and how Imam Ali (a.s) is connected every step of the way
Moulud lecture (Part 3 of 4) delivered by Brother Bashier Rahim at Ahlul Bait (a.s) Islamic Centre, Ottery, Cape Town on 28 December 2015
The 17th of Rabi ul Awwal is recorded in the majority of Shia resources to be the date of the birth of Prophet Muhammad (sawa) into this material world in which he would spend a mere 63 years to achieve a very specific mission which is outlined in the Quran and which is the subject of our discussions in the previous 2 lectures that have been delivered in this regard, namely the one on the 12th of Rabi ul Awwal and the previous jumuah khutbah.
The 17th of Rabi ul Awwal is also recorded to be the date of the birth of the sixth Imam of the Ahlul Bait (a.s), the one after whom our School of Thought has historically been named, i.e. Imam Ja’far Saadiq (a.s).
And on this most auspicious occasion, we send our greetings and congratulations to the Imam of our time, Imam Mahdi (a.s), to the Mara’ji who are his rightful representatives and to the whole Muslim Ummah who testify to the basic kalima of “There is no god except Allah and Muhammad (sawa) is His Servant and Messenger.”
We have seen how the birth of the “Mercy unto all the worlds” has been celebrated in huge numbers across the globe during the past week, and it’s indeed a cause for celebration. No amount of dry, illogical discourse of a twisted interpretation of bid’ah is ever going to dampen this phenomenon of Miladun Nabi (sawa) celebrations. Those who have an iota of appreciation for the Haqiqat or Reality of Prophet Muhammad (sawa) will forever express their love for the one in whose shadow we have been created.
In analysing the Mission of the Messengership of Muhammad (sawa) in the previous 2 lectures, we have also highlighted how the Imams from the Ahlul Bait (a.s), starting with Imam Ali (a.s) are connected to the envisaged key outcomes of the Prophetic Mission.
So thus far we have said that just as Prophethood is considered in the Quran to be a special favour of Allah (“manna”) upon us, so is the Institution of Imamate also considered to be a special favour of Allah in Quranic terminology.
We have also said that the Messenger served as the Proof of Allah on earth and to mankind and that Imam Ali (a.s) and the Imams after him also serve as the Proof of Allah on earth and to mankind. It is through them that we receive guidance and get to know which actions brings Allah’s pleasure and which actions incurs Allah’s anger. It is through them that we know Allah.
And there’s need for a slight elaboration on this point that it is through the Messenger (sawa) and through the Imams (a.s) that we know Allah.
Almighty Allah introduces Himself to us through His Beautiful Divine Names and can only be known through His Beautiful Divine Names and His Proofs which are the Prophets, the Messengers and the Imams are the manifestation of Allah’s Beautiful Divine Names….all of it.
That is why if you should take the list of 99 Names of Almighty Allah mentioned in the Quran or the 1000 variations in Dua Jawshin al-Kabir, you will see that in most of the cases, if not all the cases, that the Prophet (sawa) is also referred to by the same Divine Names of Allah or is linked to that Name in some way.
If Almighty Allah’s most repeated Name in the Quran is al-Rahman and al-Raheem or “the Beneficient” and “the Merciful”, then the Messenger is referred to as Rahma or Mercy itself:
وَمَآ أَرْسَلْنَاكَ إِلاَّ رَحْمَةً لِلْعَالَمِينَ
“And We have not sent you except as a Mercy unto the worlds” (Surah 21:107)
If Almighty Allah is Ra’uf (the Kind), then the Messenger is also referred to as Ra’uf
عَزِيزٌ عَلَيْهِ مَاعَنِتُّمْ حَرِيصٌ عَلَيْكُم بِالْمُؤْمِنِينَ رَؤُوفٌ رَحِيمٌ
“He (i.e. the Messenger) is full of concern for you, and most kind and merciful to the believers.” (Surah 9:128)
If Almighty Allah is al-Karim (The Generous), then the Messenger is also referred to as Karim.
إِنَّهُ لَقَوْلُ رَسُولٍ كَرِيمٍ
“Surely it is the Word brought by a generous Messenger.” (Surah 69:40)
If Almighty Allah is referred to as al-Wali (The Guardian), then the Messenger is also referred to as the Wali of the Believers.
إِنَّمَا وَلِيُّكُمُ اللّهُ وَرَسُولُهُ …
“Verily your guardian (wali) is only Allah and His Messenger….”
until the end of the verse (Surah 5:55)
And you can go through virtually all the Names of Allah and you will find that the Messenger is referred to in the Quran by that Name or being linked to that Name in some way.
And just as the Messenger is the manifestation of the Divine Names of Allah, so Imam Ali (a.s) and the rest of the Divinely appointed Imams, including Imam Saadiq (a.s) whose birth we also commemorate tonight, the Imams are also the manifestation of the Divine Names of Allah and thus they have said:
“We are the Asma-ullah” i.e. “We are the Names of Allah” meaning that they are the manifestation of Allah’s Beautiful Divine Names.
And you may ask how that is possible?
Because the Quran clearly states something profound and I ask you to concentrate and see the connection:
كُلُّ شَيْءٍ هَالِكٌ إِلاَّ وَجْهَهُ
“Everything (that exists) will perish, except His own Face” (Surah 28:88)
Here the Quran says everything is basically perishable and in reality already perished, but what never perishes is the Face of Allah.
And in Surah Rahman it says:
كُلُّ مَنْ عَلَيْهَا فَانٍ
وَيَبْقَی وَجْهُ رَبِّكَ ذُو الْـجَلَآلِ وَالْإِكْرَامِ
“Everyone on it (i.e. the world) will perish, and the Face of Your Lord will remain, the Majestic, the Honourable” (Surah 55:26)
Whereas the previous verse said everything is perished, this verse says everyone is perished and both verses then say that only the Face of Allah remains and does not perish. The Face of Allah is known through His Divine Names, which in this case is referred to by two such Names as “the Majestic, the Honourable”
But the Quran makes one exception when it comes to perishing and being annihilated when it says that the martyr is not dead but alive. And does not only say this but emphatically instructs us to not even think or assume for a moment that the martyr is dead.
Just a few verses after declaring that the sending of the Messenger (sawa) is Allah’s special favour on the believers, Allah says:
وَلاَ تَحْسَبَنَّ الَّذِينَ قُتِلُواْ فِي سَبِيلِ اللّهِ أَمْوَاتًا بَلْ أَحْيَاء عِندَ رَبِّهِمْ يُرْزَقُونَ
“Do not even think of those who are killed in the way of Allah to be dead, Nay, they are alive, being provided sustenance with their Lord” (Surah 3:169)
Even though everything perishes, there is one who does not perish and that is the one who is slain in the path of Allah, that one is alive forever.
So if everything perishes, except the Face of Allah (and bearing in mind that the Face of Allah is known through the beautiful Divine Names), and the one slain in the path of Allah does not perish and is close to his Lord receiving sustenance, then he is certainly the manifestation of the beautiful Divine Names.
And every Imam either was slain or poisoned and they certainly are the best manifestation of the Divine Names of Allah after the Messenger (sawa)
And therefore the Imams have said that just like the Messenger is the manifestation of the Divine Names of Allah, “We are the Divine Names of Allah”, meaning the manifestation of the Divine Names of Allah.
Now we have been discussing the Program of the Mission of Prophet Muhammad (sawa) as contained in three verses of the Quran, where each one of them list the program in the same sequence as being (refer to Surah 3 Verse 164):
1. Tilawat of the Ayaat of Allah (which we have already discussed in some detail)
2. He purifies the believers;
3. He teaches them the Book; and
- He teaches them the Wisdom
And if one should summarise the goal of this 4 step program in terms of what it wants to achieve, then it is precisely for us to also become manifestations of the Beautiful Divine Names of Allah. And therefore a hadith of Prophet Muhammad (sawa) states: “Derive your manners from the Attributes of Allah”, bearing in mind that all the Divine Names are Attributes of Allah.
One of the Actions of Almighty Allah that is of relevance to tonight’s discussion in relation to the four specific outcomes envisaged in the Program of the Mission of the Prophethood of Muhammad (sawa), is that Almighty Allah exclusively reserves the right to “Purify” someone for Himself. In principle, only Allah purifies you, no one else.
There is an interesting discussion In Tafseer Al-Mizan of Allamah Tabatabai around Verse 49 of Surah Nisa which reads:
أَلَمْ تَرَ إِلَى الَّذِينَ يُزَكُّونَ أَنفُسَهُمْ
“Have you not seen those who attribute purity to themselves?”
The word “zakat” basically refers to the growth that comes from Divine blessing.
Now the verse in question states that there are people who attribute purity to themselves. So how do you attribute “purity” to yourself?
Firstly you could do it through your good actions, which is of course excellent and in line with Quranic teachings. By doing good action, it leads to purifying your soul.
But it’s also possible to attribute “purity” to yourself through your words by claiming some great spiritual achievement for yourself which is something extremely abhorrent to do as it amounts to an empty claim of purity that is not true. So this is a second possible way of attributing “purity” to yourself.
But even if one lives a pious and pure life, it is still highly abhorrent to speak about it and claim purity for yourself as this results in an arrogant, holier than thou attitude. In fact it is precisely this type of conceitedness and vanity that is the source of oppression, when we feel we are pure and thus chosen and think of ourselves to be above others.
And thus the Quran takes the Jews to task for having had this attitude as they claimed to be the exclusive sons of God and the most beloved of God and claimed that the fire will not touch them. The Quran thus says to them that if they are some sought of chosen people with these pure traits then they should desire death, which is something they are of course continually fleeing from.
Often in our daily sectarian language, it’s about “our sect are in jannah” and “we are on the right path” to the exclusion of others and so on.
But Almighty Allah responds to all these claims of purity whether they are true claims or false claims, by saying:
بَلِ اللّهُ يُزَكِّي مَن يَشَاء
“Nay, Allah purifies whom He pleases.”
Whatever one’s spiritual achievement may be, the recognition and confirmation of one’s spiritual achievement of purity and the announcement thereof to others is Allah’s prerogative, not ours at all.
Allah recognizes and confirms your purity and makes the announcement thereof, like it occurs in Quran about previous generations.
Thus it is stated, by way of example, with respect to Prophet Musa (a.s) in Surah 19 Verse 51:
وَاذْكُرْ فِي الْكِتَابِ مُوسَي إِنَّهُ كَانَ مُخْلَصاً وَكَانَ رَسُولاً نَّبِيّاً
“And mention Musa in the Book, for verily he was one purified, and he was a Messenger, a Prophet.”
And so Allah confirms the purification Himself and makes such announcement of these achievements of various other prophets in Quran.
They do not make such announcements about themselves.
And so Allah also says sublime things of Prophet Muhammad (sawa) like:
وَإِنَّكَ لَعَلَىٰ خُلُقٍ عَظِيمٍ
“And most surely you are on sublime morality.” (Surah 68:4)
And in the incident of the revelation of Ayah Tathir, it is preceded and combined to the incident of the cloak, where Prophet (sawa) had Imam Ali, Lady Fatima, Imam Hassan and Imam Hussain (peace and blessings on all of them) with him under the cloak and then he (Prophet Muhammad (sawa)) made a dua wherein he asks:
“O Allah! These are my Ahlul Bait. They are my confidants and my supporters…..” And the dua continues until the Prophet (sawa) says:
“And keep away from them uncleanliness, and keep them pure and thoroughly purified.”
And in response to this request and dua from Prophet (sawa), Allah responds:
اِنَّمَا يُرِيدُ اللَّهُ لِيُذْهِبَ عَنكُمُ الرِّجْسَ أَهْلَ الْبَيْتِ وَيُطَهّـِرَكُمْ تَطْهِيراً
“Allah only desires to keep away the uncleanliness from you, O Ahlul Bait (O People of the House!) and to purify you a thorough purification.”
Allah is the one who purifies, and His representatives are most certainly purified by Him and no other, and thus just as the Prophet (sawa) is purified, so is Imam Ali (a.s) and the Ahlul Bait (a.s) purified by Allah.
And thus Allah announces the purification of the Ahlul Bait (a.s) which is one of the basis for to them being His representatives.
And that announcement of the purity is even made of awliya of Allah other than the Messenger and the Imams, whereby great spiritual people only become known long after they passed away.
People like Mulla Sadra who lived 400 years ago, only really become famous in last century and is still relatively unknown.
The thoughts and work of Imam Khomeini is thriving many years after he passed away.
The work of Allamah Tabatabai will still be appreciated for hundreds of years to come
This is because the nature of real purity is that it is way beyond an empty claim of purity, but is something that makes you eternal.
And Allah has reserved this prerogative of purifying someone to Himself.
But now in the program of the Mission of Prophet Muhammad (sawa), we see that Almighty Allah says “And he purifies them” i.e. the Prophet (sawa) has been attributed this rather exclusive responsibility of Allah to also purify people.
So how does the Prophet (sawa) purify us considering that it’s the exclusive prerogative of Allah to start with.
On the first level, in the process of purification, the first thing that the Prophet (sawa) does is to educate us about every aspect of our life that needs to be purified.
The tilawah of the Ayaat of Allah was meant to awaken the light of spirituality within us to start a journey to Allah.
But after awakening occurs, a very long journey starts, with purification being the first part of that journey.
So what precisely does the Prophet (sawa) educate us about in the purification process?
Imam Khomeini in his compilation of forty ahadith, in explaining the hadith relating to the “Classification of the Sciences”, says something that many scholars say in relation to the life of man in that that man is confronted with three worlds or phases of life:
– first, the world of the Hereafter, which is the hidden world of spirituality and the intellect;
– second is the phase of world of the Barzakh, which is the world lying between the other two worlds; and
– third is the phase of this world, the domain of corporeality or the material world.
In line with these three worlds that we face, all beneficial sciences are divisible into these three sciences: the science that relates to the excellence of the intellect and spiritual duties, the science that relates to the acts of the heart and its duties, and the science that relates to bodily acts and the duties of the self’s outward life.
So in the process of purification, the Prophet (sawa) is first educating us in the matters relating to the intellect by purifying our aqeedah from all forms of greater shirk. Because though the reciting of the Ayaat of Allah would easily cause one to accept the Existence of Allah, there still remained major shirk in many people’s understanding of the finer details of Aqeedah.
So on this level, Prophet (sawa) spent possibly the first half of his period of Prophetic Mission to only work on purifying people’s Aqeedah.
And even though the Prophet (sawa) ironed out all the aspects in this regard in detail, after his demise the Ummah could still not agree on its details and thus there was differences of opinion on many aspects of theology beyond the basics of belief in One Allah, Prophethood and the Hereafter.
And therefore it took someone like Imam Ali (a.s) and the Imams of the Ahlul Bait (a.s) after him to clarify various theological matters like:
1. Imamate itself
2. Divine Justice
3. Free Will and Predestination
4. Unity of Attributes and Essence of Allah
5. What is Allah’s speech
6. Is the Quran in our possession the Created Word of Allah or pre-eternal
7. Can Allah be seen in hereafter
8. Infallibility of the Messenger
And so on
And thus Allamah Tabatabai says about Imam Ali (a.s) in his book “Ali and Divine Philosophy” that:
“other than Ameer al-Mu’minin ‘Al? (‘a), no one has transmitted or revealed such great divine truths as exemplified in “Nahj al-Balaghah”
The reason for the Prophet (sawa) to purify our aqeedah first is because you cannot move to the next level of spiritual development without it. People often think that as long as I am so-called spiritual, I am fine. The details of what I believe does not matter, the form of my worship does not matter, etc. This approach sends one into pure spiritual wilderness and not spiritual guidance at all.
And on the other hand, there those literalists who work overtime during the Moulud months and give Shia a break for a while and fight with their fellow Sunnis claiming to purify their aqeedah, but unfortunately don’t have the first prerequisite for purifying your Aqeedah and that is logic and common sense and thus also end in spiritual wilderness.
Besides purifying the matters relating to the intellect by educating us in that regard, the Prophet (sawa) purifies us relating to the matters of our outward life by educating us on the finer details of etiquette in social interaction, business, politics, home life, civil society, and so on.
Furthermore, in addition to purifying our aqeedah and matters relating to our outward life, the Prophet (sawa) purifies us relating to the matters which impact the heart by educating us on those aspects which are the cause of its salvation like forbearance (sabr), thankfulness (shukr), shame (haya’), humility, generosity, piety (wara’) God-consciousness (taqwa) and other moral excellence, and knowledge of those sins which cause the destruction of the heart like envy (hasad), pride (kibr), enmity, deceptiveness, the love of position, the love of the world and the self, etc.
This purification by teaching us the details of the aspects which affect the three worlds that we are faced with, being the hereafter, the barzakh and this material world, does not only occur theoretically, but through the practical Prophetic example of:
لَقَدْ كَانَ لَكُمْ فِي رَسُولِ اللَّهِ اُسْوَةٌ حَسَنَةٌ
“Indeed in the Messenger of Allah you have the best exemplar” (Surah 33:21)
In purifying us, if one should identify the single most common issue which is responsible for the destruction of our heart and seem to affect the widest range of people are the impurities that come from the inappropriate use of the tongue.
And thus Ayatullah Makarim Shirazi says that the first step in the purification of our ethics is to take care of the tongue as the tongue is the interpreter of heart, representative of intellect, and the most important window to man’s soul.
Ayatullah Makarim then counts at least thirty major sins that originate from the tongue, from being vulgar to back biting to lying to insulting to slandering to being ungrateful to admiring yourself to being arrogant, the list is a long one.
And this problem of control of one’s tongue is so critical that even previous Prophets in the Quran were taken to task in some way for what they had uttered as its not in keeping with their knowledge of Allah.
Thus when Prophet Yusuf (a.s) interprets the dream of his fellow prison inmate indicating that the prison inmate would soon be released from prison and be serving the king, Prophet Yusuf (a.s) immediately says something that suggests that one “other than Allah” can help him. So the Quran records what Prophet Yusuf (a.s) said and the consequences of what he said:
قَالَ لِلَّذِي ظَنَّ أَنَّهُ نَاجٍ مّنْهُمَا اذكُرْنِي عِندَ رَبّكَ فَاَنسَاهُ الشَّيْطَانُ ذِكْرَ رَبّهِ فَلَبِثَ فِي السّجْنِ بِضْعَ سِنِينَ
“And he said to him whom he knew would be saved of the two: ‘Mention me to your lord.’ However, Satan caused him to forget to mention him to his lord, so he (Yusuf) remained in prison a few years.” (Surah 12:42)
Mufassireen say that since Prophet Yusuf (a.s) who was wrongfully imprisoned to start with, sought the help of the king instead of purely relying on Allah, this supposedly inappropriate utterance of the tongue resulted in him remaining in prison for a few more years, for what purpose? To further purify him as the future role that he was going to assume required such further purification!
And even in the circle of religious scholars, you obviously will not find them openly committing major sins like drinking alcohol or gambling and so on, but the very sin that even they struggle with is the control of the tongue.
Thus I was sitting the other day at a function in the company of some ulama, and the topic of discussion was how a certain aalim had worked him out of his job, and this one has no qualifications and he is more capable but nobody sees it and so on….all related to control of the tongue that we are vulnerable to.
And I may have just now referred to ulama that are not so famous who made such utterances, but the most high ranking ulama will tell you that control of the tongue is no easy task. There is a beautiful story of an incident in the life of very same Allamah Tabatabai whom I love quoting so often. He was already a few years in Najaf and used to survive on money that was sent from Tabriz (his home town) to him every month.
Then there was a problem between the two countries i.e. Iran and Iraq and his monthly receipt of money was cut off. And he soon ran dry and felt like he had no way out. So even though he was extremely patient through a very testing time studying under harsh conditions in Najaf where many of his infant children died due to the harsh weather or his wife miscarried during pregnancy, though he withstood all of these tests, with money having dried up it felt like his capacity to withstand the test had run out.
So he went to the shrine of Imam Ali (a.s) and made a dua and complained and said “Oh Allah or Oh Imam Ali, is this how you treat me?” And Allamah says that the words hardly left his tongue and it felt like he wanted to choke in regret for having said that, but he already said it and could not take his words back.
And after this period, things did not get better materially for a while, and he returned to Tabriz and spent possibly 8 or so years in Tabriz having to work for his living instead of studying and he says that this period was possibly the darkest period of his life with the least intellectual development.
What do you call this other than a process of purification of Allah’s special servants? And after this period, when Allamah moved to Qum, suddenly he flourished and became one of the greatest scholars of the century.
Thus you will find that the Prophet (sawa) gives so much importance to controlling the tongue and emphasises to rather observe silence under normal circumstances.
After teaching us about purification by way of theoretical knowledge and the Prophetic Sunnah, Prophet Muhammad (sawa) even gets directly involved in our purification in a very interesting way.
So on the second level of purification by the Prophet (sawa), from among the impurities as a whole that he has to purify us from, which is an impurity that limits and stunts our growth in intellectual development and limits and stunts our growth in the purification of our heart and limits and stunts our growth in the perfection of our human interaction, is the impurity relating to the attachment or love of this world.
Thus Imam Saadiq (a.s) narrates a hadith that is traced back directly to the Prophet (sawa) which says:
“Attachment to this world is the root cause of all evil and transgression”
Our love for the good things of this world blinds us to the existence of the real purpose of life. Even the problem of control of the tongue is traced back to the love of the world.
So Almighty Allah gives the Prophet (sawa) a specific responsibility to curb this love by saying:
خُذْ مِنْ أَمْوَالِهِمْ صَدَقَةً
“Take from their wealth a charity”
It’s the Prophet (sawa)’s job to take a charity from our wealth, and so is it the job of the Islamic government under the leadership of the Imams after him to take a portion of people’s wealth as charity.
But there is a purpose that the Prophet (sawa) is given this responsibility to take a portion from people’s wealth, and off course the Imams after him have to do that, and that is so that he (i.e. Prophet (sawa) himself) purifies them by doing this:
ُطَهِّرُهُمْ وَتُزَكِّيهِم بِهَ
“by which you cleanse them and purify them”
By the Prophet (sawa) being the one to take a portion of their wealth, he becomes the one who purifies them by crushing the source of all evil and that is our attachment to this world
And on the third level of purification, the Prophet (sawa) purifies us by being our intercessor with Almighty Allah.
This same verse which we just referred to a moment ago regarding the Prophet (sawa) taking charity from us which seeks to detach our attachment to this world, that verse continues by saying:
“and pray for them”
The Prophet (sawa), the one who takes the charity from us (and consequently in his absence it is the Imam of the time who does that), is also asked to pray for us. Why?
إِنَّ صَلاتَكَ سَكَنٌ لَهُمْ
“Surely your prayers are a comfort for them” (Surah 9:103)
If we feel that due to our shortcomings, we are not able to achieve that closeness to Almighty Allah, then Allah provides us the route to come through the Prophet (sawa) who will pray for us and it is his dua that brings us sakinah and comfort.
So if we have sinned, and seek to purify ourselves from sin by asking forgiveness, then come to the Prophet (sawa) and ask him to ask forgiveness for you.
وَلَوْ أَنَّهُمْ إِذ ظَّلَمُواْ أَنفُسَهُمْ جَآؤُوكَ فَاسْتَغْفَرُواْ اللّهَ وَاسْتَغْفَرَ لَهُمُ الرَّسُولُ لَوَجَدُواْ اللّهَ تَوَّابًا رَّحِيمًا
“If they came to you and sought forgiveness of Allah and the Messenger ( also) had asked forgiveness for them, they would certainly have found Allah forgiving, Merciful.” (Surah 4:64)
And on the Day of Judgement, it is again the Prophet (sawa) and the Imams of the Ahlul Bait (a.s) who will beg for our forgiveness to purify us and intercede for us to enter paradise.
Thus in conclusion, in the hadith of Imam Saadiq (a.s) whose birth we also celebrate tonight, he says:
“We are the Gates of Allah. We are the medium for His people. He who approaches Him (i.e. Allah) through us is brought near Him (i.e. Allah). He who seeks our intercession is interceded for. He who seeks His (i.e. Allah’s) favours through us is favoured by Him. He who turns away from us goes astray.”
When Prophet Ibrahim (a.s) prays for the sending of a Messenger who will purify us, that dua was accepted and answered.
When Prophet Muhammad (sawa) prayed for the Ahlul Bait (a.s) to be purified, that dua was accepted and answered.
When Prophet Muhammad (sawa) prays for our forgiveness, do you think that dua will not be accepted and answered?
O Abul-Qasim, O Messenger of Allah O guide of mercy, O intercessor of the community, O our chief, O our master, We turn towards thee, seek thy intercession and advocacy before Allah, we put before you our open need; O intimate of Allah, Stand by us when Allah sits in judgement over us.
May this celebration of the birth of the “Mercy unto the worlds” bring us renewed purification and hope for a world free from war and filled with justice, a world where we are more loving and kind to each other and a world where we become more God like and a reflection of the beautiful Divine Names.
Insha’Allah the remaining topics in this series will be discussed in jumuah.