How to Make Khutbahs Relevant - The Emotional Intelligence Needed of the Khateeb

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The question of emotional intelligence for a khateeb is one of relevance. How does someone get up, address a diverse congregation, and leave them with a relevant and practical message? 

Our congregations are diverse in demographics - male, female, old, young, varying levels of education, white collar, blue collar, professionals, entrepreneurs, parents, children, immigrants, different ethnicities, people who speak English as a first language, people who speak English as a 2nd or 3rd language, and much more. 

Congregations vary in psychographics and levels of religiosity. You have people who come to the masjid regularly, and people who may be attending for the first time in years. Some attendees are firm in their faith, and some attendees may be questioning their faith. You have people coming to the khutbah with different expectations in terms of how the message will serve them or the community. 

It is not possible to speak to everyone, and yet that is the demand on the Friday khutbah. 

“We have never sent a messenger who did not use his own people's language to make things clear for them. But still God leaves whoever He will to stray, and guides whoever He will: He is the Almighty, the All Wise (14:4).”

Allah (swt) sent His Messengers with the ability to communicate the message clearly. It would be implausible for them to be sent without this ability - as people would then have an excuse to avoid accountability in following the messenger. 

God knows well what is in the hearts of these people, so ignore what they say, instruct them, and speak to them about themselves using penetrating words (4:63).”

The khateeb must deliver a message that resonates and connects with the audience. 

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. 

By an act of mercy from God, you [Prophet] were gentle in your dealings with them—had you been harsh, or hard-hearted, they would have dispersed and left you—so pardon them and ask forgiveness for them. Consult with them about matters, then, when you have decided on a course of action, put your trust in God: God loves those who put their trust in Him (3:159)."

This ayah teaches an unbelievably critical leadership lesson for khateebs. The goal is not to deliver the message. The goal is for the listener to accept your message. 

If you cannot find a way to make people receptive to your message, then talk to them and get to know them. Find a way to understand what drives and motivates them. You must know precisely what the hopes, fears, and dreams of the congregation are. 

The Prophet (s) had to be aware of what would push people away or create cognitive and emotional barriers to the receptivity of his message. 

He (s) 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). 

Musa (as) was tasked with delivering a message to the tyrant Fir' awn. He was concerned that his speech would be an impediment to Fir' awn receiving the message, so he made dua to Allah - "Untie my tongue, so that they may understand my words (20:27-28)" - for assistance with it. 

One trap that some people fall into is that they use pop culture references to bridge the gap of relevancy between themselves and their audience. 

To be from among the people and speak their language does not mean you have to be up to date on the most popular Netflix shows. Instead of pop culture references, provide references to how people live and what their day to day human struggles. This requires dedicating yourself to understanding the human condition, especially as it pertains to their efforts in coming closer to Allah (swt). 

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).”

The example of the Prophet (s) is that he was deeply invested in the lives of those around him. He was invested in understanding what pained them, empathizing with that pain, and speaking to it in a meaningful way. 

The khutbahs delivered from our pulpits must carry the same spirit delivering a beneficial message, removing the barriers to its acceptance, and conveying it with genuine care and concern for those listening. 

Further Reading