The role of the Imam in the US is one of the most demanding jobs. Our American Muslim community is in its early stage of development and communities across the country are developing and defining what it means to be an American Muslim. At this critical stage, it is essential to have our religious leaders equipped with the best tools possible to help guide and lead our communities.
It is important for communities across the country to be thinking and acting on this deliberately. Imams must be supported by the communities by being provided a robust professional development plan. Such a plan would include training, coaching, mentoring and a forum for Imams in different communities to allow for cross-training and the exchange of ideas.
At the local community level, it is the responsibility of the community and specifically the Board of Trustees/Board of Directors to see that the Imam has a development plan that includes training activities, continuous learning, connections with scholars and senior Imams as mentors, and professional coaching opportunities. This means the support from the Board would include reviews of this plan along with the financial means to participate in these development opportunities.
One may argue that the Imam is supposed to have already trained and mastered their subject. The following two ideas respond to this notion:
Community needs and issues are evolving in a very dynamic way. The American Muslim community is continuously facing new challenges, and the Imams’ skills and competencies are always in need of development in order to properly address current issues. So, training can include more than just the “basic” subjects Imams are normally educated on. It can also encompass other roles such as managing media communication, understanding and addressing the challenges we may be currently facing, and the art of bringing people together and establishing a sense of unity in spite of the diversity, contemporary issues families deal with including managing family relations, family finances, parenting, and more that our communities deal with on a day-to-day basis. This requires becoming attuned to current issues and working on solutions for matters evolving in modern society in a manner that is holistic and consistent with Islamic principles.
Quality leaders and quality Imams always realize that regardless of how well one masters a subject, continuous learning is a must in order to maintain and continue their learning process. In fact, the best of our scholars succeed only when they perceive themselves as students of knowledge. So, an Imam must allocate a portion of his time for studying and working with his mentors and scholars to continue to expand his knowledge.
In summary, a successful Imam must continue to seek knowledge as well as master the skills to connect to all segments of the community. He is the focal point that inspires others and develops a sense of unity within the community, in addition to providing guidance and respecting the community’s diversity. He also must be skilled in helping us transform our differences into strengths. Since this is such a heavy responsibility, it may seem difficult to master, which is precisely why our Imams need our support. The best way to provide this support is by ensuring they have a solid professional development plan to allow them to grow as leaders.