Ashraf’s Column

Friday, June 16, 2006

Musing on religious sermons

Like other Muslims, all my life (now more than six decades) I have been listening to the waaz (sermons of the imams and preachers). I understand there is an Imam Training Institute. I am not happy with the techniques of presentation (PR or public relations using the media) of the messages (the other aspect is the content of the message).

It is time the authorities reviewed the whole system of training, and modernized the syllabus, to keep up with mass psychology, and face hostile changes faced by the Islamic world.

What appears to me to be seemingly contradictory is the rod and carrot approach to religion, and religious rituals. On the one hand, the Almighty is Rahman Ur Rahim in every other sentence; but at the same time the banda (follower) is threatened (by the preachers) with dire examples of punishment. This is a black and white approach. Life has many shades of grey, if not color. The correct approach to religion and religious practices is necessary, so as not to get lost in the branches and leaves.

The question arises whether religion is a medium or message, or a combination of both. Rituals are necessary to cultivate good habits, for storing in the memory (DNA) for involuntary actions and reactions. Watch the untutored empathy between mother and baby, it is spontaneous and natural. The love between man and woman is also a training stage towards cultivating divine love.

The local preachers, tutored in the traditional method of teaching, have to examine themselves first, before lecturing, about the possible existence of communication gaps (there are many types and levels of listeners, who have to be approached in interactive ways which are friendly and responsive).

The feedback system is weak in religious sermons. It is a one-way command performance. The saints and Sufis also tutor the disciples according to the level of the listeners, stage by stage, otherwise one of them might turn jalali; (When the time comes, the master appears). Modern methods of teaching have to be incorporated in the sermons, just as it is done in propaganda campaigns during war or when facing enemies and opposition.

Syed Ashrafuzzaman

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