More imams should be Emiratis, FNC says

Minister says staff of Islamic authority are all from UAE, but Emirati prayer leaders are harder to find.

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ABU DHABI // Islamic authorities should recruit more Emirati imams and muezzins, a member of the FNC said yesterday. Ali Majed al Matroushi, a representative of Ajman, told an FNC session that the General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments (Awqaf) should not rely so much on expatriates.

"Although there are many qualified graduates among our young people, the authority is recruiting people on visit visas," he said. "With their broken Arabic, many of these imams do not even know how to read the Quran." His statement was directed to Dr Anwar Gargash, the Minister of State for FNC Affairs. Dr Gargash was not present at the session but sent a written response. Mr al Matroushi said: "I wish this issue was taken seriously as these are religious activities that should be assigned to nationals who have an intellect and opinion and have the competency. Even the Friday sermon, we know, is not drafted by nationals but by others."

Dr Gargash said that Awqaf itself had achieved 100 per cent Emiratisation. But he conceded that "emiratisation becomes more difficult when it comes to imams and muezzins because of the lack of specialised local cadres and the abundance of mosques." The authority had taken several steps to encourage nationals to work as imams and muezzins, he said. Twenty-four Emirati students have been sent to Morocco to study Sharia law, Dr Gargash said. Seven have finished their bachelor degrees and are now pursuing postgraduate studies.

The Government also subsidises nationals who work as imams and muezzins. It pays those who have graduated from high school Dh6,000 a month to supplement their salary from the mosque, and as much as Dh9,000 a month if they have a PhD. They qualify for the subsidy even if they are doing this as a second job, and are exempt from leading one of the five daily prayers so they can continue to work at their main job.

The authority also shows considerable leniency in its requirements from local applicants, requiring nationals to memorise only one out of the 30 ajza' of the Quran. More than 50 Emirati imams are taking part in the scheme. The authority has also entered a partnership with Imam Mohammed V University in Morocco, opening a branch in the capital where 20 Emiratis are now undertaking specialised Islamic studies.

Local TV stations are only allowed to broadcast Friday sermons delivered by Emiratis. However, Mr al Matroushi charged that "100 nationals recently applied for positions as imams to receive pensions, and not all of them were accepted, except for the older ones". He said: "When they say Emiratisation is 100 per cent for the management, what about overall? These jobs should be Emiratised."