Jumuah lecture on Friday 14 January 2022 (11 Jamadil Thani 1443)
Moulana Syed Aftab Haider
Ahlul Bait (a.s) Masjid
Ottery, Cape Town
I am sure we will agree that over the past few weeks, we have benefitted and enjoyed from the diversity of scholars who visited, through their diverse approaches and vision, Alhamdu Lillah! This diversity is of course a source of blessings and goodness, and undoubtedly refreshing. We appreciate all that they have done to empower us during the holiday period and may Almighty Allah (SWT) reward them, Insha Allah.
We are now well into the new year, 2022. As we all do, the onset of the new year is a great excuse to plan for the year ahead. It is common for people to make resolutions and commitments regarding various aspects of their life, such as health, work, etc.
This is indeed very good.
HOLY QURAN HIGHLIGHTS LEVELS OF VIRTUE TO DETERMINE PROPER PRIORITIZATION
Any opportunity for planning and organizing one’s life is highly recommended. What I would like to discuss is the issue of PRIORITIES in life. In verse 19 of Surah Tauba (chapter 9 of the Holy Quran), Almighty Allah (SWT) says:
أَجَعَلْتُمْ سِقَايَةَ الْحَاجِّ وَعِمَارَةَ الْمَسْجِدِ الْحَرَامِ كَمَنْ آمَنَ بِاللَّهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الْآخِرِ وَجَاهَدَ فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ ۚ لَا يَسْتَوُونَ عِنْدَ اللَّهِ ۗ وَاللَّهُ لَا يَهْدِي الْقَوْمَ الظَّالِمِينَ
What! do you make (one who undertakes) the giving of drink to the pilgrims and the guarding of the Sacred Mosque like him who believes in Allah and the latter day and strives hard in Allah’s way? They are not equal with Allah; and Allah does not guide the unjust people.
This verse is referring to a group of people in Makkah who were very proud of their services to Hujjaj (pilgrims). They used to provide water to these pilgrims, and they also use to maintain Masjidul Haraam, which is Islam’s holiest site.
These two practices – water to the Hujjaj and maintaining Masjidul Haraam – are indeed two prime acts of worship (Ibadah), and these people were very proud of this, while they accepted Islam much later in their life. Therefore, they did not even participate in jihad or other great struggles of Islam, nor did they make sacrifices the way that Maula Amir al-Mu’mineen Imam Ali ibn abi Talib (a.s) made or the other earlier pioneers of Islam.
Despite this, they proudly reminded others of the noble deeds that they upheld, namely giving water to the Hajis (pilgrims) and maintaining Masjidul Haraam.
These acts are indeed crucial and very good, without any doubt, but the above verse challenges them that this is not equal in the sight of Almighty Allah (SWT) when compared with faith in Him and the Hereafter and Jihad (struggles in the path of Allah (SWT)).
The point that is highlighted here is that there are priorities and levels of virtues. What this means is that there is an issue of important versus not important, and it goes without saying that they are not equal.
The reason I am highlighting this is that the same applies in our daily life and society at large. It is very important to understand what is more important and what is less important ie. prioritization! This principle applies in our individual life, social life, our practice of religion, in our interaction with other people and how we treat and interact with them.
IMAM ALI (A.S): BE MINDFUL NOT TO SQUANDER THAT WHICH IS MORE IMPORTANT
One of the foremost Sunni scholars of our time is Sheikh Yusuf Qardawi, and he uses the term Fiqh Aulawiyyāt (Jurisprudence of Priorities). This means there is Islamic jurisprudence focusing on priorities ie. what is more important for us. Of course, there is a long list of good things every person should perform. Naturally, everybody cannot do everything. Neither time, nor our capacity, nor environment allows. That is why the issue of prioritizing becomes crucial.
This is where we learn from the very beautiful statement from Imam Ali (a.s) in “Ghurar al-Ḥikam wa Durar al-Kalim”, which is a compilation of his aphorisms and short sayings. He cautions regarding a person who occupies him/herself with something which is important and good, but at the same squanders something which is more important!
In another similar statement, Imam Ali (a.s) makes this statement in reference to the state/government, saying that when the leadership of the society occupies its energies with the branches or secondary issues (furu), the result is that it wastes or diverts attention from the principle (usul).
This is therefore a very important point to consider when planning the priorities and resolutions for this new year. Where does the akhirah stand (Hereafter) and where does the dunya stand (worldly pursuits) in our priorities?
Of course, everyone has their own ambitions and goals to achieve in life. However, in this list of priorities for the year ahead, something to seriously reflect upon is the level of priority we assign to worldly achievements and its temptations (dunya) versus our investment in the Hereafter (akhirah).
WHERE DOES SPIRITUAL DEVELOPMENT AND RELIGIOUS COMMITMENT FEATURE IN OUR PRIORITIES?
The common resolutions people prioritize is weight loss or financial goals! This is of course very good, and it must be there, but is this all that we need?? The key question to remind ourselves of is, where is the akhirah listed in our priorities?
What is our new year’s resolution in regards to increasing our spiritual status and priority to our commitment towards Islam? This could be increasing our religious knowledge or religious practice, to increase our level of spirituality. This certainly warrants our attention now at the beginning of the year, to prioritize it in our new year’s resolutions.
We get different types of people. Some only indulge in the spoils of this material world and as a result, all their priorities and resolutions are only focused on dunya! There is nothing in their list of priorities dedicated towards akhirah and religious commitment to elevate their spiritual status.
Then there are those who place a great deal of emphasis on religion, but perhaps have misplaced priorities here. Here you will find people who dedicate their interest towards the SHELL of religion but do not give priority towards the CORE of religion.
PRIORITIZE THE CORE ESSENCE OF WORSHIP INSTEAD OF FOCUSING ON THE SHELL
Let me share some examples to crystalize the point. However, in doing so, I appeal to please not misunderstand or quote out of context to distort the point.
An example is Hijab, which we all know is extremely important. Quite simply, it is compulsory, and spiritual upliftment without Hijab is not possible. But then you find people adopting the mentality that Hijab is everything and the completion of your faith!!! Another example is when people emphasize on the size of the beard!
This is where people forget the core spirit and teachings of religion – that ethical and internal purity and cleanliness of the heart and purification of the soul, as they are stuck in the external shell of religion. This core spirit of religion is therefore important to be cognizant of in our priorities.
Similarly, there are those people whose priority is on quantity of Ibadah. Yes, it carries great value, but the quality of our Ibadah should be the overriding priority.
The overarching point is that of our thinking over our practice ie. Aqeedah over Amal. If your vision of Islam is not clear and your understanding of Islam is not comprehensive, simply focusing on rituals, then its value is not as effective for your spiritual development.
The key is to maintain focus on long-term aims over short-term aims and the priority of Fardh (compulsory) over Mustahab (recommended) acts. It goes without saying, this is one of the main problems we are grappling with.
I would like to end this first khutbah (sermon) by also reminding about the important prioritization required on the reform of our thoughts and ideological belief (Aqeedah), particularly those which are based on surety and the subject of consensus of the Ummah, rather than consume ourselves with issues which are disputable and for which differences of opinion exist.
I think we have all now captured the point through these examples, of the framework for assigning priorities to our resolutions for the year ahead. Otherwise, as referenced earlier from the statement of Imam Ali (a.s), where he cautions that we would waste our life in something which is not worth it.
SHEIKH ABDILAHI NASSIR: PROLIFIC THINKER OF EAST AFRICA PASSES AWAY
There are numerous important issues over the past few weeks which require detailed analysis. Amongst them is the passing away of Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the fire at Parliament…
Today I would like to draw your attention to a personality who passed away a few days ago, Sheikh Abdilahi Nassir from Mombasa, Kenya. A great scholar, thinker, writer, poet, revolutionary and orator. His books and legacy in East Africa and the rest of Africa is a shining example of a visionary African religious leader.
He was born in 1932 and got educated at traditional schools. He hails from a prominent family of religious scholars (Ulama), poets and writers in Mombasa, from a Sunni background originally.
He studied Islam in Zanzibar, which was the main centre of Islamic knowledge at that time in East Africa. He achieved quite a prominent position in the Kenyan society at that time and became a member of parliament pre-independence in Kenya.
He was from those who wrote the constitution of Kenya and was active in the struggle against the British and accordingly played an important role in its liberation. He was also a regular speaker on TV and radio in the 1980s due to his popularity.
KEY LEGACY OF SHEIKH ABDILAHI NASSIR: NEVER SURRENDER YOUR CRITICAL THINKING!
In studying his biography, there was one spark in his life which triggered his ideological persuasion towards the school of Ahlul Bait (a.s), and that was his critical mind. Always thinking and questioning!
He writes about his life story, saying that in those days, they were not allowed to ask questions to their teachers. It was seen as a taboo and heavily frowned upon to ask questions to the religious scholars! They ought to accept whatever the religious scholars were feeding them! That was the manners and etiquette expected (adab).
He then writes that this was his predicament until he found a teacher by the name of Sheikh Ghazali, in Mombasa, who had an alternate approach. Sheikh Ghazali was his only teacher until then who allowed him to question.
Sheikh Abdilahi Nassir writes that he asked the following question from Sheikh Ghazali: “As a Sunni, as far as I have read the original, classical Hadith resources, I found a status and position of Imam Ali (a.s) higher than anyone else after our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA). That being said, when it comes to his rank, he is classified as number 4 on the list, and in some understandings even lower than number 4. And the question is WHY?”
This question was seen as ultra-sensitive to ask, perhaps even a crime, whereby you would be immediately outlawed! However, Sheikh Abdilahi Nassir says that this particular teacher, Sheikh Ghazali, allowed him to ask such questions.
Sheikh Ghazali responded saying that this is how the followers of Ahlus Sunnah wal Jamaah believe, that there is a special status for Imam Ali (a.s) but he comes fourth in the classification. That being said, Sheikh Ghazali reaffirmed to Sheikh Abdilahi Nassir that indeed, he is allowed to think.
Sheikh Abdilahi Nassir credits Sheikh Ghazali for one amazing principle, whereby he was encouraged by Sheikh Ghazali to do his own research and conclude his own views based on his research, for which he will be judged on his independent thought on the Day of Judgement.
What Sheikh Ghazali was highlighting to him was that he will not be judged based upon what his teacher said. Instead, we will asked what we thought and what our understanding of Islam was, based upon our thinking and research. And we will be judged by Almighty Allah (SWT) based upon this, and not what we inherited…
While I am not saying that I necessarily agree with this line of thinking, I wish to highlight that this alternative way of thinking encouraged Sheikh Abdilahi Nassir to continue his critical thinking. This approach opened a totally different world for Sheikh Abdilahi Nassir.
SHEIKH ABDILAHI NASSIR CONDUCTED THOROUGH RESEARCH INSTEAD OF BEING EXPRESSIVE IN HASTE
He then writes that thereafter, he got hold of Al-Ghadeer by Allama Amini (r.a). He says that after reading the first volume of Al-Ghadeer, he was in a completely different world.
Amazingly, he then says that Sheikh Ghazali guided him not to express all his views. And this links very nicely to the message of the first khutbah about proper prioritization and acting according to this prioritization. The fundamental ingredients to proper prioritization are time and space, as this helps one decide what is more important right now compared to anything else.
A proper understanding of the time, space and the prevailing conditions is what helps one with correct prioritization.
This is why Sheikh Abdilahi Nassir remained silent for a very long time before expressing his opinions, while conducting more and more research in the process. Then, when he felt the time was right, he expressed his religious opinions and ultimately became one of the prominent scholars from the school of Ahlul Bait (a.s) in East Africa.
SHEIKH ABDILAHI NASSIR IS A PRIME EXAMPLE OF BEING CRITICAL WITHOUT CAUSING DISHARMONY
This man wrote more than 25 books in Swahili and English, and left hundreds of lectures recorded on various media platforms. Furthermore, he established an Islamic University near Mombasa and trained hundreds of students.
One key point I would like us to take a key lesson from this visionary man is that he did not become sectarian after he changed his ideological persuasion to become Shia, after spending his early life as Sunni. He became an outspoken voice of Shia in East Africa but never raised the voice of hate and division in society.
His interaction with non-Muslims and Sunni Muslim religious scholars, his previous colleagues, never stopped. He worked together with them positively and that is why he continuously appeared on national media, as he never showed up as an agent for sectarianism and extremism to create instability in society. Nothing of this sort at all!
This is the beauty of East Africa which I have personally experienced, where people choose their ideological position freely, but it never becomes the source of hate and violence or the source of division. In fact, in the past 20 – 30 years, he was a very active voice against terrorism and extremism, presenting Islam as the message of love, compassion and care for humanity.
In fact, if we go down memory lane, he visited us in South Africa as a key delegate of the first regional conference of the Ahlul Bait (a.s) World Assembly, held in Cape Town in the early 90s.
May the Mercy of Almighty Allah (SWT) be upon this beautiful soul and may He grant him the company of the Ahlul Bait (a.s).
AFOSA extends it’s sincere condolences to his family, followers and students internationally.
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