Lecture 19 in the Ramadaan series:
REFLECTIONS ON SURAH ISRAA’
3 May 2021 (21ST 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 from Surah Israa’, we have now reached verses 70 – 72, which read as follows:
وَلَقَدْ كَرَّمْنَا بَنِي آدَمَ وَحَمَلْنَاهُمْ فِي الْبَرِّ وَالْبَحْرِ وَرَزَقْنَاهُمْ مِنَ الطَّيِّبَاتِ وَفَضَّلْنَاهُمْ عَلَىٰ كَثِيرٍ مِمَّنْ خَلَقْنَا تَفْضِيلًا
70. “And surely We have honored the children of Adam, and We carry them in the land and the sea, and We have given them of the good things, and We have made them to excel by an appropriate excellence over most of those whom We have created.”
يَوْمَ نَدْعُو كُلَّ أُنَاسٍ بِإِمَامِهِمْ ۖ فَمَنْ أُوتِيَ كِتَابَهُ بِيَمِينِهِ فَأُولَٰئِكَ يَقْرَءُونَ كِتَابَهُمْ وَلَا يُظْلَمُونَ فَتِيلًا
71. “One day We shall call together all human beings with their (respective) Imams: those who are given their record in their right hand will read it (with pleasure), and they will not be dealt with unjustly in the least.”
وَمَنْ كَانَ فِي هَٰذِهِ أَعْمَىٰ فَهُوَ فِي الْآخِرَةِ أَعْمَىٰ وَأَضَلُّ سَبِيلًا
72. “But those who were blind in this world, will be blind in the hereafter, and most astray from the Path.”
What a beautiful coincidence for us to land on these verses on a night like this, in our Tafsir series on Surah Israa’! The Holy Quran is addressing a few major points in these verses:
1. The honour of Insaan (human beings) as the children of Prophet Aadam (a.s);
2. Every group of people will be called through their Imam on the Day of Qiyamah (Judgement Day)
I don’t think there is any better night than tonight, 21st night of Ramadaan, to speak about human dignity and honour connected to the identity of people on the Day of Qiyamah. If this is not clear at the onset, then it will be at the end of this discussion.
HUMAN BEINGS ARE THE MOST HONOURABLE CHILDREN OF ADAM (A.S)
One aspect which the Holy Quran has on numerous occasions highlighted is that Insaan (human beings) as Insaan (regardless of ethnicity, skin colour, financial and social status etc.) is praised and honoured by Almighty Allah (SWT).
If you recall, in the same Surah Israa’, the Holy Quran reminds us about the weaknesses of Insaan. In fact, this was a key message from last night’s discussion, regarding the ungrateful nature of human beings. In previous discussions we also elaborated on the hasty nature of human beings, amongst other pitfalls we suffer from.
Amazingly, besides all these weaknesses which the Holy Quran addresses about Insaan, it also speaks about the honour and dignity of Insaan in verse 70 referenced above. We see similar reference to the honour of Insaan in verse 4 of Surah Tin (chapter 95 of the Holy Quran):
لَقَدْ خَلَقْنَا الْإِنْسَانَ فِي أَحْسَنِ تَقْوِيمٍ
“We have indeed created man in the best of moulds.”
So, this Insaan has weaknesses, no doubt. But this same Insaan has something special, which Almighty Allah (SWT) honours. Indeed, he acknowledges the dignity and respect of Insaan. This is called “karaamatul insaaniyyah” (human honour and dignity).
IMAM ALI (A.S) AS THE EMBODIMENT OF HUMAN HONOUR IS AN EXTENSIVE DISCUSSION
If we look closely at verse 70 talking about human honour and dignity, we find that there is no reference made to religion in this verse. This verse is not saying “we have honoured a Muslim human being” for example. It is purely referring to the honour and dignity of the children of Adam (a.s), which then covers ALL of humanity.
This dignity of human beings has not been better defined, better recognized and better practiced by anyone other than Imam Ali ibn abi Talib (a.s), after our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA). Believe me, this is not an exaggeration! With my extremely limited information, I can speak for a few nights about:
– Who is Insaan, according to Imam Ali (a.s)?
– What is the value of Insaan, according to Imam Ali (a.s)?
– What is the status of Insaan, according to Imam Ali (a.s)?
– How is Insaan to be treated, according to Imam Ali (a.s)?
What is the definition of Insaan according to Imam Ali (a.s)? He is saying the most important challenge for Insaan is that Insaan should know him/herself. In that well-known Hadith, he says:
Man arifa nafsa faqad arifa Rabba
Whoever has recognised himself, has recognised his Lord (SWT)
According to Imam Ali (a.s), if Insaan can understand him/herself, then this is the best route to Tauheed and Ma’rifat (mystical intuitive knowledge) of Almighty Allah (SWT). Imam Ali (a.s) says further that the most beneficial knowledge is the knowledge of yourself. This shows how crucial it is to know who you are, according to Imam Ali (a.s).
IMAM ALI (A.S) SAYS THAT HUMAN BEINGS ARE THE CARRIERS OF THE DIVINE TRUST
A few nights ago, we discussed verses 61 – 65 of Surah Israa’, where Almighty Allah (SWT) commands the angels to prostrate before Nabi Aadam (a.s), which they all did, except Iblis.
In Nahjul Balagha, Imam Ali (a.s) explains what was so special in Nabi Aadam (a.s) that Almighty Allah (SWT) asked the angels to prostrate before him. Imam Ali (a.s) explains that it is because of verse 70 referenced above ie. that Almighty Allah (SWT) honoured Aadam (a.s) before other creations.
Imam Ali (a.s) then explains what this honour is, by referencing a different verse of the Quran, where Allah (SWT) says that He offered a trust to the heavens and the earth, but they all avoided, except for Insaan who were the only ones ready to carry this Amaanat (trust).
So, Insaan is the carrier of the divine trust! Therefore, based upon this conclusion, Imam Ali (a.s) says that someone who understands the value of him/herself will never sell their souls for cheap! This is very deep!
UNDERSTANDING OUR HUMAN HONOUR AND DIGNITY WILL ENSURE WE TREAT OURSELVES AS SACRED
Based upon this Ma’rifat of Nafs (mystical intuitive knowledge of the self), Imam Ali (a.s) is saying that if you know who you are and what great value you carry as the honoured creation of Allah (SWT), then you will never sell it for a price less than Jannah (Paradise)!
He goes further that even Jannah is too little to pay for your sacred valuable existence. To put this another way, we should even ask for a higher price than Jannah for ourselves.
That is why Imam Ali (a.s) says in that famous Hadith about the different types of worship, namely:
1. The worship of those who fear the Hellfire: he calls this the worship of slaves who fear their master;
2. The worship of those who are fond of Paradise: he calls this the worship of businessmen who are always after profit;
3. The worship of a free man: this is worship not out of fear of the Hellfire or the love of Paradise, but rather, this person worships because he/she finds Almighty Allah (SWT) to be the only One worthy of worship! Such a person finds Ma’rifat of him/herself from within.
Clearly, this third type of worship is on a sublime level as it is based on Ma’rifat of Nafs!
WELL-KNOWN HADITH OF IMAM ALI (A.S) ON PEOPLE BEING OF TWO TYPES
I’m going to repeat, that when the Holy Quran and Imam Ali (a.s) are talking about the honour of Insaan, they are not speaking about a particular religion. Rather they are speaking about the honour of human beings in its pure sense. What they are emphasizing is that the substance of this Insaan is crucial to understand.
Therefore, Imam Ali (a.s) believes that we should pay the utmost respect to Insaan. In this world, our interaction with Insaan should be based on this principle of verse 70 ie. human honour and dignity.
This discussion on human honour and dignity can never be complete without repeating for the umpteenth time the well-known statement by Imam Ali (a.s) to his governor of Egypt, Maliki Ashtar, which is also enshrined on the main entrance to this sacred Ahlul Bait (a.s) Mosque Complex:
Oh Malik, people are of two types,
They are either your brothers in faith or fellows in humanity.
This statement can never be repeated enough! This is the sublime level to which Imam Ali (a.s) expects Insaan to be treated. The dignity of Insaan should at no time be compromised!
IMAM ALI (A.S) EXPELS A JUDGE FOR VIOLATING THE DIGNITY OF AN ALLEGED CRIMINAL
During his reign as the Caliph of the Islamic State, he was walking through the streets of Kufa, which was his capital. He passed by near a court, where he heard from a distance that the judge is shouting! Imam Ali (a.s) then decided to enter the court and stared at the judge who was shouting at the alleged criminal.
Imam Ali (a.s) informed the judge that he is going to be fired from the judiciary, because he is not respecting the dignity of the criminal! The judge was shocked, and Imam Ali (a.s) therefore reminded him that this criminal is a human being, and as Insaan he has dignity and respect!
Imam Ali (a.s) explained to the judge that his job is to preside over the case and pass the applicable sentence if the alleged criminal is found guilty, but he has no right to shout upon the individual on trial!
IMAM ALI (A.S) ESTABLISHES RIGHTS OF COMPANIONSHIP ON TRAVEL
I have also narrated before, that one day, Imam Ali (a.s) was on a long-distance travel along with someone else, who was going in the same direction. This other person was not Muslim. Imam Ali (a.s) did not know this person, nor did this person know Imam Ali (a.s).
Anyway, they reached a junction where their direction was going to split. Imam Ali (a.s) was going to turn the direction towards Kufa, and this other person was going to take a turn to somewhere else. They bid each other farewell at this point where they were going to go in different directions.
After a while, this non-Muslim realised that Imam Ali (a.s) is coming behind him, which made this person naturally perplexed. So this man asked Imam Ali (a.s) if everything was okay, because he thought Imam Ali (a.s) was headed towards Kufa and that is why they bid farewell upon the junction to go in different directions.
Imam Ali (a.s), with his sublime, noble, moral character explained to this man that because they walked together for a while, this company provided some rights of companionship on each other. So, Imam Ali (a.s) explained that he thought he should fulfil his responsibility towards this man, regarding the rights of companionship that this man has over Imam Ali (a.s) by walking behind him at least for a short while.
CARE AND COMPASSION OF IMAM ALI (A.S) HAD NO BOUNDARIES
We all know from history, how Imam Ali (a.s) treated his servants and especially the poor. We all know from history, how Imam Ali (a.s) would rebuke his government officers if they treated anybody unfairly.
One day, Imam Ali (a.s) received the news from the province of Anbar, Iraq, where a Jewish woman’s earrings were snatched when she was attacked by Muslim soldiers. This was enough to get Imam Ali (a.s) heated, as it was a blatant attack on the dignity of another human being within his area of governance. Imam Ali (a.s) was clearly very upset about this and said that he would not be surprised if someone who has a heart listens to this story and dies out of shock!
We all know from history, how Imam Ali (a.s) treated his killer. The cursed ibn Muljim was arrested and tied quite tight and brought to Imam Ali (a.s) while he was on his deathbed. Imam Ali (a.s) then ordered for the ropes to be loosened as the cursed ibn Muljim was frightened.
HUMAN HONOUR AND DIGNITY CANNOT BE FULLY ACHIEVED WITHOUT IMAMATE
Moving on to the first part of verse 71:
يَوْمَ نَدْعُو كُلَّ أُنَاسٍ بِإِمَامِهِمْ
“One day We shall call together all human beings with their (respective) Imams.”
This Karamat of insaan (this honour and dignity of the human being) cannot be fully achieved if it is not under the shadow of leadership! This is a very deep statement! Insaan cannot achieve that supreme status which Almighty Allah (SWT) has rewarded it (human beings) unless we operate in the shadow of leadership.
Therefore, this verse is explicitly saying that we will all be called by our Imams on the Day of Judgement. This means that on the Day of Judgement, we will be called by the group we subscribed to in this world. If you followed a corrupt leader in this world, then you will accordingly be grouped on the Day of Judgement!
This means the Day of Qiyamah is the manifestation of the realities of this world! Whatever you were in this world will become the practical reality on the Day of Qiyamah. So, if you were running behind Satan, you will accordingly be in the camp of Satan on the Day of Judgement! Similarly, if you were in the camp of the hypocrites in this world, then you will find yourself in that camp on the Day of Judgement too. There are no surprises clearly!
Now, if you want to really be among the successful ones who have achieved salvation, then we should know which camp to sit in now in this world, and not wait for when it is too late! We ought to sit under the leadership of someone who is the criteria for Heaven and Hell!
OUR EMPHASIS ON IMAMATE IS DERIVED FROM THE HOLY QURAN INJUNCTION
People often taunt us about our excessive focus on Imamate. Well, what we see from this verse 71 of Surah Israa’ is that it is the Quranic injunction towards Imamate and not simply us as Shia! So when we respond with this Quranic basis for Imamate, they claim that the Imam referred to in this verse is the Holy Quran.
There is no doubt that the Holy Quran is also an Imam, but this Holy Book is the Imam of everybody, from the beginning of Islam until the Day of Qiyamah. However, the verse over here is quite emphatic in saying that every community and nation will be called through their Imam. This means that every community has its own Imam! It is now up to us to decide who our Imam is in the world we live in!
The big question which each of us need to ask ourselves is, “who is our Imam?” Is it the Imam whom I have described today by the name of Ali ibn abi Talib (a.s), referred to eloquently by the Lebanese Christian academic George Jordac as the “Voice of Human Justice”?
IMAM AHMAD IBN HANBAL EXPLAINS LOVE OF IMAM ALI (A.S) AS THE CRITERIA FOR HEAVEN AND HELL
It is recorded that someone approached Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal and asked him about the Shia who regard Ali ibn abi Talib (a.s) as the divider or allocator of Heaven and Hell on the Day of Judgement. He will direct people which way they should go. Now this person wanted to know from Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal whether this is true or not, as it sounds like a lavish exaggeration to this person, from the Shia whom he is sceptical about.
Much to the shock of this person, Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal confirmed that this is indeed very true, and not an exaggeration! Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal referenced the Sahih Hadith (authentic narration) from our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) whereby he addressed Imam Ali (a.s), saying that nobody will love Ali (a.s) except the believer (mu’min), and nobody will hate Ali (a.s) except the hypocrite (munafiq)!
Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal then asked the person who posed the question, what will be the destiny of the mu’min and what will be the destiny of the munafiq, to which the person responded with Heaven and Hell respectively.
Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal then followed up with a concluding question, asking the person that based on this Hadith, where the lover and hater of Imam Ali (a.s) will be, to which this person responded with the obvious ie. the lover of Imam Ali (a.s) will be in Heaven and the hater of Imam Ali (a.s) will be in Hell!
This is how Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal used evidence from authentic Hadith narrated from our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) as the clear proof for this questioner to reach the conclusion about what the Shia claim is indeed true.
This is the supreme status of Imam Ali (a.s) who was assassinated in these days.
IMAM HASAN (A.S) ENCOUNTERS A POOR BLIND MAN WHO IS MISSING HIS COMPANION
In these most difficult days, Imam Hasan al-Mujtaba (a.s) came across a blind man in the streets of Kufa, who was shouting. Imam Hasan al-Mujtaba (a.s) approached this blind man, wanting to understand who he is. This man said that he is a poor beggar who is blind too, and he has not received any food for the past 3 days.
This blind man then said that there was someone who brought him food every night, but he has been missing for the past 3 days. This blind man could not identify the noble, generous person who brought him food every night, as he was blind.
Imam Hasan al-Mujtaba (a.s) then asked the blind man if he knows the name of the noble, generous person who brought him food every night. The blind man responded saying that he repeatedly asked the noble, generous person for his name, but all he would constantly say is that he is just a beggar sitting with another beggar!
Imam Hasan al-Mujtaba (a.s) broke into tears, informing the blind man that the noble, generous person he is referring to is none other than his father Ali ibn abi Talib (a.s), laying on his deathbed in excruciating pain, waiting for his final moments after being fatally struck by the Kharijite, ibn Muljim.
It was in these most difficult days, that Imam Ali (a.s) delivered his final will to Imam Hasan (a.s) and Imam Husain (a.s), with crucial commands to exhort towards Taqwa, Salaah, Jihad, taking care of the orphans, etc. This lengthy will of Imam Ali (a.s) is recorded in Nahjul Balagha as well.
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