Opinion, September 2003, www.aljazeerah.info
Interrupting the Prophet’s Sermon
Adil Salahi, Arab News, 9/12/03
Abu Rifa’ah Al-Adawi, Tameem ibn Asad said that he arrived in Madinah and went to see the Prophet but he found him giving his speech. “I said: ‘Messenger of God! Here is a stranger who has come to inquire about his faith, and he does not know what faith to follow.’ The Prophet came to me and stopped his speech. He brought a chair and I thought its legs to be made of iron. He sat on it and taught me something of what God had taught him. He then resumed his speech until he finished.” (Related by Al-Bukhari in Al-Adab Al-Mufrad, Muslim and Al-Nassaie).
The first thing we note about this Hadith is the manner with which the question is put and the Prophet’s response. The Prophet was in the mosque giving a speech, but we do not know whether it was for Friday prayer or an ordinary sermon. The man comes in and immediately puts his question to the Prophet interrupting his speech. In most societies today, this is unacceptable behavior, which could earn censure, particularly if the speaker has a high position. No position was higher than that of the Prophet in that community. Yet the man interrupts him, which indicates either that the man was so eager to learn something, or that he was uncouth.
We are not told what was the question was, but it appears from the Prophet’s reaction and the man’s manner that it was about the basics of faith. The man describes himself as one who does not know what faith to follow. Hence, the Prophet loses no time in teaching him the basics of faith. There is simply no time to lose. Every one was entitled to learn from the Prophet about the essentials of the faith whenever he saw him, and the Prophet did not give priority to anything over delivering his message. Every individual is important. Hence, the Prophet did not tell the man to wait until he had finished. He interrupted his speech and sat with the man to teach him the basics of faith. He was also keen that all those present were able to listen. Hence, he sat on a chair to be heard well.
We are not told whether the speech was for Friday prayer. If it was not, then there is no harm in interrupting it, even though the interruption is long, since the Prophet was occupied with something that was of benefit to his audience. If the speech was that of Friday prayer, then we learn from this Hadith that it can be interrupted, if the interruption is not long, and the speaker intends to resume it. Or perhaps the interruption was long, but the Prophet judged that what he said to the man could be incorporated in it, as it tackled the basics of faith. Whatever the case might have been, the Hadith tells us that every individual is entitled to learn from the highest authority in Islam about God’s message. This is a task that applies to all scholars in all generations and communities. A scholar cannot refuse to teach anyone seeking to know about Islam, or the Qur’an. If a person says that he does not know what faith to follow, then scholars have to teach him the basics of the Islamic faith without delay.
The Prophet interrupted his speech this time because he was asked a fundamental question about Islam. However, he interrupted his speech on other occasions to look after his companions or to alert them to something of importance. Hussayn ibn Awf mentions that he “arrived when the Prophet was in the middle of a speech. He stood up in the sun, but the Prophet instructed him to move and he moved to a place in the shade.” (Related by Al-Bukhari in Al-Adab Al-Mufrad, Ahmad, Ibn Khuzaymah and others).
This is an example of the Prophet’s awareness of what was going on when he addressed his companions. It is also an example of his care for his companions. He noticed the man as he stood in his position in the sun. This is a case of bearing unnecessary hardship, particularly with a position in the shade available, or could be made available if the people sitting there adjust their seating to accommodate a newcomer.
Another well-known instance of the Prophet interrupting his Friday speech is the one involving Sulayk. Abu Hurayrah relates: “Sulayk Al-Ghatafani arrived when the Prophet was already giving his speech. The Prophet asked him: ‘Have you offered a prayer?’ He replied: ‘No.’ The Prophet said: ‘Pray two rak’ahs and make them short.’” (Related by Abu Dawood). Another version of this Hadith is related by Muslim on the authority of Jabir, who says that Sulayk arrived in the mosque and sat down without offering any prayer. In this case the Prophet interrupts his speech to teach his companions that if one arrives while the speech is in progress, he should offer two rak’ahs as greeting to the mosque. These are normally short rak’ahs, but they are made even shorter if the sermon is in progress.
This Hadith is authentic and provides clear guidance. Even though, some scholars are of the view that if a person arrives in the mosque on a Friday when the sermon is in progress, he should sit down and listen, without offering any prayer as a greeting to the mosque. They provide some interpretation of this Hadith, such as its being a special case aiming to draw attention to Sulayk’s poverty so that he might receive some help. But all such interpretations are unnecessary.
The proper ruling is that when one arrives in the mosque and the Friday speech is already in progress, one may offer two short rak’ahs of greeting to the mosque, or he may sit down and listen. If he sits down without praying, he may not stand up again to pray a Sunnah until the congregation has finished the Friday prayer. Some people stand up to pray when the imam briefly sits down to separate the two parts of the speech, but this is wrong and cannot be done. Once we sit down, we are part of the congregation and we do not do anything other than what the rest of the congregation is doing.
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