More incentives needed to attract UAE nationals to become imams says FNC

he FNC heard calls on Tuesday for higher salaries, dedicated accommodation and paid assistants for imams to encourage more Emiratis into the job.
Chairman of Islamic Affairs Dr Hamdan Musallam Al Mazrouei has given the FNC suggestions in a bid to recruit more Emiratis as imams. Sammy Dallal / The National
Chairman of Islamic Affairs Dr Hamdan Musallam Al Mazrouei has given the FNC suggestions in a bid to recruit more Emiratis as imams. Sammy Dallal / The National

ABU DHABI // The FNC heard calls on Tuesday for higher salaries, dedicated accommodation and paid assistants for imams to encourage more Emiratis into the job.

The proposals came from Hamdan Al Mazrouei, chairman of Awqaf, the General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments, as members questioned him about the organisation’s work. Only about 4 per cent of imams and muezzins are Emirati, the council was told. FNC member Humaid bin Salem asked if Awfaq had a clear plan for more Emirati imams “because when the preaching is in a language that is close to the heart it is delivered faster”.

Dr Al Mazrouei said the main obstacle was financial. Awfaq’s administration was 98 per cent Emirati, up from 30 per cent in 2006, he said.

The main challenge used to be retaining staff, because many trained with the authority and then left for better paid jobs. That problem was solved when Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, raised their salaries.

He said it was still difficult to find Emiratis who would become imams and lead five prayers a day at their mosque.

“The local man has a family and many social commitments and the occupation of an imam in general does not sound very appealing socially,” said Dr Al Mazrouei.

His proposed solution was to have Emirati imams’ salaries match those with bachelor’s degrees. “Instead of calling him an imam, we can give him the title of a preacher or whatever,” he said.

“Some may suggest that an imam’s residence has to be up to certain standards. If he were a UAE national we should allocate a villa for him next to the mosque.”

He also suggested that each imam should have an assistant, so if he had a family commitment the assistant could substitute for him.

FNC member Sultan Al Shamsi called for increased bonuses for imams who lead Quran memorisation lessons in mosques.

At present, each imam is given a Dh 1,200 incentive for managing 10 pupils.

“We suggest he gets an extra amount for each juz [part] the child memorises,” he said, “and whoever memorises six ajza the incentive is doubled for the imam.”

Members were also concerned about the lack of variety in spending waqf, religious endowments.

Dr Al Mazrouei explained that most waqf donors ask for their money to be spent on a mosque or other Islamic building, so it is beyond Awqaf’s control.

Another FNC member, Hamad Al Rahoumi, was concerned that ruqya and sharia procedures were unclear and not managed under the umbrella of the authority.

Ruqya is a Quranic incantation used to cure people of evil eye and black magic curses or possession by jinn.

He argued that people sometimes mistook wizards and sorcerers for knowledgeable ruqya practitioners because an official licence does not exist.

“There is an urgent need in society … and every few days we hear of a wizard getting arrested,” said Mr Al Rahoumi.

Dr Al Mazrouei explained that the law which established the authority did not give it the responsibility to oversee ruqya procedures across the country.

He suggested a committee to investigate the issue with the aim of of drafting a law.

hdajani@thenational.ae

Published: April 8, 2014 04:00 AM

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