Lecture 18 in the Ramadaan series:
REFLECTIONS ON SURAH ISRAA’
2 May 2021 (20th night of Ramadaan 1442)
Ahlul Bait (a.s) Masjid, Ottery, Cape Town
Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider
In our series of discussions reflecting on the lessons and key messages from Surah Israa’ (chapter 17 of the Holy Quran), we spoke about the different tools and tricks employed by Satan to misguide and destroy us, by diverting us from the path of truth and pleasure of Almighty Allah (SWT).
These are important warnings on how Satan influences, but the final sentence (the killer blow) was given to Satan in verse 65, shutting the door on all its tricks and strategies:
إِنَّ عِبَادِي لَيْسَ لَكَ عَلَيْهِمْ سُلْطَانٌ ۚ وَكَفَىٰ بِرَبِّكَ وَكِيلًا
“Surely (as for) My servants, you have no authority over them; and your Lord is sufficient as a Protector.”
TAUHEED: THE HIGHLY EMPHASIZED MESSAGE IN SURAH ISRAA’
Continuing the same discussion, that your Lord (SWT) shows you the path of guidance, and Satan cannot influence you if you are His abd (servant), we find that the subsequent verses again discuss Tauheed.
Verses 66 and 67 reads as follows:
رَبُّكُمُ الَّذِي يُزْجِي لَكُمُ الْفُلْكَ فِي الْبَحْرِ لِتَبْتَغُوا مِنْ فَضْلِهِ ۚ إِنَّهُ كَانَ بِكُمْ رَحِيمًا
“Your Lord is He Who speeds the ships for you in the sea that you may seek of His grace; surely He is ever Merciful to you.”
وَإِذَا مَسَّكُمُ الضُّرُّ فِي الْبَحْرِ ضَلَّ مَنْ تَدْعُونَ إِلَّا إِيَّاهُ ۖ فَلَمَّا نَجَّاكُمْ إِلَى الْبَرِّ أَعْرَضْتُمْ ۚ وَكَانَ الْإِنْسَانُ كَفُورًا
“And when distress afflicts you in the sea, away go those whom you call on except He; but when He brings you safe to the land, you turn aside; and man is ever ungrateful. “
Verse 67 vividly explains that those whom we invoke besides Him are forsaken. We would quickly realise that those we used to seek help from are clearly lost, except Almighty God (SWT). This means that we automatically abandon all the false gods and we naturally divert towards the genuine God (SWT).
THE UNFORTUNATE FICKLE NATURE OF HUMAN BEINGS
The last part of verse 67 highlights the unfortunate fickle nature of man, in that we turn our backs on God (SWT) once He rescues us and brings us safely to the shore. We then forget who it was who prevented us from drowning! The nature of man is ever ungrateful, as referenced in the last part of this verse, forgetting the great favours done to him/her.
Verse 68 then challenges the brazenness of man, who becomes rude when there is no fear of drowning any longer, not realising that something fatal could occur on land as well!
أَفَأَمِنْتُمْ أَنْ يَخْسِفَ بِكُمْ جَانِبَ الْبَرِّ أَوْ يُرْسِلَ عَلَيْكُمْ حَاصِبًا ثُمَّ لَا تَجِدُوا لَكُمْ وَكِيلًا
“What! Do you then feel secure that He will not cause a tract of land to engulf you or send on you a tornado? Then you shall not find a protector for yourselves.”
Verse 69 then reads as follows:
أَمْ أَمِنْتُمْ أَنْ يُعِيدَكُمْ فِيهِ تَارَةً أُخْرَىٰ فَيُرْسِلَ عَلَيْكُمْ قَاصِفًا مِنَ الرِّيحِ فَيُغْرِقَكُمْ بِمَا كَفَرْتُمْ ۙ ثُمَّ لَا تَجِدُوا لَكُمْ عَلَيْنَا بِهِ تَبِيعًا
“Or, do you feel secure that He will (not) take you back into it another time, then send on you a fierce gale and thus drown you on account of your ungratefulness? Then you shall not find any aider against Us in the matter.”
There are such crucial lessons covered in these verses.
TAUHEED PROVEN THROUGH INTELLECTUAL ARGUMENT
There are two arguments presented here. Firstly, the rational/intellectual argument that Almighty Allah (SWT) is the One who made your ship able to sail on the ocean, to seek His bounty. This is Tauheed based purely on intellectual argument.
Ships are huge, and it boggles the mind how these huge structures are able to sail on the ocean in a controlled manner. How did Almighty Allah (SWT) make it possible for this heavy structure to float on the ocean? So many different elements converge to make this a reality.
Examples are the design of the ship, the direction of the stars, the waves, engineering, windspeed and direction. These and many more elements have to come together so that the ship can move on the ocean in a controlled manner.
These verses are challenging our conscience, in that Almighty Allah (SWT) made this all possible, and yet we don’t want to believe that there is a God. This is a logical argument.
TAUHEED PROVEN THROUGH CONSCIOUSNESS
The second argument presented in these verses is that of consciousness. It says that when we are travelling in the oceans on the huge ships we so proudly built, thinking they are unsinkable, we find that the situation becomes very much distressing in the middle of the ocean! We lose all hope in this desperate situation, including our hope in this most developed ship, for example.
It is the realization in that moment of despair, that you are busy sinking, despite the level of technological advancement employed in creating this megastructure of a ship.
The false gods you attached yourself to in the form of superior engineering and design all disappear. They show that they are unreliable! Naturally, your heart and mind go to a higher power in that desperate situation, and that higher power is none other than Almighty Allah (SWT).
HOW TO PROVE EXISTENCE OF GOD (SWT) THROUGH HUMAN NATURE
Someone came to our 6th Imam of Ahlul Bait (a.s), Imam Jafar Sadiq (a.s), saying that he has a major problem comprehending God. Interestingly, Imam Jafar Sadiq (a.s) decided to respond to this question with a question, asking the person whether he ever travelled on sea, by boat for example. This person replied in the affirmative, that he frequently travels by sea.
Then, Imam Jafar Sadiq (a.s) asked him if he was ever stuck in a huge 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 person that this deity whom he was seeking help from and still hopeful in 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)!
In fact, Imam Jafar Sadiq (a.s) asked this person whether he ever felt that there is a superpower who could still rescue him when hope of survival is all but over? This person nodded in the affirmative, and that is when Imam Jafar Sadiq (a.s) enlightened this person that the superpower who could still rescue him in that desperate time is indeed Almighty God (SWT)!
This is called the argument of consciousness. Our inner disposition itself drives us towards the existence of Almighty Allah (SWT).
HUMAN BEINGS ARE SIMPLY UNGRATEFUL
After understanding the rational argument of God’s (SWT) power and the natural argument to prove His existence through consciousness, the third point we learn from these verses is about the nature of Insaan (human beings).
Almighty Allah (SWT) created us with amazing qualities. What we learn from these verses is that when the same human being is undergoing severe hardship, he remembers God (SWT). However, this same human being conveniently forgets God (SWT) the moment things start coming right!
This ungrateful nature of human beings (Insaan) is highlighted at the end of verse 67 referenced above. We care nothing to break the laws of Almighty Allah (SWT) after He has saved us in our moment of greatest desperation, especially after imploring His help and seeking repentance from Him in that desperate time for our earlier transgressions.
In that desperate time, we promise Allah (SWT) that we will be good people going forward, but then when we are safe again, it does not take us long to regress, going back to our old bad habits. This is where Allah (SWT) warns us in verse 68, that we should not delude ourselves into believing that we are now safe and secure after being rescued from the ocean. Indeed, He can place us under extreme distress in the land as well, based on verses 68 and 69 noted above.
This is the unfortunate nature of Insaan (human beings), in that we are the most humble and pious when we have nothing and in great difficulty. But we change for the worse the moment we have something in our pockets, not taking us long to become arrogant!
What we learn from these verses is that Almighty Allah (SWT) is warning us that we should not think we can run away from Him when our conditions change! Indeed, He is with us in difficulty and in ease.
The fickle behaviour of human beings we described is unfortunately the general trend with most. That is why the Holy Quran says that most human beings do not have Imaan (faith), nor are they grateful, nor do they have any intellect.
THE RIGHTEOUS MINORITY WHO MODEL THEMSELVES ON IMAM ALI (A.S)
On the other hand, there is the minority whom Satan surely does not have any say over. This minority is called the Muttaqeen and our Master whom we are remembering in these nights, Amir al-Mu’mineen Ali ibn abi Talib (a.s), describes in the sermon of the righteous (Khutbatul Muttaqeen) recorded in Nahjul Balagha, about what the attributes of the Muttaqeen are.
Imam Ali (a.s) explains that one of the attributes of the Muttaqeen is that you will find them to be the same while facing the greatest hardships, and no different in their behaviour when they enjoy great comfort. They are consistently thankful to Almighty Allah (SWT) no matter how good or bad the situation is.
So then, if the Muttaqeen have this attribute, then what about the Imam of the Muttaqeen ie. Imam Ali (a.s)?!
TWO PHASES OF IMAM ALI’S (A.S) LIFE AFTER PROPHET MUHAMMAD (SAWA) PASSED AWAY
We see there are two phases in the life of Imam Ali (a.s) after the demise of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA).
The first phase is when he is at home, isolated, after his right to leadership has been taken away. However, for the greater interest of Islam, he decided to stay home instead of creating civil unrest.
The second phase of Imam Ali’s (a.s) life starts when people come to his door begging for him to take the reigns of power. He responded to them to leave him alone and beg someone else to take the role of leading the Islamic state, despite this being an enormously powerful position stretching over the Arabian Peninsula and beyond.
This dunya (material world) does not deceive Imam Ali (a.s). Once Imam Ali (a.s) accepted the leadership position (Caliphate) of this huge Islamic State, he still did not change, as he was not duped by the illusions of this dunya. His Taqwa (God-consciousness) and lifestyle did not change.
I am addressing this point in light of the verses of Surah Israa’ we discussed earlier in this lecture. Our nature as human beings is that we start behaving differently when there is a small improvement in our standard of living. Example, a new car, new house, new job makes us think high about ourselves!
WHO IS IMAM ALI (A.S) WITH ALL THIS POWER?
Now, lets compare this to Imam Ali (a.s), who became the leader of the vast Islamic State, which stretched from Africa to Asia. He has the ultimate authority by holding the highest seat in governance. Millions of gold and silver coins are coming into the fiscus as tax revenue, which Imam Ali (a.s) ultimately holds the highest authority over.
Suhaid ibn Ghafla reported an incident that occurred towards the last part of the Caliphate of Imam Ali (a.s). He says that he entered the house of Imam Ali (a.s) late at night, and saw him having supper, which consisted of water and a piece of bread made from barley. The barley flour processed to make this bread was not rolled out, resulting in the rough parts and particles also being in the flour. The result is that it is very tough to eat.
Suhaid ibn Ghafla then says that he saw Imam Ali (a.s) struggling to eat that bread, so much so that he uses his knees to crush the bread in the water to soften it in order for it to be edible. Suhaid ibn Ghafla then continues, saying that he was not happy with Fizza, who was in charge of Imam Ali’s (a.s) meals.
Suhaid ibn Ghafla says that he asked Fizza to ensure that the barley flour is appropriately knead so that the rough parts will be separated directly through this process. Fizza responded by saying that she has an order from Imam Ali (a.s) not to knead the flour.
Suhaid ibn Ghafla was shocked at hearing this. Imam Ali (a.s) overheard the conversation between Suhaid ibn Ghafla and Fizza and challenged Suhaid ibn Ghafla on why he wants to take away the reward from Imam Ali (a.s) as the suggestion of Suhaid ibn Ghafla was going to make Imam Ali (a.s) feel ashamed on the Day of Judgement!
IMAM ALI (A.S) PRACTICES SERVANTHOOD LEADERSHIP AS THE HEAD OF STATE
There is so much to discuss on the subject of practical Taqwa of Imam Ali (a.s), during his reign as the Khalifa and head of the Islamic State. All this power did not change him one bit. This Ali (a.s), with all his power, was passing through the streets of Kufa one day and came across an elderly woman who was carrying a heavy load of wood to make a bonfire.
Imam Ali (a.s) offered his help because it was a burdensome load for her. This elderly woman gladly accepted, because she lived on the outskirts of Kufa, as she could not afford a house in the city itself. Imam Ali (a.s) then carried this load and they proceeded in the direction of the elderly lady’s home.
As Imam Ali (a.s) carried this load for the elderly lady, she was offloading all her complaints to him throughout the journey to her home, saying that she is under huge stress, as she is a widow since she lost her husband in a war when he fought alongside Imam Ali (a.s).
She complained to Imam Ali (a.s) that she has no source of income as a result, and this Khalifa by the name of Ali (a.s) is doing nothing to take care of them after her husband was killed. Imam Ali (a.s) remained silent throughout this journey and they eventually reached her home.
Imam Ali (a.s), after carrying this heavy load of wood for her, then asked her what he can help her with at home. She asked Imam Ali (a.s) if he can prepare the fire and knead the dough for her so that she can make the bread. She then asked him to help pacify her children who were crying.
History recorded that this head of the Islamic State by the name of Ali ibn abi Talib (a.s) put some dates in the mouths of these orphans and comforted them. It is recorded in history that this brought tears to his eyes, and he asked these children to please make dua that Almighty Allah (SWT) forgives Ali (a.s)!
IMAM ALI (A.S) WAS THE MASTER AT CONCEALING HIS IDENTITY WHEN HELPING THE DOWNTRODDEN
This elderly lady eventually gave permission to Imam Ali (a.s) that she is now fine and does not need any further help. Imam Ali (a.s) then departed, and then one of the neighbours actually recognized him! This neighbour immediately remonstrated with the elderly lady, flabbergasted that she is taking Imam Ali (a.s), the head of the Islamic State, as her domestic servant!
This elderly lady collapsed out of shock, as she was completely unaware all this while, that the man helping her along all the way with carrying the heavy load of wood, and helping her with household tasks, was the actual head of the Islamic State by the name of Ali ibn abi Talib (a.s)!
This elderly lady felt so ashamed and immediately begged for forgiveness from Imam Ali (a.s)! Imam Ali (a.s) consoled her by saying that she should not feel ashamed, because he is scared that he was unable to take care of the orphans in his nation! This is Ali ibn abi Talib (a.s)!
It was Imam Ali (a.s) who would religiously take food every night to the poorest areas of Kufa while his face was covered. Nobody could recognise who he was, until this day, 19th of Ramadaan, when Imam Ali (a.s) was struck with the fatal blow, and nobody came that night to feed the orphans. This is when they realised that the “stranger” who served them every night was none other than Ali ibn abi Talib (a.s)!
Please like and share this post