Millions don't understand a word of Friday sermon

The khutbah is used to preach about Islamic issues during Friday prayer. (FILE)

Muslim expatriates in the Gulf say there are few mosques that deliver Friday sermons (khutbah) in their languages.

In Saudi they say all mosques deliver the khutbah in Arabic.

"The whole point of a sermon is to understand and spread the word of Allah, but it seems no one cares enough to delve into the matter. People repeat verses or utter 'Ameen' without understanding what is being said. It has become a formality that they just want to get over with. That is not the purpose or way of preaching Islam," Indian expatriate Hannah told Arab News.

The khutbah is used to preach about Islamic issues during Friday prayer. The expatriate population in Saudi Arabia was 8.4 million as of August 2010, compared to 18.7 million Saudis, according to General Statistics Department of the Ministry of Economy and Planning.

“Most expatriates do not understand or speak Arabic. No one thinks about these 8.4 million people who are hampered by language barriers. We all want to learn about Islam, the difference is no one wants to walk that extra mile and help us to connect with society,” Indian expatriate Hussein told Arab News.

“At the time of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), mosques used to be full of knowledgeable and meaningful debates about Islam. The purpose of the khutbah is defeated because most of us do not understand a word but we go (to the mosque) because we are obliged to.”

Other countries in the Middle East where Arabic is the first language have mosques that deliver Friday sermons in English. Shaista, a Pakistani national, said: "When I lived in Dubai, our whole family and children would make it a ritual duty to go to the mosque where the khutbah was delivered in English every Friday. It was enlightening and taught us so much more about Islam."

Middle Eastern society experienced profound changes in the 19th century due to the impact of European expansion. In time, ideas about politics changed as technology advanced and a diverse culture was introduced.

Mixed marriages and foreign minds began to infiltrate Arab society.

Bangladeshis, Indians, Indonesians, Pakistanis, Filipinos and Africans started to make their presence felt in the labor force. However, Arabic is not the first language of any of these nationalities. English is a common second language spoken by nurses, assistants and salesmen in contrast to Arabic.

“Society should cater to others’ needs and instill a sense of unity at the mosque, as the purpose of religion is to come together to share the same beliefs and follow them. It is unfair to hear talk about equality and brotherhood at the khutbah when none of the brothers cares to ensure his expatriate brothers even understand what is being said. Islam is not limited to one language,” said Mohammed, a Filipino.

Lubna, a local Saudi said: “We all know the best way to preach Islam is through compassionate dialogue. If the Arabic khutbah has been going on for centuries, we must adapt it to our culture so our Muslim brothers and sisters in the country can also follow the message of Islam.”

Young male expatriates told Arab News most of them do not understand the khutbah but nevertheless attend the Friday prayer because it is an Islamic duty.

“Even though we don’t understand a word, I make sure I go to listen to the khutbah because it’s obligatory and I do not want to miss out on the rewards from Allah. There is no choice. If there was a choice of a few mosques where they deliver the khutbah in Urdu, then it would be up to us to go,” Indian expatriate Faisal said.

Saira, an Indian expatriate, said: “We have a lot of non-Muslim friends who would be interested in listening to the words of Islam. However, they are rather stumped by the fact that we do not have access to a sermon in our language and I wish we had a few mosques specifically for us so even if women hear the sermons at home through loudspeakers, they will gather so much more knowledge and wisdom about."

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