Imagine tens of millions of Muslims as captive audiences to imams for a half hour every Friday all across the globe. The Friday sermon is so much a part of the prayer itself that one cannot talk, text or phone during it.
Through the ages the Juma prayer has been ingrained as part of the Friday schedule of observant Muslim men. And yet most daydream during the sermon, shutting out the frequently out-of-touch imam. With the rapidly escalating state of global insecurity perpetrated by fringe-fanatics, it behoves the larger Muslim population to go into overdrive and find very quickly what it is that we can do to stem this tide of lunacy in the name of Islam.
Feeling similarly violated after the London train bombings in 2005, I felt I had an epiphany: Project Friday Khutba I called it. The premise is a simple statement in every Friday sermon plainly calling terrorism haram (forbidden). The Friday sermon is governed by rules: there must be a quotation from the Quran, one from the Hadith, and by most schools of thought some reflection on areas of current day socio-politics.
To understand the impact of this better, first, the current state of imams the world over deserves attention. In Pakistan and probably most of the Muslim world, bright achieving children become professionals: doctors, engineers, architects, accountants and the like. As a general rule, imams, mullahs and maulvis are unfortunately a default profession. Some of them are products of orphanages and thus there is the added layer of the pathology of an absent family life.
Unlike clergy schools in Christianity and Judaism, the basic prerequisite of being an imam in the Muslim world may only be that of being hafiz (having memorized the Quran). The non-religious education of an imam may be either non-existent or minuscule, up to the tenth grade, usually not university level.
The North American situation is similarly bleak. Most imams are imports from the Arab and Muslim world, with thick accents in English and little understanding of the North American Muslim socio-politics. Some are graduates of Al-Azhar in Egypt or the International Islamic University in Islamabad, but mindsets do not change with BAs or even PhDs. Egocentricity, myopia, self-aggrandisement, frank materialism, hidden agendas, strong male chauvinism and intense patriarchy characterise the majority of imams in North America. There is also a perverse penchant for four marriages, the public one under American or Canadian law and a couple others under their distorted interpretation of Islamic law. For shame!
The intense interest in sex is so transparent that during taraweeh (the evening prayer in Ramadan), the sole subject across the continent is how intercourse is allowed during the nights of Ramadan. And to these specimens we have given over our religion and the spiritual leadership of the Muslim masses!
In Surah Juma (62:9) the Quran says, “O you who believe! When the call for prayer is given on [Friday] the day of congregation, rush towards the remembrance of Allah and stop buying and selling; this is better for you if you understand.” As per a Hadith, women are exempted due to childcare constraints but I figure that if I am a wage-earner and monitor a medical schedule and do not have little children to tend to at home, Friday prayer becomes mandatory on me as well, for the Quran always supersedes a Hadith. I digress only to prove that Friday prayer at the mosque is equivalently imposed on both genders. And that swells the population that the imams have access to.
If you draw upon memory you will agree that in the most major of world events, imams slickly go ostrich. It is true that a lot of them are totally clueless and have not heard about what is going on. Others feel that if they put on their robes and sit in the pulpit and act important and talk about minutiae like how not to close your eyes when you are standing for prayer, the elephant in the mosque, I mean the room, will miraculously go away.
“Sister, sister we do not have no terrorists in the mosque!” I was told dismissively when I approached a couple of imams to implement what is perfectly doable after the London train bombings. I thought machines had x-ray vision; here they were claiming to know the minds of their entire congregations?
If a disenchanted, angry and possibly economically distraught young man does attend the Friday prayer and for a half hour is compelled to listen to an imam, the opportunity for preaching Islam’s message of “killing non-combatants is haram” becomes a golden one.
Dire economic straits seem to rule the world over as well as a deep well of fury against the West for the perceived injustices in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine and now Pakistan. One does not need both for an explosive future; one is more than enough to capitalize and build on.
The premise is “diloan mein kehney sunney sey kudoorat aa hi jati hai, safai laakh ho lekin adavat aa hi jati hai” (listening to and talking about things does cause misgivings, regardless of rationalisations an enmity does build up).
All of us develop in the crucible of our own very personal worldview. With Faisal Shahzad an ideological pull seems to have done it. With the underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the same seems to apply, for it was his father that alerted the authorities of his leanings. Neither of them were economically disadvantaged, though talk has it Shahzad’s home was foreclosed a year before the event.
Islam is a deeds-based religion and for those of us so inclined it is necessary to do a quick inventory and see how we fit on the world stage and what it is that we can do to prevent the crazies from wresting our religion. Umar ibn al-Khattab advised to “do your hisab (accounting) before it is done for you”. On a collective level, as an ummah we need to make it mandatory on ourselves to determine the causes of this lunacy and develop ideas to deal with it.
No imam holds divinity in the eyes of God. Imams serve the mosque and are answerable to mosque councils and boards. Their job descriptions should be documented, their sermons prepared in advance and reviewed and each sermon should clearly state that terrorism is haram and that “killing one is like killing all of humanity” (Quran, Maidah, 5:32).
On July 17, 2005, 500 imams in Britain issued a fatwa (religious decree) condemning the use of violence and destruction of innocent lives, saying suicide bombings were “vehemently prohibited”.
On July 28, 2005, the Fiqh Council of North America together with 120 religious organisations and leaders in North America issued a fatwa that unequivocally labels terrorism and cooperation with its perpetrators as haram in Islam. And with each insult this condemnation chorus continues.
What is needed by the Fiqh Council of North America and imams the world over is to go a few steps further. They, Muslim governments and congregations themselves, should do some house-cleaning of imams that are equivocal about violence or openly promote it. And use the Friday sermon to wash the brains of the flock of any extremist ideology that might be taking root.
Allama Iqbal poetically translated verse 11 of Surah Ra’ad that “God does not change the condition of a people unless they themselves make the decision to change” with: “Khuda ney aaj tak us qaum ki halat nahin badli na ho jis ko khayal khud apni halat key badalney ka.”
Muslims in general and Pakistanis in particular have been brought to a precipice it seems. We need to de-escalate quickly. The message in the Friday sermon can be effective and powerfully reverberating, being all the while clothed in the beautiful tranquility of Islam.