MUSCAT, OMAN (9 May) – In a recent post-Marawi conflict analysis workshop I co-facilitated, the third session was devoted to the identification of enablers and inhibitors of radicalization that leads to violent extremism. It can be noticed during the presentation that the madrasah and religious leaders or scholars (‘ulama) were identified in the three groups as either among the enablers, or the inhibitors, while at the same time, none of the three groups ever identified the institution of the masjid (mosque) as either an enabler, or inhibitor, as the case may be.
Why? Does it mean that the mosque is seen as merely a typical adjunct of the madrasah, or just a common platform of the religious leaders?
Or, is there something amiss, or missing?
As was exemplified by the Mosque in Madinah built by Prophet Muhammad and the first generation of Muslims, the mosque is supposed to be the nucleus of society and the center of sociopolitical activities and intellectual discussions of the community. In geological parlance, it is considered the ‘epicenter’ of attention, devotion and inspiration of the flock of believers.
One important element or section of every mosque is the mihrab (niche) which is located at the foremost front. Indicating the qiblah (direction of the Ka‘bah in Makkah where the Muslims face while praying), mihrab is actually semicircular in shape in the wall of a mosque. It is where the imam (prayer leader) stands to lead the congregation in every prayer.
Another crucial element of every mosque is the minbar (pulpit), which is located at the right rear of the mihrab. Derived from the Arabic root-word (نبر) (elevate), the minbar is originally a three-step pulpit, and later on, many more steps have been added in some mosques. It is the elevated platform where the khatib (preacher) stands while delivering his khutbah (sermon). Though conveniently translated as ‘preacher,’ khatib accurately means the one who delivers the khutbah. Both khatib and khutbah are derivatives of the same root-word (خطب) which means ‘to deliver’ or ‘to speak’. The imam (prayer leader) is usually the khatib but it is not necessarily case all the times.
No doubt, the minbar, which has been an elevated platform since prior to the advent of the microphone, is a symbol of authority, and the khatib who occupies it is a holder of that authority. In the Friday congregational prayer, the deliverance of, and listening to, the khutbah is the substitute for the two cycles (rak‘at) of the four rak‘at of the daily dhuhr (noon) prayer during the rest of the days.
Possessing such a unique spiritual-political authority, the khatib could move a large size of a congregation into action of utmost significance – be it political, socio-cultural, economic, or spiritual.
As a prediction of the eventual misuse of the minbar after his lifetime, Prophet Muhammad lamented seeing in a vision some men leaping upon his minbar like monkeys and making the people trace their steps. Thereupon Archangel Gabriel came to him with this verse (Qur’an 17:6): “We did not appoint the vision that We showed you except as a test for the people and the tree cursed in the Qur’an. We deter them, but it only increases them in great rebellion. (See Ibn Abi’l-Hadid al-Mu‘tazili, Sharh Nahj al-Balaghah, vol. 2, p. 376; Tafsir al-Razi, chap. 17, part 5, pp. 413-414; Tafsir Dur al-Manthur, vol. 5 under the commentary of verse 17:60; Bidayah wan-Nihayah, vol. 10, p. 49; Tarikh al-Damishq, vol. 57.)
No wonder, when ISIS overran the city of Mosul in Iraq on June 2, 2014, among the first institutions they had overtaken as the Grand Mosque of the city. Ten days after (June 12), they had executed Imam Muhammad al-Mansuri, the Grand Mosque’s imam and khatib. Three weeks afterward (July 4), The ISIS leader Abubakr Baghdadi mounted the minbar to deliver his khutbah.
The minbar is indeed so powerful that hate speeches and blatant lies masqueraded as khutbahs could potentially animate people and mobilize them for violent extremism. Even long after their deaths, YouTube ‘khatibs’ could still inspire ‘lone wolves’ to execute their missions and soon meet their damsels in heaven.
Such a power is supposed to be utilized for the original function it had. Of course, prior to its utilization, there is need for awareness and appreciation of the same.