Is your imam cool enough?


Is your imam cool enough?

If someone likes an imam simply because he dresses fly and can quote radio songs with a practiced-in-the-mirror hood accent, then you’re in the crowd for the wrong reasons.


If someone likes an imam simply because he dresses fly and can quote radio songs with a practiced-in-the-mirror hood accent, then you’re in the crowd for the wrong reasons.

‘No, he’s not very knowledgeable because he has an accent.’

‘I love his look, he’s my favorite speaker!’

These are just some of the many odd things I’ve heard over the years in regards to imams, sheikhs, and Islamic speakers. Many other Muslims I’ve spoken to have also noticed a disturbing trend where imams and Islamic speakers are adopting cooler approaches. And much of the masses of Muslims are seeking these “cool imams”. 

Notice I’m not using the term “celebrity imam”. Although I believe that is the same issue, what I am discussing here is happening on the local level as well, even with imams who are not famous nationally or internationally (yet).

Now this presents a​​ problem for a variety of reasons. If someone likes an imam simply because he dresses fly and can quote radio songs with a practiced-in-the-mirror hood accent, then you’re in the crowd for the wrong reasons. And even worse, if our imams and Islamic teachers and speakers are trying to set a hipster front, that shows a lack of their own understanding of this deen

Yes, I know it’s important our imams and Islamic speakers are able to relate to us young people and understand the types of popular media and current social issues around us. But to all my respected sheikhs, please don’t try to do that by faking a Brooklyn accent or rocking bowties (unless you were already wearing them years ago before it was cool). We don’t want to see our imams in skinny jeans that would fit a twelve year old girl or wearing colorful socks with cupcake emojis on them. 

Or chasing Facebook likes or Twitter followers. Nothing against social media, but we all know it has the ability to influence it’s “influencers” more than anyone. And imams are not immune to that.

I’m not picking on anyone in particular with any of this. However, dear imams: if you find yourself learning and practicing slang to try to work it into a khutbah, please stop. That’s not being genuine.

I understand you want to relate to the youth, but as my teacher told me: you can’t fake the funk. I don’t get impressed because a sheikh knows the same songs I grew up to or quotes popular TV shows…

I get impressed because he has memorized the Qur’an in multiple qiraat with the ability to translate the differences between them in specific ayat. Or he has humbled himself to travel and take ijaazah from students much lesser than him in knowledge simply out of love for our Prophet (SAW).

Or he can answer tough questions I ask about life with honesty and Islamic proofs and without being scared of how I or an audience or his masjid board will react. 

There is a certain dignity that comes with being a person of knowledge in Islam. That’s what we should look for in an imam. 

On another note: to my fellow lay Muslims I humbly request we stop writing off scholars because they don’t speak English with a perfect accent. Don’t get me wrong, being able to fluently speak the native language of a country (English in our case) to teach and preach is vital. But at the same time, having an accent in English is not at all an indicator of ilm (Islamic knowledge).

HOWEVER…having an accent speaking or reciting the language of the Qur’an, Arabic, IS an indicator of an imam’s level of knowledge (among many other criteria, of course).

On the topic of criteria I’ll list just a few things that we are recommended to look for in an imam:

1) Level of Islamic knowledge (years dedicated to Qur’an, Fiqh, Hadith, Tafsir, etc.) including strength in Fusha Arabic Language 

2) Adherence to the sunnah in character, dress, speech, etc.

3) Reputation amongst their peers (other Scholars or Imams)

4) Dedication to honesty (don’t be afraid to ask them tough questions to see how they respond)

5) Lack of desire for popularity (this doesn’t mean they aren’t necessarily a famous imam. But they shouldn’t hold any value or show desire for popularity) 

Just like the best of all examples, our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAW), any person of knowledge should be easy to approach and down to earth. This has never been a popularity contest. We love our imams for their dedication to Islam. So just be real. 

If you think you have to play cool to represent the deen, then something is wrong with your deen, no matter how knowledgeable you are. Because Islam is all the “cool” we need. 

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