Saturday, August 27, 2005

Our Preachers in the 21st Century

Dr. Khaled Batarfi,

Traveling thousands of miles, a man once carried a question from the city of Kufa in Iraq to Madinah. This was during the Umayyad era. On arrival, he wouldn’t rest before meeting one of the greatest scholars of his time, Alhasan bin Sereen. The question was: Does the mosquito blood invalidate wudhu (pre-prayer wash)?
The scholar was astonished: Can you believe these people? They kill the Prophet’s grandson Al-Hussein and worry about the blood of a mosquito!
This is exactly the trouble with religious extremists, then and now. They are like the fishnet of the law.
It tends to catch crabs and let the sharks get away. They may get concerned about a mosquito’s blood, but not the blood of river they caused with their illegitimate jihad. They worry about the way a sheep is slaughtered, but not how an innocent hostage’s throat is severed.
They cry foul when a hate preacher is deported from London, but demand prison for a Christian resident for leading a peaceful Sunday prayer in their country. They accuse the Shiites of deviating from the Sunnah “path” of the Prophet (peace be upon him) without following his example in more substantial matters.
Take, for example, the Friday sermon. The Prophet used to give a short, peaceful, nonpolitical one. Many imams, nowadays, give an hour-long of shouting lectures. When I reminded one of the Prophet’s ways, his response was typical: “Muslims today need more enlightenment.”
But what about the old, sick and busy of us? Didn’t the Prophet censure an imam for reading long surahs of the Qur’an in his prayers?
Besides, what can you say in an hour that you cannot summarize in half?
Mostly, it is repetition and mumbling about social decadence, youth’s deviance from the true path, and Zion-Crusaders’ conspiracies.
Don’t we get enough of this stuff from the media to have more in a day of reflection, peace, rest and celebration?
My imam didn’t like what I said, and accused me of being a Western loyalist betraying Islam. Some believed him.
Now, I am not saying we shouldn’t be concerned with such social and political issues. I write about them myself. But to limit our scope to a small number of problems that are symptoms of larger ones, and neglect more pressing issues is not right.
Satellite TV’s obsession with belly dancing and its negative influence on viewers is a valid concern. But the answer is to call for an alternative programming that balances the needs of the here and the hereafter, like that of Almajd, Iqra and Almanar channels, not to outlaw satellite dishes. Our youth needs exciting options, if we are to shut down the seductive ones. Before we prohibit a desirable road, we should provide a reasonable detour.
We should also discuss other important issues, such as domestic violence, women and minority rights, racism, foreigner bashing, political reforms and a host of other social, cultural and economic concerns. Here is more: Our education needs a lot of fixing.
The economy is long in cash flow, short in investment venues. Our nation is young. Most of us are below thirty-five. Many can’t find a place in universities.
Too many are unemployed, untrained and unarmed with modern tools for the increasingly sophisticated, competitive and demanding job market.
While we complain about the presence of seven million expatriates, most of our seven million women are kept at home. They lack proper training, welcoming environment, family encouragement and social support. They can’t study, work, travel or even have urgent surgery without male permission. They can’t even drive.
Just imagine if thousands of enlightened imams discussed such issues at least once a week! Ours is a conservative society, and we listen to our preachers more than intellectuals and teachers.
If we assign good imams from all schools of thought (there are 3000 mosques in Jeddah alone), they could lead the whole nation to a better present and more promising future.
But first, we should review, study and carefully observe the qualifications and attitudes of existing imams, religious educators and preachers. If needed, we should re-educate, reorient and enlighten the willing. Those who insist on their Dark Ages ways should keep their thoughts to themselves.
It is a different world now, and we need different mentalities to cope with its challenges. A system to monitor mosques and imams is already in place, training courses are now available, and the laws to deal with the situation are being enacted. What is urgently needed is for the Ministry of Islamic Affairs to rigorously implement them ... now.

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