Today I went for my first Solat Jumaat (Friday Prayers) at Masjid Bulat (officially known as Masjid Tun Abdul Aziz) in Section 14, Petaling Jaya for quite a while. If you ask me to recall what it was about…. ummm, well, the khatib mentioned about characteristics that are desirable in a Muslim, sifat mahmudah, and ummm… yup, that’s the limit of my recall. I did not sleep, mind you, unlike many others around me. But I did not leave the mosque feeling enriched by the sermon.
Yet the khutbah (Friday Sermon) is such a wonderful opportunity to touch so many lives. Many, if not most male Muslims make an effort to attend, and for those who are concerned, one who enters the mosque early gets the most rewards as recorded by the Angels that stand at every door of the mosque until the Imam sits on the pulpit (Sahih Muslim, Book 4, Number 1864). According to Ibn Kathir’s Interpretation of Sural Al-Jumaah, one is prohibited from participating in buying and selling after the first Azan – you can often see in Makkah that all traders shut down prior or upon hearing the Azan. Yes, stop eating dude, the khutbah is starting already!
For the last couple of years, the mosques in Malaysia have started using Powerpoint slides during the khutbah. I have long been an advocate of this – I had thought that a visual presentation would surely be able to combat the sitting slumber that happens during the khatib’s speech. Moreover, many Friday mosques have air-conditioning which adds much comfort for the attendees who otherwise had to contend with the high humidity. Alas, in general, the Sandman’s actions seems even more prevalent and even potentially aided further by the cooler environment. Things do not seem to be improving. So for what it’s worth, I am putting down a wishlist for the weekly Friday khutbah, with the hope that it leads to a much higher level of spiritual efficacy. It is divided into two sections; a wishlist for the attendees, and a another for the khatib and mosque committee.
For Muslims going to Solat Jumaah at the Masjid:
- Friday is an Amazing Day, beyond TGIF (and even in TGIF God is mentioned – if only you were serious about thanking God when you said that). The eight hadeeth before the one mentioned above in Sahih Muslim, Abu Hurairah had reported Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) as saying: “The best day on which the sun has risen is Friday; on it Adam was created, on it he was made to enter Paradise, on it he was expelled from it.” OK maybe the last point wasn’t so positive, but certainly a historic day. Celebrate Friday not just for the weekend that comes after, but for its spiritual significance.
- It’s Dress Up Friday, Dude – it is somewhat remarkable that people dress up to go on an occasion (a party, graduation, official event) but dress down on the Day of Celebration. I have nothing against going casual on the last working day of the week, but when you’re Muslim it shows your state of mind. Your dressing on the day is but a reflection of your God-consciousness, as many hadeeth encourages Muslims to wear their best clothes, put on perfume, and white clothing is encouraged. Personally, I like wearing jubah or thoub on Fridays as it helps me focus on its significance.
- Listen, Don’t Sleep – It’s hard. I know. It helps if you don’t have that Lamb Briyani before Solat Jumaah though. Maybe not today, but during many khutbah I have been able to extract learning gems. One that sticks to my mind is a khutbah at the former ISTAQ building at Jalan Damansara some moons ago, where the khatib used the analogy of luggage, immigration and travelling to ask the listeners to know what provisions they are bringing to the hereafter, and what the Angels would be looking for as one goes through the spiritual customs check. Your luggage would determine your destination. And oh, it was in English.
- Seek to Understand – every Jumaah, maybe target to know a little more of what is being said. For example, the khatib usually starts (and often repeats) with Surah Al-Ahzab 33:56 – you know the one – “Innallahu wamalaikatahi yusollu anannabi…”; “Allah and His Angels send blessings on the Prophet; Oh you who believe! Send your blessings on him and salute him, with all respect”. Now that you understand the meaning, the khutbah would be more interactive and you would give your salams to the Prophet (peace be upon him) right after hearing that verse. Everytime. Every Jumaah, you would learn to know a little bit more about what you read in Solat – and you would get into prayer, not just saying the words and acting the acts.
- Let the State of Solat Linger a Little Longer – Paucity allows for lasting reflection. Do not quickly get up after the second salaam, but just sit there. Enjoin in the du’a, inhale its meaning. Be still. Let the others get up and rush back to the office or restaurant. Breathe in, out, slowly. You had just finished a conversation with your Creator. If you were not moved, you did not really converse – you blabbed, and the result was accelerated evanescence. Poof, and the masjid is just a blur behind you. No. Make it count. Let it linger, and assimilate with your spiritual flesh. Just Be. With. Him.
Then there are things that the khatib and Mosque Administrations could do:
- Make the Masjid a Community Centre – many mosques in the West even have sports facilities – how else would you attract the youth the treat it like a destination? Activities there should not be limited to the religious events, but also ‘normal’ events that brings a community together. It should be kid-friendly (oh so many aren’t – however Masjid Besi in Putrajaya especially during last Ramadhan was a shining beacon in this respect). Also have or retain a proper place for women and facilitate making it easy frontmen to pray Jumaah like in Makkah – over here, during Jumaah the women’s section is more often than not commandeered for the men! Only then would offering Solat Jumaat seem more than a ritualistic exercise – give people more reason to be there, and love being there.
- Make World Issues Mosque Issues too – the poster below is a great effort by Masjid Bulat to conserve water, where so much wastage occurs during wudhu (ablutions). My father had suggested to some masjid before to even recycle the wudhu water to be used for watering the plants within the mosque compounds; sadly, the suggestion was not taken up – such wasted opportunity to demonstrate Muslims’ attitude to this Earth. In addition, the khutbah should also be directed to real-world problems that affect the community. As mentioned by my friend Reza Ali earlier on FB, why doesn’t the khatib emphasise the lowering of the gaze of men, rather than just asking women to cover their aurat. Economics, Green Living, Respect for All, Care of Animals, Being good to Fellow Man should all be topics for khutbah.
- Choose Polymath Imams – Islamic Scholars of yonder used to be multi-disciplinary men of learning who were as comfortable to converse about philosophy and sociology as they were hadeeth and Quranic interpretations. Encourage and sponsor bright students to study Theology and Islamic Sciences, whilst developing their more ‘secular’ knowledge so that they can make and give informed religious opinions. I would place Ustaz Hasrizal of saifulislam.com in such a category – and he has a wonderful writing and presentation style in both Malay and English
- Enhance Visual Storytelling – the Powerpoint slides that are shown should not be a mere teleprompter for the khatib and reading fodder for the makmum; the masjid should have graphic designers turn the text into visual storytelling experiences that enhance the message to be conveyed, as well as using storytelling techniques (pacing, storyline, significant and memorable punchline and takeaways so that the khutbah then transcends the masjid’s space and time). I believe it is worthwhile to invest in more screens that could be temporary for the Jumaah Prayers installed – think of the creativity of Mamak Restaurants.
- Engage the Community, Address Concerns – know and understand what the surrounding community requires, and address them. Work with them, regardless of race and creed, social standing, language etc. A mosque helps ALL. And talks about these issues and galvanise the community to address them in the khutbah. Now, that would be impactful, meaningful. And the mosque would really matter once again.