THE ASSEMBLY OF EXHORTATION (MAJLIS AL-WA)
world news, a discussion of questions of faith and proper religious practice, an entertaining anecdote, and best of allâ€”scenes of tearful penitence and dramatic conversions. One could mix and mingle with a large crowd of fellow-men, including high ranking ulamĂĽ and members of the ruling elite, and perhaps catch a glimpse of the intricacies of local politics and power relations. Narrative descriptions tell us that majĂĽlis invariably opened with a session of QurĂĽn-recitation; a prologue intended to build up the liturgical and aesthetic dimensions of the occasion, and arouse pious sentiments and expectation in the audience. An anecdote, primarily told to demonstrate the sense of humor of the BaghdĂĽd preacher MuÂŞammad b. MunajjiÂŞ AbÂ¨ ShujĂĽ (d. 581/1185), reveals something of the importance of QurĂĽn recitation on such occasions, and the prestige of professional reciters. During AbÂ¨ ShujĂĽs visit to WĂĽsiâ€ , the towns people, who obviously enjoyed his preaching, asked him to double the number of his performances per week. AbÂ¨ ShujĂĽ, attered, tried to comply, but whenever he xed a day for an assembly, the QurĂĽn reciters claimed that they were too busy to come. Had I known, joked AbÂ¨ ShujĂĽ, I would have brought over a day from Baghdad!14 Lacking a full description of the program of the majĂĽlis of Syrian preachers (not even that of the renowned Sibâ€ ibn al-Jawz) let us look at the model followed by his grandfather, the great BaghdĂĽd preacher Ibn al-Jawz (d. 597/1200). His assemblies always opened with QurĂĽn recitation, conducted skillfully by the best readers in Baghdad. When they were done, Ibn al-Jawz would say words of exaltation and praise for God and His Prophet, and recite a supplication (duĂĽ) on behalf of the caliph and his subjects. Only then would he begin his speech, with exegesis (tafsr) of the QurĂĽnic verses that were recited at the opening of the gathering. A question-answer session came next, oering the audience an opportunity to be heard as well. During the admonition, the part properly called wa or tadhkr (literally: reminder), Ibn al-Jawz prompted the faithful to live by
14 Dhahab, Tarkh, 59:129. Note majĂĽlis " O ,n contrast with# , $ , os by the % ' ( , " " "$ $ ) ( *
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(Murray, Religion, 296).