A religious ritual organized by oratory practice, the Friday sermon, or khuṭba, has historically played an important role in shaping collective life, public opinion, and common space for Muslim communities. Every Friday, and in every jāmi’masjid or mosque of assembly in the world, the Imam delivers a speech before the Friday noon prayer (ṣalāt al-jom’a). While the Friday prayer is a repetitive and constant marker gathering crowds for collective worship, the sermon within it transforms weekly. From Bahrain to New York, and Amman to Venice, the sites of the Friday sermon create a network of spaces temporarily activated through mass assembly.
The khuṭbatakes root in a pre-Islamic Arab tradition of epic poem and speech recitation.Considered to be the source of the prose genres of Arabic literature, it has produced some of the most beautiful and powerful expressions of the Arabic literary tradition, and continues to carrya significant political, social, and spiritual function. This ritual continued during the early days of Islam, gathering people around the mosque for the Friday sermon, eventually giving shape to congregational spaces in Arab cities to accommodate these gatherings, and hosting a variety of events beyond the religious.For believers, the Friday sermon is a regular pulse of collective listening on the social and political conditions of the time. When thinking about free space, and by extension free speech, for Arab and Muslim communities, the khuṭba becomes a key protagonist.
The content of the sermon can range from hygienic recommendations to calls for non-alliance with Western powers, from patriarchal preaching to strategies for facing the Muslim Ban. The speech can be approved, even scripted by the authorities, or it can be a call for resistance. In times of intensified struggles for freedom, speech, and their repression, it is not only productive, but necessary to consider both the violence and the possibilities embedded in the architecture and medium of the khuṭba. Amidst a regional context, where this previous status quo on the relationship between state and religion is being challenged, it is timely to rethink what this new relationship can be and how it will manifest itself spatially, through its most relevant medium the Friday Sermon.What is the architecture of the Friday sermon, and how does it shape its influence and reach? Transcending the space of religion, the power of the sermon is derived from the persuasion and eloquence of the khaṭīb’s, or preacher’s oratory, together with the minbar they stand on, the gathering of bodies around it, and the loudspeaker technologies that control, distort, and transmit the speech beyond the confines of the mosque, and into streets and living rooms.
Friday Sermon traces the evolution and apparatus of this ritual of oratory and collective listening and registers its implications for the transformation of common space, sometimes as an obstruction and other times as reinforcement, to the possibilities for free spaces of assembly.