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KHUTBAH. An address called a khutbah is delivered by a khatib (orator), usually in a masjid (mosque), during the Friday service, celebration of religious festivals, or on other occasions. According to Bernard Lewis (The Arabs in History, London, 1966, p. 135), among the preIslamic Arabs the khatib is often mentioned along with the sha’ir, or poet; both had prominent positions in the Arab tribes. In flawless language they extolled the glories of their own tribe while exposing the weaknesses of their adversaries.

According to S. D. Goitein (Studies in Islamic History and Institutions, Leiden, 1966), before the Prophet migrated to Medina the Muslim community did not hold Friday services in Mecca. As the Muslim community grew larger in Medina, it became necessary to designate a time when all the members could congregate in the mosque so that the Prophet could meet with them regularly. Thus prayer on Friday at noon was made obligatory for every free adult male Muslim. The Prophet, and eventually his successors-the caliphs and provincial governors-became imams or leaders of the collective worship, which took place in the chief mosque of the city. Some sort of address was made at the gathering, which was identified as a political community. The significance of the mosque gathering was embodied in the minbar (pulpit), an elevated structure from which the khutbah is delivered, following the precedent of Muhammad. The minbar gradually became a kind of throne used on official occasions by state dignitaries. In his inauguration ceremony the caliph would ascend the minbar, receiving the homage of the community, and deliver a khutbah. In the provinces the governors stood in the same relation to the central mosque as did the caliph in the capital: they too made their formal entry into office by ascending the minbar and delivering a khutbah.

There also developed a custom that the enemies of the ruler and his party be cursed from the minbar. Along with this tradition there emerged the practice of bestowing a blessing on the ruler in whose name the Friday khutbah was delivered. The khutbah was also used for defending policies, stirring public emotion, or disseminating propaganda.

During the `Abbasid period (750-1258 CE) the expansion of the Islamic domain and the preoccupation of the caliphs with ceremonials and traditions of the Persian monarchy prevented officials from delivering the khutbah personally. Instead, a man learned in religious matters was appointed to the position of khatib.

From an early period there also emerged, besides the official preacher or khatib, another type of orator who reminded the congregation of their religious duties with stories. The term used for these preachers was qass (storyteller). As discussed by Johannes Pedersen (“The Criticism of Islamic Preacher,” in Die Welt des Islam 2 [1953] 215-231), the difference between the khatib and the qass was that the former was the representative of the head of the Muslim community. His speech was bound to special forms and, early in Islam, had a political character. Along with this differentiation, there developed a distinct separation between the khatib and the qass owing to the informal interpretations of the Qur’an and the traditions by the latter. C. E. Bosworth reports (The Medieval Islamic Underworld, Leiden, 1976, pp. 27-28) that the lower fringe of this profession gradually merged with the underworld and some popular preachers were also suspected of playing the role of political agents. Some of the more established and better-known of these preachers were very influential, and their followers were prepared to defend them against any authority.

Furthermore, after Muhammad, people without institutional support, had entirely on their own given themselves over to the study of religion. Gradually scholars in each locality grouped themselves into exclusive bodies, each adhering to a common method and a common body of law under the name of a great teacher. These scholars studied, commented on religious matters, and became involved in legal and community affairs as judges, administrators, and teachers. Thus they gained social and religious leadership of the masses, who turned to them rather than to the caliphs for religious instruction and moral guidance.

With the expansion of Islam, the appearance of imperial caliphal administration, the emergence of the popular preachers, and the development of independent religious authorities, the mosque became less an instrument of polity and more a place for religious practice. The khutbah, which in earlier days was pronounced by the sovereign himself or his governors and generals and dealt with political, military, and other state affairs, became less important. It gradually became more of a religious service or sermon with the dwindling of the political function of the mosque.

Nonetheless, the political character of the mosque never entirely disappeared. Utterance of prayers for the ruler during the khutbah remained one of the recognized tokens of sovereignty in Islam; its omission was a signal of revolt. The political character of the mosque had also been retained in another sense. In the case of a major crisis or community dissatisfaction, members flocked to the mosque to discuss the problem or seek remedy. Throughout the history of Islam the mosque has been the center of numerous uprisings, revolts, and social movements, often led from the minbar. In this respect, the role of the minbar in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is especially notable during periods of unrest precipitated by Western incursion into Islamic territory.

Colonization of Muslim lands and the increasing political and commercial influence of the Christian West shocked Muslim leaders. In response they were divided into three groups: the traditionalists believed that Islam would eventually be triumphant; the modernists sought salvation through uncritical imitation of the West; and the moderates thought that a freer use of human reason in reinterpreting traditional Islamic ideas would remedy the situation. Some moderate users of the minbar in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries tried to introduce borrowed ideas and institutions to Muslims via a reinterpretation of traditional Islamic teachings. Although some intellectuals have been reluctant to admit this novel function of the khutbah and minbar as agents of social change, some devout Muslim social scientists of today openly recommend it.

The experience of colonialism motivated widespread use of the minbar in anti-colonial movements. Shah `Abd al -`Aziz (1746-1824), a well-known religious leader, issued a fatwa declaring all land under British occupation to be dar al-harb or the territory of the ene mies of Islam. Through his preaching from the minbars of two chief mosques in Delhi, he maintained contact with the masses and disseminated his anticolonial views. [See the biography of ‘Abd al-`Aziz.]

In 1890 Nasir al-Din Shah of Iran granted a concession to a British subject for the control and sale of tobacco. The indigenous tobacco growers and merchants opposed the idea and sought assistance from the religious leaders, who were also unhappy about the influence of the Christians in the country. When the shah persisted, a fatwd proclaimed from the minbar banning the use of tobacco was unanimously accepted throughout the country. The shah was forced to cancel the concession in 1891. Fourteen years later the conflict between a group of religious leaders and the state was an important factor in the development of the constitutional movement in Iran. The alliance between the reformists and these religious leaders helped develop a truly national movement in which the minbar played a significant role.

Philip Hitti (History of the Arabs, London, 1958, p. 267), emphasized that the chief or congregational mosque has always been more than a building for devotion. He further noted that “in recent years the principal outbreaks against European authority in Syria and Egypt have had their inception in the Friday mosque meetings.” Although Hitti does not directly discuss the role of the minbar in these meetings, the following cases leave no doubt about the involvement of the minbar in the struggle against colonialism.

In “The Origins of Arab Nationalism in Algeria,” (Islamic Culture 46 [1972]: 285-292), Dennis Walker writes that the French colonial authorities in Algeria were so disturbed by the unrest generated by religious leaders at every point of their contact with the masses that these leaders were barred from the country’s mosques, which the colonial authorities had always tightly controlled. The Prefect of Algiers, in a 1933 circular that has remained famous to this day, refused the reformist religious leaders entry to the mosque on the ground that they were rousing the people.

In 1912 Morocco became a protectorate of France. As reported by Asghar Fathi (“The Social and Political Functions of the Mosque in the Muslim Community,” Islamic Culture 58 [1984]: 189-199), most of the religious leaders believed in resistance to France and the defense of Islam. Some advocated the adoption of new practices, including changes in the archaic format of the Friday khutbah in the mosque for more effective communication of political ideas. The fact that the Arabic press was under the control of French authorities made this reform more urgent. The fusion of state and religion in early Islam and the role of the ruler as both temporal and spiritual leader was also revived. Muhammad V (1927-1961) claimed descent from the Prophet, and as spiritual leader of the people led the prayer of the assembly on Fridays and pronounced khutbahs in the mosque. The French authorities, who were aware of the anti-French character of the mosque assemblies, opposed this practice and sought ways to prevent the ruler from entering the mosque. They often restricted public access to the mosques in times of unrest; sometimes the army occupied the mosques or drove out the assembly forcibly.

In Shi i Iran the split between the state and the religious leaders had turned the latter into a natural opposition party, but in the Sunni Ottoman Empire the sultan was considered both the caliph (successor to the Prophet) and the head of state. The tradition of state intervention in religious affairs has continued up to the present in Egypt, once part of the Ottoman Empire. According to Asghar Fathi (“Communication and Tradition in Revolution: The Role of the Islamic Pulpit,” Journal of Communication 29 [1979]: 102-106), after World War I some religious leaders in Egypt began to criticize the dull and outdated khutbahs that ignored contemporary problems. As a result of this movement the Friday khutbah was revitalized and restored as a channel of political communication, as it had been in early Islam.

After abolishing the monarchy in 1952, the new regime in Egypt recognized that Islam remained the widest and most -effective basis for consensus both within Egypt and among Arabs more generally. Therefore, in 1968 it proclaimed that the mosque, state, and community would be closely associated under government guidance. In practice this meant not only that opposition parties such as the Muslim Brotherhood were barred from the mosque, but also that the content of the Friday khutbah was under strict control. Egyptian preachers were directed by the state to amalgamate socialism, nationalism, and industrial development with the tenets of Islam. The new regime had already revived the symbolic fusion of state and religion in Islam. For example, during the invasion of Egypt by England, France, and Israel in 1956, Gamal Abdel Nasser as president of the republic performed the Friday prayer of the assembly in al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo on 2 and 9 November; he then ascended the minbar and delivered orations similar to other fiery speeches he gave during this national crisis.

King Muhammad of Morocco and President Nasser of Egypt used the khutbah to promote modernist policies in the garb of “true Islamic traditions”; by contrast, Abdur Rauf, a Pakistani social scientist, has openly recommended the Friday khutbah as an instrument for social change and for transforming traditional lifestyles (“A Mosque-Centered Rural Development Plan,” Islamic Education 6 [1973]: 26-36). Rauf has suggested that a mass movement for the development of rural life in Pakistan could be extensively and effectively implemented through the Friday khutbah, which should be made more simple in language and more relevant to the daily problems of the rural population. He argues that the problems of apathy, ignorance, ill health, and low productivity can be effectively solved with the help of communication via the minbar, backed by such measures as a well-planned training program for mosque leaders and promotion of the attendance of women and children at the Friday prayers. Unlike the Moroccan and Egyptian governments’ use of the mosque, in the Pakistani case the religious assembly in the mosque is not confined to political communication. Rauf implies that with creative planning and imaginative use, the Friday khutbah could compete with the cinema, radio, television, and novels, which some believe promote harmful alien cultural values and deviant standards of behavior.

The cases discussed above point to the revival of the political and social functions of the khutbah and other orations from the minbar. In the case of Iran, because of the split between the state and the religious leaders, the minbar had increasingly become a rallying point against the government since the turn of the century. In the cases of Morocco and Egypt, with the revival of the fusion of state and religion the governments have consistently used the khutbah to their own advantage. For instance, in Egypt recently the mosque has become an arm of the government and not infrequently has been used as an instrument for the legitimization of government programs. The attention of Muslim intellectuals to indigenous institutions such as the khutbah as means of establishing rural community development programs, and the minbar as a medium of public communication combating the allegedly harmful effects of modern mass media, is exemplified by the Pakistani case.

Thus during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries the khutbah and the minbar have increasingly become a medium of political communication through which users try to promote various causes. At the same time some Muslim intellectuals, as cultural brokers, also hope that by these means they can maintain an accommodation between the traditional way of life in their communities and the influence of an ever-shrinking world.

[See also Mosque, articles on Historical Development and The Mosque in Politics.]


Antoun, Richard. Muslim Preacher in the Modern World: A J ordanian Case Study in Comparative Perspective. Princeton, 1989. Anthropological study of the relationship between a rural community and its preacher who, through his Friday khutbahs, functions as a mediator between the forces of change and indigenous ways.

Borthwick, Bruce M. “The Islamic Sermon as a Channel of Political Communication.” Middle East Journal 21.3 (1967): 299-313. Based on the author’s 1965 doctoral thesis, this article deals with the renewal of the political function of the khutbah in Syria, Jordan, and Egypt.

Fathi, Asghar. “Preachers as Substitutes for Mass Media: The Case of Iran, 1905-1909.” In Towards a Modern Iran, edited by Elie Kedourie and Sylvia G. Haim, pp. 169-184. London, 1980. Demonstrates the important role played by the pulpit in disseminating opposing views during the Iranian Constitutional Revolution.

Fathi, Asghar. “The Islamic Pulpit as a Medium of Political Communication.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 20.2 (1981): 163-172. Compares the Islamic pulpit with the modern media of public communication from a sociological perspective.

Ibn al-JawzI, Abu al-Faraj `Abd al-Rahman ibn `All. Kitab al-Qussds wa-al-Mudhakkirin. Translated and edited by Merlin L. Swartz. Beirut, 1971. Study of the khutbah and khatib in the late ‘Abbasid period, including their political use. The translated book also contains what would today be called a code of ethics for Muslim preachers.

Pedersen, Johannes. “Khatib.” In Encyclopaedia of Islam, vol. 4, pp. 1109-1111. Leiden, 1960-.

Pedersen, Johannes, et al. “Minbar.” In Encyclopaedia of Islam, vol. 7, pp. 73-8o. Leiden, 1960-.

Pellat, Charles. “Kass.” In Encyclopaedia of Islam, vol. 4, pp. 733735. Leiden, 1960-.

Samb, A. “Masdjid.” In Encyclopaedia of Islam, vol. 6, pp. 644-707. Leiden, 1960-.

Wensinck, A. J. “Khutba.” In Encyclopaedia of Islam, vol. 5, pp. 7475. Leiden, 1960-.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/khutbah/

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