The Arabic word khuṭba has a range of senses in Islamic literatures. It is
only loosely and inadequately defined by the western Christian terms
“sermon”, “homily” or “oration”, etc. Within Islamic literary history khuṭba
can indicate a much favored oral discourse or related literary form and
contain weighty cosmological, theological, prophetological and other
materials. Within Imāmī Shī`īsm the seminal Nahj al-Balāgha (“The Path of
Eloquence”), ascribed to the cousin and son-in-law of the prophet Muhammad,
the first Shī`ī Imam `Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib (d. 40/661), is a major compendium
including over 230 khuṭbas (“sermons”) compiled in the 10th-11th century CE
by Abu'l-Ḥasan Muhammad ibn al-Ḥusayn al-Mūsāwī, Sharīf al-Raḍī (d. 406/
The scores of khuṭbas of the Bāb are not exactly like the sermons delivered
on Sundays by countless Christian clerics in their respective churches. Like
the first Imam `Alī (d. 40/661) who succeeded the Prophet Muhammad, the Bāb
as the latter-day messianic `Alī of the new age of fulfilment, found himself
inspired to set forth a considerable number of Arabic khuṭbas (“sermons”).
Many of these khuṭbas of the Bāb also deal with deep theological issues like
the first sermon of the Nahj al-Balāgha (Path of Eloquence).
Numerous Khuṭbas were set down by the Bāb throughout his six year ministry
(1844-1850). They were often evoked in response to diverse historical
circumstances such as persons or places encountered. When travelling on his
almost ten (Gregorian) month extended pilgrimage journey (1844-1845) to and
from Shiraz-Bushire travelling to Mecca and Medina via the ancient port city
Jeddah (now in Saudi Arabia) he often dictated khuṭbas. Many were
originally written down by his companion and major disciple Quddūs.
In this presentation some of the contents of the Khuṭba al-Jidda (Sermon at
Jeddah) and the Khuṭba `ilm al-Hurūf (“Sermon on the Science of Letters”)
and other khuṭbas will be commented upon and contrasted with sermons
ascribed to Imam `Alī. Reference will also be made to some of the
later sermons of the Bāb contained, for example, in the very late (1850 CE)
Kitāb-i panj sha’n (Book of the Five Grades). It will be illustrated that
khuṭbas form a major through somewhat neglected aspect of the universe of
the writings of the Bāb.