Thursday, March 17, 2011

How to choose your Imam


The Sunni Imam

In Sunni Islam an Imam is a religious leader, often the worship leader of a mosque and the Muslim community. Similar as spiritual leaders, the imam is the one who leads Islamic worship services. The community will normally turns to the mosque imam if they have a religious function or to manage a funeral. In smaller communities, an imam could also be the community leader. The Sunni branch of Islam, whereto approximately 90% of Muslims adhere, does not have a clergy and therefore an imam is not a cleric like that of a Christian priest. The Sunni branch of Islam does not have imams in the same sense as the Shia. In every day terms, the imam for Sunni Muslims is the one who leads congregational Islamic worship and prayers, and the Friday sermon is most often given by an appointed imam.

The term Imam is also used for a recognized religious scholar or authority in Islam, often for the founding scholars of the four Sunni Madhhabs, or schools of jurisprudence (fiqh) It may also refer to the Muslim scholars who created the analytical sciences related to Hadith. The four main Madhhabs with their imams were Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i and Hanbali Schools of Thought.

The Shia Imam

Imāmah is the Shia doctrine of religious, spiritual and political leadership of the Ummah. The Shīa believe that the A'immah ("Imams") are the true Caliphs or rightful successors of Muhammad, and Twelve Imams and Ismaill Shiah further claimed that Imams are possessed of divine knowledge, authority, and infallibility (‘Iṣmah) as well as being part of the Ahl al-Bayt, the family of Muhammad.

And their reputed religious leaders use the title of Ayatollah (meaning the words of God) as a high-ranking Shiite religious authority regarded as worthy of imitation in matters of religious law and interpretation. Both beliefs distinguish the Shīa from Sunni.

Islam holds that Muhammad was the last Prophet of God. The Shīa believes that humanity is in need of sustained spiritual guidance, provided by the "Imām of the Time", prophets of the time, who is the Guardian and guide of all Muslims politically and spiritually. They hold that Muhammad explicitly designated his cousin and son-in-law ‘Ali as his Khalifah "Successor". Thus the Shīa believes Muhammad designated ‘Ali and his direct descendants to serve as the Imams (leaders) of the Muslim community. This assertion implies that, while the cycle of Nubuwwah (Prophethood) ended with Muhammad, the cycle of Imāmah began with Ali and continues amongst his direct descendants. For Shiah Muslims, an Imam is a leader whose guidance extends to spiritual and temporal matters. In other words, an Imam can sanction new laws because he has direct contact with God. This direct contact makes an Imam infallible and invests in him the prerogative of interpreting the Qur'an, thereby gradually revealing its esoteric meaning. Sunnis reject this doctrine of infallibility.

The Shiah further believe only these A'immah have the right to be Caliphs, meaning that all other caliphs, whether elected by consensus Ijma or not, are usurpers of the Caliphate.

The Quranic Imam

In the Quran there were imams appointed by God, the inspired Books from God are imam and the normal man can also pray to God that they become imam. As such there is no restriction to become imam but one has to fulfill many conditions to become an imam according to the Quran. The main basic conditions will be that they follow the examples of the Imam in the Quran and take the Quran as the guidance to lead mankind to the path of the righteousness in this world and the hereafter. Let’s take a look at an example whether imam are hereditary

And when Abraham was tested by his Lord, with commands which he fulfilled, God said: “I will make you an imam to the people.” He prayed, “And from my off springs.” God said, “But My Covenant does not extend to wrongdoers.” (Surah 2:124)

This clearly shows that imam are not hereditary and to become one he must be of the pious doing his duty in the service of God for the good of the community teaching knowledge from the Inspired message of the Quran and must restrain from doing wrong or evil deeds.

One of the most important criteria to be imam from the guidance of the Quran is the appointment is a voluntary work, there should be no rewards for his religious and social services. His income should be earned from sources and skill as any other normal Muslim would do to provide for himself and his family. The best example is shown by the Prophet Muhammad as he was sent as a Warner and giver of glad tiding and an Imam, he never profit from it and he says

“I do not ask you any reward for it (the message) but this: only that whoever pleases may take a straight path to his Lord.” (Surah 25:57)

“No reward do I ask of you: it all in your interest: my reward is only due from God: And He is witness to all things.” (Surah 34:47)

The other criteria of one who volunteer to be imam is one who should take the Inspired Book of God as his guidance and these books were referred to as imam and Moses took his Book as his guidance (imamam) and so the Prophet Muhammad took the Quran as his.

Is he then who has with him clear proof from his Lord, and a witness from Him recites it and before it (is) the Book of Musa, a guide (imamam) and a mercy? These believe in it; and whoever disbelieves in it of the factions, his promised place is the fire. So be not in doubt. It is the Truth from your Lord; but most of the people do not believe. (Surah 11:17)

Nevertheless there is also the “other kind of Imam” which should be avoided those of the kind of Pharaoh and his hosts

So We seizes him and his hosts, and We flung them into the sea, and see how was the end of the evildoers! And We made them leaders (immatan) inviting to the fire; and on the Day of Judgment no help shall they find. (Surah 28:40-41)

However for those who are being depressed or exploited by the like of Pharaoh in this world there is hope and mercy from God He will answer our prayers when we call on Him as He promised and make such surety in His Quran if we are reminded and responsive of His Message

And We wish to be gracious to those who were depressed in the land, to make them leaders (immatan) and make them inheritors. (Surah 28:5)

And those who when they are reminded of the revelations of their Lord, pass not at them as if they were deaf and blind; but those who pray: “Our Lord, grant us wives and off spring who will be a joy to our eyes and make us imam to the righteous. (Surah 25:74)

Those are the ones who will be rewarded with the highest place in heaven, because of their patient constancy; therein shall they be met with salutation and peace, dwelling therein forever; how beautiful an abode and place of rest!
(Surah 25:75-76)


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