Vision for the Mimbar


In order to keep the spirit of understanding and praising the Ahlulbayt (a.s) alive and to gather our members together for this religious purpose, the mimbar has held an important place in the KSIMC. Historically, it is a sanctified place – one that draws people to the centre, the speaker’s lecture, the dissemination of knowledge or at the least, to simply attend a religious gathering. For the KSIM, a community without centralized religious and government leadership, the mimbar has given the platform for scholars to offer guidance, which the community chooses to accept or reject. Again, there seems to have been an enduring value of the mimbar – the ability to be a focal religious, social and communal point for our community members. It has resulted in more than religiosity and learning; it has resulted in a unique bond between community members and the scholar, thus paving the way for the community’s religious direction. It has also led to community members being attracted to a particular centre and the brothers and sisters that attend there.

Specifically, the mimbar has a historical link with those who have guided humanity, such as Prophets, Imams, saints and scholars but also because one who speaks from the pulpit is expected to possess a high level of knowledge and piety. When we look at the sermons of Imam Ali (a.s), we often point to his eloquent expression. However, the base of these sermons was his diverse knowledge and the fact that he practised what he spoke. In other words, he was both an intellectual and moral personality; his humility in never wanting any kind of position is astounding, as per Prophet Muhammad’s (s.a.w) morals. Moreover, during Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq’s time, we can see a huge emphasis on training his companions to gain knowledge – not just in fiqh and hadith but also in sciences and mathematics. Today, can we say that the mimbar is following this example? I would argue that the mimbar has essentially become a place of oratory with prestige and at times, money, becoming easily obtainable. Whatever happened to the critical learning, diverse knowledge of sciences and humility of the Ahlulbayt (a.s)?

The mimbar must provide deep-thought and practical solutions to acutely respond to our social and moral issues. But more than that, it must be a place of dialogue, not monologue, where people are engaged in active learning, note-taking and thinking. When the Prophet or Imams spoke, we find in our history that people exchanged views with them and informed them of their problems. In Prophet Muhammad’s (s.a.w) time, the oral tradition was the custom. Today, it is the written or even digital tradition which is our custom. We must utilise the valuable tools of our age and redefine the mimbar from its roots to be a ‘pro-active pulpit’ forging a greater link with the grassroots, instead of unduly elevating the speaker on it. It is therefore important to create ethical mimbar guidelines for the benefit of both speakers, executive committees and the general public so that neither of them exploits the other.

This humble suggestion comes at a time when mosques and mimbars are microscoped by governments because they are a perceived terrorist threat to society. They are regarded by governments and the media as dangerous and backward institutions. Whilst as Shi’a Muslims we do not share this view or promote radicalism, we are unfortunately caught in the limelight along with those apparent Muslims that do. At the same, the global world faces constant upheavals from poverty and disease to uprisings and invasions. Can’t the mimbar be a positive source of growth and renewal in a community? Can we not educate Muslims and non-Muslims from the mimbar on burning issues and how to tackle them? For me at least, this would be going back to the original concept of the mimbar, as used in our Prophets and Imams time.

MIMBAR GUIDELINES

We would like to share with you some thoughts on mimbar and majalis with you. We begin with this notion that, of course, not all alims misuse the mimbar and some try to approach a subject-matter sincerely in order to educate the community. We do agree that there are those that may have biased motivations or look at the mimbar as a financial tool. And yes, within the Khoja community, we are quite open about the different types of alims we invite who are from various backgrounds and that we do not have the culture of dialogue yet. However, we do believe that in order to change the present culture and to stop the misuse that can occur, we have to draft regulations/ guidelines for the mimbar that help us sieve knowledgeable and sincere alims from those that may not be active in the pursuit of knowledge and/or have some other motivations. Currently, our standard seems to be of inviting alims for their level of oratory rather than level of knowledge. Therefore, we propose to focus on the following:

 1. An alim is to be invited first and foremost on his/her willingness to serve the community rather than profit from it.

2. An alim is to be invited on the basis of his knowledge, critical thinking and research skills and therefore we must also enquire what kind of research he/she is engaged in and his/her qualifications.

3. Q&A sessions should be encouraged with the alim to nurture transparency of knowledge in the community and hold the alim accountable.

4. Jamaats to set certain standards for alims when they give a majalis e.g to critically engage with contemporary issues, help grassroots with their problems, sharing their notes and resources, contributing to madrasah - at times.  we give alims an easy ride but rather, we should put pressure on them to share their knowledge and actively contribute for the well-being of the community, not just give a 30-40 mins majalis.

5. Any attempt at politics with the Khoja community in order to ban a person or secure some kind of political support for a worldview should be prohibited.

6. Alims, particular those who pursue seminary or academic studies, should be given a reasonably good hadyo to support their studies and personal expenses.

7. Khoja students and scholars should be given the first opportunity for lectures in order to train and nurture them. Otherwise we find outside speakers getting most of the opportunity to speak and khoja students are not connected to their own community nor are they financially supported.

We have done some groundwork to develop the vision for mimbar. It is in Gujarati. You can hear it by clicking on the link:- Vision for the Mimbar 

https://youtu.be/2seK8FeYO-M

 

 Obviously, these thoughts are open to challenge. We have to begin somewhere. Also, by making such guidelines it will make our community as a whole think deeply about how knowledge and education can beneficially be made available from the mimbar and how scholars and alims can play vital role. This will open up a vigorous spirit of enquiry from within our community. We would value your comments on the above but also do share this e-mail with your colleagues who may be interested to promote constructive dialogue on this issue.  

See also: results of the 3rd Awakening Project Survey: 
The Role of the Mimbar Today

click:- https://www.dropbox.com/s/zw36t8zw7o2ukh5/Mimbar%20Survey%20Analysis%20PDF.pdf?dl=0

 

 

Dr. Sibtain Panjwani

Founder of “The Awakening Project”

 

sibtain@blueyonder.co.uk



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