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In Saudi Arabia, imams need to focus on sermons – not loudspeakers

Friday sermons are not news broadcasts

Khaled Almaeena

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Last week, two news items about imams of mosques caught my eye. One was a remark by Ahmad Jeelan of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs who stated the khateeb or preacher should view Friday sermons as a social responsibility. They should observe the undesirable trends in our society and try to correct or remove them.

Jeelan also stressed the need for preachers and imams to be properly trained, and they should listen to members of society.

The second news item was a call to imams by the undersecretary of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs Dr. Taufiq Al-Sudairy. He urged them not to focus on conflicts and political developments in the world, saying that Friday sermons are not news broadcasts.

It is an encouraging sign that high officials are not oblivious of their responsibilities to society and speak their minds when such interventions are a must.

Friday sermons are not news broadcasts

Khaled Almaeena

I believe that a large number of imams and khateebs (preachers) in Saudi Arabia are not qualified, intellectually or theologically, for the tasks they are performing. They, in addition, want to force their own views on others — forgetting about the other mazahibs (sects) in Islam.

I have noticed some people coming to mosques only a few minutes before the Friday prayers. They miss Friday sermons. Latecomers include the young and old. Why so late, I asked some. Their reply did not surprise me. The Friday sermons, they said, are becoming monotonous and dull. Some are too lengthy.

These imams, some told me, harp on the same old things. They seem to be unaware of the problems afflicting our society.

How I wish the imams talked of the need for people to follow rules. Observing rules and regulations is the best way for us to express our love for our country. I would be happy if the imams focused on the Islamic view of voluntary work, good neighborliness, cleanliness and safety. Their sermons should help heal the wounds in our society and contribute to national cohesion.

Focus on dialogue, not criticism

I wish the imams drew the worshippers' attention to the dangers of extremism and inculcated in them the qualities of tolerance and openness. The focus should be on dialogue. They should not be critical of other beliefs.

How I wish the imams told the young and old of how kind the Prophet (peace be upon him) was to the weak, vulnerable and dispossessed in society. He said: “The best among you is he who is best to his womenfolk.”

But most of our imams waste their time and energy on trivial issues or irrelevant things. It is as though they are carried away by the mere sight of loudspeakers in mosques. They are more concerned with how to raise the volume of the loudspeakers oblivious to the fact that the pitched decibel only serves to give headache and ringing eardrums to the worshipers inside the mosque.

They are intent on silencing the voice coming from the nearby mosque. They shout rather than talk. At times you can hear the echoes of their scream within the mosque. A visitor from a European country after performing his Friday prayers asks, why do Imams here shout so much? I leave the answer for the readers.

They brazenly ignore the directives of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs regarding loudspeakers, which are to be used only to announce azan (call to prayer).

The young children and the old, some of them sick, have to suffer because of them. Even though they realize the fact that their raised voice could affect some, they do not make an effort to modulate their voice. There is no trace of compassion in them.

Just imagine how annoying it would be if loudspeakers in five mosques, all within walking distance of each other, in a neighborhood starts blaring simultaneously.

So instead of focusing on pushing their voices to be heard I suggest they deliver well-balanced sermons that tell us how we can improve our society and live as good Muslims. As long as they fail to fulfill this role, they are not discharging their duty to their society and nation.

This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette on January 18, 2015.

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Khaled Almaeena is a veteran Saudi journalist, commentator, businessman and the editor-at-large of the Saudi Gazette. Almaeena has held a broad range of positions in Saudi media for over thirty years, including CEO of a PR firm, Saudi Television news anchor, talk show host, radio announcer, lecturer and journalist. As a journalist, Almaeena has represented Saudi media at Arab summits in Baghdad, Morocco and elsewhere. In 1990, he was one of four journalists to cover the historic resumption of diplomatic ties between Saudi Arabia and Russia. He also traveled to China as part of this diplomatic mission. Almaeena's political and social columns appear regularly in Gulf News, Asharq al-Aswat, al-Eqtisadiah, Arab News, Times of Oman, Asian Age and The China Post. He can be reached at kalmaeena@saudigazette.com.sa and followed on Twitter: @KhaledAlmaeena

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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