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.