How To Survive (and Then Benefit From) a Boring Khutbah


3861244814_df05f591cb_bWe are sitting in the masjid. Front row, clean clothes on, ready to hear something that will inspire us, teach us, and give us gems of spiritual wisdom gleaned from the mountain of Prophethood. Our hearts fill with hope that today will be the day that a young, vibrant and dynamic speaker, or a wise, seasoned, and knowledgeable scholar will step up and deliver the message that our hearts so desperately yearn to hear.

A man steps up with a jumble of papers in his hand. He begins.

Speaking? No…Reading. Verbatim.

In an accent that makes us wonder if it was Arabic we just heard or an ancient form of Na’vi, “Today, we are going to learn about faith.”

The first fifteen minutes will be spent on telling you that iman means faith, belief.
The second ten will be spent telling you that you need more of it.
The last five will tell you that you suck for not having enough.

Your hopes are dashed almost immediately as you realize that there is no dynamic speaker or scholar today – but there is someone who is about to read to you the teacher’s notes from what might possibly be a second grade Sunday school class at the local masjid.

What will we do? First, we must understand that the purpose of the Friday khutbah is to remind, exhort, inspire, and engage the community on the spiritual, social, moral, ethical, philosophical, cultural, and political issues which affect it – and draw it all back to loving, serving, and glorifying God and improving the human condition. When the khutbah at any given masjid absolutely fails to do this on a long-term basis, we MUST bring it up to the management of the masjid in a polite, gentle, and eager manner. We cannot sit and complain if we are too lazy to advise and offer alternatives.

But on the actual day that we are delivered a khutbah which does not engage us, we still have a good alternative (excluding falling asleep or playing with our phones) – and that is to engage the khutbah ourselves.

First, we must learn to listen humbly to the khutbah. Then…we can actively engage it and have a good and productive time!

Part I: Points to Consider in Listening to the Khutbah

1. We worship Allah – we do not worship the spiritual high that may sometimes come with worshiping Allah. Often times, we are blessed with incredible feelings of profundity, awe, and grateful servitude when worshiping Our Creator. These feelings and states are mentioned in virtually all the books of tazkiyyah (purifying the soul). However, we should always strive to worship our Lord whether that feeling comes in a prayer or not, whether the khutbah is intellectually and spiritually stimulating, or not. The worship is to obey Allah’s command, not to chase a spiritual or intellectual high. One of the greatest mistakes of the saalik (one seeking spiritual closeness to God), is to focus on the spiritual high, and not on the worship itself. If the spiritual high ever falters, he begins to doubt his worship and may even become lazy in it. He has made his goal the feeling, not the actual act of obedience and submission to Allah.

So we should remind ourselves that just being in the masjid and listening to the sermon, is by itself a blessed opportunity to worship God and follow the Sunnah of His Prophet (saw).

2. We must be humble in what we think we know when we think we’ve heard something similar.

Shaykh Abdul Fattah Abu Ghuddah (may Allah have Mercy upon him) wrote:

“If a person started telling you or your group something that you know very well, you should pretend as if you do not know it. Do not rush to reveal your knowledge or to interfere with the speech. Instead, show your attention and concentration. The honorable follower Imam ‘Ata ibn Abi Rabah said: ‘A young man would tell me something that I may have heard before he was born. Nevertheless, I listen to him as if I have never heard it before.’

Khalid bin Safwan Al-Tamimi, who was with the two caliphs Omar bin Abdul Aziz; and Hisham bin Abdul Malik, said: ‘If a person tells you something you have heard before, or news that you already learned, do not interrupt him or her to exhibit your knowledge to those present. This is a rude and ill manner.’ The honorable Imam ‘Abdullah bin Wahab Al-Qurashi Al-Masri, a companion of Imam Malik, Al-Laith bin Sa’d, and Al-Thawri, said: ‘Sometimes a person would tell me a story that I have heard before his parents had wed. Yet I listen as if I have never heard it before.’”

Al-Hafiz Al-Khatib Al-Baghdadi said in a poem:

“A talk never interrupt
Though you know it in and out”

Recognizing that new shades of meaning, new contexts, and new ideas may be exposed to us about verses and ahaadith that we had heard before, should keep us humble and eager, listening for knowledge.

Often times, we will hear the beginning of a verse or hadith, and quickly complete it in our heads, mentally turning off our listening because we assume we already know exactly what will be quoted as well as how it will be explained. This practice, when it becomes a habit, will keep us from learning new, important, and amazing tidbits of knowledge in the Friday khutbahs.

3. Listen for gems. Every khutbah, even a bad, lazy, ill-prepared one, has at least one gem of reflection for you if you seek.

Even in the khutbahs which seem to be incredibly boring, or have been drawn verbatim from the most ancient Islamic text – we will find that the beauty of Prophetic wisdom still colors the speech and will bring to us at least one beautiful gems. In a khutbah I once listened to, as I was almost on the verge of slumber due to a long day at work, it was repeated over and over again that the dunya (this world) was bad. There was an almost drone-like recitation of various ayat with a lack of proper Arabic pronunciation that made me cringe, and English grammar which was reminiscent of Yoda from Star Wars.

Then suddenly as the khutbah drew to a close, he quoted Imam Ghazali’s beautiful analogy: “The believer is the ship and the dunya is the water. As long as the water remains outside the ship, it will sail through it. But once the water enters the ship, it will sink. So navigate through the dunya but do not let it enter your heart and sink you into itself.”

The analogy nearly brought a tear to my eye and I wondered what a loser I would have been had I just dozed off like the others had done or played with my phone or stared at the wall blankly. Regardless of who is speaking, if the khateeb is aiming to remind you about our Lord, we should pay attention, and such gems will find their way to our ears – and insha’Allah – our hearts.

Part II: Engage the Khutbah

4. Whenever repetitive advice is given, remember in your mind that you aren’t the best you could be at this and start taking down points in your head about how to improve.

Often times, the advice given in khutbahs is repetitive and not crafted in a manner that is particularly engaging. The khateeb may do little more than quote some verses and ahadeeth that you could have looked up yourself. There is no effort to make you think and make you ponder upon your condition -  and you have heard it hundreds of times before, from parents, teachers, Sunday school instructors, ‘ulama, other khateebs, and from books and lectures. This advice may be centered around:

  • You should pray (more/better/on time);
  • You should read Qur’an (more/better/with reflection);
  • You should give charity (more);
  • You should be kind to people;
  • You should be more pious and aware of God;
  • Etc.

None of the above statements are weak or simple. Behind them are oceans of wisdom. The people of knowledge and dynamic speakers have the blessing and ability to give the above advices their DUE RIGHT, and put them forward with the kind of zeal, energy, and enthusiasm, that the power and greatness of such advice deserves. Your khateeb on a given Friday may not.

Rather than smugly thinking to ourselves: “I know this advice” and tuning out the khateeb, the best way to benefit is turn the repetitive advice of the khateeb into a self-reflection and thinking process that will give you enough steam to last the rest of the khutbah while paying attention. Use the time to plan and strategize how you will implement the advice, instead of sitting there bored and sleepy. Examples are:

  • Pray Better: “What can I actually do to make my prayer better. Should I learn more about what I am saying? Is there a way I can make sure I wake up for fajr? How can I focus better in Salah…maybe I should learn the translations and explanations of more Surahs, etc.”
  • Read Qur’an: “What can I do to better my own relationship with the Qur’an? What is my favorite moment with the Quran that I can remember that made me realize how awesome God is and how wonderful His book is? How can I try and relive those moments and how should I begin reading again? What is my favorite surah and why do I love it so much?”
  • Be Kind: “When do I lose the most patience with people and act without kindness? Am I rude to anyone? How can I be a better person in treating my family? My kids? Strangers?”

So, when it has become clear to us that the khutbah will be no more than a list of repetitive sentences about the same advice, we should take that time to actively begin finding our shortcomings in our application of that aspect of the deen, and start creating a strategy to better ourselves as we listen.

5. When Qur’anic verses are quoted without due justice to the message or meaning of the verse, begin pondering about the ayah and how it connects to what is being said. If you know the deeper explanation, ponder upon it.

Often times, a khateeb may quote a Qur’anic ayah and give a terrible translation or explanation of it that does not do it justice. Rather than becoming bored or upset about it or letting the verse go, think about the explanation you have read or learned and how you can better implement the message in your life.

If the khateeb says:

وإنك لعلى خلق عظيم

“And Indeed you (Oh Prophet) are upon the most supreme and excellent of character.”

and then does not provide any detail, we should start to think of all of the wonderful stories we know about how the Prophet’s character was beyond question. From his generosity to the weak, his kindness to his family, his tenderness towards slaves and orphans, his smile and attitude which would make each person feel that he was the most beloved to him. Then allow this to connect into the khutbah to fill in the blanks that the khateeb may not have filled in himself.

6. When Ahadith are quoted without explanation, think about the implications of the Ahadith in your life, and imagine what the context of the Prophet must have been like based on whatever information you have.

Many times, we hear various Ahadith repeated in khutbahs without due justice or connection to the subject matter. Often times we hear: “Actions are by intention” and we immediately become bored because we have heard that hadith ever since the beginning of our understanding of Islam.

Instead of becoming bored, we can ponder upon the state of our own intentions in every action we have taken that day, that week, or that month. We can think about what the Prophet’s environment was like at the time when the migration to Madinah had just occurred and some people had migrated for various reasons such as monetary gain or to marry someone, rather than for the sake of the Allah and His Messenger. We can imagine what it was like when the Companions heard the Prophet say this, and relayed it to each other. We can think about why so many hadith collections begin with this hadith.

If possible, try to place the hadith into the context of the Seerah of the Prophet and understand what life must have been like for the Companions when this Hadith was stated.

Allowing our minds to think, ponder, and reflect, will allow us to engage the hadith to call us to action and reflection, rather than almost arrogantly responding in our minds with: “I’ve heard that one already so many times!”

7. When all else fails, start drawing together all the knowledge and everything good you have heard on this subject and bring it to bear upon the material the khateeb is presenting. Focus upon softening your heart through these thoughts and letting them settle in your mind, and then focus on small practical steps to implement the advice of the khateeb.

If the khutbah (ex. about gratitude to God) is going extremely bad, and you understand for the 50th time that you should be grateful to Allah and no new information has been provided in the past 10 minutes, you should begin to think about every single hadith, verse, idea, beautiful thought, and awesome statement you have ever heard on gratitude toward Allah, and allow those thoughts to inspire you. Reflect upon them to make up for the lack of reflection in the khutbah and allow them to carry you away in the journey of reflection and implementation.

8. Don’t judge the khutbah, judge yourself.

No matter how bad a khutbah is, it is not a speech competition or a show. It is not meant to be picked apart by our critical – sometimes arrogant – minds for intellectual deconstruction over lunch.

The khutbah is meant to advise you and remind you. No matter how bad it might be, the point remains, we are not as good as we could be in pleasing Allah and perfecting ourselves as His slaves. Rather than focus on how bad it is in telling us to be grateful, we should focus on the actual idea of being grateful. Take the good, leave the bad. Be grateful that you are blessed with the guidance of being in the masjid.

9. For students of tajweed, Arabic, and Islamic studies:

Be careful of letting arrogance enter into your heart as your listen to the khutbah. Many khutbahs you hear may be given by people who have not studied the recitation of the Qur’an, the Arabic language, or any subjects in Islamic studies akin to what you have studied.

This can easily become an opportunity for Shaytan to come into the heart and whisper about how much more knowledge you have than this person and how it sucks for you to sit there and listen. This is a trick. Rather, think upon your own state 5 years, 10 years, 15 years ago, and be grateful that Allah brought you to hear His words today.

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21 Comments

  1. Derrick Peat says:

    Number 9 is money.

    Jazak’Allaho khairan.

  2. Sami says:

    May Allah reward you for this excellent piece. I realize that I definitely have many of the bad traits you mentioned above.

    Coincidentally, I was listening to Sheikh Mohammad Al-Hasan Wild Al-Dedew last night talking about the same topic saying that a person who only can benefit from certain individuals, while looking down on the knowledge and speech ability of others is a person whose heart is sick, he then quoted the verses from Surat Zukhruf,

    “They also said: “Why was this Qur’an not sent down to some great man of the two cities?” (31) Are they the ones who dispense the favour of your Lord? It is He who apportions the means of livelihood among them in this world, and raises some in position over the others to make some others submissive. The favours of your Lord are better than what they amass. (32)”

  3. Ibrahim says:

    As-salamu ´alaykum wa rahmatuLlah,

    JazakumuLlahu khayran! Advice like this is always good to hear and take in. Very needed and very appreciated!

    Salam,

    Ibrahim

  4. Saifa says:

    “The worship is to obey Allah’s command, not to chase a spiritual or intellectual high. One of the greatest mistakes of the saalik (one seeking spiritual closeness to God), is to focus on the spiritual high, and not on the worship itself. If the spiritual high ever falters, he begins to doubt his worship and may even become lazy in it.”

    This is so true. There are many sects (which I won’t mention) that only focus on that “spiritual high” and attaining that by all means. This also gives room for shaytan to sway us towards bid’ah in order to achieve that. But our Iman fluctuates naturally, it’s important to remain steadfast even if we don’t feel our heart is in that place at the present time.

  5. Omar-Abdullah says:

    Salam,
    jazakallah Khairan akhi!! SImply awesome, and much needed.

    Sometimes in weak khutbahs I realize that I get very angry with the Khatib in my mind. Sitting on the floor is not very comfy for longer times and the Khatib is often just yelling in an unpleasant voice! Just as if words have to be only loud enough so that they may reach the heart…
    Anyways, I try to repel this anger and say to myself that the Khatib surely has a good niyyah. Even if he is not a good speaker, he surely does his best. So may God bless him for that.

    I hope insha’allah I will have these tips in my mind on friday.
    Jazakallah Khairan!

    =D

  6. Omar says:

    I think this should be printed in every masjid bulletin

  7. Amatullah says:

    jazaak Allahu khayran, a wonderful article with beneficial advice.

  8. Khadija says:

    Assalamu alaikum,

    I just wanted to say, as good as the article may be, it is VERY insulting to pick a specific masjid and a specific khatib’s picture while discussing a negative issue like “boring khutbahs”. You are almost incriminating the masjid that is being pictured. When you speak of something negative, you should NOT use a REAL example to depict it.

    For example, if I am discussing how boring Shuyookh’s have gotten these days, even if it is for the purpose of constructive criticism, and I randomly put a picture of Suhaib Webb to make the article look more interesting, that is not very Islamic behavior, and it can hurt the individual being pictured.

    I know the masjid that is being pictured in this article, and I know the Shaykh. I am insulted and I think it is not accurate. I attend Khutbah’s at that masjid every week, and I love the khutbah’s. People travel from far just to attend khutbah’s at the masjid depicted above.

    I know whoever put the picture is probably well-intentioned, BUT it is still wrong to post a specific masjid and specific Shaykh that is EASILY RECOGNIZABLE, while discussing boring khutbahs.

    Jazakallahu khairan.
    I hope you will remove the picture or at least put up a more ambiguous picture in which you are not insulting a particular Imam or Masjid.

    Assalamu alaikum.

  9. Khadija says:

    BTW even the masjid’s website is printed on the picture.

    • Marya says:

      wa `alaykum assalam,

      I am also an attendee at that masjid :) and I did not think of the association. I apologize! Will change the picture.

      It was the most easily available picture of a khutbah that was not copyrighted on a photo sharing website.

      jazaki Allahu khayran.

  10. Muslema says:

    May Allah reward you for this! Subhan Allah, we can always benefit if we make the intention to… and it applies to more than just khutbas but also lectures, halaqas, reading, etc. JZK!

  11. nobody says:

    Assalamu alaykum

    Awesome article! You should give a khutbah on this : )

    AsA
    nobody

  12. Aziza says:

    Mash’Allah, this is a great article!
    Not only is it a great reminder for adults, but we should also take the simple ideas and transfer them to teenagers and young children.

    Jazak Allah khayr Br. Abdul Sattar!

  13. Abu Muawiyah says:

    I was more harsh in criticizing bad Khutbahs: http://caller2islam.blogspot.com/2009/12/ten-friday-torture-talks.html

    I just feel they chase most Muslims further away from Islam.

  14. Adnan says:

    Abdul,

    You should give a khutba on this :P. On a more serious note, very nice reminder.

  15. Sana says:

    Asalaamu Alaikum,
    Excellent points!

    I think one thing that would help the khutbah quality situation is if every mosque had a feedback form (online and print).

    Here’s a Google Doc template of a form that can be implemented at mosques:
    https://docs.google.com/previewtemplate?id=0ArTNk0Z_3ojZdEZNOTRGU1E5YkhEc1cycXNfamxOLVE&mode=public

    Alhumdulillah, i know some different mosques that already have their own (MCA, CIMIC, ICOI…)

  16. if.but.maybe says:

    In my uni days I had time to attend jumma, however 9-5 kind of put an end to that. I greatly miss the khutbas and praying in jam’at (I’m a sister – so no its not fard on me!) . For all the brothers and sisters that do have the opportunity to attend jumma, feel blessed, and whenever you feel you’re ‘stuck’ with a boring khutba remind yourself of this beautiful hadith:

    Our beloved Prophet said that there are special angels that roam the Earth, looking for gatherings of dhikr. When they find a group they call one another and encompass the gathering in layers until the first heaven. After the gathering glorifies Allah (swt) the angels return to their lord.

    Allah (swt) asks His angels, Where have you been? (Even though He already knows; when one loves someone he loves hearing his name mentioned by others). The angels will inform Allah (swt) of the name of the gathering. Allah (swt) will ask His angels “What were my servants doing?” The angels will reply: “They were praising You, magnifying Your Name and glorifying You. Allah (swt) will ask them “Have they seen Me?” The angels will answer: “No, By Allah! They have not seen You.” Allah (swt) will say: “(They are praising Me without seeing Me,) what if they had seen Me” The angels would answer: “O Lord, if they had seen You, they would have glorified You more intensely. Allah (swt) will say: “What were they asking for?” the angels will reply “They were asking for Paradise!” Allah (swt) will say: “Have they seen Paradise?” The angels will say: “By Allah, no, they have not seen it.” Allah (swt) will say “What would they do if they had seen it?” The angels will reply: “If they had seen Paradise, they would become more attached and attracted to it, and would seek it with a greater zeal and enthusiasm!” Allah would ask the angels What were they seeking refuge from? The angels will reply they were seeking refuge from the Hell (fire). Allah would then ask the angels: “Have they seen the Hell (fire)?” The angels will say: “By Allah, no, they have not seen it.” Allah will say “What would they do if they had seen it?” The angels will reply: “If they had seen the Hell (fire), they would fear it even more and ask refuge from it with greater intensity. Then Allah will say to the angels I make you witnesses that I have forgiven them. One of the angels will say: “O my Lord, someone was there who did not belong to that group, but came for some other need.” (That person came for some purpose other than dhikr.) Allah will inform the angels that “The benefits of sitting in a gathering of Dhikr are such that anyone who sits with them, for whatever reason will also have his sins forgiven (Bukhari, Muslim).

  17. Abu Shoaib says:

    Salam-o-alaikum,

    I agree with the very first comment. We all have gathered our knowledge for various sources. Sometimes rather most of the times we feel that we are even better than the Khateeb making the khutbah. I did my tajweed last year (I am 33) I am not very proud of the fact that I did it so late but alhamdolilAllah I managed to complete it. My teacher always praised me, although I believe I need a lot of practice. But the point is that when I started my tajweed I also started focusing on errors of Imams and Khateebs. Then I realized that if I were any better I would have been sitting there instead because Allah knows who is worthy to lead and preach.

    We need to ask for the refuge all the time from the “makr” of shaitaan. I heard this man saying once that shaitaan has 80,000 traps and out of those 70,000 are traps of virtues. We believe we are doing something good but in fact we are going the other way (Allah alam, this is not a confirmed saying but something that keeps me in check).

    salam

  18. Fatima Mojaddidy says:

    Assalamo Alaikum. Since you have taken the time out to put the burden of going through a not so good khutbah, can you also please write an article on how to give a GOOD khutbah? I think you’re cutting the Imams (teachers) too much slack and putting too much pressure on the attendees (students). I think the responsibility weighs more on the teacher than the students. The students have already done their part by attending and being present and wanting to listen and learn.

  19. Suzann says:

    sadly though, there are many well qualified, charismatic engaging speakers in our community, yet the same older immigrant men insist on giving the khutba week after week, rarely relevant to the daily life of most attendees and often almost unintelligible. Occasionally they will let an African American Salafi guy give it and then we can understand it, but it never fails to be full of advice about how we are all going to hell for following the western ways, not practicing the sunnah of polygamy, etc. Surely there must be some precedent for selecting a khatib that is capable of inspiring people?

  20. Diane says:

    mashaAllah. great article! We’ve all been there, so this speaks to each and every one of us. Thank you soooo much for giving us something to think about when we would otherwise be thinking about, ‘is it over yet??’. alhamdullilah!

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