Jumuah lecture on Friday 20 December 2019 (23 Rabi-ul-Akhir 1441)
Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider
Ahlul Bait (a.s) Masjid, Ottery, Cape Town
Almighty Allah (SWT) says in verse 2 of Surah Ankaboot (chapter 29 of the Holy Quran):
أَحَسِبَ النَّاسُ أَنْ يُتْرَكُوا أَنْ يَقُولُوا آمَنَّا وَهُمْ لَا يُفْتَنُونَ
“Do people think that they will be left alone on saying, “We believe”, and that they will not be tested?”
Indeed, it is not like this. Fitna, which is mentioned in this verse, is a very important phenomenon discussed in extensive detail in the Holy Quran, to the extent where Fitna is described in verse 191 of Surah Baqarah (chapter 2) as being worse than murder!
وَالْفِتْنَةُ أَشَدُّ مِنَ الْقَتْلِ
“for tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter”
More than 50 verses of the Holy Quran discuss, or in some cases at least refers to this phenomenon called Fitna.
HOW IS FITNA DEFINED IN QURANIC TRADITION?
What is the real meaning of Fitna in the Holy Quran and similarly in Islamic terminology when we analyse ahadith of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) and his purified Ahlul Bait (a.s) and also more particularly in some of the very important sermons of Nahjul Balagha by Imam Ali ibn abi Talib (a.s)?
Fitna is a very diverse concept which is used in the Holy Quran, with completely different meanings ascribed, depending on the context. Example, in the verse from Surah Ankaboot cited earlier, fitna means people will be tested. However, in the other verse from Surah Baqarah cited earlier, fitna is not referring to being tested. Rather, it is referring to mischief and promotion of evil plans, division, disunity and confusion.
Then, fitna is also used in the context of punishment from Almighty Allah (SWT), as referred to in verses 13 and 14 of Dhaariyat (chapter 51 of the Holy Quran):
يَوْمَ هُمْ عَلَى النَّارِ يُفْتَنُونَ
“It is the day on which they shall be tried at the fire.”
“Taste your persecution!”
Another example of the context in which fitna is used in the Holy Quran is misguidance, as described in this excerpt from verse 41 of Surah Maaida (chapter 5 of the Holy Quran):
وَمَنْ يُرِدِ اللَّهُ فِتْنَتَهُ فَلَنْ تَمْلِكَ لَهُ مِنَ اللَّهِ شَيْئًا
“And as for him whose temptation Allah desires, you cannot control anything for him with Allah.”
This verse says that if Almighty Allah (SWT) desires for someone to be misguided, then nothing can save him.
Then, fitna is also used in the Holy Quran, in the case of shirk (ascribing partners with Almighty Allah (SWT)). An example is verse 193 of Surah Baqarah (chapter 2):
وَقَاتِلُوهُمْ حَتَّىٰ لَا تَكُونَ فِتْنَةٌ وَيَكُونَ الدِّينُ لِلَّهِ ۖ
“And fight with them until there is no persecution, and religion should be only for Allah.”
These examples illustrate the broad spectrum of meanings in the Holy Quran about the word fitna.
WHAT IS THE ARABIC LINGUISTIC MEANING OF FITNA?
In the Arabic language, very interestingly, the word fitna in its authentic, literal meaning refers to gold being placed in a furnace, so that the impurities in gold can be separated from the pure gold, for the quality to achieve a high carat!
Different meanings have been extracted from this literal meaning, such as tests referred to in the verse from Surah Ankaboot earlier. It is through the hardships which trials and tribulations bring, that separates pure from impure.
Gold cannot be separated from its impurities without being placed under extremely high temperatures in a furnace. This is what separates pure and impure. Human beings are no different, that their reality is defined when they are struck by hardships and calamities. This is when one can distinguish between those who are genuine and those who are fake. That is why fitna is used in these meanings in the Holy Quran.
If fitna is used in the sense of punishment, as noted in verses 13 and 14 from Surah Dhaariyat cited earlier, it is not exactly fitna, but rather the result of that fitna, when you fail in your test.
I want to therefore devote this discussion to this phenomenon of fitna, because it is a reality we face in our life on a daily basis. In the majority of cases (not all), 3 meanings are ascribed to fitna in the Holy Quran:
- Imtihaan (tests/trials)
- When you cannot distinguish between right and wrong ie. haqq and baatil are mixed. The clouds of confusion are so dark and powerful that you cannot distinguish between right and wrong.
- The third meaning of fitna in the Holy Quran refers to destruction and chaos and creating anarchy in society.
Let us elaborate on some examples below.
FITNA IS CAUSED BY BEING A SLAVE OF OUR DESIRES
The Holy Quran refers to fitna in the case of that female camel of Nabi Saleh (a.s). The Holy Quran explains that when the people of Nabi Saleh (a.s) asked him to show them a miracle, he brought his camel from the mountain, and then the command of Almighty Allah (SWT) descended, saying that people will enjoy the agricultural resources at their disposal, but one day of the week will be dedicated to this female camel of Nabi Saleh (a.s).
These people unfortunately did not obey this divine command and finally slaughtered the female camel of Nabi Saleh (a.s) too. The Holy Quran calls this a fitna, as the camel was sent as a test for the people of Nabi Saleh (a.s). It was a test for these people, on how they respond to the commands of Almighty Allah (SWT) when confronted with the temptations of this dunya! This is expressed in verse 27 of Surah Qamar (chapter 54):
إِنَّا مُرْسِلُو النَّاقَةِ فِتْنَةً لَهُمْ
“Surely We are going to send the she-camel as a trial for them.”
Another very interesting example in the Holy Quran of fitna in the same sense of tests and trials is that of the Ashaab as-Sabt (the people of Saturday). When Bani Israel, who lived next to the river and oceans and all their source of life was from catching fish, they asked from Almighty Allah (SWT) to grant them one day of the week as a sacred day, so that they can rest on this day. Almighty Allah (SWT) accepted their request and made Saturday as their holiday to rest and concentrate on their worship of Him, instead of focusing on their work ie. fishing for their livelihood.
There is so much to reflect upon, in these examples from the Holy Quran. The Quran explains that Bani Israel requested for a day of rest. Almighty Allah (SWT) honoured their request, by making Saturday to be their day of rest and Ibaadah, instead of fishing for their livelihood. This is where their temptation towards Dunya distracted them.
They tried to find a loophole, arguing that Almighty Allah (SWT) commanded that they do not go fishing in the ocean, and so, they then decided to dig some canals instead, from which the water from the ocean will come gushing through, together with the fish which they will then catch there. This was their loophole to work around the divine command! They tried to justify to themselves that this action is not disobeying the command from Almighty Allah (SWT). This is fitna!
There are numerous examples to explore in respect of the challenge of fitna endured by different Prophets (a.s) during their time.
WHAT IS OUR RESPONSIBILITY WHEN CONFRONTED WITH FITNA?
Let us now move to the second part, which is when Haqq and Baatil are mixed, so much so that people are unable to distinguish between them. In this scenario, instead of taking a decisive and clear stance, people are either fooled by Jahl (ignorance) and falsehood, or the majority of them become neutral. This is fitna, according to the Holy Quran.
Indeed, if Haqq and Baatil is not really clear for us, and we are completely confused and lost, then the best is for us to rather abstain. Imam Ali (a.s) explains this situation very beautifully in Nahjul Balagha. The context here is when neither party is on truth, as each party is pushing their own agenda, and everybody wants to exploit you for their own benefit. This is where Imam Ali (a.s) is saying that we should be like “ibn laboon”, which is a baby camel.
Now, what is the relation between a baby camel and being caught in the middle of fitna? Imam Ali (a.s) explains that it is not possible to retrieve any milk from a baby camel. There is hardly any meat on this camel, and you cannot ride on this camel either. So, Imam Ali (a.s) is explaining that we should be like this baby camel where nobody is able to exploit us for their own agendas!
However, there are situations where Baatil (falsehood) presents itself as Haqq (truth) and truth appears to be falsehood. Now, the question is, are we also supposed to remain neutral in this situation, like in the analogy of the baby camel? Unfortunately, history has plenty examples like this.
CIVIL WARS IN ISLAMIC HISTORY ILLUSTRATES THE DISASTROUS EFFECTS OF FITNA
Imam Ali (a.s) is the best of examples in dealing decisively with fitna. During his era of governance, he was compelled to enter into 3 civil wars, namely the battles of Jamal, Siffin and Nahrawan. All 3 of these wars were with Muslims. On both sides were Sahaaba (companions of our Prophet Muhammad (SAWA)) and Huffaadh of Quran!
Naturally, people get confused and lost in this situation. Therefore, the Holy Quran calls it Fitna, because it is a test of what position to take in this situation. This is where the Holy Quran explains the connection of fitna along with baseerat. The only way to emerge from fitna is with baseerat ie. vision and insight. This requires the intellectual capacity to understand the different scenarios playing itself out on the ground.
The reality is that people can very easily be absorbed in fitna. This is exactly what occurred in the battles of Jamal, Siffin and Nahrawan. On the one side you have Imam Ali (a.s) and on the other side you have supposedly prominent Muslims. Then, sandwiched amongst these 2 opposing parties were plenty of people who were neutral, arguing that they want to avoid disunity and bloodshed amongst Muslims.
The problem with these neutral people is that they have lost the vision and insight into the broader picture (baseerat). So, they remained on the sidelines, resulting in the ghastly situation in the battle of Siffin where the most horrible decision was imposed on Muslims in the form of the Umayyads coming into power and Imam Ali (a.s) was suspended from power. The big fitna of Bani Umayyah was institutionalised, which resulted in a greater fitna by the name of Khawarij, who emerged as an extremist reactionary force.
Imam Ali (a.s) never accepted the decisions from the battle of Siffin, but it was imposed upon him. When these so-called holy people (Kharijites) now witnessed the anarchy resulting from the decisions of Siffin, they decided that the supposedly holy thing to do is to take up arms against Imam Ali (a.s) as well, not realising that they were at the heart of imposing these disastrous decisions on the Muslim Ummah. This resulted in them concluding a new fitna declaring that Imam Ali (a.s) and his opposition are both Kaafir, and that they (Kharijites) are the only ones who are rightly guided Muslims!
There is so much to really analyse and learn from these horrible events of fitna in our Islamic history.
Imam Ali (a.s) provides a most thought-provoking analysis of why the occurrence of fitna arises. He says that the source of fitna is when personal agendas and desires are the criteria, instead of the pleasure of Almighty Allah (SWT). This is where fitna is born!
FITNA AT THE HEART OF MASS UPHEAVAL IN IRAQ AND LEBANON
I want to connect our discussion on fitna to some of the points to discuss in the second khutbah, relating to the scenario before us on the geo-political scene, especially in the context of when Haqq (truth) and Baatil (falsehood) are mixed, especially when people exploit a situation for their own devious intent. People get trapped due to a lack of vision and clear direction.
This is fitna, and there are numerous examples in our own time. The situation in Iraq is a classic example, where millions of people come onto the streets to demand their legitimate rights, with legitimate demands – beyond any doubt! However, we see the impact of infiltration, where those with sinister intent have diverted the attention of these legitimate protests to result in infighting and destruction of property and killing.
This has moved the whole Iraqi nation, who stand for truth and justice in the Palestinian cause, away from the axis of resistance towards those whose only desire is a luxury life and nothing more. These are the frightening messages emerging from these protests unfortunately.
We also saw the same rhetoric playing itself out in Lebanon. Nobody disagrees or denies the difficulties faced by the people of Lebanon in the form of infrastructure and economic challenges. Their protests against these socio-economic challenges are indeed legitimate grievances but see how this scenario is diverted to become an anti-Hezbullah and anti-resistance message!
KUALA LUMPUR SUMMIT AIMS TO DRIVE SELF-SUFFICIENCY
Another important issue to reflect upon is the Kuala Lumpur Summit, which presented a very positive message for Muslim nations to drive towards self-sufficiency. I will repeat what Imam Ali (a.s) said: “If I have my clear vision and sagacity (baseerat) with me, then nobody can deceive me, nor can I deceive myself!”
The whole Ummah needs to emerge from this deception and address their challenges themselves and defend themselves instead of relying on the enemies to defend and protect them. This positive message from the Kuala Lumpur Summit was very different to the one which took place in Jeddah under the “tutelage” of Trump, and hence the Arab countries headed by Saudi Arabia decided to boycott this Kuala Lumpur Summit.
A very bitter tragedy which emerged is that the Prime Minister of Pakistan, who has been a strong advocate of self-sufficiency and wanting to establish Pakistan along the Prophetic model of the welfare state of Madina, unfortunately buckled under the pressure from his Saudi masters. He extended his apology for not being able to participate, upon the Saudi led bloc making their decision to boycott known.
This in itself gives a clear message – we need to decide whether we want to stand independently or whether we want to live like beggars forever!
CHRISTMAS GREETINGS TO ALL OUR CHRISTIAN BRETHREN
We offer our greetings and best wishes to the Christian community on this sacred occasion, and we take this opportunity to once again emphasize the great respect Islam has for Nabi Isa (a.s) and his pure and pristine mother, Sayyida Mariam (s.a).
Our great scholar from Lebanon, Ayatullah Sayed Muhammad Hussain Fadhlullah, use to say that these religious occasions like Christmas, Easter, Ramadaan, Eid and others, present us with beautiful opportunities for building bridges between the followers of different religions. This is when we get to know more about what these sacred events actually mean, and they enable the bridges of understanding to be built amongst different faith communities.
Therefore, we do not hesitate to take this opportunity to extend our congratulations and to build these bridges. Unfortunately, those people with a lack of baseerat (as mentioned earlier) feel offended by this conciliatory approach, which is not worth discussing…
2019 ENDS WITH THE CONTINUOUS INCARCERATION OF SHAIKH IBRAHIM ZAKZAKY IN NIGERIA
It is important to once again draw attention to the continuous incarceration of Shaikh Ibrahim Zakzaky in Nigeria. According to the last news received, his health is in a very bad condition where he is not provided medical care, and we hope and pray that this issue be resolved, and this oppressed leader is released from the oppression imposed on him by the Nigerian regime.
ENJOY THE FESTIVE SEASON RESPONSIBLY WITH CARE FOR OTHERS
In conclusion, I would like to remind us all about our responsibility and consciousness regarding Halaal and Haraam during this festive season. Yes, we are allowed to enjoy, but within the boundaries of what our Sharia permits. Full consciousness regarding Halaal and Haraam should be maintained.
On this point, I also want to reiterate the drive which is led by the Western Cape Religious Leaders Forum every year about the safety of people on the roads and to be considerate of other people in public places, and taking care of the safety and security of all. Let us all enjoy the downtime in a focussed and conscious manner.