ḴOṬBA (oration, speech, sermon), a formal public address performed in a broad range of contexts by Muslims across the globe, rooted in the extemporaneously composed discourses of pre-Islamic and early Islamic Arabia. 

Historically, the ḵoṭba denoted numerous kinds of speeches and sermons, expounding a variety of political, liturgical, religious, military, social, economic, legislative, and ethical themes.  Over time, the word came to mean almost exclusively the ritual Islamic sermon that forms part of the weekly Friday and annual feast day (ʿid) prayer services.  The historical ḵoṭba was always delivered in classical Arabic, but at the present time it is sometimes preached in a local language such as Persian, Turkish, or English, infused with classical Arabic.  The Arabic term for the art and practice of delivering a ḵoṭba is ḵaṭāba, and a person who delivers a ḵoṭba is called ḵaṭib (pl. ḵoṭabāʾ).


In the 6th and 7th centuries, the ḵoṭba was the preeminent prose genre of Arabic verbal production.  The structure, style, and themes of the ḵoṭba at this foundational moment would greatly influence the development of Islamic oratory and Arabic prose (for details, texts, and translations, see Qutbuddin, 2008, 2012, and 2013; Noṣṣ; Ramażān; Jamharat ḵoṭab).  Few ḵoṭba specimens attributed to the pre-Islamic period survive—just a fraction of the whole, according to Jāḥeẓ (III, p. 29).  But those texts that do survive, along with reports about the vibrant practice of oratory at this time, point to a major tour de force in the literary, as well as the political, military, and religious, field.  The pre-Islamic ḵoṭba roused warriors to battle and addressed issues of tribal leadership and mediation, and, from time to time, it exhorted audiences to contemplate the nearness of death.  One of the best known is the pious-counsel ḵoṭba attributed to the Christian bishop of Najrān, Qoss b. Sāʿeda Eyādi (d. ca. 600), which begins “Whosover lives dies.  Whosover dies is gone forever.  All that is to come will come …” (text in Jāḥeẓ, I, pp. 308-9). The Prophet Moḥammad himself is said (ibid.; Ebn ʿAbd Rabbeh, IV, p. 118) to have narrated and appreciated it, and it is still memorized by schoolchildren in the Arab world today.

After the advent of Islam, the pre-Islamic ḵoṭba adapted to the new Islamic polity and the radically different worldview presented by the Qurʾan.  The earlier genres of the political speech, battle oration, and pious-counsel sermon were now underpinned by a call to God-fearing piety and obedience to God’s commands.  Sections of the Qurʾan itself are in the form of a quasi-ḵoṭba preached by a prophet to his community, calling to God and piety.  The prophet of Midian, Shoʿayb, is referred to as the “orator of the prophets” (ḵaṭib al-anbiāʾ; Ṭabari, Jāmeʿ al-bayān, online, exegesis of the verse 11:91), and several ḵoṭbas by him in this vein are recorded in the Qurʾan (e.g., Qurʾan 11:84-95).

The Prophet Moḥammad (d. 11/632) was also a preacher.  In fact, all religious and political leaders in the early period were orators, and conversely, all orators were people of stature in the community, for public speaking was a key attribute of leadership.  In his earliest orations in Mecca, Moḥammad warned of the imminent approach of death and urgently exhorted his contemporaries to turn to God in piety (Ebn al-Aṯir, II, p. 44).  Soon after his arrival in Medina, he preached his first Friday sermon, merging themes of piety with political and military material (Ṭabari, Taʾriḵ II, p. 395; tr., VII, pp. 2-4).  His Medinan orations frequently included legislative topics, such as prohibitions on usury and blood-vengeance (Ebn Hešām, I, pp. 317-18, and passim).  These proscriptions were reaffirmed, along with rulings on various other issues, in what is known as his Farewell Sermon on Mount ʿArafāt (Ebn Hešām, II, p. 447; Ebn ʿAbd Rabbeh, IV, pp. 53-55).  According to the Shiʿites, one of Moḥammad’s most important ḵoṭbas was delivered at a place called Ḡadir Ḵomm, following the Last Pilgrimage, in which he publicly appointed his successor ʿAli b. Abi Ṭāleb (d. 40/661; Termeḏi, no. 3713; Ebn Māja, no. 121; Qāżi Noʿmān, I, pp. 15-17; Ebn Bābawayh, Ḵeṣāl, p. 311).

After Moḥammad’s death, the early caliphs and their governors and commanders continued to negotiate political, military, and religious authority through the medium of the ḵoṭba (cf. Dähne, passim).  Among the ḵoṭba genres at this time was the ḵoṭbat al-bayʿa, a speech delivered by the new caliph upon the former caliph’s death announcing his assumption of the caliphate, or delivered by a governor proclaiming allegiance to the new caliph.  The caliphs Abu Bakr (d. 13/632), ʿOmar (d. 23/644), ʿOṯmān (d. 35/656), and their generals delivered many orations of a religio-political nature.  Imam ʿAli b. Abi Ṭāleb consistently used the medium of the ḵoṭba in the turbulent four years of his caliphate to negotiate power and preach piety.  His ḵoṭbas are considered some of the most eloquent examples of Arabic oratory, and many pieces attributed to him have been collected in medieval compilations such as Šarif Rażi’s (d. 406/1014) Nahj al-balāḡa and Qāżi Qożāʿi’s (d. 454/1062) Dostur maʿālem al-ḥekam (cf. Qutbuddin, 2012; idem, 2013).

In the late 7th and early 8th centuries, a wide range of contexts and contents were engaged by the ḵoṭba.  In Omayyad times, the oratorical center-stage of the caliphs was taken over by their governors and commanders.  Two governors of Iraq, Ziād b. Abihi (d. 53/673) and Ḥajjāj b. Yusof Ṯaqafi (d. 95/714), became infamous for their harsh, albeit eloquent, speeches castigating the recalcitrant populations living in their domain.  Historians, as well as litterateurs, have recorded Ḥajjāj’s rhymed address to the inhabitants of Kufa as “O people of Iraq, O people of dissension (šeqāq) and hypocrisy (nefāq).”  In another renowned speech, the Omayyad conqueror of Andalusia, Ṭāreq b. Ziād (d. after 95/714), is reported to have deliberately burnt his own ships and then to have addressed his army with the words “Where will you flee?  The sea is behind you and the enemy in front. … Fight! ...” (Ebn Qotayba, 1990, II, p. 87).  From the Omayyad period, homilies characterized as ḵoṭbas are also attributed to ascetics and theologians.  The ascetic preacher Ḥasan Baṣri (d. 110/728) and Wāṣel b. ʿAṭāʾ (d. 131/748) expounded themes of God’s oneness, pious counsel, and ubi sunt (Latin “Where are they?”), referring to generations that have died and drawing attention to the transience of human life (Jāḥez, III, pp. 132-34; Ebn Qotayba, 2003, III, p. 370).  Powerful orations were delivered by anti-establishment leaders.  These included revolutionaries of two very different stripes.  The Kharejites believed that mortal sins, which to them included refusal to condemn Imam ʿAli and Moʿāwia (d. 60/680), constituted apostasy.  Kharejite commanders such as Abu Ḥamza Šāri (d. ca. 130/748) and Qaṭari b. Fojāʾa (d. ca. 78/697) fired up their followers to fight with the assertion that all Muslims who did not subscribe to this doctrine were polytheists, legally subject to the sword.  Proto-Shiʿite leaders such as Imam Ḥosayn b. ʿAli (d. 61/680) and Zayd b. ʿAli b. Ḥosayn (d. 122/740) based their claim to legitimacy on their descent from the Prophet Moḥammad and the weighty services rendered by them and their forebears to Islam.  The early ʿAbbasid period saw a similar application of the ḵoṭba, with caliphs, commanders, and governors continuing to execute policy and perform religious ritual through this vehicle, as well as anti-establishment leaders advocating reform and revolt (Šafwat, III, passim).

Most orators were men, but public ḵoṭbas were also delivered in unusual and distressful situations by women.  Examples of female orators from the early period include four of high rank: The Prophet Moḥammad’s daughter Fāṭema (d. 11/632) gave an impassioned speech to Abu Bakr and his associates asserting her right to inherit the lands of Fadak and her husband ʿAli’s right to succeed Moḥammad.  Moḥammad’s widow ʿĀʾeša (d. 58/678) gave speeches praising her father Abu Bakr, and later, inciting the Basrans to fight Imam ʿAli in the Battle of the Camel (al-Jamal).  The Prophet’s granddaughters Zaynab (d. 62/682) and Omm Kolṯum (d. after 62/682) delivered strong orations to the Kufans and Syrians in the aftermath of the Karbala tragedy, condemning the Omayyads’ killing of their brother Imam Ḥosayn (Ebn Abi Ṭāher, pp. 3-29).

Ḵoṭbas till the mid-8th century were produced in a primarily oral milieu, in which only a handful of people could read; writing materials were cumbersome, and written texts were rare.  This orality shaped the composition, transmission, and style of the genre.  Like Hadith, poetry, and historical reports from the period, ḵoṭbas were initially communicated orally for one or two centuries before being systematically written down in the late 8th and early 9th centuries.  So the authenticity of individual texts is not certain.  However, given the robust indigenous tradition of oral transmission, and the thousands of texts recorded in the earliest written historical and literary sources, it is likely that what we have are true remnants from the early phase.  Preaching during this oral period was extemporaneous.  Drawing on conventional motifs and forms, orators freshly adapted and tailored their orations to new situations.  Moreover, orations were cast in a mnemonic mold and included aides-mémoire such as rhythmic parallelism, vivid imagery drawn from the natural world, and quotations from the Qurʾan and poetry.  Given their live, public audiences, they were also replete with audience-engagement features such as rhetorical questions and emphatic structures (see. e.g., Qutbuddin, 2008, passim; idem, 2012, passim).

After the adoption of papermaking techniques from Chinese craftsmen in the mid-8th century, the oral culture that had dominated the Islamic world gave way to a writing-based ethos, whereupon the spontaneous ḵoṭba was gradually replaced by prepared texts.  In the ʿAbbasid and Fatimid empires, an ever more imperial outlook and an increasingly centralized government led to Friday ḵoṭbas being drafted by state chanceries in Baghdad and Cairo, respectively, and then dispatched to preachers to be read out on the pulpit.  Thus, the regal message was relayed simultaneously and uniformly throughout the empire.  Examples of these sermons can be found in historical works; Fatimid ḵoṭbas have been published in a collected anthology (see Walker, ed.).

Many of the structural, thematic, and stylistic features of the early ḵoṭbas continued to hold sway in later times, but features deriving from the writing-based ethos also came into play, in particular, consistent rhyming.  Sermons by famous medieval preachers such as Ebn Nobāta (d. 374/984) of Damascus and Ebn ʿAbbād Rondi (d. 494/1091) of Fez drew on the pious themes and nature imagery of the famous early orators, yet they are also prime examples of the urban aesthetic of the written period, which accorded primacy to rhyme.  The term ḵoṭba also came to be used to denote the marriage address and the praise-of-God introduction to books, because these were often rhymed.

In addition to the ḵoṭba, other forms of preaching existed in the classical period. These included counsel-sessions (waʿẓ), narrations of prophetic tales (qaṣaṣ), testamentary addresses (waṣiya), assemblies of wisdom (majles al-ḥekma), and admonishments addressed to the ruler (maqām).

The keystone of contemporary Shiʿa ḵoṭbas is the story of Karbala. The narrative of Imam Ḥosayn’s (see ḤOSAYN B. ʿALI B. ABI ṬĀLEB) martyrdom is particularly prominent in orations expounded during Moḥarram, but other addresses, such as those delivered during the nights of Ramażān, are also termed “assemblies to commemorate Ḥosayn” (majles-e Ḥosayn).  This conceptual platform is known as the Ḥosayn pulpit (menbar-e ḥosayni), and these religious and religio-political addresses are categorized as “Ḥosayn oratory” (ḵaṭāba Ḥosayniya; for biographies of important Twelver Shiʿite preachers, see Sayyed Ḥasan, 1996-2009, passim; for preaching materials, see idem, 1991, passim).  Rawża-ḵvāni, or recitation of Wāʿeẓ Kāšefi’s (d. 910/1505) narration of the Karbala tragedy from his Rawżat al-šohadaʾ, is also a common practice, which may be loosely categorized as oratorical.


The Friday sermon (ḵoṭbat al-jomʿa) is an essential worship rite in Islam.  It is also a potent religio-political tool and a platform for social and economic change.  Some of its features have evolved across languages, cultures, and historical periods, but its core structure and content and its prime liturgical and religious context have remained stable.

Information about the Friday sermon is found in assorted primary sources. Its ritual parameters are laid out in books of Islamic jurisprudence, in the ritual-prayer chapter’s section on Friday prayer (ṣalāt al-jomʿa).  Hadith compilations include a section on the Prophet Moḥammad’s sayings and doings concerning the Friday ḵoṭba.  The Shafiʿite jurist Ebn al-ʿAṭṭār (d. 724/1324) describes in detail the qualifications, duties, and comportment of the preacher, and the components and etiquette of the Friday ḵoṭba, in the mode of works on correct practices of rulers and judges (Ebn al-ʿAṭṭār, passim). Texts and reports of Friday ḵoṭbas delivered in medieval and modern times can be found in books of history and literature as well as in dedicated compilations of sermons (e.g., Ebn Hešām, I, p. 318; Menqari, p. 10; Jāḥeẓ, II, p. 65; Koṭb al-jomʿa, passim).  For contemporary ḵoṭbas, proceedings are regularly televised and broadcast live, and audio and video recordings are widely available.

The Friday service consists of a two-part ḵoṭba, followed by two cycles (rakʿa) of a special ritual prayer communally performed behind a prayer leader.  The character of the ḵoṭba is viewed differently by different schools of law.  According to the Shiʿites and the Shafiʿite Sunnis, the Friday service stands in lieu of the regular four-cycle, mid-day prayer (ṣalāt al-ẓohr): the ḵoṭba take the place of two of its cycles, and the special ritual prayer takes the place of the other two (Qāżi Noʿmān, I, p. 183; Ebn Bābawayh, 1957-59, I, p. 285).  According to the Hanafite, Hanbalite, and Malikite Sunnis, the special Friday prayer is a mandatory ritual prayer distinct from the regular, mid-day prayer (cf. Bādaḥdaḥ I, p. 97).  Both groups agree, however, that along with the Friday ritual prayer, the performance of the Friday ḵoṭba is a compulsory duty.

The standard structure of the Friday ḵoṭba throughout the Islamic world is as follows: the preacher ascends the pulpit (menbar), turns to face the audience, and greets them.  He carries in his right hand a ceremonial staff, sword, or bow as an emblem of authority and in emulation of the sonna of the Prophet (reportedly rooted in pre-Islamic practice).  The preacher begins the first ḵoṭba with a formulaic praise invocation (taḥmid) that includes glorifications of God and blessings on the Prophet Moḥammad and his progeny and, in Sunni ḵoṭbas, his companions.  Then, with exhortations to consciousness of God (taqwā), he transitions into the body of the ḵoṭba, which contains topics of Islamic history and doctrine, and guidance on how to live a pious life.  The first ḵoṭba ends with a brief praise-and-blessings formula.  The preacher sits on the steps of the pulpit for a few moments, stands up, and resumes preaching.  This second ḵoṭba also begins and ends with formulaic praise of God and blessings on the prophet.  It contains prayers for the preacher, the audience, and all believers, in formulaic fashion incorporating several verses from the Qurʾan (this structure of praise-opening, address, body and prayer, is standard in all types of classical Arabic ḵoṭbas, not just the Friday sermon).  From Omayyad times, it became common practice to include a prayer for the well-being of the caliph.  This added feature was an important indicator of political allegiance and still exists in a modified form in countries such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt.  In the first half of the Omayyad period, preachers were also required to curse Imam ʿAli and his family on the pulpit (Yāqut, III, p. 191; Ebn Senān, p. 422, poem 78, v. 5).  Going forward, cursing the enemies of the state became a periodically recurring feature.

Over the years, certain formulae and Qurʾanic verses become standard components of the ḵoṭba.  The praise-opening often replicates what is reported to be the Prophet’s preferred opening words in his ḵoṭbas: “Praise be to God. We praise Him, beseech his aid, beg forgiveness from Him, and cleave to Him in repentance. We seek refuge in Him from the evil of our base souls and wicked deeds.  Whomsover God guides, no one can lead astray.  Whomsoever God leads astray, no one can guide.  I bear witness that there is no god but God, He is one, He has no partner. [I bear witness] that Moḥammad is His servant and messenger, ‘whom He sent with right-guidance.’” (Jāḥeẓ, II, p. 31; Ebn Hešām, I, p. 318).  Immediately following this opening and the vocative address, the exhortation “I counsel you to piety” (uṣikom be’l-taqwā) is customary.  At the very end of the ḵoṭba, the prayer “I seek forgiveness from God for myself, and for all believers, male and female” (astaḡfero’l-lāha li wa le-jamiʿ al-moʾmenina wa’l-moʾmenāt) is traditional.

There is some difference of opinion on the preferred language of the ḵoṭba. Many jurists require that it be delivered in Arabic, in conformation with its role as part of the ritual prayer, and this is the position taken in a number of non-Arabic-speaking countries such as India, Pakistan, Nigeria, and Senegal.  In these places, an additional non-ritual sermon is usually preached in the local language before the official Arabic ḵoṭba, for only the scholars in the audience understand the latter.  In other non-Arabic-speaking countries such as Iran, Turkey, and the United States, the ḵoṭba is habitually delivered in the local language, although it is framed and permeated with religious Arabic formulae.

A similar, though not identical ḵoṭba, is delivered on the annual festival celebrating the end of Ramażān (ʿid al-feṭr) and the festival celebrating the completion of the ḥajj pilgrimage (ʿid al-ażḥā; Pers: ʿid-e qorbān).  Its format and content is comparable, but conversely to the Friday service, the ʿid ḵoṭba comes after the special two-cycle ritual-prayer of the ʿid.  Also distinguishing it from the Friday ḵoṭba, the ʿid ḵoṭba incorporates repeated chants of “God is great” or Allāho akbar, called takbir.


The Friday ḵoṭba in Persia followed a similar trajectory to ḵoṭbas delivered elsewhere in the Muslim world, but distinguishing features can be found as well.  By the 10th century, New Persian had emerged as a vibrant literary language in the region.  It was written in the Arabic script and widely patronized throughout the eastern areas of greater Iran.  Still, many medieval Persians were bilingual, and Arabic held its own in these lands as an important religious and literary language.  Over the centuries, the Friday sermon would be pronounced in Arabic at times and at other times in Persian.  By the 10th century also, Twelver Shiʿism (also Ismaʿili and Zaydi Shiʿism to a smaller extent) had made significant inroads into Persia (Madelung, 1988, passim).  Both Sunnis and Shiʿites considered the Friday service to be a required religious practice, but in contrast to the Sunnis, Shiʿite scholars questioned its legality in the absence of the true imam.  Moreover, they declared that blessing the ruler in it was an innovation (bedʿa), and instead required in it the pronouncement of benedictions (ṣalawāt) for the Shiʿite imams.  With its Arabic-Persian and Shiʿa-Sunni faultlines, as well as its ruler-jurist and religion-politics nodes, the Friday ḵoṭba in Iran would form a prime locus for negotiations of religion, politics, culture, and law.

Shiʿite jurists contested the validity of the Friday service under an illegitimate ruler.  Linking the performance of religious ritual with the execution of political authority, a much-quoted report ascribed to Imam ʿAli says “There can be no judgment, implementation of criminal punishments, or enactment of the Friday service, except with a just Imam” (Qāżi Noʿmān, I, p. 182; Ṭusi, I, p. 143).  Since the Friday prayer was considered to be in abeyance when the rightful imam did not wield a position of temporal power, many Shiʿites deemed services held during the Omayyad and ʿAbbasid periods to be invalid.  But the story gets complicated: the Shiʿite Buyids (322-446/934-1055), who were de facto rulers of the empire under titular ʿAbbasid caliphs, continued to enact the Friday ḵoṭba regularly in Persia and elsewhere.  Moreover, they had it pronounced for the ʿAbbasid caliphs and do not appear to have included in it the special Shiʿite benedictions (Kraemer, p. 38).

For the Ismaʿili Shiʿites, the rule of the Fatimid caliph-imams of North Africa and Egypt in the 10th and 11th centuries authorized legitimate Friday services to be held over a large part of the Islamic empire.  The Fatimids did not gain control of Persia, which remained under ʿAbbasid rule, but their missionary (dāʿi) in Fars, Moʾayyad fi’l-Din Širāzi (d. 470/1078), performed the ḵoṭba there for his flock, presumably invoking in it the formulaic prayer for the Fatimid imam-caliph of Cairo.  Texts of Arabic ḵoṭbas he delivered on Fridays and other occasions in Shiraz are preserved in his Majāles (III, Ḡadir ḵoṭba, no. 254 pp. 246-50; Friday? ḵoṭba, no. 255, pp. 252-54; ʿid ḵoṭba, nos. 298-99, pp. 437-45; see also the discussion in his autobiography regarding the Buyids’ fears that he would declare for the Fatimids in his ḵoṭba [Sirat, pp. 5-6]).

The Zaydi Shiʿites also wielded political power.  Zaydi imams ruled parts of the Caspian region in the 9th century, and the Zaydis were a distinct presence in Persia till the 16th century.  Yemen was home to a series of Zaydi dynasties from the late 9th century, and the Zaydis remain a major presence in many of its regions till the present day (Madelung, 2002).  They likely performed the Friday ḵoṭba in these areas regularly.

The Twelver Shiʿites believed that after the death of Imam ʿAli in 40/661, no just imam came to hold temporal power.  After their eleventh Imam died in 260/874 and their twelfth Imam went into occultation, they worked out a distinctly Twelver system of laws and doctrines.  Because of its connection with the Imam’s political and spiritual leadership, the validity of the Friday service posed a particularly pressing question.  Their jurists agreed that the Friday service could be enacted only by the Imam or by someone who had been appointed by him, but they disagreed on what constituted such appointment.  Many considered participation in the Friday service during these centuries to be justified only as a form of dissimulation (taqiya).

Following the establishment of Twelver Shiʿism as the state religion in Persia in the Safavid period (907-1135/1501-1736), the Friday service quickly gained currency.  The early kings understood the importance of convening the ḵoṭba in supporting their regime, and they found support among their Lebanese ʿĀmeli scholars (Abisaab, pp. 4, 12, 20-22, 112-14, and passim; see JABAL ʿĀMEL).  In the first treatise on the subject, Moḥaqqeq Karaki (d. 940/1534) encouraged the performance of the Friday prayer for the first time in Twelver Shiʿite history, albeit on the condition that a living jurist (mojtahed, faqih) authorized it (Jaʿfariān, 2003, pp. 109-10).  Rivalry with the Sunni Ottoman empire also played a part in the Safavids’ promotion of this religious ritual.  In 1077/1666, Shah Solaymān had the Friday ḵoṭba performed during his coronation ceremony to show that the Safavids, and not just the Ottomans, adhered to this Islamic practice (cf. Arjomand, p. 178). In 1105/1694, the cleric Moḥammad-Bāqer Majlesi (d. 1111/1700) performed the Friday ḵoṭba upon the accession of Shah Solṭān Ḥosayn (preserved in manuscript; see Āqā Bozorg Ṭehrāni, VII, pp. 202-3).  In order to achieve their political aims, Safavid rulers had been forced to strengthen the jurists’ position, but by treating the jurists as the Imam’s deputies, they inadvertently paved the ground for them to hold a higher position in the future in relation to the political authority (Newman, 2001, p. 34).

As the Safavid period progressed, three major positions vis-à-vis the validity of the Friday prayer during the occultation of the Imam were articulated.  A few jurists such as Mollā Ḵalil Qazvini (d. 1089/1678) continued to declare the ritual forbidden during the absence of the Imam.  A second group considered it mandatory, proclaiming it an “individual obligation” (wojub ʿayni) under a Shiʿite state authority, to be carried out in accordance with the directive of the established political institution.  This was a pro-ruler position, and was endorsed by Shahid-e Ṯāni Zayn al-Din ʿĀmeli (d. 965/1558) and Ḥosayn b. ʿAbd-al-Ṣamad ʿĀmeli (d. 984/1576; Jaʿfariān, 2003, pp. 1-102).  In many Shiʿite circles, jurists who took this position were accused of selling their religion for worldly gain. The majority group, who took a stance in between the first two, deemed it an “optional duty” (wojub taḵyiri), requiring the presence of the true imam or his deputy, namely, the jurist, to authorize the prayer; this was a pro-jurist position and was endorsed by Moḥaqqeq Karaki (d. 940/1534), Ḥasan b. ʿAli Karaki (d. after 975/1569), Ḥosayn b. Ḥasan Karaki (d. 1001/1593), and Shaikh Bahāʾ-al-Din ʿĀmeli (d. 1030/1621; Jaʿfariān, 2003, pp. 1-102).  Over 200 treatises arguing on different sides of the issue are extant; twelve treatises, some Arabic, some Persian, are published in the collection Davāzdah resāla-ye feqhi (ed. Jaʿfariān; cf. analysis of these treatises in Jaʿfariān, 1991, idem, 2003, and Younes, pp. 57-113).  Among other things, the Friday sermon was an arena where jurists competed for authority; Devin Stewart argues that treatises from the mid-16th century about its legality were composed as part of a heated competition for the position of šayḵ-al-Eslām of the capital Qazvin (Stewart, 2009, passim).  The Friday sermon was also an arena where a tussle for authority played out between jurists and rulers.

Also in the Safavid period, preachers habitually included in their ḵoṭbas benedictions for the twelve Imams.  Shah Esmāʿil I, in his coronation address at the very onset of the Safavid empire in 907/1501, made this practice obligatory (Ḥasan Rumlu, ed. Seddon, II, pp. 26-27, ed. Navāʾi, pp. 85-86; Jahāngošā-ye Ḵāqān, pp. 147-49).  A model ḵoṭba containing extended benedictions was written at some point by an otherwise unknown author named Ebn al-Ḥammād (Āqā Bozorg Tehrāni, VII, pp. 194-96; the ḵoṭba is also known as “Ḵoṭbat al-eṯnā-ʿašariya”), and preachers frequently incorporated its text into their own sermons.  They also frequently included the ritual cursing (tabarroʾ) of enemies of the Shiʿite Imams (Shah Tahmāsp, Majmuʿa-ye asnād p. 215, Qāżi Aḥmad, I, p. 73, cited in Stanfield-Johnson, pp. 51, 57, and passim).

In the Qajar period (1785–1925), the ḵoṭba was increasingly used to express dissent, and the Friday prayer-leader (emām-e jomʿa) emerged as a figure of political opposition.  Among the manifestations of the preacher’s power was the fatwā disseminated from the pulpit in 1891 prohibiting the use of tobacco, in protest against tobacco concessions accorded by Nāṣer-al-Din Shah to the British colonial power.  The pulpit ruling was accepted throughout the country, forcing the shah to cancel the concession (see details in Keddie, pp. 67, 76, 95 and passim).

Texts of what appear to be actual ḵoṭbas from the Safavid and Qajar periods, as well as texts of model ḵoṭbas, are preserved in manuscript form (listed in Jaʿfariān, 1991, pp. 179-80; Derāyati, IV, pp. 885-903; Safavid ruler named in nos. 109,319, 109,672, and Qajar ruler named in nos. 109,321, 109,324, 109,369, 109,605, 109,606).

Moṣṭafā Derāyati tags several Safavid and Qajar ḵoṭbas as “Arabic” and none as “Persian,” and Safavid treatises on the validity of the Friday prayer do not appear to mention its language.  But, in view of the growing importance of Persian at this time, it would seem possible that ḵoṭbas had begun to be delivered in Persian.  Further research needs to be carried out in the manuscript sources to answer this question.

During the reign of the Pahlavi dynasty (1925-79), both the political and religious significance of the Friday sermon declined.  Ironically, however, the ḵoṭbas of numerous clerics across Iran were instrumental in bringing about the downfall of the Pahlavi regime (Bakhash, passim).  In 1979, Ayatollah Ruḥ-Allāh Ḵomeyni forcefully reinstituted the ḵoṭba in Iran, employing it as a tool for legitimizing the Islamic Republic and perpetuating his doctrine of welāyat-e faqih (authoritative rule of the jurist), in which the highest political authority was vested in the clerics.   Just as the medieval ḵoṭba contained blessings for the ruler, and just as earlier Shiʿite ḵoṭbas contained benedictions for the Imams, preachers in revolutionary Iran would frequently pray for Ayatollah Ḵomeyni or thank him, linking his name with God and the Imam (cf. Emāmi Kāšāni on 12 March 1982, in Dar maktab-e jomʿa IV, p. 292, and Rāfsanjāni on 25 September 1981, IV, p. 9).  Elected state officials, however, are never mentioned in the Iranian ḵoṭba.

In modern Iran, the Friday ḵoṭba is regularly used to propagate the state’s point of view on current affairs.  The Tehran ḵoṭba is broadcasted nationally on television and radio every week.  These sermons, including sermons by the Ayatollahs Maḥmud Ṭālaqāni, Ḥosayn-ʿAli Montaẓeri, ʿAli Ḵāmenaʾi, ʿAli-Akbar Rāfsanjāni, Moḥammad Emāmi Kāšāni, and Musawi Ardabili, are published by the Ministry of Islamic Guidance (Wezārat-e eršād-e eslāmi) and in newspapers such as Eṭṭelāʿāt and Keyhān, and are widely available in independent compilations and online on YouTube.  As in the earliest ḵoṭbas of Islam, the twin discourses of the sacred and profane come together.  Traditional Arabic formulae, including Qurʾanic verses, Hadith of the Prophet, and sayings of the Imams provide an authoritative framework of legitimacy to their message (see, examples in Azodanloo, passim).  When the preacher mentions the Prophet’s name, the audience responds in unison with a formula of benediction on him and his progeny.  In advancing the government’s goals, preachers use four key Shiʿite themes: martyrdom, millenarianism, Islamic government, and Islamic unity (Ram, passim).  Preaching is in Persian, which enables preachers to connect with the audience.  With a nod to tradition and an eye to politics, they lean on a staff and sometimes on a rifle (Ram, p. 30; Antoun, p. 69).  Alongside its primary ritual-liturgical function, the ḵoṭba in the Islamic Republic of Iran also serves as a key socio-political and military function.

See also EMĀM-E JOMʿA.




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(Tahera Qutbuddin)

Originally Published: January 1, 2000

Last Updated: June 27, 2013