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What Should be the Language of Khutbah?


Before we can have a meaningful discussion on the language of Khutbah, we need to have a clear and common understanding of some of the basic questions surrounding this issue such as:

  • What is Khutbah?
  • What is the purpose of Khutbah?
  • Are the purposes of Khutbah and Salaah the same?
  • Do Salaah and Khutbah have the same sanctity and rules?
  • Should the language of Salaah and Khutbah be the same?
  • Is there a clear injunction from Allaah or his messenger about the language of Khutbah?


Let us examine these questions briefly.

Khutbah means a religious speech, lecture or address. Whenever the Messenger of Allaah addressed the believers formally, it was called Khutbah. Now, this word is commonly used for the formal speech given before Salaatul Jumu'ah or after Salaatul Eid.

The purpose of Khutbah is to give religious reminders (Tadzkeer) and advice (Mowizhah) as well as to communicate goals and directions, address community issues, needs and problems and provide guidance on the issues facing the Ummah. The essence of Khutbah is to help the Muslim community improve religiously, morally, socially and spiritually and to help it gain strength, unity and Taqwah.

Apart from the aspect that both are acts of worship and remembrance of Allaah, the purpose of Salaah and Khutbah are not the same. The basic purpose of Salaah is establishing the direct relationship with Allaah by demonstrating a willing commitment to Allaah's obedience and by exhibiting a deep sense of humility and subservience in front of Allaah's greatness. It is a communication from a slave to the Master renewing a profound allegiance to the service of the Master. Khutbah, on the other hand, is a communication from the leadership (Ameer or Imaam) of the Community to the general public (as mentioned above) regarding the policy, strategy and advice for promoting piety, unity and strength of the community of believers.

That is why Salaah and Khutbah have different levels of sanctity and different set of rules. For example: Talking is not allowed during Salaah, but the Khateeb can digress from Khutbah and address a point that demands attention. Tahaarah is a condition for Salaah but not for Khutbah. Everyone must face Qiblah for Salaah but the Imaam must face the people for Khutbah.

Now we come to the language of the Salaah and Khutbah. Let us accept, without going into the reasons and injunctions behind it, the fact that Salaah must be offered in Arabic. But does it mean that Khutbah must also be in Arabic? No, because the communication needs and the audience are different. In Salaah, we are communicating with Allaah SWT who knows exactly our intention, emotions, feelings and attitudes with which we are performing Salaah. Our sentiments behind the words we utter are the essence of the Salaah and Allaah SWT knows those sentiments. So even if we do not understand the words we are saying, he knows our sentiments and attitudes behind those words, and that is what really matters for the purposes of Salaah. On the other hand, the Imaam communicates with people while giving Khutbah. If the addressees do not understand what he is saying, no communication is taking place and the purpose of the Khutbah is not achieved at all. Because of the differences in purposes, sanctities, and audience, then, it is not appropriate to tie the language of one with the other. They can be and should be different if circumstances so require.{footnote}For scholarly support for all of the above-mentioned statements, please refer to detailed articles in Syed Maudoodi's book, Tafheemaat, vol.2, pages 385 to 459.

{/footnote}

This conclusion would have been null and void, had there been a clear injunction from Allaah or His messenger about the language of the Khutbah. The reason is that if a clear injunction has been given, we just listen and obey. In the absence of a clear injunction, we try to understand a religious practice through the wisdom we learn from the Sunnah and attempt to fulfil its spirit and objectives. As there is no clear command from Allaah or His messenger, we opt for the later.
Because Prophet SAAWS always gave his Khutbahs in Arabic, one may think that it automatically becomes his Sunnah. If this logic is used then no religious talk or speech should be given in any language other than Arabic because the is the only language Prophet SAAWS spoke. In that case, any communication among Muslims in a language other then Arabic will violate Sunnah. But that is not the case. The reality is that he addressed people in their language for certain religious purposes. Sunnah is to attain those purposes through whatever tool (language) they can be attained.

Keeping these points in mind, let us try to identify what is the ideal, what is reality and what should we do until the ideal becomes the reality.

Ideal

Ideally, every Muslim should understand and speak Arabic. Also, the Muslims should be so well-established in the world, so powerful and influential that Islam is well respected by even non-Muslims, that Arabic is the lingua franca and that people all over the world are eager to learn Arabic. In essence, Arabic attains the status and role that is being enjoyed by the English language today. Or, in other words, it regains its role that it played when Muslims had power and prestige. In that situation, the question about the language of the Khutbah disappears because all Muslim communication will automatically be in Arabic as it used to be during the times of our noble elders (Aslaaf).

Unfortunately, that is not the case right now. So, what do we do until our ideal becomes a reality? What are the approaches we can take for the benefit of those who do not understand Arabic and what are the pros and cons of those approaches:

Arabic Khutbah

Pros Cons
Tradition of elders is kept. All purposes mentioned above are lost.
People regard it as a ritual instead of a dynamic tool for mobilizing the community for its well being.
Heard quietly as if listening to a mantra or a Catholic Latin mass.
No communication takes place.

Khutbah in Local Language

Pros Cons
Message understood and communicated. Breaks the Ummah into various linguistic units.
If Khateeb is knowledgeable and wise, can attain all the benefits for which Khutbah was made compulsory. Poses the danger of forgetting the tradition of elders and the ideal goal.
Can be educative and dynamic.

A Viable Alternative

Between these two extremes of purely Arabic or non-Arabic Khutbah, some scholars have come up with alternate strategies of combining both.

One strategy is to use Arabic for the beginning and end of the Khutbah that contains Allaah's Hamd, Salaatu wa Salaam on the Messenger and others traditional words from the Sunnah, but to deliver the middle part containing the main message, theme, reminders, directions, and community concerns in the language that the majority of people understand. This approach attains all the objectives of the Khutbah while at the same time maintains the tradition of the elders and connection to our ideal. While used by a rightly-guided leader (Ameer) of the community, it does not become a ritual but a dynamic tool to mobilize and reform the Muslim community and to lead to its goal of unity, piety and strength. Scholars like Syed Maudoodi recommend this strategy.

The second model is to give a Khutbah (speech) in local language and then give two Arabic Khutbahs as usual. This strategy retains the tradition and gives an understandable message in the local language, but is beset with some serious problems. For example:

It violates the established Sunnah of the Messenger. The Sunnah is to give two Khutbahs each for Jumu'ah and Eid. Under this strategy, three Khutbahs (speeches) are given before Salatul Jumu'ah: one in local language followed by two in Arabic. The Sunnah for Eid is to deliver no speech whatsoever before Salaah. The followers of this strategy give a speech before Salaatul Eid in local language in violation of Sunnah. It is rationalized/justified by its proponents by differentiating between a speech and Khutbah, but that differentiation is meaningless. It is a play on words. A speech and Khutbah are in essence one and the same thing. The Sunnah of the Prophet is that on Eid day, he did not address the people until after the Salaah. As soon as they stand up to address the people before Salaah, the Sunnah is violated.

The concept of differentiation between a speech and Khutbah also has it own problems. Arabic Khutbah is still treated as a ritual which does not have to mean anything, or does not have to be understood. It takes the form, for all intents and purposes, of Latin mass for Christians which is read as a ritual whether it means anything to anyone or not. Or, it resembles the religious incantations of some other ritualistic religions. It also begs the question: if non-Arabic Khutbah is just a speech, and the Arabic reading is just an incomprehensible incantation, where is the dynamic Khutbah of the Prophet and His companions for which two Rakaat of the Salaah were dropped?

Also, the three speeches (non-Arabic + two Arabic Khutbahs) tax people unnecessarily for their time and attention. When pressed for time (which usually many people are), they skip the non-Arabic part any way because it being just a speech while Arabic Khutbah being the real thing, why bother listening to it? Thus, it becomes a self-defeating strategy.{footnote}Tafheemaat, vol.2, page 445.{/footnote}

Conclusion

Until our ideal is achieved so that all Muslim speak and understand Arabic and that Muslims wield influence, power and domination in the world, what should we do?

Firstly, we must work hard to reach our ideal and secondly, we should deliver our two Khutbahs with appropriate portions of Arabic and non-Arabic to fulfil traditional as well as dynamic communication needs of the Muslims.

 

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