Guidelines for the Khateeb (Muslim Preacher)

My aim in this article is to provide some guidelines for giving a khutbah (Islamic sermon). Being a khateeb (also spelled khatib) is perhaps the most honorable position that a Muslim can hold, it’s a fulfillment of part of the mission of the Prophet ﷺ. As Ibn Hilal said “the scholars and imams are the messengers of the Prophet ﷺ.” Therefore, a khatib has an extremely challenging task, and this can easily be proven by examining the experience of some of the Companions on the minbar. When Abu Bakr stood on the minbar he immediately realized who stood there before him decided to move up one step, knowing that the Prophet stood on the very same spot; he felt the heaviness of his weight. The same thing happened with Umar– realizing the status of the two people who stood in the same spot, he decided to move up one more step so he would not be standing where the Prophet ﷺ or Abu Bakr stood. When the third caliph Uthman ibn Affan stood on the minbar he became speechless, weeping for a while, and than he stood up and said, “You  are in need of a just caliph more than a long-winded one, and if I stay in this position you will receive khutbah after khutbah. After hardship Allah will make ease.” Then he sought refuge in Allah and descended. Each of these three unique scenarios illustrates a challenge that every khatib experiences.

Points that are related to the khutbah:

a-      Seriousness about learning. As stated above, the khatib is a messenger of the Prophet. He needs to realize the responsibility on his shoulders and acquire the right tools to make his mission successful. Therefore, the more knowledge the khatib obtains the more effective his khutbah. Remember that the Prophet ﷺ asked Allah to increase him in one thing “O my lord increase me in knowledge.”

b-      Seriousness about increasing his experience through training and halaqahs (study circles) that can help him improves his skills.

c-      Making sure that his method is totally nourished by proofs from the Quran and the sayings of the Prophet ﷺ. “Had it been from anyone other than Allah you will find in it many contradictions, many discrepancies.”

d-     Observing the background of his congregation. It helps to realize that people do not have the same intellectual level, thus making sure that that the khutbah is in a language and style that the average Muslim can comprehend. “We have not sent a messenger expect in the language (lisan) of his people.”

e-      Developing a method that is contemporary to his audience, speaking to people in the context of their day to day life.

f-       Staying away from exaggeration and scenarios that are more of a myth than a reality.

Points that are related to the khatib himself:

1- Truthfulness. Remember all those who stood where you are standing and all the people that will come after you. Be sincere and devotional to Allah in your heart and mission.

2- Desire good for all your brothers and sisters and be the person they can turn to for help and advice. Remember that you don’t live on the minbar all the time; be one of them and know their names and social statuses. The Prophet ﷺ said “I was ordered to treat people according to their statuses.”

3- Be sincere with Allah, Know that this position is the most honorable position on earth; this point is the key to your mission. Allah will not place his sacred knowledge in a sick heart, so act upon your knowledge. Remember the hadith of Aisha: “His character (i.e., the Prophet ﷺ) was the Quran”

4- Physical appearance. Your appearance tells a lot about your personality, and it’s a sign of the respect that you carry to your congregation. As a human being our fitrah, or natural state, is beauty. We love to look at something beautiful; it gives us a sense of comfort and security. “Allah is beautiful and he loves beauty”

5- Equally dividing the attention between members of the congregation; every attendee deserves a share of your attention. Making eye contact with people makes them realize that you are aware of their presence and you are addressing each one personally.

6- Chemistry between your speech and facial expressions, For example, does this statement call for a happy smile, seriousness, sadness?

7- Now this point need not be misunderstood: some people prefer to read their khutbah from a paper. Unfortunately, the problem with that is the distance and disconnection between the khatīb and his audience. Many times while attending khutbahs where the khatib is reading a paper I see many people go to sleep, some look at the time, others read the signs on the walls of the musallah (prayer area). Write your main points on a paper and try to stay connected to your audience. The paper can serve as an advantage or a disadvantage, so know the proper way and time to use it. Not every point in your khutbah requires reading off a paper. Imam Shafi’i said, “My knowledge accompanies me, wherever I go my knowledge follows me, when I am at home my knowledge is at home with me, and when I am in the market my knowledge is in the market.”

8- Realize that there are aspects that are changeable in this religion, what the jurists called “al-thawabit wa al-mutaghayyarat” meaning unchangeable and changeable aspects. This is a point that tends to be ignored by many khatibs; in fact in Islam there are more aspects that change than those that stay the same. A look at the method of the Prophet ﷺ shows that in many instances when a person comes to ask what is the best Islam, the Prophet ﷺ responded by saying that “Islam is to feed the hungry, and spread peace among those whom you know and those whom you don’t know.” In another instance the Prophet’s ﷺ response is merely stating the five pillars of Islam. Another interesting example is when Hakim ibn Khuzam was reciting Surat al Furqan in his prayer and Umar heard him reciting it in a different way. He complained to the Prophet ﷺ who made it clear to Umar that this Quran was revealed in different dialects (lisan).  One last example regarding this point is that many times individuals from certain tribes would come and recite the Quran to the Prophet ﷺ in their unique dialects and he ﷺ approved of their recitation. The only aspects that we all agree upon are the unchangeable ones for example (five pillars of practice, six articles of faith).

9- The fiqh of disagreement. Disagreement is not as bad as some of us make it.  The detested disagreement is basically the consequence of it, not necessarily due to the disagreement itself.

10- Hukm, or ruling, changes according to purpose (niyya), time, circumstance, person, and place.

May Allah increase us in knowledge.

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Compiled by Sidi Ahmed Veknach and shared with his permission.

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