It is obligatory for all Muslims to attend congregational prayers on Fridays in a mosque. Before the Friday prayers, the Khateeb will deliver the Friday Sermon (Khutbah) in Arabic and in two parts. Before the Arabic Sermon, the Khateeb addresses the gathering in the local language. Such an efficient and potent vehicle of mass communication is unique to Islam. The words spoken from the pulpit have a considerable impact on the gathering. No idle talk is permissible during the Sermon and thus we have a captive audience listening in full silence. The Friday Sermon basically serves the purpose of fortifying the faith (Eeman), motivating the gathering to fulfill the obligation of various types of worship, and inculcating the importance of good behavior and good morals. These three conceptual elements of faith, worship, and morality form the core of Friday Sermon.
Dissatisfaction About Friday Sermons
The common grouse of many intellectuals is that we are not making the best use of this Sermon which is delivered in the local language. Many writers have frequently expressed their opinion in this journal and elsewhere too, stating that the Friday sermons by and large leave much to be desired. In many community gatherings and meetings, it is pointed out that the community is not deriving much benefit commensurate with its potential. It is generally perceived that the Friday Sermon is high in decibels but low in content. Most Khateeb think that one becomes a good orator by speaking at the top of their voice. Some repeat the words using different synonyms. Most of them digress from the main topic and drift into unconnected issues, thus losing focus.
Another common observation is that the Khateeb prolongs the Sermon and consequently the Salat is delayed. Many office goers and employees thus face many inconveniences.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “The long prayer by a man and the short sermon is the sign of his understanding (of faith). So, lengthen the prayer and shorten the sermon, for there is charm (in precise) expression.”
Jabir ibn Samra also said that the Prophet (SAWS) never prolonged his sermons. It is commonly put forth that the Sermon should be relevant to the times and should deal with current affairs (halaat-e-haazira).Narration of some incidents that happened long back and whose authenticity is questionable should be excluded.
A topic that is generally left out in Friday Sermons is the subject of the rights of women. Recently, I was happily surprised when a Khateeb spoke at length about the rights of women. He said all the right things that women should not be overburdened with work, they should not be subject to injustice/ill-treatment, and that they are entitled to the inheritance rights as allowed for them. But the speaker negatived his entire message by concluding that the women were created from the left rib of man and hence, like the rib, they are crooked and cannot be straightened at all. He went on to highlight all the negative qualities of women, thus exhibiting a gender bias. Gender disparity is rarely addressed even though many noble ladies during Prophet Muhammad’s (SAW) time played outstanding roles that have become part of history. Some speakers rake up maslak and jamaat differences in the Sermon which divides the community and causes antagonism between people having different viewpoints about certain religious issues which are peripheral issues and not the core issues of Islam. Similarly, the Speakers should not speak in favour or against a political party or a politician in the Friday Sermon since there are both supporters and opposers of every political party or political leader in the gathering.
Commentators believe that the ummatmust be told in the Friday Sermon how to be good and responsible citizens of the country and that they should display good manners and conduct. Breakdown of marriages on flimsy grounds, extravagant expenditure in marriages and functions, rising cases of drug addiction among youth, and addiction to mobiles need to be talked about. According to some, socio-economic issues, educational matters, and even political issues that have a huge bearing on the quality of life of Muslims in a democracy should also be discussed so as to guide the community to the path of welfare and progress.
Al Hassan Al-Basry was asked why some orators could capture the attention of the audience while others couldn’t influence them, and he said, “If the words come from the heart they reach for the hearts, but if they come from the tongue, they only manage to reach the ears.”
In Defence of the KhateebsAndthe Ulema
When I broached this subject of improving the quality of Friday Sermons with a reputed Mufti, he told me that many people enter the mosque after the Friday Sermon is delivered and leave the mosque immediately after the Salath is over, without even sitting for the dua. In this scenario, how is it possible to reach out to them? he asked. A majority of those who hear the Sermon, forget what they heard once they step out of the mosque. A handful of those who remember what they heard, fail to adopt the same in their lives.
Some intellectuals have made this a routine to blame the Khateebs and Ulemas for every ill and every problem faced by the community. The Khateebs and Ulema are specialists in religious matters, and they speak on the subject known to them. We cannot expect an orthopedic surgeon to perform cardiac surgery. The educational and financial background of the Khateebs/Ulema and their exposure to the socio-political dynamics of the society has also to be reckoned with and it is a tall order to expect a high level of discourse from them on current affairs. Asking them to speak on political issues could backfire since they are sensitive issues and have many ramifications.
The Other Side of the Coin
There are many forums to discuss socio-economic, educational, and political issues. Seminars, workshops, and meetings are arranged by many organizations and NGOs where all such matters are taken up. We get to know about Islam, the Qur’an, and the Ahadeesfrom the Friday Sermons and bayans of Khateebs and Ulema.A vast majority of Muslims do not read books on religion. Whatever information they receive on religious matters and religious issues is from the Friday Sermons and other Bayans. Where else will they hear about the meraj incident, the splitting of the moon, true stories about earlier prophets, and about the life of our Prophet (SAW)? Every year a Muslim hears 52 Friday Sermons, and he benefits from the religious discourses. Some of the Friday Sermons may appear very ordinary and repetitive to older people, but there are always youngsters who will be hearing the same for the first time in their lives. Many intellectuals recommend that the Khateebs should read aSermon previously prepared by a learned person. In my personal opinion, asking the Khateebsto deliver a Friday Sermon by reading from a book of Sermons is not a good option since it does not generate much interest among the listeners and sounds very academic. There will be no emotional connection between the speaker and the audience.
The Way Forward
The way forward could be to persuade the gathering to remain in the mosque for some time after the Friday Sunnah prayers are over. Intellectuals, activists, educationists, NGO’s, and officers could then speak for about fifteen minutes on current burning issues and guide the audience to the right path in worldly matters. The Friday Sermon and the prayers could be re-scheduled to start fifteen minutes earlier so that there is no further extension of time and no inconvenience caused to the Friday gathering.
Training programs could be arranged for the Khateebs by senior Ulemas and Muftis to impart important tips for delivering a more effective and purposeful Friday Sermon which can go a long way in streamlining the content and rectifying the shortcomings, if any.