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Towards a Royal academy for imams and preachers, with a global scope

Feb 22,2018 - Last updated at Feb 22,2018

What passed unnoticed when the Tawjihi results were announced on Saturday is the fact that the number of regular Sharia students who sat the national test was just 46, compared, for example, with around 39,000 in the literary stream, apart from home-study students.

This is a shocking fact in a country that has been spearheading the Islamic world's drive to clarify the truth about Islam through a series of initiatives, including the landmark Amman Message of 2004.

There are more than 7,000 mosques in Jordan, along with around 3,000 Koranic after-school centres, with a shortage in imams estimated last year at 3,500. And among those who take the pulpits for Friday sermons, there is a significant number who do not reflect the spirit of Amman Message and still promote a message of isolationism, rejection of others and, to various degrees, extremism.

There have been attempts to address the problem, but looking at the results on the ground, they have proved futile and some of these plans have been shallow and lacking vision. We cannot, for example, raise the minimum Tawjihi average for admission to Sharia faculties to 80 per cent, like what happened last year. Simply, no student, except very few, would be interested when their average allows them to study engineering, for example.

Social prestige, good financial compensation and incentives are key words if we seek a plan that would encourage excelling school leavers to join a programme to prepare imams and preachers, not only to fill the vacancies locally, but also to serve as ambassadors of Jordan and true Islam in other countries across the globe to preach the values of Amman Message.

A Royal academy, if planned well and run by the right people, could make a huge difference, taking into consideration that it should be attractive enough to lure students to take this career path. For a start, study at the college, which is supposed to offer a four-year major, should be totally free of charge for students who achieve, say, above 90 per cent in Tawjihi. A monthly allowance as pocket money and dormitories for students coming from remote areas would add to the appeal of the idea. In return, candidates should be aware that they cannot graduate without mastering English and another language of choice, in partnership with international language centres. It could also be easy to arrange for seniors to spend a year in a Muslim community somewhere in the world, depending on the language he has learnt.

After graduation, the imams should do one year of work under the direct supervision of the academy's staff and if they prove qualified enough to represent Jordan, they could be sent on secondments to Muslim communities abroad, where exposure to other cultures, including non-Muslim, is prone to change their perspectives of life and render them universal citizens more apt to accept others. Let alone that they will be making enough money to lead a decent life and build families when they return home to lead congregations.

In the final outcome, these ambassadors will be an integral part of the leadership model Jordan has exhibited over the past decades.


The writer is the deputy chief editor of The Jordan Times

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