There are many ways to learn about Islam and the work of imams. Volunteer at a mosque. Imams are always looking for help to set up for services, clean the mosque, perform clerical duties, and other tasks. If you’re not Muslim, consider visiting a mosque near you. Most imams welcome the chance to provide people with a deeper understanding of Islam. Before visiting, check the mosque’s Web site for information on visitor etiquette. Finally, the following resources provide more information about Islam:
According to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, “Muslims believe in One, Unique, and Incomparable God. They believe in the Day of Judgement and individual accountability for actions. Muslims believe in a chain of prophets beginning with Adam and including Noah, Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Job, Moses, David, Solomon, and Jesus, and that God's eternal message was reaffirmed and finalized by the Prophet Muhammad (peace be on them all).” There are two major branches of Islam—Sunni and Shia. Sunni Muslims comprise 85 to 90 percent of Muslims, with Shia Muslims making up the remaining percentage. The tradition of an imam who leads prayers in a mosque is most prevalent in Sunni Islam. Most Shia sects believe that there have been only 12 imams (the spiritual and political successors to the prophet Muhammad) throughout history. At a Shia mosque, an alim, or religious scholar, is responsible for leading prayers and overseeing religious education. For more information on the Sunni and Shia sects and Muslim holy scriptures and worship practices, visit http://www.religionfacts.com/islam or http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/islam.
Imams have many responsibilities. For example, they lead salah (ritual prayers) at the mosque five times during the day: dawn, midday, afternoon, sunset, and evening. They also give the khutbah (sermon) and lead the jumu’ah (a congregational prayer that Muslims hold every Friday, their main day of worship). Imams teach the Quran and Islamic studies; provide Hadith (the traditions or sayings of the Prophet Muhammad) studies, seerah instruction (biographical history of the Prophet Muhammad), fiqh (Islamic law) lessons, and classes on other Islamic topics to increase knowledge and provide for the spiritual growth of community members; conduct wedding services, and provide marital counseling, when necessary; and officiate at funeral services and providing guidance/support to the family of the deceased. They also have special duties during Ramadan, a holy month of fasting, prayer, and introspection. For example, they lead the taraweeh prayer (in which long portions of the Quran are recited).
Imams are also responsible for supervising educational programs, overseeing the management of the mosque, and providing counseling resources to members of the mosque. Their duties in these areas include: