Imams and muezzins carry out their duties without fail, all year round, for meagre honorarium. Those employed in mosques in rural areas are in a worse situation.
Mosque management committees do not follow the government's 2006 guideline.
Many imams and muezzins say they decided to embrace the professions when they were students. They do not pester for higher honorarium in the hope of getting rewards in the afterlife.
At least 15 imams, muezzins and khatibs interviewed by Bangla Tribune said the average honorarium of an imam in Dhaka is between Tk6,000 and Tk15,000. Muezzins get a maximum of Tk10,000 per month.
Several imams and khatibs said mosques in rural areas have small funds. Some provide Tk4,000 to Tk5,000 yearly honorarium or monthly Tk200-250. In cities, khatibs can get between Tk5,000 and Tk20,000 on average every month for leading Jumm'a prayers.
Hafez Mawlana Ashraf Ali was appointed as the imam of Nur-e Darus Salam Jam'e mosque in Tejgaon industrial area in June 2015 for Tk5,000 monthly honorarium. Currently, he gets Tk7,500.
He hails from Feni's Sonagazi and has an 18-month-old daughter.
“I eat at hotels and sleep at the mosque. It is impossible to live with my family in Dhaka with the money I get,” Ashraf said.
Muhammad Jahangir Alam was appointed Nur-e Darus Salam mosque's muezzin in 1999 for Tk1,000 per month and currently gets Tk4,000.
Jahangir, hailing from Noakhali, said poverty forced him to quit studies in 1997.
When asked how his life was, he replied, “Allah is watching over me.”
He has to survive the year on two lungis and two punjabis, he said. He has been living at the mosque since 1999 and has meals at various hotels like imam Ashraf.
Asraf said the mosque's khatib Mawlana Abu Musa Al Kazi gets Tk8,000 for leading the Jumm'a prayers.
Jahangir and Ashraf provide private Arabic lessons to earn some extra cash.
Hafez Mawlana Sulaiman Dhakubi is Chawkbazar's Gani Mia Haat Jaam'e mosque's imam and khatib. “I get Tk25,000 per month. There is another junior imam who gets Tk12,000.”
Sulaiman said it would be wrong to compare his mosque with others. “Most imams and muezzins fail to meet household expenses but continue with their jobs. It is because we believe in the respect we will get in afterlife,” he added.
Moulvi Siddiq Ahmed, working as an imam at a mosque in Habiganj's Madhabur, said the management committee sometimes paid him once a year or sometimes provide Tk200-250 a month.
Management committee members said many other mosques in Madhabpur provide yearly honorarium. They usually pay during Ramadan and Boro season.
On some years, the committee collects donations from locals after 'Khatme Taraweeh' and gives the imam leading the taraweeh prayers Tk8,000, while the khabit gets Tk4,000. The imam, leading regular prayers, get Tk3,000 and muezzin Tk2,000.
In Dhaka, khatibs leading the Jumm'a prayers get higher honorarium – up to Tk2,000 per week.
Azimpur's Faizul Ulum madrasa teacher Mufti Lutfur Rahman said when he started working as khatib at a Uttara mosque 15 years ago, he got a weekly honorarium of Tk800 and now gets around Tk12,000.
Mufti Mawlana Imranul Bari Siraji, khabit at a Dhaka mosque, said imams get involved with mosques and madrasas to abide by the sunnah of the prophet. “Naturally, almost none of them raise demands for increasing honorarium or salaries.”
Chawkbazar's Mawlana Sulaiman said many also stayed silent out of shyness. “It would be really helpful if the imams were given an amount commensurate to leading a decent life,” he said.
Gulistan's Pir Yameni Market Jam'e mosque committee member Nasir Uddin Khan concurred. He said the honorarium depended on the mosque's income. “Our imam and muezzin get Tk7,000-8,000. It is a meager amount.”
The scene is different in government-run mosques. Islamic Foundation sources said four mosques in Bangladesh enjoy government facilities. They are – national mosque of Baitul Mukarram, Chittagong's Jamiatul Falah, Andarkillah Mosque and Rajshahi's Hetem Kha mosque.
Besides them, the Ganabhaban and secretariat mosques enjoy some government perks.
Islamic Foundation Director Syed Shah Emran cited a research which identified 205,399 mosques across Bangladesh. But the number could be around 300,000.
Former Islamic Foundation director Abu Hena Mostofa Kamal said about half a million people were employed in nearly 250,000 mosques.
Non-government mosques do not follow the government's guideline as they are not bound to.
On November 15, 2006, the Religious Affairs Ministry issued a gazette on mosque management, management policy, committee and posts, and salaries. But the government did not take any initiative to implement it.
The guideline spoke of eight posts and mentioned their salaries and allowances.
Sub-section two of section 19 of the guideline says the recommended salary structure could be followed at government-run mosques. Other mosque management committees could set salaries and allowances in accordance to their capability, after discussion.
Baitul Mukarram's senior imam Mawlana Muhibullah Bakki said: “There has not been any progress since the guideline's formulation in 2006.
“Imams and muezzins either keep quiet or are afraid of speaking about national issues as their honorarium is so low.”
He added: “Adequate honorarium will help the imams and muezzins overcome mental and financial constraints, which will ultimately benefit the country and the nation.”
This story was first published on Bangla Tribune