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Muslims divided over government honorarium to Imams

By Zaidul Haque, TwoCircles.net,

Kolkata: Chief Minister of West Bengal Mamata Banerjee declared at a conference of Imams here on 3rd April that, West Bengal Government will give honorarium or allowance (a monthly sum of Rs2500) to 30000 Imams of mosques throughout the state. The CM then set up a task force for this purpose in the leadership of Chairman of Wakf Board Abdul Ghani. Members of the task force are eminent Imams and clerics including Maulana Qasim Alwi (Imam Lal Mosque), Maulana Noorur Rehman Barkati (Shahi Imam Tipu Sultan Mosque), Maulana Fazlur Rehman, Toha Siddiquee (Pir of Furfura Sharif), Maulana Athar Abbas Rizvi (religious leader of Shia community)and Maulana Shafique Qasmi (Imama of Nakhoda Mosque). Going ahead, the government on 17th April also published official notice along with application form in several dailies. The form has also been put on the State Waqf Board’s website for download.

However, it seems that the clerics and common Muslims have not accepted the announcement about honorarium wholeheartedly. They are divided over the real motive of the government behind the honorarium as well.

Honorarium may lead to government control of mosques

Jamiat Ulama-I-Hind
Maulana Siddiqullah Chowdhury, leader of Jamiat Ulama-I-Hind, the largest Muslim organization in West Bengal, has opposed any government allowances to Imams. Siddiqullah Chowdhury told TCN: “It is a political gameplan before the Panchayat elections due in 2013. He alleged that by announcing honorarium to Imams, the government of Mamata Banerjee is trying to divert attention from Muslim reservation.In the election manifesto of Trinamool Congress, Muslim reservation was one of the main agenda for development of the minority community.”

Chowdhury demanded Muslim reservation instead of allowances. “If Muslims get government job according to their population in West Bengal, they will pay their Imams from their own pocket, they will not need government’s fund for it,”Chowdhury said.

Jamaat-e-Islami Hind
State Jamaat-e-Islami Hind President Md Nuruddin has similar views. He told TCN: Allowance for Imams is not justified in a secular country. If any government pays allowances to Imams of mosque, the Hindu priests will also demand it. So, any government could not move for religious persons. However, Jamaatis discussing if the allowance to Imams is justified or not. But he apprehends that community may lose control on mosques in future as management bodies of mosques may go in government’s hand.

Explaining his apprehension, he said all mosques in West Bengal do not come under State Waqf Board. Through this move of allowance, the government can take control of all mosques through the state waqf board and government may issue any circular containing directions for mosque imams and management bodies. Moreover, the government can put pressure on masjid committees to recruit imams of its choice, he says and asks the government to look after waqf properties instead.

“Instead of this, Government should look after the prime Waqf properties which are encroached upon for long time, saysNuruddin adding that the announcement of Imam allowance may divide the Muslim society and may be politicized in future.

Honorarium should come from income of waqf board

All Bengal Muslim Council and All India Minority Youth Federation
All Bengal Muslim Council & All India Minority Youth Federation, however, is not against the allowance to imams. The groupheld a meeting last week to discuss the issue. Members of the organizations think the process of Imam allowanceis not in proper form. If government wants to give the allowances to the Imam it should be given from State Waqf funds not from special funds of Government, said the president of the groups Md Kamruzzaman. He says salary from waqf board can continue forever but special funds from government may stop at any time.

Md Shah Alam, the Secretary of Amanat Foundation told TCN, it is most welcome to pay the honorarium to the Imam of Masjid from government. He thinks honorarium should be increased to Rs5000 per month because most of the Imams are living in very poor condition. He is also of the view that salary should come from the income of the Waqf properties. Then not only 30000 Imams, but every Imam may get monthly honorarium.

All India Milli Council
State Secretary of the All India Milli Council Mr Sahood Alamalso says Imam should not take any honorarium form Government fund. They may take honorarium form Waqf Board’s own funds, otherwise that will not be permitted in Shariat. He thinks, not only Imam, Muazzin of the masjid should also be given honorarium. He says Muslims of West Bengal are deprived for last 34 years.Overall development needed for West Bengal Muslims. If Muslims progress financially then the condition of the Imam will also improve as Muslims cannot live without mosque and they always want Imam to be in good condition.

But he also thinks the move may be a political game plan of the ruling party. If Government pays to the Imam, Hindu priest, Christian Father, Jains and others will also demand the same. Then total program will be stopped. So, if government wants to help Imam, they should utilize State Waqf Board funds. Muslims need reservation in government jobs first, later salary for Imam,Alam said.

Mutawalli/Masjid committee should have a say
Shah Alam of Amanat Foundation wants Mutawalli of mosque should have a say in the process. In application form, there is no column for recommendation of Mutawallis. For salary of Imam recommendation of the Mutawalli of the Masjid should be necessary. Otherwise, anyone can send application as Imam to the government official. This can lead to infighting in the community. Mutawalli should be involved in the prescribed application of the salary of Imam, he said. He also said, Government should pay the fund to the Mutawalli or Management of the Masjid. Mutawalli will pay the salary to the Imam. If Imam gets salary directly form Government then the position of Mutawallis will become less important. But he appreciated the initiative to give allowances to the Imam. Previous Government did not think about Imam, now the present Government is trying to do something that is most welcome, he said.

Imam of Jugdia Jame Masjid of South 24 Parganas Mufti Liaqat Ali told TCN, there is no mention in the Application form of Mutawlli or Masjid committee. So, anyone can seek salary as Imam without any consent of Masjid committee orMutawalli. But more importantly, he says Imams should know where the salary coming from – if the source is acceptable in shariah. He says Allah will take care of Imams, not the honorarium of government. His suspects with government honorarium Imam may be misguided by the political party. Imam should keep distance from them.

Mr Amirul Islam of Muslim social organization SANAP (Social Network for Assistance to People) supports the role of mutawalli instead of BDO in recommending salary. He says the government has made it mandatory that application form will be sent through Block Development Officer (BDO). At some places BDOs may not accept the form saying they have not got the government circular, paving way for political intervention. He says if Masjid Committee orMutawalli is not involved, the issue will be politicized.

However, he also says reservation is more important than salary of imam. He also demands increase in budgetary allocation for overall development of the community.