The role and function of an Imam in a Sunni Mosque
The word Imam is an Arabic word which means 'Upfront'. As with many ancient words relating with faith the word carries a great deal of meaning and, depending of usage in text as well as speech, can take on numerous different meanings.
In Sunni Islam the term Imam is used principally as a title and has minimal importance in theology. The congregational prayer performed in Mosque is lead by the Imam who stands in front of the lines of worship leading them in recital of prayer. The meaning of the word Imam is related to this role.
In the standard interpretation being Imam is not a profession nor is it a qualification. The Imam is only Imam as long as he is leading prayer. He is not ordained as a holy man and should treated like any other member of the Muslim community. There are no priests or monks in Islam, all Muslims are regarded as equal.
Any respected Muslim who is normally well-trained in leading prayer, As Salat, can be an imam. In general, it is the person with the most knowledge of Islam, pious, has the ability to recite the Qur?an properly and is the most respected and learned person in the assembly who is offered the honour of being Imam. Some Imams are specially trained at Islamic colleges called Dar-al-uloom, where students follow a seven year course in Arabic and Islamic Studies. Often the imam will have an advanced education, and will be very knowledgeable about Sharia , the Islamic law set down in the Qur?an and further writings. This helps the imam who works in a pastoral capacity to counsel members of the mosque.
The congregation, in mosque prayer, must follow the lead of the Imam in performing every movement of the ritual. Should he, for any reason, commit a ritual error any member of the congregation can correct him. In practise mosque Imam have come to hold their positions by appointment, receiving payments for their services from the pious endowments on which the maintenance of mosques depends. As appointees, they are supposed to commune with their mosque congregations, arbitrate disputes among them, provide them with religious advice, visit them in their homes, and attend to their general needs.
There are very rare groups of both Sunni and Shiite might accept a female imam. Like Christianity, there is some debate as to whether the traditional prohibition against female leaders is based on historical patriarchy and sexism, and not on the spirit of the faith. Though very exceptional, in some places it's possible for a woman to be accepted as an imam, she must have significant study in the Qur?an, be virtuous, and may have to stand behind the men to lead prayer, as is often the custom in mosques. More regularly, a woman may become an imam and prayer leader only for groups of women, or only for her family.
This subject of who can become an...