Saturday, June 20, 2009


I was recently talking to a friend of mine, and he brought up the fact that he hates going to Friday prayers these days because he feels he doesn't learn anything from them anymore. Instead of talking about Islam, imams tend to go on and on about Americans, Israel and the Jews (apparently a subject ALL Egyptians love to go on and on about, even though 99% have never met a Jew).

When I hear the khutbas sometimes, I'm pretty shocked at how aggressive they are. The imam is usually yelling at the top of his voice about how Israel has raped all Arabs and needs to be wiped off the face of the earth (to use Ahmedijinad's diplomatic phrasing). Then they move on to ALL Jewish people, without making a distinction between Jews, Israeli Jews, and the Israeli government. It's sad because in the 50s Cairo used to be very cosmopolitan: Jews, Christians, Muslims, everyone got along. Jews used to call themselves Egyptians, not Jews. Then the Jews were pressured into leaving, and so they all left (leaving behind a few old ladies). Synagogues that remain in Cairo today are full of security, and I doubt they are used often.

There's also the fact that the Qur'an is NOT anti-Jewish. The Qur'an speaks about specific Jewish tribes at the time who were against the Prophet (pbuh). I don't get how this applies to all Jews at all times. Seriously! They are people of the book, and imams shouldn't be spreading hatred against them, or for that matter spreading hatred against anyone.

Anyway, I've heard complaints about khutbas several times from different people. When did imams become political experts as opposed to religious scholars? Why not discuss Islam? Or at least discuss current affairs without inciting violence and preaching hate. Like my friend said, he wants to learn something new about his religion, not get a hate-filled lecture.

I wonder whether the changing nature of khutbas has started attracting new kinds of men to the mosques. Men who want to hear these hate-filled sermons, as opposed to all kinds of men who want to hear about Islam. I know of many men (mostly older) who have stopped attending Friday prayers altogether because they can't listen to what the imams are saying.

One annoying thing must be that one goes to prayer to meditate, find peace, and connect with God. Then you hear a hate-filled khutba, and the peacefulness probably disappears. Instead of educating young Muslims and teaching them Islam, imams are filling them with hatred and violence. This can't end well.

I wonder if this is limited to Egypt, where many people have started using the mosque as a political tool? Does this happen in mosques you go to?

Note: I'm not saying all imams in all mosques in all countries do this. I am talking about imams in mosques people I know frequent. These include many mosques and many imams, which is why I decided to write a post about it.


Saafir said...

Islam is Salaam and Salaam is Islam

Insha'Allah those Imams revert to normal khutbahs

Lisa said...

Don't even get me started habibty!

First, every single one of my Turkish friends was peaceful. They believe that the only way to forge ahead with the ummah they are dealt is to NEVER mix politics and Islam. Quite impossible, but they tried.

And they tired VERY quickly of the khutbas as early as 1999. They still went to Friday prayer out of obligation alone, but couldn't wait to build their own masjids.

They have today and have never returned to the masjid. And now a vital part of the Ummah has found separitism, and you wonder how many other racial groups have "suceeded from the Union."

I converted in 1999 and found that the anti-semitism was creeping into Sharia even back then. And you know it was a freaking BITTER pill to swallow. I had just arrived at the masjid that year from 2 months at Jewish Texas Hillel, where I decided not to become a conservative Jew, because race was too involved in it.

It was awfully difficult to hear that in fact there was such a thing as race in Islam.

After 9-11, the hate-filled khutbas pressed on. And there were SO MANY potential reverts out there sweetie wanting to convert. Especially men who are rarer as Muslim reverts. But, they heard the hate and walked out that door.

We had but one mosque in 1999-2001. At UT Austin, a VERY liberal university with an Egyptian and Saudi imam who interchanged every week. The hate was everywhere then and is today as well, but is somewhat diminished.

But, the question remains. Is it too late? Perhaps for the next 50 years, yes. Yes it is. Love you lots.

Umm Omar said...

Well, I've never been to a friday prayer in Egypt, but I know that the Arab world is angry, as they should be. So, I think this is really a symptom of a bigger problem. And, too, a lot has happened to the Muslim world since the 50's! Actually, I'm surprised to hear that an imam in Egypt would give such a khutba, considering the risk. I assumed they all just "play it safe." Here in the U.S. khutbas are not like that. They are usually about faith, the prophet (peace be upon him), or issues relating to us (like celebrating Thanksgiving). During the latest invasion of Gaza, yes, a lot of the khutbas were about Palestine, but more along the lines of why Palestine is important to Muslims, and how we need to be more proactive about the situation.

AliaMakki said...

Please excuse me; for I'm shall practice some comment hogging here. You may barf.

I remember listening to Khutbas in the 80s-90s (either in my Tahfeez school or mosques in Jeddah) was what got me into gnosticism.

Every time an Imam or a school teacher mentioned people of any other religion, they always closed with a neat "لعنة الله عليهم" - May damnation befall upon them.

Saudi Arabia made a peachy example for a country that promotes intolerance and hate. Then again, was there ever a religion that was not used for political propaganda?

For what its worth, since 9/11, Saudi Arabia has been censoring and sieving the imams and school textbooks. The tone that non-Muslims are addressed have been softened, or neutralized at least.

I'm wondering though, if the Friday prayer is an obligation, is it better (more pardonable) not to attend rather than being forced to listen to bitter brainwashing sermons?

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Saafir: exactly, Islam is a religion of peace. There is so much tolerance in Islam, something we don't see in khutbas anymore.

Lisa: you're right about anti-semitism creeping into Sharia. Many Muslim countries use Sharia as an excuse to create anti-semitic or anti-non-Muslim laws, even though I'm sure the Qur'an is not anti-semitic at all.
I can't imagine how much worse the khutbas got after 9/11.
Good point about all the potential reverts being turned off by these khutbas. Last week I was shopping with a non-Muslim friend and we heard a khutba come on in the shop. The guy was screeching and yelling about something very aggressively, and my friend was like: "who would ever think of trying to understand what he's saying or Islam when he's presenting it like that?" And she had a point.

I too think it's too late - it'll get worse before it gets better.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Umm Omar: the Arab world is very angry, as am I, but the last place I want my anger stoked is a mosque, where I go to connect with God, not be filled with violent feelings.

It is definitely a symptom of a bigger political problem. The Middle East is a troubled region and things aren't getting better.

Khutbas in the US sound amazing, that's the kind of khutba I would love to go to. Even if they want to talk about politics, that's fine, but don't do it in such a blatantly un-Islamic way. Imams actually say non-Muslims should all be killed.

I think it's probably also easier to find a sheikh you can trust over there. Why would I go to a sheikh for advice when his khutbas preach things I don't believe in, like murder or racism? What other advice would he give me? I find it hard to trust imams like these, although their knowledge on other things in Islam may be good.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

AliaMakki: the fact that an imam would say that - "may damnation befall upon them" - is exactly the kind of hate-inducing preaching we don't need in Islam, a religion of peace.

Every religion has been used for political propaganda, but usually by the governments. When imams too start doing this, then there's a problem.

I wonder the same thing: is it okay to miss Friday prayer because you don't want you or your children exposed to this rhetoric? Good question!

Sarah the Seeker said...

I suppose it is a reflection of a political situation in which Israel is getting away with atrocities and Arab governments are powerless to intervene. But what can the ordinary people who attend the mosque do about it? Isn't this encouraging them into illegal violent action?

I don't really know under what circumstances aggression is allowed in Islam, but it bothers me that they must be finding some justification for this them-and-us mentality. I don't know how I feel about it. I am against oppression but I am also pro-peace; there's a delicate balance which I'm not sure if Islam manages to strike or not. It doesn't sound like these imams you're describing do.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Sarah: if these imams were encouraging intelligent discussion/action, that's one thing. Islam argues against oppression a lot and so if imams were encouraging Muslims to fight against oppression then that's arguably justifiable. However, this isn't what's happening. What's happening is that many imams are over-generalizing (ALL Jews and Christians) and overdramatizing (THEY are responsible for everything wrong in the world), and preaching hate (they must ALL be killed). This isn't really in line with Islamic teachings.

I'm not sure about the circumstances in Islam under which aggression is allowed, but I'm sure that if aggression is allowed in some instances, there are strict guidelines about it.

Sarah the Seeker said...

This is an extreme them-and-us mentality, which is clearly incompatible with peace and in my view clearly wrong. So where do they get it from? Who teaches them to think like this? Or if they become that way themselves, how do they justify it in terms of the religion?

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Sarah: the problem is that this mentality is pretty widespread in many Muslim countries and has been getting worse since 9/11, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Now I too am very angry: about Palestine, about Iraq and Afghanistan, about Guantanamo, etc. But I realize not all Americans/Israelis/Jews support what their governments are doing. Many people do not realize this and overgeneralize.

How do they justify this in terms of religion? Good question! There are parts of the Qur'an that deal with SPECIFIC Jewish tribes that didn't like the Prophet, and says negative things about them. However, this doesn't apply to all Jews everywhere, as many Muslims like to think. All anti-Muslim people love to quote the verses dealing with this, withut realizing that God wasn't saying to kill ALL Jews and Chrsitians, but specific ones at the time who were trying to harm Muslims.

Also, check out these verses:

And do not dispute with the followers of the Book except by what is best, except those of them who act unjustly, and say: We believe in that which has been revealed to us and revealed to you, and our God and your God is One, and to Him do we submit. (29:46)

Verily! Those who believe and those who are Jews and Christians, and Sabians, whoever believes in God and the Last Day and do righteous good deeds shall have their reward with their Lord, on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve. (2:62)

And there are, certainly, among the people of the Scripture (Jews and Christians), those who believe in God and in that which has been revealed to you, and in that which has been revealed to them, humbling themselves before God. They do not sell the Verses of God for a little price, for them is a reward with their Lord. Surely, God is Swift in account. (3:199)

I mean what else could these verses possibly mean?!

Anonymous said...

cairo - well some Muslims believe certain verses have been "cancelled", i.e. 2:62. I don't agree with this. That might be an explanation for their thinking, and justification.
Khutbas here are either in very poor English (where you can't understand anything really), or in Arabic. So hubby doesn't understand hardly anything of the khutba usually.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Aynur: that's interesting, why do they think these verses have been canceled?

Jasmine said...

I think it's sad at how vulnerable Islam is when it comes to Imams and Khutbas. I mean, if you were a person who really had it in for Muslims(or anyone else for that matter) its pretty easy to become an Imam isn't it? And when you think that you have the whole congregation at your disposal - really you can do whatever you want.

This is why I think religion and state should remain seperated - because the state can at least intervene when this kind of stuff goes on, and people can complain without fear of being labelled a hypocrite or an apostate.

At my local mosque they always tell a story about a hadith and explain the meaning of it - they warn us of debt, they advise us on being peacekeepers and examples and they tell us hate preachers are a shame and that we should not listen to them. It is very sad that this kind of stuff goes on - and even sadder that innocent people have to listen to it in a house of God. ;0( Jasmine

Anonymous said...

cairo - I meant to use the word "abrogated". I'm not sure why, and it's not something that all scholars believe in, but some do.
Here's a link that explains their thinking:

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Jasmine: I completely agree about Islam being vulnerable when it comes to imams - should we as Muslims place 100% of our trust in them?

The problem with placing religion under control of the state is when you have a corrupt state like most Arab countries.

Your mosque sounds amazing, mashallah. If I found one like that here I think it'd be packed full of Muslims who want to learn instead of listen to rants about Jews.

Jasmine said...

No way, it is very dangerous to trust someone just because they can recite verses and dress a certain way - they could be "a wolf in sheep's clothing". Ultimately, you are listening to a human: and good, inspiring leaders are so so rare (since the prophets), I could probably count them on one hand...let me think...Martin Luther King, Ghandi...Nelson...Kemal Ataturk...erm...getting stuck now...Mother Teresa? Yes, definitely a bad idea to obey any man.

Here in England, spreading religious and racial hatred is against the law and punishable by prison - so bad Imam's have to face prosectution. If you look at Turkish History - Turkey became secular under General Kemal Ataturk because the Imam's were corrupt and destroying the people, and abusing their status as Imam's and oppressing the people - this is why he is the national hero.

I think every person who is in power will ultimately become corrupt (as demonstrated by the Christian Allegory: "Lord of the Rings" - because it cannot be helped. In London's Metro this morning, there was a story of a church who'd had their lead stolen by thieves (£20k worth) and the Church leader was quoted as saying "I shouldn't say this as a man of the cloth but I would like to see the theives heads on a stick". Why am I telling you this? To demonstrate that everyone gets angry, furious, enraged - and all of those other bad things - and when in a position of power it is all too easy to spread it into your followers and easy start a vendetta against whoever bothers you - really you would have to be incredibly good to resist the temptation - because convincing yourself that you are right is easier that letting yourself know that you are wrong.

nadia said...

Here in the UAE, all the khutbas are in Arabic. Hubby and I are still working on the language, hence unable to really understand the khutba.

When we visited India, however, the khutba there was amazing, MashaAllah. The imam spoke about topics like importance of family (specially parents), what traits to look for in a future spouse, fairness and honesty in conducting trade, riba, visiting the sick, etc - and all in the light of the Qur'an and hadith, SubhanAllah.

After listening to a khutba, people should be able to come home feeling inspired to do good, amend their mistakes, and pass on the knowledge they learned to others. People should be able to come home with their hearts overflowing with love and fear of Allah.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Jasmine: that's my viewpoint exactly but the problem is this: imams spend their lives studying the specifics of Islam, which normal Muslims don't have the time/means to do. So they are in a sense more knowledgeable. However they are also human, and may not use this knowledge wisely. My solution to this problem was to study Islam myself, and not over-rely on imams/scholars, or at least not treat their opinions as sacred.

I think power corrupts, and have rarely seen an exception to this rule, aside from the Prophet (pbuh) and the leaders you mentioned.

As Muslims when we hear hate-filled khutbas we should realize that they (the imams) are letting their emotions get the better of them, and should not react or act upon what they are preaching.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Nadia: the khutba in India you mentioned sounds amazing. Something that would inspire you and make you want to become a better Muslim. I love what you said about how someone should feel after a khutba. Unfortunately many imams do not feel this is necessary and so do not make khutbas that would lead to Muslims feeling this.

Lisa said...

Jasmine-I really liked your comment, especially about Kemal Ataturk. The only problem is that there's still not enough checks and balances in Turkey. You can't wear a headscarf just anywhere, and that's not democracy.

Otherwise, I really do agree that church and state should separate. We have an imam with sometimes no formal training, he could have just come from herding sheep in a pasture.

Awesome discussion Cairo!

Anonymous said...

Jasmine - I haven't heard that about Atatürk before, it's interesting to hear ... I'm working on reading his biography so hopefully that will give me a less biased view of him than what I've heard. :)

Lisa - I agree, it's not fair for those who really want to wear it! It shouldn't be prohibited or mandated, IMO. Either extreme does not work.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Ataturk was definitely an interesting figure! Unfortunately, he thought to be modern was to be European, which isn't necessarily the case. I recently wrote a paper about the veil in Turkey because I think it's such a fascinating subject. Like Aynur said, it should not be mandated or prohibited. Forcing all women to veil, as in Saudi and Iran, isn't good either.

I too like the idea of the separation of church and state. However, I'm not sure if this works in Islam, seeing as how the Prophet (pbuh) was both a political and religious leader, and this model has been emulated since. I've also read many scholars who say the two cannot be separated in Islam, for theological reasons. I haven't researched this so I'm not sure what they are, but I'd love to find out.

Anonymous said...

The more they shout about Israel, US the less people will blame their domestic problems on the regimes. It is all political. Egyptians will be dying of hunger if it wasnt for American aid, you dont hear that in mosques. At the end of the day the regime can stop political sermons if they choose to, but it diverts attention away from them. The Palestinian issue is being exploited by all Arab regimes.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Anon: I think that's a great point, and probably why regimes don't interfere and stop these hate-filled sermons.
Arabs have exploited the Palestinian issue since it began, and it's one of the saddest political truths out there. They don't care about Palestine or Palestinians, and only bring the issue up when it suits them or, as you said, to divert attention away from domestic problems.

kizzie said...

I totally agree. Khutbas are suppose to educate not scare people. They depend so much on scaring people ( if u don't pray, you are going to be tortured for 70 years in your grave etc..) I wonder what they are thinking!