Every Friday Prayer I am used to go to two Masjids where I feel comfortable in terms of Khotba (Oration) and Salah. What I usually seek for in a Friday Prayer is a lesson that “sticks in my mind” and that I can reflect upon as I connect it to life . At least this is one of the intended learning outcomes of Friday Prayers, to strengthen Muslims’ faith by offering advice, casting a new knowledge about Islam that many would otherwise would be oblivious, or reminding Muslims of issues that they might have forgotten due to their daily work and commitments. Last Friday however, I went to a new Masjid upon my friend’s suggestion. Regrettably, I went out of that Friday Prayer with only one lesson: In a learning setting, human capacity is enormously superior to the the institutional facility.
As I stepped into Masjid Al Rahma, I felt a sudden but salient surge of wholeness due to the magnificent structure and only honed by the great scent. As I was early for the Friday Prayer time, I had a chance to look around and contemplate the grandeur of the structure. Everywhere I looked, I could not but notice the preponderance of the grand white walls ornamented with oceanic blue Quranic Scriptures that were competently and meticulously engraved by perhaps an Arabic and Islamic calligraphy veteran. The symmetry of the oceanic calligraphy on the walls produced yet another feeling of being caught in a maelstrom of positive energy emitted by the elucidating Words of Allah all around the Masjid. Three of the monolithic 6-meter-high walls included massive windows that permitted natural light which only served to amplify the sense of spirituality. I was amazed by the quantity of natural light present in the room, and I have consciously compared it with the many other artificially lit Masjids that gave me an “eye sore upon an eye sore”. To a Jeddah resident, these unnaturally lit Msjids stood in sheer paradox with the all-year sunny Saudi Arabian environment. The windows at Masjid Al Rahma were adorned with translucent patterns and exquisite designs that mitigated the intensity of the incoming light but elevated its lineament as it radiated on the prostrating prayers and as it animated the ceremonious walls and the blue carpet meadow.
These blue carpets of meadow accentuated the sanctity of the place, providing an unwavering sea of incense that prolifically infused with their surrounding. And I just lingered there tantalized by the synergy of the Masjid’s constituents, the walls, the calligraphy, the windows, the blue carpets, the incense, and the projected chandelier worked together to transmit any visitor to the world of spirituality, the world of harmony, and symmetry. I maintained this wonder whilst reading the Quran until it was time for Friday Prayer. I was so exhilarated and expectant because I just knew that the final and most important component, the Khatib, the orator, the Sheikh, the only human aspect of all constituent, will certainly maximize the effect of the Masjid on me. And I thought to myself that I would definitely go there every Friday. That was until, I heard him speak!!!
At the first instance I heard the Khatib speak out, my mind subconsciously contrasted his thin, dull voice with the warm, inviting place. In the first 30 seconds or so, I have made up my mind about him. He was disconnected with the audience, he did not speak to but at us. He seemed in haste, his words flowing over each other. He didn’t give time for us to contemplate a particular grave concept and let our minds absorb it, he did not use any anaphora, intentional repetition of phrases or words, to emphasize a point, and he certainly did not connect with us on any level.
The whole oration, sermon, lasted only 10 min. but these were enough to morph my utmost admiration of the commodious place into a mere feeling of confinement within my thoughts: I had to get out of here and fast, or he had to end his oration and fast, or else I don’t know how I might act, were my thoughts towards the end of his speech.
You consider see me as exaggerating, but believe me it is not. The first proof of this was that 90 seconds after the prayer was over 90% of the people were outside. Were they doing their prayer because they were obliged to, fathers, sons, and grandparents? or was it that they felt the same way I did?
I did my best to focus on his speech, learn as much as I could from him, for after all I wanted it to be a weekly learning experience. I failed to do that for I could not follow up with his rushing words, his concepts and ideas that he got as bits and pieces that were magically put together as an incongruous amalgamation of words to deliver. I gradually felt, close to the end of the first 5 minutes of his speech, that the vast room is closing on me, that the “maelstrom of great words around the room” are conspiring with the now raging sea of carpets to engulf me with cognitive and psychological torture.
After the speech was over, the prayer ensued with his ever irritating voice and Quran Recitation. Again, you strongly feel that he is in a haste, rushing his words, abruptly stopping or speeding up. We all had the same feeling of the whole experience. For as I pointed out above, the instant the prayer was over many were rushing out the gates, as if he threatened them of another speech if you do not scurry out !!!
I stayed there as long as I could, not because I liked it , but for two things: to observe how people were reacting to the whole thing, and to wait until the old feeling of spirituality might descend back on me after it was subsided when the Khatib started his failed attempt to influence us.
A Teacher’s Perspective
We teachers have one role, to sell ideas. Many teachers are not aware of it, and many others might refuse it, but this is what we do, we are salesmen, we sell our students ideas. We try to influence our students into accepting a fact, doing an assignment, paying attention to their studies, loving their learning, and being consistently motivated. The most important factor that students’, and any person as well, would be influenced by as we address them in the classroom or out, is telling facts or communicating ideas through stories that are relevant to their lives. This is where the Khatib has failed miserably and I believe that this is where all orators in all Masjids should be working on, telling stories.
For thousands of years, we are hard wired to listen to stories, our internal brain tells us to pay attention because a particular story might have relevance to our lives. This must be the case for the Friday Speech and should be more evident than in schools for in a Masjid includes all colors of people, from the educated to the illiterate, from ages 4 till people in their 80s that one needs to connect with and influence. Not an easy feat! The Holy Quran has numerous stories to help us connect with the moral of the the story, to “make it stick”. The Khatib should do just that, to narrate a story from our lives, not necessarily true mind you, a scenario perhaps, then connect it to a story during Prophet Muhammed’s (PBUH) time and then emphasize the underlying concept behind it, link it to Quran and Sunnah. Only then will the audience interact, only then will the audience learn, and only then will I and the rest of the audience go back home remembering the story, remembering the lesson, and looking forward till the next Friday.
I used to take my five-year old son with me on Friday Prayers, but I did not do that on that particular day. I am glad I did not because this would’ve given him the wrong message : Friday Prayers are boring.
What about you, have you had a close situation as I did?