By Al-Tayeb Zein al-Abedin

The Khutbah before Friday prayer (Salatul Jumu’ah) is considered by most jurists as obligatory (wajib), but a few regard it as only desirable (mandub). However, they agree that it was regularly conducted by the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be on him. In performing the khutbah, as in all forms of ‘ibadat, the practice of the Prophet is the model that Muslims have to copy. That is why it is necessary to know how he used to deliver the khutbah.

After climbing the minbar (pulpit) the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be on him, would greet the congregation and sit down facing them. Then he would get up to give the khutbah after the second adhan was announced. This adhan could be said inside the prayer room. When the khutbah starts it is essential that the congregation should keep completely silent and listen carefully. Any talk among the audience is considered as laghw (nonsense). However, the preacher could interrupt his khutbah to give an instruction or make a remark, as the Prophet himself had done, when he got down from the minbar to answer a query, and on another occasion to look after his grandson.

The Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be on him, used to have a light pause during which he would sit down and get up again to continue the khutbah. When we speak about two khutbahs we are referring to the one before the pause and the one after it. It is desirable that a member of the congregation silently recites a du’a during this pause.

As it is desirable that any speech should begin with the praise (al-hamd) of God, it is more so in the case of both khutbahs. It is also desirable that each of the two khutbahs include the shahadah, salat upon the Prophet, and some form of  istighfar (asking the forgiveness of God). The following is a known beginning of the Prophet’s khutbah:

“Al-hamdu lillahi nasta’inuhu wa-nastaghfiruhu’udhu bi-‘Ilahi min shururi anfusina. Man yahdi Allahu tala mudilla lahu, wa-man yudli ¬†fala hadiya lahu. Wa-ashhadu an la ilaha ila Allah wa- ashahhad anna Muhammadan ‘abduhu wa-rasuluhu arsalahu bi-l haqqi bashiran bayn yadayi al-sa’ah. Man yuti’ Allaha ta’ala wa-rasulahu faqad rashad, wa-man ya’sihima fa-inahu la yadtiru ila nafsahu wa-la yadru Allaha shay’an.”

(Praise be to Allah. We ask His Help and we seek His forgiveness. We seek refuge in Allah from the evil of ourselves. Whoever Allah guides, there is none to mislead him. And whoever Allah leads astray, there is none to guide him. I bear witness that there is no god but Allah, and I bear witness that Muhammad is His servant and His messenger. Allah sent him with the Truth as a bearer of good tidings for the last hour (Day of Judgement) Whoever obeys Allah the Exalted and His messenger is indeed on the right path, and whover disobeys them certainly does harm to him- self only and does not injure God in any way.)

There are other forms of introductions used by the Prophet and reported in the books of fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence). However, the introduction is not the essential part of the khutbah. The substance of the khutbah should be educative on the essentials of faith, in order to strengthen it, and to influence people towards good behaviour. This is the whole purpose of the Khutbah. It may be conveyed in any language understood by the congregation and in any form that reaches their hearts. Unfortunately many imams in the Muslim world are fond of reciting a beautifully-phrased khutbah written some centuries ago. Some of them never get tired of repeating a few selections of khutbahs all their lives! Apart from a drowsy audience, what response can one expect from such a talk? How different was the attitude of the Prophet!

The reporters of the Sirah (biography of the Prophet) have said that when the Prophet gave the khutbah his eyes would turn reddish, he would raise his voice and he would become angry like a warner bringing the news of an invading army. This was not due to any form of exhibitionism. It was a natural outcome of a strong consciousness of the transitory nature of this life, unwavering conviction in the Promise of God and deep concern for the human condition and salvation. The Prophet would ask the community to do one thing and not another. If he noticed someone in need he would ask them to help him, if there was a drought he would make du’a for rain. In short, the Prophet’s Khutbahs dealt with matters that were relevant and of immediate concern to the community.

The sirah writers argue that the khutbah of the Prophet was short and precise. It is considered a sign of  ‘ilm (religious knowledge) on the part of the imam to make a short khutbah and a long prayer. Nowadays the practice seems to be the opposite! It is desirable to quote from the Qur’an whenever possible in the Khutbah.

The Arabic language is by no means necessary for the Khutbah. In fact, it is absurd to preach in Arabic when most of the congregation would not understand. Of course, the Prophet always delivered Khutbah in Arabic; but that was because all his listeners spoke Arabic. Nevertheless, it might be desirable to give the short introduction that includes praise of God (hamd), Shahadah and Salat upon the Prophet, in Arabic. That is because they are quotations from the Prophet (like the one given above) and because most Muslims do understand them in the original language.

Although it is desirable that the imam who leads the prayer should deliver the Khutbah, it is sanctioned that the preacher could be different from the imam. Originally, it was the Muslim ruler himself who would lead the prayer and deliver the Khutbah. As the leader of the society he was in a position to know best the needs of the community. In Islam there is no dichotomy between worldly and religious affairs. In most Muslim countries, if not all, the present rulers are not very keen to follow the Sunnah of the Prophet and his best-guided caliphs in this respect. The conclusion one therefore draws from the practice of the Prophet is that the content of the Khutbah should mainly be about the essentials of faith (imaan), that it should be relevant to the prevailing, circumstances and in a language which everybody understands. While the basic facts of faith are immutable, the arguments which support them are not. In preparing these arguments one should take into consideration the standard of knowledge prevailing in the community at the time. However, the decisive factor remains the sincerity of the speaker and his conviction of what he preaches.