What is an Imam and What is a Chaplain

What is an Imam and What is a Chaplain

While there are different interpretations within Shii and Sunni understandings, in general “Imam” refers to the leader of the communal prayers (salat) of more than one person together. This prayer can be the Friday prayer, in which the Imam delivers a sermon in the beginning, or it can refer to any other group salat prayer. The classical texts show discussions within the various jurisprudential schools on who may act as an Imam, whether women, slaves, boys, and handicapped persons can be Imams. While some of the leading medieval schools supported the right of women to lead congregational prayers, they have not survived to this present day. Within the current schools of jurisprudence, women are considered deficient in legal capacity (ahliyya) and therefore unfit to lead mixed-gender congregational prayers; however, some schools allow women to lead other women. Today, Imams also often function as chaplains within the mosque community and are also occasionally hired to function as such in government institutions. While the right of women to act as Imams is currently disputed, there are no such restrictions on chaplains, and chaplaincy is one of few avenues for Muslim women to serve their communities in a spiritual and religious capacity. A chaplain is a highly trained professional spiritual and religious care provider in an institution such as a hospital, prison, nursing home or the military. Chaplains and social workers provide similar services; however, while social workers do not generally and legally use religion when counseling their clients, chaplains can use the wealth religion offers to bring relief and help to individuals and families. The holistic care of persons recognizes the role of spiritual care, informed by the resources and leaders of specific religious affiliations, as a complement to social work and other professional services.

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