    June 23, 2023 at 3:19 PM

    This article is very true and very thorough. Thank you. An imam is more than just leading in prayer on Friday. An imam has to do counseling for the community members who need it. Some family cases may take longer than 6 months of intense counseling to reconcile the concerned parties. After each session, an imam may feel drained out of energy. And imam has to conduct Nikah ceremonies and may have to drive for miles to get to where the ceremony is taking place. As stated in the article, some of the families do not assist with any financial help whatsoever even for gas and the time! An imam handles Janazh rituals from washing to burial. An imam may do interfaith work in the larger community, visit schools to do a presentation about Islam, visit hospitals and hospice homes or jail, etc. An imam has to study a book, not just read it, to teach it at the masjid. Etc. An imam has to deal sometimes with the “nonsense” of some members in the community!!! An imam assists in fundraising campaigns, may teach in school, teach tajweed, read a hadith etc. Community members visit the mosque on Friday, sit comfortably, and watch the imam, pray and go back to work.some may criticize the imam for any reason. They have no clue whatsoever what the imam goes through to prepare the khutbah, deliver it,lead in prayer, answer questions after prayer, make announcements, help with the new converts, etc. As to Ramadan, that is way more to do for the imam!

  7. Greg Carr

    July 14, 2023 at 2:20 PM

    “How many potential Imams will quit their studies and choose another career path after hearing about the financial difficulties of Imams in North America?”

    I am actually enrolled in the Azhar system in Egypt right now, and as I thought about this topic generally, I am starting to seek a secular job, get married, and just settle down and put the Islamic studies as a hobby. You are absolutely right about this. E

    ven though the ilm is huge here, don’t believe anybody who tells you it’s like a “shadow of its former self” or whatever, there’s a ton of ilm here in Cairo that you will never have time to benefit from all of it. There’s full-blown murshids teaching full alimiyyah curriculums, no better study situation you could ever imagine than murshids teaching you–those who know, know what I mean about this. They lived this tradition until they reached their highest purpose and Allah ta’ala took them in big with Him. They’re walking mountains and that’s a serious understatement, and there’s SEVERAL here in Cairo it’s astonishing the ilm that is here, it’s way underrated.

    Now some will take up that jihad and commit to it. May Allah honor them! What a commitment. I feel like most came from families who started them off young.

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