Khutbahs for Dummies

Back in the early 2000s, this satirical article made an inordinately huge splash in the Muslim American community. Many were up in arms against the writer (myself) for shaming and blaming Muslims, while many appreciated the explicitly gendered framing of Friday sermons.

By 2014, much has changed, but in many mosques, not much has changed. I leave you to decide how much.

Khutbahs for Dummies
By Shabana Mir

khutbasfordummies300Note: The guidelines below, though most appropriate for brother Pimply, are applicable to all brothers including those with clear skin and full beards, imams, community leaders, sheikhs and MSA speakers. At our last GLBTMA (Great Locally Big Time Muslim Association) conference we agreed on these guidelines in order to preserve the jum‘a proceedings from innovations introduced by excitable “progressive” Muslims who create mischief in the earth.

Dear Big Time Local Imam,
I am in a mosque where most of the guys are either dumb, or just really bad Muslims. The ones who are religious and knowledgeable are studying medicine/engineering/law and are too busy getting ready to make big money. Unfortunately there are some learned, religious sisters who make us look even worse. The guys in charge of Khutbas, who wear dark glasses and hide in corners watching everyone else, have asked me to deliver the Khutba next Friday. They say that they must take “preemptive action” against the “imminent danger” that the sisters will be asked to write or deliver Khutbas. I’m just a freshman and I don’t know much about this religious stuff. Heck, I started going to jum‘a because one of the girls told me to. What should I do?
Brother Pimply Freshman

Dear Brother Pimply,
First of all, don’t feel intimidated by those “religious” sisters. You have something extremely important that they don’t. On top of that, you never get a period.

They seem cool just because they have to make up for being girls. Be a man: look down on them. The Khutba-mafia are pious brothers and you should do what they say.

Here are eleven guidelines for your Khutba:

1. If you feel intimidated about being too young, too dumb and too green, just look straight at the jum‘a attendees who have skipped their classes, delayed lunch, absented themselves from the social scene and made sundry sacrifices to be there at jum‘a.

Look straight at their faces, and tell them they are worthless, sinful people who will never amount to anything. Tell them you know they’re not doing any good these days. If they’re doing any good, tell them it’s not enough by far. Make snide comments about how they love the world too much and don’t care about God, the hereafter and piety. Drop remarks about how they are excessively concerned about their classes and their term papers and their professors, and that shows they don’t care about salat, Ramadan, and Allah (SWT). The shock of this mental abuse that you are performing on them will daze and confuse them. They will feel like they are back in the high school playground and their instincts of fear will kick in. This is excellent because it will inspire them with the fear of Hellfire.

2. By the way, say Subhanuhu wa ta’alaa every time you say Allah; that’s His last name, and you have to preserve a degree of formality in speaking of Him. That way people don’t get too fresh with Him in supplications, and keep it reverential and slightly distant. Then they don’t bring up absolutely every piece of frivolous rubbish in their supplications. It also makes you look smart.

3. It is recommended to drop nasty comments about how you know they must be spacing out right this very moment because they were up late partying (they probably are spacing out because of your Khutba, but be quick to blame it on them so they feel guilty instead of mad at you). At some point accuse people of not focusing on the Khutba, so they will still feel guilty for not focusing. Make sure to draw sarcastic attention to the brother/sister who was fasting and so tired that s/he fell asleep. Don’t acknowledge the ones among them who were up praying last night, or reading Qur’an a little while ago, or struggling against their nafs, or whatever else these Sufi-influenced people do. They don’t count.

4. At various points in the Khutba, in the middle of a sentence, raise your voice suddenly and yell at the audience. When they start and jump in shock, you’ll get a big kick out of their reaction. You will feel immensely better about yourself and your Khutba. This will cause you to yell more frequently, which is good. This is the way our forefathers in our native lands deliver Khutbas, and you must follow that example. It wakes people up occasionally and makes them upset, and sadness is recommended.

5. Remember to drop random phrases in Arabic at frequent intervals. The fact that you are dumb doesn’t help, but don’t worry about it too much. Look away from the desis and white and black folks who stare at you blankly wondering what you just said. The implied contempt will destroy their concentration, and they won’t notice how bad the Khutba was, so you get away scot-free.

When you drop Arabic phrases, the knowledgeable attendees who know you’re pronouncing the Arabic incorrectly will be too pious to correct you or laugh at you. After jum‘a, they will quietly fade away, and say “Brother Pimply mashaallah he is an excellent brother,” and that will mean nothing whatsoever, but that’s ok, because it doesn’t matter if they say nice things even if it’s a lie. They know that the Khutba is their opportunity for a masochistic episode, and where else are pious brothers and sisters going to get THAT?

6. In any case, boy, it’s a Khutba: they can’t TALK! They’re stuck in that room, they HAVE to be silent because the hadith tells them to be. It’s perfect. You can yell. You can abuse them, bully them, be rude to them, and insult them. It’s good for them because it ruins their self-esteem. That’s your job. Work it.

7. In the course of the Khutba, make unreasonable and unrealistic religious demands on your attendees. Say something about how it’s haram for the guys to look at their female professors, the girls in their class or in their study group, or the store clerk. Tell them that when they look at these women, they will then start to talk to them, then they will want to go to dinner with them, and then they will surely commit the big Z.

If you tell them this, you will confuse them effectively, and they will feel like they cannot be religious and live in this world. This is not bad. If they feel disempowered and helpless before religion, this enhances their humility. They will also feel profoundly guilty. This will establish a common link between them and their Catholic friends, and will contribute to interfaith dialogue.

Our Biggest Time Imams use this strategy all the time, and it gets the simple-minded and the pious-minded to become their disciples.

8. If there are sisters in the musalla (may God protect us from such a situation), make sure to never acknowledge them during the Khutba. Always address the audience as “brothers.”

There is only one way that you are permitted to acknowledge their presence. Drop remarks about their lack of hijab. Drop some remark about how it is better for sisters to pray in the inner room of their house. Even better, drop some sleazy remarks about women’s clothing. Say how “these people” claim that wearing hijab is not obligatory, and they only have to cover their bosoms, but then the neckline starts plunging slowly and even the bosom shows; or that the tops become shorter and shorter, and their navels show, etc etc. The women will become full of embarrassment and shock as they hear a strange man drawing attention to their bodies in front of a bunch of Muslim men. They will start pulling their sleeves down over their wrists, or their skirts over their ankles, and they will feel lowly and shameful. As for the Muslim men, they will become slightly flustered at the mention of the girls’ bosoms and navels, and will start thinking seriously about marriage. This is good because marriage is a recommended sunna.

9. Don’t look at the sisters because it is haram to look at them especially during jum‘a. Try to be as mean to them as possible. This is important. During jum‘a it is essential for the khateeb to be mean to sisters. This will encourage on-looking brothers to be mean to the sisters. Everyone knows that brothers will behave differently toward the sisters when other brothers are watching them. Therefore they will refrain from trying to make the Muslim women’s acquaintance, at least in the mosque parking lot. This is very important because our wives pass through the parking lots, and we don’t wish them to witness such goings-on.

10. Make no reference to the brothers speaking to non-Muslim women, because this is not as bad as pious brothers speaking to pious sisters. The combination of piety is deadly. It leads to moderation in gender relations, which we all know is a great innovation. We must keep the brothers and sisters oscillating between the ideal (not looking at or talking to any woman at all, except their mothers, unless the woman happens to be really hot) and the real (private conversations with Stacey and Melissa and Jennifer). This will preserve the true Islaam in their minds, and the true nature of men (boys will be boys, eh!) in their lives. This is a mystery, so try not to think too much about it or you will stray from the right paath.

Some people think it is okay for sisters to be present during religious gatherings, since we are all so religious in them. This is rubbish. Some brothers get really turned on during religious gatherings. The combination of salat and a masjid and a woman gets them worked up. Not that I would know anything about it, but I’ve heard of it. And since jum‘a is really only for men, we must work towards getting the women to abandon jum‘a.

So provide a strong role model to the brothers by being crabby to the women. Only irritable behavior will protect their chastity from those women who are just out to get the men. I tell you, Pimply, many a time has a sister approached me, on the pretext of asking a religious opinion about zabiha or something, when her real intention is to tempt me with her beauty. After taking the first glance at the reckless brown locks peeping from her scarf, at her doe eyes and at all the rest, I just know she’s taken extra care to prettify herself for me. So after that first glance, I take another first glance, just to make sure I don’t err, and after the final first glance, I give her an earful. Pretty soon she stops dabbling in religious stuff, and jum‘a gathering is purified.

11. If you possibly can, Pimply, put the sisters in a separate room. “Forget” the microphone so they can’t hear anything. They will get the hint and stop coming our way to lead us astray. Meanwhile, we won’t be blamed because we never told them not to come, right?

If you follow the above instructions, Pimply, you will develop a career out of jum‘a Khutbas. Pretty soon, you will find yourself invited as a guest speaker to community events, and people will start calling you Imam Pimply.



It’s getting too cold for those reflective moments out-of-doors. And autumn is the anniversary time of my Sufi birth.
Islamabad. Sector F-8/1. Winter.

A cold, un-insulated Pakistani student hostel at the International Islamic University.

Afghan student Zainab and Tanzanian student Shemsa reciting “Of what do they ask one another?” (Surah Naba) in the next room. Qari Aleemur Rahman reciting beautifully in the neighboring classroom. South African Shaheda reciting al-Mumtahina. Khala-ji, the cook, calling for people to get their beans and rice. The Chinese girls chatting and cooking upstairs. Baji, the administrative staff person, calling for Halima-Chinese! to take her phone call. Babaji calling for someone to see a visitor.
Prayers outdoors, ablutions with cold water for no reason except to say “please, please, please?”
Reading Futuh-ul-Ghaib.

Reading Inner Aspects of Faith.

Long walks past the white mosque down a leafy street in Sector F-7 to a chanting and devotions meeting.
Cold floors in Faisal Mosque. Warm sunshine and cold air. He is the First, the Last, the Manifest and the Hidden.

Autumn brings it all back.


Nice girl heartache

heart keeps thumping once it breaks

So many times I’ve told my heart:
it really isn’t appropriate
to keep on going like this, I say.

Achha nahin lagta,* I hiss.
So gauche, so tacky, pushy, poor
in dignity
Nice girls do not.
Nice girls, they fade off silently.
Nice girls’ hearts wave small white flags.
Their lives keep time with broken hearts
and break, so that they do not have
to do the painful walk of shame.

Mine was never a nice girl’s heart.
Broke, broke, and broke, and broke again.
Lay shattered on the doorstep while
guests’ boots scrunched over it all.
“What a racket,” they said, “my heavens,
what a mess.” I shrank and tried
to pretend it wasn’t mine at all.

My heart’s like some sharp-eye steel-wrist
brown-skinned girl who moved at night
from village to village to town,
mud-hut to slums to dull brick-lined
servant-quarters in the bungalow.

-January 21, 2007


Malala’s Nobel Prize

Can you imagine being a mere 17 years old and getting the Nobel Peace Prize?

After that, what choice do you have but to be a political activist and celebrity? Do you have the liberty to become someone else when you are 18 or 19? How will you be someone who is a real person – as opposed to a symbol – to others in your life? You will always bear the burden of symbolism.

I am proud of Malala’s strength, courage, wisdom, balance, and ability to NOT play into the hands of those who would commodify her. But what a burden for a teenager who should still know how to play.

Malala is a child. But she has been forced into the fray of civilizational battles. There are those who bitterly criticize her – for no fault of her own – because she is used as a symbol of the endangered, besieged Muslim female, contrasted with the dangerous, violent, brown Muslim male. This is not her fault. She doesn’t play into this discourse. She is remarkably balanced and wise for her years. But she is stuck in this role, in this incredibly complex adult space of politics.

Dear Malala – continue to be strong though grabby hands snatch to get a piece of you, using you as a placard, a foreign policy justification. And don’t forget you have the right to be just Malala – just a child.


Retracing my steps in Bloomington, Indiana

I am at Indiana University, Bloomington today through Sunday, for a few public speaking engagements. My home department is hosting me, so I find myself an overnight guest at the IMU Hotel – something I could never have imagined as a student. I’ve just had a lunch meeting with Islamic Studies grad students and a cozy book discussion at the Anthropology department.

This is the first time I’ve been in Bloomington as a driver of my own car. As a grad student, I did not know how to drive nor did I have the money to own a car.

I used to think my White friends spoke highly of Bloomington as a ‘fun’ place because they were White and because ‘fun’ activities for them were not so fun for me. But physical mobility, too, is a significant factor in how pleasant a town is. When I see my various former apartments on 11th Street, Woodlawn Avenue, and Henderson St. fly past me, they take on a gentle hue, – not the dull grey heaviness they radiated when I slogged past them, laden with grocery bags and thin winter coats. I passed the Kelley School of Business, where, one winter, I slipped (in my traction-less boots) on ice in the middle of the road, and looked up from my prone position on the road to see a driver giving me the middle finger. I stopped in to pray at the Bloomington Islamic Center – where the women’s prayer-room is still separated from the main prayer-room (I saw a TV that, I guess, shows you the imam). As I prayed, I recalled the hours-long community debate over whether a woman could hold office on the MSA executive committee, and then I picked up my bag and drove off in my car. I drove past the Main Library, where I spent many hours searching for books, typing assignments in the lab, and watching old Bollywood movies. Everything wears the sepia tones of memory. It’s all good now.

Today, driving around, drinking in the sights, and smiling charitably at the students trudging around in the grey drizzle, I realize that America is a whole OTHER country when experienced from a car as opposed to on foot.