Aga Khan IV is the 49th Imam of the Ismaili Khoja Moslems, a branch
that dates almost from the beginning of Islam. Members of this group,
numbering about 10,000,000, are scattered throughout Asia and Africa.
Until recently, Islam had no organized missionary movement. But today
Al Azhar University of Cairo, the intellectual center of Islam, trains students
for missionary work. Several Islamic branches, especially the Ahmadiyya of
Pakistan, work as missionaries throughout Europe, America, Asia, and
In general, Islam has no centralized authorities, no class of clergymen, or
group of priests. The individuals bond with God is considered to be direct
with no intermediary. There are religious scholars or teachers (Imans) who,
in view of their academic attainment or understanding of the Koran, can
answer questions and serve in leadership roles, and are regarded as authori-
ties on theological questions. There are also Islamic organizations in America
of which the Council of Imams may be regarded as the highest body on
Islamic theology and canon law.
The Rector of Al-Azhar University, Cairo, Egypt, is regarded as the top
authority on Islamic theology.
The Imam, or leader, is the chief officer in the mosque. His main duty is
to lead the people in prayer. The Prophet Mohammed led prayers in his
mosque in Medina and in the mosque of the Kaaba in Mecca. The Caliphs
led the people in all religious and political matters, so they were the chief
Imams. On special occasions, a distinguished visitor or religious teacher may
lead the public prayers. Islam does not have an organized priesthood. As a
rule, any virtuous and able Moslem can lead prayers in the average mosque,
but usually the Imam, chosen for his piety and scholarship, handles the
services of the mosque. Music and singing are not utilized within the service
but the Koran may be chanted by professional chanters (Muqri).
The Mosque, or Moslem place of worship, is the most important building
for Moslems. Mosque comes from the Arabic masjad, meaning a place of
kneeling. It has a mihrab, or niche, which points to Mecca. There is a pulpit
for the preacher and a lectern for the Koran. A mosque has at least one
minaret, or tower, from which the muezzin chants the call to prayer. A court
and water fountain provide for the ceremonial washing before prayer. The
mosque is usually decorated with colorful arabesques and Koranic verses
written in large, beautiful Arabic letters. Most mosques have a religious
elementary school where young scholars learn to read and memorize the
Some mosques, especially in Moslem countries, also have a madrasah, or
religious college, where students may complete their religious education. A
graduate of a madrasah, called a mullah, may teach in a primary school or a
madrasah, or preach in a mosque.