Jumuah lecture on Friday 3 April 2020 (9 Shabaan 1441)
Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider
Ahlul Bait (a.s) Masjid, Ottery, Cape Town
In every Jumuah khutbah (sermon), the weekly communal prayer which has both spiritual and socio-political aspects, one compulsory component is the reminder and advice on Taqwa of Almighty Allah (SWT). Therefore, according to the requirements of fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence), every khutbah of Jumuah should have this particular element in reminding myself and everybody present, about Taqwa.
As we are well aware, Taqwa is a very important issue to be reminded and therefore the command is that we MUST repeat this reminder every week.
When we speak about Taqwa (piety and God consciousness) we misunderstand it in a negative sense, thinking that it is about separation from worldly affairs and society at large, in order to devote yourself to Ibadah (acts of worship) and dua (supplication) and spiritual training. There is absolutely no doubt that this is part of developing Taqwa, to isolate yourself from the temptations of this worldly life and focus on spiritual training through dua and Ibadah.
REAL TAQWA IS FULFILLING YOUR INDIVIDUAL AND COMMUNAL RESPONSIBILITY
Naturally, this period of lockdown and social distancing offers a great opportunity for us to dedicate ourselves during this period of isolation towards our relationship with Almighty Allah (SWT) and improve our spiritual existence.
That being said, it is completely wrong to say that spiritually is always in isolation and by distancing from society. Not at all! In fact, real piety and spirituality is a comprehensive program which addresses your individuality and your individual development of your soul and the evolution of your relationship with Almighty Allah (SWT) and distancing from the temptations of society and this world.
At the same time, the same spirituality is only complete when it takes over your whole existence and personality. The same God consciousness and realisation of accountability before our Creator, Almighty Allah (SWT) when it comes to the people and society is indeed part and parcel of Taqwa.
This is clearly a very different dimension to Taqwa than a person who has only isolated himself in a corner for acts of worship (Ibadah) and supplications (dua) and has nothing to do with society. It is very difficult to refer to such a person as pious and having complete Taqwa. Such a person has taken one aspect of Taqwa and he has left the other aspect of Taqwa behind.
Taqwa is when we, as Imam Khomeini (r.a) use to say, realise that we live in the prisons of Almighty Allah (SWT). Taqwa refers to all aspects of our life, when we are isolated and when we are active in society, and not by running away from our responsibility towards society.
SOCIAL DISTANCING DOES NOT MEAN AVOIDING SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY!
These days we are talking a lot about social distancing! Indeed, physical distance is a responsibility upon us all, and it will not be wrong for me to classify this as part of Taqwa, because to protect our bodies and health, and to protect other human beings in society from harm and possible infection is definitely part of Taqwa. So, physical distancing from people and public life is nowadays part of Taqwa.
However, let it be clear, that social distancing does not mean we stay away from social responsibility. Yes, we are being asked to observe social distancing, but we are not told to escape from our social responsibility. Taqwa, especially in times of crisis, more than other times, requires social responsibility to be upheld.
Social Taqwa is indeed very crucial during these unprecedented times.
Imam Ali ibn abi Talib (a.s) has a deeply profound expression and manifestation of Taqwa. He describes very beautifully what Taqwa is and what are the qualities of pious people. Let me draw reference to a deeply reflective statement from him in this regard, where he says that we should have Taqwa of Almighty Allah (SWT) through our interaction with fellow human beings, in the cities.
He goes further to say that the spirit of Taqwa is the realisation of the sense of accountability before Almighty Allah (SWT) on all levels. He says that we will be questioned even about our responsibility towards the land we take benefit on for our daily needs ie. environmental responsibility.
Taqwa is therefore about:
- Our accountability towards ourselves;
- Our behaviour towards the people; and
- Our interaction with the environment in all its infinite blessings from Almighty Allah (SWT) which we are surrounded by.
This testing time of crisis and calamity is a test of our Taqwa. How are we responding to this testing time? Is it Taqwa that is guiding us in our reaction to what is happening in and around us?
This period is the most opportune time for us to realize our weaknesses and connect ourselves with Almighty Allah (SWT) and His infinite power and divine wisdom, thereby connecting ourselves to His inclusive mercy. At the same time, our responsibility does not end there in response to this crisis.
WE FULLY SUPPORT THE LOCKDOWN OF OUR COUNTRY TO CONTROL THE SPREAD OF CORONAVIRUS
Taqwa in a time of crisis is about how we are responding to the desperate needs of society and our country in this time of crisis. The level of our response is a sign of our level of Taqwa.
Almighty Allah (SWT) highlights this when it comes to the responsibility towards others and especially those in desperate need, particularly in difficult times like we are currently facing. This lockdown is extremely important for our country, and we fully endorse and support the decision of the political leadership of our country to impose the lockdown for our own protection from the spread of this dangerous disease and protecting us from possible disaster in our country.
It was a very bold decision and correctly executed too. We would like to acknowledge this leadership by our President and how he brought different parties together onto a common platform so that they all realize our joint responsibility towards our country and to our people and communities. The response from the masses has also been largely positive, which is in its own right, very much part of Taqwa, that we set aside our differences during these times of crisis.
Of course, when I support the President and our government, it does not mean that we are not critical of them. It does not mean that we do not differ with them. Indeed, we do have reservations and disagreements on certain policy decisions, but that is a different discussion. However, in times of crisis like we are facing currently, Taqwa demands from us to rise above our disputes, disagreements and differences in approaches, strategies and policies, and instead focus on the bigger picture for our country and move ahead with Taqwa.
In this situation, we cannot have narrow-minded thinking as one religious community only, as Muslims only, or only as followers of the Ahlul Bait (a.s), or only in the interests of our city or province etc. We must really think above these narrow blinkers. This is the Taqwa which is demanded from us, as explained by Imam Ali (a.s). As noted earlier, according to Imam Ali (a.s), we are even accountable for the resources which He has granted in the form of the environment and so on.
OUR RESPONSE IN THE CURRENT CRISIS IS A TEST OF OUR LEVEL OF TAQWA
The lockdown is a responsibility for us to all follow the laws and guidelines. This is part of Taqwa and someone who breaks these rules has a problem with Taqwa, without any doubt. Taqwa demands from us to protect our lives and the lives of others. The right to life is extremely precious, and if any action of ours harms or even places other people’s life or health in possible danger, it is against the tenets of Taqwa.
Taqwa in crisis demands from us to act responsibly and God-conscious, knowing what we will respond before Almighty Allah (SWT). The lockdown is crucial for our survival and following the rules are equally crucial. This is Taqwa during this time of crisis.
Naturally, this lockdown has brought a huge crisis in our society, where a big percentage of our population depend on day-to-day work. Their income from their daily labour has now come to a grinding halt due to the lockdown. As a result, they do not have access to basic needs. Again, spirituality demands that we should not only make dua during this time of crisis. In addition, we have to think of those who are in great need.
CHARITY FROM THE QURANIC PERSPECTIVE IS INTRINSICALLY LINKED TO TAQWA
Almighty Allah (SWT) reminds us on numerous occasions in the Holy Quran about our responsibility towards the needy and less fortunate. I would like to cite verse 274 of Surah Baqarah (chapter 2) in this regard:
الَّذِينَ يُنْفِقُونَ أَمْوَالَهُمْ بِاللَّيْلِ وَالنَّهَارِ سِرًّا وَعَلَانِيَةً فَلَهُمْ أَجْرُهُمْ عِنْدَ رَبِّهِمْ وَلَا خَوْفٌ عَلَيْهِمْ وَلَا هُمْ يَحْزَنُونَ
“Those who (in charity) spend of their goods by night and by day, in secret and in public, have their reward with their Lord: on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.”
In this verse, Almighty Allah (SWT) is describing the qualities of the true believers as being those people who spend their wealth day and night, secretly and openly. They are guaranteed a great reward from their Lord (SWT).
There are different interpretations one can draw from the first part of this verse, but one common understanding is that this spending is a continuous function, as opposed to being occasional spending. They continuously give because they continuously realise their responsibility. This is because of the Taqwa (God consciousness) in their heart, which is the spiritual reality in their hearts which constantly demands from them to spend.
The second point to analyse from this verse is that they give secretly and publicly. Again, different interpretations can be drawn, but a straightforward understanding is that they do not want it to be known when they give. They do not want to brag, nor do they want to patronize. They are not looking for publicity.
However, after saying that they give secretly, this verse immediately says that they give publicly too. What does this really mean, because it seems to be a contradiction. It means that while they give secretly, meaning only for the pleasure of Almighty Allah (SWT) and not to show off, they give publicly to encourage other people to do the same. The objective of this is for social Taqwa to be created as a regular practice in society.
So, giving publicly is still with the same sincere intention of being purely to attain the pleasure of Almighty Allah (SWT). Through this, they establish the responsibility on everyone to give to the less fortunate. This is social Taqwa.
The third aspect of this verse explains the reward, and this verse clearly says that the reward is not only material, but rather, with their Lord (SWT), which is the everlasting reward.
The last aspect of this verse which is very important is that these people do not have fear or stress to get bogged down with. What does this mean? Again, there are different interpretations which can be drawn, but one simple meaning is that those people who give sincerely for the sake of Almighty Allah (SWT) are released from fear and stress, for upholding their social responsibility. It brings amazing peace and tranquillity in their hearts, minds and souls.
BEAUTIFUL ANECDOTE FROM NABI EESA (A.S) ENCOURAGING CHARITY
This subject of social Taqwa is greatly emphasized in narrations from our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) as well as from his purified Ahlul Bait (a.s). There is a very well-known Hadith which is overwhelmingly recorded in both Sunni and Shia resources, where Rasulullah (SAWA) said that charity repels the difficulties.
There is a divine help, in that when you give, Almighty Allah (SWT) removes that difficulty with His divine intervention.
There is a very well-known incident recorded in the books of Hadith about Nabi Eesa (a.s), where there was a newlywed couple passing through one day, and Nabi Eesa (a.s) predicted that the bride will not be able to complete her wedding night.
The next day, the same newlywed couple passed by Nabi Eesa (a.s) and they were still alive. The disciples of Nabi Eesa (a.s) turned to him and naturally noted that the bride is still very much alive, contrary to his prediction. Nabi Eesa (a.s) called the bride, asking her to describe what all took place the night before, ie. her wedding night.
The bride explained to Nabi Eesa (a.s) that as soon as she and her husband entered the room that was prepared for them, she could hear a familiar voice of a needy person knocking at the door. She says that instinctively she was hesitant to answer the door, since this was a momentous night for her and her husband in starting their new life together. However, she quickly realised that she should come out of her bridal suite to give something to the needy person at her door.
She continues explaining to Nabi Eesa (a.s) that upon her return to the bridal suite, her husband told her that Almighty Allah (SWT) protected her, because there was a big snake under their bed which could have been a fatal experience for her, and this snake disappeared when she answered the call of the needy person at the door.
Nabi Eesa (a.s) then explained to his disciples about how charity has repelled the death of this woman, which was written in her destiny as a result of poisoning from a snakebite.
CHARITY BRINGS SERENITY TO THE DONOR
Further to this example, it is important to note that the verse 274 from Surah Baqarah explained earlier gives a guarantee of peace of mind when you share what you’ve been blessed with. In this time of crisis and hardship with the lockdowns, dua and charity for the needy will release you from depression and fear.
Imam Ali ibn abi Talib (a.s) advises his dear student by the name of Kumayl, to order his family to try their best in achieving the highest traits of noble character (Makarimul Akhlaq). Imam Ali (a.s) defines Makarimul Akhlaq as referring to those people who go in the darkness of the night to address the need of the people and respond to their need in great difficulty.
Imam Ali (a.s) concludes by saying that nobody brings pleasure to the heart of a believer except when Almighty Allah (SWT) brings down His grace and mercy at the time of difficulties and calamities which rush towards one faster than a flood in its deepest side. This grace of Almighty Allah (SWT) comes to rescue such a person and liberates him. These are the criteria of Makarimul Akhlaq according to Imam Ali (a.s).
NUMEROUS SOCIAL WELFARE PROGRAMS REQUIRE OUR GENEROUS SUPPORT
In this time of need and crisis, Taqwa demands from us to do our level best to reach out to the desperate in our communities. It is natural that we first attend to the most needy within our own community before reaching out to others too. We have a primary responsibility towards a big number of followers of the Ahlul Bait (a.s) across the country, who are in great distress under the current crisis.
There are numerous efforts underway, Alhamdu Lillah. Khairul Amal Foundation in Gauteng is doing an excellent job in reaching out to the needy. Concurrently, we have also established Al-Mahdi Fund, under the auspices of the Ahlul Bait (a.s) Foundation of South Africa. Al-Mahdi Fund is dedicated to helping those in need, under this most beautiful name of our living Imam Mahdi (atfs), who is indeed the father of the orphans and the shelter for all those in need.
Great support has been received from our communities in this regard, Alhamdu Lillah. We are thankful for the positive contributions made by all and make dua that may Almighty Allah (SWT) reward them for their generosity and increase their rizq and allow them to continue their support.
We make dua for all those who are supporting the numerous initiatives across the country, beyond these two initiatives from the followers of Ahlul Bait (a.s). The services and dedication from everyone is resoundingly acknowledged and applauded, and may Almighty Allah (SWT) reward them all abundantly.
OUR SPIRIT OF SHARING ELEVATES OUR SOCIAL TAQWA
Our response during this time of crisis is indeed a test of our Taqwa. Based on our limited resources, our intent is to reach as many people in need, starting from our own community and then branching outward. The culture of Islam and the Ahlul Bait (a.s) in helping out is to not restrict our assistance to Muslims only, but to reach out to humanity at large.
This is our responsibility during this difficult time. The fatwa (religious decree) which was issued by the Grand Marja Ayatullah Sistani emphasizes that helping out in this time of crisis has no borders of religion, race, ethnicity or culture. He highlights that it is a crisis for all humanity, and we, as followers of the Ahlul Bait (a.s) and Amir al-Mu’mineen Ali ibn abi Talib (a.s), our responsibility is to respond to the plea of the needy and reach out to help humanity at large.
I will conclude this discussion with one very beautiful reminder about charity, from Amir al-Mu’mineen Ali ibn abi Talib (a.s), where he explains the spirit of this social Taqwa. He says that responding to the needs of people is not sustainable except for the following 3 factors:
- The donors should feel that they are not doing enough, so that Almighty Allah (SWT) can increase it;
- They should give secretly, so that Almighty Allah (SWT) can expose it;
- To do it quickly, without delay, so that will bring happiness to the receiver in a timely manner.
Once again, I remind myself and all of you about Taqwa of Almighty Allah (SWT) in all aspects of our life, especially in this time of crisis.