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.
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.