Al-Bab… Friday prayer sermons “stereotyping” religion and preaching away from people’s problems
Aleppo countryside – Asim Melhem
The issues that concern the reality of people have been obscured in the Friday prayer sermon which has been limited to the preaching style, making pulpits lose their influence on the recipients in north Syria and bringing back to their memories the speeches during the Baath party.
Friday prayer detached from the reality of the worshipers
“Friday prayer preachers are the most separated from reality, and they have not left the pre-revolutionary situation. Coinciding with a current reality in which Idlib is being burned, the worshipers receive speeches on the virtue of voluntary fasting, and thus the preacher avoids problems and threats on issues that do not anger the authority and do not provoke the people,” said young man Moataz Nasser to Enab Baladi in an opinion poll conducted it in al-Bab city in the eastern countryside of Aleppo.
According to Muhammad Dabbagh, most of the sermons have become boring and monotonous, instead of being relieving and encouraging. As for Muhammad Omar, he considered the ascension to the pulpit on Friday prayer as the essence of communication with the segments of the Islamic community, but the preachers have spoiled its goals and features and directed it away from its main purpose.
No directed sermons except in crises
The head of Endowments Directorate of al-Bab city, Abdul Basit al-Zaliq, said in an interview with Enab Baladi that it is not possible to generalize the prejudice on the sermon’s degree of disconnection from reality, although there is a considerable percentage of preachers who are adopting conventional sermons, attributing the differences between the preachers to the awareness of each of them and the level of his Islamic science achievement.
Al-Zaliq added that the sermon expresses the style of its speaker and his evaluation of the need of his community, stressing that the preachers do not receive directives about the sermon from any party, except in the case of “crises”, as the preacher receive directives from the Endowments Directorate on the importance of talking about a specific topic.
Al-Zaliq also pointed out that the Endowments Directorate is seeking to develop preachers by training them in the methods of influence and public speaking skills in special training sessions, stressing that a training session was scheduled to start in January and was postponed until February.
Preacher Haj Taleb stressed to Enab Baladi that the directives he receives are only to warn on social, service or symbiotic issues such as drugs, vaccines, and providing help to IDPs.
Haj Taleb explained that, except for these issues, he does not receive any directives from the Endowments Directorate or other parties, stressing that the choice of the topic of the sermon, its ideas and references are by the preachers’ own diligence.
The preacher continued that the Friday prayer sermon automatically defines the circle in which he can stay and touch its edges, and does not leave it for fear of arrest, assassination, or assault, but he added that the preacher has complete freedom to choose the topics of his sermons, their discussion, and expression.
Haj Taleb attributed the conventionality of most of the sermons and preachers to poor information, lack of preparation, or the preacher’s alienation from people’s reality.
Amid the absence of revolutionary discourse… an older traditional approach with negative effects
This situation is not new, but rather a decades-old dilemma, which has been formed due to the fear of the dominant authorities, according to the researcher in Sharia sciences Alaa al-Bitar, who explained to Enab Baladi that tyranny worked to kill the spirit of creativity and fight belonging, and the presence of conventional character already found in preachers. This has led to “stereotyping” religion around formalities and doctrinal subcategories during those decades.
Al-Bitar believes that, over the course of nine years, the revolution has radically changed the characteristics of society that has adapted to the current state of sermons, so it has come to seek and search for a change in religious discourse that goes along with its thought.
Conventionality would lead to the emergence of a generation unprotected against the challenges and suspicions sweeping its reality, which makes it a victim of calls for extremism or atheism, stated Qutaiba al-Issa, who holds a master’s degree in Islamic education, to Enab Baladi.
According to al-Issa, the lack of revolutionary sermons undermines society’s trust in its preachers and sheikhs.
By comparing the situation of the preacher before and after the revolution, Sheikh Haj Taleb sees that the revolutionary discourse and specification of names in Dua is a new and old issue. In the time of the regime, preachers were performing Dua for the head of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad, automatically and without a request from anyone. In contrast, there were those who refused to perform Dua for him by name, and in case they do, it is for fear of being noticed or being warned from the security branches.
According to Haj Taleb, this case applies today in the era of the revolution, explaining that the preacher may not face violations and war crimes that occur in the region, for his connection with regime-controlled areas that he does not want to cut off, or for fear of harming a relative in the regime circles because of him. Taleb believes that this refers back to the preacher’s conviction and beliefs.
Enab Baladi’s audience: Syria’s sermons are disconnected from reality
In an opinion poll conducted on its official Facebook page, on January 10, Enab Baladi showed people’s opinions on the issue, by asking: “Do Friday prayer sermons in Syria voice the problems and the reality of people and play roles in solving them?”
1100 people answered this question, 83 percent of them voted “No”, and only 17 percent voted “Yes.”
25 people commented, all of them affirmed that the sermon is far from the reality of the people and their problems. “When the Friday prayer preacher expresses his heart and religion, the sermon expresses everything, but when he receives a written paper before going up to the pulpit, we give up our matter to Allah!,” commented Adham Hamuta.
Ahmad al-Muhammad agreed with Hamuta, commenting that “the preacher is on one side and the audiences are on another, and may Allah help His servants!” Mustafa al-Hamdouni said that the sermons are “all written and prepared before the Friday prayer as if you were attending a political lesson and you must be convinced.”
In contrast, the imam and preacher of the Fatima Mosque in Al-Bab city, Baraa Haj Taleb, said that he personally tries to present the most important topics that will touch the reality of people and benefit the listener, as he put it.
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