Question: What is the religious perspective on the following issue:
A masjid appointed a religious leader (Imam) whose job is to lead the five daily prayers and teach Islamic Studies to children in the evening. His payment is dispensed monthly. Is an Imam of a mosque obligated to be available 24 hours a day, or to only be present in the mosque for the five prayers and in the evenings to teach children? Also, please provide answers to the following:
Q1. Does an Imam work on an hourly basis or on a monthly salary?
Q2. How much time is required for an Imam to lead Friday congregational prayer and the five daily prayers?
Q3. Is the Imam of a Masjid a laborer, or a community leader?
Imāmat, or leading prayer, is the practice of the Messenger of Islam ﷺ. Leading prayers is an honorable and respectable position. For this reason, there are very stringent restrictions set by the law because the Imam is responsible for the best form of worship in Islam, the ritual prayer. A person in this position must maintain the highest level of character, good behavior, habits, piety, and fear of God, and he must adhere to the law and ethics of Islam. In a Muslim community, the Imam holds the highest leading role when it comes to religious matters. As such, he must be extremely sincere, understanding, trustworthy, and truthful. To hold a position for leading prayers, it is incumbent upon him to observe sincerity and fear of God. At the same time, it is a must for the community that the respect and prestige of the Imam is maintained because religious scholars are in positions of authority according to Allah’s command:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا أَطِيعُوا اللَّهَ وَأَطِيعُوا الرَّسُولَ وَأُولِي الْأَمْرِ مِنْكُمْ
O you who believe, obey Allah and obey the Messenger and those of authority amongst you. (Nisa, 4:59)
To understand the part of the verse “those of authority amongst you,” the following commentaries have been utilized: Tafsīr Qurṭubi, Tafsīr ibn Kathīr, Tafsīr Nasafi, and Tafsīr-e-Na`īmi. They all comment that “those of authority amongst you” refers to the `ulamā’, the scholars of Islam. Since they are considered people of authority, their respect is mandatory. Despite all of this, a religious scholar must comply with the law in its totality. The Imam must strive diligently for the propagation of religious knowledge. However, to bind someone for 24 hours is an unethical act. The Imam cannot be bound for 24 hours, but the responsibility for the religion of Islam in his area belongs to him. As such, he must be ready at all times to please Allah and to fulfill his religious obligations. The five prayers and evening classes are his responsibility, but he is not bound by any other time. He must abide by the agreement with the administration. Allah commands:
وَأَوْفُوا بِالْعَهْدِ إِنَّ الْعَهْدَ كَانَ مَسْئُولًا
Fulfill the promise; surely the promise will be asked about [on Judgement Day]. (Isrā’, 17:34)
The answers to the rest of the questions are as follows:
1. It depends on the location, environment, circumstances, and situation of the place the Imam is assigned for his duty. Based on these things, an agreement is drawn and reached. In the Indian Subcontinent, the Imams are compensated through a fixed monthly salary. Compensation is a must. If this fixed compensation is stipulated in exact terms, then it is not permissible for the Imam to take that compensation. One of the great scholars of the East Imam Ahmad Riḍa Khan gives his opinion on this issue as follows:
اگر اجارہ صراحۃً خواہ دلالۃً واقع تو ہُوا یعنی اس نے اُجرت کے لئے امامت کی اور قوم نے بھی اسے اجیر سمجھا مگر تعین اجرت نہ بیان میں آیا نہ قرائن سے واضح ہوا تو اجارہ فاسدہ ہے وہ اُجرت اُس کے حق میں خبیث ہے اُسے تصدق کردینے کاحکم ہے مگر اصل اجارہ اب بھی باطل نہیں، نہ طلبِ اُجرت ظلم ہے
If the agreement itself was established either explicitly or by indication, meaning that he started leading prayers for compensation and the people considered him a worker, but the compensation was not specified or clarified through the circumstances, then this compensatory agreement is corrupt, and the compensation is considered harmful for him; as such, the ruling for it is that he should give it away in charity. However, the agreement itself is still not invalid, nor is asking for compensation wrong. (Fatāwa Riḍawiyya 30 Volume Edition, Kitāb-uṣ-Ṣalāh, Bāb-e-Imāmat, Vol. 6, pg. 639)
2. If the five daily prayers and the Friday prayer are only limited to and subject to leading the prayers, then only three to four hours are required.
3. As mentioned before, an Imam is the leader and guide for the whole community. He is not to be referred to as a laborer. Even though he is working to be compensated, his status and his position require that people show him respect, not call him a laborer. This would be an insult, so one must abstain from calling an Imam a laborer.
Allah knows best
Mufti Qamarul Hasan
Khaṭīb and Imam, Al-Noor Masjid
6443 Prestwood Dr,
Houston, TX 77081
Note: This fatwa has been slightly altered and the names of the parties involved have been removed. – Omair Shariff