Jumuah lecture delivered by Sheikh Dr Shaheed Mathee at the Ahlul Bait (a.s) Masjid Complex in Ottery, Cape Town on 7 January 2022
Almighty Allah says the following in the famous story of Prophet Yusuf (a.s) in Surah Yusuf Verses 7 to 10 relating to the incident when his brothers wanted to get rid of him:
لَقَدْ كَانَ فِي يُوسُفَ وَإِخْوَتِهِ ءَايَاتٌ لِلسَّآئِلِينَ
“Certainly there are signs (of Allah’s sovereignty) in (the story of) Yusuf and his brothers for the inquirers.”
إِذْ قَالُوا لَيُوسُفُ وَأَخُوهُ أَحَبُّ إِلَي اَبِينَا مِنَّا وَنَحْنُ عُصْبَةٌ إِنَّ أَبَانَا لَفي ضَلالٍ مُّبِينٍ
“When they said: ‘Verily, Yusuf and his brother (Benjamin) are dearer to our father than we, while we are a (strong) group. Verily, our father is in manifest error’.”
اقْتُلُوا يُوسُفَ أَوِ اطْرَحُوهُ أَرْضاً يَخْلُ لَكُمْ وَجْهُ أَبِيكُمْ وَتَكُونُوا مِن بَعْدِهِ قَوْماً صَالِحِينَ
“Slay you Yusuf, or cast him out to some (far) land, (so that) your father’s attention may be given on you (exclusively), and you may be after that (by repentance) a righteous people.”
قَالَ قَآئِلٌ مِنْهُمْ لاَ تَقْتُلُوا يُوسُفَ وَأَلْقُوهُ فِي غَيَابَتِ الْجُبّ يَلْتَقِطْهُ بَعْضُ السَّيَّارَةِ إِن كُنتُمْ فَاعِلِينَ
“Said a speaker among them: ‘Do not slay Yusuf, and if you must do it, throw him into the bottom of the well (so that) some caravan (of travelers) may pick him up’.”
The Quran further narrates the moment when Prophet Yusuf introduced himself to his brothers many years later when he was now in a position of power. Surah Yusuf Verses 90 to 92 thus states:
قَالُوا أَءِنَّكَ لأَنتَ يُوسُفُ قَالَ أَنَاْ يُوسُفُ وَهَذآ أَخِي قَدْ مَنَّ اللَّهُ عَلَيْنَآ إِنَّهُ مَن يَتَّقِ وَيَصْبِرْ فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ لاَ يُضِيعُ أَجْرَ الْمُـحْسِنِينَ
“They said: ‘Are you indeed Yusuf?’ He said: ‘(Yes), I am Yusuf and this is my brother. Allah has been indeed gracious to us. Verily whoever keeps from evil and is patient (is always rewarded) for verily Allah does not waste the reward of the righteous’.”
قَالُوا تَاللَّهِ لَقَدْ ءَاثَرَكَ اللَّهُ عَلَيْنَا وَإِن كُنَّا لَخَاطِئِينَ
“They said: ‘By Allah! Allah has indeed preferred you above us, and we certainly have been guilty’.”
قَالَ لاَ تَثْرِيبَ عَلَيْكُمُ الْيَوْمَ يَغْفِرُ اللَّهُ لَكُمْ وَهُوَ أَرْحَمُ الرَّاحِمِينَ
“He said: ‘There is no reproach against you this day. Allah may forgive you; and He is the most Merciful of the merciful (ones)’.”
THE PERSONAL IS POLITICAL
A feminist principle states, the personal is political. There has been much debate around this statement. However, the talk will draw on it loosely in reflecting on Yusuf (as) and his brothers.
Suffice it to say that the personal and political are intertwined.
In this khutbah we reflect on the personal dimension of what al Nabi Yusuf’s (as) brothers did to him starting from their ignorant perception that their father al Nabi Ya’qub (as) favoured Yusuf (a.s) and his brother above them leading to the idea to kill Yusuf (a.s) – finally settling on detaining him in a well and selling him as a slave to passing trade caravans.
We will not look to Yusuf (a.s) as a Nabi fulfilling a Divine Mission to take tawhid to Egypt and through it ensure food security for Egypt and the region.
We focus on his brothers’ deed, their sin, of ripping away this young boy from his mother and father and the unforetold harm it did to him and his parents.
HARM CAUSED TO PARENTS & PROPHET YUSUF (A.S) HIMSELF
The Qur’an tells us that Ya’qub (a.s) cried until he became blind; try then from there to imagine the pain of his mother and Yusuf (a.s) himself and his brother.
He came out on a nice day invited or tagged along by elder brothers ostensibly to play with him but in reality to sell him off and remove him from his parents and his environment.
Try to feel the fear of the young Yusuf (a.s) experienced in that dark well and then being passed to traders (often most unkind) and then brought to a strange land.
How often would the young Yusuf (a.s) have cried, Mamma, Pappa where are you.
Come fetch me please.
Yusuf (a.s) and his brothers finally meet up some time in the future as we know. He is no longer the small boy but arguably the most “powerful” person in Egypt in that context as Minister of Food Security.
The whole land’s survival and development depends on him.
Nevertheless, on their meeting, his brothers asking Yusuf (a.s) maf (pardon in Capetonian slang) and him giving them maf we reflect In-sha’Allah, i.e., the lessons for us in our lives.
DEEP HARM WE CAUSE TO OTHERS
We cannot enact Yusuf’s (a.s) life and works as a Prophet, but we can learn from him and his brothers’ story, what they visited upon him.
For we can be Yusuf (a.s) or his brothers and often are both simultaneously.
As individuals we harm our spouses, children, siblings, parents, and friends and/or are at the receiving end of harm: unkind/vicious utterances, emotional abuse, physical abuse, backbiting/badmouthing, spoiling business deals, etc.
The list is long.
We do so intentionally, unintentionally, in calmness, and in anger.
There are two fundamental questions here.
Firstly, can we ask maf as Yusuf (as)
Secondly, should the victim of my ugly and abominable deed(s) give maf as Yusuf (as) so generously and with clemency and love did?
The answer to the first question is yes, of course.
It involves haqq al-‘ibad and as we know Allah will forgive only if the person I harmed forgives.
SHOULD VICTIMS PARDON THEIR PERPETRATORS?
I do not know the answer to the second question; though seemingly easy, it is a very difficult question.
Before I continue respected jama’atul Muslimin, a caveat/warning is in order.
I am speaking very generally insofar as I am not a (psycho)therapist, nor a psychologist, nor a counsellor or social worker.
This talk today therefore should not be taken as providing guidelines or nasihah.
It does not, it cannot.
It is only a reflection in which all of us are equal.
Back to the question then and perhaps I can venture to say this: I the perpetrator cannot expect my victim to accept my asking or pleading for maf; I cannot be offended if s/he refuses to say Allah maf; it is not obligatory on him/her.
I must understand that s/he has been deeply hurt and that it may take time; s/he may never forgive me.
We can say, it is (the) better (thing) to give maf; note, I am not saying the correct thing, but simply better and the word better denotes a comparison/a juxtaposing of two things.
REALITY OF COLLATERAL DAMAGE IN RELATIONSHIPS
To take it further, a person may refuse to give maf to not only the perpetrator but others who have no link to the wrong done to him/her is perhaps helpful to let us appreciate her/his hurt, experience and ordeal. (Appreciating does not necessitate agreeing).
For example, a woman/girl (at times a boy) who has been raped, sexually abused mistrusting all men.
As if for her, through this syllogism:
All men are rapists
Shahid is a man
Therefore, shahid is a rapist
To reiterate, I have not answered the second question, because I am unable to.
Yet, this question we need to reflect on and think through carefully.
We often take it for granted because it is seemingly easy. I do wrong, I ask for maf and the person I wronged says Allah maf.
No, it is much more complex than that; it involve feelings, emotions that have their roots in painful experiences and ordeals.
Emotional and physical abuse are not just wiped out.
PROPHETIC ADVISE ON ISSUE OF PARDONING
Of course, we call on the lives of the Ambiya and the Imams citing that they forgave those who did wrong to them. That is good, but that does not mean my victim should forgive me.
Al-Nabi Yusuf (a.s), al-Nabi Ya’qub (a.s) and we take for granted Yusuf’s (a.s) mother forgave his brothers, sons, and stepsons.
And yes, we encourage and should encourage victims of wrongdoing toaccept the asking maf from the person who harmed him/her.
Let us look at two hadiths (out of tens if not hundreds) that extol pardoning and encourage the person wronged to forgive the one who wronged him/her.
عليكم بالعفو، فإن العفو لا يزيد العبد إلا عزا، فتعافوا يعزكم الله
The Messenger of God said: pardoning [the one who wronged you] is recommended for you (almost an obligation) for indeed pardoning only increases the servant (of Allah) in magnificence, then do mutually pardon one another so that Allah honours you.
A Bedouin said dear Messenger of God, who will judge the creation on the Day of Reckoning? He (sawa) said, Allah (Honoured and Magnificent He is). The Bedouin said, “we have attained salvation and escaped condemnation then by the Lord of the Ka’ bah. He [the Messenger of God (sawa)] said, “and how is that dear Bedouin? He replied, because the generous one is the one who forgives with His omnipotence.
DUA OF IMAM ZAINUL ABIDEEN ON SEEKING PARDON IN CASE PEOPLE DON’T PARDON US
However the person who did wrong should do so with humility, grace and a will to patience should that person take many years and perhaps never. Then our only hope is Allah as this beautiful du’a of al-Imam Zayn al-‘Abidin teaches us.
وَأَسأَلُكَ فِي مَظالِمِ عِبادِكَ عِنْدِي فَأَيُّما عَبْدٍ مِنْ عَبِيدِكَ أَو أَمَةٍ مِنْ إِمائِكَ كانَتْ لَهُ قِبَلِي مَظْلِمَةٌ ظَلَمْتُها إِيّاهُ فِي نَفْسِهِ، أَوْ فِي عِرْضِهِ أَوْ فِي مالِهِ أَوْ فِي أَهْلِهِ وَوَلَدِهِ، أَوْ غيْبَةٌ اغْتَبْتُهُ بِها، أَوْ تَحامِلٌ عَلَيْهِ بِمَيْلٍ أَوْ هَوَىً أَوْ أَنَفَةٍ أَوْ حَمِيَّةٍ أَوْ رِياءٍ أَوْ عَصَبِيَّةٍ غائِباً كانَ أَوْ شاهِداً أَوْ حَيّاً كانَ أَوْ مَيِّتاً، فَقَصُرَتْ يَدِي وَضاقَ وُسْعِي عَنْ رَدِّها إِلَيْهِ والتَحَلُّلِ مِنْهُ
I beseech Thee (for forgiveness) in the matter of wrongs done to Thy servants by me. Whosoever among Thy male servants, or female servants, thinks that he or she did receive wrongful treatment from me, either with regard to his or her “self” or good fame, or property, or friends and family, or children; or by speaking evil of him or her in absence I had defamed the fair name; or treated harsly, and took liberties, out of bias and partiality, or lust and ambition, or contempt, or in the heat of emotions, or in bad faith, or in partisanship and fanticism, (whether) he or she was absent, or present living, or dead; thereafter it was out of my hand, and beyond by means, to make restitution, and get release from the burden.
WORD OF ENCOURAGEMENT TO VICTIMS
Perhaps as an encouragement to victims to pardon the one who harmed you, caused your hurt (whenever you are ready to do so and if you do not you are not blameworthy
or to be maligned), is the life of al-Nabi Yusuf (a.s).
He pardoned his brothers for their vile deed.
Yusuf (a.s) interpreted dreams as we know. But he could not, as it appears, interpret his own dream at the time he dreamt it. (nor could his father).
Unlike the two other dreams which indicated what would happen in the future, in the case of his own dream, events first had to transpire for the interpretation of his dream.
And that included pardoning his brothers, brought together the personal and the political into a harmony that benefitted humankind, that ensured food security for all.
He saved his family!
Nevertheless, says Yusuf (as):
قُلْ هَذِهِ سَبِيلِي أَدْعُوا إِلَي اللَّهِ عَلَي بَصِيرَةٍ أَنَاْ وَمَنِ اتَّبَعَنِي وَسُبْحَانَ اللَّهِ وَمَآ أَنَاْ مِنَ الْمُشْرِكينَ
“Say (O’ Our Apostle): ‘This is my way. I invite to Allah with clear sight, I and whoever follows me; and glory be to Allah! And I am not (one) of the polytheists’.” (Surah Yusuf Verse 108)
The surah then ends thus:
لَقَدْ كَانَ فِي قَصَصِهِمْ عِبْرَةٌ لأُوْلِي الاَْلْبَابِ مَا كَانَ حَدِيثاً يُفْتَرَي وَلَكِن تَصْدِيقَ الَّذِي بَيْنَ يَدَيْهِ وَتَفْصِيلَ كُلّ شَيْءٍ وَهُدًي وَرَحْمَةً لِقَوْمٍ يُؤْمِنُونَ
“Indeed in their stories, there is a lesson for the possessors of intellect. It is not an invented tale, but a confirmation of what came before it, and a clear exposition of all things, and a guidance and a mercy for people who believe.” (Surah Yusuf Verse 111)
2nd KHUTBAH – FATIMA (A.S) TOO WAS WRONGED – BUT DID NOT FORGIVE
We are in the days of the second Fatimiyyah.
Fatima too was wronged.
There was an attempt by power to severe her from her father, Rasulullah (sawa) by negating her right to inheritance as enshrined in the Qur’an through words placed wrongly on the tongue of the Prophet (sawa) that “We Prophets do not leave inheritance …”.
Fatima (as) rejected that, correctly so.
Here too, we can focus on the personal, i.e., Fatima’s (a.s) personal tragedy in the Fadak incident.
Denying her Fadak inheritance was tantamount to denying her relationship with her daddy, her pappa, al-Rasul (sawa).
And unlike in the case of al-Nabi Yusuf (as) Fatima did not forgive!
She went to her grave with her rightful anger and pain.
We may ask why?
Could she not be like Yusuf (as)?
No, she could not and Fatima (a.s) understood accepting maf very well.
However, unlike Yusuf (a.s) who was an authority, the Ahlul Bayt’s (a.s) authority was usurped and hence if she just forgave on that personal level, the harmony and balance between the personal and the political would have been compromised.
CASE OF WINNIE MANDELA & ARCHBISHOP DESMOND TUTU
To come back to the question of asking pardon and giving maf through one example from the TRC: Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Winnie Mandela.
During the funeral preparations for Desmond Tutu the question of him almost begging Winnie to ask forgiveness for the wrongs committed by her as a revolutionary, the killing of Stompie, etc arose.
I think Tutu was misplaced.
To be sure he was noble and sincere, but he privileged the political/theological over the personal.
He was too informed by his (Western) Christian theology of forgiveness.
A few points to consider:
- Tutu’s family was not split; he was not imprisoned; his wife was not confined to a small town.
- The Archbishop, by requesting Winnie to do so at the TRC platform implicitly equated the crimes of the Apartheid regime to the wrong acts of the liberation movement. The TRC was in fact wrong; there had to be another platform separate from the one that listened to the testimonies of Apartheid’s criminal henchmen.
- This is not an ideological or political approach. Let us be clear what Winnie Mandela and her soccer club did was wrong; an implication of her statement we shall liberate South Africa through our match sticks and tyres was the targeting of not only impimpis but also those who differed with the ANC.
In conclusion I leave you with a thought of a great mystic, Abu Saeed al Khayr who says:
“as a child you asleep, intoxicated as a youth, and senile as an old man, so when will you worship God.”
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