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The Imams…and the Friday Speech!
Published in AL HAYAT on 12 - 04 - 2010

In the summer of 2003, the Minister of Islamic Affairs Sheikh Saleh Al-Sheikh held an open meeting with the imams and preachers in the Jeddah province. The meeting took place in a big hall in Jeddah's Chamber. As a journalist, I could not but attend this meeting which I believed at the time would be interesting, particularly in light of the repercussions of the September, 11, 2001 events. The minister attended the meeting and the hall was crowded with a large number of imams and preachers. During the gathering, one of the imams asked the minister about the likelihood of using technology in the Friday speech, and before he had completed his question, some of his colleagues laughed in surprise.
Their laughter inspired the minister to give a quick response. He answered with a laugh: “You are part of a liberal religious police.” The audience laughed even more, but the minister added: “I do not believe that the Friday speech needs technology at this time.” It was as though he wanted to say that he does not disagree with the proposal, but that there was no need for it at that time.
During the conference “Terrorism: Between Intellectual Extremism and Extremist Ideology,” organized by the Islamic University in Medina last week, one of the conference's recommendations called on the religious institutions to activate their noble mission of preparing the imams to carry out the mosque's mission as required and activate the role of the mosque in raising awareness by drawing society's attention to the harms of exaggeration, extremism, and the threats of terrorism, in addition to presenting the Friday speech in a way that is commensurate with the requirements and needs of this era. This includes correcting misconceptions and biased ideas, as well as avoiding the means that encourage exaggeration and extremism and intensify the efforts of the preachers through the field work to raise the awareness of the youth vis-à-vis intellectual deviations and the ensuing threats and risks. Accordingly, the conference urges Islamic countries to establish advanced institutions or centers in order to prepare and rehabilitate the imams and preachers.
Last Friday, I received a text message from colleague Dr. Ahmad Ben Rashed Ben Sa'id from Malaysia saying: “I prayed on Friday at the Big Mosque in Kuala Lumpur and the preacher gave his speech through a Power Point presentation on a huge screen. This showed the basic points of the speech, including the Koranic verses in Arabic and their translation in Bahasa Melayu, in addition to visual aid.”
In the middle of 2006, the Saudi daily Al-Watan published a news item. The report started with the verb “was surprised” [in Arabic] which is seemingly a prejudgment. The report states: “The worshippers in one of the mosques in Sarat Ubaida that is affiliated to Asir Province were surprised last Friday when the imam of the mosque gave his sermon with the help of a laptop.”
Since the worshippers had been accustomed to listening to the Friday sermon that was read from a handwritten paper, they held long dialogues and longer debates after the prayer on whether or not what the imam did is legitimate.
The newspaper asked the Director of Islamic Affairs and Endowment in Asir Dr. Abdullah Ben Mohammad al-Hamid, who said that the preacher was punished for this step, which he made unilaterally and upon a personal jurisprudence. He affirmed that he was not punished for using modern technology but for his strange position, as well as for the possibility that the worshippers following the sermon would focus on the device.
In return, Sheikh Jamal Qotob who is one of Al-Azhar scholars, responds to the reports by media outlets on a Turkish imam who came up with a new method for preaching. According to this method, he gives the sermon in one mosque, and it is broadcasted to 350 other mosques and the imams of the mosques head the Friday prayers at their mosques. The sheikh said: “If the worshippers accept the intellectual level presented by this preacher, then the idea itself, despite its novelty and amusing nature, does not contradict with the rules of Islam. The successive texts teach us that the role of the Friday speech is to explain to people the issues of their religion and lives.”
After all these years, between the imams and preachers in Jeddah who laughed over the suggestion of their colleague, the imam of the mosque who was punished for using technology, the Ben Sa'id [message] I received from Kuala Lampur, and then the recommendation of the Islamic University Conference in the Medina on the need to present the Friday sermon in a way that keeps up with the requirements and needs of this era, some of the imams and preachers still object to using technology in the Friday sermon. This is not surprising since some of them have been used to resisting any new technology. For example, when the satellite dishes were first installed, they fought and considered them illegal. But they soon hurried to appear on these channels under the pretexts of benefiting from it. Then they considered Bluetooth technology to be illegal, but they later started using it in their preaching as they say in Islamic societies. And the list goes on!
Some imams, May Allah guide them, want to delve into issues which they do not understand very well, whether political, economic, or scientific ones. Some of them only know how to pray God to cut the limbs and inflict harm and destruction and disastrous things on others. They also classify people into Islamists, seculars, and liberals, although Islam encourages tolerance not fighting. The Ministry of Islamic Affairs should rein in some imams who use the mosque's platform to settle accounts and describe those with whom they disagree in the most horrible way that has nothing to do with Islam. This prompted Dr. Toufic al-Sadiri, the ministry's undersecretary, to say that his ministry will hold these imams accountable according to the regulations and that it will isolate those who do not respond favorably.

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