Jumuah lecture on Friday 12 March 2021 (28 Rajab 1442)
Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider
Ahlul Bait (a.s) Masjid, Ottery, Cape Town
This week, we had a number of occasions in the Islamic calendar, and the most important one was 27th Rajab, which is the day of Bi’that (inauguration) of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) as the final messenger and apostle of Almighty Allah (SWT), thereby carrying His final and complete and perfect message unto humanity until the Day of Qiyamah (Day of Judgement).
This auspicious event of Bi’that (inauguration) and Me’raj (ascension) of Rasulullah (SAWA) carries exalted status, as 27th Rajab is the birthday of Islam! It is the day when revelation started, with the revelation of the first verse from Surah Alaq (chapter 96 of the Holy Quran):
اقْرَأْ بِاسْمِ رَبِّكَ الَّذِي خَلَقَ
”Read in the name of your Lord Who created.”
This very, very important incident is an opportunity for us to think about the advent of Islam and what the Prophet of Islam (SAWA) offered to this world. Where do we stand regarding this greatest favour and blessings of Almighty Allah (SWT) upon humanity?
BI’THAT FROM THE QURANIC DISCOURSE
First of all, the important point to note upfront is that the word bi’that has been used repeatedly in the Holy Quran for the appointment of the divine Prophets (a.s) and our Prophet Muhammad (SAWA), who is the seal of Prophethood. There are other synonymous words used as well, such as arsala (send) but the word ba’atha (from which bi’that is derived, has been used repeatedly in the Holy Quran.
An example is verse 2 of Surah Jumuah (chapter 62):
هُوَ الَّذِي بَعَثَ فِي الْأُمِّيِّينَ رَسُولًا مِنْهُمْ يَتْلُو عَلَيْهِمْ آيَاتِهِ وَيُزَكِّيهِمْ وَيُعَلِّمُهُمُ الْكِتَابَ وَالْحِكْمَةَ وَإِنْ كَانُوا مِنْ قَبْلُ لَفِي ضَلَالٍ مُبِينٍ
”He it is Who raised among the inhabitants of Mecca a Messenger from among themselves, who recites to them His communications and purifies them, and teaches them the Book and the Wisdom, although they were before certainly in clear error.”
Another example is this excerpt from verse 36 of Surah Nahl (chapter 16):
وَلَقَدْ بَعَثْنَا فِي كُلِّ أُمَّةٍ رَسُولًا أَنِ اعْبُدُوا اللَّهَ وَاجْتَنِبُوا الطَّاغُوتَ
”And certainly We raised in every nation a messenger saying: Serve Allah and shun the Shaitan.”
There are other similar verses in the Holy Quran addressing this phenomenon of ba’atha or bi’that. There is something crucial to understand in this word itself. Ba’atha in Arabic does not mean sending, although it is translated as sent. The actual meaning of ba’atha means to raise.
So, while we often say that Almighty Allah (SWT) sent a Prophet (a.s) to every nation, the actual reality is that He raised from within the nation, a Prophet (a.s) from amongst them.
BI’THAT OF PROPHETS (A.S) IS A CONTINUOUS MOVEMENT OF UPRISING
Now, if we go a little deeper in absorbing this concept of ba’atha, we will realise that ba’atha is a movement. Sometimes, there a community which needs a teacher. And then, someone will organize for them to have a teacher. Accordingly, the Holy Quran refers to Prophets (a.s) as teachers too, as noted in verse 2 of Surah Jumuah (chapter 62) cited earlier. However, bi’that is a lot deeper than delegating Prophets (a.s) as teachers to society.
Ba’atha means raised, and often the reference is that they were raised from amongst the people, for the people. This insight provides a very important message, that Prophets (a.s) were not simply sent as teachers to educate the masses. Rather, bi’that is a revolutionary movement of the whole society from grassroot level changes across the full spectrum of society.
This is a crucial point to understand, especially when we contemplate on verse 36 of Surah Nahl (chapter 16 of the Holy Quran) cited earlier. Here we understand that teaching is one aspect of the global revolutionary movement of bi’that in “Serving Allah and shunning the Shaitan”.
Of course, worshipping Almighty Allah (SWT) and shunning the evil Satan and fake gods is not possible without education. However, the whole movement of reform is a ba’atha, representing change at all levels, where the whole society moves in the direction of worship of Allah (SWT) and rejecting evil.
PROPHET MUHAMMAD (SAWA) LEADS PEOPLE TO SALVATION THROUGH HIS PROGRAM OF REFORM
Another very important point we find in Surah A’araaf (chapter 7 of the Holy Quran), specifically verse 157, where Almighty Allah (SWT) says that We have written special mercy for those who follow our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA):
الَّذِينَ يَتَّبِعُونَ الرَّسُولَ النَّبِيَّ الْأُمِّيَّ الَّذِي يَجِدُونَهُ مَكْتُوبًا عِنْدَهُمْ فِي التَّوْرَاةِ وَالْإِنْجِيلِ يَأْمُرُهُمْ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَيَنْهَاهُمْ عَنِ الْمُنْكَرِ وَيُحِلُّ لَهُمُ الطَّيِّبَاتِ وَيُحَرِّمُ عَلَيْهِمُ الْخَبَائِثَ وَيَضَعُ عَنْهُمْ إِصْرَهُمْ وَالْأَغْلَالَ الَّتِي كَانَتْ عَلَيْهِمْ ۚ فَالَّذِينَ آمَنُوا بِهِ وَعَزَّرُوهُ وَنَصَرُوهُ وَاتَّبَعُوا النُّورَ الَّذِي أُنْزِلَ مَعَهُ ۙ أُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الْمُفْلِحُونَ
”Those who follow the messenger, the Prophet who can neither read nor write, whom they will find described in the Torah and the Gospel (which are) with them. He will enjoin on them that which is right and forbid them that which is wrong. He will make lawful for them all good things and prohibit for them only the foul; and he will relieve them of their burden and the fetters that they used to wear. Then those who believe in him, and honour him, and help him, and follow the light which is sent down with him: they are the successful.”
There is a great deal of discussion associated with this verse, which warrants a series on its own! I will only address one angle linked to the topic of this sermon on the bi’that (inauguration) of Prophet Muhammad (SAWA).
This verse highlights that Rasulullah (SAWA) did not pop out of nowhere! Instead, he is a continuation of a series of guidance by Almighty Allah (SWT), recorded in the Old and New Testament. This verse also highlights that he invites towards good and pure and forbids people from being trapped in evil and impure. This verse then guarantees that Rasulullah (SAWA) is the one who frees the people from the shackles which have burdened them.
PROPHET MUHAMMAD (SAWA) ESTABLISHED FREEDOM 1400 YEARS AGO
The earlier verses cited that ba’ath is a revolution, and not confined to simply being education, thereby presenting a challenge. This verse 157 from Surah A’araaf (chapter 7 of the Holy Quran) describes what the revolution and challenge is, resulting in sweeping change which will liberate the masses, and provide them liberty and true freedom.
This is an amazing point, in that the Holy Quran speaks about freedom and liberty 1400 years ago already, whereas people think that this and social justice and other beautiful terms on human rights have been defined by the West! In actual fact, the West has also started making its position vocal on this a few centuries ago after the Renaissance!
Islam, the Holy Quran, and our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA), through the final purpose of Prophethood and the arrival of all the Prophets (a.s) say that their job was to provide liberty and freedom.
On this, let us delve into the term isr. Arabs traditionally lived in camps in the desert, so the pegs that were nailed into the ground kept the tent sturdy and upright against the wind. So, the reference to isr here is that the Prophets (a.s) came to free us from the pegs which were holding us back and the shackles on our shoulders, which created heavy burden when walking this world as slaves!
Freedom and liberation from the broad darkness, refers to the many social ills across the spectrum, be it racism, slavery, gender justice, injustice committed against the oppressed, social status, tribalism, arrogance, abuse of power, the widening gap in society between those who have versus those who don’t etc.
BI’THAT THROUGH THE LENSE OF IMAM ALI (A.S)
One of the beautiful, thought-provoking topics we need to explore is bi’that – inauguration of Prophets (a.s) and Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) in particular, in light of Nahjul Balagha. This is where we will appreciate how Imam Ali (a.s) explains the reason for all the Prophets (a.s), and the purpose of the arrival of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) and the introduction of Islam as the best favour of Almighty Allah (SWT) to humanity.
Amir al-Mu’mineen Imam Ali (a.s) uses a very interesting sentence stating that we were made slaves and Rasulullah (SAWA) came to free us from this slavery, taking us back to our pure nature of freedom. So, these values are clearly espoused by Islam and the Holy Quran as the purpose of the bi’that of all divine Prophets (a.s), and the purpose of revolution in society.
Their position is much more genuine that what is propagated in the West, where there has been a great deal of good noise on this subject but never practiced by them! We all know what the West’s version of freedom is! We also know what their version of racism means! Compare this to the racial justice promoted in Islam, with the practical examples we have across history.
WESTERN APPROACH TO FREEDOM AND ITS PARADOXICAL RESULTS
Another very interesting aspect of the bi’that is that our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) was not just about giving lectures. Rather, he was positioned as the most practical example for the people to follow. Now, compare this to the West and their track record of racial justice, after only starting to make a noise about this for the past few centuries.
One does not need to go back very far…their type of racial justice has been the major talking point this week with allegations of racism in the royal family, which promotes itself as being morally upright and the custodian of pristine civil values! We see how this racism ruins the lives of even their own members of this privileged royal family!
So then, what about George Floyd being held down on his neck in the streets of USA crying he cannot breathe?! This is the reality of Western human rights and its version of liberation and freedom!
POLITICAL ISLAM VERSUS PASSIVE ISLAM
One further point on the subject of bi’that and the purpose of raising Prophets (a.s) is that their program, which is being precisely described in the Holy Quran with verse 157 from Surah A’araaf (chapter 7 of the Holy Quran) cited earlier, is not possible by limiting their discourse to some moral and ethical lessons (Akhlaq). The program of reform and revolution of Prophets (a.s) is not confined to spiritual exercises and acts of worship (Ibadah).
To materialize and actualize the program of the divine Prophets (a.s) requires a complete, comprehensive picture of Islam! Their divine program is not possible without political Islam, to put it quite bluntly! Yes, political Islam which has become a swear word these days, where the West are fighting feverishly against it!
Honestly speaking, there is no Islam without politics! It is not possible to imagine Islam without a political system! This is my concluding point to the first khutbah.
On the one side, we have the concept of bi’that and those comprehensive principles and aims of the inauguration of Prophets (a.s) and especially our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA). And then on the other side we have the Islam which has nothing to do with politics and social justice! This is not the Islam which the Holy Quran speaks about or what the Prophet of Islam (SAWA) brought to this world!
Naturally, this complete, comprehensive Islam is a threat to the interest of the superpowers and their hegemony and monopoly over the nations. This is a modern type of slavery, and therefore we oppose it! They do not feel threatened by Islam which speaks only about ethics and spirituality and nothing else!
We hope and prayer to Almighty Allah (SWT) to grant us the Taufeeq to understand Islam in its holistic form as the pure and pristine Muhammadean Islam.
REFLECTIONS ON THE HISTORIC MEETING BETWEEN AYATOLLAH SISTANI AND POPE FRANCIS
Last week we spoke about the power and importance of dialogue in Islam, the Holy Quran, teachings of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) and his purified Ahlul Bait (a.s), against the backdrop of the historic meeting between Pope Francis and Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Sistani, the Grand Marja based in the holy city of Najaf-al-Ashraf, Iraq.
In the first khutbah today, we presented a sketch of what Islam addresses on the subject of bi’that.
I wish to share some perspectives on this historic meeting between these two great leaders, where we could see the key themes discussed in the first khutbah on bi’that emerge very clearly through the leadership of Islam and the Marja’iyyah (grand spiritual authorities) of the followers of the Ahlul Bait (a.s).
We really appreciate the noble initiative by Pope Francis to visit Iraq and meet Ayatollah Sistani. Their meeting lasted only 45 minutes as scheduled, but there is so much to discuss on this historic meeting!
Let me highlight a few points, starting with the comparison of Najaf and the Vatican. That simple, rented house of Ayatollah Sistani in the back alleys of Najaf, compared to the offices and protocols of the Vatican in Rome! That same room where Ayatollah Sistani meets everyone who visits him is the same humble room where he meets this extremely high-profile leader of Catholics. This is a very big message in itself, regarding what Islam is all about!
They both agreed on the principle position of faith in Almighty Allah (SWT) and its influence on the lives of people. All faith traditions are facing the serious challenge of declining spirituality and moral degradation.
What emerged from the statement issued by the office of Ayatollah Sistani on his meeting with Pope Francis is the discussion about the key role of religion and religious leaders in addressing injustice, oppression, occupation, exploitation and suffering of the people. What emerged very clearly was the challenge presented towards religious leadership remaining silent upon this suffering.
It was a clear challenge which Ayatollah Sistani presented, and he did not hesitate to call out the nation of Palestine as the most oppressed in the world. There are two very important points he made in this regard:
1. Palestine is occupied; and
2. Palestinians are oppressed
Hence, they are the symbolic headline of all the oppressed the world over. That is why he only mentioned the Palestinians and the occupied land. This gives a very clear message about the type of Islam we are talking about, in contrast to the compromising, passive Islam we see elsewhere in the world today.
Another very important point they addressed was the exploitation of religion in the form of extremism and terrorism.
And then the other major talking point between them was the role of political powers. Ayatollah Sistani made it clear (as noted in the statement from his office) that he demands from the political powers to look beyond their self-interest and agenda to control nations and capture their resources, resulting in the suffering of the masses across the world.
These are very important points elaborated on in the historic meeting between these two great leaders, Ayatollah Sistani and Pope Francis last week.
ABU TALIB (A.S) THE CHAMPION PROTECTOR OF PROPHET MUHAMMAD (SAWA)
According to the historical records, 26th Rajab is the day of the demise of a great personality in the history of Islam, who supported Islam before bi’that.
We speak about 27th Rajab as the first day of Islam, due to the first revelation to our Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) on this day. But even before the start of revelation, there was a great supporter standing behind Prophet Muhammad (SAWA).
26th Rajab is the demise of his uncle and the greatest protector and shelter of Islam, Abu Talib (a.s). There is too much to talk about this sublime personality, but unfortunately, we are far too indulged in sectarian prejudice and hate, that we have Muslim elements wanting to deny this personality and similar personalities who played a crucial role in the background, in those most difficult early days of Islam.
Abu Talib (a.s) is the hero amongst them, but we should never forget Amina bint Wahab, the mother of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA). She is unfortunately hardly ever discussed by Muslims. What about other personalities who may not have come very openly proclaiming Shahada, but without their support, it would not have been possible for our Rasulullah (SAWA) to convey the message of Islam.
Now, should I say that it is a coincidence that Abu Talib (a.s) happened to be the greatest supporter of Rasulullah (SAWA) and the shelter of Islam, which allowed for Islam to start under his protection of Rasulullah (SAWA). Since this man happened to be the father of Imam Ali (a.s) as well, that surely is enough of a “crime” for Muslim extremists to declare him as kaafir (disbeliever)!!!
The fact that we are Muslim today makes us indebted to Abu Talib (a.s) for his sacrifice, but Muslims extremists try their level best to convince us that he was not a mu’min (true believer)!
The fact that he is the father of Ali (a.s) and the grandfather of Hasan (a.s) and Hussain (a.s) is the “biggest crime” for which he is punished by the Wahhabis, and the worst of the worst enemies, who were part and parcel of every conspiracy against Prophet Muhammad (SAWA), including plotting his assassination, and (supposedly) accepted Islam out of no choice, are afforded high status by the same Wahhabis!
Abu Talib (a.s) had an international reputation! In those most challenging days when Islam was alone, it became impossible for them to survive in Mecca, and hence were forced to migrate to Ethiopia. Historical records explain that Abu Talib (a.s) had already established contact with the king of Ethiopia.
He wrote a letter addressed to the king and sent it along with the group that migrated under the leadership of Ja’far. In this letter, Abu Talib (a.s) explains to the king of Ethiopia that Muhammad (SAWA) is a divine Prophet (a.s), in the same way that Moses (a.s) and Jesus (a.s) were divine Prophets (a.s). And he was sent as a guide to the people.
Furthermore, Abu Talib (a.s) was a great poet, and he praises our Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) with the choicest words of respect and affection in his Nasheed, showering beauty and the divine light of Rasulullah (SAWA).
With great shame, Abu Talib (a.s) is not afforded any status by many Muslims. The question we all need to ask ourselves, if we remove Abu Talib and his children, then what would be left by the name of Islam?!
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