The month of Ramadan is less than ten days away and every single mosque in America has already started preparing its congregation for the Muslim month of fasting. Many preachers and imams have used last Friday’s sermon to inspire worshippers to strive to keep their fast, their night vigil prayers, and their Qur’an reading and recitation. Many mosques are planning day long seminars and workshops during the next few days and through the weekend, to help Muslims define their Ramadan goals for this year and maximize the benefits they get out of their fast.
The Friday sermon is an essential element in the Muslim community. It is delivered traditionally by the mosque imam who is in charge of leading his congregation during the five daily prayers, or by any knowledgeable Muslim public speaker who is able to preach a message. While not every mosque in America has a full time imam, a Friday sermon is delivered by a preacher in every mosque. Historically, the Friday sermon has marked the weekly gathering of the Muslim community to remember matters of religion but to also evaluate and solve social issues of that community.
The job of the Friday sermon deliverer is to connect with his audience both socially and spiritually. Thus, he commonly is an individual who talks to the people from the pulpit and reminds his community of the ethical values of Islamic tradition, through the recitation and commentary of the Qur’an and the citation of Hadith (Prophet Muhammad’s sayings.) But satisfying the spiritual thirst of the worshippers is not his only job; he must be able to relate to the community’s social life, he must be knowledgeable of what his congregation is going through while living as American Muslims. He needs to be able to speak to the young and old, the immigrant and the indigenous, men and women, and to every ethnicity and occupation that is represented in that community. In a nut shell, he must touch the hearts of his audience.
The Friday sermon preacher’s job is a challenging one; he has only 30 minutes to deliver his message to his audience and he needs to make an impact that lasts for a whole week. If he aims right, he succeeds, but if he misses, he risks losing his listeners for that week and possibly scaring some worshippers away from the mosque. Thus, he has a responsibility in fulfilling his duty towards his community. His responsibilities include making sure he can deliver the sermon in the clearest and most effective way. His choice of language for delivering the sermon makes his responsibility bigger. If he chooses to speak in English and another language, he needs to make sure he commands the English language and speaks it fluently and without an accent. Otherwise, he will distract his listeners with his mistakes and he will not be taking seriously as a credible speaker. If he chooses to recite Qur’an in Arabic, he better be able to do that in a proper way, by following the rules of tajweed, and by pronouncing the Arabic letters fluently.
Among other responsibilities the sermon preacher has is to respect the audience’s intellect by carefully choosing the content of his sermon. While he needs to have a message, the speaker has to articulate it within a proper frame that transitions smoothly from one point to another. The listeners to the sermon need to be able to realize why each statement is being made and how it relates to the previous and next point. The preacher has to articulate a good narrative with a strong message that is suitable for our culture in Twenty First Century America. Bringing examples from the life of Prophet Muhammad and his companions needs to serve an occasion in the narrative, one that relates to the audience on that specific day. Clearly, delivering a Friday sermon is not an easy job and should never be taken for granted.
Here in Dallas, we continue to sample Friday sermons which have already started addressing the month of Ramadan. And as mentioned above, preachers are using a second tool to mobilize the spiritual state of the community prior to the start of that month. Here are two events happening soon in the Dallas metroplex:
• Preparing for Ramadan: a talk and Q & A session with Imam Yusuf Kavakci on Wednesday July 3rd, at 8:45 pm, at the Islamic Association of North Texas in Richardson
• Sanitize Your Soul: a day-long seminar by Sheikh Omar Suleiman on Saturday July 6th, from 11:00 am till 5:30 pm, at the Islamic Center of Irving in Irving