The Secret To Giving Meaningful Khutbahs

I had an amusing question put to me today after Jumu’ah:

Sorry. No special sauce. Just simply reading the Qur’an, frequently, and with no distractions. Reading it with the intention to learn something new. Reading it and reflecting on it, my life, and the world around me. Sorry to disappoint.

Life From the Minbar

It is slowly closing in on a year since I’ve taken to the minbar. The experience has been a humbling one in many ways. Frustrating in others. For those who have never done so, it is hard to know the pressure and responsibility one ensues when stepping up in front of your fellow brothers and sisters, let alone the time commitment it takes to write meaningful material week after week. It is also meeting the challenge of fulfilling a role that the Prophet [s] himself carried out. The challenge of saying something pertinent, meaningful, and appropriate whilst being careful to not commit errors, or speak something amiss. In many ways, it makes one an easy target for vain ridicule, from those who would peck at splinters in another’s eye, whilst ignoring their own glaring shortcomings. Such has been my experience thus far.

In the past ten months I have experienced several odd and disturbing circumstances from audience members who feel the need to correct, even when there has been no infraction. This may seem defensive, as if I would not welcome honest criticism. I do indeed welcome it, when it is sincere, and when it is conducted with etiquette and the mannerisms befitting the circumstances. I will try and be as straight forward as I can be.

One of the first khutbahs I delivered, I man from the audience approached me afterward, wishing to have a discussion about certain Arabic words I uttered during the service. The man was a native speaker of Arabic and thus seemed compelled to defend his language. Oddly enough during this engagement, another brother, also a native speaker, happened to present as well. The first brother accused me of misspeaking some words, of which I defended my position. The gentleman’s rebuttal was based in the fact that Arabic was not my native language, despite having taught and studied it for over 15 years. In the end, my friend, also a native speaker, interjected and corrected the brother, stating that in fact, my use of the word had been correct, and that he was mistaken. This only resulted in strengthening his regard against me and in result, consumed a considerable amount of time defending his position that was becoming weaker and weaker. To this day, the brother approaches me from time to time to challenge me on various facts of Arabic grammar that have little personal meaning for me.

Another case, more recently, came after the khutbah and resulted from my recitation of the prayer which I led. The brother [it’s always men!], of Turkish extraction, took me aside and inquired about the “odd way” in which I recited the Qur’an. I smiled, knowingly, and explained to him that he was not the first person to ask about my recitation style, which was not, by the way, personal, but rather of a qira’ah that he had never heard before, namely Warsh. I asked him if he knew the name of the style that he recited in, to which he replied, “you know, just normal Qur’an”. I laughed, in good mirth, and told him that he was used to Hafs, and that I had recited in Warsh, a style perhaps not so familiar in his native Turkey. I also asked if he had studied tajwid formally or not, to which he replied in the negative. To this he continued and insisted that I had made a mistake in my recitation. Welcoming the possibility, I asked him where [I had recited suwrah al-A’la and ash-Sharh]. He noted certain places in the suwar that he felt was incorrect, of which I informed him these were places where the styles between Hafs and Warsh were most apparent to him and it was mainly a result of him not being familiar with the latter’s style. To my amazement, despite admitting he had no formal training with tajwid and more specifically, Warsh, he pressed his case forward. Having to get back to work, I recommended he learn the rules of tajwid and tried to leave it at that. However, the conversation did not finish here, to which he met me at my office just a few short hours later, where he continued to cry his case for my supposed error. Being in an overly indulgent mood, I showed him my mashaf of both Warsh and Hafs, clearly demonstrating the differences between the two as well as playing the recitations of noted reciters, both in the two schools of recitation. The brother left my office with lingering traces of mistrust, as if by some witchcraft I had won my case, though he still seemed to distrust what had been presented before him. All the while during this he persisted in inquiring where I had learned my Arabic and other Islamic knowledge. It just seemed too amazing that a kid from Detroit could have learned two Qur’anic recitations when he, hailing from the lands of Islam, had not even understood the basics of one.

I say all this in that it is one, on a personal level, aggravating to have to deal with such treatment. I have been present at other khutbahs where there have been other khatibs who have made mistakes in their recitation, yet, when they happened to be of the right persuasion – i.e., Arab or Desi, then they were beyond reproach. After all, how could such genuinely Muslim people commit an error when the religion pumps through their veins? Two, that it is a real lack of respect for the religion, to treat a person, who has been elected by the community to take the mantle of delivering the khutbah, but because they are not of the proper ethnic group, the proper respect is not given them, no matter what level of knowledge they may have obtained.

I knew that when I accepted the responsibility to do this, of putting myself up on that minbar, that pulpit, that I would be opening myself for shots. However, after nearly a year of doing so, I am now in serious consideration of stepping down. It may not prove to be worth the insult and disrespect.

A Weekend With The Quba Institute – Khatiyb Training Course

The last several weeks have been tough ones for the Muslim community here in Philadelphia. With the embarrassing letdown of the bank robbery scandal, many Muslims have been left in a state of bewilderment, angst, anger and confusion. I cannot say that I am not myself afflicted with some of these feelings. But there is always a silver lining. I had the pleasure to spend my weekend with Imam Anwar Muhaimin, partaking in the khatiyb training course. Imam Anwar continues to amaze me as he slowly unfolds the vast array of knowledge he has at his disposal. And as a teacher, you could not have a finer instructor. In fact, I would highly recommend two things: 1) if anyone is involved in giving the khut’bah for the Friday Prayer, I highly recommend the course to both newbies and oldies. 2) A condensed class or halaqah be given, distilled down into a one- or two-hour lecture. It was highly informative and I think it would be good for even lay members and women [meaning those who won’t ever give a khut’bah], allowing people to have a greater depth and appreciation of the significance of the Friday Prayer.

And it is with appreciation and admiration I will continue with. I approached the class as one who used to give halaqas as well as a frequent public speaker. I [wrongly!] assumed it would have a similar feeling. Just get the vernacular down and I’d be on my way. I couldn’t have been more off course! In a beneficial but amusing way, at the end of the second day, all of us participants were given an opportunity to deliver a short, sample khut’bah that we had to write up. Being full of bravado I happily volunteered to go first. As soon as my foot hit the minbar though, a feeling came over me; something in between fear and awe. And this was with just ten people! Words that I’ve said a hundred times over in Arabic suddenly stumbled clumsily off my lips. My tongue felt like it swelled and I couldn’t think straight. My notes were right in front of me and I rushed through everything. My khut’bah was only six minutes but halfway through, I was sweating, as were many of the other participants. We all laughed at each other and had a great time. Imam Anwar in particular seemed amused as we all went up with one feeling and came down with another.

I won’t delve into particulars of what we talked about but some generalities were of course some usuwli points relating to the establishment of the Jumu’ah Prayer. What are its basic requirements and so forth. I leave out the particulars because I believe you should get these from someone like Imam Anwar – a trained and tested Imam. The Imam also provided us with guidelines with how to write and conduct our khut’bah as well as some historical facts surrounding the khut’bah and how the mimbar has been used in the past – both in positive and negative ways, to impart to us the great responsibility one has when delivering a khut’bah.

In the end, I can see that I have been given a new level of respect for anyone that gets up on the minbar. It is an intimidation and a great responsibility. It has also given me greater insight as to what should be coming from the mimbar – I have been critical of some folks in the past for things that have been said on the minbar, and I feel I can tailor those critiques now from a more experienced and balanced perspective.

May Allah reward Imam Anwar for taking his precious time to educate us and may He increase him in it. Amin.

My thanks to all who participated. It was great to have the feeling of suhbah [companionship] once again.


Allah grant us success.

P.S. – khatiyb sounds awfully close to khalifah. Do you think that I…