Saturday, November 29, 2008

The "Imams Who Don't Care (IWDC)" Series

Some Imams Don't Care

We've all seen them and suffered at their hands - Imams who simply don't care. They must think they have us all fooled with their phony smiles and loud "masha'Allah"s - but the truth of the matter is, they fail the important tests of caring.

I am building a list of acts of omission and commission by Imams across the United States. God, the Most High, is my witness, I am motivated by a desire to point out these on-going and fairly obvious, even glaring acts, with a desire that they may read them and change. My own shortcomings are such that I had to deploy sarcasm to shed some light on these. If you are an Imam or a leader of a muslim group of any sort, please check the list below to see if any of these apply to you:

Imams Who Don't Care(IWDC) #1: What's In a Name?

This is the most shocking for me and deserves the first spot. If you've attended a Muslim Wedding recently chances are you have been subjected to this blatant act of not caring by an Imam.

The next generation of Muslims growing up in America proudly embraces its Islamic heritage and invites an Imam to perform their Nikah - the equivalent of "the exchange of vows" at a wedding. Ceremonies range from simple to stylish. Now since Muslims come as rich and poor and of varied backgrounds, venues range from Masjid basements to ritzy hotel ballrooms. Menus range from a few samosas or masboosas to elaborate 5-course sit-down meals. Yet, in all this diversity, there is one facet common to all Imam-led wedding ceremonies.

(In many cases, thanks to the cultural baggage of our parents' generation most Muslim weddings run hours behind schedule. The one silver lining to this shamefully dark cloud is that Imams are rarely the cause of delays at weddings. "Six PM Sharp" conveys simply nothing to Muslim masses. They stroll in anywhere between 7 and 8 PM.)

But the most embarrassing act of the ceremony belongs to the Imam, our leader. I have yet to go to a wedding where the Imam took the time to get to know the bride or the groom. And I don't mean in such a way as to say a thing or two about the beautiful qualities in the young people and their families coming together - that would be too much to ask for. How about their names? That's right, NAMES. The very things by which angels refer to us. If you listen to NPR, you are familiar with the effort that they put in to get people's names right on radio. They remind you "when writing us, please tell us how to correctly pronounce your name."

At your life's most important event, with all your loved ones surrounding you, the obviously lazy Imam (who couldn't care less but) who has given hundreds of khutbahs and lectures about how the Prophet (pbuh) had a personality that won over others, doesn't feel the need to ask the bride's family what her name might be, or the groom sitting next to him how his name is to be pronounced...until it's too late.

I have seen prominent Imams struggle with this. "We are here to witness the most important day in the life of our brother Sha...Shaw...err, (whisper on 1500 W speaker) how do you say your name, brother? - oh yeah, Shah-Zad, we are here for dear Shahzad and, errr, (to the man to his other side this time) what's her name..."

Recently, the "Azhar-educated" Imam made rookie mistakes on Indian-Pakistani (aka desi) Muslim names. Desi Names 101 tells you that among men, their given names may be preceded by a Muhammed or a Syed. But a Syed Abrar Ahmed's name is never to be Syed. The dude is Abrar since the day he was born. Likewise, Muhammed Aleem Khan is Aleem. The brave, couldn't-care-less Imam kept praying loudly that God may bring happiness to the life of "our dear brother Syed" - while the visibly uncomfortable attendees showered their "Ameen"s - some of them rechecking the groom's face to make sure they were at the right wedding.

The same IWDC managed to do the entire ceremony with the microphone turned off, apparently he forgot, so no one heard the most critical part of the ceremonies. Aaaagh!

If God has honored you with the status in the community that you get invited to perform nikahs, then kindly take the duty seriously before you accept. And part of the duty is to know the names of the bride and the groom, know the names of their parents, know whether the parents are attending, know whether any of their parents are deceased - so that on the day we are to believe is the most important of our lives, in the ceremony that is most important part of that day, we are called by our names without hesitation, correction and embarrassment. Is that too much to ask of you? I don't think so!

I once even sat at a Nikah where the Imam tried to convince the groom that his name was not a "proper Muslim name." Imagine this: "We are here to celebrate the nikah of - what's your name brother? - maysur? now, that's not a proper Muslim name, you sure it's not Mansur?"

I had never fantasized sitting in the groom's seat until that day, but that evening I wondered if I could swap seats with the young man who was beginning to sweat by now simply so I could tell the learned Imam what I thought of him.

Dear Imams, if you're so busy to do justice to an important ceremony, do the bride and groom a favor. Politely bow out of the responsibility. There is no clergy in Islam and any adult Muslim can lead in all ceremonies. I would rather someone who had the decency to do justice to the ceremony than someone who acted like a mercenary who didn't care.

Then there are clumsy Imams. It is not until they have started giving their sermon that they bother to ask the family about their preference on the sequence of the ceremony. In all their years of learning, no one told them that it's not planning when you are already under way with something and the microphone in your hand is not the best time to start consulting about what to do next.

Sarcasm and outrage aside, I pray to God that our Imams will have the sense, the courtesy and decency to see the point I am making and stop embarrassing young Muslim brides and grooms, their families and friends and portraying all Muslims in poor light.


Anonymous said...

Dear Thinking,

Excellent post! I feel like the lack of emphasis on individuality hints at even a larger problem: we Muslims do tend to have a huge group mentality.

The individual is never seen as important; it's always about the Ummah, about the forest and the bigger idea. Hence, the imam has no qualms about using the "wrong name."

I would love to hear your opinions on ijtihad and heresy in a future post!

ThinkingMuslim said...

You may be on to something.

We are taught that on the Day of Judgment we will each rise as the angel calls our our names. So this de-emphasizing of individual identity seems a bit unnecessary.

I do believe though that it's sloppiness that's at the core of this attitude.

If you're interested in ijtihad, I think you will enjoy Khaled Abu El Fadl's Conference of the Books . It's a vast and complex topic and my blog is merely my reaction to things I see. If you have noticed anything in particular and if it's something I feel I might have a thought or two on, I shall gladly oblige :)