A Friday sermon I attended curbside on an oppressively hot day earlier last month turned out to be a long-sought breath of fresh air.
That’s because the imam (leader) of this make-shift masjid — on the footpath of Washington's Embassy Row — addressed the pressing political, social and ethical issues of the day in a captivating sermon (khutbah in Arabic) replete with deep analysis as well as practical solutions extracted from the Qur’an and precedent of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).
Touching upon a cornucopia of events, from the coup in Paraguay to drone attacks across the Muslim world to the recent electrical power outage on the east coast of the US, Br. Afeef Khan, standing bare-headed and dry-mouthed under the scorching Sun, put the blame squarely where it belongs: on taghut, unjust systems of power that produce oppressive rulers.
“The prophetic mission of all the prophets and of all revelation was in part to come up with a holistic program whereby the people could reverse the effects of taghut in their societies,” Br. Afeef Khan said.
To spread awareness in society, every Jumu‘ah during congregational afternoon salah a weekly sermon must be given by the imam, who should be a righteous and just person. The imam has clear goals he must meet in his address:
“It is necessary for the speaker to take the most advantage of whatever is possible in the sermons in reforming souls and familiarizing people with the important issues,” says scholar Naser Makarem Shirazi. “(He should) advise them of their duties and obligations in face of these issues and warn them of the strategies of the enemies and their agents.”
But most sermons in masjids around the world do none of the above. That is because when corrupt leaders ascended power early on in Islamic history, the sermon lost its activist role and became a mouthpiece of illegitimate rulers, who hijacked the talks to turn around and denounce those calling for truth and justice, such as the family of Fatimah (ra), one of the four perfect women of all times.
“For full 90 years, from Sind in India to Asia Minor and Andalusia in Spain, ‘Ali (ra) and the children of Fatimah (ra) were cursed from every pulpit in every mosque after every Friday sermon,” wrote Indian historian Shibli Naumani in his book about the Prophet (pbuh). While the cursing has thankfully stopped, sermons in masjids across the world never regained their original purpose of promoting truth and justice. A recent study conducted over a period of three years of 50 masjids in the US found that most imams talk about basic, unsophisticated topics that seldom venture beyond aspects of wudu’, taharah and najasah, and that “purely political themes are virtually nonexistent in khutbahs.”
Such masjids, which refuse to follow the leadership of the Prophet (pbuh) in all things, including promoting social justice, are clearly condemned in the Qur’an,
“Never set foot in such a place! Only a house of communion [with Allah] founded from the very first day upon God-consciousness is worthy of your setting foot therein — [a house of communion] wherein there are people desirous of growing in purity: for Allah loves all who purify themselves” (9:108).
But there is hope. We saw the power of sermons last year in Egypt's Tahrir Square, where revolutionary fervour was renewed every Jumu‘ah thanks to imams finally calling for change and representative government.
With most of the world buried in socio-economic-political miseries, the time is now ripe to pressure our local imams to do their job and bring to the public sphere Qur’an-based solutions on how to make this world a better place for all.
For now, I will be posting sermons from imams that I find are doing just that. Insha’allah, every weekend you will be able to find short summaries of these sermons and links on my blog under Khutbaaz.
Sister Salina Khan runs the blog: the perfectionistas.blogspot.com