For any thinking person, there is perhaps no greater struggle than sitting through a mind-numbing khutbah, week in and week out. Over time, these experiences deflate the spirit, oppress the mind, and deaden the soul. They leave people in doubt about their faith.
Imagine if khutbahs could melt hearts, actually teach something new and inspiring from our vast tradition, and provide penetrating commentaries on the world we live in? Imagine if they addressed the real problems that Muslims confront? Imagine if they provided the knowledge to not just defend against Islamophobic rhetoric, but to make Muslims proud to be Muslim?
It is hard to imagine if one has never experienced that kind of khutbah. Do they actually exist? We believe so. They have been taking place at The Usuli Institute, and we present twenty-two such examples in this inaugural volume, the first of many, God willing (insha’Allah).
Khaled Abou El Fadl teaches us that every pulpit in Islam since the Prophet has been symbolically the pulpit of the Prophet, and that to speak from the Prophet’s pulpit is to indeed assume a very heavy responsibility. It is a sanctified position, and the speaker owes that pulpit a diligent search for truth, justice, and superior knowledge - that which far exceeds common knowledge. Professor Abou El Fadl reminds us that there is a trust - a moral obligation between the speaker and the congregation - that the speaker will testify honestly about what is most serious and compelling for their lives as Muslims. If one is unable to meet this standard, they should not step on the pulpit. The title of this volume is intended as a reminder that those who stand on the Prophet’s pulpit are following in the footsteps of the Prophet.
Most striking is just how far our modern-day reality has fallen from this standard. And yet few deliver on that standard quite like Khaled Abou El Fadl. In the coming pages, the reader is immediately transported to another world - a world of enlightenment, ethics, critical analysis, and humanity in all its complex forms - and how our God, our Qur’an, and our Prophet addressed the challenges of humankind. We are immersed in a world where vibrant Islam lives, and where the intellect, heart and soul must live as one for a human to thrive. We learn how God’s ethical trajectory for our faith arcs towards moral beauty, what that looked like at the Prophet’s time, and what it should look like in ours. The message is deep, intuitive, and anchoring. It is at once liberating and empowering - and very foreign when compared to what Muslims experience at the mosque today. It demonstrates the vast disparity between an enlightened khutbah of a full-time scholar who has dedicated his life to studying a 1400-year-old tradition, and the khutbahs of countless doctors, engineers, board members, and others for whom reading books on Islam is a hobby. The latter have become the gatekeepers to the Prophet’s pulpit to the grave detriment of the American Muslim experience in our times.
Over one year before American mosques were shuttered because of COVID-19, The Usuli Institute began offering virtual khutbahs. We did so because we were convinced that the quality of khutbahs was so abysmally low, and the experience of going to the mosque had become so alienating for so many Muslims, particularly converts, women, and younger generations, that it became a religious duty to offer an alternative. Little did we know that in just over a year, our world would be transformed by a global pandemic and most everything would go virtual.
Meanwhile, the global condition of Muslims has continued its descent unabated. Our experience as Muslims in an Islamophobic world is largely confusing, painful, often hopeless, and wrought with doubt. In these dark times, there are few places to turn for an honest, educated voice that is dedicated to justice and grounded in the ethical tradition of Islam. There are even fewer if any scholars who are willing to speak truth to power, or able to connect the dots of injustice in the world, make it make sense, and bring it all back to what our tradition says about what our role as ethical Muslims should be.
Khaled Abou El Fadl does exactly that. Importantly, these virtual khutbahs quickly became a weekly commentary on our world from the lens of a distinguished scholar, thoroughly engaged in the problems of our age, while issuing uncomfortable wake-up calls to his beloved Ummah. Some readers may find this exposure unsettling. In the past, Professor Abou El Fadl has been accused of politicizing his khutbahs or "bringing politics to the pulpit." One could respond that silence is no less political. Or, one could note that calling for truth (al-haqq) and justice (al-‘adl) is not political, only ethical. The present collection of khutbahs is "political" only if the Prophet was "political" when he challenged and condemned the unjust Meccan practices of his day.
What is undeniable in the pages that follow is the power of this education, and what resonates the loudest is the sound of truth. One feels the impact deep within and there is a visceral cleansing effect for those searching for something greater, more beautiful, and more divine. It is our hope that by presenting these elevated khutbahs in book form, Muslims will recognize and demand a new standard worthy of the Prophet’s pulpit in our times.
We are proud that this inaugural volume marks the first book published by Usuli Press, an imprint of The Usuli Institute. The Usuli Institute’s mission is to elevate ethics, critical thinking, and dignity through education. We believe that the most important jihad of our times is the jihad of knowledge and ideas. Through this and future publications, we aim to leave a legacy of brave, thought-provoking, and inspiring work that is thoroughly grounded in our vast intellectual tradition, and that can liberate the mind, elevate the spirit, and unleash the divine potential in every human being. May God accept.
 The Usuli Institute, The Prophet’s Pulpit (Khutbah, 16 October 2020).
 The Usuli Institute, The Usuli Institute’s First Virtual Khutbah, (Khutbah, 25 January 2019). Also see Chapter 1: The Usuli Institute’s First Virtual Khutbah in this volume.
The Usuli Institute