Marc Manley is an American writer and educator, currently serving as the Muslim Chaplain at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
Islam at times can seem, to the outside observer, to be a peculiar religion in that there is no formally established hierarchy or pecking order. There is no priesthood, no monasticism (though there are traditions of asceticism). A Muslim’s “confession” of sin is directed solely to God without an intermediary, so to speak, as is the role of the priest in Catholic traditions. In this context, what is the role of an imam? How does it differ from other religious traditions? And how is it seen specifically in the American Muslim context? That is, what is it that an imam does? What are his duties and are they restricted to the mosque? Can the imam play a social role, from personal counseling to advocating for social consciousness and justice? To begin, let us take a short view at its lexical meaning as well as how the word is mentioned in the Qur’an as well as in the Prophetic Statements, hadith.
The question above was recently posed by 28-year-old New York University Imam Khalid Latif during a class session teaching Muslims about Ramadan. Latif, a Princeton graduate and also the youngest chaplain ever of the New York City Police Department, has gained a strong following throughout the Northeast and among English-speaking Muslims around the world through his social justice-oriented khutbahs, or Friday sermons, posted through podcasts. His Ramadan class lectures and khutbahs pose questions rarely discussed within Muslim communities and often hit at the heart of the Prophet Muhammad’s most emphasized point: lead by example and don’t judge others. Continue reading →
“By segregating [men and women during prayer], you sexualize the area in ways that it wouldn’t be sexualized if the area was mixed.”
Those are the words of Pamela Taylor, a European-American female imam who embraced Islam twenty-five years ago. This past Tuesday, Taylor led a mixed congregation of 50 men, women, and children observing the Eid Al-Adha prayer. There was nothing particularly exceptional about the content of the annual prayer, or khootbah (sermon), that followed, but a female Imam leading men and women praying side-by-side is anything but typical.
I wish I was writing with typical accolades but unfortunately I’m sending a note about my disappointment in your Inside Islam series. I think it not only lacks objective reporting but, even worse, it whitewashes Islam leaving your listener less prepared to identify radical Islam’s threat to our freedom and culture. Perhaps most important, your program does not challenge Muslims to face the profound human rights issues their religion faces.