A while back, I decided to change up mosques for Friday prayer due to a lack of inspiration. Essentially, I’ve spent the past two years trying to find one that had something to offer but alas, it seems recycled material is what passes for a good khutba (sermon) these days. I even started a pet project of tagging each khutba with a few key words to see how often the same topics are discussed over and over again. Some day I’ll share the results.
But last Friday, I went back to the mosque that I once abandoned simply because I was short on time and it remains the most geographically-convenient mosque.
And I was surprised.
To start with, I was half-expecting the khutba to be about swine flu since it has hit Jordan recently. I expected to hear about the divine wisdom of forbidding the consumption of swine and how the current pandemic may be Godly retribution of some sort.
Instead it was a khutba about, believe it or not, brain drain.
The imam started through storytelling, a rare art these days in religious sermons. He described a young man who was an orphan and quite intelligent, who was offered a scholarship to study in the US. He was eventually offered American citizenship and he turned it down to go back to his country. Upon returning he went through a sequence of never-ending hassles and obstacles that ranged from ministries rejecting his degree, to experiencing an environment of bad work ethics, to the lack of fields requiring his high-level education, to losing out on job opportunities due to the presence of wasta (nepotism), etc.
Eventually the young man returns to the US where he finds a decent job (at NASA no less) and takes up the American passport.
The story, whether fiction or not, highlights the vast array of similar stories we’ve all heard or even personally experienced. To be honest, at this point I’ll take any story that is remotely contemporary, speaks to my issues and does not involve what someone did 1,000 years ago.
Surprisingly, the imam moved from story to non-fiction, unloading a bucket-full of facts about the lack of investment in our youth, in science, in research and in worth ethics. He dissected the factors that contribute to the vast number of young Arabs who prefer to move abroad to study, work and live. He offered statistic after statistic, and for what would be the first time, he talked for 5 minutes about Israel, but not in the enemy-combatant context, rather in pointing out a regional comparison of how much “we” invest in research and development and how much “they” invest.
I wish I could remember some of the other statistics but suffice to say the man had obviously done his research, even going so far as to quote various credible Web sites and encouraging people to “Google it”.
He didn’t blame a single entity; usually a specific Arab government – but rather the entire Arab world as being responsible for contributing to the brain drain environment. Moreover, he integrated Islamic texts on work ethics, investments in science and research, and sustaining the younger generation to demonstrate the Islamic obligation of working ethically and creating a scientific society that enables the youth to prosper.
This may have not been the greatest khutba ever told but in comparison, it may be the best I’ve heard in a long time and it warranted an attempt at articulating it in a post.
To sweeten the deal, I was actually impressed that during the actual prayer, an imam, for once, recognized that it was 35 degrees outside (probably even hotter inside) and stuck to reading two of the shortest verses in the Quran (surat al-ikhlas and al-kafirun) instead of supplicating till half the crowd passed out.