In a previous article, “How much should Muslim Clergy be Paid,” brother Omar started a great discussion about the topic. I am one who advocates a similar position, but I would like to carry the conversation beyond defining the issue. We need to start a serious discussion about a framework for solutions. This includes how communities need to be prepared to make the change and to take a step towards a better model. It is a lot more involved than a few board members sitting in the room and making a decision to pay high salary to the Imam.
First, we need to realize that the issue intertwines with other major gaps in the average America Masjid; namely, governance issues and revenue development issues. Second, let’s examine what other communities of faith are doing in the US and what lessons can be learned.
I will address the second point first: The highest paid clergy in the US in 2011 were the Rabbis of the Jewish community. With some variation between reform and conservatives, nevertheless they are all in the top tear, along with the Latter Day Saints (Mormon Church); both groups highly hierarchal and very specific with their fund development model. Their average package (not salary) is in excess of $100,000. The Mormon Church is reported to have 55,000 missionaries and 14 Million members worldwide. Membership dues are 10% of one’s salary unless exceptions are granted under extreme circumstances. A very similar model is run by the Jewish community with the understanding they all do grant families who are really in need some exceptions, but a member who is not fully paid will not have access to all services, especially Holiday services. At the other extreme is the Catholic Church. The average package for Catholic clergy in 2011 was $31,000 (which is likely to translate to a monthly salary of $2,000.) The fund development model for the Catholic Church is also at the other extreme: completely voluntary and in some churches the “asking” is not even formalized and is very passive.
Now, I am not claiming we need to follow one extreme or the other. Actually the Muslim ummah is always supposed to seek the comfortable middle position (wasat). What I do advocate is establishing a structured fund development model that allows the average suburban Masjid to sustain (not just afford) a decent salary and benefit package for an Imam. The statistics on Masajid suggest 3 different types: The Mega Masjid (1000+ weekend worshipers), the middle of the line mostly suburban or smaller city Masjid (300 to 500 weekend worshipers), and a small town/village or startup Masjid (100+/- weekend worshippers). The majority of the Masajid fall in the middle category and the majority of Masjid-going Muslims in the US attend a middle size masjid. So, let’s keep the discussion focused on those. Brother Omar discussed the multi-million dollar buildings in his article. Any Masjid, that is not a Mega Masjid, planning a capital project over $2 million is definitely over-burdening the community with brick and mortar. This means they are not likely to be able to afford much in human resource expenses, program development, or volunteer development expenses. So, the building actually becomes the obstacle that prevents communities from funding elements that actually build communities.
Additionally, even though I do not recommend mandating membership for services, the mindset of “voluntary” membership must be introduced to communities, so worshippers can understand that they are the ones responsible for maintaining and developing the Masjid community. Immigrant Muslims need to shake off the mentality of someone else will do it – like the Awqaf Ministry government entity in many Muslim countries which will take care of the Masjid and will pay the imam salary. Allah (SWT) has given us the honor and empowered us to establish a house for His worship and that is the motivation to build our voluntary membership. No, we will not require 10%, or 5% or 2.5%, but we need to build the culture and expecting to pay our share, to have planned, systematic giving, and our individual hearts and level of Eeman will dictate that percentage. It is not a privilege for the wealthy; this is everyone’s privilege, regardless of the bracket of income. Tax season is the perfect time for all to commit to a certain share, to commit to make a sacrifice and to participate systematically. Once a community is successful in building sustainable financial commitments, providing a package for a resident scholar or Imam becomes more feasible. A midsize Masjid Imam package should not be less than $70K and depending on expectations and involvement with other education programs, should go up to $100K.
The element of respect has as much to do with the governance and administration of the organization as it does with the benefit package. The position of the Imam within the overall structure of the organization matters. The Imam should enjoy special status by the governing entity and the executive entity. That will trickle down to the community. If respect for the Imam is displayed by the community leaders, that will be followed by respect from the community at large. Respect should be communicated by inclusiveness in the decision making, and by genuinely empowering the imam. (More of governance issues in a separate paper to follow)
In summary, the first step is to fix our governance, develop a fund development model that can sustain a good package for a community Imam, and then define the role of the Imam clearly, and empower him in areas relevant to Islamic guidance, and support him by providing professional development opportunities.