Monday,24 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1125, 6 - 12 December 2012
Monday,24 September, 2018
Issue 1125, 6 - 12 December 2012

Ahram Weekly

Preaching for unity

Mosques are a place of unity not divisions, writes Gamal Qotb

Al-Ahram Weekly

Angry worshippers were infuriated last week during the Friday prayers joined by the president, after the mosque’s preacher defended the president’s actions, comparing them with incidents in the life of the Prophet Mohamed. The congregants interrupted the sermon and chanted anti-Morsi slogans.

The mosque, or masjid in Arabic, is also referred to as a gamei, or a place of congregation. It is a place where people go to seek solace and unity, not to experience angst and division. The weekly congregation of Islam takes place on Friday, or gomaa, another word that denotes addition and accord, not subtraction and discord.
Have you ever seen a mosque in which those who seek entry are quizzed about their identity and beliefs before they get in? Have you ever heard of a mosque that is designated specifically for the followers of one doctrine, and from which followers of other doctrines are barred?
A mosque is an egalitarian place, a place in which the believers seek union with God as well as their co-religionists. It is a place of inclusion and acceptance, not difference and discrimination.
Mosques are Houses of God, and in a House of God, by definition, everyone is welcome. Indeed, non-Muslims are allowed, so that they may learn more about Islam, its rituals, and its community. This is why one doesn’t see doors or barriers inside a mosque, but only an open courtyard, roofed or unroofed.
Once in the mosque, you are part of an open space. The openness is part of the invitation, and the lack of barriers is part of the faith. The openness says that everyone is welcomed, that the rituals are transparent and the ideals are accessible. There is nothing to hide, what you see is what you get.
The ideals of Islam are simple. They are recited in prayers, explained from the pulpit, and — in modern times — disseminated through the media. The core message of these principles is unmistakable: follow the path of righteousness and seek communion with your co-religionists — for the betterment of all.
The concept of the mosque is inclusive. Mosques are open to men, women, and children and to people of all levels of income, status and intellect.
This is why preachers should speak in a language that is accessible to all, and offer advice that is acceptable to all. It is not right for the preacher to advocate a doctrinal vision that may cause discord in the community of believers. Muslim scholars of old advised preachers who may lean towards one doctrine to avoid referring to their doctrine of preference when speaking to a congregation espousing another doctrine.
The preacher is there to help members of the community feel at one with God and each other. If he sows discord among them, if he implants doubt in their minds, if he turns some of them against the rest, then he is failing his duty.
On Fridays, the congregation of Muslims reassert their faith in the one God and the intrinsic unity of mankind. They go to the mosque to celebrate life as well as rejoice in the divine bonds that come with it. Therefore, anything that is preached from the pulpit of a mosque must be inspired by the words of God and Prophet Mohamed. The wording of the sermon should be accessible and comprehensible to all. The message should be one of unity and sympathy. And any practical advice should help the community pay attention to their needs while caring for their family, friends and neighbours.
The sermon is often delivered through loudspeakers, which means that it is heard by people outside the mosque, by passersby and neighbours, among them are followers of other religions. Therefore, the core message of the sermon should emphasise the universality of Islam, the ideals that could help not only Muslims, but also non-Muslims. If a sermon alienates non-Muslims, then the preacher is failing to deliver the core message of Islam.
The Quran states clearly that mosques are meant to unite and reconcile, not to divide and alienate:
“As for those who put up a mosque by way of harming and disbelief, and to disunite the believers, and as an outpost for those who warred against Allah and His Messenger, they will indeed swear that their intention is nothing but good. Allah bears witness that they are certainly liars. Never stand you therein. Verily, the mosque whose foundation was laid from the first day on piety is more worthy that you stand therein. In it are men who love to clean and to purify themselves. And Allah loves those who make themselves clean and pure.”
(Al-Tawba: 107,108)
Furthermore, the Quran instructs the believers to use the kindest of words when they address the followers of other religions, for the path of God is one of graciousness, not rudeness.
“Invite (people) to the Way of your Lord with wisdom and fair preaching, and argue with them in a way that is better. Truly, your Lord knows best who has gone astray from His Path, and He is the Best Aware of those who are guided.”
(Al-Nahl: 125)

The writer is an Islamic scholar and former head of Al-Azhar Fatwa Council.

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