Ulemas see it as a ploy to interfere in the functioning of Masjid, the place where Muslims congregate for ‘namaz’ five times a day

The government’s move to pay salaries to the Imams and Mouzens of mosques in the State has touched off a controversy. Ulemas see it as a ploy to interfere in the functioning of Masjid, the place where Muslims congregate for ‘namaz’ five times a day.

The government decision follows the recent order of the A.P. High Court to provide salaries to the Imams and Mouzens as per the directions of the Supreme Court. Though the apex court order came in 1993 it remains to be implemented fully in the State. Despite the opposition to the move, government now appears keen to implement the scheme perhaps with an eye on the ensuing elections.

It has asked the Wakf Board to come up with a proposal. The latter has conveyed its helplessness to pay salaries to the Imams and Mouzens since it has difficulty in paying the salary of its own staff. However, it has agreed to disburse the salaries to the mosque caretakers provided the government offers grant for this purpose.

The Wakf Board has undertaken a survey of mosques in the State to ascertain how many of them are registered with it. The survey will also find out how many mosques have a regular source of income and whether it is sufficient or not. According to a rough estimate the number of mosques in the State would be in the range of 4,000 to 5,000 – both big and small. “The survey will be completed by month end and we will submit a report to the government”, said Syed Ghulam Afzal Biabani, chairman, Wakf Board.

The BJP government in Karnataka is already implementing the court order and paying Rs. 8,000 per month to the Imams and Rs. 6,000 to the Mouzens. However, to avoid controversy the neighbouring State is terming it as ‘nazrana’ and not salary. In West Bengal also the scheme is being implemented in some mosques.

Whatever be the nomenclature of the payment, many feel, it will improve the lot of the Imams and Mouzens who now get a pittance. While those serving in big mosques with good source of income get a slightly better remuneration the ones in small mosques, particularly in towns and villages, are paid not more than Rs. 3000. “While we are enjoying the other benefits of government what is wrong in accepting salary”, some argue.

However, many Ulemas see it as a direct interference of government in mosque affairs. Leading the prayers in mosque is a purely religious obligation and accepting salary from the government is not proper. In future it is possible that appointment of Imams and Mouzens might take place on the basis of recommendation and political connections rather than piety, expertise in Islamic jurisprudence, understanding of Quran and Shariah principles.

“The Imam will be forced to say what government wants and there is a danger of the Muslims losing control over the most powerful Islamic centres”, says Moulana Khalid Saifullah Rahmani, eminent Islamic scholar and founder member, All India Muslim Personal Law Board.

Many ulemas share this view. When providing reservations in the name of religion is considered against the spirit of secularism then how is it proper to pay the salary of the Imams and Mouzens of mosques, they ask. “Accepting salary from government will have far reaching consequences”, fears Moulana Obaidur Rahman Athar, Khateeb of Teen Posh Masjid.

The Wakf Board plans to go about the whole thing in a careful way so as to implement the court orders while not giving room for political interference in mosque affairs. ”Before taking a decision we will consult ulemas of different schools of thought’, says Mr. Biabani.

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