What do Muslims do when we go to our weekly sermon and congregational prayer service on Fridays? If you are not Muslim, you probably have no clear idea beyond the basic notion that we listen to a sermon by the Imam (the Islamic equivalent of a minister) and then we participate in some form of congregational prayer.
Talk radio host and Fox News pundit Mike Huckabee (the former Baptist minister and Arkansas Governor) seems convinced that most Muslims – especially those in the Middle-East – are only going to the mosque to hear hate-filled sermons railing against the West, so they can get all riled up, storm outside and start a riot. This was the gist of his comments about the temporary closing of US embassies across the Middle-East and North Africa on his syndicated radio show on Monday, August 5th. Referring to Islam and Muslims, Huckabee said in part:
“…. explain to me why it is that we tiptoe around a religion that promotes the most murderous mayhem on the planet in their so-called ‘holiest days.’ …. You know that the most likely time to have an uprising of rock-throwing and rioting comes on the day of prayer on Friday. So the Muslims will go to the mosque, and they will have their day of prayer, and they come out of there like uncorked animals -- throwing rocks and burning cars.”
Huckabee said later he doesn’t think ALL Muslims do that, but the fact he said it shows he has no problem characterizing Muslims as “uncorked animals” or their faith as “a religion that promotes the most murderous mayhem on the planet. . .”
And, if Huckabee and other like-minded Islamophobes (professional and otherwise) are correct in their belief that Islam promotes “the most murderous mayhem on the planet” and that the teachings of the Quran and the Prophet (peace be upon him) are the root cause of a Muslim’s angry, anti-Western worldview and violent behavior, shouldn’t the entire world wherever Muslims reside be a scene of weekly rioting and car-burning? Shouldn’t the jails in all Western nations be filled with angry, rock-throwing Muslim men and women? There are tens of millions of Muslims in Europe, Asia and North America, so where are they every Friday? I’ll tell you. They are in their mosques praying to God and listening to their Imams guide them in the peaceful, everyday living of their faith.
Now, there are 1.6-billion Muslims in the world, with the vast majority of them praying five times a day as required in Islam. These Muslims, along with a sizable number who may not pray five times a day, will attend the Friday sermon on a regular basis. That’s a lot of people praying. What are they praying for?
Some religious and political leaders in the West criticize Islam and the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) using insulting and derogatory attacks. They also make the false claim that most Muslims believe in violent Jihad against all Western nations, and that it is the duty of all Muslims to engage in this bloody Jihad against the “infidels.” This is a blatant lie which no true, peace-loving Muslim believes in or supports.
I am grateful to live in America where I am free to speak my mind and talk about my faith. But such freedom does not mean a person should be free to cross all boundaries of moral and civil decency as some religious and political leaders are doing. People should be careful with their words because, as the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) once said: “Guard your tongue, for words are like arrows. Once you let them loose, there is no calling them back.” All people should be free to express their opinions politely without reservation, but all people should also be free from hate-mongering, falsehoods and just plain evil attacks on their religious beliefs.
Those who most often raise objections against Islamic beliefs or practices do so either in ignorance, with little or no knowledge about what Islam actually teaches and what really goes on at a typical Friday Prayer service, or else critiques of Islam and the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) flow from the pens and tongues of so-called “experts” that are little more than thinly-veiled diatribes full of malice against Islam, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and Muslims.
I would like to explain what normally happens – what’s supposed to happen – at a Friday Prayer service in Islam. Let’s start with Chapter 62 in the Holy Quran, called “Al-Jumu’ah” – the Arabic term for the Friday Prayer and sermon. (I invite Muslims and non-Muslims to read Ch.62 with commentary at this link: www.alislam.org/quran/tafseer/?page=1135®ion=EN)
Here’s what Ch.62, verses 10-11, says about the Friday Prayer:
“O ye who believe! When the call is made for Prayer on Friday, hasten to the remembrance of God, and leave off all business. That is better for you, if you only knew. And when the Prayer is finished, then disperse in the land and seek of God’s bounty, and remember God much, that you may prosper.” Notice there are no calls for civil unrest, violent street protests or acts of terrorism. (These are all prohibited elsewhere in the Quran anyway.)
On this holy day for Muslims, after the first Azan (call to prayer), the faithful perform private prayers. After the 2nd Azan about 20-30 minutes later, the Imam will start the sermon, drawing the Muslims’ attention to the teachings of the Quran and the example of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).
After the sermon, which usually lasts 45-minutes to an hour, the Imam will lead the congregation in a short prayer (salat) composed of recitation in a standing position of a brief portion of the Quran, followed by different postures that include bowing, prostrating and sitting in a kneeling position. In each of these postures, a Muslim recites specific phrases in Arabic that were revealed by God to the Holy Prophet (pbuh) and have been an established part of the Islamic Prayer for over 1,400 years.
During the sermon, which usually starts between 1:00 pm and 1:30 pm, it is common for the Imam to talk about the beauties of Islam, to remind the congregation to worship only God, to not commit Shirk (associating partners with God) and to discharge their spiritual responsibilities to God (such as performing the five daily prayers and seeking forgiveness for their sins), and to excel one another in doing good works and helping their fellow human beings. These are the fundamental duties and concepts in Islam and the basis for most Friday sermons, in one form or another, which most Muslims will hear when they go to the Friday Prayer.
This does not mean there are no radical Imams preaching hatred and violence – there are, in places like Pakistan, Afghanistan, and North Africa – but that is not the entire Muslim world by any stretch. But clearly, if some Muslim Imams are creating disorder among Muslims with their fiery, anti-Western sermons, is it right to say that all Muslim Imams are doing this and therefore all Muslims are being incited to create disorder? Either Muslims by the millions are disobeying their radical Imams or the feared incitement to violence is not happening everywhere as believed by those who are prejudiced against Islam.
So what are Muslims actually taught by God in the Quran about what their expected behavior should be? The answer is found throughout the Quran and in the word “Muslim” itself, which means a person who is completely submitted to God and who has peace with God and peace with his fellow human beings. A definition of a Muslim is also clearly stated in the Quran in chapter 23 titled “The Believers”:
“Surely, success does come to the believers, who are humble in their Prayers, and who shun all that which is vain, and who are active in paying the Zakat [annual tax on unused wealth to help the poor], and who guard their chastity . . . and who are watchful of their trusts and covenants, and who are strict in the observance of their Prayers. These are the heirs who will inherit Paradise. . . “ (ch.23, vv.2-6 and vv.9-12)
And the founder of Islam, the Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), said: “Your worship is meaningless if your character and behavior with the people are not good, and you do not treat them with politeness and good conduct. Your worship will not benefit you at all.”
Therefore on Fridays, Muslims should be reminded of these teachings to improve their moral qualities and change their bad behavior and habits into good behavior and habits. And they should inculcate sympathy and love among themselves and for others.
Yes, there are many so-called Muslim clerics -- especially in Pakistan -- who have abandoned this moral high ground, and about whom in a well-known hadith the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) once said: “They will be the worst creatures under heaven. Disorder will come from them and return to them.”
It should be that all Muslims prove with their actions that Islam is a religion of peace and that Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was a mercy to all mankind, who offered all kinds of sacrifices for peace and justice.
In the 19th century, in fulfillment of prophecies in the Holy Quran and by the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), the founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835-1908), delivered this same call for peace and justice among Muslims and between Muslims and all others. It is the same call I now repeat in the 21st century.
I appeal to all Muslim who deliver Friday sermons (and all Muslims who listen to them) to expound and practice the true teachings of Islam so Muslims can be restored to their true purpose – creating peace. Let all who believe in God demonstrate the truth and goodness in our scriptures by living that truth and goodness. In this way, the evil that harms us all can be eliminated and replaced with the love that heals us all.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------[ with Imam Shamshad fro Asia Today and other weekly newspapers. Appeared in an abridged form in the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin's "From the Pulpit" religion column under the headline: "Imams preaching terror deny teachings" on Sat., Aug. 17th. 2013. Also appeared online at AhmadiyyaTimes.com on Aug. 18th, 2013 at this link: http://ahmadiyyatimes.blogspot.com/2013/08/perspective-friday-prayer-time-for.html#more ]