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Lost 'leaders' of the community
By S Ubaidur Rahman

Ever thought of the imam who guides you through namaz? He is also the same person who guides us in all religious rituals. He completes all other rituals of nikah and talaq and is always singled out for criticism whenever any issue arises. 

It doesn't seem that anyone ever gives a damn to his pathetic condition. The man who spends eight to ten years in completing his religious education and is supposed to guide the community in namaz and other religious rituals always remains at the edge of the community, yet always exploited by the very people who are guided by him. Changing times do not affect him and he remains as he was ten or fifteen years back.

It will be a shock for most of us to know that a full-time imam in most of the mosques spread all over the country does not draw a monthly salary of more than Rs 500. Fortunate few are able to get a little better-that too is not beyond another one or two hundred rupees. A handful of imams draw a higher salary of around fifteen hundred rupees to two thousand. But they are very rare and may be counted on hands. In some very rare cases the imams in some mosques are paid Rs 3000-4000. But this is only in rarest of rare cases.

These people be they in a mosque in the national capital or a tiny hamlet on the outskirts of an Uttranchal city, their affairs strangely resemble each otherís. They are the lot who are being exploited in the garb of religious duties. And those people who are supposed to be given highest respect in the society as they are the guiding force behind our religion, yet they are exploited by none other than the community itself. 

Most of the imams employed in mosques are graduates of madrasahs spread across the country. Though most students from leading madrasahs in the country do not want to join a mosque and opt slightly more lucrative jobs of teaching in a madrasah or leave religious education altogether and go to universities for modern education. Still a sizeable part of these madrasah graduates are forced to join mosques as imams. The products of smaller and less known madrasahs are forced to join mosques and offer their services for a paltry sum that would have been rejected by even a small time labourer. 

It will be strange for most of our readers to know that the courses offered by madrasahs which produce these alims consume even longer periods than the modern education. The alim course requires fifteen years studies to complete the course. In some madrasahs the duration is thirteen years and in some others it takes twelve years. For fazeelah, specialisation, courses it takes two more years and for takhassus it may take another two to three years.

But even after spending such long periods when these people complete their education and step into the real world of struggle they feel bogged down with no real prospect for them. So they eagerly grab any opportunity that comes their way. It may be a teaching assignment in a small-time school in a far off village or leading prayers in a mosque. And as the mosques are scattered throughout the country so these are priorities for these graduates from madrasahs. 

Here begins the pathetic story of our ulema who were meant to be the guiding force behind the ummat in this world. The small-time mutawalli, guardian, of a mosque who may be a small-time shopkeeper in the mosques premises and might have forcefully occupied a large chunk of the mosque's property, always scolds the imam just for nothing. Most often it is to force his authority and domination over the hapless imam. Other members of the committee of the mosque are not supposed to treat him any better. So the few namazis who come to the mosque for offering their prayers in the mosque feel it their birth-right to scold the poor creature for smallest of lapses as they please with no fear of any intervention in this regard.

In most mosques in almost all cities, these imams are required to fetch their meals from neighbouring houses of the namazis. Sometimes they depute the children who come to the mosque from neighbouring houses to study the Qur'an, to fetch the meals but most often they are required to do the job themselves. This is a great reason for their lack of self-esteem. 

Though the conditions of imams employed by the waqf boards across the country are not too good, yet those who are being paid by the respective committees of the mosques are surely worse off. These people are paid small amounts contributed by the people living in the neighborhood of the mosques and so everyone feels free to mistreating the imam as he pleases. Though the waqf boards in most of places have a pay scale but it is very low. Even fourth-grade employees in the same boards draw salaries higher than the poor imam. And hold your breath, sometimes these poor imams are not able to get hold of even that small amount of money in time. It takes sometimes a year to get salary for these poor lots. 

Haroon Yusuf, chairman of the Delhi Waqf Board refutes these charges. He says that since he took over as the chairman of the waqf board things have started changing. He says that the Board that was unable to pay the salaries of the imams sometimes even for eight months or a year at a stretch, is now paying them their salaries regularly. He says that during his tenure the Delhi Waqf Board has raised imamsí salaries substantially. He nevertheless agrees that things need a total overhaul in the system.

Imams are feeling restive in this regard. An imam on the condition of anonymity told this correspondent that the payments are still not regular. The imam laughed at the claim made by the Waqf Board chairman that the board has raised their salaries. He said that the increment is a mere three hundred rupees in all. And that too does not come on time. 

It is high time that Muslims take a look at their lost leaders and pay them the required attention. Imams should be afforded due respect by Muslims instead of just victimizing them for every fault these poor lots have never committed.

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