Imam Suhaib Webb’s Khutbah and Halaqa Talk Today – and on what makes a good khutba/sermon

Today, Imam Suhaib Webb came to give the khutbah at a mosque where I live and then also at my university. Both were beneficial, and I’m happy I chose to attend both. I needed some of the things he reminded us of, so, so many of the things he said. Of course, being myself, I have issues with a LOT of the things he’s said on his social media and his website–and his understanding of Islamic feminists/Islamic feminism needs a whole bunch of work, but, as his sermon and halaqah talk emphasized, we’re all humans/Muslims in the making, goodness/Islam is a process, and there are right and wrong ways to teach and learn from each other. All disclaimers aside, I appreciate this reminder, and, as he and I established, we’ll be talking (he had an interesting explanation for why he posted his recent Abu Eesa comment on FB, and I didn’t even bring it up, so. Then I was like “oh yah btw I’m the girl who has tweeted to you about all-male panels and your responses were refreshingly positive, so thanks, man”). Let’s just say I’m hopeful about the kinds of conversations I’ll be having with him, inshaAllah.)

Oh, he said that some folks in his community gave him a hard time for inviting Dr. Kecia Ali to speak at their mosque once. If I remember correctly, he said he didn’t care about that (we were talking, very briefly, about the importance of listening to “the other side.”)

Anyway, I want to emphasize again that the halaqah was great. (I say this knowing that a lot of my feminist and other “radical” female friends have been treated with disrespect by Suhaib Webb, from what these friends tell me. I know he’s blocked plenty of them as well. My experience with him has been different, and while I stand against a lot of what he says on social media, I do think he has some positive qualities that, as I discuss below, I’m willing to appreciate.)  The reasons his talks were enjoyable include the following facts:

a) he was funny.
b) he said a LOT of things that would/should make people uncomfortable–like briefly mentioning orgasm and unapologetically saying that the barrier in mosques is totally not okay and is actually un-Islamic even–and he was owning up to this statement.
c) he constantly said that “religion/Islam is ease” and that he doesn’t care that many people take issues with this hadith any time he references it in khutbas or talks, that it’s a fact, and if religion is causing us unease, something’s wrong with our understanding and practice of it. Good stuffz.
d) he emphasized Islam’s appreciation of the “human,” normalizing the human in Muslims, reminding us that it’s not just okay to be human but that it’s actually important to be human (e.g., it’s okay to make mistakes, and you can make a million mistakes and God will still forgive you because God’s mercy is larger than the sins/mistakes we commit no matter how many times we commit them and no matter how big the sin is; also, that Muslims put way too much emphasis on perfection and forget that Islam isn’t an event but a process; and so on.)

d) he showed competent familiarity with popular culture, with what the Muslim youth is up to, with popular (online) Muslim-related controversies (sadly, he invoked the Abu Eesa event to basically say “we have more important things to worry about as an ummah than what Abu Eesa does/says on his social media” (this, obviously, does not sit well with me at all).
e) his reminder that there’s good and bad in EVERYone, with no exception, and it’s important to acknowledge and appreciate the good, and if the bad is important enough to be causing strife, then there are effective and ineffective ways to point those out and condemn them. (Again, all disclaimers aside – I do believe, for instance, that his recent apology to Abu Eesa is something that does us more harm than good.)
f) his other reminder for us all to remember that we’re all more than the sins, mistakes we commit, more than the things we hear about each other and about what’s said against/about us anywhere.
g) he spoke honestly about the problems Muslims are facing, and he did not deny them or avoid talking about them. He stands against this obsession of ours to be right, to always be right, to be perfect (he has an article on this online, too; can’t find it right now), to correct each other, to pressure each other so much that we push people away from the community/Islam/religion instead of embracing them exactly for what they are and then offering spiritual and other necessary support because we’re all struggling in something or another because we’re, most basically, human before anything else.

h) his emphasis on the need for structural excellence in the Muslim community, addressing the mosque/barrier issue (he said: “feeling comfortable in an (Islamic) institution is one of the objectives of Islam.” This comfort extends to everyone, not just to men, he said, and it also includes women leaders, not just men leaders), the lack of facilities that Muslims need in order to maintain a healthier environment, the need for supporting each other with the resources we already DO have (e.g., he said, “At Harvard, on Career Day, the Jewish communities come out in support of each other and synagogues actually offer CAREERS [to Jews, presumably?]. But we Muslims offer people the thing they can do till they find a job” – ‪#‎allrelevantdisclaimersapply‬)

i) he pointed out, finally, his lack of support for this other need for ours as Muslims to convert non-Muslims to Islam, not realizing that doing good for our communities (community service, etc.) also counts as da’wa.

i) he does not believe in barriers in mosques, and he said this a couple of times, even specifically saying, “Dude, that wall of y’all’s, yeah, that needs to go awwwway! I don’t know how the sisters are letting it stay and are praying behind it like that.” (Yeah, at the khutba, we initially couldn’t see him, and then they opened up a little bit of it so that we could… and he’d look to his right, where the men were, and to his left, also where the men were, but not in the middle – where the women were. ‘Twas… sighs. I hear women have complained, before, when the male speaker looks at them directly while speaking, so I don’t really know what to think about this. But meh.
Needless to say, I had a moment when he said “that wall needs to go awwwway”!!!! I’m sure anyone around me who say me freaking out wondered what was happening to me. It’s just… that’s me ❤

Importantly, much of what he said, as my roommate and I discussed afterwards, he was able to get away with it all, despite his very, very traditionalist Muslim audience, *because* he’s white and he’s a convert. More on this some other time. (Yes, it’s a fact that authority/power have a race and gender.)

Thanks for reading, folks! 🙂 I hope y’all benefited from this post at least a little bit as much as I benefited from today, aameen.


About Orbala

I want it to rain on my wedding day, pliss.
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3 Responses to Imam Suhaib Webb’s Khutbah and Halaqa Talk Today – and on what makes a good khutba/sermon

  1. Nahida says:

    I am unwilling to appreciate anything.

    He’s never blocked me on social media, never attacked me personally, but the way he has treated women is personal. And inexcusable. I am not willing to overlook this to appreciate anything about him, including a khutbah that is entirely unoriginal and that others who are not as widely appreciated have already written before him.


    • orbala says:

      And that’s totally fair and understandable. I don’t think everyone should approach this issue the same way.

      I don’t think anything from either the khutbah or the halaqa talk was unique or new (and I don’t think they need to be new, either); it’s only that I think the audience needed it (may have been new for some of them), and, let’s face it, we know that you and I or another woman or another feminist who has been saying those exact same things for decades has no audience. So here’s to hoping that at least a few in the audience benefited from his, say, the anti-barrier comments he made.


  2. Vikram says:

    Hey Orbala, I wanted to get your perspective on religiosity in modern life, especially in an industrial economy with democratic politics.

    It seems to me that the transition from a pre-industrial (agrarian/trading/nomadic/warrior) economic system leads to fundamental changes in the whole relationship between people and whats around them. Life becomes more predictable, the world around us becomes more utilatarian, I mean just look at our cities. Spaces and objects that are not ‘useful’ in some way are at a minimum, and even those that are not directly ‘useful’ are for reasons of health/regeneration (parks/trails) or are left over from a past legacy (for example: churches around my university in the US.)

    Secondly, the democratization of politics brings more and more demands on societal surplus, and invariably politics in democracies is about instrumentality. I think politics was always about this, but in the non-democratic era religion was an essential veneer needed to legitimize the authority of the few. In democratic politics this veneer is no longer needed and the instrumental nature of politics cannot be hidden in any case.

    So all evidence and reasoning I can muster (perhaps flawed and limited) points to an ultimately diminishing role of religion in people’s lives as societies industrialize and democratize. This is seen in the US, Europe, Japan and Korea, so it seems agnostic to the original religious system present. To make a crude analogy, religions seems like pre-modern medicine (Unani, Ayurveda, Homeopathy etc) which people like to refer to and take pride in for cultural background purposes, but in reality rely on mainstream medicine.

    So what role does religion really have beyond identity and culture ?


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