Is it OK for an Imam to have a salary?

One of the more contentious issues to discuss these days is religious figures receiving any form of remuneration for their services, services that are focused on what are considered “religious services.” Religious services may be very broadly thought of as anything from teaching religion, issuing religious rulings (fatwa), leading prayers, conducting marriages, counseling, and other services. A common retort to any form of remuneration is that there is no precedent for paying for anything “religious” usually coupled with a quote from the hadith narrated by al-Tirmidhi that the Prophet said “Do not take a Mu’adhdhin who takes a reward for his adhan.”

This post will not delve into the contextualizing the above hadith and other related texts. Instead it will remedy the first claim, and that is “there is no precedent for remunerating religious employment.” To do this, I quote several authoritative works in each of the four schools, in addition to a quote from Ibn Taymiya. In depth analysis of how scholars across schools of Islamic law dealt with the nuances of sacred texts will hopefully be covered in another post.

 

Quotes on Salaried Positions

Hanafi School

مجمع الأنهر لداماد أفندي 1/678 – فَيَدْخُلُ فِيهِ الصَّرْفُ عَلَى إقَامَةِ شَعَائِرِهَا مِنْ وَظَائِفِ الْإِمَامَةِ وَالْأَذَانِ وَنَحْوِهِمَا (وَكِفَايَةِ الْعُلَمَاءِ وَالْمُدَرِّسِينَ وَالْمُفْتِينَ وَالْقُضَاةِ وَالْعُمَّالِ)
In Majma’ al-Anhur of Damad Zadeh while speaking about where state funds 1/678: Included in these [expenditures] are those for establishing the symbols of faith in Imamah, Adhan, and similar. Included as well are the livelihoods of the scholars, the teachers, Muftis, Judges, and public servants.

Maliki School

حاشية الصاوي  3/204(كَرِزْقِ قَاضٍ وَجُنْدِيٍّ) فَإِنَّهُ مِنْ بَيْتِ الْمَالِ …، وَكَذَا رِزْقُ عَالِمٍ أَوْ إمَامٍ أَوْ مُؤَذِّنٍ أَوْ نَحْوِهِمْ فِي وَقْفٍ أَوْ بَيْتِ مَالٍ فِي نَظِيرِ التَّدْرِيسِ أَوْ الْإِمَامَةِ أَوْ الْأَذَانِ.
From Hashiyat al-Sawi: “Similar to the salary of the judge and soldier” which are taken from Bait al-Mal … as well as the livlihood of the scholar, the Imam, the Mu’adhin and those similar to them from an endowment or Bait al-Mal, like teaching, Imamah, and Adhan.

Shafi’ School

أسنى المطالب للأنصاري 4/297: (وَيُرْزَقُ) الْإِمَامُ أَيْضًا (مِنْهُ) أَيْ مِنْ بَيْتِ الْمَالِ (كُلَّ مَنْ كَانَ عَمَلُهُ مَصْلَحَةً عَامَّةً لِلْمُسْلِمِينَ كَالْأَمِيرِ وَالْمُفْتِي وَالْمُحْتَسِبِ وَالْمُؤَذِّنِ وَالْإِمَامِ) لِلصَّلَاةِ (وَمُعَلِّمِ الْقُرْآنِ) وَغَيْرِهِ مِنْ الْعُلُومِ الشَّرْعِيَّةِ…
From Asna al-Matalib: And the Imam is paid as well from it, ie. Bait al-mal, in addition to everyone working for the general welfare of the Muslims such as the Ameer, the Mufti, the Muhtasib, the Mu’adhin, and the Imam of prayer, the Quran teacher, and teachers of other Islamic sciences.

Hanbali School

المبدع لابن مفلح 1/276: (فَإِنْ لَمْ يُوجَدْ مُتَطَوِّعٌ رَزَقَ الْإِمَامُ مِنْ بَيْتِ الْمَالِ مَنْ يَقُومُ بِهِمَا) لَا نَعْلَمُ خِلَافًا فِي جَوَازِ أَخْذِ الرِّزْقِ عَلَيْهِ،
The Mubdi of Ibn Muflih:
If there is no volunteer, then the Imam is paid from Bait al-Mal, for the performance of [prayer and adhan]. We know of no difference of opinion on taking payment for them.

قال شيخ الإسلام ابن تيمية رحمه الله : ” يجوز أن يُعطى الإمام والمؤذن من مثل هذا الوقف الفائض رزق مثلهما … بل إذا كانا فقيرين وليس لما زاد مصرفٌ معروف جاز أن يصرف إليهما منه تمام كفايتهما “.
Ibn Taymiyah, Majmu al-Fatawa 17/31: It is permitted to give the Imam and Muadhin from the like of the excess of the endowment mentioned a stipend, suitable for them … in fact if they are poor and have no income from a known source then their entire livelihood can be paid for.”

 

Observations

The above quotes contradict the claim that there is no precedent for paying Imams and others for “religious” services. A precedent is clearly exhibited that Imams and others working for the welfare of the Muslim community may be compensated, whether that be through honorariums, salaries, or other forms of compensation. It’s important to note as well that the generality of these texts, coupled with their presence in all schools of Islamic law illustrate that the function of the Imam (as well as other the others mentioned) as a salaried position was official and somewhat of a norm. Thirdly the positions mentioned below were varied ranging between the strictly ritual and mundane to the academic and esoteric; scholars, the teachers, Muftis, Judges, and public servants are all mentioned. The need for these positions obviously fluctuated due to context and need as did their titles.
While you say “This is just an appeal to authority and there is no proof” remember that the contention being made has been that there is no precedent. These works clearly establish one, and by returning to each of these works cited here you will see how the authors outline their evidences.

Going Forward

Whether or not there is a need in our particular context is another issue. It is both irresponsible and disingenuous to remain in denial of the needs of the community, deny those qualified for these roles a dignified standard of living, and then use superficial notions of what “Islam” says as the deciding factor in such decisions. In determining what is in the best interest of our communities “needs are approximated accordingly.” Will purely volunteer services be enough? Are employees needed? Communities must come to terms with what services are needed, those which are expected, and how those needs and expectations will be met.

 

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