Jumuah lecture on Friday 26 February 2021 (14 Rajab 1442)
Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider
Ahlul Bait (a.s) Masjid, Ottery, Cape Town
These days remind us of a GREAT personality in the history of Islam, namely the birthday of Amir al-Mu’mineen Imam Ali ibn abi Talib (a.s).
Imam Ali ibn abi Talib (a.s) is not a personality confined to one particular sect. Of course, we are recognized as the Shia (followers/supporters/party) of Ali ibn abi Talib (a.s). That said, it does not in any way confine this gigantic personality of Ali (a.s) to one particular Madhhab.
Ali (a.s) is respected across all Madhha’ib and regarded as the centre of spirituality. This is the divinely aspect of this great personality, which is not only accepted and acknowledged in the school of Ahlul Bait (a.s), but accepted and acknowledged by everyone.
ADMIRABLE PARADOX OF TABLIGHI SCHOLAR DELIVERING INSPIRING MESSAGE AT KRAMAT!
Earlier, while checking Facebook, I came across a live sermon from a Sufi mosque in Bhagalpur, India. This sermon was delivered by a great Deobandi scholar, Mowlana Sayyid Sulaiman al-Hussaini Nadwi, from Nadwatul Ulama in Lucknow, India. This institution is one of the major establishments of the Deobandi school, in contrast to the Barelvi school ie. the more Sufi inclined approach. The lingo we use in Cape Town is Tablighis, in reference to the Deobandi school of thought…
So, this Mowlana Sayyid Sulaiman al-Hussaini Nadwi comes from the Tablighi background, to put it in local Cape Town lingo! He was delivering this khutbah (sermon) next to the kramat (shrine) of a great Sufi in the city of Bhagalpur, India. Now, try to reconcile this…a great scholar from Tablighi background delivering a sermon next to a kramat!
I came across the following statement in his khutbah, when he spoke about 13th Rajab as the birthday of Imam Ali ibn abi Talib (a.s). He said:
“It does not matter that the external Caliphate and leadership of Ali (a.s) materialized for only a short number of years. Also, this remains a debate amongst different schools of thought. However, the internal Caliphate and leadership of Ali (a.s) could never be stopped and continues until today, as all the sequences of spirituality finally conclude on nobody else other than Ali ibn abi Talib (a.s).”
This shows that the divine personality of Imam Ali (a.s) goes beyond a particular sect, or school of thought. That internal Caliphate of Ali (a.s) continues to govern all the different establishments of spirituality.
GOVERNANCE OF IMAM ALI (A.S) AS THE CHAMPION OF THE DOWNTRODDEN
What is amazing about this great personality by the name of Ali ibn abi Talib (a.s) is that his thoughts and message, through those very limited days of political governance, could manage to prove his leadership and Caliphate on the Muslim Ummah (nation) and the whole of humanity.
This is where we see that Ali (a.s) is not only the head of all the spiritual establishments, but also the Voice of Human Justice, as noted by the title of the book written by the acclaimed Lebanese Christian author George Jordac.
Here, Ali (a.s) is someone who understands and acknowledges Insan (human beings) as Insan, thereby establishes human dignity for every human being, regardless of religion, race, ethnic background or financial status.
Here, Ali (a.s) is the champion of humanity and not confined to the boundaries of Islam or any particular religion.
We very proudly identify ourselves as the followers of Ali (a.s), but at the same time, we are still unfortunately very far from his ideals and message. This is our unfortunate reality as the Shia of Ali (a.s).
Imam Ali (a.s) wrote his letter of instructions to his Governor in Egypt, Maliki Ashtar, emphasizing human dignity and honour, which we have unfortunately not dedicated the attention to study and comprehend this properly.
It is in this letter where Imam Ali (a.s) says to Maliki Ashtar:
“People are of two types: they are either your brothers in faith or your equals in humanity.”
Can we find any statement that more deeply emphasizes human dignity and honour?
What about his letters of instruction to his other governors, like Uthman ibn Hunaif, who was the Governor in Basra? When we reflect on this and his sermons and other letters captured in Nahjul Balagha, we understand how Imam Ali (a.s) recognized the personality of Insan (human beings). This is indeed a deep discussion on its own. Insan through the eyes of Imam Ali (a.s).
IMAM ALI (A.S) – POVERTY MAKES YOU A STRANGER IN YOUR OWN HOMELAND!
On the one side of the scale we have the huge weight of his spiritual status, beyond any doubt. And then on the other side of the scale we see how Imam Ali (a.s) connects material challenges with spiritual status. This is another deep angle to explore. This same spiritual saint defines and explains the challenges faced in this world and its effects on spirituality, when interacting with the public.
One issue I wish to address in this regard is that of material poverty, where Imam Ali (a.s) declares that poverty is the greater death, and that poverty makes you a stranger in your own homeland! You are treated like a stranger when you are poor in your home!
Therefore, one of the main struggles Imam Ali (a.s) has during his short period of governance is to fight against poverty. There is a whole shift of attention from the rulers before Imam Ali (a.s) to the time of his rule.
Imam Ali (a.s) appears to not be interested in conquering land after land. Imam Ali (a.s) is not very much interested in expanding the Islamic empire. In fact, the concept of empire is different in the dictionary of Imam Ali (a.s). Instead, he is focused on the people and improving their conditions, elevating them from their suffering of abject poverty.
IMAM ALI (A.S) DESPISES THE WIDENED GAP BETWEEN THE HAVES AND HAVE NOTS
The greatest challenge for Imam Ali (a.s) is this huge gap between the different classes in society, a problem he inherited from those who ruled before him.
We have the Prophetic era, where our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) established the Islamic State of Madina. In this model state, we do not find classes being created in the society, especially based on financial status.
We then have the era which followed, where the main focus shifted to the capturing of countries and expanding the Islamic empire, thereby receiving huge tax revenues in the process, which took the accumulated reserves of the public treasury (Baitul Maal) to record levels. Gradually, this resulted in an extraordinary rich class and an extraordinary poor class developing. The great pain and heartbreak for Imam Ali (a.s) is this gap.
When Imam Ali (a.s) reluctantly accepts the position of leadership (Caliphate), he categorically stated that he would not have accepted this position of governance had it not been for the sacred covenant between Almighty Allah (SWT) and the religious authorities (Ulama), that they will not keep silent on the empty stomach of the oppressed and the blowing bellies of the oppressor!
The divine decree ordains Ulama to not remain silent when there is this gross divide and widening gap between the haves and have nots. Imam Ali (a.s) therefore fights with this poverty. This is his biggest challenge, where society is divided into classes.
PROPHET MUHAMMAD (SAWA): POVERTY IS TANTAMOUNT TO DISBELIEF!
The analysis of Imam Ali (a.s) is that this poverty is the downfall of spirituality and overall moral degradation in society! Let me reference the following deeply reflective and thought-provoking statement by Imam Ali (a.s), where he says that poverty destroys religion! It is very difficult for someone to hold onto religion if he/she is poor and has an ongoing fight for survival due to having nothing.
In another Hadith recorded in Usul al-Kafi, our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) says that poverty is tantamount to disbelief (kufr)! This is when you see injustice in society but blame Allah (SWT) for your state of despair. Your faith and belief in Almighty Allah (SWT) come under severe threat.
It does not stop there, because poverty destroys your rational and intellectual capacity too.
1. Poverty results in the destruction of faith (Imaan);
2. Poverty destroys your rational and intellectual capacity;
3. Poverty makes you an angry, miserable person filled with ill-feeling towards others.
Therefore, Imam Ali (a.s) fought this poverty and injustice in society, because faith, spirituality and akhlaq (moral character) will not be prevalent for as long as poverty exists.
Imam Ali (a.s) then further analyses the root causes for poverty emerging in society. One of the major points which Imam Ali (a.s) lists as the root cause for poverty is when people are lazy and lethargic towards working to achieve their sustenance! This is indeed a sharp warning for all of us! Yes indeed, poverty is caused by injustice, without any doubt, but our apathy is a fundamental root cause of poverty too!
Imam Ali (a.s) explains that if someone has water and a piece of land, but is still poor, then the blessings of Almighty Allah (SWT) is far from such a person! In this regard, let me quite a Hadith from Rasulullah (SAWA), where he says that there are sins which cannot be compensated by performing salaat, fasting, giving charity, etc. Instead, they can only be compensated by striving and struggling towards earning a Halaal income!
At the same time, Imam Ali (a.s) repeatedly highlights that poverty is the result of unfair distribution of wealth. He says that nobody would sleep hungry if those with the resources would fulfil their social responsibility.
POPE FRANCIS VISIT TO AYATOLLAH SISTANI IN NAJAF
I dedicated the first khutbah (sermon) to understanding the approach of Imam Ali (a.s) towards poverty and the challenges which come along with this poverty. We see how relevant this discussion is when we reflect on the state of our country and society. Where we stand in relation to this and curbing the disastrous consequences of poverty is a very serious question.
As I noted earlier, the personality of Ali ibn abi Talib (a.s) is not confined to any particular sect, nor is it confined to any particular religion. It is a status on the level of humanity.
In the days to come, we are going to witness a truly historic event, when the leader of the Christian world will visit the city of Ali ibn abi Talib (a.s), namely Najaf-al-Ashraf.
Ayatollah Sayyid Ali al-Sistani, the represent of Ali ibn abi Talib (a.s), will meet Pope Francis, the leader of Christianity. I am sure those golden sentences of Imam Ali (a.s) will resonate in the background!
INDONESIA LOSES A REMARKABLE LEADER IN PROFESSOR JALALUDDIN RAKHMAT
I would also like to introduce you to a personality who passed away recently. He was a great thinker by the name of Professor Jalaluddin Rakhmat from Jakarta, Indonesia. He was a man who reintroduced the rich culture of Ali ibn abi Talib (a.s) and the purified Ahlul Bait (a.s) to Indonesian society.
As a result, Indonesia has millions of followers of the Ahlul Bait (a.s). I met this great man a few times and may Almighty Allah (SWT) shower His mercy upon his soul and grave. He translated parts of Nahjul Balagha into the native languages of Indonesia. Similarly, he translated the grand treasure of Sahifa Sajjadiyya into the native languages of Indonesia. He even established the Shaheed Murtadha Mutahhari foundation in Jakarta, Indonesia!
At the same time, this was a man focussed on dialogue, with great interaction and co-operation with religious scholars of other schools of thought and religions. He also played a very important role in defending the rights of minorities in Indonesia.
The reason I am specifically mentioning this respected Professor Jalaluddin Rakhmat is because the dynamics of the environment in which he lived in Indonesia share many similarities with our situation here in South Africa.
Professor Jalaluddin Rakhmat is amongst the founders and development of the school of Ahlul Bait (a.s) in Indonesia with great academic work. At the same time, what we see from this man is his great loyalty to his country, and genuine interest in the development of the people of his country.
He was truly an exemplary personality and a member of the Assembly of Indonesia as well. A devout follower of our beloved Imam Khomeini (r.a) and promoter of Islamic thoughts and the message of the Ahlul Bait (a.s). May the mercy of Almighty Allah (SWT) include him through the intercession of Amir al-Mu’mineen Imam Ali ibn abi Talib (a.s).
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