Lecture 2 in the Ramadaan series:
DUA IN THE LIGHT OF QURAN & AHLUL BAIT (A.S)
Wednesday 8 May 2018 (2 Ramadaan 1440)
Ahlul Bait (a.s) Masjid, Ottery, Cape Town
Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider
In our introduction last night, we explained the close relationship between Ramadaan and Dua, Ramadaan and Quran, and Ramadaan and Ahlul Bait (a.s). We committed to discuss Dua in the light of the Holy Quran and Ahlul Bait (a.s) in this series.
Last night (lecture 1), our discussion was about dua being one of the central themes of Ramadaan, according to the Holy Quran and the Ahlul Bait (a.s). Therefore we would like to take this opportunity to understand the concept of dua in the Quran and Ahlul Bait (a.s), together with exploring the main discussions around dua from the angle of the Quran and the Ahlul Bait (a.s).
This particular discussion explores the definition of dua.
WHAT IS THE LITERAL MEANING OF DUA?
First of all, let us explore the literal meaning of dua in the Arabic language. Dua has various meanings in Arabic, but it mainly refers to someone of a lower status seeking something from someone in a higher status.
Someone from a higher status seeking something from someone of a lower status is not dua. In fact, that is command.
Furthermore, if someone is asking something from someone who is on the same status, it is called request.
This means that dua is only when someone lower is seeking from someone who is much higher. This is the literal meaning.
According to the great “vocabularist” or Quranic exegesis, Raghib Isfahani, dua means to call someone. This is consistent with what we discussed in the previous lecture regarding verse 186 of Surah Baqarah:
“I answer the supplicant’s call when he calls Me.”
So, calling is another very common meaning of dua.
The great commentator of the Holy Quran of the 20th century, Allama Tabataba’i explains this definition of Raghib Isfahani by saying that “calling” is generally by words, meaning I will call you to come here or I will call on Allah (SWT) to help me. However, Allama Tabataba’i expands the definition of Raghib Isfahani by saying that calling can be without words too. So, dua is much broader than just calling.
Again these are the literal, dictionary meanings of dua ie. seeking, calling.
MEANING OF DUA IN QURAN, HADITH AND ISLAMIC SCIENCES
Now, let us move to the meaning of dua in the sense which is used in the Holy Quran, Hadith and discussions on Islamic sciences. The term dua in this context refers to supplication. The concept of dua is used more than 200 times in the Holy Quran, in different forms. Often, the word dua may not be used, but in practical form duas are discussed.
When we speak about the word dua in the Holy Quran, it refers to the approach of the servant (us) to the master (Allah (SWT)) ie. seeking help or even drawing near to Almighty Allah (SWT). This is the journey of abd (servant) to Rabb (Master).
I have deliberately used this word Rabb, because most of the duas refer to Allah (SWT) as Rabb. In my rough estimation, there are about 60 duas in the Holy Quran which start with Rabb. The last verses of Surah Baqarah serve as a good example, amongst many others in the Quran.
DUA: LEVELS OF ELEVATION TO REACH ALMIGHTY GOD (SWT)
The common theme in all these duas is that the servant (abd) is trying to approach the Lord (SWT), to seek something. I want to take this a step further to say that the way that the Quran mentions and similarly the way the duas of the Ahlul Bait (a.s) support us, we learn that dua is to seek closeness to Almighty Allah (SWT), rather than simply seeking something.
This is an important distinction to understand. Often we make dua because of our needs and desires, starting on a material level. Then we take our duas to a higher level by seeking from Allah (SWT) to make us good people, for example. Then we take our duas to an even higher level by asking Allah (SWT) to grant us paradise and to not punish us for our shortcomings.
In addition to this trend of dua, I am referring to duas in the Quran where neither our worldly needs and desires (Dunya) nor the hereafter (Akhirah) is the subject of the ask. Rather, the purpose of the dua is to attain proximity to Almighty Allah (SWT). In fact, this approach is in its very essence closeness to Allah (SWT)!
Therefore, what I am trying to explain is that normally in our day to day language, we understand the meaning of dua to be the process of asking from Almighty Allah (SWT). However, in the terminology of the Holy Quran and the Ahlul Bait (a.s), this is only one basic level of dua. The institution of dua goes a lot deeper than this!
The literal meaning of Salaah is dua as well, as per the Arabic dictionary. However, we do not use the word Salaah for dua, because we use the word Salaah for a particular act of Ibadah (worship).
So what we understand from this is that dua is not simply about asking and seeking help. Dua is about establishing a channel of communication between servant (abd) and master (Allah (SWT)). This is dua, which is one of the major pathways to Allah (SWT)! Of course, when we communicate with Him, we divulge our challenges and needs as well, but dua in essence is that channel of communication.
Salaah is also basically a channel of communication with Almighty Allah (SWT), whereby we connect with Him in our 5 compulsory daily prayers. Similar is dua in this sense, which is communication from us to our Lord Almighty Allah (SWT).
DUA IS THE PROOF OF EXISTENCE OF GOD (SWT)
Let us now take our understanding of dua to a deeper level. The intellectual giant and philosopher of the 20th century, Shaheed Ayatollah Murtaza Mutahheri (r.a), says that dua in the form of asking and seeking help from Almighty Allah (SWT) is part of human nature. In fact, he says that dua is one of the proofs of Almighty Allah (SWT)!
What Shaheed Ayatollah Murtaza Mutahheri (r.a) is saying is that everyone in their pure nature has this instinct called dua, and having this in your nature is a sign that Almighty Allah (SWT) exists!
He goes further to explain that every heart has a gate which opens to Allah (SWT), even those who disobey Him, and even those who do not believe in God (SWT). The hearts of such people, by their own nature have an opening towards Almighty Allah (SWT). The important point to note is that this door to Allah (SWT) only opens when all other doors are closed!!!
HOW TO PROVE EXISTENCE OF GOD (SWT) THROUGH HUMAN NATURE
An atheist came to our 6th Imam of Ahlul Bait (a.s), Imam Jafar Sadiq (a.s), and asked him who is his God and where is He? Interestingly, Imam Jafar Sadiq (a.s) decided to respond to this question with a question, asking the atheist whether he ever travelled on sea, by boat for example. This person replied in the affirmative.
Then, Imam Jafar Sadiq (a.s) asked him if he was ever stuck in a storm while at sea, and there was absolutely no hope for survival, on the verge of drowning in the middle of the ocean, where there is nobody to help. This person replied that this very difficult experience did happen to him once. Then Imam Jafar Sadiq (a.s) asked him whether, during that heat of the problem, his heart diverted to someone to seek help and shelter? This person again replied in the affirmative.
So, Imam Jafar Sadiq (a.s) concluded to this atheist that this one whom he was seeking help from while in the depths of despair was indeed God (SWT)!
Imam Jafar Sadiq (a.s) proved the existence of God (SWT) to this atheist from within himself, saying that in that desperate situation where there was no hope of survival and all the doors are closed, the heart of the atheist instinctively got drawn towards a reality which could rescue him from this horrific situation. That is God (SWT).
Yes, this is dua, when all the hopes are gone. Let us take an example of someone who is chronically ill, where everyone has given up and the doctors have said that nothing can be done. If you go near to this sick person, you will see that this person is still living because he still thinks someone can rescue him and he is asking and depending on that someone to rescue him! This is dua!
OUR HUMAN NATURE MAKES GOD CLOSER TO US THAN OUR JUGULAR VEIN
I would like to make a very important and interesting point here. Not everyone recognises that this desire and basic nature within ourselves, what it is and what is its purpose.
Let me give you a simple example of a new born baby. By nature, this infant has the desire of milk. This is not taught. It is a natural desire to drink milk. Also, this baby somehow knows where to look for milk and how to feed itself. Then you find that this baby cries when he is hungry. This is like an announcement from the baby that he wants milk.
However, the baby does not know who the mother is, nor does he know why he wants milk. In fact, this desire itself is unclear. If it were us adults, we will analyse why we are hungry, noting that it is because our bodies require food, as this provides us with energy to survive. We understand that if we do not get food, we cry, as crying is a message of complaint.
There is a clear dichotomy here, because the adult may understand, but the baby does not understand why he is crying. There is no thinking involved with the baby, nor is there any knowledge and analysis possible with the baby. But the instinct and desire for milk is there, even though the baby does not understand crying and the purpose of this desire. Somehow, the process just happens and the baby is fed.
Many human beings have this instinct of dua, but they are still infants, in that they do not understand where this desire is coming from! Who is calling and being called? Awakening of this instinct is a different issue which we will explain later, but we all know that this instinct is naturally there, as expressed when you are in a life and death situation explained earlier.
Those who do recognise the higher power are people of faith (Imaan).
REACH GOD (SWT) THROUGH FREE WILL RATHER THAN DESPERATION
Another important point in the same regard, of dua being part of human nature, is this human nature of needing to get help from the higher power which is beyond our imagination. This door does not open until all other doors are closed. Until you think that the doctor and medication can help, or a helicopter will come rescue me if I am stuck in the middle of the ocean, your mind does not go automatically towards that ONE who is beyond our imagination, because there are other options available!
Now this awakening sometimes happens out of no choice, when all the doors are closed automatically, then this one opens, like we discussed with the atheist who was stuck in the ocean, or the doctors saying that nothing can be done to save the chronically ill patient. Out of no option, you start seeking out to someone higher up who can help you. The gate opens as the instinct awakens.
This type of awakening, out of no option, where the gate towards Almighty Allah (SWT) opens is not such a great thing. In fact, it is a bit late in the game to do anything.
Now, let us contrast this with when you close all the doors out of your own free will! You liberate yourself from all the dependencies and expectations and your soul ascends to connect to Almighty Allah (SWT). Then this channel of dua between you and Allah (SWT) is established!
In the beautiful whispered prayer called Munajat Shabaniyah, the Imams of Ahlul Bait (a.s) implore from Almighty Allah (SWT) to make them capable to reach the point where we do not look in any direction with any hope other than in Him! This scenario is itself the content of dua!
“Ilahi habli kamaalal inqita’i ilayk”
This refers to being completely disconnected from everything other than Allah (SWT). Clearly, this is an awakening out of free will, rather than out of no option!
DUA IS ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF ABSOLUTE DEPENDENCE ON THE ABSOLUTE PERFECT
The truth of dua is the attention of the deficient towards the absolute perfect, in order to eliminate its imperfections and needs. It is the natural part of human instinct, for which the pre-requisite is the abandonment of anything which is contrary to God (SWT). This is when the reality and truth of dua becomes clear.
Let us now summarise. Different mystics and scholars have defined dua as the diversion and attention of abd (servant) who is imperfect and deficient towards the absolute perfect. This journey of diversion is dua, with admission and acceptance that we are nothing.
There are 4 very important elements to remember in dua:
- The one who is making dua;
- Who we are making dua to;
- Dua itself;
- What are we asking
We will speak about these 4 elements in the forthcoming lectures.
Mystics have further defined dua as the journey when the servant diverts his attention towards his perfect and complete Lord (who is beyond any defect) with absolute humility and complete acceptance of being nothing. Therefore, asking and seeking help come much later in the level of what dua is.
PROPHETIC EXPRESSION OF DUA
There is a beautiful Hadith from our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA), where he says that the best of dua is his dua and the dua of Prophets (a.s) before him. This dua is:
“There is none worthy of worship except Allah
Allah the Almighty is without partner
Allah is the glorious and praiseworthy
And I ask Allah for forgiveness
There is no power to do good
and no strength to be saved from evil
except with the grace of Allah
He is the First and the Last
He is the Apparent and the Hidden
He is the Ever-living who never dies
He imparts and takes away life
There is blessing with Allah the Almighty
He is the Ruler over everything”
We note in this dua from Rasulullah (SAWA) that he does not ask for anything in this dua! Instead, this dua is filled with glorification and praise of Almighty Allah (SWT). There is no ask or seeking help.
Now, to understand this, let us compare a beggar going before a very rich, generous person. The beggar will focus on praising the rich person instead of asking for his needs from the rich person. The rich person does not need to then hear from the beggar what he is seeking help for! The generous rich person will start feeling shy and grants the beggar something as he praises him!
Now, what about Almighty Allah (SWT), who knows exactly what we need? He is fully aware of our problems and complaints. So, after listening to our praise of Him, He will surely respond to our call for help!
DUA: OUR PERSONAL JOURNEY TOWARDS ALLAH (SWT)
What I am repeatedly saying is that Dua is not necessarily about asking directly. What dua does is establishing that channel of communication and lots of blessings and goodness comes as a result of this. The most important blessing which we establish in this regard is that we develop a very personal relationship with our Lord Almighty (SWT). We communicate with Him and He loves to hear from us.
Ahlul Bait (a.s) take us on this path of establishing a personal channel of communication with Almighty Allah (SWT). The Holy Quran and Ahlul Bait (a.s), with all their recommended duas and teachings, explore this relationship, once this channel of communication is established. What follows from this is development of the heart, mind and soul.
The challenge is that establishing this type of communication with Almighty Allah (SWT) requires some conditions. This is much deeper than just begging to Allah (SWT). This will be explored further in the discussions to follow.