Preachers, what’s it all about? [Archives:2003/637/Culture]

May 26 2003

Bassam Jamil
It's magic alright, but not the one through which you enchant people; it's the magic that varies between sleeping spells and boredom doses. Sometimes it makes people want to scream of agony. What are we talking about? It's mosque preachers! Some scare you to running and leaving the mosque, and some bore you death that you would not know what, who, why and where.
Such a sorry state most of the preachers in Yemen are. Their mission originally was a very noble and important one, yet with their inadequacy and disinterest in becoming better they deteriorated until they reached their miserable state today. There are exceptions but they are quite a few. What is it all about? Let's hear what they say:

Sleeping Spell
Mr. Fouad Dahaba preacher of Ammar Bin Yaser Mosque says a mosque preacher is an integrated part of the society where he lives. They share reciprocal influence in both direct and indirect ways. So if you were to judge by the illiteracy rate in Yemen where around 70% of the people don't read nor write, and if you were to realize how inefficient the awareness and educational services are, whatsoever, then it would not be a surprise that many of mosque preachers do not live up to the required standards, for they reflect their society.
Yet, if you were to judge by the illiteracy rate in Yemen where around 70% of the people don't read nor write, and if you were to realize how inefficient the awareness and educational services are, whatsoever, then it would not be a surprise that many of the mosque preachers do not live up to the required standards, for they reflect their society.
However, there are a few really good preachers, although they are the exception. In most Friday prayers you are given a sleeping dose by force and invariably you find yourself dozing off as if under a spell. If not put you to sleep then he kills you with boredom as it seems they are reading from a book.
It's the state's responsibility to ensure good qualifications of preachers and to provide adequate training for them. Al-Awqaf ministry should exert more efforts to establish efficient programs in order to rehabilitate mosque preachers, and not allow them to be swayed to political conflicts, forgetting the main reason why they are there.

Part of the people's reality
Imam and Preacher of Al-Shaif Mosque Qadhi Murshid Al-Azzani replied when he was asked what he thought about mosque preaching: “It's an art; in fact mass communication was one of the oldest practices in the Arab history where they used to stand before the crowds and deliver speeches that moved the audience. It's the art of using words, yet unfortunately quite dimensioning today and only few masters it.”
As to how a preacher should build his knowledge, he said that with continuous reading and discussing with others, it's not the talent alone that makes a preacher good. He has to relate to the people's lives and to the reality he lives in. He must connect with the people so as to reflect their present.
When comparing Yemeni preachers to those in the Arab world he said that the variance is because of the level of education in the society as a whole. “A preacher must prepare his speech well in advance before delivering it and he must choose a relevant topic to the current circumstances and compose a well structured speech supported by references. He should know how to get in touch with the crowd and how to make them interested in what he is saying. Yet he should be very careful not to bring up sensitivities between people and not to humiliate any particular group, he must not be biased and should be wise enough to reach for all segments of the society. If he does not do that, not only will he not do good to the society, in fact he will do it harm!” he said.

Immaturity and narrow vision
Deputy Minister of Al-Awqaf Ministry for guidance and preaching Shiekh Hamood Al-Sa'di sees that the problem resides in those preachers who view their job as narrating a cassette or a book without really understanding it and relating it to the people. All in addition to the wrong charging that and bias they are filled with and so intentionally or unintentionally convey to the people.
As to the ministry's responsibility he said that it is concerned with rehabilitation and training of preachers for good performance and how to convey required information to the public. The ministry organizes 4 courses every year each in a district where around 60 preachers participate. This in addition to the higher institute for guidance and preaching which receives 80 male students and 50 female students every year. It provides a 2-year diploma and a 4-year degree, the syllabus are set by a committee of scientists and religious scholars outside the country, although they are currently looking into canceling the diploma.
“We also provide scholarships to Al-Azhar in Egypt and we used to send 25 students to Saddam Islamic University every year, mind you the latter has strong religious syllabus and not what many wrongly assume. We are not like other ministries in some Islamic countries, who monitor the Friday preaches and punish any individual effort, we allow freedom of speech and liberty in preaching.” He said.
When asked about the angles the ministry focuses on, sheikh Al-Sa'di said: “We focus on three angles; scientific which is concerned with the material that is conveyed, technical which is concerned with the mechanism and the method through which the material is conveyed, and moral which is concerned with the topics and the sensitivities of some issues, i.e. what to talk about and what to leave.”
What about politics? Answering this he got a little annoyed as he said: “I do not wish to get into such details, we can't say that Islah Party is ruling the scene although I admit that it does dominate a few areas, and the GPC others and so on. This is no position to talk about who dominates and where, mosques are not a place for bargaining and political competition”.

Stuck in the minor details and forgetting the essence
Engineer Sheikh Abdullah Sa'atar member of the supreme body at the Islah Party and preacher at Islah Mosque indicated that the general awareness does not give the preacher any political, historical and\or social knowledge. And the religious side still requires more originality and needs bases to be set right. It is most unnerving that most preachers get stuck in topics that are so minor with relevance to the critical issues. For example there are many materials and books about washing and hardly anything about ruling and law, how to elect a ruler and what to do in case of his mistakes etc
He replied to how to classify a preacher: “There are three aspects one has to see in order to judge him: general knowledge, ability to connect with legal religious proof and freedom that allows space for speaking without fear for one's life or job.” He also criticized those who name and mention bodies in the societies, because this causes sensitivities. “Those preachers should be educated and start thinking for them instead of just being an echo for what they hear,” he commented. As to if Islah is controlling the religious scene he said that this is dangerous talk and has no basis at all. He said that mosques should not be used as a political battlefield. There is so much to rectify in the society, preachers should engage in constructive things and not waste time in nonsense, he added.

Al-Awqaf Ministry good for nothing and always gets adrift with tide
Wadhah Al-Jabzi of Abdullah Bin Masood Mosque said that most preachers who are in charge of mosques unfortunately are not adequate, for they hardly know anything of the Qur'an and religious laws and they have no ability to think in terms of present life and reality. Yes, there are some good ones but they are only a few.
Most of the people who go to perform Friday's prayers end up sleeping or day-dreaming. Some of the preachers in fact start off their speech shouting and end up shouting, you would think that you are the enemy. I have heard many religious queries asking if their prayer is accepted although they slept during the 's. This proves that the preacher was utterly boring.
What about Salafi-inclined preachers? He replied that they generally have strong religious knowledge but very less intellectual knowledge and general education. Perhaps this is the reason why they did not spread like Al-Ikhwan movement in Egypt; the society could not give in to a fanatic religious movement so easily.
As to what he thought about the Awqf Ministry he said: “Al-Awqaf ministry does not perform its responsibilities at all. It does not conduct courses and conference and we don't hear about any of its activities. And if it does, then it only calls for selected people and the same repeated names.” As to why the situation of preachers is as what it is, he said: “Because they are selected according to what the ministry wants and not what the religion says or what the society needs. It's become a chaotic thing and anyone who studied two years, knows some Qura'an and wears the religious head-gear is called Imam and made in charge of a mosque or so.”
The solution to this he said was to organize preaching courses for the main scholars not just a few days but 5 months or more. And to activate the mosque study sessions and discussion rounds. The ministry also should start distributing free booklets and cassettes, to invite Sheikhs on TV, to supervise and control mosques activities and to only put in charge those who deserve it. Media should also play its vital role in this aspect he added.

No Politics
Mr. Rashad Al-Salmi, Abubkr Al-Sideeq Mosque's preacher views levels of preachers according to their educational and intellectual levels. Yet he concluded that most are below the required level and that preacher is not only about religion, he should be a well rounded person and should especially master the art of mass communication. He should be able to attract people's attention and convince the public. The ministry should encourage preachers to continue their education and to educate themselves more.

What a Preacher should be
((He who wants to preach should be fluent and confident, enjoys wit and intellect. He should have a loud voice and a sharp mind. He should be interested and eager, ready and sensitive to people and people's issues.
He should abstain from arrogance and show off, should be respectable and respects the place he is in, highly regarded and trustworthy. He should be creative enough to be able to capture hearts and attention. He should be always searching and learning more.
He should be precise and stern yet, at the same time should have mercy and connect with people and their issues. He should want the good for all and seek benefit for the society always.)) – Copied from: Faisal Al-Salmi, “Preachers' Mistakes”