Beyond rituals: the deeper teachings of Islam

Published: February 27, 2016
The writer is a lawyer with a post-graduate degree from the University of Cambridge, UK. She is recipient of the Cambridge Commonwealth Trust Award and the Noon Educational Foundation Award. She can be reached @MehvishMI

The writer is a lawyer with a post-graduate degree from the University of Cambridge, UK. She is recipient of the Cambridge Commonwealth Trust Award and the Noon Educational Foundation Award. She can be reached @MehvishMI

I recently went for Friday prayers in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood of Washington DC. The khutba preceding the prayer was remarkable and noteworthy. It was a sermon as different as could be from what you would hear in the vast majority of the mosques in Pakistan, but the content of which was exactly what they need to be imparting. The khateeb spoke about our responsibility as Muslims, but his message extended beyond the obligations of prayers and reading the Holy Quran. He spoke of abstaining from backbiting, being polite towards all you come across, to greet strangers with a smile – though not to creep them out (prompting brief laughter from the audience), to respect women – all women, not only the ones related to you — and stressed the importance of guarding one’s modesty as men, and not just as women. This khutba made me realise that in Pakistan, we have effectively forgotten to talk about an entire aspect of Islam – that it goes beyond rituals and is a way of life.

For example, I have yet to hear a khateeb talk about social etiquette – an oversight that I am reminded of every Friday in Pakistan when it is time for afternoon prayers. Road ethics in particular must be imparted to those attending mosques. In many of our cities, such as Karachi, come time for Friday prayers, there is general pandemonium within a street’s radius on all four sides of the mosque. Cars will be parked in a manner that effectively blocks roads, or the drive through and entrance of houses or offices. In short, houses around mosques, people living or working in close vicinity of it, or passers-by will be affected in terms of mobility every Friday during prayer timings because the faithful assume that their sole responsibility is to make sure they attend the weekly prayer. To ensure timely attendance, many of these people would have sped to the mosque, putting their own lives and those of others at risk by disregarding driving ethics and traffic signals on the way. Almost everyone attending Friday prayers is aware of this issue, but few would have thought it through. What if someone living two houses down from the mosque has a medical emergency and needs to go to the hospital or requires an ambulance? Will they be able to leave the house or will an ambulance be able to make it to their door step, given the entire street has been effectively blocked by prayer goers. What if there is a fire? Would a fire brigade be able to come to the rescue?

Do we really think that we will not be judged on those actions that inconvenience others around us? Surely not! Isn’t it about time we realised that Hukook-ul-Ibaad are just as important. Our maulanas and khateebs should be encouraged to use the opportunity every week brings to help cultivate civic sense in our masses, to impart knowledge about matters such as, the etiquettes of attending prayers, following traffic rules, keeping our roads clean, fairness and equality among men of all economic stature, respect for all religions, protecting our environment, of conservation of natural resources such as water or energy, and basic regard for all living things – animals and plants included.

Unfortunately, in Pakistan, the way we practice religion now revolves around the ‘actions’ associated with piety or religious practice. Gone are the days when religious teachers, grandparents, and parents spoke to children about Islam’s teaching on how to live our everyday lives. Discipline, punctuality, politeness, honesty and respect for all, irrespective of their socio-economic standing, tolerance, and a list of countless other things that are an integral part of our faith, but have been cast aside. What matters today is how much money you have, what car you drive, how you dress and if you are a person of importance, and therefore someone one should care to know or respect. All of which is of the least importance in our religion.

It’s about time that we started reclaiming our mosques and our religious centers. We must ask our religious teachers and scholars to use the teachings of Islam to help us become better human beings — to use religion as a means of bringing about unity in our ethnically divided communities, rather than sprouting hatred and distrust between sects and schools of thought. Why limit the indicators of religious piety to the number of Hajj, Umrahs, sacrifices and prayers? Let’s extend it and use it as a way to improve society. The onus is on us – will we change your conversation about religion? Will you or I talk about this to our local khateeb?

Published in The Express Tribune, February 28th, 2016.

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Reader Comments (8)

  • shahid
    Feb 28, 2016 - 1:55AM

    Thank you.Recommend

  • observer
    Feb 28, 2016 - 11:19AM

    It appears Muslims are less than 15% of the US population.

    Wait till they cross 15%.

    And visit Foggy Bottom again.Recommend

  • ghalib
    Feb 28, 2016 - 12:01PM

    about 90% people are speaking against the islam…..but individual acts depends upon individual not their belief ..does they park their car on road only for prayers..the keen woman of karachi use to park their cars to make shopping also why no one speak out for this brutal acts…Recommend

  • jay
    Feb 28, 2016 - 12:35PM

    Once you become a majority then see what happens to those countries ! Recommend

  • Rex Minor
    Feb 28, 2016 - 1:53PM

    Rituals indeed, five times a day prayer means cleansing of body and soul to live in the environment of hygene and purity. Once in a life time the almighty God requires from the believers to visit the holy city of Mecca to refuel their soul with the cosmic energy.The Friday prayers for muslims as the sunday prayers for christians in the house of God is to demonstrate their solidarity with the concerns of others in the community and to be reminded by the learned priests or khatib as the author addresses the leader of the assembled men and women, how similar issues were tackled in history by those who brought the messages of God on Earth, may peace be upon them. It is not the function of the priest or khatib to remind the faithfuls of their civic responbilites, nor should they be held accountable for..

    Rex Minor Recommend

  • Feb 28, 2016 - 2:00PM

    A beautiful article packed with reality. It’s what we call, “Food for thought.” Many thanx! SalamsRecommend

  • Feb 28, 2016 - 3:13PM

    you really have mention very valid points!
    i do really agree with all these points but you know what problem really is!
    the problem is that the we are not paying proper attention to our religious schools!
    our madrassah system is divided not on the base of sects but on the basis of students that are studying in it because
    we prefer to put that boy in madrassah who is unable to go with English system or that boy is register into those institutes whose parents are unable to look after him!
    we don’t allow our intelligent child’s to go these institutes
    that’s why then these people came out from madrassah’s they don’t really know what is demand of the modern society whereas on the other hand those Khateeb the one you have refer in the start belongs to the category who by interest and passion joins these institutes and these are the one who translate Islam in modern terms that is why they are successful and that’s why we love them because they teach and guide us as according to our need and capacity!Recommend

  • Ijaz
    Feb 28, 2016 - 7:22PM

    I always talked to religeous people or Mullahs but they smiled and i felt that i m Pagal .Please write on female home Mdrassas that is a new world of women.Recommend

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