Jumuah lecture on Friday 2 August 2019 (30 Dhul Qa’ada 1440)
Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider
Ahlul Bait (a.s) Masjid, Ottery, Cape Town
Brothers and sisters, I would like to draw your attention to one very important issue in Islam, as a whole. Great emphasis has been placed on it in the Holy Quran and the practical life of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) and his purified Ahlul Bait (a.s).
What I am referring to is the concept of dialogue and debate, in the Holy Quran, Prophetic Sunnah and the teachings of the Ahlul Bait (a.s). In fact, in Islam, the very principle or the basis and foundation of human relationships is based upon dialogue with each other.
As is customary every week in Jumuah, I would like to remind myself and all of you about Taqwa of Almighty Allah (SWT), I wish to specifically emphasize today about the importance of Taqwa in dialogue and debate, being fully conscious about the pleasures and displeasures of Almighty Allah (SWT) when arguing with each other. Taqwa is the root or spirit of any act of worship or action of a believer (Mu’min).
DIALOGUE ESTABLISHED IN THE HOLY QURAN
There are 2 words normally used in the Holy Quran for this particular concept, firstly “Hiwaar” and secondly “Jidaal”. Hiwaar means dialogue and Jidaal means debate.
Sometimes, debate comes with negative connotations, in the form of competition and the objective being to defeat each other, and proving yourself over others, and silencing your opposition. So, this is Jidaal, the way we understand and relate to it. However, the Holy Quran does not necessarily refer to Jidaal with all these negative connotations.
The Holy Quran uses the word Hiwaar for dialogue and also uses the word Jidaal in the context of interactive dialogue with a group of people who disagree on a certain issue and would like to address it. There are a few important issues from the Quranic perspective I would like to draw your attention to.
First of all, the Holy Quran believes that it is human nature to address one’s issues and differences, agreements and disagreements, through dialogue. Verse 54 of Surah Kahf refers (chapter 18 of the Holy Quran):
وَلَقَدْ صَرَّفْنَا فِي هَٰذَا الْقُرْآنِ لِلنَّاسِ مِنْ كُلِّ مَثَلٍ ۚ وَكَانَ الْإِنْسَانُ أَكْثَرَ شَيْءٍ جَدَلًا
“And certainly We have explained in this Quran every kind of example, and man is most of all given to contention.”
The Holy Quran is referring to the nature of human beings in this verse. This verse is saying that despite everything being explained clearly, the nature of Insaan (human beings) is contentious and argumentative. This verse is saying that human beings, by nature, like to debate!
Second of all, whenever we talk about religion, we always think that religion has nothing to do with dialogue, debate or discussion, or logical, intellectual engagement. We think that religion comes either through force or blind following, or through forceful means like violence! This is the image, and certain religions have played a particular role in presenting this type of brand/image about religion, so much so, that when you talk about religion, it is not about proof or argument or evidence-based engagement in intellectual discussions.
We are expected to accept it as is. Ideology and religion, or theology in general, is not open for discussions or debate or challenges.
Now, the Quranic approach is diametrically opposite to this. The Holy Quran has presented religion and faith, and religious ideology, as very much open for discussion and debate. This is the unique approach of the Holy Quran. It is amazing, that the Holy Quran draws no exception in this discussion. The Quranic approach is not to restrict dialogue to only a few people. There are no exceptions in the Quranic approach. You can speak to anyone, and similarly you can debate with anyone.
A relevant verse to cite in this regard is verse 17 of Surah Naazi’aat (chapter 79 of the Holy Quran):
اذْهَبْ إِلَىٰ فِرْعَوْنَ إِنَّهُ طَغَىٰ
“Go thou to Pharaoh for he has indeed transgressed all bounds.”
In this verse, Almighty Allah (SWT) commands Nabi Moosa (a.s) to go towards the Pharaoh, who has revolted and crossed all the limits and is a despotic ruler who claims that he is the lord. It is quite amazing, that despite this, Nabi Moosa (a.s) is told to go and talk with Pharaoh softly!
Even more amazing in the Holy Quran is the dialogue between Almighty Allah (SWT) and Satan! Who is Almighty Allah (SWT) and who is Satan?! Yet, Almighty Allah (SWT) does not outrightly treat Satan with disdain and have Satan shunned to hell from the onset. Instead, what we analyze in the Holy Quran is how Satan presents his argument and Almighty Allah (SWT) responds.
We read in verse 12 of Surah A’araaf (chapter 7 of the Holy Quran) where Satan argues with Allah (SWT) that he is better than human beings by virtue of being created from fire while human beings are created from dust.
قَالَ أَنَا خَيْرٌ مِنْهُ خَلَقْتَنِي مِنْ نَارٍ وَخَلَقْتَهُ مِنْ طِينٍ
“He said: I am better than he: Thou hast created me of fire, while him Thou didst create of dust.”
There are so many angles and aspects to explore on this subject, but what I am trying to say is that the Holy Quran has amazingly established this framework, that our principle approach to anyone should be one of dialogue, and not one of force and violence.
DIALOGUE ESTABLISHED IN THE PROPHETIC SUNNAH
When it comes to people of the book (Christians and Jews), we read in verse 64 of Surah aal-Imraan (chapter 3 of the Holy Quran) that our approach to them should be one of inviting to talk:
قُلْ يَا أَهْلَ الْكِتَابِ تَعَالَوْا إِلَىٰ كَلِمَةٍ سَوَاءٍ بَيْنَنَا وَبَيْنَكُمْ
“Say: “O People of the Book! come to common terms as between us and you.”
The approach of the Holy Quran is to come on a common ground, even when you are 100% sure that you are on the right path, and that you hold the truth, while the other party is on falsehood without any doubt.
This means that I should not come with the preconceived notion that I am above those who hold a different view and treat others with contempt in the process. Our approach should be that I could be right or wrong and the same applies to the other party. This is the common ground which is the basis for effective dialogue.
Therefore, it is very interesting to note how our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) exemplified this approach, in various discussions with idol-worshippers and people of the book (Christians and Jews).
Amir al-Mu’mineen Imam Ali ibn abi Talib (a.s) explains in Nahjul Balagha that our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) is like a doctor who moves around with his briefcase of medical supplies. What Imam Ali (a.s) is saying is that the approach of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) to the people is like that of a doctor to the patients.
Amazingly, in debates, and discussions with the people our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) refers to himself as a doctor. In fact, it is narrated where he asked someone who came to him for advice, whether it is correct for a doctor to treat his patients according to the proposals of the patients? Quite clearly not, because a doctor is required to do whatever he/she should do, which will help address the patient’s illness.
Now, in the process of a doctor carrying out his/her duties, we note that they do not come across to the patient like a dictator or wanting to impose on the patient. The doctor’s approach to the patient is that he is proposing the best for the patient. Now, what we need to understand is that the prophetic approach is like that of a doctor!
WHY DOES ISLAM PROMOTE DIALOGUE AND DEBATE?
Ayatollah Sayyid Mohammad Hussain Fadlallah was a great Lebanese scholar and leader. He wrote a very beautiful book titled “Dialogue in the Quran”. Here is espouses the position of why Islam promotes dialogue and debate, and intellectual engagement with the people. He explains the reasons as follows:
- Islam believes that the intellectual capacity (akl) of human beings is a tool to find the truth. Islam does not believe in blind following, nor does it support this. Islam also does not promote the notion that all human beings are lost and therefore unable to find their way to the truth. So, intellect is vitally important.
- Quran believes that human beings have a right to defend itself, even in the belief system which him/her practices. The Holy Quran describes the scene on the Day of Judgement (Qiyamah), which is the final day of account and therefore no need for further deliberation and debate.
However, verse 16 of Surah Nahl (chapter 16 of the Holy Quran) explains that every soul will come, arguing its defense, but the Quran emphasizes in this verse that we will all be dealt with justly and they will not be oppressed:
يَوْمَ تَأْتِي كُلُّ نَفْسٍ تُجَادِلُ عَنْ نَفْسِهَا وَتُوَفَّىٰ كُلُّ نَفْسٍ مَا عَمِلَتْ وَهُمْ لَا يُظْلَمُونَ
“(Remember) the day when every soul shall come, pleading for itself and every soul shall be paid in full what it has done, and they shall not be dealt with unjustly.”
So, this verse explains that we will have a right to defend ourselves even on the Day of Judgement!
Islam demonstrates this approach of intellectual dialogue and debate in the most respectful manner. We see this in history, the noble manners and moral character, with our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) and his purified Ahlul Bait (a.s), and their discussions and debates with Christians and Jews and idol-worshipper and those who disagreed with them.
IMAM MUHAMMAD AL-JAWAD (A.S) AND HIS EXEMPLARY APPROACH TO DIALOGUE
I want to draw your attention today, being the last day of Dhul Qa’ada, which reminds us of the martyrdom of a great Imam of Ahlul Bait (a.s), the 9th Imam, Muhammad al-Jawad (a.s). He is the son of the 8th Imam of Ahlul Bait (a.s), Imam Ali al-Ridha (a.s).
Imam Muhammad al-Jawad (a.s) spent the shortest timespan in this world, of all the Imams, as he was poisoned by the Abbasid regime at the tender age of 25 years old. This young man was involved in numerous intellectual engagements and debates.
Naturally, because he was so young, many people challenged him and thought that he was not capable of responding to the questions and challenges. However, this man, being an Imam of the Ahlul Bait (a.s), was connected to the knowledge transmitted from Almighty Allah (SWT), and therefore was not required to accumulate his knowledge in a traditional seminary!
History has recorded these interesting debates and intellectual discussions he participated in, which we should really take lessons from. What we learn from the life of Imam Muhammad al-Jawad (a.s) is the amazing rules on manners and etiquettes which he established as far as debates and intellectual discourse is concerned.
He was a young man, but before him in the court of the Abbasid rulers like Ma’mun and Mu’tasim were big religious scholars and jurists, who are interrogating his academic standing, but his responses were always most profound.
IMAM MUHAMMAD AL-JAWAD (A.S) RESPECTFULLY REFUTES A HADITH ABOUT THE FIRST CALIPH OF ISLAM
I would like to narrate one incident relating to a common discussion between Sunni and Shia, regarding the Sahabah and the Khulafah. There is a Hadith which is reported in the court of the Abbasid ruler, praising the first Caliph. Imam Muhammad al-Jawad (a.s) does not agree with this particular Hadith being relayed in the court. As we all know, the issue of Khilafat is a point of difference or departure between Sunni and Shia.
Now, the Hadith in question apparently goes along the lines of angel Jibra’eel being sent down by Almighty Allah (SWT) to Rasulullah (SAWA) with the message that Rasulullah (SAWA) should inform the first Caliph that Allah (SWT) is pleased with him, and then Rasulullah (SAWA) should ask the first Caliph whether he is pleased with Allah (SWT) or not.
Imam Muhammad al-Jawad (a.s) argues that this Hadith is in contradiction to the Holy Quran. The point I want to make is that on such a contentious issue, in the court of the Abbasid ruler, Imam Muhammad al-Jawad (a.s) addresses the issue in a most respectful manner, whereby he repeatedly mentioned in his response, that he is not denying the sanctity of the first Caliph as a prominent companion of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA).
Imam Muhammad al-Jawad (a.s) makes it clear that he respects the first Caliph, and that he is sacred for the Sunni Muslims, and he does not want to insult nor deny his role and position in Islam.
However, Imam Muhammad al-Jawad (a.s) explained the issue at hand, that this Hadith contradicts with the Holy Quran, and any such Hadith which contradicts with the Holy Quran is not acceptable, because Rasulullah (SAWA) is recorded as saying that any Hadith which contradicts with the Holy Quran should be thrown against the wall!
Imam Muhammad al-Jawad (a.s) then also drew reference to verse 16 of Surah Qaaf (chapter 50 of the Holy Quran), where Almighty Allah (SWT) says that He is closer to us than our jugular vein:
وَنَحْنُ أَقْرَبُ إِلَيْهِ مِنْ حَبْلِ الْوَرِيدِ
“and We are nearer to him than his jugular vein.”
This means that Almighty Allah (SWT) knows us better than we know ourselves! So then, how is it possible that Allah (SWT) does not know what the first Caliph feels towards Him, as this Hadith is suggesting that Almighty Allah (SWT) did not know and is therefore asking from the first Caliph whether he is pleased with Allah (SWT)?!
So, Imam Muhammad al-Jawad (a.s) focused on addressing the issue, rather than the person. The issue being that this Hadith in its contents is contradictory to the Holy Quran, and he explained this in a logical, rational manner without insulting or humiliating anyone. This is the Akhlaq of debate and discourse, which Imam Muhammad al-Jawad (a.s) taught us.
We also admire the academic excellence of Imam Muhammad al-Jawad (a.s) on how he responds to questions of fiqh (jurisprudence) when the chief judge of the Abbasid dynasty, Yahya ibn Aksam, was brought to the court to test Imam Muhammad al-Jawad (a.s) and his intellectual and academic capacity. This chief judge, Yahya ibn Aksam, is left with no option other than to surrender before the expansive ocean of knowledge of the Ahlul Bait (a.s), based on the comprehensive depth of responses provided by Imam Muhammad al-Jawad (a.s).
This is what the Imams of Ahlul Bait (a.s) taught us about how to interact with the people with whom we differ or are in opposition with. Respect, understanding and Akhlaq are the key hallmarks to such engagement.
SECOND KHUTBAH – WORRYING DEVELOPMENTS IN NIGERIA AND BAHRAIN
I would like to once again highlight the continued illegal detention and incarceration of Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky in Nigeria, and also the very, very serious development about declaring the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, head by Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky, as a terrorist organization. This is a very serious matter, as it will give the government a free license to do whatever it wants and bypass all the judgments handed down by the courts and any legal boundaries.
Once again, we raise our voice of protest, in solidarity with this oppressed Sheikh Zakzaky, and appeal for his immediate release, especially given that he critically ill.
I would also like to mention the continuous oppression on the people of Bahrain by the despotic regime who is nowadays in full partnership with Zionist Israel and are not shy about this relationship. They executed 2 more young people this past week in Bahrain, on baseless grounds, which resulted in huge protests in Bahrain, which they again attacked these peaceful protests, killing another young man. This is the continuous situation in Bahrain.