My dear respected colleagues and brothers in faith, I am not the best of you, nor am I the most knowledgeable, eloquent, or favored of you to God Almighty. However, I share with all of you, the awesome responsibility of delivering the Friday Sermon. As the American Muslim community, as other religious communities, face the complex, and often confusing, and stressful challenges of our time, we must remember that our duty as Imams, and khateebs, (Muslim preachers) is first and foremost to God Almighty, and then to the believers who attend the Friday prayers and listen to our sermons. Our Lord demands, and our congregations have a right that we are honest, forthright, sincere, free and unhindered in what we impart to them in the way of scriptural exhortations, religious instructions, and advisement. The faithful congregations that we serve in our nation’s mosques have placed in each of us their trust that we speak as free men.
American imams are nudged in varying degrees to address pre-chosen topics according to the current campaign priorities of National American Muslim political organizations and advocacy groups, local an federal law enforcement agencies, and sometimes even by politicians. Sometime this occurs in complicity with board members and mosque administrators, and sometimes not. Muslim political leaders, and all of the aforementioned organizations all serve an important purpose in our communities. However, when the imam ascends the pulpit to deliver the Khutbatul Jum’ah (Friday sermon), anyone else’s presumption of authority, or influence should come to a complete halt. .
With increasing frequency, American imams are given pre-selected issues, instructions, outlines, and talking points about what should be the topic of our weekly sermons. Last week it was ISIS, this week it’s homegrown terrorists , in previous weeks it was the Chapel Hill Murders, in January it was the Charlie Hebdo killings, in December it was the Peshawar school massacre, in September it was the beheading of US journalist Steven Sortloff, and in August it was James Wright Foley. Anti-Islam, and anti-Muslim sentiment, religious extremism, identity crises, ignorance of religion, spiritual ailments, and world events are all things that matter. Sometimes things that warrant condemnation or support by rallying or demonstrations. All of that falls under the category of enjoying the good and forbidding the evil, which within most Muslim communities is a department that the Imam heads. So it should never be up to anyone but the Imam or khateeb to decide what comes out of his mouth when he stands on the minbar on Friday. Khutbatul Jum’ah is considered a dutiful act of worship (ibaadah), that is for the remembrance of Allah and what is associated with it, and an Imam should never act as anyone’s or and organization’s or any local or federal law enforcement agency’s personal religious police, or rented out as such.
When Muslims leave the Masjid, they face the real world, where there is very little sugar-coating. We as Imams need to be just as intimately candid and honest with our congregations, both individually and collectively. Muslim board members, and administrator should trust the Imam, and give him the opportunity to come up with the right formulas for the congregation, and let him define his own personality and relationship with the congregation. Sometimes the boundaries between the religious purview and conscious of the imam, and the sensibilities of a board, or the politics of an influencing Muslim organization are muddled.
Our duty is to teach people the religion, and instruct them about what is required of them by God. We must maintain our prerogative to offer impressionable Muslim youth, the full complement of moral teachings, life instructions, Quranic advises, and Prophetic guidance that is available to us in our faith. We are free men of conscience, and each of you has a better understanding of the congregations and localities that you serve, than anyone else. If we believe that as Americans and as Muslims, we respect the right of all people to speak freely, then we must also assert that very same right for ourselves when speaking from the pulpit.
Speak as you will dear brethren, on whatever topics that you see beneficial at the time, but deliver your sermons as free believing men of conscience, inspiration and choice, being obligated to one except Allah, be He Exalted and Glorified. It is hypocritical, and disingenuous for any of us to say that we stand for freedom of choice, freedom of speech, or liberty, and for the best interests of our religion, and our country, if we allow anyone, including Islamic organizations, Muslim leaders outside of our congregations, law enforcement agencies, the media, or politicians, to control our messages. One of the most egregious forms of tyranny, is to restrict the words of a khateeb while he is speaking on Friday inside of the House of Allah. The message we deliver in the Friday sermon, should never be compromised, sold, auctioned or bartered, or loaned to anyone, at any time, in any mosque. If we allow that to happen, then we have betrayed our country, our religion and ourselves.
Imam Luqman Ahmad
Imam Luqman Ahmad is the Imam and Executive Director of Del Paso Heights Islamic Center in Sacramento, California. He is also a founding member of COSVIO (Council of Sacramento Valley Islamic Organizations). This article represents his views, and not those of any other person or organization. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org