In the name of Allāh ﷻ, the Lord of Mercy, the Giver of Mercy
As the entire World seemingly enters into lockdown, many will be spending more time on their devices watching and listening to Islamic content in a bid to utilise their time as best as they can. It is a great opportunity to teach, educate and cultivate the masses with that which will bring about goodness to their lives and their afterlives.
The phenomenon of giving reminders is something sanctioned and encouraged within our Religion. Allāh (swt) says,
“And remind, for indeed, the reminder benefits the believers.” (51:55)
We all need to be reminded from time to time. Our hearts grow hard if we do not regularly exhort it with the Qurʾān and sayings of the Prophet (saw). It is important though that people do not overexert their efforts to benefit others or benefit themselves in order to avoid monotony and becoming weary and fatigued from being oversaturated with Islamic content.
Abū Wāʾil reported that ʿAbdullāh Ibn ʿUmar used to give a religious talk to the people every Thursday. Once a man said, “O Abū ʿAbdur-Raḥmān! (By Allāh) I wish if you could preach to us daily.” He replied, “The only thing which prevents me from doing so, is that I hate to bore you, and no doubt I take care of you in preaching by selecting a suitable time just as the Prophet ﷺ used to do with us, for fear of making us bored.” (al Bukhāri)
Other than the fear of saturating our times with reminders and thus making them less effective, there is also a concern that it can take people away from more serious and cultivating knowledge which tends to be more sombre, less melodramatic and maybe not as appealing to the masses. Scholars in the past alluded to this reality. Abū Qilābah said, “Nothing has killed off knowledge like the storytellers. A man will sit with a storyteller for a year and not learn anything substantial that will stay with him whereas when he sits with a scholar he will not get up until he learns something beneficial that will stay with him.”
Ibn al Jawzi commented upon Abū Qilābah’s saying by saying. “Most of the content of what preachers preach are heart softeners. Thus, if a person preoccupies himself with listening to such speech over deeper knowledge (fiqh), his knowledge will be insignificant.”
Ibn al Jawzi also explained why some of the venerable forefathers would dislike excessive reminders and storytelling, “Preoccupying oneself with it distracts one from that which is more important such as reciting the Qur’ān, narrating ḥadīth and developing a deeper understanding of the religion.”
ʿAbdullāh ibn ʿAwn al Baṣri (d.132 AH) lamented the situation of his time, “I once saw this very mosque (al Basrah Mosque) with one circle of knowledge that was held by Muslim Ibn Yasār, whilst the rest of the mosque was full of storytellers.”
Only yesterday I was teaching a class about the fiqh of oaths and vows. Some of the issues that were mentioned surprised some as it appeared it might have been the first time they heard such issues. One student commented, “I wish I had learnt these kinds of things a lifetime ago…” which then led him to comment, “It’s contemptible that young Muslims’ Islam is YouTube and Instagram “reminders”.
What can be done about this predicament?
The staple diet in terms of knowledge for the believer has to revolve around Qurʾān and ḥadīth studies. My advice would for every believer is to read/study Qurʾānic/tafsīr studies at least once a week as well as have a regular wird of a basic book of ḥadīth like Riyāḍ al Ṣāliḥīn by Imām al Nawawi (rḥ). Reminders, on the other hand are like sweets. Sweets provide you with a burst of energy for short periods of time and do not actually nourish you. Moreover, an excessive consumption of sweets can be detrimental to your health! More serious study of the Qurʾān and ḥadīth will elevate our religious discourse, it will produce more intelligent believers as well as help remove widespread ignorance and a poor understanding of the Religion.
Motivational and public speakers have a role to give reminders, but at the same time they have a duty to guide the masses to that which will really benefit them in terms of deeper and more insightful knowledge, otherwise, they can potentially become a hindrance to proper tarbiyah. I am also concerned that public speaking is slowly following the path of Christian Televangelism where the focal point becomes more centred around the preacher, rather than God. Neil Postman stated, “The first is that on television, religion, like everything else, is presented, quite simply and without apology, as an entertainment. Everything that makes religion an historic, profound and sacred human activity is stripped away; there is no ritual, no dogma, no tradition, no theology, and above all, no sense of spiritual transcendence. On these shows, the preacher is tops. God comes out as second banana.”
Pragmatism and Public Speaking
It should be glaringly obvious that we are living in a time where there is an overflow of information around us. This had inadvertently led to a dramatic effect on our concentration spans. Many people struggle to focus on a given task without having to reach out for their phones or check their feeds every few minutes. What should that mean for scholars and preachers? Should they compromise and change their styles of delivery to suit the times if that means they end up compromising on what should be delivered to the masses? This probably isn’t the time and place to discuss such an issue, but one thing I strongly believe, is that the status quo should not prevent a scholar or preacher from offering the masses what they need to know, even if it lasts longer than five minutes and is sombre. People are beginning to shun written material as forms of educating the masses under the presumption that “people do not read anymore” and therefore have begun to resort to electronic media, which isn’t intrinsically negative, nonetheless, electronic media, in particular social media, has its pitfalls. The former executive director of the National Religious Broadcasters Association in America sums up what he calls the unwritten law of all television preachers: “You can get your share of the audience only by offering people something they want.” You will note, I am sure, that this is an unusual religious credo. There is no great religious leader – from the Buddha to Moses to Jesus to Mohammed to Luther – who offered people what they want. Only what they need. But television is not well suited to offering people what they need. It is “user friendly”. It is too easy to turn off.”
Let’s aim to raise the bar, educate ourselves to higher levels, reconnect with the Qurʾān and walk in the footsteps of the Prophet ﷺ through his teachings.
“Strive hard for God as is His due: He has chosen you and placed no hardship in your religion, the faith of your forefather Abraham. God has called you Muslims––both in the past and in this [message]––so that the Messenger can bear witness about you and so that you can bear witness about other people. So, keep up the prayer, give the prescribed alms, and seek refuge in God: He is your protector––an excellent protector and an excellent helper.” (22:78)
 Note that Allāh (swt) says it benefits the believers (muʾminīn) and not just ‘muslimīn’. The Qurʾān in other places alludes to the reality that the Qurʾān is a guidance to the people of Taqwā: “containing guidance for those who are mindful of God” (2:2).