Formulating a Vision for the Mimbar: The Goals of the Masjid

By Dr. Sibtain Panjwani (Leicester, United Kingdom)

This vision paper intends to situate the institution of the mimbar (pulpit) within a wider, holistic context. This context is the masjid (mosque) itself which has key goals for a society. It is only by appreciating why Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w) conceived of a masjid in a polytheistic society that we can appreciate the variety of tools within the masjid itself such as the mimbar, sermon, congregational prayer etc… By only focusing on the tool and/or institution of the mimbar, we are narrowing its purpose.1
Therefore, I have found a reliable hadith from Imam Ali (a.s) to demonstrate the goals of the masjid. The narration talks about what should be spoken about in a masjid and reflects the importance the Qur’an gives to the masjid as a sanctified place where only Allah (s.w.t) is invoked.2 The analysis of the hadith is also supported by numerous surveys and data collected since February 2011 – some of which are presented in the appendix and others are available on the Awakening Project website: Although the data was collected within the Khoja Shi’a Ithna Asheri Community (KSIMC), the vision expressed here may be applicable to all Shi’a and wider Muslim communities, inshallah.

A hadith from Al? b. Ab? ??lib about the concept of the masjid

“The Commander of the Faithful used to say: one who frequently visits mosques acquires one of eight things – a beneficial brother who is near to God, the Mighty and Exalted, rare knowledge, an unambiguous verse [of the Qur’an], an expectant mercy, words that ward off ruin, hearing words which guide him towards that which is right or to abandon a sin out of fear [of God] or shame.”3
1 The word mimbar comes from the root of n-b-r meaning to raise, elevate, to project one’s voice with emphasis and stress, shout and scream. The noun mimbar means a pulpit or platform. Masjid comes from the root of s-j-d meaning to bow down; prostrate in worship. The noun masjid means a place of prostration.
2 See: 2: 187; 7:29, 31; 9:17-18; 107-108; 17:1; 18:21; 22:40 and 72:18.
3 Al-?ad?q, Shaykh., Man L? Ya??uruh al-Faq?h, vol.1, p.237, hadith no. 713 (Qum: Mu’assasa al-Nashr al-Isl?m?, 1413). Also found in:
Al-?ad?q, Shaykh, Am?l? al-?ad?q, p. 389, hadith no. 16 (Qum: Maktabat al-Islamiyyah, 1404); Al-?ad?q, Shaykh, Al-Khi??l, vol. 2, p. 409, hadith no. 10 (Qum: Mu’assasa al-Nashr al-Isl?m?, 1403); Al-Tusi, Shaykh., Tahdh?b al-Ahk?m, vol. 3, p. 248, hadith no.1 (Tehran: D?r al-Kutub al-Isl?miyyah, 1365); Al-Tusi, Shaykh., Am?l? al-T?s?, p. 432, hadith no. 969 (Qum: D?r al-Thiq?fat lil-Nashr, 1414); Al-Harr?ni, ?asan ibn Shu’bah, Tu?af al-‘Uq?l, p. 235 (Qum: Mu’assasa al-Nashr al-Isl?m?, 1404); N?r?, Mirz? ?usayn. Mustadrak al-Was?’il wa Mustanba? al-Mas?’il, vol. 3, p.359, no. 3778 (Qum: Mu’assasa ?l al-Bayt, 1408); Al-Amil?, al-?urr, Was?il al-Shi’a, vol. 5, p. 197, hadith no. 6320 (Qum: Mu’assasa Aal al-Bayt, 1409); Al-Majlis?, Mu?ammad B?qir. Bi??r al-Anw?r, vol. 80, p.351, no. 4 (Tehran: D?r al-Kutub al-Isl?m?yyah, 1404). In al-Khi??l, Shaykh

The above hadith, mentioned in our earliest and major hadith compilations, shows Al? b. Ab? ??lib’s conception of the masjid. The hadith can be traced back to Prophet Mu?ammad (s.a.w) and is attributed to al-?asan ibn ‘Al? (a.s). In formulating a vision of for the mimbar, it is necessary to examine the Aimmah’s principles and goals of what a masjid and its institutions should be. Whilst we can contextualize narrations since they are dependent on the historical circumstances of the Prophets and Imams, the above hadith appears to be general and universal in its literary construction. Therefore, when discussing the role of the mimbar today, it is important to first of all see what the goals of the masjid should be because the mimbar functions as one tool or institution within it. We can then see how the mimbar can serve these very goals.

Analysis of hadith

The eight things that a person obtains when one frequently visits a masjid (the last two things appearing to be combined as one) demonstrates the following:
? The masjid is a social place encouraging relationships between human beings who are united in their regard for God. Moreover, the relationships one forms are meant to be beneficial, helpful and enduring.
? The masjid is a place where rare or precious knowledge should be promoted and hence distinguishes itself from other intellectual institutions by giving original information that no other institution can give. It is, in sum, a place that opens the mind to new thoughts and fresh ideas.
? The teachings of the Qur’an are central to the functioning of the masjid. Specifically, those verses that are unambiguous should, at the least, be communicated to the people so that they clearly understand the Qur’an.
? Blessings and mercy, in all their forms, are present in the masjid – whether they are in this world or the hereafter. For example, a place where a poor person or traveler can be looked after, a place to ask forgiveness for one’s sins and building hope in God Himself etc… Hence the overall principle of a masjid is one of promoting mercy, not hate or hopelessness.
? Speeches and words heard in the mosque, whether by one giving a sermon or simply in what one hears in words of others (or in the recitation of the Qur’an), are there to drive away ruin and destruction in our lives. Simply put, any speech in the mosque is to help us build a constructive, positive and hopeful life, not one that brings about ruin (in all its forms) in our lives.
? Speeches and words should also guide us to that which is right and good. This is in order for us better human beings and servants of God.
? Finally, we are encouraged to abandon our sins either out of fear of God or the shame of committing the sin itself. This demonstrates the mosque is a place of moral and spiritual purification.
al-?ad?q states that‘Al? b. Ab? ??lib (a.s) directly heard the narration from Prophet Mu?ammad (s.a.w). In Tu?af al-‘Uq?l, the narration is also attributed to al-?asan ibn ‘Al? (a.s). In Mustadrak al-Was?’il wa Mustanba? al-Mas?’il, Mirz? ?usayn N?r? mentions that al-?asan ibn ‘Al? (a.s) directly heard the saying from Prophet Mu?ammad (s.a.w). There may be slight variations in the chain in some of the above and other hadith compilations.

The purpose of the mimbar
In light of the above, we may argue that the purpose of the mimbar is the following:
? To encourage brotherhood, unity and friendship – not enmity and disunity
? To impart original, rare knowledge that cannot be found anywhere else
? To promote a clear understanding of the Qur’an
? To promote mercy and hope in God
? To educate us on those things that will harm us
? To educate us on those things that will benefit us
? To help stop us from sinning
If the mimbar does not fulfil these functions, then the nature and atmosphere of the masjid becomes one of disunity, ignorance, hopelessness and sinning. This is why it is so crucial to situate the mimbar in the wider context of what the masjid is trying to achieve.

In conclusion, the above hadith demonstrates the masjid is a socially, intellectually vibrant, Qur’anic, life-affirming place where mercy is shown to all who enter it. People are meant to leave the masjid in a better intellectual, moral and spiritual state than before. The mimbar therefore should support these principles and be a tool of promoting social cohesion, knowledge in all its forms and mercy to all – regardless of religion, race, language, class or gender.
It is possible to argue that one could easily come up with a vision for the mimbar from purely rational principles, particularly if we agree our intellect evolves, as does our understanding of the broader spirit of the Qur’an. Hence reference to narrations is not so important. However, when we find narrations (like the above) which give us concrete thoughts of how an Imam thought about the masjid, then we should use them as a foundational starting point to formulate a vison for the mimbar – especially in our fast-changing society. By also focusing on such narrations, we reduce our bias and selectivity in the way we conceive of the mimbar.
We may now be in a position to reflect whether our mosques and specifically our manabir (pulpits) promote the aforementioned principles or what needs to be done to re-envision their functions, inshallah.

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About the author

Dr. Sibtain Panjwani is a Dental Surgeon by Profession with a special interest in Medical Law and Ethics having obtained an MA from King’s College London and a PhD in Law at the University of Essex.

He regularly gives lectures at various institutes and takes interest in writing articles and conference papers on subjects ranging from law and religion to ethics and community affairs.

He held the position of the Secretary General of The World Federation of KSI Muslim Communities from 1996 – 2003.

The Awakening Project was created by Dr. Sibtain Panjwani, a project that seeks participation and reform from community members themselves – madrasah teachers, professionals, volunteers, scholars, laymen and laywomen, youths, the elderly and all those interested in meeting current and future social, spiritual, ethical and cultural challenges.

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