Lecture 20 in the Ramadaan series:
UNPACKING THE MOST INTRIGUING QUESTIONS IN THE QURAN
Thursday 14 May 2020 (21st Night of Ramadaan 1441)
Ahlul Bait (a.s) Masjid, Ottery, Cape Town
Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider
Also See: Imamat in the Quran (Part 2)
Respected brothers and sisters, lovers of Quran and the Ahlul Bait (a.s), we are in this second probable night of Qadr and also the night of martyrdom of our master, commander of the faithful, Amir al-Mu’mineen Ali ibn abi Talib (a.s).
We are once again in the service of the Quran, in this night of the Quran, and in the service of the great Quranic institution of Imamate, for whom Imam Ali (a.s) is the soul of this institution.
In the previous two lectures in this compilation, we discussed Imamate purely from the Quran, without the help of Hadith, and responding to this accusation or objection that such a crucial institute that we believe in is not covered in the book of Allah (SWT).
We responded in great detail to this in the past two lectures that the Quran has discussed this topic in detail, with the terms Imam, Wali, Khalifa, Ulil Amr, etc. We concluded that this is one of the central concepts of the Islamic philosophy.
DID NABI IBRAHIM (A.S) ASK FOR IMAMAT FOR ALL HIS OFFSPRING – GOOD AND BAD?
In the previous lecture, our focus was on verse 124 of Surah Baqarah (chapter 2 of the Holy Quran) which speaks about the Imamate of Nabi Ibrahim (a.s). Of course, the principles we learn from that verse is not confined to Nabi Ibrahim (a.s). The same criteria will apply on anyone who wants to carry the burden of responsibility of Imamate.
What we established is that Imamate is very high profile, and the covenant of Almighty Allah (SWT). This covenant can never reach an oppressor. Now, the question is, what is an oppressor? We are all familiar with the normal meaning, but in addition it also includes those who oppress themselves.
Our normal understanding of an oppressor is someone who does grave harm to people and communities. But someone can be the greatest of oppressors if he oppresses himself too. For example, we are oppressors when we commit sin, because we are not fair to ourselves.
When we commit Shirk (associate partners with Almighty Allah (SWT)), we are committing the greatest of oppression and injustice to Almighty Allah (SWT) and to ourselves, as explained in verse 13 of Surah Luqman (chapter 31 of the Holy Quran):
وَإِذْ قَالَ لُقْمَانُ لِابْنِهِ وَهُوَ يَعِظُهُ يَا بُنَيَّ لَا تُشْرِكْ بِاللَّهِ ۖ إِنَّ الشِّرْكَ لَظُلْمٌ عَظِيمٌ
Behold, Luqman said to his son by way of instruction: “O my son! join not in worship (others) with Allah: for false worship is indeed the highest wrong-doing.”
This verse warns us of our very dark destiny if we commit Shirk. Therefore, oppression is a very broad concept, including every evil, especially Shirk.
Now, the question that arises is that since Nabi Ibrahim (a.s) got this supreme status of Imamate from Almighty Allah (SWT), how can he then ask Allah (SWT) to grant this status to his offspring, regardless of those who are oppressors and not oppressors? Verse 124 of Surah Baqarah (chapter 2 of the Holy Quran) refers:
وَإِذِ ابْتَلَىٰ إِبْرَاهِيمَ رَبُّهُ بِكَلِمَاتٍ فَأَتَمَّهُنَّ ۖ قَالَ إِنِّي جَاعِلُكَ لِلنَّاسِ إِمَامًا ۖ قَالَ وَمِنْ ذُرِّيَّتِي ۖ قَالَ لَا يَنَالُ عَهْدِي الظَّالِمِينَ
And when his Lord tried Ibrahim with certain words, he fulfilled them. He said: Surely I will make you an Imam of men. Ibrahim said: And of my offspring? My covenant does not include the unjust, said He.
Obviously, Nabi Ibrahim (a.s), who is a divinely appointed Prophet of that greatest level, cannot make such a request from Almighty Allah (SWT) for Imamate to be granted to his offspring no matter how good or bad they turn out to be. He surely was asking for Imamate to be granted to his pious offspring who were always pious and those who may not be altogether the most righteous because of their past. In substance they do good but have erred in the past.
These would be the people who are at their very core monotheist after having abandoned Shirk. So, Nabi Ibrahim (a.s) is asking for this Imamate to be granted to his offspring who were always pious as well as those who were not pious previously and even went to the extent of committing Shirk, injustice and oppression, but have now made a full repentance and are now pious.
IMAMAT IS ONLY FOR THOSE PERFECT HUMAN BEINGS
Almighty Allah (SWT) replies to this request of Nabi Ibrahim (a.s) in the last part of the above verse by saying that Imamate is a supreme level which cannot reach to anyone who has even an iota of oppression on their soul from their earlier life, like believing in idols for example, before accepting real Tauheed.
Imamate is only and only for those who have unwavering Tauheed from day one until the day they die. These are the people who did not worship idols for even a second of their life. They never bowed before idols! Now, when you are looking for divine leaders, we realize that Imamate cannot go to those who worshipped idols in the early part of their life while embracing Tauheed in the second part of their life. Imamate therefore belongs to those who were monotheists, following real Tauheed from the first day until the last.
ANGELS PROTEST AT ALMIGHTY ALLAH’S (SWT) CHOICE FOR IMAMAT
The next verse which I would like to draw your attention to which speaks about Imamat can be expanded over multiple lectures, but I will explain it in a simple way to crystalize the key points on this sacred night of Imam Ali (a.s) and the night of Qadr. The verses we will focus on are 30 – 34 of Surah Baqarah once again. These verses are extremely striking and thought provoking.
Verse 30 reads as follows, listing the question of clarity of the angels upon Almighty Allah (SWT) declaring that He is appointing a viceroy (khalifa) in the earth:
وَإِذْ قَالَ رَبُّكَ لِلْمَلَائِكَةِ إِنِّي جَاعِلٌ فِي الْأَرْضِ خَلِيفَةً ۖ قَالُوا أَتَجْعَلُ فِيهَا مَنْ يُفْسِدُ فِيهَا وَيَسْفِكُ الدِّمَاءَ وَنَحْنُ نُسَبِّحُ بِحَمْدِكَ وَنُقَدِّسُ لَكَ ۖ قَالَ إِنِّي أَعْلَمُ مَا لَا تَعْلَمُونَ
And when thy Lord said unto the angels: Lo! I am about to place a viceroy in the earth, they said: Wilt thou place therein one who will do harm therein and will shed blood, while we, we hymn Thy praise and sanctify Thee? He said: Surely I know that which ye know not.
There is a very interesting discussion in verse 30 between the angels and Almighty Allah, whereby He assures them by saying that He knows something which they do not.
Verse 31 explains that Almighty Allah (SWT) tested the angels, after stating that He taught Adam (a.s) directly. Verse 31 reads as follows:
وَعَلَّمَ آدَمَ الْأَسْمَاءَ كُلَّهَا ثُمَّ عَرَضَهُمْ عَلَى الْمَلَائِكَةِ فَقَالَ أَنْبِئُونِي بِأَسْمَاءِ هَٰؤُلَاءِ إِنْ كُنْتُمْ صَادِقِينَ
And He taught Adam the names of all things; then He placed them before the angels, and said: “Tell me the names of these if ye are right.”
The response of the angels is most beautiful in their submission to Almighty Allah (SWT), as noted in verse 32:
قَالُوا سُبْحَانَكَ لَا عِلْمَ لَنَا إِلَّا مَا عَلَّمْتَنَا ۖ إِنَّكَ أَنْتَ الْعَلِيمُ الْحَكِيمُ
They said: Glory be to Thee! we have no knowledge but that which Thou hast taught us; surely Thou art the Knowing, the Wise.
WHY DOES ALMIGHTY ALLAH (SWT) NEED TO APPOINT A VICEROY IN THE EARTH?
There are very interesting points to reflect upon in these verses. Almighty Allah (SWT) says He is appointing a viceroy (Khalifa) in the earth. This term viceroy (Khalifa) refers to a ruler/governor who represents a higher authority in his absence. Example, an empire, where the seat of the empire is somewhere, and this emperor appoints a representative (viceroy) for a region in his dominion. This is where the governor rules the area on behalf of the emperor.
The reason why governors are appointed is because the ruler cannot reach every corner of the empire directly, due to the size and scale of their empire. That is why they have to appoint a special representative, namely a governor for a particular geographical territory. Now, this is clearly not possible in the case of Almighty Allah (SWT), as He is omnipresent and has control over everything!
We have restrictions and we appoint a special envoy as our deputy, because we cannot reach a certain place. Almighty Allah (SWT) clearly does not have this limitation. Hence, this is not the reason for Almighty Allah (SWT) appointing a deputy. So then, why is Almighty Allah (SWT) appointing His viceroy in the earth? What does this reference in verse 30 of Surah Baqarah (noted above) mean? What is He going to achieve from this?
The answers to these questions are further in the verse. The viceroy is Bani Adam, the children of Adam i.e. whole of humanity has this responsibility of being the viceroy. We read in verse 30 of Surah Baqarah that the angels ask a question of clarity from Almighty Allah (SWT) on His choice of leader in the earth. They argue that human beings are going to cause corruption and bloodshed in the earth.
WHO IS ALMIGHTY ALLAH’S (SWT) VICEROY IN THE EARTH?
Interestingly, Almighty Allah (SWT) responds to the angels, not by saying that they are wrong, but by saying that He sees something more in the capability of human beings than what the angels can see. In other words, Almighty Allah (SWT) wants to say that the angels are only looking at a lower level of human beings and basing their conclusions on this. But what He is looking for to be the viceroy in the earth is the highest level of perfection of humanity.
Therefore, the next verse (verse 31) makes it very clear, that Almighty Allah (SWT) taught Adam (a.s) the names of all things. He then presents these to the angels and puts them to the test, but the next verse (verse 32) says that they surrender, acknowledging that they do not have the capacity of Adam (a.s).
The angels said to Almighty Allah (SWT) that they can glorify Him day and night, but there is something special in Adam (representing humanity) which they cannot reach. The purpose therefore becomes very clear!
Who is the viceroy of Almighty Allah (SWT) in the earth?
Is it the human being which the Holy Quran says is like animals or worse, who constantly transgresses all the limits, becoming the worst of the worst, as noted at the end of verse 179 of Surah A’araaf (chapter 7 of the Holy Quran):
أُولَٰئِكَ كَالْأَنْعَامِ بَلْ هُمْ أَضَلُّ ۚ
These are as the cattle – nay, but they are worse!
This type of human being can never be the viceroy!!
The human being which has received divine teaching (Asma’ullah, as referenced in verse 31 above) should represent what he has been taught. The divine teachings should be manifested in him.
This is clearly then not the normal human being, nor is it a rotten human being which constantly promotes corruption in the earth. The human being (insan) which Almighty Allah (SWT) is referring to as His viceroy is the perfect human being! This insan is none other than the divine Imam (leader), because the blessings and mercy from Almighty Allah (SWT) cannot come down to the earth through the corrupt version of insan.
WHAT IS THE JOB OF ALMIGHTY ALLAH’S (SWT) VICEGERENT?
The philosophy of being a vicegerent is to reflect and transfer the mercy, grace and blessings of Almighty Allah (SWT). Normal human beings are not capable of receiving these blessings. It requires those people with the greatest capacity to receive the blessings of Almighty Allah (SWT).
What we are saying is that this earth must have the perfect human being for this earth to continue surviving. This earth can never be void of the existence of that perfect human being, who is the reflection and manifestation of Asma’ullah, so that he can be the channel of that grace, favours and bounties of Almighty Allah (SWT) to the world. This is who we regard as the Imam, the perfect human being who is the heart of the universe!
In this sense, some of our Sunni brethren also share this same position. People of Tasawwuf (mysticism) agree with us on this, in reference to the same verses, that the perfect human being is the purpose of creation of this world. Almighty Allah (SWT) created this world for the sake of the perfect human being, and the perfect human being is created for the purpose of worshipping Him, as explained in verse 56 of Surah Dhaariyat (chapter 51 of the Holy Quran):
وَمَا خَلَقْتُ الْجِنَّ وَالْإِنْسَ إِلَّا لِيَعْبُدُونِ
I created the jinn and humankind only that they might worship Me.
This is travelling towards Him, the complete and absolute perfection. This is only possible under the leadership of someone who manifests perfection and not someone who is weak, as that would be a broken link! A broken link cannot connect you to Almighty Allah (SWT)!
This is Khalifatullah! This is Imamat in the Holy Quran. There are so many verses to be discussed on this subject of Imamat from the Holy Quran. From the same verses, there is still an analysis to be held on what is the meaning of “Allama Aadam al-asmaa” and what type of knowledge is this?
Those who really represented this perfection were very few, and the earth was never empty from them and shall never be empty from them until the end of time. There will always be the perfect vicegerent from Almighty Allah (SWT) on this earth, else this world cannot function.
Tonight we commemorate the martyrdom of a personality whose very existence manifests the divine names of Allah. Who can come close to this personality known as Ali ibn Abi Talib (a.s)?