Sunday 14 July 2019 (11 Dhul Qa’ada 1440)
Ahlul Bait (a.s) Masjid, Ottery, Cape Town
Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider
I would like to open this auspicious occasion of the birth of the 8th Imam of Ahlul Bait (a.s), Imam Ali ibn Musa al-Ridha, with the important announcement that we intend to embark on the Ziyarah of Arba-een of Imam Hussain (a.s) in Karbala this year, Insha Allah.
It was always the demand of our brothers and sisters, wanting to go as a group for the ZIyarah of Karbala on the occasion of Arba-een, where the culture of this Ziyarah is to walk towards Karbala. We witness every year how people walk from all over Iraq towards Karbala on this occasion of the Arba-een of the tragedy of Karbala. We will Insha Allah take part in the popular route from Najaf to Karbala, which is a 90km walk!
This is the great news I wanted to share on this joyous night!
This evening we heard our brothers perfume this gathering with poetry in different languages. This is the beauty of the Ahlul Bait (a.s) ie. diversity! The Ahlul Bait (a.s) are in the hearts of everybody and it rolls off the tongue most beautifully when one expresses it, to the point where we are moved even when we do not understand the language it is expressed in. This is all due to that love of Imam Ridha (a.s) being there.
WHY IS IMAM RIDHA (A.S) BURIED SO FAR AWAY FROM MADINA (WHERE HE LIVED)?
Imam Ridha (a.s) use to live in Madina. Ma’mun was the Abbasid ruler of that time, and forced Imam Ridha (a.s) to leave Madina and migrate to Khorasan, in the northern part of Iran ie. very far from the Arabian Peninsula. Khorasan was a very big province, and today, part of it is in Afghanistan, and the other part is in Iran. However, at that time, Khorasan use to be a huge area, covering most of modern day Afghanistan, part of Pakistan and a sizable area of Iran as well.
The capital city of the Abbasid dynasty during the time of Ma’mun was Baghdad. Due to political reasons, he moved his capital from Baghdad all the way to Khorasan, specifically to a city called Toos. This is when Ma’mun also forced Imam Ridha (a.s) to move from Madina to Toos. Naturally, Imam Ridha (a.s) did not like this and disagreed, but Ma’mun threatened him.
The question is why?
The reason is that the majority of the people at that time were supporters of the Ahlul Bait (a.s), so Ma’mun wanted to keep Imam Ridha (a.s) close to his side, so as to portray the image to the people that the Ahlul Bait (a.s) are with him (Ma’mun).
People should therefore not fight with him, because Imam Ridha (a.s) is supposedly with him. Hence, Ma’mun made a plan to appoint Imam Ridha (a.s) as his crown prince. This would mean that if Ma’mun dies, then his son will not be the heir to the throne, but rather, it will be Imam Ridha (a.s) who will become king, by virtue of being appointed by Ma’mun as the crown prince!
However, Ma’mun was clearly not sincere. He just wanted to play this game to fool the people. The impression Ma’mun was trying to create was that the Ahlul Bait (a.s) have cordial relations with him, and he is also giving this political leadership to the Ahlul Bait (a.s). Therefore, Ma’mun says he is appointing Imam Ridha (a.s) as his successor.
Imam Ridha (a.s) was highly displeased with this, as it was simply an optical illusion from Ma’mun to fool the people. However, Mu’mun forced the issue, and Imam Ridha (a.s) had no option but to move from Madina all the way to Toos. Ma’mun also put on a big show to announce this migration of Imam Ridha (a.s) from Madina to Toos, where this journey was filled with royal pomp and protocol.
This is the background of how Imam Ridha (a.s) is buried in Mashhad, Iran.
IRAN’S HISTORY OF SUNNI ISLAM DURING THE TIME OF IMAM RIDHA (A.S)
Today, as we know, the Islamic Republic of Iran is a country which practices Shia Islam as its doctrine. Iran is officially a supporter and follower of the Ahlul Bait (a.s). This is an obvious fact which is nothing new to anybody.
Now, the point I want to make is that at the time of Imam Ridha (a.s), people in general were inclined towards the Ahlul Bait (a.s). Yes, they loved the Ahlul Bait (a.s), but they were not followers of the Ahlul Bait (a.s). They practiced Sunni Islam. They did not believe in Imamat except a few cities like Qom, or Ahvaz which has always been Shia.
However, big cities like Toos or Rey (modern day Tehran) or Isfahan were centres of Sunni Islam. Many people are under the misconception that Shia Islam is an Iranian thing. Far from the truth! Iran became Shia only 500 years ago! Shia Islam was present long before being introduced to Iran. In fact, Shia Islam started in Madina, and the biggest support of Shia was in Iraq!
So, Iran was not a Shia stronghold in those early years of Islam, as they were very much Sunni, but they always had a soft corner for the Ahlul Bait (a.s). Indeed, they were lovers of Ahlul Bait (a.s), no doubt, but they were not followers of Ahlul Bait (a.s) and Imamat.
THE RICH HERITAGE OF SUNNI ISLAM IN IRAN
As I mentioned earlier, there were cities of Shia Islam in Iran, like Qom, which has always been Shia. But a big city like Isfahan was a major stronghold for Sunni Islam. Now, do you know that most of the great scholars of Sunni Islam are from Iran?
Luminaries of Sunni Islam, like Imam Bukhari, Imam Muslim and Imam Abu Hanifa are all from Iran. We often here so much reference to Imam Ghazali in Sunni Islam. He was from Toos ie. the same city of Mashhad as Imam Ridha (a.s)! Until today, there is a Madrassa where he use to teach.
The list goes on and on. In fact, you will surprised to know that certain cities of Iran were centres of Sunni knowledge and Sunni ideology, and one of those cities which was the centre of Sunni Islam was a city near Toos called Nishapur. This was a big centre of Sunni Islam.
In fact, the system which Sunni madrassas operate until today, Darul Uloom as we commonly know them as, is called Dars Nizami. Those who have attended Sunni Darul Uloom’s (eg. Newcastle) will be familiar with this term Dars Nizami.
This refers to the Nizami syllabus, which was introduced by a big Sunni Alim, who was from Nishapur, and his name was Nizam. This is how the syllabus which he introduced in Baghdad was named after him, and it is being followed until today. This man was originally from Nishapur!
So, this city Nishapur, which is located close to Toos (Mashhad), was a major established centre of Sunni Islam.
These are further points we should know as part of important background.
IMAM RIDHA (A.S) REACHES THE SUNNI STRONGHOLD OF NISHAPUR, IRAN
Now, coming back to the original point, Imam Ridha (a.s) was brought to Iran, to the province of Khorasan, and specifically to the city called Toos. The royal caravan escorting Imam Ridha (a.s) reached Nishapur, which is less than 300km before Mashhad.
Remember what we mentioned earlier, Nishapur was a major stronghold of Sunni Islam. There was no Shia there. The people and religious scholars of Nishapur came to know that Imam Ridha (a.s) is going to be passing through their city, en-route to Mashhad.
These people, despite not being followers of Imamat, felt the urgent need to extend a warm welcome to Imam Ridha (a.s) and pay respect to him as he is passing through, for the reasons that he is the great grandson of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA). Furthermore, they acknowledged him to be a great scholar of Islam and a noble personality.
History has recorded that thousands of people and Ulama came out from Nishapur, to welcome the 8th Imam of Ahlul Bait (a.s), Imam Ali ibn Musa al- Ridha (a.s). Some of these people were holding the rope of the camel transporting Imam Ridha (a.s) and saluting and bowing in a show of choicest greetings and respect to him.
IMAM RIDHA (A.S) NARRATES TO THEM HADITH SILSILATUZ ZAHAB
During this procession through Nishapur, some of the great Sunni Ulama had a request from Imam Ridha (a.s). They wanted Imam Ridha (a.s) to narrate one Hadith from his forefathers, as a gift for them, in memory of the momentous occasion of his passing through their city.
Imam Ridha (a.s) acceded to this request. Naturally, people were enthralled by the shining light of Ahlul Bait (a.s) whom they had in their midst for this brief period. Imam Ridha (a.s) started this narration by saying that he heard, on the authority of his father, Imam Musa ibn Jafar al-Kadhim (a.s) who heard from his chain of forefathers who have carried the following Hadith from the blessed tongue of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA), who heard Angel Jibra’eel say:
“Almighty Allah (SWT) says that the proclamation of ‘La ilaha illalla’ is His fort, and whoever accepts and pronounces it, enters His castle. And whoever enters His castle is saved and protected from His punishment.”
The whole crowd of thousands of people was naturally mesmerized when Imam Ridha (a.s) relayed this Hadith to them! Imam Ridha (a.s) then paused for a brief moment and said that there are certain conditions to be fulfilled before entry to this fort of Almighty Allah (SWT) is granted. Imam Ridha (a.s) paused again, and said that he is one of the conditions to enter this fortress of Almighty Allah (SWT)!
This is the Hadith known as Hadith Silsilatuz Zahab (Hadith of the Golden Chain), because the chain of narrators of this Hadith are all infallible Imams of the Ahlul Bait (a.s), through Rasulullah (SAWA) to Angel Jibra’eel and finally Almighty Allah (SWT). This is the chain explaining the title of this Hadith!
IS HADITH SILSILATUZ ZAHAB A SHIA FABRICATION?
Now, the obvious first question is whether this Hadith is reliable or a Shia fabrication?! Let me tell you something, this Hadith is narrated in Shia resources only twice, by Sheikh al-Mufid and Sheikh Saduq. However, in Sunni resources, this Hadith is narrated 50 times, according to some calculations.
We mentioned that this narration is called Hadith Silsilatuz Zahab because of the infallible chain of narrators being the Imams of the Ahlul Bait (a.s). However, another reason for this name is due to it being so overwhelmingly narrated, that it is regarded as the Hadith of gold! Others also say that this Hadith is meant to be written with gold, and therefore it is called Hadith Silsilatuz Zahab.
It is indeed very interesting to note that there are 2 separate camps from our Sunni brothers on this Hadith. There are those who believe very strongly in this Hadith, where they believe that it was relayed by Imam Ridha (a.s) in the presence of 10,000 people on that day in Nishapur. Other resources claim it was 20,000 people while others even claim 30,000 people.
Great scholars from amongst Sunnis accept this Hadith without reservation, while the opposite camp is obviously there too, who have this enduring disease of hate when it comes to the Ahlul Bait (a.s)! There is no hope for them and they will never come right!
There was an Urdu poet who use to say that Almighty Allah (SWT) has created every disease, but also created every cure. However, he goes further to say that there is one disease which does not have any cure, and that disease is the hate of Ali ibn abi Talib (a.s). There is no cure for this disease. Those who hate Ali (a.s) will never come right. You can bring endless evidence to them of the virtues of Imam Ali (a.s), but the extent of their prejudice makes them deaf, dumb and blind!
صُمٌّ بُكْمٌ عُمْيٌ فَهُمْ لَا يَرْجِعُونَ
“Deaf, dumb, and blind, they will not return (to the path).”
Holy Quran: Verse 18 of Surah Baqarah (chapter 2)
WHAT IS THE OPINION OF IMAM AHMAD IBN HANBAL ABOUT HADITH SILSILATUZ ZAHAB?
Now let me tell you something very interesting. Amongst the 4 Imams of Ahlus Sunnah, there is 1 Imam to whom Wahhabis (who have a major problem with our love of the Ahlul Bait (a.s)) have a stronger inclination towards. This Imam is Ahmad ibn Hanbal.
Now, let us explore the opinion of Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal about this Hadith. It is narrated that Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal said that if you read this Hadith Silsilatuz Zahab to a mentally unstable person, you will see that he/she will become sane and sensible! This is the supreme level that Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal places on this Hadith Silsilatuz Zahab narrated by Imam Ali ibn Musa al-Ridha (a.s).
So, with this background, let us now study the contents of this Hadith. The first point to analyse is – why is Imam Ridha (a.s) called Gharib al-Ghuraba? The reason is because of the wholesale confusion which was pervasive at the time. Obviously, the enemies were there, but another big problem was that even his own people were not supporting him. They were very confused.
WHY DID IMAM RIDHA (A.S) CHOOSE HADITH SILSILATUZ ZAHAB?
Imam Ridha (a.s) narrated this Hadith to the people of Nishapur, whom we described earlier as being Sunni Muslims, and a key distinction with Shia Muslims is that Sunnis do not believe in Imamat. A simple translation of this Hadith is that belief in one God (SWT) is the solution to every problem.
So, if you believe in monotheism ie. believe in one Allah (SWT), then you are safe and secure, protected from the punishment of Almighty Allah (SWT). But, as we noted earlier, Imam Ridha (a.s) is saying that he is the condition of this Tauheed. This means that the Tauheed referred to here is conditioned and connected with Imamat. This means that Tauheed without Imamat is empty, and there is no benefit. This is what Imam Ridha (a.s) is saying.
Imam Ridha (a.s) is saying that Tauheed is only guaranteed protection from the punishment of Almighty Allah (SWT) when you have Imamat. So, if you do not have Wilayat and Imamat, then Tauheed in isolation is not going to help you. This is the Hadith Silsilatuz Zahab that Imam Ridha (a.s) was narrating to the people of Nishapur.
Now, why is Imam Ridha (a.s) saying this to a Sunni congregation, when they do not believe in Imamat to start with? There is a very important lesson which Imam Ridha (a.s) is sharing here. All Muslims believe in one Allah (SWT). Whether you are Sunni or Shia, this Tauheed is your foundation which is aligned. However, the key message which Imam Ridha (a.s) is sharing is that the purity of Tauheed is not possible or practically achievable without Wilayat and Imamat of the Ahlul Bait (a.s).
This is my message on this auspicious night, that according to Imam Ridha (a.s), Tauheed without Imamat has limited benefit. Now, important to clarify that the predominant position from Sunni scholars who have narrated this Hadith have excluded the last part, which relates to the Imamat of Imam Ridha (a.s). So, they narrate the following only:
“Almighty Allah (SWT) says that the proclamation of ‘La ilaha illalla’ is His fort, and whoever accepts and pronounces it, enters His castle. And whoever enters His castle is saved and protected from His punishment.”
However, to be fair, there are some Sunni scholars (not all) who narrate the second part, which talks about the conditions for entering the fort of Tauheed, of which Imam Ridha (a.s) and Imamat is the major one.
HADITH SILSILATUZ ZAHAB: TAUHEED AND IMAMAT ARE INTRINSICALLY LINKED
It therefore begs the question, that if Imam Ridha (a.s) is telling a crowd of 30,000 Sunnis that they should believe in Tauheed, then it is preaching to the converted! What was Imam Ridha (a.s) then trying to say, because there were already leading Sunni scholars of the time present in the gathering?
Imam Ridha (a.s) was not speaking to non-Muslims or idol worshippers, who do not believe in one God (SWT). This was a crowd of Muslims, so how could his message simply be to believe in one God (SWT), when this crowd already does?
So, Imam Ridha (a.s) was trying to explain to the same Sunni crowd, that the issue of Imamat is not a matter of political difference between Sunni and Shia, nor is it an issue about who should rightfully be in power, but rather, it is intrinsic to our understanding of Tauheed! Islam starts with Tauheed and ends with Tauheed.
Perfection of Islam is with Tauheed ie. belief in one God (SWT). However, Imam Ridha (a.s) wanted to tell this big crowd of Sunni Muslims, perfect faith and belief in Tauheed without Imamat is not possible and incomplete. This is the important message which Imam Ridha (a.s) wanted to convince them of, which we need to reflect upon too on this auspicious occasion.
Imam Ridha (a.s) was explaining to the people of Nishapur what the different levels of Tauheed are. He explained that believing in one God (SWT) is only the first level of Tauheed (Tauheed Fizzaad), since Tauheed in the school of Ahlul Bait (a.s) goes much deeper.
Imam Ridha (a.s) explained Tauheed Rububiyyah, which says that there is no Lord other than Allah (SWT) and there is no power other than Allah (SWT) and there is no superior other than Allah (SWT) and there is no one worthy of worship and surrender before, to obey and follow, and accept authority, other than Allah (SWT). These are the different levels of Tauheed.
ABANDONING IMAMAT SHOWS THE DISASTROUS CONSEQUENCES TODAY
Imam Ridha (a.s) was trying to explain to these religious scholars (Ulama) of Nishapur that how is it possible that you believe in Tauheed but at the same time you follow a satanic ruler. What type of Tauheed is this?!
Imam Ridha (a.s) laid out this challenge 14 centuries ago, which is equally relevant to the Muslim Ummah today. The people who shout Tauheed today, louder than anybody, have the big problem when we call out Ya Ali, labelling us as Mushrik. Similarly, if we call out Ya Sahibizzamaan, they label it as bid’ah. However, these same people call out Ya Trump, and this is not shirk for them! This is the state of their Tauheed!
I am trying to make this simple for all to digest. We now understand why Imam Ridha (a.s) said that Tauheed without Imamat is of no benefit. Tauheed of Saudi Arabia and its crown prince says that we must not go to Kramats because this practice is associating partners with Almighty Allah (SWT). Yet, these are the same people who bow before the worst disbelievers and sell their souls to them. This is fine for them! This is the extent of Tauheed without Imamat!
Imam Ridha (a.s) challenged the people of Nishapur, that they say La ilaha illallah, but they follow evil rulers and accept their corrupt authority.
The key point of Imam Ridha (a.s) was that you cannot believe in one Allah (SWT) until you come under the guardianship and Wilayat of Allah (SWT). Does this mean that the guardianship of Allah (SWT) is confined to salaah, fasting, Hajj and Zakah, and for everything else you go under the guardianship of others? No – quite the contrary!
I gave you a brief example of the Tauheed of Saudi Arabia. Let me also give you an example of the Tauheed of ISIS! They also shout as much about one Allah (SWT) and His authority. But what is the result? They have abused and exploited this same slogan to kill a countless number of innocent people. This is the extent one reaches with Tauheed without Imamat.
The problem is when you do not understand Tauheed from the point of Tauheed itself ie. the way that the Ahlul Bait (a.s) explained it. The catastrophic result is that you end up either with an understanding of Tauheed like Saudi Arabia or ISIS! However, if you want Mohammadi Tauheed, you need to have Tauheed with Imamat.
IMAMAT IS THE REFLECTION OF TAUHEED
There are many discussions to be had on this subject, but I will conclude with a deeper reflection. In the interpretation of this Hadith, some people go way deeper than the points we have discussed, namely:
- We will not understand Tauheed without Allah (SWT);
- We will not be able to implement Tauheed without Imamat.
The deeper reflection on the definition of Tauheed is on a mystical level, where such people describe Tauheed as meaning to reach Allah (SWT). Normally, our common understanding of Tauheed is to believe in one Allah (SWT), and that there is no one worthy of worship other than Allah (SWT). He and only He is the God (SWT). This is Tauheed the way we believe.
However, the mystical approach to Tauheed says that it is not only about having this belief, but rather, the most important aspect of Tauheed is to reach to Allah (SWT). This means we connect ourselves towards Allah (SWT), and are not confined to simply believing that there is no God other than Allah (SWT). It is not only about knowing Allah (SWT), but rather, it is about finding Allah (SWT)!
There was a great philosopher by the name of Sayyed Haydar Amuli (r.a), who explains this Hadith Silsilatuz Zahab very beautifully. He explains that reaching to Allah (SWT) is not possible without coming under the Wilayat of Allah (SWT), and coming under the Wilayat of Allah (SWT) is not possible without coming under the Wilayat of the Wali of Allah (SWT)!
He says that the Wilayat of the Ahlul Bait (a.s) is Wilayat Mir’ati. The guardianship and authority of Almighty Allah (SWT) is the source and the Wilayat of Imam Ali (a.s) and the Ahlul Bait (a.s) is the reflection of that divine Wilayat! So, the Wilayat of the Ahlul Bait (a.s) is the mirror of Almighty Allah (SWT).
Let me break this down through a simple example. It is not possible for us to look at the sun directly, as we will turn blind. So, Sayyed Haydar Amuli (r.a) is saying that we can never reach Almighty Allah (SWT) directly, because we cannot tolerate that divine light. We will turn blind! Hence, similar to how we see the sun through glasses, we reach the Wilayat of Almighty Allah (SWT) through the Wilayat of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) and the Ahlul Bait (a.s)!
This is the meaning when Imam Ali (a.s) says that he is the hand of Allah (SWT), and the eye of Allah (SWT) and the face of Allah (SWT) etc. It is a reflection. Indeed, they are created by Almighty Allah (SWT), but on that level of perfection where we cannot reach Allah (SWT) without them.
This is the comprehensive meaning of the Hadith which Imam Ridha (a.s) narrated, saying that whoever believes in Tauheed is rescued and that we cannot enter the real fort of Tauheed without the Wilayat and Imamat of the Ahlul Bait (a.s).
May Almighty Allah (SWT) grant us all the Taufeeq to understand these very high levels of messages from the Ahlul Bait (a.s). May Almighty Allah (SWT) grant us all the Taufeeq of the Ziyarah of Imam Ridha (a.s) in Mashhad. Our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) said that whoever goes to visit his son who is going to be buried in Khorasan, far away from his home, is as if he has visited him, Rasulullah (SAWA).