by Ibn Libby
I have become convinced that the khutaba’ of our mosques need to study marketing.
I’m certain that the khutaba of our mosques excel in the fields of khataba, eloquence, articulateness, and antariat [Antar was an Arab warrior/poet. Theatrical, fiery discourse has been associated with him, and I suspect that some of them study vocal sciences and know the secrets of internal vocal amplification, and they are, without a doubt, experts in taking care of their larynxes and in maintaining long breaths.
However, all of this is only useful in the theatre, when you’re playing Julius Cesar and rallying your men “the enemy is in front of you, and the sea is behind you!” Despite the fact that I don’t doubt the niya of the khutaba, nevertheless I doubt that this method succeeds in convincing anyone of anything.
Sermons have become similar to commentary in football matches. Every time the sheikh talks about Ramadan for instance I feel like a striker is about to score a goal, and the commentator is very excited:
“Worshipers of God! Ramadan! The month of Ramadaaaan! Ramadaaaaaan! Ramaaaadaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan!”
Once he scares you in submission and fright – he then shouts mercy at you.
“Ramadaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan! Ramadaan, the month of mercy and forgiveness…”
Sermons have become similar to commentating on matches, they don’t affect the outcome: it is a commentary that you listen to that does not affect the course of the match, nor does it affect your life after the game. You listen without participating. I mean you don’t find true motivation in the sermon that urges you to do anything, nor do you find any practical explanations or realistic interpretation to all those great ayas, revered hadiths, and great reward. If you are a righteous, pious believer, to them your life is already filled with these things, therefore your position then – at the Friday Sermon – is a lot like a pacified baby who has just puked up the overflow milk.
This antari phenomena must stop, otherwise the sermons won’t have any use other than guaranteeing none of those present fall asleep.
Today’s sermon, as expected, was about Ramadan. About fasting, the Quran, the taraweh prayer and qiyaam al-lil. The acts of worship are very important, in relation to the spiritual side, and also in relation to the side of self improvement and teaching men and women to maintain practical behaviors such as cleanliness, respect, commitment, and prioritizing. However, in this day and age, how can you sell worship with only yelling ? Let’s take the example of preaching reading the Quran…
The sheikh’s voice didn’t break at all (masha’allah?, I think) while he was screaming on about the greatness of the miracle of the Quran. The miracle, the miracle, the miracle, the reward, the reward, the reward. Blah blah! What would be the problem if the sheikh had actually used the reality of Ramadan and the reality of our wartorn lands and said things like: keep a small copy of the Quran with you at all times, if you find yourself standing in a long line at a public office or in a boring state at work, take out the Quran and read a little bit, if the electricity goes out, pass the time reading Quran, you won’t need electricity during the day to read and gain the reward, the day in Ramadan is long, and full of nerves. Try to spend a couple of hours of it reading the Quran, this way you’ll pass the time, and also calm yourself with this worship. Keep a copy of the Quran in the car, glance at if you start to lose your temper while driving, remind yourself of calmness, or even intervene in problems, bring out the Quran as swear on it for people to calm down or forgive each other [fights/problems are extremely common in Ramadan, it’s ridiculous!
No realistic talk, no discussion of your local issues that might affect you, no grass roots activism, no relevant message whatsoever. More importantly, a mosque isn’t like a church in the sense that’s it’s sole purpose is a place of worship. It’s community hall, like a local council, where everyone can bring up issues, raise money and awareness.
I don’t want to talk about the fact that I have never been to a sermon where the sheikh discusses reading the Quran with spiritual awareness because this is the word of God. Or a sermon where he advises people to read interpretations to better understand the Quran which we worship God through reading it and reciting it in every prayer. I doubt that these issues are even in our sheikhs’ priorities! It’s just: the great Quran! The great miracle! The great reward! And Ramadan is the month in which the Quran was revealed!
Our sheikhs must study psychology, they must study sociology, and they may even need to study some literary arts such as the art of the article. I read about it once, and it was honestly complicated. However, it was clear that it had a purpose: there is a clear introduction, opening statements, short paragraphs, main ideas, a conclusion that summarizes the main point, and the most important thing they need to study is the science, or art of marketing!
A simple example of the idea about the art of marketing.
When you are in the vegetable market or the fish market, you will hear everyone screaming. The best tomatoes! The best red melons! The cleanest trilia! The bestbouri! [don’t know the English fish names!] They are all screaming… and yes, their screaming will attract you, but you’ve already come to the market, their yelling has no real use other than creating a racket that leads you to this table or that one. So what do you do after the yelling of one of the salesmen draws you? You walk up to him, you ask him about the price, about the source, you ask him if these are today’s vegetables? Are they natural or greenhouse? Is his fish caught with explosives?! Then why is it bent like that?! You will argue with him for a long time, and that’s when the real marketing starts. When one asks questions.
Yelling is not marketing, yelling is just a loud noise that tells you: there is merchandise here.
So where is marketing today in Friday sermons? Where is this in Friday sermons? Where is advice? Persuasion?! Have Friday sermons become the same as walking into some store, looking for something specific, going around and around, you don’t find it, and you just leave empty handed? The store is open, the salesman is there, the advertisements are there, but the merchandise?! Can we tell God, on judgement day, the same thing we tell our families today: I swear I went all the way to the mosque (the store!) but I didn’t find any?!
The khutaba’a of our mosques have a responsibility. Unfortunately, I don’t think they are aware that it is a responsibility to advice and develop communities, and not a responsibility of dramatic, theatrical acting.
The bottom line is: the most important thing I took away from today’s sermon was that I remembered the TV show ‘Game of Thrones’.