Monday, April 10, 2006

Written on Oct 3, '03

Enough Is Enough:
A Blueprint for Enlightened Friday Sermons in Our Mosques

Let’s face it: the average Friday sermon in American mosques is often a complete waste of time, reflecting the abject failure of our imams and scholars to articulate the critical issues facing American Muslims. Instead of alerting us, say, to the dangers of religious chauvinism or reflexive anti-Americanism, what we often get are lectures on the obvious and the irrelevant on the one hand, and a hodgepodge of conspiracy theories and victimhood grievances on the other.

The predictable hectoring, the hair-splitting arguments, the opportunistic invocation of the moral high ground, all these and more often make us wonder if our leaders can ever deal intelligently with the complex religious and political issues of our times, instead of glossing over them with platitudes or denial.

A large percentage of the sermons fall in the category of preaching to the converted. The five daily prayers are important for our spiritual growth, we are solemnly told. Or, without zakat, our wealth becomes a catalyst for our downfall. Or, fasting during Ramadan cleanses the body as well as the soul. Reminding us of the basics of our faith is, of course, useful. And occasionally we hear a sermon so eloquent and persuasive--on the transcendence of prayer, for instance, or the spirituality of caring for others--that it opens eyes and touches hearts.

But these are the exceptions.

More often, the sermons contain nothing new even for newcomers to Islam. It isn’t uncommon for Muslims flocking to the Friday prayers to hear, week after week, passionate lectures on the importance of consuming halal meat, or for women to wear hijab, or for sighting the hilal to mark the beginning and end of Ramadan.

If an imam tires of the obvious, he relishes taking us on guilt trips. We don’t pray, he may lament (what are we doing here then, O wise one?) and we don’t read the Quran and we don’t fast and we don’t remember Allah often enough and we don’t visit sick Muslims in hospitals and we don’t do this and we don’t do that, on and on and on.

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