Confessions of an Imam #1 (My First Month)

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Recently, I accepted the responsibility of a part-time Interim Imam at the American Muslim Center in Dearborn, Michigan, USA. Of course, this comes in addition to my full time job at Ford Motor Company, and my other full time job as a parent of four and a partner to the most amazing, most patient, and the most supportive wife a man can have…
In this first installment of what I hope to become a series, I would like to share my feelings, hopes, and concerns for this totally new experience.

Over the past ten years, I was blessed to be part of different activities and events for different masajid in the metro Detroit area. It was a very fulfilling and humbling experience to speak to the congregations in these communities, and I’ve been learning and benefiting from all of this exposure to different communities in southeast Michigan. However, when it comes to leading one congregation and being tied to one masjid, all of that previously acquired “experience” as a freelance Imam seems to be very different, irrelevant, if not deceiving.
It’s kind of similar to the contrast between dating and marriage;
It’s similar to the contrast between having 1000’s of friends on Facebook or other social media, and just 10 real friends with deeper relations;
It’s similar to the contrast between preaching to other parents about raising their kids, and raising your own ;

Life Design 101

Regardless, let me not start with the expected complains that you hear from Imams, which is a very understandable rhetoric from those leaders who have one of the most overworked, over-stressed, and underpaid jobs in our community. As you might expect, there will be many installments to come with pure ranting content, inshaAllah 🙂 . But for now, let me enjoy my “honeymoon” with this new position! Let me enjoy express my excitement for officially working in a position that feels natural to me. Clearly, this decision came after months of reading and reflecting on the themes of life design, career planning, side hustle, and “following your passion” type of advice.
Even if you don’t have any “Imam-ship” endeavors, what’s relevant to you is to make sure that you align your career, community work, and education with your passion. This is what winning the “career lottery” looks like, according to Chris Guillebeau.  Even if you don’t switch jobs and take risky career moves, at least you should strive to reach the intersection of joy, flow, and money, as the picture below indicates:

I may dedicate future posts for more Life design reflections and “hacks”, but back to the Imam confessions:

I have to say that it felt completely different when I accepted a paid Imam position, regardless whether it is part time, interim, bla bla bla. In fact, a  friend of mine laughs at the idea of putting these two words, part time and Imam in the same sentence; this is like using the term “constant variable” in programming jargon; Imam-ship to him is always a double-shift full time job…
Clearly, some boards and masjid admins may treat their Imams as gas-station employees without any respect to their scholarship and their leadership [Disclaimer: I am not pointing fingers towards ANY particular masjid or community]. For more information on this, check this excellent piece by Omar Usman and his coin-word “Gas-Station masjid board mentality”.
Alhamdulillah, in my case, I found a very understanding, supportive, and empowering board and community who understand the roles and responsibilities of Imams really well and do not intend to micromanage anybody. I found also a huge momentum and a strong foundation that Imam Muhammad Mardini (may Allah bless him with a fast and quick recovery) has built.
However, the challenge here is not external, but very internal…
It is in the huge responsibility on my shoulder to continuously think, talk, communicate, and recruit volunteers for one cause and one project only…
It is in treating that young man who came to me for marriage counseling with utmost care and empathy, not only because this is my duty as a Muslim and a brother, but because I am THE IMAM for him in his particular situation.
It is in making sure that your Friday sermon is not just some random Iman booster reminder, but a balanced dose of the right ingredients, medication, nutrition, and environment for best results.
It is when your mind starts working around the clock on how to improve, where to start, what to ignore, who to recruit, in order to build this community brick by brick…
It is at this point when I finally understood this famous statement, attributed to a caliph from the Omayyads:
 قِيلَ لِعَبْدِ الْمَلِكِ بْنِ مَرْوَانَ : عَجِلَ عَلَيْكَ الشَّيْبُ ، قَالَ : وَكَيْفَ لا يَعْجَلُ عَلَيَّ وَأَنَا أَعْرِضُ عَقْلِي عَلَى النَّاسِ فِي كُلِّ جُمْعَةِ مَرَّةً أَوْ مَرَّتَيْنِ ؟ ! ” .
ِAbdul-Malik Bin Marwan was asked: how did the grey hair come to you at this young age?
He answered: why wouldn’t it come, and I have to share what’s on my mind with the community once or twice every week. 

The Imam, and the Speaker

Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him did not give sermons and “short reminders” all week long. And while I would sacrifice my life to sit in a weekend seminar that is taught by hum, he also did not give long lectures. In fact, the following narration has always boggled my mind:
في الصحيحين عن ابن مسعود رضي الله عنه أنه كان يذكر كل خميس فقال له رجل يا أبا عبد الرحمن إنا نحب حديثك ونشتهيه ولوددنا أنك حدثتنا كل يوم ، فقال ما يمنعني أن أحدثكم إلا كراهية أن أملكم { إن رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم كان يتخولنا بالموعظة مخافة السآمة علينا}
Ibn Masud used to give a reminder every Thursday, and a man came to him to praise his speech, and asked him to increase his talks and reminders to include a daily talk.
Then Ibn Masud, the scholar of the Quran, the one who received 70 Surahs from the prophet PBUH directly, said:
“I am actually concerned that you guys may lose interest and get bored”, and then he narrated that the messenger of Allah PBUH used to wait for the right moment to give advice and reminders, fearing that we may get bored…
He lived with his people, served them, listened to them, so much so that the hypocrite used to call him “an ear”
because of how much he gave his ear and his full attention to his community.  And Allah SWT in the Quran documented this and praised the compassion of his messenger PBUH and rebuked those who insult him:
وَمِنْهُمُ الَّذِينَ يُؤْذُونَ النَّبِيَّ وَيَقُولُونَ هُوَ أُذُنٌ ۚ قُلْ أُذُنُ خَيْرٍ لَّكُمْ يُؤْمِنُ بِاللَّهِ وَيُؤْمِنُ لِلْمُؤْمِنِينَ وَرَحْمَةٌ لِّلَّذِينَ آمَنُوا مِنكُمْ ۚ وَالَّذِينَ يُؤْذُونَ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ لَهُمْ عَذَابٌ أَلِيمٌ – 9:61
And among them are those who abuse the Prophet and say, “He is an ear.” Say, “[It is] an ear of goodness for you that believes in Allah and believes the believers and [is] a mercy to those who believe among you.” And those who abuse the Messenger of Allah – for them is a painful punishment. [9:61]
Will try to keep this short, straight to the point, from the heart, and hopefully consistent …
Also it helps me a lot to get your comments, feedback, questions, and thoughts on what are the most relevant confessions to you.
Sincerely Yours,
Imam Mohannad Hakeem

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