Jumuah lecture on Friday 22 March 2019 (15 Rajab 1440)
by Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider
at the Ahlul Bait (a.s) Masjid, Ottery, Cape Town
Yesterday we celebrated Human Rights Day in our country, South Africa. On 21 March 1960, the great visionary leader and freedom fighter marched peacefully towards Sharpeville, protesting against the pass laws. This peaceful protest was brutally crushed by the Apartheid regime, killing 69 people.
These people stood for basic human rights such as the rights of equality, human dignity, and freedom of movement, residence, life, culture and religion. Of course this cursed pass laws was an insult to self-respect and human dignity. This day will forever signify the sacrifice of these people, in the history of our country and the people’s struggle for liberation and freedom for their basic rights as human beings.
IMAM ALI (A.S): THE VOICE OF HUMAN JUSTICE
During this week, we also commemorated the birthday of a great leader by the name of Imam Ali ibn abi Talib (a.s). What a beautiful coincidence this is! Imam Ali (a.s) is known in history for his position on justice and human dignity, so much so that even non-Muslim scholars, thinkers and writers have written about him in great detail. One of them (George Jordac) named Imam Ali (a.s) “The Voice of Human Justice”.
Imam Ali (a.s) is the champion of human rights, and we heard in our time, the former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, inviting Arab leaders to study the governance of Ali (a.s) and his respect for humanity and human dignity and equality of all human beings, especially focusing on the letter which Imam Ali (a.s) wrote to his Governor of Egypt, Malik al-Ashtar. So this is really a great coincidence of the birth of Imam Ali (a.s) and Human Rights Day.
We spoke extensively the past Tuesday night, when we celebrated the sacred birth of Imam Ali (a.s), about the philosophy of human rights in the thinking of Imam Ali (a.s), by comparing it to the philosophy of human rights in the West, which resulted in the declaration of the Charter of Human Rights by the United Nations in the 1960s, together with our own Bill of Rights.
WESTERN APPROACH TO HUMAN RIGHTS IS BASED ON MATERIAL BENEFIT
We compared and contrasted the approach towards human rights, between Imam Ali (a.s) and the Western philosophy. We analyzed what is the definition of a human being according to Imam Ali (a.s), and also how does Imam Ali (a.s) establish rights for this human being, and how this is in contrast to the Western approach.
We also spoke about the ideology of Imam Ali (a.s), which is the ideology of the Holy Quran and Islam, specifically about what guarantees that these human rights will be implemented and practiced. What is the guarantee that these human rights will actually occur in daily life.
Western human rights has a major flaw in this sense. They speak about it, but there is nothing concrete, other than a common interest and material benefits, which brings us to be committed to this charter of human rights.
Therefore, so many years after this declaration, who has really followed or practiced it? Did humanity as a whole achieve the dignity and self-respect which they were supposed to achieve? These are the serious questions…
THE HUMAN RIGHTS BAROMETER IN SOUTH AFRICA TODAY
In our own country South Africa, after such a great struggle and innumerable sacrifices which were made on a day like 21 March 1960 in Sharpeville, where 69 people gave their lives. Yes, we could manage to secure freedom and liberation from the shackles of Apartheid.
Yes, we managed to secure human rights in the form of our constitution, which we are very proud of. Despite us not necessarily agreeing with everything enshrined therein, we acknowledge that it protects human rights and the equality of humanity and the dignity of human beings, etc.
Yes, indeed it is an achievement, but after so many years of democracy and the establishment of this new constitution, we have the following very serious question to reflect on: “Does every human being in our society receive that respect, dignity and equality when it comes to all those angles of human dignity, including share of resources, education, and other critical areas?”
Unfortunately, nobody can dispute that this society is still very, very disproportionate and unjust. This society may not be legally divided based on skin colour and race. However, this society remains terribly divided along the lines of poverty and isolation of resources and the limitation of the country’s wealth in the hands of a few, where the majority continues to suffer.
CORRUPTION CAUSES DEGENERATION OF HUMAN DIGNITY
How can we speak about dignity and human rights where people do not even have toilets! What human rights and human dignity are we talking about here? This is really a serious point of reflection at this time of commemorating Human Rights Day.
Yes, perhaps we have moved in the right direction. I will not dispute this. However, the pace of our movement has been extremely slow, and the question is why? This is the question I would like to unpack in this Jumuah khutbah, from the point of view of Imam Ali ibn abi Talib (a.s).
Imam Ali (a.s) tried to establish the values which he believed in, during that very short period of governance which was afforded to him, which was only 4 years. However, he faced serious challenges in this process, similar to what any government does. Despite this, Imam Ali (a.s) established a particular attitude, theoretically and practically, to combat the vices which were in society at that time
Imam Ali (a.s) analyzed the society when he became the head of the Islamic state, after the third Caliph. His assessment was that society was far removed from human rights and dignity, and justice and equality. Imam Ali (a.s) pinpointed all of this to one problem, and that is corruption! This is not very far from where we find ourselves today in our society!
IMAM ALI (A.S) ESTABLISHES IDEOLOGICAL CLARITY IN SOCIETY
Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib (a.s) fought corruption mercilessly! He had zero compromise when it came to corruption. As I said, theoretically, and practically!
First of all, he established some principles for his governance, which was the foundation for him to combat corruption. He inherited a society divided between rich and poor, elite and downtrodden. His first condition for accepting this responsibility of Caliph was that people should accept that there is no difference between human beings in the nation over which he is ruling, and that these social classes will be abolished.
Imam Ali (a.s) therefore started with ideological clarity, that people are classified into 2 categories. They are either your brethren in faith of Almighty God (SWT), the Creator, or your brethren in humanity, since we are all God’s creation. He therefore established this ideological and theoretical framework to make it known that nobody will receive special treatment under his rule.
IMAM ALI (A.S) OPPOSED THE NOTION OF POLITICAL ELITE
Imam Ali (a.s) fought against discrimination based upon historical contributions. Imam Ali (a.s) fought this type of corruption quite deeply, where people felt they have a right of superiority based upon their historical contributions to Islam.
It is no different to the argument in South Africa that we can relate to, of people claiming superiority based on the fact that they were part of the struggle and the senior figures in society, and by virtue of their sacrifice (which included significant prison time too) they feel that their share should be higher! Imam Ali (a.s) categorically refused to accept this.
People like Talha and Zubayr were undoubtedly great personalities with huge historical records pertaining to their role in the history of Islam.
IMAM ALI (A.S) BRIDGES THE SOCIETAL DIVIDE HE INHERITED
Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib (a.s) fought corruption in society, ideologically and practically. Ideologically, he made it abundantly clear from the first day, that there will be no distinction amongst people based upon historical position, tribal preference, money, relationships, connections etc.
Practically as well, he commanded his treasury not to offer anybody special treatment, when it comes to the distribution of funds from the public treasury.
People came to Imam Ali (a.s) to complain about why he is treating them equally to that of a black slave. They did not feel that they could be regarded as equal to a black slave! Imam Ali (a.s) challenged them on this, and their logic was that they have a history in that they were the first generations of Muslims and participated in the battles during the early history of Islam.
Imam Ali (a.s) challenged them on who became Muslim earlier, and they all conceded that he accepted Islam before them. Imam Ali (a.s) then challenged them on whose sacrifices for Islam was greater, and they all acknowledged that his sacrifices were greater. Imam Ali (a.s) then concluded that his share in the Public Treasury is exactly the same as the share of the same black slave who only became Muslim recently!
Imam Ali (a.s) then reminded them that if their contribution to Islam was for the sake of Almighty Allah (SWT), then their reward clearly is with Him. However, if their contribution to Islam was to achieve the spoils of this world, then he (Imam Ali (a.s)) has nothing to offer them.
IMAM ALI (A.S) IS HYPER-SENSITIVE TOWARDS THE PUBLIC TREASURY
The uncompromising stance of Imam Ali (a.s) is so unique when it comes to the protection of the Public Treasury. He says that if this Public Treasury was his personal property then he would ensure equitable distribution. Now, since this is the property of Almighty Allah (SWT), it certainly warrants greater care and due diligence. He asks how can he be unfair in this management of the property of Almighty Allah (SWT)?!
These statements of Imam Ali (a.s) should be engraved in gold for those who want to govern! Imam Ali (a.s) says that we often find people coming forward to the governor requesting that they waive the sins of the past and move forward with a clean slate. People came to Imam Ali (a.s) like this too, but his position was unequivocal, stating that the truth and rights never ages. Nothing makes it Baatil (false). Imam Ali (a.s) fought the roots of evil!
The appointments which Imam Ali (a.s) made during his governorship are very important to understand, and similarly the merciless manner in which he suspends their role as holders of public office if they are under the cloud of suspicious corrupt behaviour.
Ibn Harama is known for his bribery at the time. Imam Ali (a.s) writes to his governor, Rafa’a to pull him down and remove his public position because of his corruption. Imam Ali (a.s) further commands for him to be brought into the public gathering of Jumuah, so that people can see his corrupt face and then have him imprisoned for his corruption. These were the uncompromising and decisive words which Imam Ali (a.s) used in his stance against corruption.
Then, ideologically, we see how Imam Ali (a.s) creates a system of surveillance when he writes letters to his governors Malik Ashtar, or Uthman ibn Hunaif, or Raf’a, and others. There is a collection of his letters, which he wrote to his governors. He changes the whole approach and mindset to governance, by making it clear to them that they are not owners of the public, nor do they have a privilege to rule over the people.
IMAM ALI (A.S) ESTABLISHES GOVERNANCE AS A RESPONSIBILITY
Imam Ali (a.s) establishes with his governors that ruling is not a right they get to enjoy and exploit, but rather, it is a responsibility.
Imam Ali (a.s) is hyper-sensitive about corruption. Uthman ibn Hunaif is an extremely pious and righteous person. He was the governor of Basra during the Caliphate of Imam Ali (a.s). News comes to Imam Ali (a.s) that Uthman ibn Hunaif invited people to his house. Now, there is nothing wrong with this. The problem for Imam Ali (a.s) is that only the elite of Basra were invited, and the poor were not included in this gathering.
Imam Ali (a.s) wrote a strong letter of admonishment about this to Uthman ibn Hunaif, castigating him for this action which is not tolerated under the Caliphate of Imam Ali (a.s).
In another example, Imam Ali (a.s) reprimands a different governor for adorning a beautiful curtain in his house, asking him forthright where he received the resources from for this extravagance.
TAQWA: THE FOUNDATION OF THE SYSTEM OF GOVERNANCE OF IMAM ALI (A.S)
The common theme in all of these letters of reprimand to his governors is that Imam Ali (a.s) created a system of surveillance based upon Taqwa. This means to say that they should not only be afraid of Imam Ali (a.s) catching them out, because he will punish them. Moreover, it is critical for them to remember that Almighty Allah (SWT) is witness over all things! This is an Amaanat (responsibility) in their hands!
The system of governance employed by Imam Ali (a.s) is a very detailed discussion at various levels, from his merit-based appointments, to the decisive manner he dealt with suspensions, no relationships or connections, and how Imam Ali (a.s) guided his governors at every level, to protect this society from corruption.
This is how Imam Ali (a.s) wanted to bring back human dignity and human rights.
This cancer of corruption is eating away our society and country, which results in the continued suffering of our people. In the past 2 weeks, we lost 2 young men from our small community – killed blindly without reason!
We need to also reflect on the suffering of the people of Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe, in light of the tragic cyclone. Millions are suffering, while more than 1000 people have been killed. Our responsibility is to do whatever we can to support these people in distress as a result of this disastrous situation.
TONE FROM THE TOP IN NEW ZEALAND CREATES THE HEARTWARMING REACTION
Reflecting on the very horrific incident which occurred last Friday in New Zealand, we should really reflect on the reaction in New Zealand over the past week, where the Adhaan for Jumuah was broadcast live and hundreds of thousands of non-Muslims joined for the prayers of Jumuah and offered their condolences and respect.
We acknowledge the great leadership of the Prime Minister of New Zealand. She was not affected or swayed in any way from the propaganda against Islam and the Islamophobic environment present in this world. The positive message which has emerged from New Zealand is really noteworthy and we also shared a similar experience in reaction to the tragedy of Durban last year.
The scale on which New Zealand has reacted so positively is indeed an eye-opener. This is how Almighty Allah (SWT) works and this is how the blood of the martyrs plays their role in the revival of the message of Islam.
DEMISE OF LADY ZAINAB AL-KUBRA (S.A)
We are also commemorating today the demise of a great revolutionary lady, who is the daughter of the same Imam Ali (a.s). She is none other than Lady Zainab al-Kubra (s.a), who stood firmly in the face of oppressors and defended and protected the blood of the martyrs from going in vain. She is the one who conveyed the message of the martyrs of Karbala to the people, which became a source of inspiration and guidance for centuries thereafter, and continues with the same cadence even today.
When we look at the uprising of Imam Hussain ibn Ali (a.s) and the tragedy of Karbala, it inspires, guides and encourages us to stand in the face of injustice and oppression.
Please like / share / comment