Doing this goes far beyond merely speaking the language of the people. It means truly understanding the psychology and emotions of the people. The khateeb must remove any barriers that will keep his words from penetrating the hearts of the congregation.
Anyone involved in delivering an address to the community by way of khutbah, halaqah, or even teaching Sunday School is practicing the craft of public speaking.
One way to improve your speaking skills is by studying what others do well that resonates and connects with audiences. With that in mind, I am sharing 3 videos of first place winners from the Toastmasters Public Speaking World Championship along with a few brief things to look for in each video.
How do you read books to develop your own niche of expertise? How do you pick what books to read aside from going off the average customer review on Amazon? How do you critically read a book and think about the material? How do you filter what you read through the worldview of iman (faith)? And what’s the point, what is all this reading building toward?
I don't really care about grit.
Persevering and persisting through difficulties to achieve a higher goal is awesome. High-five. We should all develop that. No one disagrees that resilience is an essential characteristic to have.
Somehow, this simple concept has ballooned into what feels like a self-help cottage industry of sorts. It has a Ted talk with tens of millions of views, podcasts, keynote speeches, a New York Times best-selling book, and finding ways to teach this in schools and workplaces.
What I do care about is critically analyzing if it is all that it's cracked up to be (spoiler alert: I don't think so), why the self-help industry aggressively promotes it, and how we understand it from an Islamic perspective. For me, this is about much more than just grit - it's about understanding character development from a (mostly Americanized) secular perspective vis-a-vis the Islamic one.
About shura in particular, Abu Hurairah observed that he never saw anyone take shura more than the Prophet (s). The one person who had every right to dispense with the input of those around him due to receiving revelation is the same one who consulted his followers the most.
It happens. We all make goals in Ramadan to have a plan to read/memorize/study the Qur’an, and within a few weeks, we fall off the wagon. Then we look up, and suddenly it is Ramadan again. We’re wracked with guilt because we realize it has been months since we had a meaningful relationship with the book of Allah.
How do you tell someone that they are doing something wrong?
Delivering tough advice is difficult regardless of context. How do you correct a family member? Employee? Superior? Community leader? Friend? Total stranger? Someone online?
Done incorrectly, and you can tear apart family relationships, business relationships, and destroy friendships - all because you alienated someone by how you corrected them.
“The religion (deen) is sincere advice (naseehah).” -Prophet (s)
The art of delivering feedback has been lost in our community. We often see one of two extremes - unapologetically telling it like it is, or simply shrugging things off and ignoring them.
Applying the golden rule here would dictate that we give advice the same way we want to receive it, but that’s not enough. Many of us feel discomfort accepting critical feedback - even if we proclaim loudly that we don’t care how anyone corrects us.
Effectively delivering feedback means creating an environment in which the recipient can take feedback, reflect on it, and learn from it.
The intention behind correcting someone is crucial. Do you sincerely want the other person to become better as a result of this advice? If you do, then that will shape what you say, how you say it, how you prepare, and how you follow up on it. For example, did you stop and actually make dua for the betterment of the person before giving them advice? Did you make dua for them to be able to implement it after delivering it?
Too often, in the age of social media, delivering advice has become a type of performance art to display ‘righteous outrage’ at some transgression. “Advice” is delivered in public forums not for the betterment of the individual, but for virtue signaling and pandering to a fan base.
Delivering advice effectively is built upon a relationship of trust.
The manner a parent can use to correct their own child is drastically different than the manner needed to correct a stranger at the masjid. What is your relationship and level of trust with a person?
When we misread that relationship, it creates negative consequences. Calling someone out online, especially if you don’t have a personal relationship, will most likely result in their doubling down on an incorrect behavior. In this case, ‘advising’ a person has created a greater evil than the one it was trying to stop.
They have, as the Prophet (s) warned, “helped the devil against their brother.”
Leadership means spending time with people and developing true relationships with them. It means seeing potential in everyone in spite of whatever shortcomings they may have.
The Prophet (s) said, “The believer who mixes with the people and endures their harm has a greater reward than one who does not mix the people nor endures their harm.”
That relationship is often the difference between someone accepting your advice versus getting defensive, or even worse - labeling you a hater or troll. A relationship is a prerequisite for being a partner in someone’s success.
The Prophet (s) once used his foot to shake someone lying down to rebuke them for lying down in a particular manner. Imagine for a moment, walking into the masjid up to someone you don’t know, and using your foot to shake them. They would most likely get upset thinking you were trying to kick them, or at the least get really annoyed. Now imagine responding to their annoyance by announcing, “Don’t blame me, I’m only following the sunnah!”
This type of behavior points to an intention of proving yourself to be right, or superior, rather than sincerely helping someone for the sake of Allah.
Once a relationship of trust exists, the actual art of delivering feedback will vary based on circumstance. Sometimes it may be candid and immediate. Sometimes it will require patience and gentleness.
Sometimes your advice may take a long time to have any effect, and sometimes it won’t have any at all.
The question you have to ask yourself is whether your presence in someone’s life is increasing or decreasing their motivation to change?
That is, if you don't do anything about it.
Last Ramadan my schedule looked something like this:
5:45 - eat quickly, pray quickly, and back to bed
7:00 - Go to work
8:00 - 5:00pm - Struggle to stay awake and be coherent in emails and meetings
5:30p - get home and sleep
8:00p - wake up and eat
9:00p - Masjid
11:00p - eat
12:00a - try to sleep
What you'll see missing there is the extra time that was supposed to be spent reading Qur'an, making dua, and so on. By the 15th fast, my brain was fried. Praying on time was seen as a success. Eating suhur in the morning was the first thing to get neglected.
And like most people, when my brain is fried, I veg out by scrolling through social media.
It's hard enough to adjust to the new eating and sleeping schedule. It's impossible to throw any new habits into the mix as well. It's not the time to start a new workout program, or suddenly start a social media fast. Most people cannot sustain that past the adrenaline rush of the first 10 days.
That's why this Ramadan needs to be different. We need a way to be in control of every minute, maximize every moment - all while having the mental clarity and focus needed to get the most benefit out of this blessed month.
At the root of our problems are our phones. We all know it. We just don't know what to do about it.
During the month of Ramadan specifically,
Our phones create a sense of Instagram Ramadan Envy
They keep us from waking up on time for fajr (and suhur)
Having a successful Ramadan is not complicated. All it needs is some good old fashioned focus on the basics.
To do that requires changing our relationship with our phones. And that must be done before Ramadan begins.
It's with this in mind that I'm doing a 30 day boot camp, a Ramadan Digital Detox. This is an email course that will run from April 1 through April 30th, giving you action items each day to help you regain control of your phone before it controls your Ramadan.
Registration closes Sunday, so don't hesitate, click here to sign up now and eliminate the barrier standing between you and an amazing Ramadan.
If you work hard enough, you can achieve anything. Work itself becomes the fulfillment of spiritual purpose. We don’t just have jobs, we have callings - which we promote on social media.
For purposes of this article, Prophetic communication is in the context of a general community address. Practically, that means khutbahs, family night presentations, and general halaqahs or reminders. It is not directed at classroom instruction, seminars, or other such mediums.
The three pillars below are meant to serve as a reminder to the speaker. These are fundamentals that must be kept in mind when crafting a speech.
Verily, Allah has prescribed excellence in everything. (Muslim)
I was speaking to a brother about khutbah preparation process. He said that he would go sit on the minbar on Friday, and as the adhan was being called, he would think about a topic. Then, he would stand up and deliver it. This was a bit of a humblebrag - being so knowledgeable that you can literally get up and wing it.
This is not something to aspire to, it’s actually disrespectful to an audience. If you get up to address a congregation without having put any effort into the message or construction of your speech, the audience will tune you out.
So what does ihsan tangibly look like? For purposes of a general talk or khutbah, use the following bullet points as a starting checklist:
There is a clear one sentence take-away message that summarizes the entire talk.
You have done at least 10 times the amount of research on the subject you are speaking about. Rule of thumb - for a 30 minute talk, you should have a minimum of 5 hours of preparation invested.
Practice and rehearse your talk multiple times to iron out inconsistencies in speech flow or development of talking points.
If that sounds like a lot of work, that’s because it is a lot of work. Addressing an audience is a privilege. Addressing an audience from a position of representing the religion is an amanah (trust) between the speaker and The Creator. The hard work is a prerequisite to speaking.
Excellence in a talk comes from crafting a meaningful message to deliver, constructing a speech to communicate that message, and then delivering it in a manner that makes the audience receptive to receiving it.
Make Things Easy
The Prophet (ﷺ) said, "Make things easy for the people, and do not make it difficult for them, and make them calm (with glad tidings) and do not repulse them (Bukhari).
God did not send me to be harsh, or cause harm, but He has sent me to teach and make things easy. (Muslim)
Whatever your message is, make sure the audience can implement it. It is the job of the speaker to anticipate objections to their message, or obstacles that can prevent it from being practiced.
Some adopt an attitude of “dropping knowledge”, or “establishing the hujjah (proof),” and leaving the audience to fend for themselves. This is rooted in arrogance. It is one of those characteristics, like unapologetically telling the truth, that is incorrectly lionized.
The Prophetic model is to understand the audience, empathize with them, and find ways to help (and serve) them.
There has certainly come to you a Messenger from among yourselves. Grievous to him is what you suffer; [he is] concerned over you and to the believers is kind and merciful. (9:128)
We all get “vibes” from different speakers. Someone can be a sophisticated speaker, but still leave you with a bad vibe (like a politician). On the other hand, someone may not be a well-refined speaker, but their message still resonates when we feel it “comes from the heart.”
The core of this is the attitude of the communicator toward the audience. The only way to establish a connection with the audience such that they are receptive to the message is by sincerely being concerned for their well being.
This cannot be faked.
If the audience feels you are speaking down to them, or do not have their best interests at heart they will not listen - regardless of how amazing your talking points are.
Connecting requires sincere caring.