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London imam Sabah Ahmedi
Photograph: Andy Parsons

Things you only know if you’re an imam

Written by
Dalia Dawood

…according to Sabah Ahmedi, 25.

Even teenagers can become imams

‘I’m one of Britain’s youngest imams. I started when I was 18. The training is quite rigorous – I learned Arabic and Urdu, spent seven years studying religion and theology and went to Africa for a month to learn about different cultures. If you’ve got the drive to see it through, then you’re officially classed as an imam at the end, no matter what age you are.’

A robe and long beard aren’t required

‘When I tell people I’m an imam, they are usually shocked that I look like them. They’re expecting an old man with a long white beard and a gown. But I don’t think the length of your beard determines the level of your spirituality. The main thing is that you dress modestly, which applies equally to men and women, and that your clothes are clean, especially when you’re leading prayers in the mosque.’

Most of the time, Islam doesn’t prohibit men and women mixing

‘I give spiritual advice to both sexes and there’s no harm in us working together – though men and women do pray separately, because we see it as a time when you should be worshipping God without distractions. Imams can also get married:  I am, and  I recently became a proud parent to a little girl.’

There are some dangerous misconceptions out there

‘A big part of my job is to engage with people to try and change stereotypes and attitudes about Muslims. Islamophobia is on the rise and it’s something we need to deal with. I encourage people to ask me questions and try to explain that Islam is a religion of peace. Of the 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, a very small minority are extremists. They don’t represent our entire religion or beliefs.’

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