The above lecture is from “A Prophetic Model for Islamic Chaplaincy,” an event hosted by the Muslim Chaplaincy of the University of Toronto on January 1, 2014. Dr. Mattson’s lecture provides an insightful look at how Muslims have historically addressed the needs of the community as they have arisen. She is introduced by the University of Toronto’s Muslim Chaplain, Amjad Tarsin.
Some beneficial points derived from the lecture:
“The real genius of Islamic civilization has been the ability of Muslims to make a realistic assessment of their surroundings and then develop programs and structures and institutions that can meet the need of those surroundings.” For example, the minaret, the dome, and the ijāza were all responses to needs assessed within the community.
“One of the challenges of our time is to have a realistic assessment of the situation in which we live… [which] is rapidly changing.” “[And, if ] there is one aspect of society today, of the world today, it’s that we live in a time of great dislocation. People are constantly being dislocated either by economic necessity, for family reasons, or being forced because of war or because of not having enough of the basics.”
Think, as well, of college students traveling away from their family, of patients in a hospital, those in prison, jail, or in the military…
Chaplains care for individuals who have been displaced, who or are in transition; for whatever reason that may be. Chaplains help to nurture a sense of community and belonging amidst transition and dislocation.
For more about Ingrid Mattson, PhD, visit her website.
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.
To continue the conversation about youth at risk, and how imams and Muslim chaplains can respond, I asked my dear friend Sh. Jamaal Diwan to offer a reflection on the points raised in my article “What Happened to Ahmad: Responding to Muslim Youth at Risk.” The following is his insightful response:
Since I was asked to write about this topic from the perspective of a student of Shari’a, I would like to begin my comments with some reflections on the role of the imam in America and then work from there towards my thoughts on the relationship between chaplains and imams.
Generally, the imam is looked to as the leader of his community and the source of guidance for his congregation. In America this is no different and requires the presence of certain traits in the ideal imam. From these traits are things such as the following: having a strong training in and knowledge of the traditional Islamic sciences; understanding the people and culture that he is serving; speaking English fluently; knowing how to deal with people, empowering and motivating them; being aware of the major trends in society and cultivating the ability to address them from the perspective of Islam; having a spirit of humility, self-sacrifice, and servitude; and so on.
I recognize that it is very rare to find all of these traits in one imam, but it does represent an ideal that we as a community should strive towards. It is of note here that from the previous description, it is necessarily a part of the imam’s role in the community for him to engage in pastoral services at some level. However, that does not mean that this is what the imam is usually primarily trained in nor does it mean that it is the best place for the imam to spend large quantities of his time. In many of our communities we find that imams are busy in a never-ending flow of counseling sessions that wear them out spiritually, emotionally, and mentally. This has the devastating effect of taking them away from the crucial roles of religious instruction, guidance, and their own personal studies. We face many challenges and imams that do not have the chance to even review things that they learned in their studies, let alone increase their knowledge, will find themselves incapable of addressing these challenges and come up short in providing thought and guidance for the people.
“Ibrahim,” he asked, “can you speak with me?” Ahmad*, 19, was a young Muslim man struggling with peer pressure at his community college to drink and engage in sexual activity. I was not the imam, nor was I a chaplain at this time, but I could see in his eyes that he was desperately seeking some good advice and someone who would listen to him. While Ahmad came from a practicing Muslim home, he did not feel comfortable speaking to them about the peer pressures he faced. He confessed to me that he had been giving in to them and knew that what he was doing was wrong. Though he had wanted to seek help for some time from his local imam, he worried that the most the imam would tell him was that what he was doing is ḥarām. Ahmad also felt the imam, who had been raised in another country, would not understand the pressures of growing up in an American society. He wanted to speak to someone who, he felt, would understand the pressures he faced and not simply offer a legal verdict.
I was sitting in the library preparing for class when the director of our Islamic chaplaincy program walked in with a worried look. He informed us that someone had requested a Muslim chaplain from our school to attend to a patient in the intensive care unit; and he was looking for volunteers.
I had never attended to a person in a hospital before as a chaplain– only as a son– and I did not know just how to proceed. However, I was interested in helping. I asked one of the fellow students who had more experience than I if he would go with me; and a third volunteered. Part of me was nervous, while I was scrolling through my mind and heart to find everything that I might say or do to help the family that called us to their aid.
Speaking to incarcerated individuals can be very challenging. Their interests and culture are particular to a prison life which the chaplain does not live. However, as chaplains we have to try our best to speak not just for the sake of fulfilling the obligation of Jumu’ah prayer, but also make it mean something to those we leave inside.
It is not just the content of the sermon, but also how the speaker conveys his words. It is even critical how you handle yourself before and after the sermon as I have felt constantly “sized up.” One Friday I was severely tested.
After the sermon I sat to give a short halaqah; something I hoped could be of benefit since the brothers had very limited access to Islamic knowledge. However, before we even began, something set off one of the inmates into a verbal assault against me. For almost half an hour I dealt with the brother. I had to walk a thin line demonstrating that I could defend myself verbally without provoking the inmate into a physical response. It was a difficult time and I felt like I was being tested for my “toughness”. Last Friday I returned to the same group to try Jumu’ah again and something very interesting happened.