Note: Below is an interview conducted by Ismail Mulla with Imams Online Senior Editor, Imam Qari Asim.
Being a lawyer and a religious leader may seem somewhat at odds with one another for some, juggling religious conscience while putting client needs first.
But for Qari Asim MBE, senior associate at DLA Piper dealing in commercial property, that isn’t the case. In addition to his responsibilities as a commercial property solicitor Mr Asim is also the head imam of Leeds Makkah mosque.
Mr Asim said: “Although it might seem that there is no similarity in the work that I do, because lawyer and imam don’t tend to go hand in hand, I believe that there are similarities.
“In the evening I’m at the Makkah mosque helping people with their domestic affairs and with their individual challenges.”
Both his legal career and religious life have followed parallel paths. Mr Asim realised in his teens that he wanted to be both a lawyer and an imam.
While undertaking a law degree at the University of Leeds he was also studying realise his other dream.
After spending some time in the South, Mr Asim returned to Leeds, his home city, in 2004 having qualified as a solicitor. The parallels between his religious calling and his legal career continued.
He joined DLA Piper in 2005, the same year that he became an imam at Leeds Makkah mosque.
Mr Asim says that, although on certain rare occasions he has had to juggle religious conscience with professional duty, his religion and career have never been at odds.
He said: “The reason why I always wanted to be a lawyer and an imam, rather than just an imam, is because our faith wants us to become an integral part of the commercial world.
“Our Prophet, when he went to Medina, a new city, he was going to start afresh.
“The first thing he did was build a mosque, but the second thing he did was to actually go to the commercial market and ask his community to get involved in the commercial world.”
The commercial property solicitor said that on the rare occasions where he does feel uncomfortable with a project, DLA Piper is very supportive and he’s allowed to choose whether he works on that project or not.
He finds that there are other similarities between his religious and professional duties.
Sitting in DLA’s modern office setting, Mr Asim said: “What’s very interesting is law is all about interpreting things and Islamic jurisprudence or any religion is also about interpretation. Here it is about the letter of the law, there it’s word of god.”
Mr Asim said that he is the only imam in the country, who is a full-time lawyer, who also leads daily prayers.
Simultaneously serving the community and the commercial world can be a difficult balancing act.
He said: “It’s very challenging at times because for instance funeral prayers, weddings can happen unexpectedly.
“I wouldn’t be able to do it without the support of the firm, DLA Piper, without the support of my family and also the community.
“In a way it goes to show the broad-mindedness of the Leeds Muslim community as well, that they’ve accepted an imam who is also a full-time lawyer. Overall I see that in Leeds there’s a lot more broad-mindedness amongst Muslims than perhaps in some other towns.”
Mr Asim became imam at a very young age and this fact coupled with his professional career means that he can relate better to the mosque’s congregation.
“You can relate to young people better if you are going through the same challenges, on a daily basis, that they go through,” he said.
He added that it was “unprecedented” for someone as young as he was, when he was selected, to be chosen to lead congregation. You see young junior imams but you don’t see young head imams who are also working,” said Mr Asim.
Being a part of the business community also enables him to champion Yorkshire as a region.
“I’m very proud of my Yorkshire identity. Being a part of the business community and if you like the general community, I’m trying to paint a cohesive and vibrant picture of Yorkshire.”
Mr Asim, who is also a board member of the Yorkshire Asian Business Association, said: “I think generally there’s a lack of Muslims in professional services. It’s increasing, it’s definitely changed in the last 10-15 years, but overall there is still a gap.
“We have some very successful Muslim entrepreneurs and Muslims in professional services but overall in terms of the numbers the picture isn’t great.
“That’s partly down to where they start. Their housing, their education early on it holds them back. Their potential is not reached. Partly we lack role models as well. Young people lack role models to aspire to. We should as a region promote more Muslim role models.”
He wants young Muslims to have a clear vision and to work hard at trying to achieve their goals.
“In certain sectors there may be discrimination but we shouldn’t give up. We have to look at the positives that this country offers us,” he added.
In 2012 Mr Asim was recognised with a MBE for helping build bridges between communities in Leeds after the 7/7 attack.
He had only just started his life as an imam at the Leeds Makkah mosque a few months earlier and says that it was a challenging period.
“I had a vision to make the mosque into a vibrant, dynamic institution which served Leeds. Not just the Muslim community, but the various communities of Leeds.”
In helping build commercial property during the day and bridges between communities in the evening, Qari Asim may well be one of those role models who young Muslims look up to.
Note: The views expressed are those of the author and may not necessarily reflect that of ImamsOnline.