What Is the Role of the Imam in Islam?

1: The prayer leader of a mosque
2: A Muslim leader of the line of Ali held by Shiites to be the divinely appointed, sinless, infallible successors of Muhammad
3any of various rulers that claim descent from Muhammad and exercise spiritual and temporal leadership over a Muslim region

The Imam leads Islamic prayer and services but may also take on a larger role in providing community support and spiritual advice.

An Imam’s Duties

The primary responsibility of an Imam is to lead Islamic worship services. In fact, the word “imam” itself means “to stand in front of” in Arabic, referring to the placement of the Imam in front of the worshipers during prayer. The Imam recites the verses and words of prayer, either aloud or silently depending on the prayer, and the people follow his movements. During the service, he stands facing away from the worshipers, toward the direction of Mecca.

For each of the five daily prayers, the Imam is present at the mosque to lead the prayers. On Friday, the imam also usually delivers the khutba (sermon). The Imam may also lead the taraweeh (nightly prayers during Ramadan), either alone or with a partner to share the duty. The Imam also leads all other special prayers, such as for funerals, for rain, during an eclipse, and more.


Other Roles Imams Serve in the Community

In addition to being a prayer leader, the Imam may also serve as a member of the larger leadership team in a Muslim community. As a respected member of the community, the Imam’s counseling may be sought in personal or religious matters. One may ask him for spiritual advice, help with a family issue, or in other times of need. The Imam may be involved in visiting the sick, engaging in interfaith service programs, officiating marriages, and organizing educational gatherings in the mosque. In modern times, the Imam is increasingly in a position to educate and reform youth away from radical or extremist viewpoints. Imams reach out to youth, inspire them in peaceful pursuits, and teach them the correct understanding of Islam—in the hopes that they will not fall prey to misguided teachings and resort to violence.


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