The Etiquette of Preaching (Va'iz)
The other most esteemed etiquette of this month for religious scholars, jurisprudents, congregational prayer imams, and preachers is to preach and admonish, and in summary - the scholar who has spent years of his age in the path of achieving knowledge and asceticism, and through the experience of these long years has identified Satan's astonishing tricks as well as the self's unique plans for entrapment of human beings - it would be appropriate for him to preach and admonish and should not deprive the people from his guidance and rich experience. Because, the gains and benefits received by others through these preaching, guidance, and admonishment cannot be accomplished through any other religious deeds. And it is therefore, from this consideration, that the religion has recommended it profoundly, and in this regard, there are plenty of traditions, narrated from the sinless Imams [a], which cannot be described here. Of course, in preaching and leading the congregational prayer, what is more important than any other thing is sincerity, purity and abstinence from egotism and hypocrisy.
Especially, preaching and admonishing which are relatively more esteemed acts and are more beneficial as compared to other deeds, unfortunately they are more vulnerable to injuries and calamities as compared to other deeds. Therefore, from this consideration the one who wants to perform this act, first of all must examine himself thoroughly, and if does not have any other motive except Allah's pleasure and people's guidance - he should undertake it. But if he discovers other than this, then instead of engaging himself in preaching, with sincerity and purity of heart, should engage himself in self-purification and self-refinement. And if he does so, Allah (the Glorious, the Exalted), in accordance with the following verse of the Holy Qur'an would bestow upon him the required grace to succeed in this task.
"And those who strive in Our (cause), We will certainly guide them to Our path."
Ü Holy Qur'an (29:69)
How to Examine Sincerity?
The one who wants to know whether his preaching and Imamat (of the congregational prayer) consist of truth and sincerity or not, may undertake the following test:
For example, he should find out why does he like and desire to be the leader of the congregational prayer? Is it because being the leader of the congregational prayer is a respectable job and brings respect, publicity, and distinction for the leader? Or is it because of Allah's pleasure, and for the obedience of His commands? In this manner he should examine himself that whether knowing that more people are participating in the congregational prayer headed by him, or increase in the number of worshipers accompanying him, or knowing that his followers consist of VIPs, scholars, and wealthy people, are influential in his liking and desire of being the congregational leader?
That is, under these circumstances and situations does he prefer and enjoy more to be the leader of the congregational prayer, as compared to the conditions whereby very few people are aware of his Imamat, very few worshipers offer prayer behind him, or the worshipers accompanying him are not scholars and great personalities rather are ordinary people? If such was the case, than he should know that his desire to be the leader of the congregational prayer is altogether for the sake of fame and hypocrisy or at least is contaminated with these things.
And if Satan and the imperious self, whispers in your heart in justifying the correctness of your above-mentioned acts misguiding you in this manner, that your liking for increase in the number of worshipers, or their being from scholars and nobles are because of the reason that such congregational prayer possesses more reward as well is a manifestation of religious grandeur, which as a result would earn more divine pleasure. One should not be cheated so easily with this justification, instead should conduct another self-examination.
For example, in order to test whether his aim is more reward or not, he should imagine that suppose there are two congregational prayers, one only with two worshipers but with certain reasons with more reward, and the other one with a huge number of worshipers but due to certain reasons with less reward. Which one would he like more, i.e., to lead, the one which has a huge crowd but with less reward, or the one with only two worshipers but more reward?
And in order to test his aim for strengthening the religious grandeur, he should imagine, that if instead of himself, suppose a certain person's leading the congregational prayer would result in more religious grandeur, especially, if he himself joins that congregational prayer as a follower under his leadership, then even in that situation, would he still prefer for himself to be the leader of that congregational prayer? Or would he prefer to hand over the leadership to him, and would join the prayer as a follower?
If Satan and the imperious self further trick you that your preference for being the leader of congregational prayer over others under the above circumstances is for the reason that this worship, i.e., strengthening religious grandeur, are the type of worships, in which the believers must compete with each other, and therefore, you too with this intention prefer your being the leader of the congregational prayer over others. Again one should not be tricked easily rather must undertake another self-examination, e.g., he should imagine that if his offering prayer under a certain leader of congregational prayer would result in greater religious grandeur as compared to others following him as a leader of the congregational prayer than which one would he prefer, being a leader, or the follower?
Of course, having sincerity in such type of affairs is indeed very difficult and complex and its true recognition requires hair-splitting efforts, and it is because of this reason that very often its true identification might remain hidden from someone for prolonged periods, and then because of a certain happening or encounter, the reality becomes manifested. Following is an example:
It has been reported about a certain great religious scholar, that for thirty years he offered the prayer in the first row behind the congregational leader. After thirty years, one day it happened that he found himself standing in the second row of the prayer. Suddenly this feeling prevailed upon him, that today others worshipers will notice him standing in the second row, which made him uncomfortable and awkward. And right at this juncture he discovered, that his thirty years efforts and endeavours for presenting him in the first row of the congregational prayers, were not free from hypocrisy and egotism, and because of this reason he repeated his prayers of thirty years, offering them as make up prayers (Qadha).
A little bit of pondering at the above story of this combatant scholar, who preferred for himself to be a follower instead of leader and endeavoured to be present in the first row of the congregational prayer for thirty long years, and ultimately having encountered with this contradiction had repeated his prayers of thirty years, indicates that the difference between the sincerity and egotism is so fine and thin, as well as proves that in order to achieve it, how hard the predecessors have tried.
Whatever has been said regarding the sincerity and truth in leadership is also true for the preacher and preaching which are also susceptible to severe injuries. Are not the injuries of tongue and speech also the injuries of preacher and preaching; are not the injuries of tongue and speech so dangerous, and abstinence from them so difficult, that some of the elders, for the sake of abstinence from it, altogether decided to remain silent, while some of the wise ones from this consideration preferred silence superior than the speech even though speech is undoubtedly superior than silence, and a lot of goodness and benevolence are originated and propagated as a result of speech.
Etiquette of Preacher and Preaching
A preacher should strive his best to speak nothing but truth and have sincerity in his preaching. Whatever earlier was explained for the congregational prayer leader is also valid for the preacher; he must pay attention towards it, in addition to that, he must endeavour to keep himself immune from the tongue's injuries, should not say anything unknowingly, and should not lie about Allah (the Glorious, the Exalted), and the Holy Prophet [s]. The words which give the smell of egotism and self-glorification should not be uttered, the speech which intentionally or unintentionally will result in disturbance, loss, and deviation should be renounced, even though if the deviation of his speech is for the sake of proving a certain clarification, e.g., for responding to the doubts raised by apostates and hostile elements but those listening to them may not understand and comprehend them properly and correctly, thus, resulting in their becoming further deviated. He should not speak in a manner that the listeners become hopeless because of fear, or on the contrary due to too much hope, become proud and arrogant.
While speaking about the prophets and other distinguished personalities, he should not speak in an exaggerated or rhetorical manner, so that the listener might develop misconception regarding them, or might open their tongue in their criticism. Likewise, he should be careful to speak regarding religious commandments, he should not speak in a manner which would result in weakening of the listener's faith about Allah (the Glorious, the Exalted), the Holy Prophet [s], religion and Islamic law Sharia.
By narration of stories relevant to some thieves, bandits, murderers and profligates, should not teach listeners about the methods of looting, murdering, and debauchery, and by describing the interesting stories of fornication and debauchery should not arouse the feelings of listeners, thus, making them interested in these things. He should strictly be careful in narrating the stories of coquetry upon the pulpit, especially, if ladies are present in the audience. He should not act like a preacher, about whom it is said, that upon the pulpit, practically demonstrated the method of purification for the listeners, or like another preacher about whom it is said that from the pulpit, even though with the intention of encouraging good and forbidding evil (amr bil ma'ruf and nahi anil munkar) and prevention from sins, described the most obscene and indecent acts of fornication committed by the sinners. In addition to the above he should try not to be included among those about whom Allah (the Glorious, the Exalted), has said:
"Enjoin ye righteousness upon mankind while ye yourself forget (to practice it)?"
- Holy Qur'an (2:44)
First of all, before preaching and admonishing people about their self-refinement and self-purification, firstly he must endeavour towards his own self-purification and self-refinement, and only then with compassion and gentleness, being tolerant and kind, and with wisdom should try to preach others, inviting them towards self-refinement and self-purification, lest his words do not match with his deeds and his character does not confirm his sayings. Allah forbid, may he be among those who glorify themselves at the altar and pulpit, before the people but when they resort to their own privacy, engage themselves in other things. Because such behaviour makes the listeners more impudent for sinning, makes them pessimistic and hopeless towards the preachers and scholars, even damaging their belief and faith about the prophets and sinless imams, and worse then that, very often, this pessimism makes them disgusted with the religion.
If among the listeners, there does not exist any special group which should be preached to in a special manner the preacher should mention Allah's wrath, Hell, and its horrible punishment, in order to scare the listeners from sins, transgressions, and deviations. Of course, while using this style he should not exaggerate so that the listeners become hopeless, which would result in their becoming more contaminated with sins. And in case, if there are special group present in the audience, that such style of preaching is not suitable for them, either he should change his topic, should arrange for them a separate meeting, or should be careful about their presence, and should strictly avoid speaking anything which would produce a negative impact upon them.
It is narrated that whenever Prophet Yahya [a] was present among the audience, Prophet Zacharia [a] in his preaching always practised abstinence from mentioning about Allah's wrath and Hell's horrible punishments, because, Prophet Yahya [a] was in a state of special spiritual mood, and therefore, was not in a position to tolerate the listening of such speech. By listening to such words he used to become agitated, perplexed, faint and aggrieved etc. In these type of gatherings the preacher should utilize the method of giving good tidings, and by the reminding the mercy, compassion, blessings, and forgiveness of Allah (the Glorious, the Exalted), should make the audience hopeful of divine blessing. Of course, this shouldn't be done in a manner that the sinners become deceived, and with the hope of receiving Allah's blessing and forgiveness become more impudent in sinning.
Yes! The method of encounter of a preacher with his listeners should be like the method of a wise father dealing with his own children. He should encounter them carefully, and should speak in a manner which is most suitable with their conditions, and that ultimately would result in their betterment and overall perfection. Wherever scaring them is feasible with their conditions, he should do so, and whenever giving glad-tidings suits with their expediency, he should practice it. Allah forbid, unintentionally, and because of the lack of experience, he speaks and utters words, which are not suitable for the listeners, would injure and hurt their spiritual feelings, and so often, this would result in ultimately their being deviated and doomed into dark valleys of ignorance.
In narrating traditions he should be extremely careful, should avoid reporting traditions whose acceptance is not easy for everybody, or is not expedient for them, and very often would result in taunting and mocking of those traditions, rather taunting and sarcasm of religion, or would make some people pessimistic, thus weakening their confidence in faith. Especially, in these days, in our times when the grudge and antagonism against religion and scepticism is so prevailing and encouraged, and there are those who are being trained systematically to find out any sort of document, so that they could injure and destroy the religious beliefs of the common people, gradually making them pessimistic, weakening their confidence, and ultimately pulling them towards Paganism.
In narrating such traditions, e.g., traditions which describe plenty of rewards for a minor deed, the preacher should be extremely cautious, either he should practice abstinence from reporting such narrations, or should present convincing explanatory commentaries, thereby closing the path of scepticism against them. For example, if he narrated the following narration for the people:
"Whoever offered a certain two ra'kat prayer, for every word and invocation recited in this prayer, Allah (the Glorious, the Exalted), would award him a palace of pearls and topaz in Paradise."
Very often, some people will consider it as irrational and impossible and would be laughing with taunting. In order to prevent such thinking that how come an insignificant act like offering two rak'ats of prayer would earn such huge amount of rewards; for example, he may justify this by giving this argument - has not Allah (the Glorious, the Exalted), given all of us the power of imagination and thought, without even our requesting or undertaking any deed that by utilization of this power of imagination we may build thousands of cities of pearl and topaz in our mind. Allah (the Glorious, the Exalted), who has given us such power, also possesses this power, that whatever could be imagined by us in our thoughts, in order to have it we perform a certain act of worship, thus, changing those imaginations into a real object, having a physical existence.
Regarding the dwellers of Paradise it has been narrated, that whatever they desire is available for them instantaneously, i.e., whatever they imagine in their mind's eyes, see it in front of them. In other words they possess the power of changing their imaginations into real objects having physical existence. Allah (the Glorious, the Exalted), who has given this power of changing the picture into real objects, to some of his esteemed servants, in this world, could also bestow such power upon his servants in Paradise. Did not the authentic narration report that by the intention and command of Imam al-Rida [a] the picture of a lion upon the curtain changed in to a living lion with a physical existence, swallowed the wicked person who denied the Imam's spiritual power. Did not Allah (the Glorious, the Exalted), bestow this power upon Prophet Moses [a] to convert a piece of wood into a living dragon, the power Prophet Jesus [a] to raise the dead into living, and the power upon Prophet Muhammad [s] that through pointing a finger, could divide the moon into two portions? Also, he was able to raise the dead to life, the gravel pieces recited invocation upon his hand's palms, and cured the sick people.
Even plenty of phenomenon and astonishment which we all imagine in our thoughts or see in our dreams as far as their basis or existence are concerned do not differ very significantly with the real and existing phenomenon, with the only difference, that whatever is seen by us in the state of awakening are identified as permanent and forever, while whatever is seen by us in our dreams is considered as occasional. But suppose it was opposite, i.e. whatever was seen in the dream was permanent and forever and whatever was seen in the awakening state would have been considered as occasional, then in that case would we have imagined dreams as real, and the state of awakening something as unreal and imaginary?
Whatever has been explained above would prove that with the offering of two rak'ats of prayer giving reward of thousands of palaces decorated with pearls and topaz is not something irrational, impossible, and is not something beyond the domain of divine power. Now in addition to this power and potential, if we add Allah's mercy, compassion, love, and benevolence - the mercy and compassion whose infiniteness and vastness in this very world even relevant to His enemies could be seen so clearly - then it would not be too astonishing that Allah (the Glorious, the Exalted), with His benevolence would bestow upon his servants so much reward for offering an insignificant deed.
In summary, if the preacher could present such rational explanations and arguments, thus, making them acceptable for the listener's mind and closing the doors of sarcasm and taunting, then in that case, there would be no problem in narrating such traditions. Otherwise, it would be for better to leave such traditions, and instead to recite only, those traditions, which do not have areas of doubts, so that no one could dare to taunt them.
Yes! Like a physician who is conscientious and caring about the treatment of his patients especially, if the number of patients is large and their diseases are fatal and hard to cure he makes his best endeavours lest he makes a mistake in the treatment, thus, endangering the life of his patients, the wise preacher too should consider himself as a conscientious and responsible physician, and the listeners as patients, who are in need of proper treatment in the from of his preaching. And for the treatment of psychological and spiritual diseases of his listeners, he should strive more than a physician of bodily diseases, because, the psychological diseases are more fatal, dangerous, and more difficult for treatment.
Also, it is for the wise preacher that every day and night before starting his preaching he should submit, and surrender his self and his deeds to the sinless Imam [a] of that day and for betterment of his affairs should seek their help, should start his preaching in the name of Allah (the Glorious, the Exalted), praising and thanking Him and sending salutations upon those who were bestowed distinction by Him, should take refuge in Him from Satanic and the self's wickedness, then being extremely cautious should undertake his preaching. If he does so, Allah, (the Glorious, the Exalted), would help him and would let his words penetrate through the listener's heart and make his preaching be pure wisdom, guidance, and illumination.
His aim, intention, and endeavours should not be anything except strengthening the people's religious beliefs and making them staunch; should teach them etiquette and manners of religion; should teach them how to respect and pay homage to Allah (the Glorious, the Exalted), prophets and imams, buyers of goodness, purity and truth, disgusted with wickedness, evil and sinning; and encourage them to practice abstinence from world's allurements and transient pleasures.
In order to have easy access to these discourses, as well as in order to increase the religious and spiritual sentiments of the listeners, it would be appropriate to mention the life styles of the righteous ones, gnostics, and distinguished scholars. He should narrate the stories about their worships and servitude, piety and abstinence, fear and hope, love and eagerness, and sincerity and sacrifice of these great ones as well as Allah's love, favour, blessings, mercy, forgiveness, and compassion which was bestowed upon them for his listeners, and in any way should not forget to pay attention towards the eloquence, softness, easiness, fluency, and kindness in his preaching which is the method of divine prophets.
Spiritual Journey of the Mystics (Suluk-i Arifan)
Haj Mirza Javad Agha Maliki Tabrizi (R.A.)