This article is about the situation in Canada, but it's really the same in the US and especially in Europe. The scholar interviewed, Mr Khaleel Mohammed, is a traditional Muslim (i.e. he actually reads the Quran and follows it).
Foreign-born imams who don't speak English, and who have little understanding of the Canadian way of life, are a threat to Canada, says a leading Muslim scholar
"They should be familiar with the Canadian outlook and understand the cultural values of Canada," said Khaleel Mohammed, a professor of religion at San Diego State University.
"There is no need to import imams, because they cause a lot of friction. They come from Bangladesh, South Africa, Guyana, Egypt and Syria etc. and they bring their cultural baggage with them."
The academic has been inundated with hate mail for previously saying that despite what Muslims are taught, Islam's holy book, the Koran, supports the right of Israel to exist and for Jews to live there.
In a scathing criticism of imams during his interview with the Citizen, Mr. Mohammed said that many wilfully or otherwise misinterpret the Koran and are often not qualified to teach religion.
"They (Canadian imams) have to speak English," said Mr. Mohammed in an interview ahead of his lecture this evening at Carleton University. "All mosques I've been to -- give or take five per cent -- have been using an overwhelming amount of Arabic that is incomprehensible to the people listening. I can go to a mosque now and I can start reciting the Koran in Arabic. I can quote one verse and tell them it means whatever I want it to mean."
It is a widely held misunderstanding that imams are on the same general level as priests, ministers or rabbis, added Mr. Mohammed.
"Because there is no ordination system," he said, "the imam might not be intelligent, or particularly knowledgeable of the Koran. I can't speak for every mosque, but based on my own observations, I would say it is significant enough to be a great problem in Canadian society at large. It is a problem in Canada that Muslim leaders have not traditionally been chosen for their Islamic knowledge but for their stature in society -- a medical doctor, a computer scientist. So he gets to speak wearing the mantle of a scholar either in the mosque or as the representative of Canadian Muslims. The imam is not the equivalent of a priest, which is something most Canadians forget. A priest is trained. An imam is not necessarily."
And he is right.
Christian ministers are usually knowledgeable and educated. I have myself bought books written by teachers from Concordia Seminary and downloaded a video podcast of a lecture series. I don't know what the admission requirements are at Concordia or how good the education really is but from what I have seen and read these people really learn something about Christianity (and the Hebrew Bible).
Similarly rabbis trained at Hebrew Union College (Reform) or most of the other well-known rabbinical schools (and rabbis trained by Chabad) know their stuff. Students have to know Hebrew. Admission requirements for rabbinical schools usually ask for students to have completed a BA or BSc in another discipline and to understand Hebrew. Studies will then take four years and include a year in Israel.
For Imams there is no required training like that. There are (or used to be) famous Islamic universities but they have become a joke in the last few decades.
Islam, to survive, will have to reform, and by "reform" I mean to go back to what it once was, a serious religion, and then see where to go from there.
But the current version where apparently any madman can cry out religious-sounding words that, if they are hateful enough, are immediately understood as the word of Allah by the faithful is a joke.