September 24, 2011

There was a wonderful blog post/news article going around last week, written by a Unitarian Universalist. It is titled “Common Ground between Unitarian Universalist and Muslims.” It makes a lot of very important and positive points. But one point made by the writer struck a chord with me and raised a point I have been thinking about:

“Like the Unitarian Universalist congregations, Sunni Muslims (approximately 80% of the global Muslim population) choose their leadership at the local level and the person may or may not have chaplaincy training. Imam is simply the person leading prayers.”

The way I see it, the Sunni understanding of Islam doesn’t give leadership of the community to aalims (scholars) or daa’ees (preachers). Under the Caliphate and other systems with an “Ameerul Momineen,” it was the other way around: the Ameer, the secular/executive leader, led Friday prayers.

In fact, one thought that crosses my mind is that, especially with colonial rule and Ataturk’s abolition of the Sultanate, even the executive rulers (Sultans in Southeast Asia, the Sultan of Sokoto and his Emirs in West Africa) have only been left with some influence in the religious and cultural spheres.

In the diaspora, especially in the US, we have turned to religious leaders for leadership of the faith community. And this fits in very well with the separation of secular and spiritual leadership that is part of the Western ethos, post enlightenment. (Leave aside the monarch in the UK being the head of the Church for now as an anachronism.)

I think part of our problem as an Ummah (yes, I used that word by choice), especially in minority communities, is that aalims and daa’ees have been left with too much of the responsibility of leading the community. Until and unless our “lay” (a word that is ironic in the Sunni world) community members step up and take over some of that responsibility, the unhealthy state of our communities will not heal.