What does an imam do?
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 placement of the imam in front of the worshiper during prayer. The imam recites the verses and words of prayer, and the people follow his movements. During the service, he stands facing away from the worshipers, toward the direction of Makkah.
For each of the five daily prayers, the imam is present at the mosque to lead the prayers. On Friday, the imam usually delivers the khutba (sermon). The imam also leads 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, prayers for rain, prayers during an eclipse, and more.
What other role does an imam 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 issues. 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 inter-faith 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.
Can women be imams?
At the community level, all imams are men. When a group of women are praying without men present, however, a woman may serve as the imam of that prayer. Groups of men, or mixed groups of men and women, must be led by a male imam.