THE mosque is not merely a house of worship. It A became from the earliest days an institution of many uses. It always afforded asylum and was a place for community action. Here in early days men mustered for jihad, holy war. It generally was used for school purposes and was shelter for the homeless and the wayfarer. But primarily it had two chief functions- the place for the daily prayers (salat) and the place for the Friday gathering of the faithful to hear the khutbah or sermon. For all these reasons the mosque is the focus, the unifying element of the Moslem community.

Among the essentials of a mosque in the world of Islam even from the earliest days is the minbar or pulpit. The public proclamation of the truths of religion from a raised chair or platform, or the reading, of God's revelation from a special place in public worship, is common to Jews, Christians, and Moslems. It is not strange, therefore, that in the technical word for this chair, desk or rostrum, and in the use to which it is put, we find that Islam has both borrowed and bequeathed. The common word used for desk or pulpit in the synagogue today is almemar1; the word is a legacy from Islam.

Rabbi Dr. Kaufman Kohler, writing in the Jewish Encyclopedia, says that the pulpit in the synagogue, which in the Talmud goes by the name of bema (from the Greek), is now called almemar. This word refers to the elevated platform in the synagogue on which the desk stands for reading the lessons. The word is undoubtedly a corruption of the Arabic al-minbar (pronounced mimbar).

The earliest reference to a wooden pulpit is that mentioned in Nehemiah 8:4 from which Ezra read the law. The proper place for the pulpit in a Jewish synagogue is in the center of the area. The Alexandrian synagogues used a pulpit which went by the name of katheder. This was also known as "the-seat-of-Moses" (compare Matt. 23:2). And in one of the oldest Jewish synagogues extant, at Kai-fung in China, there was a simple desk with the sides extended by a railing and the whole placed on a circular platform which went by the name of the chair of Moses.

The illustration accompanying the article by Dr. Kohler bears a striking resemblance to some of the primitive pulpits in Moslem lands. In the Encyclopedia Judaica there is a photographic reproduction of the stone almemar of the synagogue at Aleppo, dating from the sixth century. It has three steps leading to a small square platform supported in the rear by basalt columns. This, too, bears close resemblance to the earliest traditional mosque-pulpits, although, as we shall see, these were made of wood.

The Arabic word minbar (pulpit) comes, we are told, from the root nbr, which signifies, "he raised or elevated a thing... or to raise the voice, to speak in a high tone"; or, according to another authority, the pulpit was "so-called because of its height 2." Schwally, however, believes that the word has an Ethiopian derivation, where it has the significance of throne, seat, or tribunal. Most probably the word came into the

Arabic language through Yemen before Islam (Aghani 13:165 ) 3. Becker prefers the derivation from the Arabic root.

The pulpit in the early days of Christianity was called bema and ambo. The deacon preached from the ambo, the bishop from his cathedra. The former word was also used of the synagogue pulpit. Jesus Christ and the apostles gave their message from these "seats of Moses" (Matt. 23:2; Luke 4:20). The Jewish bema (from the Greek for a speaker's tribune) is the counter- part of Ezra's wooden pulpit (Neh. 8:4) and is so rendered in the Septuagint. Ambo, plural ambones, is also a Greek word said to be related to that of mountain or elevation (Isa. 40:9; Matt. 5:1).

The ambo was introduced into the churches about the fourth century and became universal in the tenth. Chrysostom was in the habit of preaching sitting in the ambo. Bunsen thinks it was originally a movable pulpit or chair. At St. Sophia in Constantinople the ambo stood nearly in the middle of the church, but a little eastward. It was ascended by two flights of stairs, one from the west and one from the east.

A picture of the ambo of St Apollinare Nuovo at Ravenna, built between 493 and 525 A.D., in some respects resembles the minbar in the Sultan Hassan Mosque of Cairo 4. The typical ambo consisted of a square or circular platform resting on columns or plinth, railed in front, with access by a flight of steps and occasionally surmounted by a canopy. The gospel was read from a higher step than the epistle 5. All of which is of interest when we study the evolution of the minbar in Islam.

In his monumental work, Leone Caetani has collected the data regarding the gradual growth of early Islamic public worship, and. has conclusively shown that tradition alone is not a safe guide on the pathway to historic conclusion 6. C. H. Becker's two studies on the pulpit im primitive Islam and on the history of the Cultus in Islam are most important 7.

Wensinck gives a list of traditions relating to the pulpit in Islam, with references to all of the six standard collections. If we could rely on these sources, we would learn that the pulpit took the place of the palm trunk against which Mohammed used to lean, and which lamented when he abandoned it; that between Mohammed's house or the tomb in which he was buried and his pulpit there is an (invisible) garden of paradise; the pulpit, in fact, as well as Mohammed's house acquired a special sacred character.

A false oath at Mohammed's pulpit brings severe condemnation because of the sanctity of this environment. Tradition also tells in detail when and by Whom the first pulpit was made for Mohammed; and finally speaks of al ‘udani, the two bits of wood, that is, the pulpit and the staff of the prophet 8. The first pulpit is described for us in Bukhari. The prophet commanded one of his slaves, a carpenter, that he should make a wooden seat to be used when he addressed the people. It was made out of acacia wood found at Al-Ghaba. Before he used the pulpit, the prophet was accustomed to lean against a palm-stump.

We read in Tabari (Vol. 1:591)

"In this year, A.H. 7, the prophet made his minbar, on which he was accustomed to preach. It had two steps and a seat." Others say the pulpit was made in the year A.H. 8. When ‘Amr built a mosque at Fustat, Egypt, he also erected a pulpit, but by the command of the Caliph ‘Umar it was immediately ordered to be destroyed, because 'Umar wrote to him rebuking him for attempting to sit when God's people were standing for prayer. (The reference in Becker is to Ibn Tagribirdi, Vol. 1:76.) The rule seems to have been in early Islam that the preacher sat on the pulpit in giving his address. The standing was a later innovation. According to a tradition current in India, the earliest pulpit had three steps. Mohammed in addressing the congregation stood on the uppermost step, Abu Bekr on the second, and ‘Umar on the third or lowest. ‘Uthman fixed upon the middle step, and since then it has been the custom to preach from that step 9."

The place of the pulpit in the mosque seems to be identical with that of the ambo in the Oriental churches, namely, to the right of the altar or the mihrab. The preacher sits in the minbar, and stands only for the delivery of the sermon. He must have a staff or a sword in his hand. Becker discusses the question why the preacher carries a staff or a sword. Some hold it was for his protection against unexpected attack from enemies. Al-Ghazali in the Ihya (Vol.1:130) says that the preacher holds the staff to prevent his gesticulating with his hand! There seems to be no question that the staff or sword was a necessary adjunct of the preacher from the earliest times. Jahiz is quoted as saying,

"As far as I am concerned, the preacher can mount the pulpit naked, but he must have a turban and a staff 10."

The earliest pulpits were portable, that is, they were made of wood in such a fashion that they could be carried about. Becker infers that the pulpit originally was a chair of the judge, the throne of authority where pronouncements and judgments were made by the prophet, and only later did it become a place of public address.

The sacredness of pulpits from the earliest times is evident from the fact that they were hung about with coverings in the same way as the kiswa covering the Ka'aba-(Tabari 11:292). In later days relics were kept under the pulpit; visitors received blessing by stroking the pulpit covering. According to Becker, it was not until the time of the Abbasids that the pulpit became what it is today.

Becker traces a parallel in the history of the Christian pulpit and that of Islam.

"The Christian pulpit originated in the bishop's throne, which stood in the earliest Christian basilika in the apse, exactly where, under paganism, the judge's chair stood."

Therefore, he concluded, the Christian pulpit also has its origin in the seat of the judge. In Christianity, however, both chair and pulpit remained side by side, while in Islam the chair of the judge became itself the pulpit of today- the minbar of the mosque. On the other hand, and not without reason, Dr. Margoliouth believes that the Moslem pulpit was a conscious imitation of what was seen by the refugees in the old Abyssinian churches. Peculiar sanctity attached to the pulpit of Mohammed, which is said to have lasted until 654 A.H., when the mosque was burned.

In his article on Minbar in the Encyclopedia of Islam, E. Diez says: "Becker refers to the earliest historical statement, which says that the prophet in the year 7 A.H. made his minbar, on which he used to preach to the people; it had two steps and a seat (maq'ad). The minbar was therefore originally a raised seat or throne. On the morning after the death of the prophet, after stormy disputes, Abu Bakr took his seat on the prophet's minbar in a solemn assembly and received the general homage here.

The later caliphs followed this tradition, as did the governors, who ascended the pulpit on their accession to office and on their resignation. The minbar in the early period was therefore not at all specially associated with worship but was the seat of the ruler in the council. The pulpit only gradually grew out of it with the development of public worship. According to Becker, the date of the change from the ruler's or judge's seat to the simple pulpit coincides with the end of the Umayyad dynasty.

By the year 132 A.H. all the mosques in the provinces of Egypt were provided with minbars, and at the same period probably in the other lands of Islam. At the beginning of the Abbasid period the minbar was already a pulpit exclusively. The first tendency to its use as a pulpit is seen by Becker in the introduction of the minbar into the divine service at the musalla, the outdoor place of prayer in Medina; this innovation is ascribed to Mu'awiya or to his governor. The prophet did not have a minbar at the musalla, and nothing but divine service could have been held there.

The architectural development of the Moslem pulpit is one of the most interesting chapters in the history of mosque architecture 11. The most famous of all in the history of Moslem art is the great pulpit in the mosque of Kairawan. It was built of carved wood brought from Baghdad, with a staircase of seventeen steps leading to the preacher's platform. The minbar attained its finest workmanship in Cairo under the second Mamluk dynasty in the fifteenth century. Most of the minbars of early date have no canopy. This seems to have been introduced from India; and is customary in China.

"In India," E. Diez writes, "pulpits were built almost exclusively of stone. Many, some of them richly carved, still exist in the Muslim provinces and towns of India. The pavilion on four pillars, common and popular in India, which gives a charm to buildings for Muslim worship as a decorative finish to the roof, was also used here for the stone minbar. Indeed, one might even wonder whether this originally Indian structure was carried by the Eastern Turks to Central Asian lands and adopted by them for the minbar. Minbars - with such canopies are frequently found in the mosques of the province of Gujarat and in Ahmedabad."

The architectural development of the pulpit met with opposition from the Puritans in Islam. When Amr, the ruler of Egypt, built a costly pulpit, it was considered an indication of his pride, and he was forbidden by the Caliph ‘Umar to complete it. Only in the first half of the second century of Islam did the minbar become universal. Even in the time of the Umayyads the question was raised whether the khatib was allowed to sit on the minbar, or whether he should deliver his sermon standing. The result of the controversy was the present regulation that the preacher must give the first and second parts of his discourse standing and is al- lowed to sit only during the pause 12.

Wensinck agrees that one of the conditions for the validity of the Friday service is that it must be preceded by two sermons. The preacher must pronounce these two brief homilies standing, and sit down between them. It is commendable, we are told, that the pulpit be an elevated place, and that the preacher lean on a bow, a sword, or a staff. He must direct himself to his audience and offer a prayer on behalf of all Moslems.

The khutba must be short. He goes on to say:

"Regarding the khutbas of the service during an eclipse, al-Shirazi remarks that the preacher must admonish his audience to be afraid; and in the service in times of drought he must ask Allah's pardon, in the opening of the first khutba nine times, in the second seven times; further, he must repeat several times the salat on Mohammed as well as istighfar, recite Sura lxvi:9, elevate his hands and say Muhammad's du'a. He must direct himself towards the kibla in the middle of the second khutba and change his shirt, putting the right side to the left, the left to the right, the upper part beneath and keep it on till he puts off all his other garments."

These prescriptions surely indicate that a preacher is not an ordinary layman! They also point to the relation between the Mohammedan pulpit and the judge's seat in early Arabia; explain why the khatib must sit down between the two thutbas; and also why he must lean on a staff, sword or bow, for these were the attributes of the old Arabian judge (Becker).

In his study on the history of Moslem worship, C. H. Becker has endeavored to establish a close connection between the services on Friday and the Christain mass. He believes that the first khutba corresponds to the first part of the mass. The second khutba, with the call to prayer, is an echo of the responses between the deacon and the priest who administered the mass. The recitation of the Koran corresponds to that of the Scriptures in the Oriental churches. The second khutba corresponds to the sermon and the general prayer.

Mittwoch, however, combats this view, and finds rather in the Jewish liturgy features corresponding to those used in the mosque. He believes that the recitation from the Torah corresponds to the first khutba and that from the prophets to the second 13.

The khatib is the preacher of the Friday sermon. Frequently in smaller mosques he is the same as the imam. But, as Pedersen points out, his office is higher. The prophet himself had a khatib, namely, ‘Utarid b. Hajib.

He preaches and pronounces a prayer for the temporal ruler or khalifa. He has high honors, often high emoluments. In Mecca he was once a very imposing figure, ascending the pulpit in black robe trimmed with gold and a tasseled turban; and accompanied "by two servants who carried banners, and one who walked before him cracking a whip. After he had kissed the Black Stone, the chief muezzin went quickly in front of him with the sword with which he girded him on the minbar 14.

A preacher with whip and sword and a pulpit at Mecca and yet - "there is no priesthood in Islam!" It is not generally known that in every mosque, according to orthodox tradition, from West Africa Western China, a sword, or staff, is kept near or in minbar, and it is required that the khatib hold it when preaching the Friday sermon. In some cases it is made of wood - but the symbol is always present. Baladhuri explains its use in a short but weighty sentence: "Every land or district was conquered by the sword except Medina, which was won by preaching 15."

What was the character of the earliest preaching Islam? We have, fortunately, the text of Mohammed’s first sermon as a specimen. The prophet's first and second khutba in Medina are given in Ibn Ishak's Sira (ed. W´┐Żstenfeld, p.340). Margoliouth gives a translation, not because of its being considered by Western critics as genuine, but as a specimen admired by all Moslems and which later preachers followed:

"The Apostle of Allah praised Allah and said Amma ba'du (after this) Oh people, provide for yourselves (by good works), accept instruction. By Alla you will be thunderstricken and every one of you will leave his cattle without shepherd. Then his Lord will say to him, speaking without a dragoman and without a screen: 'Has not my Apostle come to you? He preached to you, and I provided you with money an gave you abundance. What have you provided for yourself?'

Then you will look to the right and to the left, without perceiving anything (which can aid you) you will then look before you, but not perceive any thing besides hell, even though it were on account of piece of a date (given as alms), he should do it, or on account of a good word, if he should not possess a date. For good deeds are rewarded ten, nay even seven hundred times. May peace and God's mercy and blessing be upon you."

E. W. Lane gives examples of the mosque preaching current in Egypt in his day. He translates a new year sermon preached in the great mosque of al-Azhar. This sermon, which consisted of an exhortation on the brevity of life and the certainty of death, was followed by the second khutba called the khutba of praise. In it we have the following reference to unbelievers:

"O God, assist the forces of the Moslems, and the armies of the Unitarians. 0 God, frustrate the infidels and polytheists, thine enemies, the enemies of the religion. O God, invert their banners, and ruin their habitations, and give them and their wealth as booty to the Moslems 16."

Other typical sermons are given by Sell 17. The fact is that the Friday sermon in Islam soon became stereotyped. The exordium and the conclusion are always practically the same. A few sentences in the middle refer to the special subject of the sermon. The second of the two sermons consists of an invocation of blessings on the leaders and heroes of Islam, and sometimes includes a malediction on unbelievers, as in the example given by Lane. Except as an innovation in modern Turkey, both sermons are always given in Arabic throughout the world of Islam. What would answer to our idea of a sermon, such as an explanation of doctrine or an exposition of some passage in t Koran, is not a part of public worship in the mosque. This is done either in an ordinary assembly or by learned man in one of the mosque-schools.

Sermons are delivered before the mid-day prayer on Fridays, and after the prayer on feast days. They a also given at important weddings and on public occasions. Orthodox jurists state that the elements of sermon must be five:

praise to God,
a blessing on the prophet,
an admonition to piety,
a blessing on the believers,
and comment on or quotation from the Koran.

A prayer for the reigning sovereign is also common, although not universal. Margoliouth says that the practice was introduced in Baghdad about 367 A.H. "If the introduction of a prayer for the sovereign was late, the practice of cursing public enemies from the pulpit was early; the second Khalifah is said to have so cursed a man who was guilty of what was thought an immoral practice; and in the first civil war 'Ali and Mu'awiyah introduced imprecations on each other into their sermons. The cursing of 'Ali in the Friday discourse was continued till the end of the first Islamic century, when the pious 'Umar II put an end to it; as late as 321 A.H. there was a question of re-introducing the cursing of Mu'awiyah" (E.R.E. art. Muslim Preaching).

The list of influential preachers in the history of Islam is not great. Some of them are mentioned by Margoliouth, such as Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani (561 A.H.), who claimed to have made five hundred converts to Islam and to have reformed more than 100,000 criminals, although his own personal character appears to have left something to be desired. Some of these preachers amassed great fortunes and maintained harims of colossal size. Margoliouth quotes, with comment, an account from the traveler Ibn Jubair who visited Baghdad in 580 A.H.:

" 'Scarcely a Friday passes without a discourse by a preacher, and those among the inhabitants who are specially favored pass their whole time in meetings where such are delivered.' He describes a Friday service at the Nizamiyyah College where after the mid- day prayer the shaikh Qazwini ascended the pulpit; chairs were placed in front of him for the Koran- readers, who chanted elaborately, after which the shaikh delivered a powerful discourse; questions were then addressed to him on strips of paper and he replied forthwith to every one. The historian Jamal al-din Ibn al-Jauzi held services of this kind every Saturday, and his eloquence also greatly impressed the traveler.

The results were similar to the phenomena at times seen at revivalist meetings; many in the congregation sobbed and fainted, and crowds of penitents thronged to touch the preacher. tlt would have been worth while to cross the sea to hear one of these sermons. On Thursdays this ,prdacher's gatherings were held in a private court of the palace, from which the khalifah and his family could hear them. The text was a verse of the Qur'an which ended in nas, and the preacher maintained this rhyme throughout his discourse. Into the sermon he introduced compliments to the khalifah and his mother, and prayers for them; he further recited many verses, some encomia on the sovereign, others of the Sufi erotic style, which affected the audience powerfully 18."

Mosque pulpits were intended for seats of authority, not primarily for preaching; for judgment, where the Imam sat and exercised rule. The pulpit and the staff went together. From the year 7 A.H. to the present day, the minbar of every great mosque in the world of Islam is "the seat of the mighty." From such minbars the khatib has exercised the power of eloquence, roused the multitudes to new fervor, or even jihad, and pulled down princes from their thrones. The history of the Azhar University in Cairo for a thousand years offers many examples. Lord Cromer knew the power of the Moslem clergy in his day; and the mosques of Achin in Sumatra or of Turkey, even in the days of Abd-ul- Hamid, could tell the same story of the enormous power of the 'ulema (clergy) in Islam. They are indeed a "royal priesthood, a peculiar people."

In his history of the propagation of the Moslem faith, T. W. Arnold emphasizes a fact often forgotten; that Islam is at heart a missionary religion and that not only by conquest but by preachers it has won adherents. He notes that although laymen and merchants did their part, the outstanding preachers belonged to the 'ulema. He mentions as typical examples "Mawlana Ibrahim, the apostle of Java, Mu'in-ud-Din Chisti of India and countless others who won converts by peaceful means alone."

When the Imam Ibn Hanbal, the great theologian, died, Ibn Khallikan relates that twenty thousand Jews and Christians became Moslems! In the present century the Wahhabi revival sent mullah-preachers into North Africa and Bengal. While Sheikh Ismail, a Sayyid of Bukhara who came to Lahore in 1005 A.D., gathered crowds of Hindus "and it is said no unbeliever ever came into personal contact with him without being converted to Islam."* The present-day efforts of Ahmadiah "clergy" are well known. They publish their propaganda magazines in Chicago, London, and Berlin as well as from India at the two centers of Lahore and Qadian.

From the pulpit in the world of Islam there has sounded forth again and again the call to jihad or holy war against infidels. On the other hand there have been instances to my own knowledge when the Friday sermon commended Christian missionaries, or where public prayer was offered for world peace19. Governments have made use of the Moslem pulpit to broadcast useful information to the illiterate masses.

A sermon on the boll-weevil, calling for a jihad to destroy it, lest cotton crops be ruined, was preached in the mosques of Egypt in 1925 on request of the Ministry of Agriculture! It begins: "Praise be to God who exceedingly prefers the diligent to the lazy and has ordained labor as the best worship" . . . and after describing the plague and its remedy closes thus:

"Therefore, let nobody refrain himself from fighting and destroying this insect; and let nobody say that this is God's visitation, for God created both the disease and the remedy; and He ordered us to ply and labor. The person neglecting the precautions against the plague which afflicts his crop is no doubt a transgressor. Likewise the person who carelessly leaves his cotton to be eaten up by the insect is also the transgressor. 'God helps man so long as man labors to help himself.'

O, God's servants, preserve the means of your living and fight this injurious insect. If you take these steps you will need nobody's aid. God said, 'Seek to attain by means of which God hath given you the future mansion, and forget not your portion in this world; but be ye bounteous, as God hath been bounteous to you, and seek not to act corruptly, for God loveth not the corrupt doers.' (Koran, Chap. 28, vs. 77 and 78)20."

* The Preaching of Islam, pp.7, 65, 232-234.

This surely is modernism in the pulpit, but in the best sense of the word. It would be of interest to learn from various Moslem lands what the character of the Friday sermon is today, and in how far it has freed itself from the old stereotyped form and content. The Christian pulpit, at least in Persia and in Egypt, is already exerting some indirect influence. In the former country a missionary was even invited a few years ago to preach on the minbar, and his sermons gave satisfaction.

We now pass from the pulpit to the colonnades and central area of the mosque where lustrations, prayers, and meditation find their home and where we meet the other personnel of the mosque.




1 Encyclopedia Judaica (Berlin, 1928). Pulpit is from the Latin pulpitum, the foremost point of the Roman stage where the actor stood. In the French and the Dutch, chaire and precekstoel, we have the notion of cathedra or seat of honor. The German Kanzel (chancel) comes from the Italian cancelli, a screen.

2 Lane's Arabic Dict., Part viii, p.2757.

3 Z. D. M. G. Vol. lii, pp. 146-148. The earliest pulpit was a seat of authority. In early times the Arabic word majus seems to have been occasionally employed for minbar. (Margoliouth, E. R. B.)

4 Smith and Cheetham - Dict. of Christian Antiquities, Vol. 1, p. 56.
M. Fernand Cabrol (Dict. d'archaelogie Chretienne, Vol.111, p.39) gives an account and a picture of the ancient (pulpit) chaire a Torcello, Italy, to which the Cairo minbars bear still closer resemblance.

5 Schaff-Hertzog Encyclopedia. Article, Ambo.

6 Annali dell' Islam, Vol. I, pp.432-457.

7 Islamstudien, pp.450-500.

8 Becker, Islamstudien, p. 456. Cf. article on "The Sword of Mohammed," (The Moslem World, April, 1931).

9 The preacher in the great mosque at Mecca today stands on the third step from the top of the pulpit. Cf. photographs in Ibrahim Rifa'at Pasha's Mira't al-Haran'ain, Vol. I, p. 253.

10 Among the Shiabs it is ordained that the preacher shall wear a turban and the striped Yemen cloak. The Umayyads used to robe the preacher in white, but in Abbasid times he wore black.

11 Cf. G. Migeon, Manuel d'Art Musulman, Vol.11, pp. 103-106.

12 T.W. Juynboll - Handbuch des Islamischen Gesetzes, pp.85-87. Further details in regard to the duties of the imam when ascending the minbar, and on the innovations which are to be avoided, are given in Al-Madkhal by Ibn al Hajj, Vol. II, pp. 123-125; and on the right height of the minbar and its construction, Vol.11, pp.78-79, Cairo edition.

13 E. Mittwoch, Zur Entstehungsgeshichte des Islamisehen Gebets und Kultus, in Abh.. Pr. Akad. d. Wissenschaft, 1918, No.2.

14 Quoted from Ibn Battuta by Pedersen, Encyc. of Islam, p.372.

15 Futuh al Buldan - Opening chapter.

16 Lane’s "Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians," p.91.

17 Sell, "The Faith of Islam," p. 311-312.

18 Margoliouth on Preaching in Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics.

19 The Moslem world, Vol. V, 305.

20 The Moslem world, Vol. XV, p.197, where the sermon is given in full.


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