Valuing our imams

MuslimView has recently approached several imams employed in UK mosques to find out how much they are paid and has been shocked by their findings. They are being paid between £700 and £1400 per month, depending on where they trained. The upper end of the scale is on a par with a taxi driver, secretary or caretaker salary; the lower end on a par with a cleaner’s salary. It is a paltry reward for people we hope to be guiding lights in our communities. 

Some have responded with the claim that we do not value our imams as Christian and Jewish communities value their priests and rabbis. I am not convinced that this is a particularly reliable argument. Many priests in the employment of the Church of England, for example, are similarly undervalued in terms of pay, living on less than the “living wage” — despite theology degrees and doctorates. And that’s an organisation that annually receives about £750 million in donations from the congregations of its 12,000 parishes and has an income of £1.4 billion.

As Muslim congregations, we give on a par if not more than our Christian counterparts in donations each week, which we understand will be used for the upkeep and maintenance of the mosque, for paying utility bills and for paying salaries. How much more can we do as individual communities, many of which are still impoverished to a large degree?

Is the answer centralised bodies which look after all the mosques and imams of their particular school of thought, like the Methodist Church and Church of England do for their members? Overarching bodies which pay salaries from a centralised budget and make key financial investments to support ongoing development? Some kind of waqf fund, or millionaire’s conscience scheme?

Perhaps the answer to this question can be found in the experience of others. What can we learn from history and the practice of religious authorities in other countries? If our imams are to receive a decent wage and provide the services to the community we so desperately need, we surely need a more sustainable solution than constantly relying on a steady stream of donations from generous individuals. If we demand the professionalism we see in our own employment, then the whole structure will have to change.

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