THE PERSONNEL OF THE MOSQUE
IN addition to the that who occupies the pulpit in Islam, there are other "clergy" who belong to the mosque. A very able and extensive article on the Masdjid (Mosque) in the Encyclopaedia of Islam, by John Pedersen, devotes an entire section to the personnel of the mosque. This alone would be a perfect reply to those who say there is "no priesthood in Islam"; for the list of mosque personnel is a regular hierarchy.
The special Friday service when the khatib preaches has already been mentioned. But on every day in the year mosques are open and prayers are said five times daily.
Each mosque throughout the vast world of Islam has its Imam1. The word goes back to the Koran itself, where it signifies a pattern or leader in religion (Surah 2:118; 17:73;25:74). It was used in early days for the Imam or Khalifah of the Moslem people. Later it was used of a patron saint or theologian, e.g., Abu Hanifa and the other three Imams of orthodox Islam. The Shiahs speak of their twelve Imams-a hierarchy of religious leaders far more sacred to them than the twelve apostles of the early church were to Christendom.
But here we speak of the ordinary imam. In the earliest days he was imam in holy war as well as in prayer. The Friday service could take place only under those qualified to conduct it; who could punish and impose duties (Makrizi iv, p.7). He was appointed and paid by the local governor out of the mosque- treasury (Bayt-al-mal). He had to maintain order and was in charge of the divine services daily, but especially on Fridays (Pedersen). In India, we are told that sometimes the maulawi who possesses the mosque pays the imam as his curate (Hughes, Dict. of Islam, p. 329).
Hughes goes on to say,
Those who doubt the existence of clergy or priesthood in Islam should read Westermarck's two volumes on Ritual and Belief in Morocco. A reference to the index alone would show that even the Moslem school-master (faqih) stands apart from the laity, receives the first-fruits, washes the dead, presides at funerals, performs the first sacrifice at the Great Feast, and inculcates the principles of Islam. All education is in his hands and all education is religious. Secular education came only after the French occupation. It is from such an exhaustive study as Westermarck's (see index for Scribes and Shereefs) that we learn how priest-ridden Morocco was, and still is.
While the imam conducts the marriage ceremony, it is the qadhi who leads prayers at funerals (Hughes Dict., p.58). The offices of imam and qadhi are not necessarily hereditary, but it is usual in Mohammedan countries for them to pass from father to son (idem). In China, where there are some ten million Moslems, the imam is called ahung, i.e., religious teacher.
In Dabry de Thiersant's standard work on Le Mahometisme en Chine et dans Le Turkestan Oriental (pp. 330-348), there is an entire chapter on the ministers of religion and servants of the mosque. While those interested in the Dutch East Indies, with over fifty million Moslems, will find details of the names given and functions assigned to the personnel of the mosque in Cabaton's article, Vol.1 Revue du Monde Musulmane.
The importance and special functions of the imam in every Moslem community are indicated in scores of traditions. He must be the best Koran reader, an elder or presbyter (sheikh), must not assume office against the will of the people (parish); but, once chosen, his authority is clear. People must not even leave the mosque before he does2. The imam has the power not only to receive converts into Islam and welcome them, as is the case in Arabia and Egypt today, but also exercises the power of excommunication.
As in Judaism, the apostate is "cast out of the synagogue" and it is the priesthood which cast him out. Klein, who resided in Egypt for many years, writes: "A Muslim who apostasizes is to be brought before the imam and called upon by him to give up his unbelief and return to Islam. If he does not recant he is to be killed 3."
Few are aware of the wide influence and power of the law of apostasy in Islam even today. Those who are interested will find sufficient detail in a monograph mentioned in the footnote.
At the two great religious festivals of Islam, the imam or qadhi presides at the public services and initiates the sacrifice and the proper prayer ritual (Juynboll, Islamisches Gesetz, p. 127; Herklot's Qanoon-e-Islam, pp.261-269).
The ceremony of the Hajj at Mecca opens with a sermon at the great mosque, by the imam, which all pilgrims must attend. In how many ways the laity are instructed and led through the perplexing ritual of the Hajj by the Moslem clergy (muqaddam), one may learn from Hurgronje's Mecca or Burton's story of his pilgrimage. In fact every pilgrim or small company of pilgrims engages a muqaddam or guide on entering Mecca, not as a tourist might, to show the sights, but as religious prompter to teach proper conduct to the pilgrim.
In Morocco and elsewhere, at the ’aqiqa sacrifice for the newborn child, it is the faqih (mullah) who presides, slays the victim, offers an extraordinary vicarious prayer and receives his fee (Ritual and Belief in Morocco, Vol. II, pp. 391-397). We enlarge on this priestly function of the Moslem clergy later.
At circumcision, the imam has an important place in Turkey, Egypt, and among the Achinese (Encyclopaedia of Islam, Khitan, p. 958). He offers prayers and takes part in the procession and the family feast be- cause the rite of circumcision is considered the act of reception into the religious community (Lane's Modern Egyptians).
The qadhi (or judge) holds a religious-political office and often exercises
the functions of imam as well. In some Moslem lands he is appointed by the secular
power even as is the case in some state churches of Europe. He alone is competent
to give decisions in matters of fiqh (canon law). He also determines the
punishment in every case4. Every Moslem
village from Morocco to China offers abundant illustration. The local qadhi
is the court of appeal, even for non-Moslems, in case of trouble. Because of a
friendly qadhi many a Jew and Christian in the Near East has escaped mob
fanaticism. Those who say there is no priesthood in Islam should read Doughty,
or go out as pioneer missionaries
Let a paragraph from Doughty suffice:
Dr. Duncan B. Macdonald gives the duties of the qadhi as follows:
For ten years, from 1892-1902 in Bahrein, East Arabia, my friend and neighbor, the qadhi, Sheikh Jasim, exercised each and all of the above functions. I witnessed the amputation of hands for theft, the public execution of a murderer, corporal punishment for adultery, imprisonments, and high-handed appropriation of property at his behest. The qadhi of every Arabian village and city is feared above all other men because of his religious authority. It is true that when the ordinary, illiterate Moslem stands before God he is conscious of a personal relationship. For him, as for the average Protestant, "there is no priesthood" to intercede or offer sacrifice.
But in his daily life and relation to society-a totalitarian society of Islam-he knows the power of the qadhi to make life intolerable, because of his learning, his multitudinous functions, and his popular religious prestige. Even as the Roman Catholic priest in the confessional, so the qadhi in his daily majlis learns the secrets of the common people. He has the power of attorney over orphans and im- beciles; he confirms or forbids marriage and divorce.
For details one may consult L. Bevan Jones, Woman in Islam (1941) where we learn how the mulla, the pir and the qadhi dominate women's life in India (pp. 56, 82, 83, 96, 155). And speaking, not of India but of Islam in general, Hendrik Kraemer states:
Dr. J. Christy Wilson, who spent many years in Persia, writes:
Wilson goes on to say:
According to tradition (Koelle's
banner raised for the Holy War in Islam is generally green, as by tradition was
We had looked in vain for the reason of all this, until a reference of Van Arendonk to the green robes of honor worn by sharifs (Encyc. of Islam) gave us the key. He says they wore green in imitation or anticipation of the green robes of Moslem saints in paradise. These are mentioned in the Koran. The root khadra (green) occurs only eight times. It is used of trees and herbs, especially the reviving-green of spring- time, thrice (22:63; 6:99 and 38:80). Twice it refers to the seven green ears of corn in Pharaoh's dream (12:43, 46). But it is remarkable that all of the other references are to the color of the garments and the couches of delight in paradise (18:30; 76:21 and 55:76). They read as follows:
To return from this excursus on the robes of the "c1ergy" to their various classes, we come to the qass and qari. These also belong to the personnel of the mosque. Sermons were not only delivered on Fri- days by the khatib, but there were Koran-readers who chanted and had special seats in the mosques. In Baghdad, we are told, one mosque had twenty (Ibn Djubair, pp.219-222). There were also clerics "lay- preachers" (Qussas); these were appointed to deliver edifying addresses or tell popular religious stories both in mosques and elsewhere (Goldziher, Muh. Studien, 11:161).
Macdonald gives a lengthy account of their origin and their religious influence: "The Qussas gave to Islam its permanent type as one knows it today. Their spontaneous movement, preaching to the populace directly in rhymed prose, pointed with religious legend, was the first apologetic and catechetic of Islam" . . . "In Ramadhan the daily preaching in the mosques is still of this character" (Art. Kissa, Encyc. of Islam, pp.1043-1044).
The qaris or Koran readers, used a special desk, kursi, shaped like a large campstool, sometimes with a seat. Those without seats were kept in a small circular cabinet. There are beautiful examples of these kursis in the Cairo museum and in some of the large Cairo mosques they are still used. They are portable, and at public readings of the Koran function exactly as a reading-desk does in churches at the left of the pulpit. Is this also borrowed from Christian usage? For there we have a reading-desk as well as a pulpit.
The Muezzin. This office was instituted by the prophet in the second year of the Hegira when Bilal, a Negro believer, was appointed to call Moslems to prayer. His apostolic succession covers three continents and thirteen centuries! About the year 1900, there were in the Mosque of the Prophet at Medina fifty muezzins and twenty-six assistants (Pedersen).
In the earliest period they were assistants of the ruler. Their function was threefold: the assembling of the people, the summons to the imam for prayer, and the iqamah or announcement that prayer was about to begin. The mosque in the early centuries was also the training ground for jihad warriors (Margoliouth, Mohammedanism, p.76). Those who refused to hear the muezzin's call were whipped (Al Madkhal 111:4); as -was still the case at Zubair, Arabia, 1902. This special whip, kept by the muezzin or other servant of the mosque, is called dirrah, also saut or jaldah. Hughes' Dictionary (p. 85) gives an illustration of the one used at Peshawar. There is a specimen of one I found used in a mosque at Hankow in 1933, in the Princeton Museum 6.
One is not surprised to learn, therefore, that from very early days the muezzin was also the muhtasib or public censor of morals (Pedersen). Dr. M. T. Titus specifies his duties in the organization of Sunni Islam. "He was clothed with authority to put down heretical teaching and to punish Muslims who neglected the five_daily prayers or the fast of Ramadhan" (Indian Islam, pp.69, 70). The muezzins also summoned to night-prayers and special litanies (Zikr). They repeated the words of the imam from raised platforms, called dikkas, in all the large mosques of Syria and Egypt. "In other ways also," says Pedersen, "the muezzins could be compared to deacons at the service. The khasib, on his progress to the minbar at Mecca, was accompanied by them and girded by them with the sword."
Most astonishing of all is that these "deacons" in the church of Islam were at
the outset acolytes to carry incense! The prophet had incense burned in the mosque
at Medina (Lammens' Mo'awiya, p.367, note 8). 'Omar followed his example,
and his client 'Abdullah carried the censer to the mosque in the month of fasting.
In Fustat, Egypt, incense was used in consecration of the Sakhrah mosque. The
consumption of incense in the mosques became very large, especially at festivals
(Pedersen). There were artistic brass vessels used as incense burners. In Java
and China such incense-pots with Arabic inscriptions are still a part of the regular
1 Hughes, Dictionary of Islam, p. 204. Cf. for example, South Africa. "As the outcome of the Cape Malay Association Conference, recently held at Cape Town, one of the resolutions agreed to was that the general executive be instructed to approach the Minister of the Interior with a view to getting his recognition to the appointment of a Chief and a Deputy Chief Priest for the Union. A deputation waited on Dr. Malan, who said that he was prepared to recognize such appointments if the names of the priests appointed were submitted to him. In order to get the opinion of the Emaums on this question, the general executive summoned a meeting of all the Emaums in the Peninsula last Sunday in the Trades Hall, Pleinstreet, Cape Town. Forty-one Emaums attended." Cape Times, July 29, 1925.
Wensinck, Handbook of Early Muhammadan Tradition, pp.109, 110.
3 Klein, Religion of Islam, p. 181. Cf. Zwemer's Law of Apostasy, ch. II and VI. Where a full account of this law, its origin, and application is given.
4 Doughty, Arabia Deserta, Vol. I, p. 145. For a most illuminating picture of the Qadhi one must read Al Hariri's famous poem translated by Dr. I. Steingass, especially the 32d Assembly, pp. 37-58, where the great poet satirizes the skill of Canon-lawyers.
5 Christian Message in a Non-Christian World, p.282.
6 The later Jewish law prescribed scourging for ecclesiastical offences in which a whip was employed consisting of three thongs, one of ox-hide and two of ass's hide. The one used in the old Hankow mosque is of similar texture.