Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Preaching Justice

A Friday sermon I attended curbside on an oppressively hot day earlier this month turned out to be a long-sought breath of fresh air.

That's because the imam (leader) of this make-shift mosque--on the footpath of Washington's Embassy Row--articulated 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 Quran and traditions of Prophet Muhammad (S).

Touching upon a cornucopia of current events, from the the coup in Paraguay to drone attacks across the Muslim world to the recent East coast electrical power surge, Imam 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 leaders.

"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," Khan said.

To spread awareness in society, every Friday during congregational afternoon prayers 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 mosques around the world do none of the above. That's because  when corrupt leaders wrestled away power in early Islamic history, the sermon lost its activist role and became a mouthpiece for the illegitimate rulers. They hijacked the talks and used them to instead denounce those calling for justice, specifically the family of Fatima, one of the four perfect women of all times.

"For full 90 years, from Sind in India to Asia Minor and Andalucia in Spain, Ali and the children of Fatima were cursed from every pulpit in every mosque after every Friday sermon," wrote Indian historian M. Shibli in his book about the Prophet (S).

While the vilification has thankfully stopped, sermons in most mosques across the world never regained their original purpose of actively opposing taghut and promoting social justice. A recent study conducted in America of 50 mosques over three years found that most imams talk about basic, unsophisticated topics and that "purely political themes are virtually nonexistent in khutbahs."

Such mosques, which refuse to follow the leadership of the Prophet (S) in all ways--including striving to establish social justice--are clearly condemned in the Quran.

"Never set foot in such a place! Only a house of worship founded from the very first day upon God-consciousness is worthy of thy setting foot therein--[a house of worship] wherein there are men desirous of growing in purity: for God 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 fervor was renewed every Friday 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 jobs and bring to the public sphere Quran-based solutions that will make this world a better place for all.

For now, I will be posting sermons from imams already doing that. God-willing, every weekend you will be able to find short summaries and links on my blog under "Khutbaaz."


Anonymous said...

Keep up the good work.


Sara Mitchell said...

Social justice issues should clearly not be ignored by moral leaders, but what about tax exempt status for religious organizations in the US?

Should they give up that status in order to take on corruption in politics or should they stick to issues only?

Salina Khan said...

That's a good question, Sara. I asked an imam at one mosque why they were not participating in the Occupy movement and they gave me the tax-exempt status reasoning. I thought the only thing church leaders can't do is tell their congregation who to vote for?