Jumuah lecture on Friday 5 March 2021 (21 Rajab 1442)

Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider

Ahlul Bait (a.s) Masjid, Ottery, Cape Town

One of the very important issues in our life and societies is that of dialogue and discourse. It is part of human essence and personality that human beings (Insan) are created to interact and engage with others and share thoughts and ideas.

Naturally, this quality does not exist in any other creation of Almighty Allah (SWT). When we define the human being in logic and philosophy, we use the term hayawaan al-naatiq (speaking animal). This capability of speaking goes beyond just saying something, because animals also communicate at a certain level. So then, when we refer to human beings as speaking animals, we are saying that Insan (human beings) is an animal capable of dialogue.

This is the most exclusive differentiating quality, making human beings capable of exchanging ideas, expressing and transferring its thoughts to others. That’s why Insan is Insan!

Therefore, dialogue and discourse are part and parcel of human nature and human personality. Sometimes, human beings think that dialogue is a sign of weakness or compromise, giving up on principles and values. On the contrary, the logic of the Holy Quran and Islam and the leaders of Islam is that dialogue is not a sign of compromise, but instead is a sign of humanity and civilization and being culturally mature, to the level where you can speak to others.

I wish to divide the first sermon into four parts:

A. Dialogue is power

B. Dialogue with the People of The Book has special emphasis in Islam

C. Islamic history shows special interest for dialogue with Christians

D. Special relationship between Shia Islam and Catholicism

DIALOGUE IS POWER

This is the approach which we clearly understand from the Holy Quran, which clearly is a book of dialogue. Without any restriction or condition, the Holy Quran proposes dialogue, even with engaging the worst of the worst enemies. The logic of the Holy Quran which we believe is that dialogue has power, contrary to weapons and conflict being a sign of power.

What has been promoted by Western orientalists is that Islam was established by the power of the sword ie. force instead of dialogue. The truth and reality is completely against this.

Yes, perhaps certain Muslim rulers deviated from the genuine message of Islam and the spirit of the Holy Quran and the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad (SAWA), by using force and weapons to promote Islam and achieve their agenda. This problem is not confined to Islam, as we find this trend of force and weapons no different in Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism etc. In any religion, there are phases in its history where force was used.

I can recall a seminar held at Stellenbosch University on the theme of religion and violence, a Christian Lutheran scholar presented a beautiful paper stating that religion never used violence. Instead, political leaders used religions as a tool to achieve their political aims and forward their political interests.

QURANIC EXAMPLES OF DIALOGUE USED BY PROPHETS (A.S)

Let us reflect on the Holy Quran, when it starts with the story of human beings, starting by describing the story of Nabi Adam (a.s) and the conflict which ensued between his two sons, Habil and Qabil, one being the symbol of good and the other evil. However, the Holy Quran narrates the dialogue between Habil and Qabil.

Similarly, when the Holy Quran describes Fir’oun as the symbol of anti-God, it narrates that Almighty Allah (SWT) says to Nabi Moosa (a.s) and his brother Haroon (a.s) to go to Fir’oun to speak with him gently, even though he has surely transgressed all limits. We read this in verses 43 and 44 of Surah Taha (chapter 20 of the Holy Quran):

اذْهَبَا إِلَىٰ فِرْعَوْنَ إِنَّهُ طَغَىٰ

43. ”Go, both of you, to Pharaoh, for he has indeed transgressed all bounds

فَقُولَا لَهُ قَوْلًا لَيِّنًا

44. Then speak to him a gentle word”

More than this, when Satan opposes the command of Almighty Allah (SWT), we notice from the Quranic narrative that Satan was not shunned by Almighty Allah (SWT) at the very first stage. In fact, Almighty Allah (SWT) accommodates Satan for dialogue, allowing Satan to present his logic, even though it makes no sense.

Ultimately, who can have any logic to present before God (SWT)? Despite this, the Holy Quran narrates that Almighty Allah (SWT) allows Satan to present his reasoning for not wanting to surrender to the divine command.

Even during the era of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA), Almighty Allah (SWT) commands that even if the mushrikeen (idol worshippers) come to you asking for some time, then he should allow them. We read this in verse 6 of Surah Tauba (chapter 9 of the Holy Quran):

وَإِنْ أَحَدٌ مِنَ الْمُشْرِكِينَ اسْتَجَارَكَ فَأَجِرْهُ حَتَّىٰ يَسْمَعَ كَلَامَ اللَّهِ ثُمَّ أَبْلِغْهُ مَأْمَنَهُ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ بِأَنَّهُمْ قَوْمٌ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ

”And if one of the idolaters seek protection from you, grant him protection till he hears the word of Allah, then make him attain his place of safety; this is because they are a people who do not know.”

According to the Holy Quran, the whole interaction with the other is based upon dialogue, even if it is with the idolaters, Satan, disbelievers, enemies, etc. Dialogue is the first ground which the Holy Quran suggests, and the practical examples from the history of Islam and our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) through the Imams of the Ahlul Bait (a.s) bears testimony to this fact.

EXAMPLES FROM THE IMAMS OF AHLUL BAIT (A.S) ESTABLISHING DIALOGUE

When Imam Ali (a.s) became the head of the Islamic State, his emphasis was on dialogue, and nothing else. We see this from the letter to his Governor of Egypt, Maliki Ashtar, on how he should interact with the people, including those who are not sharing in the same faith.

We have repeatedly quoted that golden statement which is inscribed on the entrance doors to our mosque here in Cape Town, which Imam Ali (a.s) wrote to Maliki Ashtar:

“People are of two types: they are either your brothers in faith or your equals in humanity.

Fill your heart with love, care and compassion towards them.”

The Holy Quran concludes by saying that dialogue is the quality of the believers, who are servants of Almighty Allah (SWT). Yes, they do not follow everybody and everything, but they engage in dialogue.

We find that Imam Jafar Sadiq (a.s), the 6th Imam of Ahlul Bait (a.s), allows atheists to present their materialist argument regarding the existence of God (SWT). He does not banish such people. Instead, Imam Jafar Sadiq (a.s) openly engages with them, even though they are openly denying the existence of God (SWT).

The worst enemies of Ahlul Bait (a.s) are there on the night of Ashura in Karbala, where the most horrific tragedy on the family of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) occurred. On that final night before the battle occurred, Imam Hussain (a.s) is engaged in dialogue with Umar ibn Sa’d, the commander of the army of the enemy’s camp, responsible for the massacre which was to follow the next day.

Our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA), the Prophets (a.s) before him, and the Imams of Ahlul Bait (a.s) did not see dialogue as a weakness, as they were confident in what they believed.

DIALOGUE MAKES US SPEAK TO THE OTHER INSTEAD OF ABOUT THE OTHER

Dialogue is the foundation of peaceful coexistence in society, according to the Quranic logic and understanding from the school of Ahlul Bait (a.s). If dialogue is not there, then it is not possible to peacefully coexist, even within followers of one religion like Islam – the Sunni/Shia conflict is a case in point! 99% of the reason for this conflict is lack of dialogue which results in lack of understanding each other.

This is evident even with conflict within religious denominations eg. Sunni versus Sunni and Shia versus Shia! We can see the effects everyday of conflicts, due to lack of dialogue.

So, the point is – dialogue is power, and the foundation for peaceful coexistence and the sustainability of human civilization and culture, according to the Holy Quran and the logic of the Ahlul Bait (a.s).

DIALOGUE WITH THE PEOPLE OF THE BOOK HAS SPECIAL EMPHASIS IN ISLAM

The second part I wish to add here is that when it comes to dialogue with the People of The Book, Ahlul Kitaab, we find that the Holy Quran places greater emphasis and special interest.

The point we emphasized up to now is that the Holy Quran encourages dialogue with everyone, no matter who they are. That said, dialogue with People of The Book carries a special significance in the Holy Quran. The first part of verse 64 of Surah aal-Imraan (chapter 3) refers:

قُلْ يَا أَهْلَ الْكِتَابِ تَعَالَوْا إِلَىٰ كَلِمَةٍ سَوَاءٍ بَيْنَنَا وَبَيْنَكُمْ أَلَّا نَعْبُدَ إِلَّا اللَّهَ وَلَا نُشْرِكَ بِهِ شَيْئًا

”Say: O People of the Book! come to common terms as between us and you: That we worship none but Allah; that we associate no partners with him.”

I will elaborate further on this in the second khutbah, but the first point to note is that people of the book receive a special invitation to engage in dialogue with us Muslims.

In preparation for this khutbah, I was searching to get some statistics and discovered that the Holy Quran acknowledged the divine books (Old and New Testaments) more than 20 times, such as divine scriptures like the Psalms of David (Zaboor), the Bible revealed to Jesus (Injeel) and the Torah revealed to Moses.

This does not mean that the Holy Quran or Islam agrees with the contents of these scriptures. Hence, we need dialogue. Dialogue does not mean surrender or compromise. Rather, dialogue means interacting and understanding each other.

The Holy Quran even warns us about maintaining the greatest of Akhlaq (manners) when engaging with the People of The Book. The first part of verse 46 of Surah Ankaboot (chapter 29) refers:

وَلَا تُجَادِلُوا أَهْلَ الْكِتَابِ إِلَّا بِالَّتِي هِيَ أَحْسَنُ

”And do not dispute with the followers of the Book except by what is best.”

This whole subject of dialogue from the Islamic perspective requires a book, as dialogue takes different forms, eg. discussion, debate, negotiation etc. This verse emphasizes that when we debate with the People of the Book, we should do so in a most beautiful manner, based upon Islamic ethical standards (akhlaq).

ISLAMIC HISTORY SHOWS SPECIAL INTEREST FOR DIALOGUE WITH CHRISTIANS

The third point I want focus on is dialogue between Islam and Christianity in particular! All People of the Book are important, and dialogue with them is encouraged, but the approach of the Holy Quran and Islam towards dialogue with Christianity is a lot softer and encouraging.

Discussions about Nabi Isa (a.s) and his pure mother, Lady Mariam (s.a) are all discussed in the Holy Quran, whether it be about her role, her piety, her chastity, her devotion or even the compassion about Nabi Isa (a.s).

Now, the question may come in our minds, that the reference which the Quran is making is to the Christians of that time who did not believe in Trinity. So, they were the proper Christians, compared to the ones of today who are deviant in their belief in the Trinity.

Let me clarify that the Christians during the time of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) were very similar to the Christians of today. Trinity was indeed there in their ideological doctrine. Despite this, the Holy Quran encourages us to invite them towards dialogue, and our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) did exactly that.

The crystal-clear example cited in the Holy Quran is that of the engagement between Rasulullah (SAWA) and the Cardinals of Najran before the event of Mubahila. Islam therefore has a very soft corner towards Christianity and hence we can see a much closer relationship between Christians and Muslims.

SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN SHIA ISLAM AND CATHOLICISM

This is not a sectarian image I am trying to portray. What I am trying to highlight here is that somehow, the Catholic theology in Christianity and the Shia theology in the house of Islam do share some similarities. Therefore, we find historically that there has been a closer relationship between the Shia leadership and Catholic leadership.

In Catholicism, there is a very organized system of leadership. Similarly, in Shia Islam, we have a very structured system of leadership in the form of Marja’iyya (grand spiritual authorities), in the absence of our infallible Imam Mahdi (atfs).

Another example is that in Catholicism, there is a great emphasis on the sacred places. In Shia theology, we have the established culture of Ziyarah (spiritual visits) of the graves of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) and his purified Ahlul Bait (a.s), and the sacredness of these holy places where their shrines are.

Furthermore, the role of Lady Mariam (s.a) as the extraordinary divine saint in Catholicism, beyond being the mother of Jesus (a.s). Similarly, the extraordinary divine status of our mother, Lady Fatima (s.a) in Shia theology, beyond only being the daughter of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA). Her personality and status extends far beyond this sacred blood relationship and being the mother of Imam Hasan (a.s) and Imam Hussain (a.s) and the wife of Imam Ali (a.s).

The concept of sorrow and grief in Catholicism associated with the crucifixion of Jesus (a.s) according to their belief, and the concept of grief associated with commemorating the martyrdom of Imam Hussain (a.s) and the tragedy of Karbala, again shows a semblance of commonality in approach between us.

Therefore, our very good friend, Father Christopher Clohessy, from the Catholic church, decided to dedicate himself in finding commonality between trends in Shia Islam and the approach of Catholicism. This is the background and context in which we are discussing the historic visit of Pope Francis to Iraq and meeting with the Grand Marja (grand spiritual authority of Shia) Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Sistani.

SECOND KHUTBAH
THE HISTORIC VISIT IS A PARADIGM FOR EVERLASTING PEACE THROUGH THE POWER OF DIALOGUE

Alhamdu Lillah, we are indeed very privileged to witness this historic meeting of the two topmost leaders of Islam and Christianity. This meeting between Ayatollah Sistani and Pope Francis is highly symbolic and deeply meaningful.

The role of Ayatollah Sistani in Iraq is undeniable by both friends and foes. This wise man, who supposedly comes from a particular religious background, was able to unite this extremely divided country of Iraq by attracting people from Iraq’s diverse diaspora and bring them all onto a common platform for the purpose of peaceful coexistence, love and care for each other.

This wise man addresses Christians my reiterating that they are part of us, and we Muslims are part of them. This is leadership and this dialogue is power! This position and this historic moment require a great deal of reflection in our own communities and society.

On this note, I wish to very respectfully and proudly acknowledge the presence of Dr Wesley Seale here in our Jumuah congregation, from the Catholic Christian denomination. His esteemed presence in our Jumuah congregation shows their solidarity and respect towards Islam and the school of Ahlul Bait (a.s), and they are indeed most welcome here.

DIALOGUE IS THE TOOL TO PROGRESS COMMON VALUES AND GOALS

I repeatedly mentioned in my first khutbah (sermon) that dialogue is the foundation of civilization and the platform for peaceful coexistence. That said, the Quranic logic describes the purpose of dialogue to be much greater than this, in that dialogue is the tool for the progress of common values and goals. This is way more than simply engaging in dialogue to tolerate each other!

Let me say that interfaith movements sometimes deviate from the real spirit of dialogue, when these interfaith movements are used to legitimize the injustice and oppression and cover people’s wrongdoings.

When we speak about dialogue from the logic of the Holy Quran, we speak about the promotion of love, peaceful coexistence, compassion as well as the goals and aims of all the Prophets (a.s), which was most importantly the support of justice and the plight of the oppressed.

Therefore, I hope and pray that this historic meeting between Ayatollah Sistani and Pope Francis, and similar meetings will be moving in this positive direction, and not to cover the crimes and exploitation of political leaders through abusing interfaith movements as a smokescreen.

The Holy Quran is very clear on this point, as noted from verse 64 of Surah aal-Imraan (chapter 3), cited earlier, calling People of the Book towards a common ground. This common ground is that we should not worship anyone other than Almighty Allah (SWT).

The spirit of dialogue is Tauheed ie. that we all surrender to one God (SWT), and denial of these false gods who are exploiting and oppressing the most marginalized in the world, causing endless suffering and sorrow of humanity, be it Muslim, Christian or whoever else.

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