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.