x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Dubai looks to improve Friday sermons

The emirate is aiming to make the sermons more relevant by reviewing its recruitment procedure for imams.

Mohammed Tamim says imams need to be able to present their speeches more creatively.
Mohammed Tamim says imams need to be able to present their speeches more creatively.

DUBAI // The emirate is aiming to make Friday sermons more relevant by reviewing its recruitment procedure for imams. Under plans being studied by the Department of Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities, a greater emphasis would be placed on the training and education of imams, with particular regard being paid to their knowledge of the Quran. The measures are aimed at improving the performance of the emirate's more than 200 imams, particularly during Friday sermons, which have long been a contentious topic after a government decision in 2005 to unify the weekly address. A central committee of experienced khatibs and scholars from all the emirates, operating under the auspices of the General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments, crafts the sermons every month. A copy is then sent to local departments in each emirate and to imams by fax and posted online. The sermons are then delivered to khatibs, who also lead the prayers during the week. Previously, some khatibs were "talking about subjects that could harm society or damage the image of Islam", according to Dr Omar al Khatib, the assistant director general at Dubai's Department of Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities. "Some of the topics discussed were political topics that inflamed people's feelings," he said. However, the Government acknowledges that there are some drawbacks to the system. Some people argue that the system encourages lacklustre performances by khatibs who just read out their sermons word by word. Dubai has already taken some steps to tackle the problem. Last year, all the emirate's khatibs were evaluated and placed into three categories. Those in the first category had to read the official sermon word for word. Those in the second had only to adhere to the main talking points. Those in the third group, which consisted of a handful of university professors and experienced khatibs, were simply given the title of the sermon. Dubai will repeat the evaluations this year, while in all other emirates, the sermon must be read word for word. For some worshippers, these measures do not go far enough. Mohammed Tamim, 28, a Lebanese deputy manager at an oil company in the capital, said the Friday sermons had lost their relevance. "I used to go to a mosque for Dr Omar Abdul Kafi, a renowned Muslim scholar, preacher and TV personality," he said. "After the prayer he used to continue the sermon. He would tell the people, 'whoever has to leave can leave', but I used to stay and everybody used to stay because his speeches were very relevant to everyday life and inspirational." Mr Tamim no longer attends sermons. Dr Mohammed Hassan, the head of Sharia studies at the Salman al Farsi mosque in Dubai and a former khatib at the mosque, said his own sermons were often inspired by people he met at the mosque. "I did not need to go out to the street because the community was coming to me with their concerns. Once I noticed that divorce was growing and [as] many had the potential to divorce, I spoke about how it could be prevented." He said that while unified sermons allowed imams to be more relevant to their community and stopped imams going "overboard with the topic", imams varied widely in their performance and this discouraged worshippers from attending. "Some khatibs would wake up at 10am, print the sermon, put it in their pockets and go to the prayers," Dr al Khatib said. "The incentive to increase their knowledge was buried or limited." The Government hopes to make the sermons more topical, especially when they coincide with global events such as Labour Day or Earth Day. Mr Tamim remains sceptical. He said: "The speeches should be improved, it is not wrong to have a common topic, but the way the imam presents the speech should be creative. He shouldn't read out from a paper. Why don't they choose nice topics about situations we face as Muslims every day?" kshaheen@thenational.ae * With additional reporting by Haneen Dajani