Jumuah lecture delivered by Brother Bashier Rahim at Babul Ilm Centre, Tshwane Pretoria on 22 November 2019.
After praising Almighty Allah and imploring our Lord to send his choicest Salutations and Blessings upon His Most Beloved Messenger Muhammed (sawa) and his Holy Ahlul Bait (a.s), I remind myself and all of you of the critical importance of having Taqwa and being ever conscious of Almighty Allah which translates into putting every action of ours through an adjudication process whereby it is first evaluated to ensure that our actions are in line with the Pleasure of Almighty Allah BEFORE executing any of them.
And if the action we considering performing will result in incurring the Displeasure of Almighty Allah that our inner conscience rejects it and thus we do not perform it.
This is a very important and most valuable reminder which in some technical usage may be called Muraqaba – which is self-surveillance and is highly emphasized by the people of spirituality as a very important daily practise.
I am also really honoured to be in the presence of you very special brothers and sisters who are believers and lovers and followers of the Holy Ahlul Bait (a.s). One of the very important matters also linked to good daily spiritual practises is to be conscious about the physical spaces that we frequent and spend most of our time in as they have an impact on our spirituality, as well as being conscious of the people we spend our time with as that too has an impact on our spirituality and so I am thrilled to spend some of my time in this Holy Babul Ilm Centre in the company of people who share a similar spiritual outlook.
MISSION OF PROPHET MUHAMMED (SAWA) LINKED TO HIS GREATNESS
We still in the month of Rabi ul Awwal wherein we celebrate the earthly manifestation of the coming of our Beloved Prophet Muhammad (sawa) into this material world.
And its thus still appropriate for me to extend our congratulations to the Imam of our time, Imam Mahdi (a.s) and all the ulama and Maraji who represent him and to the Muslim Ummah at large and all of the worlds as the Messenger (sawa) is sent as a Mercy to all the worlds as Almighty Allah says in Surah Anbiyaa Verse 107:
وما ارسلناك الا رحمة للعالمين
“And We have not sent you except as Mercy to the worlds”.
If one wants to say something about Prophet Muhammad (sawa), besides not knowing where to start, we in reality are not capable of saying anything.
The great Imam Khomeini was once asked to speak about Prophet Muhammad (sawa) and he said something profound along the lines of “how can I say anything when he is the Most Perfect reflection of the Asma ul Husna or Holy Names of Almighty Allah”. And in the most beautiful Dua Jawshin Al-Kabeer which we commonly read in the month of Ramadaan we learn that the Holy Names of Almighty Allah has 1000 extended expressions – and the Messenger (sawa) is the Most perfect reflection of these 1000 expressions of the Asma ul Husna. So, we really are incapable of saying something about Prophet Muhammad (sawa) out of our own.
SUBLIME CHARACTER OF PROPHET MUHAMMED (SAWA)
Having said that, the Messenger (sawa), while have an inner reality and Haqiqah beyond our imagination, at the same time enters this world as a human being so that we lesser mortals actually can somehow relate to his human side which we all share in.
And how do we relate to him?
How did the masses relate and connect to him which attracted them to him and caused mass acceptance of Islam?
It is through one of his most important qualities of having sublime Akhlaq which Almighty Allah Himself praises.
وانك لعلى خلق عظيم
“Most certainly you are on a sublime standard of character”. (Surah Qalam Verse 4)
This “Atheem” or “sublime” or “great” means different things to different people.
For a child “great” might mean that today dad bought me a toy for passing my exam or even more simple than that – today is great because dad or mom bought me ice cream – it’s quite hot here in Tshwane – so I hope your kids are having a great day every day in summer.
For a Saudi intelligence agent he might say I had a great day as I got hold of SA’s secret weapons information while they were literally sleeping and they took so long to even discover that their secret information was gone – that’s perhaps a great day for an intelligence agent.
For a reflective human being greatness may be realizing Almighty Allah’s Infinite Blessings to us in this world, yet from Allah’s perspective what is given to us in this world is rather little:
قل متاع الدنيا قليل
“Say the provision of this world is little” (Surah Nisaa Verse 77)…. yet we consider it great from our perspective.
So to really know what greatness means, we should focus on Allah’s expression thereof and from His perspective the Akhlaq and Character of Prophet Muhammad (sawa) is great and sublime.
MISSION OF PROPHET (SAWA) LINKED TO HIS GREATNESS
Then Prophet Muhammad (sawa) describes the very purpose of him being sent to this world to be exactly in line with what Almighty Allah considers to be great about him, and that is his mission is in line with the issue of Akhlaq.
إنما بعثت لأتمم مكارم الأخلاق
“I have exclusively been sent to complete/perfect noble traits of character”
This famous narration is loaded with critical points to reflect on, but I will only mention a small bit.
For us who primarily are people who claim to be followers of the Ahlul Bait (a.s) and became followers through the process of intellectual investigation to come to realise that this school of thought is the one that we are meant to follow, we have spent a large part of our time and for some of us a large part of our very lives in being engaged in the details of argument and debate regarding why this is the right school of thought.
And that is very important to have some mastery over as it is the foundation upon which everything else is based and built – being convinced of our Aqeeda and doctrine or foundational beliefs.
And this study can get into a lot of details. If you examine a book like Shia Encyclopedia which has recorded most of the common arguments about the validity of Shia Islam, it gets into a number of volumes and seeks to answer literally possibly hundreds of questions.
But now, after mastering all these arguments, is that really the end of our journey and the final purpose for which we were created?
For some people it seems to be the case. They can spend their whole life arguing with followers of other schools of thought who really have little or no interest to see our point of view and be stuck in this vicious cycle.
But while this is an obvious pre-requisite, it is not the end and ultimate purpose. The ULTIMATE purpose of the sending of Prophet Muhammad (sawa) is beyond convincing us about Aqeeda and even teaching Fiq. All this knowledge we acquire is not meant to be an end in itself but is meant to be transformative in nature and to result in us becoming more perfect human beings.
And thus the exclusive mission of Prophet Muhammad (sawa) is perfection of Makarimul Akhlaq – perfection of noble traits of character.
Notice the use of Makarimul Akhlaq instead of Mahasinul Akhlaq.
Good traits of character which would be Mahasinul Akhlaq is by itself important. Mahasinul Akhlaq means good character where we at least reciprocate goodness to those who are good to us.
But Makarimul Akhlaq requires us to be good to those who are bad to us. And that seems counter intuitive at first and an uphill battle. How to be good to those who are bad to us.
INVEST OUR ENERGY CULTIVATING AKHLAQ
Now if this really is what we are ultimately meant to focus on and achieve, then my simple practical question is this – how much time do we spend on studying, contemplation, implementation, and cultivation of matters of Akhlaq?
What we take for granted regarding what Prophet Muhammad (sawa) taught us in the field of Akhlaq, others are pleasantly surprised and shocked that he actually taught us such things in minute detail.
Years ago, while I was at university and did some filler courses on Islam outside my actual studies, one part was on the seerah of Prophet Muhammad (sawa). In the textbook that had to be read which was written by the lecturer himself, there was a sentence about how comprehensively the life of Prophet Muhammad (sawa) has been recorded and how Muslims care to follow every aspect of his life and the book gave examples of this down to the mundane level.
One of the non-Muslim students who was fascinated by this chapter asked a question “sir, you say that the life of Prophet Muhammad (sawa) is recorded in minute detail, even the manner in which he cut his toe nails. Is that really so? Please explain to me how did he actually cut his toenails?!”
And the lecturer smiled and explained this.
We might find this useless information or even funny, but it begs the question – to what extent have we learnt Akhlaq of Prophet Muhammad (sawa) and the Ahlul Bait (a.s) as it pertains to every aspect of our lives??
This is a genuine concern. Our approach to Akhlaq is often reflected in our lives as being indicative of giving it very limited focus.
Ulama over the ages have taken different approaches to teach people about the details of Akhlaq in different ways. Sometimes this manifested in the manner in which books have been written on the topic.
Among these books, during the 1980s a great Scholar Ayatullah Muhammadi Reyshari who visited us here in SA years ago wrote a lovely reorganized collection of Ahadith and related verses of Quran and this was translated into English and some of us consult it.
But the refreshing reorganization that he made to this hadith collection of Prophet Muhammad (sawa) and the Imams (a.s) was to summarize it in topics and arranging the topics in alphabetical order in this book called Mizanul Hikmah. So each topic has related Quranic verses, if any and then the Ahadith.
Now what I really want to highlight to you is how wide and detailed this study of Akhlaq is by referring to the way the topics in this book is arranged.
There are over 400 topics which are covered on various fundamental subjects and within these topics there are over 1900 sub topics covered.
Of all of this detailed information, I would say possibly over 50 percent at least is linked to issues relating to Akhlaq.
In other words there are hundreds and hundreds of very specific smaller topics that relate to Akhlaq that we learn from Prophet Muhammad (sawa) and the Ahlul Bait (a.s).
So our first step in our journey to building noble traits of character is to do a detailed study of what etiquette really is and how it must be observed in every aspect of our daily life. What is:
- etiquette with respect to our own personal life – how should we be in our own private company?
- etiquette with respect to our interaction with other human beings?
- etiquette with respect to our government?
- etiquette with respect to animals and our environment, etc.
We really need to first study this in detail.
HIGHER YIELDING INVESTMENTS TAKE TIME – AKHLAQ IS NO DIFFERENT
When we reflect on our condition as Muslims and human beings locally and internationally, then we realize that we are on the brink of an apocalypse due to the Akhlaq crisis that we are in.
- politicians that lack any sort of moral authority and have left us spending our precious time in dealing with corruption at the highest level,
- to state institutions that are collapsing due to this domino effect of corruption,
- to an education system that seeks to sexualize our learners in unnatural ways,
- to utter disrespect shown to religious leaders who seek to assist refugees who are stuck between a rock and a hard place,
- to rampant crime on virtually every corner…Akhlaq has all but evaporated from our society.
It feels as if we once again live in the era of the eve of the birth of Prophet Muhammad (sawa) into this material world when Almighty Allah says:
وَكُنتُمْ عَلَىٰ شَفَا حُفْرَةٍ مِّنَ النَّارِ
“And you were on the brink of a pit of fire” (Surah Aali Imraan Verse 103)
Isn’t that what life seems like today? But Allah further says:
“Then He saved you from it”
By sending Prophet Muhammad (sawa) to practically show us Makarimul Akhlaq.
And so my final words for today is this – we need to realize that in building a household and a community and a nation that ultimately reflects noble traits of character – it requires a long term investment that takes time to yield results – just like good investments in business take time to produce lasting fruit.
In our material life we are prepared to invest 14 years into a child’s secular education from grade zero to grade 12. And then another 5 or 6 years on average for a tertiary education. And in the South Africa of today after this 20 year investment we not even guaranteed a job immediately – yet we still do it.
Building Makarimul Akhlaq takes a long time. Learning Aqeedah and Fiq might take a matter of weeks or months. But building Makarimul Akhlaq can take a lifetime but produces the fruit which is the very purpose of our existence in this world.
Our currency with which we transact as human beings is not rands and cents, or dollars and pounds,…. our currency with which we interact is the highest standards of Akhlaq and respect.
So as we still celebrate Milad un Nabi during this month of Rabi-ul Awwal, let us make a firm commitment to take time to learn Akhlaq in a DETAILED fashion and then to PRACTICE its details and then to IMPLEMENT its details continuously so that it becomes a “MALAKA” or inbuilt trait or virtue within us. Let us give importance to the finer details of Akhlaq as each aspect that we perfect has a ripple effect on our spirituality and achieving closeness to Almighty Allah.