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Towards purposeful preaching

In Islam, the primary aim of preaching is to disseminate the message of religion. Teaching the fundamentals, principles, and teachings of Islam that are enshrined in the Quran and Hadith comes under the purview of preaching. Islam encourages preaching and ordains us all to pass around its word.
Abdullah ibn Amr (R.A) reported that Prophet Muhammad (SAAW) said, “Convey from me, even a single verse.” (Sahih al-Bukhari 3461).
The Quran also guides us about preaching and says, ‘Invite to the way of your Lord with wisdom and good instruction, and argue with them in a way that is best. (Surah Nahl 16:125)’.
Throughout the history of Islam, great scholars who left an indelible mark through their oratory emerged from time to time. And they have been remarkable contributors to spreading Islamic teachings. Our elders witnessed fine scholars and orators who delivered their services credibly. They left the existential world, but their intriguing, scholaristic, and knowledgeable speeches still exist in the memory of their audiences.
Even at present, there is no dearth of well-learned, earnest, and eloquent speakers who aspire to educate the masses and be the fulcrum for change. But there is also no doubt that, with growing sluggishness; inept, half-read, unwise, and short-sighted people have positioned themselves as preachers. Many of them, through their communication skills, enchant listeners and become sort of ‘intellectuals’ for them. Another category of orators stokes controversies every other day to gain titles of gallantry from their zealous aficionados. Both of these have one thing in common: they don’t propagate what they are meant to; rather, they preach what suits their taste and what adds to the number of their followers. Most of them don’t read much and are far away from conducting research on the fundamentals of Islam.
Not to mention making sermon notes, which is nowadays considered a flaw, they do not plan a topic to speak on. Thus, they often beat around the bush. Most of their speeches are impromptu. Conclusively, most of the time, they touch on a number of topics in a single session. After spending hours without reaching any point, they eventually conclude with the appealing excuse that “time was insufficient.” Except for some gullible and nearly illiterate listeners, they leave the majority clueless about their subject of discussion. Some speakers readily cram and deliver ready-made speeches marketed in the form of books.
Some of them are efficient at copying, reproducing, and repeating the lectures of other scholars verbatim. Social media has relatively eased their task. Fresh opinions that can cater to the needs never transpire from their sermons.
Since the educated masses now have access to a lot more information, they know what is happening around them. The elders who lived in the era of genuine scholars of their times also understand what is being fed to them. They find these speeches nothing less than platitudes and cliches. Again, only a credulous lot, which sadly composes our majority, is entrapped and influenced.
The clerics are also known to create their own cult or lobby and bring the entire Masjid administration under their control. As the cleric becomes a honcho, making the administration rally behind him, he becomes sovereign and can move on as per his choice. This absolves him of all responsibilities towards society, as he is able to sell whatever he likes.
It is also true that sometimes administration influences clerics and dictates what they should preach. This is also one of the recognized factors that have halted the flow of required and meaningful information. And, ultimately, it has reduced preaching to a ‘profession without a goal’. The clerics, being trendsetters and holding repute and clout even now, can’t escape the blame, however. The first priority should be religion and the public, not the administration of a particular place.
Concerned people have now become averse to their arid sermons. They do not like the trend at all but are not able to speak out against it. Thus, many of our Masajid remain half-empty even on Fridays. Some get filled once prayers are started because people prefer to skip sermons. With this, the charm of mosques has faded away in most places. This is not about the liking of people, jam-packing, or charm of Masajid alone; in fact, the change that sermons must usher doesn’t appear and is not seen on the ground.
Since no will for the redressal of existing and pressing issues is shown by these clerics, the people, especially youth, are frequently becoming estranged from religious education, and correspondingly, issues like drug abuse, violence, immorality, corruption, etc. are showing an upward trend. Generation Z, which is much more advanced and sensitive to global challenges, feels that religion has no role in the problem-solving process. With this notion, they too show aversion to religion and religious scriptures.
By not getting substantial information about their topics of interest and answers to their queries, they are sometimes ensnared by other ‘wrong or undesirable’ ideologies. In the subcontinent, although we celebrate the reversion of people to Islam, we miss the point that youngsters are also repudiating the religion fast. In the present times, atheism is an emerging challenge, and it is mainly a product of this careless and unskilled strategy of preachers, both online and offline. Factually, our Masajid are no longer the seats of wisdom and knowledge. They are no longer problem-solving centers. Their contribution to the community has been reduced to a minimum.
Interestingly, J&K Waqf Board had launched an initiative to induct only qualified preachers for the job of preaching, but it appears that the process has been stalled for reasons unknown. It was a great initiative and could have made a difference. Having said that, it is not the role of the board only; every conscious citizen must come forward to change the status quo.
Educated people, who know the highways and byways of Islamic knowledge and preaching, must ensure that a deserving preacher is in place to satisfy the needs of the hour. Stirring up controversies, opposing and repudiating others’ opinions, and insisting people practice a particular version of Islam is tantamount to destroying the universality of Islam. It is an utter disservice, and a cleric should bear this fact in mind. If a person has been granted a portfolio of leading people, representing them, and to be ‘Naib-e-Rasool’ (SAAW), then principles, ethics, and standard operating procedures of preaching must be in his mind and sight. Prophet Muhammad (SAAW), his companions, and other classical scholars must be his role models. This will certainly ensure the promotion of religion in the best way and may be conducive to much-needed change.

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