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Published Jan 09, 2013 08:55am


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-Photo by Suhail Yusuf /
-Photo by Suhail Yusuf /

Whereas mullahs and prayer leaders subject their followers to strict religious scrutiny in Pakistan, the religious leaders themselves are seldom ranked and judged for their religious knowledge and sound judgement. It is time to judge those who have been judging us.

Armed with a loud speaker and, at times, with weapons, religious men (mullahs and prayer leaders) issue decrees on matters dealing with the everyday life of their parish. From forbidding people from vaccinating their children against polio to asking fathers not to educate their daughters, many religious leaders (certainly not all) attempt to control the lives of those who attend mosques or listen to their sermons. Seldom do the followers get an opportunity to question those who control mosques in Pakistan.

In a place where religion trumps all else, one would expect religious leaders to meet certain basic standards of literacy and show some religious acumen. One would expect the parish to have control over who leads them in prayers and be able to appoint their own imams. This is hardly the case in Pakistan. Religious and prayer leaders have assumed authority over the populace. Even when the khateeb (religious scholar) is at odds with the beliefs of the majority of followers, seldom is he voted out of the privileged position of leading the faithful in prayers. This has to change. People should be able to rank their imams (prayer leaders) and be able to appoint only those in leadership positions who share the same values.

I am proposing web portals where individuals can rate religious and prayer leaders on religious knowledge and acumen, tolerance, relevance and significance of religion to modern-day life, and their ability to unite rather than divide. Such a system already exists to rank university professors where students rate their professors and offer anonymous comments and feedback. The web portal is the go to site for students who review the feedback provided by students who have already taken courses with the same professors. Often the anonymous student feedback is the deciding factor for many to take a class with a particular professor.

With a one could learn about what others think of religious and prayer leaders. For those imams who use the religious platform to spread hate or promote violence, the web portal would warn others who may follow the person out of ignorance. For those leaders who use religion to promote peace and tolerance, would help them attract more followers.

Our mosques, regretfully, no longer promote dialogue and debate. Most individuals run in and out of mosques while trying to offer prayers in the least amount of time. The conversations are entirely one-sided, where the khateeb has monopoly over what is being said. This has to change.

A more informed and considerate dialogue needs to take place in mosques in an environment where the parish feels empowered to express opinions. And in cases where special interests appear to have taken control of mosques and are using them to spread hate, one should be able to confront those who propagate hate and violence. The anonymous feedback through will make it possible for those to have a say who would rather avoid face-to-face confrontation.

Such rating systems are subject to misuse as well. Systematic evaluations of have shown that despite the possibility of misuse, such rating systems are indeed useful for students. Writing in the journal Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, James Otto and co-authors studied online ratings for 399 randomly selected professors. They concluded that “online ratings in their current form may be useful, even though possible abuses could limit validity in specific instances.”

It is therefore quite possible that followers of a particular school of thought may enter false entries about scholars of another school of thought on the online portal. Some may try to use the portal to hurl insults on a religious scholar of a different persuasion. The available technology, however, is capable of automatically purging impolite remarks. Furthermore, over time, and with large numbers of responses, such anomalous entries lose their influence.

Consider that books, movie, and restaurant rankings through crowd sourcing of public opinion have helped individuals make informed choices about rather trivial matters. Why not use the same technology to find the mosque and the prayer leader who shares your values?


Murtaza Haider, Ph.D. is the Associate Dean of research and graduate programs at the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University in Toronto. He can be reached by email at

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.


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Murtaza Haider is a Toronto-based academic and the director of

He tweets @regionomics

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (24) Closed

Ahmed Jan 09, 2013 09:11am
I cannot tell you how delighted I am to read your article. It is long overdue and need of time.
Leftist Jan 09, 2013 10:08am
interesting ! if that happens all the mullas will start directing their herds to increase their popularity online.
jsthmn18 Jan 09, 2013 12:06pm
It is time for Pakistani Spring.
suneel Jan 09, 2013 02:08pm
with low level of education and tolerance in pakistani society, only supid will be highly rated.
Shahid Latif Jan 09, 2013 01:47pm
Process of appointing an Imam of your choice should precede rating and firing and Imam.
Tahira, USA Jan 09, 2013 02:38pm
Islam does not require official appointment of an Imam to lead the prayers. Any regular attendee can lead the prayers. People generally know the really pious persons from those who run through the mosque at prayer times. Imamat should not be a paid job. For Juma Khutba, a qualified scholar like the ones who attend "Payame Subh" program with Aniq Ahmad can lead the prayer and deliver a short khutba. It should be an explanation of one or two verses of the Quran and not the Imam's personal opinions about other groups. Use of abusive language should definitely be banned and that Imam should be disqualified for ever.
BRR Jan 09, 2013 02:41pm
A totally unrealistic wish, knowing very well there is zero chance of this ever occurring. In addition, who dares criticize a mullah with guns? Who dares criticize a mullah with militants openly backing them. The writer does not see professors threatening to kill their students - at best they can ding them a few points. Most teacher evaluations occur after the end of the semester anyway. Which mullah would think twice about berating a criticizer, or even perhaps beheading a criticizer in today's Pakistan?
Akram Jan 09, 2013 02:42pm
a great idea, and certainly something that is simple and would keep track of dodgy imams with murky history.
BRR Jan 09, 2013 02:43pm
A wishful thinking with no relation to reality.
Md Imran Jan 09, 2013 04:04pm
Again, the author is trying to mislead people. The way maulvis are elected to lead prayers is through the mosque board. The mosque board in turn consists of representatives of people. So it is a democracy, and there is already a rating process in place without the need to copy what westerners do. We muslims evolved into superior beings centuries ago, and don't have to copy what westerners do.
karim Jan 09, 2013 04:56pm
Fantastic idea, these mullahs and other religious types are unaccountable, just like the Faujis.
Masood Hussain Jan 09, 2013 05:41pm
Agree with you 100%.
PNayak Jan 09, 2013 07:43pm
It is strange that imams have a much stronger hold on muslims than religious leaders in any other religion..and the irony is that Islam actually claims to do away with intermediaries and directly connects god with his worshippers, although that statement itself is questionable since god supposedly does not talk directly with ordinary people except through angels and prophets, especially the last one. Questioning Imams wont work because questioning the Imam will ultimately result in questioning the Quran and that might be the biggest stumbling block. The Quran itself says that the faithful are not supposed to question
Karachi Wala Jan 09, 2013 08:33pm
Is author sure when he mentions, he is talking about Pakistan, not about Toronto, Canada?
Dr Khan Jan 09, 2013 08:54pm
"It is time to judge those who have been judging us." In theory you are absolutely right. But who will bell the cat. You have mentioned that they are armed with loud speakers and weapons. Who will put his/her life at risk. I don,t know how long you have been in Toronto but certainly you have mistaken us for Malala and Dr Faruq. Not everyone stands by the truth in this land of pure.
GH Jan 09, 2013 09:16pm
Imams leading the prayers should be well educated,well versed and able to communicate effectively.They should be held at higher standards as other professions.
Blister Jan 09, 2013 11:40pm
With the amount of unverified material available on social networking websites going around as authentic religious word I won't be surprised at all that the most dangerous will be most higly rated and people with a different view may end up being targeted in some way or another. Internet usage has its benefits but a big red label of caution with it. But we have to change somewhere. My father tells me that when the loudspeakers were initiated very early on all the religious tola considerd it to be the voice of shaitan till they realised that they could use it to drown the others voice.....then suddenly shaitan vaporised and entered the amplification of ones own voice as an explanation. I dont expect this suggestion to go down any differently. The issue is not that who will be rated highly. The issue is that the one rated low ( if ever !) will call the rest infidels and kharij from deen without looking inward and considering a change in actions. It is the subsequent change in low rated people to improve their rating based on others opinion that makes these sites successful and that requires tolerance.
malik Jan 10, 2013 03:52am
Grade F for all of them
AHMAD Jan 10, 2013 03:56am
Pakistan has one the best trained Islamic scholars in the world. Imam is a seperate issue. The governments since dictator Zia has encouraged imams to spread garbage and beseless information to the devotees. Yes education is a issue, especialy religious information based on Islamic teaching. We as a nation were and still are vry tolarent. We were a secular society and still are. People like you make a statement which is nothing but assumption only. Go and meet the silent majority, of the city population which is 80 % of the population. You will change your thinking.
AHMAD Jan 10, 2013 04:01am
Go to a library of Pakistan federal documents. The Imams are employees of the government, paid by auqaf department. They have become out control due to lack of supervision. The politicians have used them or the imams have taken advantage bein friend of politicians.
vijay, chennai Jan 10, 2013 05:02am
For once there are no graphs and pie charts.
Abdul Waheed Jan 10, 2013 07:49am
Wishful thinking for the present at least for 20 years. However, one may hope that in future this could be gradually implemented. There are so many masjids all around and most of masjids have as many as 08 big loadspeakers. Government should make legislation to restrict number of load speaker upto one or two for each Masjid. There should be no sermon but only prayers.
Agha Ata (USA) Jan 10, 2013 02:06pm
All these religious sects, and all these mullahs, all these decrees and all these claims, were the reasons why the founder of this country wanted it to be secular state. Would our scholars and learned people on TV channels and newspapers now start explaining what secularism is and that it
Raj Jan 10, 2013 02:34pm
The problem is there is no say of 80 pc in Pakistani society my friend.Silent majority is become acting minority.just look at day to day phenomenon do you see anywhere silent majority?