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Power of the Pulpit

يَاأَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا إِذَا نُودِيَ لِلصَّلَاةِ مِنْ يَوْمِ الْجُمُعَةِ فَاسْعَوْا إِلَى ذِكْرِ اللَّهِ وَذَرُوا الْبَيْعَ ذَلِكُمْ خَيْرٌ لَكُمْ إِنْ كُنْتُمْ تَعْلَمُونَ (9) فَإِذَا قُضِيَتِ الصَّلَاةُ فَانْتَشِرُوا فِي الْأَرْضِ وَابْتَغُوا مِنْ فَضْلِ اللَّهِ وَاذْكُرُوا اللَّهَ كَثِيرًا لَعَلَّكُمْ تُفْلِحُونَ (10)

 

O you who have believed, when [the adhān] is called for the prayer on the day of Jumuʿah [Friday], then proceed to the remembrance of Allāh and leave trade. That is better for you, if you only knew.

And when the prayer has been concluded, disperse within the land and seek from the bounty of Allāh, and remember Allāh often that you may succeed. (Al-Jumuʿah: 9-10)

 

 

All praise is for Allāh alone. We ask Allāh to praise and grant peace upon the final Messenger, his family and followers.

Muslims today face a multitude of issues in their everyday lives. The climate in this country as well as other western countries continues to grow more hostile. The onslaught is relentless and almost every day something or another is under attack. Whether it is Muslim schools, mosques, dress, food, charities, children, organisations, political engagement, involvement in state schools – the list goes on and on. It seems no aspect of Muslim life is left untouched. Even in jail there is no escape.

Perhaps the purpose of this constant bombardment is to force a reaction. Someone gets angry enough to do or say something irresponsible. They can then say we told you so. Or it may be to wear us out so that we give up on our values and throw in the towel accepting all things modern.

Whatever the case we cannot hide our heads in the sand and pretend all is fine. In times like these where can we turn for relief, reassurance or guidance? How should we react? Become defensive or come out of the corner, fighting? Where better to find the answers than the masājid.

At least once a week the masājid are full. Jumuʿah is a weekly gathering that brings together Muslims from all walks of life. It is such an important event that Allāh commanded the believers to attend the sermon. In the absence of access to mass media Muslims have the mimbar. It provides a powerful platform to address the masses. No advertising or external venues are required. However, its potential is massively underused or not used effectively.

Imagine the impact if this medium was utilised to its maximum benefit. A limited number attend conferences, seminars etc., but the Jumuʿah audience is huge. One of the reasons why Friday is so important is this opportunity to learn something from the khutba. Learning about Islām is our defence in the unholy war against us. Knowledge will empower us to be strong in our faith. Confidence comes from conviction.

I want to share some thoughts and observations on the Jumuʿah Khutba and how it can be an efficient medium for educating along with empowering Muslims.

Friday for Muslims is the special day of the week. It is chosen over other days due to the events that occurred and will occur on this day. The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) informed us the best day the sun rises upon is the day of Jumuʿah, this day Ādam was created, on this day he was entered into Jannah and on this day he was expelled from Jannah.[1]

In most traditional masjids, the Jumuʿah khutba has become an empty ritual. It has lost its impact and role to shape the congregation. The format of the khutba is the same every week. Most people have probably memorised part of the khutba if not all of it as it is monotonously repeated. When the Imām reaches the end of the khutba with the oft-repeated ayah:

 

إِنَّ اللَّهَ يَأْمُرُ بِالْعَدْلِ وَالْإِحْسَانِ وَإِيتَاءِ ذِي الْقُرْبَى وَيَنْهَى عَنِ الْفَحْشَاءِ وَالْمُنْكَرِ وَالْبَغْيِ يَعِظُكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَذَكَّرُونَ

Verily, Allāh enjoins Al-ʿAdl and Al-iḥsān and giving (help) to kith and kin and forbids Al-Fahshā’ and Al-Munkar and Al-Baghī He admonishes you, that you may take heed.[2]

it is taken as cue by the congregation to stand for Salāh.

 

Many of the khatībs read out from a book with written sermons. Even though they are often very eloquent and poetic in Arabic they have little meaning for the majority of non-Arabs who do not understand them. Even if they did understand, the topics are irrelevant to their daily lives.

How did we come to this? A number of factors have contributed to the current situation.

The most significant, in my view, is the belief that the khutba must be delivered in Arabic. The vast majority of Muslims in the world are not Arabs. And perhaps a very small percentage of them either know or understand Arabic including the Imāms delivering the sermons. In order to get around the problem sermons are simply read out from a book.

Since there is no clear evidence to say Arabic must be the language of the khutba, there are differing views on it. Yes, it would be ideal if most people learnt Arabic but in the real world that is not the case. Some Imāms have realised the impact of using local language in the khutba but most continue to ignore the needs of the congregation.

In the āyah from Sūrat al-Jumuʿah Allāh commands the believers to attend the dhikr of Allāh when the adhān is called for Jumuʿah Salāh. The Adhān here is when the Imām takes his place on the mimbar to start the Khutba. Therefore, the dhikr of Allāh starts with the khutba followed by the actual salāh. Most certainly Allāh commanded this for a reason. One possible reason is for the congregation to learn from the khutba in addition to acquiring the immense reward for just attending. Sadly, the benefit of learning is lost when most of them cannot understand Arabic.

A second major factor is the Imāms appointed to deliver the sermons. Judging by what I have seen, many of them are not fit for the job. They not only lack Islamic education but general education to equip them for the role of real leadership that the title of Imām entails. It would be unfair to blame them alone as it is a collective failure. Muslim societies have not invested enough in developing religious leaders. In fact some would see Imāms (Molvis, Maulansab. Mutawwa’ etc.) as the failures of society.

Khatīb

Much has been written on the qualities of a successful khatībs and effective sermons. Here, I want to share my experience of what I have found useful.

As the messenger standing on the mimbar the impact or success of the khutba does depend largely on the khatīb. The khatīb, therefore should appreciate the immense responsibility he has when he stands in front of the congregation.

Needless to say the most qualified should be put forward for such a position of responsibility. In the masājid the job falls on the Imām. Islamic knowledge should be a prerequisite for anyone to take the stand on the mimbar. Being a Hāfiẓ no doubt is preferable for the Imām leading salāh. But for the khatīb, proper understanding is more important. A good grounding in Islamic knowledge gives credibility to what the khatīb has to say.

The khatīb needs to educate the congregation, not entertain them. Living in a celebrity culture, audiences expect to see a show. A speaker from the US told me if he did not entertain the audience they would not attend. Substance must not be sacrificed for style.

Each khatīb needs to find his own style and not feel that he has to put on a performance. His delivery needs to be natural and sincere. It is important to remember that a speech will not satisfy everyone in the audience. However, something from the heart will enter into hearts. With the end in mind there should be a clear idea of the anticipated outcome.

Knowing the audience is crucial in understanding how to address them. Personally, I lose concentration when listening through a loudspeaker. Unnecessarily raising the volume is not always an effective method for a lecture or khutba. What may appeal to one audience may not attract another.

A brother from overseas told us of his experience when he went to deliver a lecture outside his normal circle. He is softly spoken, normally addressing the educated, students and professionals. He went to speak to a working-class community. They told him he was whispering, criticising him for not being loud enough. While the speaker from this community went to address university students they said not to treat the audience as children by shouting.

Poor command of the language, use of slang and limited vocabulary are all means of disengaging the Muslim community. Scholars and Imāms need to be well-spoken. Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) sent the messengers with the language of their people. The Messenger of Allāh (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) was the most articulate amongst the Arabs. In modern terms effective communication skills are an essential personal criteria. The Khutba is attended by all sections of society. Therefore, it needs to have mass appeal. Good use of language can be very powerful. Listening to an eloquent speaker can be both refreshing as well as inspiring.

Khutba

The message is more important than the messenger. The topic of the kuhtba is one of the most important aspects. An effective khutba requires careful preparation. Consideration has to be given to the topic, current issues affecting Muslims or the particular community being addressed. Some start planning for the next khutba as soon as they step down from the mimbar.

We have become accustomed to listening to certain types of khutbas. These have little or no effect on the people. Thus the occasion for getting the message across is lost. Too many sermons focus simply on reminders or fadā’il. They do not leave a lasting impression or produce the desired results. They fail to captivate the audience. Everyday aspects of life are not addressed frequently enough. More importantly, local, national or international events and political issues are shunned. Perhaps sometimes out of fear of causing controversy. Or possibly out of the belief politics cannot be spoken about on the mimbar.

In essence the Muslim mind has become secularised. Islām is relegated to empty rituals without meaning. This process did not happen overnight. The crusade to secularise Muslims has been on-going for over a century since their countries were colonised. To understand some of the conflicts in the Muslim world it is necessary to recognise the link between secular forces and colonialism. Egypt and Bangladesh are two clear cases of the battle that is raging.

Muslim scholars, Imāms of masājid and teachers share some responsibility in how ordinary Muslims perceive Islām in their lives. Weekly Jumuʿah sermons are reduced to reading out written speeches. The connection to real life is lost. The Deen is detached from Dunya. It is all very well speaking about fadā’il ʿamāl, we can do so until the cows come home or Imām Mahdi arrives, but ignoring real issues related to everyday life reinforces the secular mindset.

To argue politics is unsuitable for Jumuʿah is to say politics do not play a part in our lives. Islām touches on all aspects of society including the political, economic, social, and spiritual. A sermon must cover everything that affects us.

A khutba can be a faith-boosting reminder or educational and informative. Time, place and current situation all contribute towards selecting the right topic. There has to be a balance between the two. There will be occasions when reminders will be required. Imān is a like a gown that gets worn away. Therefore, a good sermon helps to rejuvenate Imān. At the same time the congregation need education on Islām. Sadly, few take the effort to learn about their Deen and hence, most have a rudimentary knowledge of it. They will not attend lessons, courses or conferences. Jumuʿah is the only time they will have exposure to understanding aspects of the Deen.

Sermons should also be informative, touching on how current and world affairs impact us. It can serve as a warning against dangers they face. Social ills must not only be addressed but practical solutions offered to counter the harm they pose, as the English saying goes ‘prevention is better than cure’.

Thus, a regular attendee listening to this variety of sermons should appreciate that Islām is truly a way of life. One who does not understand his Deen will be deceived by the Dunya. Discussing irrelevant topics is a disservice to the khutba as well as the congregation.

The length of the khutba is a crucial consideration. People’s attention span is limited. On a Friday afternoon their minds are occupied with work or business. Therefore the message needs to be short and concise in keeping with the Sunnah of The Messenger (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam).

 

The lengthening of Salāh and shortening of the sermon is a sign of a man’s understanding. Prolong the Salāh and shorten the sermon.[3]

Half an hour is more than enough time for the khutba. Members of the congregation may be coming to Jumuʿah during their lunch break. Others have business to get back to. Prolonging the khutba can be extremely inconvenient for them. The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) once got very angry when a man complained about his imām extending the salāh.

Though more on this subject could be covered, this is an attempt to raise awareness of the tremendous transformation that can take place through the use of the weekly Khutba. In order to move forward a number of simple steps are suggested for the Muslim community as a whole. Another occasion may be appropriate for a detailed discussion.

i. Realise the significance of the Jumuʿah khutba and how it can be used as a tool for educating and informing the masses

ii. Deliver the khutba in a language the majority of attendees can understand

iii. Train khatībs so that they can deliver effective sermons

iv. Review khutbas and provide feedback for improvement

v. Empower Imāms to speak freely on matters affecting societies

With Allāh is success.

Source: www.islam21c.com

Notes:

[1] Muslim

[2] Al-Qur’ān, 16:90

[3] Muslim

About Sheikh Abu Talha

Abu Talha has been regularly involved in teaching and speaking about Islamic issues for over fifteen years.He undertook his Arabic and Islamic studies at the renowned Islamic University of Madinah where he graduated with BA (Hons) in Shariah and a Diploma in Arabic language. While in Madinah he was blessed to learn from some of the scholars in the Prophet's Masjid. Formerly, he worked as a full time Imam and Khateeb at an Islamic centre for a number of years. Along with his Islamic education, Abu Talha is a qualified and experienced language teacher and holds a Masters in Education and Applied Linguistics.​

5 comments

  1. Do you have any video of that? I’d like to find out some additional information.

  2. w/salaam. nice article. Few things have such an enormous impact as jummah khutabas. One brother decided to address the problem that people are neglecting jummah with this website http://fridaysmatter.com/

    w/salam

  3. Jazakallahu Khair sheikh

    An amazing and relevant article. We pray that our imams take heed. In far too many masaajid, Khutbas are given in languages other than English. And the committees are reluctant to change this. All the while the youth are yearning for Khutbas that affect their hearts every week.

    May Allah grant us understanding and give us the mindset to put the needs of the ummah first before our own needs and inclinations.
    Ameen

  4. an enlightening article….thank you!…..it seems that the message, as you write, has been dehumanised by those believing themselves to be the messenger…..for Islam…which they clearly are not educationally or linguistically equipped….Is this why Islam, per se has been ridiculed over the last 30 years and more?….those that do not hear or listen to the message have reduced the words of love and understanding, written in prose, within all the books, as if the Birds Parliament, into complete anger and disrespect against others, which has resulted in murder and mayhem for anyone who does not listen to the dogma….not only within Islam but within other faiths..hence tribal warfare and the killing of innocent lives…not only physically but also emotionally, is endemic within human society…….Freedom of speech without hurting or insulting another is a human right…but revenge and retaliation is also a test for anyone of any faith….as forgiveness is a human quality, which hard, is expected, through anyones life code that is chosen to endure pain, in whatever way it is inflicted…without resorting to revenge and retaliation..which IMO even those in the West as in the East, have failed. The Joy of life and helping those who vulnerable are not as vociferous as those privileged who have remained in complete silence and which IMO is a mandatory requirement in order to see that other side of eternal life. Your article opened up this debate and for that I thank you…..We are all surrounded by the unfairness where humans shed their inadequacies upon those who appear inadequate, yet in their strength of poverty, hold the key to bringing back peace to humanity if their plight could only be addressed instead of leaving them in refugee status…….as a punishment for their birth and resulting war……Peace.

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