x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

The Ali Column: Why the khutbah can be for everyone

The positive values of the Khutbah, the sermon held by the Imam before every Friday prayer

There is something that has been on my mind lately and I think now is a good time to talk about it: the importance of understanding the language of the Khutbah, the sermon held by the Imam before every Friday prayer.

Not everyone knows this, but the Khutbah has always been a strong source of mediation as well as education, because this was how certain Islamic issues were regularly addressed with the Muslim community.

Each Khutbah provided advice on how to deal with issues on a daily basis. At the same time, this meant listening to it wholeheartedly and engaging in conversations about the Khutbah afterwards so that everyone was able to understand it and spread the word of God. Similar to the preaching that is delivered every Sunday in a Christian church, there is always a great message behind it that requires understanding.

After speaking to some of my East Asian friends, they've shared with me some of the challenges they face when attending these Khutbas at our mosques here in the UAE and complain they haven't understood a word of them.

Based on my research after conducting interviews with people working in various ministries and immigration departments, there are more than two million Muslim worshippers who don't understand the Khutbah due to language barriers.

We have a lot of labourers and people who come from East Asian countries who would generally pray at the mosques and, of course during the Friday prayers. And if Arabic is a language barrier for a minority of Muslims, this can complicate matters and create disunity among the Muslim community.

When taking this debate into the UAE context, one can observe two positions. On the one hand, there are many Muslims in the Arabian Gulf region who argue that the Khutbah must only be in Arabic. Why? Because first of all, the UAE is a Muslim country with Arabic being the official language and secondly, Arabic is the language of the Holy Quran.

However, in the UAE there are Khutbahs in English, Hindi or Urdu. And whenever this is the case, then this shows how much our country actually gives an effort to meet the needs of its diverse population.

When it comes to mosques in non-Muslim societies, the situation is quite different. As Muslims we need to recognise the positive value of the Khutbah, not only towards God but also in terms of how it brings the community together. Another positive effect is that the more we encourage our fellow Muslim expats to learn Arabic, the more we will feel close to each other as brothers and sisters in Islam, as we are supposed to.

After all, isn't the tolerance of the mixture of languages and cultures one of the most beautiful things that Islam encourages us to do? Sooner or later, we will have more Khutbahs given in languages other than Arabic here.

As a Muslim, Arabic will always be the main language of the Islamic faith but adding other languages can be a great advantage especially if we care about making our religion more inviting for non-Muslims who want to know more about it.