23 March, 2010

Nai Subh - Modernizing the Clergy

This common-sense driven series for Muslim empowerment traced our glorious past, punctured by serious aberrations, our far from honourable present and a potentially grim future.

Towards converting the dark of night to the light of morrow it described the preconditions – called recognitions – and finally it presented a concrete action plan: personal, political and community-driven. In this last but one issue we make bold to respectfully present a to-do list for our clergy.

The call of brevity may lead us to sound abrupt and instructive. The author sincerely regrets this and offers apologies. To readers that joined mid-way he suggests going back and reading the series from the beginning. [Back issues are available from MG.]

The author’s Urdu audio presentation, KHITAB, available from SPRAT , lent the substantive argument for this series.

Two instances involving the imams of mohalla masjids deserve a repetition. A young relative working in junior management in a bank used to offer his Zuhr prayers in a nearby mosque. Moved by recurring Friday khutba injunctions of the Imam against interest he came on the verge of resigning his job. Meanwhile the Imam had become friendly with him. Just then the Bank announced some vacancies for peons to be filled in locally. Imagine the shock this young man felt when the Imam sought his help for a job in the bank!
Always intrigued about the socio-economic background of our imams we at SPRAT conducted an exhaustive, structured survey of 76 imams that travel all the way from UP and Bihar to Ahmedabad to lead Taraveeh prayers. The findings that emerged devastated us. For most imamat was but a last source of bare sustenance. Few had the intelligence, knowledge and skills that could earn them a clerical job in an ordinary professional firm.

Contrasting this pathetic condition of our clergy with the disproportionate influence they command over the ummah, the realization sinks deep that unless our clergy – collectively referring to imams, maulvis, muftis, sajjadas, mujavirs, mudarris, muezzins etc – is radically modernized the community’s dark of night will last long.

What is stated below is obviously based on everyday common sense, and does not offer arguments from the Shariah. But can we respectfully request the clergy to examine the possibility of this reform? Surely they want Muslims to prosper in today’s world, too.

Secular Education of Clergy

The syllabus at most of our madarsas remains – despite all the talk of modernization – archaic. Here lies the simple test: can our qualified imams and maulvis pass the secular bachelor’s degree exam in general stream if not in science? If not do they qualify to lead us?

Assuming that our Aalim or Imam is truly meant to be one, then he should know more, not less. Religious knowledge cannot substitute but complement the basic knowledge about our world. Madarsas should, therefore, include all the subjects of secular studies. Let there be a certification process demanding knowledge of Xth grade for Muezzins and of Bachelor’s for the Imams, maulvis and mudarris. For Muftis, Qazis and the like knowledge equivalent to PG should be the measure. Merely broad, harmonized understanding of popular science and a smattering of English will themselves go a long way in making our clergy progressive.

If Islam is deen-e-fitrat [creed of nature] – as we are often told – then why do we shy away from science? It will be immensely beneficial if science knowledge flows from mosques through clergy. As a first step let’s start with exposing the imams to the wonders of science. Let’s begin with taking our imams to local science museums and activity centres and to large factories.


Pay peanuts and get monkeys is the adage in contemporary HR. Our ostrich like hypocrisy that imamat is honorary is hogwash. Let’s instead recognize that there is no sin if some people choose to lead prayers even while earning their daily bread – or vice versa.

Barring the show-piece imams in some posh mosques, what is currently paid to our imams is decidedly pathetic, worse than what the ordinary office peon receives. The Christian priest not only gets a first class education right from childhood, but assured livelihood and reasonable comforts for life. Our imam, instead, when chucked out by the new trustees, is on the road. Not for him a pension when his knees fail. No wonder he doesn’t invest in imamat and incurs cheap obligations from all and sundry, compromising his position everyday.

Let the community resolve to pay respectable honoraria to such imams that also possess a bachelor’s degree from a secular university in arts or commerce, and still higher for science.


We beseech the Ulema to come up with progressive, contemporary interpretations for many of our controversial and ill-understood shariah injunctions so as to serve our people in our times. Here is an illustrative agenda:

* Jihad: Focus on self improvement rather than deprecating others and stress conduct rather than faith. "Ye shall not be questioned as to our sins, nor shall we be questioned as to what ye do." says Quran [Saba–25]
* Kafir: Guess what irks the Hindus most? To be regarded as fit for hell – fee nare jahannum! Some ulema and sufis have excluded Hindus from the definition of Kafir. Could this be promoted as the mass Muslim belief?
* Interest: Distinct from usury, let the normal commercial bank interest for productive and essential consumption purposes be legitimized.
* Zakawt: Rather than institutionalizing beggary let zakawt be channelized towards institution building for the deprived and needy. Orphanages, homes for the disabled and the elderly, assistance for educational and economic empowerment and even public amenities like toilets, public bath etc be recognized valid avenues for zakawt.
* Qurbani: examine the possibility of shifting focus back to the spirit of sacrifice from the ritual of animal slaughter. Consider other forms of charity beyond zakawt as qualifying for this.
* Eid: the determination of eid by the naked-eye sighting of the moon ridicules the community hugely and puts business, industry and employees to avoidable hardship and losses. Other Muslims have resolved this issue by resorting to the calendar. Announce eid calendar and disband chand committees.

Namaz Timing

Empowerment flows from continuous learning. Purposeful meetings, seminars and lectures offer collective, affordable learning. For this one needs a chunk of two to three hours outside livelihood hours. The only two time slots available for Muslim meetings fall between Fajr and Zuhr and then Zuhr and Asr, both during office time.

Most of such meetings are scheduled late afternoon or evenings, clashing with Asr, Maghrib and Isha prayers. Little wonder that pious Muslims abstain from such secular meetings. Sadly this also affects extended education classes like evening courses. Similarly jobs like in BPO where even a minute’s absence is not permitted are impossible for Muslims. Imagine the damage this will cause in the future. The hypocrites amongst the clergy will decree: Allah the Razzakh will provide. The realistic, responsible and progressive ones, however, need to ponder and come up with solutions to allow piety and progress to prosper together.

What is the solution to this “clash of timing”? This author has no answer for now. Can the readers offer ideas through these columns on how to cope with this challenge?

Democracy and Clergy

There is very little practical democracy – even mushawarat – in several of our religious institutions. One impediment is lack of accountability and transparency. Even those whose integrity remains beyond reproach suffer ego issues. They fail to realize that pro-active transparency and accountability actually promotes greater trust and throws up newer ideas. Similarly heredity ought to have no place – at least for the followers of Hazrat Abu Bakr!

Regardless of the leeway law affords let us frame Charter [Memorandum and Articles of Association] entailing objectives, rights and obligations of functionaries, prepare and publish financial accounts and auditor’s notes proactively. Imagine the impact of a central Islamic website which publishes finances of every Islamic institution and sets an example in transparency and probity.


There can be no hypocrisy about fundamental issues, such as our attitude towards Science, our view on patriotism vis-?-vis pan-Islamic loyalty. Granted that sub-consciously we realize that India is our homeland consciously promoting patriotism has not yet become an explicit religious agenda. Ditto for humanism and universalism. Isn’t it time we included these issues as essential religious curricula?

Resource Optimization

Our mosques occupy precious central spaces. Yet we seldom put them to optimal use. Why this ingratitude and neglect? Imagine using mosques for literacy classes, libraries, home-work hour, public meeting places [even renting out main hall] between Fajr and Zuhr and Zuhr and Asr prayers, leaving aside small enclosures for nafil prayers throughout. Similarly the wash facilities can be expanded to offer full-fledged pay-and-use bath and dressing rooms for Muslim travelers, perhaps with a locker facility.

The outside surfaces may be utilized for Community Bulletin Boards SPRAT will be glad to supply designs] and an outlet may be created for distributing publicity literature for a fee. Large mosques may even run low skill demanding manufacturing or processing units nearby on philanthropic lines where the jobless and even the disabled may work and earn.

The income thus generated may be recycled to develop the mosque space and deploy modern cleaning gadgetry, pay the Imams and Muezzins better, offer better amenities to the faithful etc. If we don’t use this valuable community infrastructure well, clearly either the trustees lack commitment and integrity or the faithful are distrustful.

To begin with how about every mosque offering an outlet providing clean drinking water to the general public regardless of religion? Let the mosques be recognized by all as truly the house of Rabbul-aalameen.

Hygiene and Aesthetics

Our religious institutions should inspire even the non-Muslims by their very existence. Let’s resolve to keep our Dargahs free of encroachments, filth and squalor. Rather than promoting beggary let’s provide a more dignified mechanism for charity. Every mosque may clarify its charity policy and have charity collection mechanism. The managing committee may distribute the charity as envisaged after due verification. Similarly our dargahs can go beyond celebrating urs. Consider organizing soft cultural gatherings for promoting harmony in sync with sufi teachings. What a pity that we wasted huge Sufi-goodwill of the Hindus. How about sufi music festivals?

Female Participation

With our women – or 49% Muslims – denied participation in the management of our public affairs, specially our religious institutions, we are destined to remain insensitive to their needs. Let’s learn from progressive Muslims and start increasing female participation to the extent local cultural milieu can accommodate.


? I largely endorse your analysis and recognize the validity of your prescription. Yet I find it difficult to implement it within my religious practices.
£ Thanks. If you have an alternative remedy within “your religious practices” that should be the most effective course. But if you don’t’ – and if there isn’t any – then we are left with no option but to perish. Or we must adopt and adapt.

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