Top 10 Terrible Khutbahs (and what I learned from them)

 

The Khateeb's killing it this Friday! ...Literally.

The Khateeb’s killing it this Friday! …Literally.

Every Friday morning, Muslims with a Y chromosome (and a bunch with two X’s) around the globe get ready for their weekly trip to the Masjid for a sermon, or “khutbah” as we call it. For some, it’s a wonderful opportunity to get a much-needed inspiration-boost and “imaan-rush” to last until next week… …and for most, it’s a wonderful opportunity to catch a nap while in an awkward sitting position, or find new fascination with pocket lint or wayward strings jutting out of our clothes, or even discover how pretty the masjid carpet designs are.

It’s rather unfortunate to admit that for many, jummu’ah has become an utterly mundane routine every Friday as we shuffle into the Masjid, find a comfy spot to perch, and then space out for half-an-hour while waiting for the “aqimus-salaah” – the clarion call that seems to jolt majority of the crowd back to life again.

I’ve begun “hifz-ul-carpet-design,” where I spend every Jummu’ah memorizing the carpet patterns

What was the khutbah even about? I guess something to do with Islam or sunnah. I dunno. And who gave it? Some generic bearded Imam guy. Be honest- after the jummu’ah salaah ends, you tend to forget the entire point and message of the khutbah, don’t you? And I can guarantee you that if you ask any guy right now what the khutbah topic was last week or even the week prior, you’d be hard-pressed to find even a handful of people who can vaguely remember, let alone offer any lessons or take-home messages.

While there’s certainly some blame to toss at the typical attendee for being so disinterested and disengaged, an overwhelming responsibility rests on the khateeb for ensuring that his congregation actually listens and more importantly, remembers his words. And that’s where this list comes in. From my own personal experience both as a khateeb and as an avid attendee (it’s kinda obligatory), this is Muslim Medicine’s Top 10 Ranking of Terrible Khutbahs, hand-picked from actual experiences.

 

10 – The Khateeb Who Can’t Speak English

I remember attending a khutbah in a Masjid that pours the “back-home” culture on a little too thick, and much to my expectations, the khutbah was delivered in 5% Arabic and 95% Urdu, with zero English. Now this would be perfect if I was in Pakistan, but last I checked, I was in New York. And I walked out of that khutbah with a wonderful 45-minute urdu immersion lesson courtesy of the Rosetta-Stone khateeb, and just like my fellow attendees: the convert, the army of morally-crumbling religiously-bankrupt high schoolers, and the unfortunate traveling Arabs who happened to stop by, we all left that Masjid understanding nothing.

What I learned:We have not sent any Messenger except with the language of his people so he can make things clear to them” [14:4]. I think there’s an example in there somewhere for khateebs to apply to their audiences…?

 

9 – Professor Shaykh Dr. Khateeb, PhD

Oh man, this one was just torture. There’s only one thing I remember, and it was the painful realization that I wasn’t attending jummu’ah, I was attending this khateeb’s grad-school level course lecture on the inner machinations of the fiqh of zakat. It had such mind-numbing technicalities and intricate fiqhi rulings that I was completely lost, and I’m positive the entire congregation was just as perplexed. The khateeb’s monotone Ben Stein voice made it even worse, so even the one student of knowledge in the audience capable of understanding this was probably put to sleep.

What I learned: Just like most of my college lectures, I walked out of there wondering if I was even in the right class. Khutbahs aren’t meant to be delivered from textbooks using Powerpoint presentations, they’re meant to be simple reminders for average folks.

 

8 – The Anesthesiologist

I call this khateeb the “Anesthesiologist” because I’m fairly certain that surgeons play his khutbah recordings in Operating Rooms to induce unconsciousness in patients. I don’t know how this khateeb preps himself before his khutbahs- does he swallow a bottle of nyquil, or inject elephant tranquilizers into his neck and then stand at the minbar?

Whatever he does, his voice, energy, delivery, and gusto are so incredibly dull and monotone that whatever message he’s giving to the audience is completely lost since half of them are asleep or passing in and out of consciousness. When “aqimus-salaah” is finally uttered at the end of all the boring droning, its like someone popped a balloon or something because the entire audience seems to look around with wild confusion as they wake up from their deep slumber.

What I learned: If you’re neither energetic nor passionate about delivering your khutbah, why should I as your audience member bother to receive your message? This is one of the most basic lessons of public-speaking 101.

 

7 – Hopelessly Confused Khateeb

At first the khutbah seems to start off well, but the more you listen, the more confused you get as the khateeb throws in random ayat and ahadith and pulls lessons and morals seemingly out of thin air, while coming to illogical conclusions that don’t seem to fit in with the overall flow of the khutbah. The end result is a cacophonous disjointed mutant-khutbah that doesn’t drive home any particular message and leaves the entire audience scratching their heads.

I remember one particular khutbah I attended where the khateeb began with the usual ABC’s and 123’s of “be a good Muslim” and “make sure you pray,” and then all of a sudden went into a rant about polygamous marriages, then threw some jabs at homosexuality, and then wrapped up his franken-khutbah with Muslim youth getting thrown into prisons. I mean don’t get me wrong, I actually clearly remember this khutbah, but for all the wrong reasons.

What I learned: Come on. Whether it’s done out of a sheer lack of preparation, or the khateeb is just making up his khutbah as he goes along, this is an unprofessional way to deliver a sermon. When your audience forgets your message, but remembers the Titanic Hindenburg that was your delivery, you know your khutbah was a flop.

 

6 – Law-Abiding Khateeb

This khutbah is a bit rare since most khateebs are sensitive to their audiences and cooperative with the MSA or Masjid Boards that invite them, but once in a blue moon you get to witness a khutbah that’s been distilled into a pure, unfiltered rant. Whether it’s a personal vendetta or something (or someone) who wronged the khateeb, this guy will make sure that his grievances are made clear by using the khutbah as his weapon of retaliation.

I remember a khutbah where the khateeb took aim at the Masjid Board itself and like Liam Neeson facing down Albanian kidnappers, took down the entire group with a serious vengeance. It was like watching an episode of The Office and seeing an angry Muslim Micheal Scott lambaste the very people who invited him to come speak, and it was incredibly uncomfortable and awkward to witness. Now granted, I didn’t have a clue as to what happened behind the scenes or whether or not such criticism was even justified to begin with, but one thing was for sure- that khateeb was definitely NEVER going to be invited back to this masjid again (and he most likely knew it), so I guess he decided to go down fighting.

What I learned: Imam Shafi’i (rahimullah) said: “To admonish your brother in private is to advise him and improve him. But to admonish him publicly is to disgrace and shame him.” It’s a sad sad day when you see the khutbah itself being used as a tool of the khateeb- a “bully pulpit” if you will- for him to viciously use against people, places, ideas, or perspectives that he personally disagrees with. I attend khutbahs to find peace, remembrance, and inspiration- not to be force-fed the khateeb’s own vendettas.

 

5 – Def Jam Jummu’ah feat. Wiz Khateeba

Unlike their elder counterparts, younger khateebs are excellent for delivering khutbahs to their own age group in high school and college MSAs. Their knowledge base may not be as extensive as shuyookh or imams, but they have an uncanny ability to derive pertinent life lessons from Kanye West lyrics, NBA player trades, or Assassin’s Creed cut-scenes.

To this day, I still clearly remember a fellow student in our MSA delivering a khutbah about Muslims bumping and grinding in the club. Yes, you read that right. Bumping and grinding in the club. It was one of the most bizarre yet entertaining khutbahs that I’ve ever listened to, and I guess it was ironic considering that the Muslims who were probably clubbing the night before most likely weren’t there the morning after to listen to his khutbah. But hey… you never know.

What I learned: despite poking fun at younger khateebs, it goes without saying that there is such an incredible potential in a lot of them to grow and develop into strong public speakers and youth advocates, if they’re just given a chance. It’s a shame that Masajid and Islamic Centers continue to recycle the same tired old khateebs over and over again without giving any opportunities for younger khateebs to step up. Perhaps instead of dismissing our youth all the time, we should make an effort to cultivate them.

 

4 – KHATEEB ANGRY! KHATEEB SMASH!

I don’t know who spat in this khateeb’s cereal, or who cut him off in traffic, or if he’s just a self-loathing Mets fan, but this guy clearly has anger issues, and rather than go to a therapist to vent his frustration, he takes to the minbar instead. Now don’t get me wrong, sometimes a good verbal kick in the rear is just what a community might need to get itself back on track, but like many other things in Islam, everything comes in moderation. 

Maybe its just me, but khutbah topics about jinns, the dajjal, or the last days are pretty scary stuff, and when you have the Incredible Hulk delivering these topics, the result strikes more fear in the hearts of men than opening up an Eid gift and seeing the complete Twilight Blu-ray Disc collection. Anger in a khutbah can be creatively channeled at just the right time to elicit powerful reactions and really strike home a message, but when the entire khutbah is a volcano of fiery rage spewing fury into the faces of the audience from beginning to end, that’s what I’d call emotional overkill. 

What I learned: Khutbahs shouldn’t leave adults cowering and kids whimpering in fear, and there shouldn’t be a mad rush to the bathroom after the khutbah ends so that everyone can make wudu again and put on a clean pair of pants. Have mercy on the sound system, and mercy on the really young and really old members of the audience who can’t handle these voice tones. Also, spare the congregants and the masjid itself from FBI visits after each furious khutbah.

 

3 – The Dark Lord Sauron

This khateeb commutes to the Masjid from the very pits of Mordor, and fashions his khutbah from the wretched fires of Mt. Doom. Like a Dementor from Azkeban he swoops onto the minbar and sucks the very life and joy out of the entire audience with his fire and brimstone khutbah. Hope you renewed your prescription for prozac, because this sermon comes with an extra helping of severe depression and no hope for salvation. 

Even for Eid khutbahs, the one time where you’d hope the khateeb would make you feel warm and happy, Shaykh Grinch finds it appropriate to remind his congregation on this blessed day that “you got accepted to Hell University, and Shaitan’s your roommate!” It’s the perfect positive feel-good message for converts, struggling Muslims, and visiting non-Muslims.

What I learned: The immaculate wisdom of the Qur’an is that Allah (swt) beautifully couples His warnings about the Fire with His promises of Paradise, and couples descriptions of His punishments with His mercy and blessings so that everything is perfectly balanced. For a khateeb to cherry-pick only the ayat and ahadith that describe condemnation and punishments and completely leave out repentance, mercy, and blessings, is a travesty of negative emotional manipulation that depresses people far more than it “inspires” them to reform.

 

2 – Gandalf the Grey Uncle

Oh man, these khutbahs are just painful. It’s always a hit or miss, and more often than not, for an overwhelming majority of the youth in the audience, these khutbahs are a clear miss. Elder uncles are incredible sources of experience and wisdom, masha’Allah, but there are some that just don’t have the knack for being effective khateebs, at least not for American audiences.

Even when there’s a fantastic message, I usually tend to get sidetracked when the khateeb compares “the internets” to Shaitan’s playground, or suggests that the solution to all of the problems facing the youth are for brothers to go to hifz school and then get scholarships to med school, and for sisters to forget about college, just marry doctors, and send their kids to madrassas so they can grow beards as long as telephone poles. I don’t know what kind of fantasy utopia that is, but it’s as practical and feasible as organizing a Muslim-led Gangnam Style flash mob at Fajr time.

What I learned: Between the thick accent, the mistrust of newfangled technology, the old-school back-home mentality, and an utter misunderstanding of American culture these khutbahs really highlight the sheer generational and cultural gap between the immigrant and 1st generation communities. Every jummu’ah becomes a reminder of just how badly the Masjid board and the khateeb roster are missing their mark on addressing serious and relevant issues in their communities.

 

1 – WWE’s Friday Afternoon Smackdown

Hope you brought some popcorn and managed to grab a front row seat, because these are the khutbahs that are notoriously remembered for years. Usually jummu’ah khutbahs are a one-man show- just the khateeb speaking. But when controversy strikes, or when the audience gets rowdy or offended and tensions start to build, suddenly player two grabs a controller, hits start and “There’s a New Challenger!” gets announced as a brave soul interrupts the sermon to offer a challenge to the khateeb.

And that’s when jummu’ah becomes an episode of Dragonball Z. Ridiculously trivial masjid fights are nothing new, but when they happen at jummu’ah, the entire community gets to witness the ugliness of our ummah as the khateeb fights his own audience members. Perhaps damage control wouldn’t be as bad if it were just limited to a public war of words and egos, but seeing as how the concepts of tahdhib and akhlaaq (manners and etiquette) are nearly extinguished in our day and age, it’s shameful to admit that stories of fist-fights and actual physical violence following khutbahs are hideous moments that some masajid try their hardest to sweep under the rug.

What I’ve learned: Regardless of whether it’s the khateeb’s fault or the audience member’s, nothing is more saddening than sitting and watching a khutbah turn into such a disgraceful display. Ultimately, it isn’t just the khateeb who loses face, its the entire community.

 

I’m aware that all these anecdotal examples paint a pretty bad picture of jummu’ah, but for every terrible khutbah that I’ve listened to, there have been numerous ones that have truly touched my heart and given my imaan the shake-up that it so desperately needs.

The jummu’ah khutbah is a legacy of our ummah established by the beloved Prophet (saws), and to stand at the minbar as a khateeb is to carry that legacy and assume the responsibility of reminding the community of their faith and purpose by aspiring to the same beauty, eloquence, passion, and strength that the Rasul (saws) himself channeled during his sermons.

There’s no denying that you and I have forgotten majority of the jummu’ah khutbahs that we’ve listened to during our lifetime. But there’s no doubt in my mind that like me, you’ve attended at least one jummu’ah where your heart was filled with remembrance, your mind enlightened with haqq, your body filled with renewed vigor, your eyes welling with tears, and your imaan cleansed of impurity. Those are the blessed khateebs whose knowledge and eloquence of speech is a gift from Allah (swt), and those are the jummu’ah khutbahs that we don’t ever forget.

In the words of Shaykh Abdul Nasir Jangda, one of the shuyoookh who taught me how to give khutbahs:

“If you want to reach the hearts of the people, give your heart as a khateeb.”