Jumuah lecture on Friday 16 April 2021 (3 Ramadaan 1442)
Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider
Ahlul Bait (a.s) Masjid, Ottery, Cape Town
We once again thank Almighty Allah (SWT) who has blessed us with this great favour of the month of Ramadaan. In this first Jumuah of the month of Ramadaan, I would like to remind myself and all of you to exhort towards Taqwa (God-consciousness), which is the goal of this sacred month.
Our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) reminded us about the importance and significance of this month, in the Jumuah sermon he delivered on the last Friday of Sha’baan. In that sermon, reported by our 8th Imam of Ahlul Bait (a.s), Imam Ali ibn Musa al-Ridha (a.s) from his forefathers, where Rasulullah (SAWA) is recorded to have said the following:
“Indeed, oh people, ahead of you is the month of Ramadaan,
the month of Allah (SWT) with mercy, blessings, forgiveness.
It is this month which is the best of months before Allah (SWT).
Its days are the best of days, and its nights are the best of nights.
The hours of this month are the best of hours.
This is the month where we are invited to the divine feast, as the guests of Allah (SWT).”
WE SHOULD ANNOUCE OUR ARRIVAL TO THE HOST OF THE GRANDEST BANQUET OF RAMADAAN
Let us reflect on this last statement of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA), where we are invited to be the guests of Almighty Allah (SWT). Allah (SWT) is Host and we are the guests. The normal principle of a feast is that the host will provide whatever they can afford. It is the host’s responsibility to take care of hospitality for the guests he/she invited, by providing with the best you can.
So then, what about this scenario where the host is Almighty Allah (SWT)?! There is no limitation in the capacity of what this Host can provide. We are the guests who are completely dependent and have absolutely nothing! We have nothing and He has everything. Just imagine how this grand Host will shower on His poor, worthless guest!
There is no shortage of generosity, resources or capacity in this Host, whereas all the deficiencies and defects are with the guests! So, we can imagine how this Host will treat His guests!
We should not forget, it is a divine feast and therefore, the offerings are different! Material offerings are there, no doubt. However, the capacity of our gracious Host is much greater than just a few material favours that we would normally offer our guests.
THE MENU SERVED BY ALMIGHTY ALLAH (SWT) AT THIS GRANDEST BANQUET OF RAMADAAN
It is indeed worth reflecting on what is so special about what our gracious Host, Almighty Allah (SWT), is offering us in this sacred month. The great religious scholars have summed it up beautifully, saying that one of the favours which Almighty Allah (SWT) blesses His guests with during this sacred month of Ramadaan is the expansion of our chests (sharhus sadr).
Verse 125 of Surah An’aam (chapter 6 of the Holy Quran) refers:
فَمَنْ يُرِدِ اللَّهُ أَنْ يَهْدِيَهُ يَشْرَحْ صَدْرَهُ لِلْإِسْلَامِ ۖ وَمَنْ يُرِدْ أَنْ يُضِلَّهُ يَجْعَلْ صَدْرَهُ ضَيِّقًا حَرَجًا كَأَنَّمَا يَصَّعَّدُ فِي السَّمَاءِ ۚ كَذَٰلِكَ يَجْعَلُ اللَّهُ الرِّجْسَ عَلَى الَّذِينَ لَا يُؤْمِنُونَ
“Therefore (for) whomsoever Allah intends that He would guide him aright, He expands his breast for Islam, and (for) whomsoever He intends that He should cause him to err, He makes his breast straight and narrow as though he were ascending upwards; thus does Allah lay uncleanness on those who do not believe.”
The simile drawn here with a restricted chest is like when one is climbing a high mountain. Those who have climbed Mount Kilimanjaro will know how suffocating it becomes with the very difficult degree of incline, the closer you get to the summit.
The expansion of our chests is indeed one of the greatest favours of Almighty Allah (SWT) to humanity. This subject is quite a detailed discussion from the Quranic context, and indeed a special favour from Allah (SWT) to us as His guests in this sacred month of Ramadaan.
SHARHUS SADR: EXPANSION OF OUR CHESTS ELABORATED IN THE HOLY QURAN
I would now like to delve into what is meant by the expansion of our chests, because it is clearly not in reference to a physical expansion. Interestingly, this issue is mentioned repeatedly in the Holy Quran.
In the context of this particular verse 125 referenced from Surah An’aam, it is regarded as one of the greatest favours of Almighty Allah (SWT), such that if someone wishes to be guided, then the primary condition of guidance is the expansion of the chest.
This is where we find divine Prophets (a.s), like Nabi Moosa (a.s) asking from Almighty Allah (SWT) for his chest to be expanded. Verse 25 of Surah Taha (chapter 20 of the Holy Quran) refers:
قَالَ رَبِّ اشْرَحْ لِي صَدْرِي
Moses said: “O my Lord! expand me my breast”
We then also read in the first verse of Surah Inshira (chapter 94 of the Holy Quran) where Almighty Allah (SWT) reminds our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) about his chest being expanded by Him:
أَلَمْ نَشْرَحْ لَكَ صَدْرَكَ
“Have We not expanded for you your breast?”
These are a couple of examples, but the Holy Quran repeatedly refers to this matter of expansion of the chest, which has different meanings.
1. SHARHUS SADR: WHEN YOU ARE READY TO ACCEPT THE TRUTH
The very first meaning is that when your heart is ready to accept the truth ie. you are open-minded and are not prejudiced towards the Haqq (truth). Your mindset is such that, if you come across something which is proven to you to be true, then you surrender before it. If you have this then it is called “sharhus sadr”.
On the contrary, if you are completely thick-skinned and resisting the truth even after it is logically proven to you, then that is restriction of the chest, not ready to accept the truth. “Sharhus sadr” is therefore the capacity of your soul and the readiness of your heart and mind to accept the truth and reality.
2. SHARHUS SADR: WHEN YOU ARE READY TO DO GOOD
The other meaning of “sharhus sadr” is when your heart is ready and inclined by its nature towards good. Naturally, there are times when we have bad days, while hopefully, most of the time we are open and receptive, energized at the opportunity to do something good. This is also referred to as “sharhus sadr”.
In fact, verse 125 of Surah An’aam (chapter 6 of the Holy Quran) cited earlier, is referring to this type of “sharhus sadr”. Allama Majlisi reports that someone asked our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) after this verse was revealed, what this “sharhus sadr” (expansion of the chest) refers to?
Rasulullah (SAWA) replied saying that it is the Noor (Divine Light) of Almighty Allah (SWT), and He enlightens with this Noor whoever He wants. As a result, when this Noor is installed by Almighty Allah (SWT) in one’s heart, it results in the expansion of the chest. Such a person is deemed ready to accept the truth and is in fact searching for the truth and driven towards good.
The companion who narrated this Hadith from Rasulullah (SAWA) asked him how we will know whether this Noor is flourishing in someone’s heart or not? Rasulullah (SAWA) replied that there are three signs which confirms whether you have this Noor:
1. When you are optimistic about the eternal world;
2. How little you are interested in this material world (dunya) of deception;
3. How much are you prepared to die.
If you have these three signs, then that divine Noor is indeed with you.
3. SHARHUS SADR: LEADERSHIP BEING READY TO TOLERATE ITS SUBJECTS
Another important meaning of “sharhus sadr” refers to leadership. Verse 25 of Surah Taha (chapter 20 of the Holy Quran) and the first verse of Surah Inshira (chapter 94 of the Holy Quran) cited earlier are clear references to this leadership through Prophethood.
However, as Imam Ali (a.s) so beautifully says, the tool of leadership is the extent to which your chest is open and receptive, as the leader. This means the extent to which you are willing to accommodate and tolerate everyone you lead, listening and understanding them all. Having an expanded chest means that you have an extensive threshold of tolerance and perseverance.
OUR NATURAL DISPOSITION TOWARDS GOOD IN RAMADAAN
“Sharhus sadr” in the form of how Almighty Allah (SWT) blesses us in this month of Ramadaan is in the second meaning. Our natural disposition in this sacred month of Ramadaan is to do something good. This therefore means that Almighty Allah (SWT) is indeed hosting us!
A simple example is Nawafil salaah, such as Tahajjud. Truth be told, we may not prioritize this during the year, but we definitely make extra effort during the nights of Ramadaan! Similarly, the recitation of the Holy Quran, which becomes a challenge through the other 11 months of the year, becomes an instinctive desire in Ramadaan! Beyond that, this is the month where we are more open-handed in giving charity. All welfare organizations will attest to this fact!
This is the month of Ramadaan, where the same people are not bothered through the rest of the year but are extra generous in Ramadaan and are more energized towards doing good! This is because our hearts are more ready in this month ie. our chests are expanded. This is the Divine Light installed in us!
Almighty Allah (SWT) expands the chest if He wants to favour us, towards guidance and truth. Therefore, it is a very dangerous signal if this status of “sharhus sadr” is not in our hearts in this month. Alarm bells should be ringing, because it means that Almighty Allah (SWT) invited us to be His guest, but somehow, we did not join the party!
We need to then check our hearts to see if it is ready to do something good in whatever form, to uplift you and take you in this journey towards Almighty Allah (SWT).
THE HUMANITARIAN CATASTROPHE IN YEMEN
Once again, we hope and pray to Almighty Allah (SWT) to broaden our hearts and expand our chests to achieve Hidayat (guidance) and try in our own capacity to achieve His pleasure and proximity in whatever way possible. This is not only through rituals, but most importantly in the form of sharing and realizing the pain and suffering of those less fortunate.
This is such a crucial reminder from the same sermon in the last Jumuah of Shabaan, delivered by our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA).
This Ramadaan, we witness the continued suffering of the people of Yemen and in different parts of the world. Just imagine how these downtrodden people are having Iftar under these circumstances!
New reports have emerged from the United Nations agencies regarding the human disaster happening in Yemen, and how people are dying out of starvation. This crisis is in the hands of human beings, quite frankly. It can be resolved, but unfortunately, arrogance and their ulterior motives to dominate does not allow a just solution to be achieved. Instead, it allows this catastrophic humanitarian disaster to continue.
VACCINE NATIONALISM HIGHLIGHTS THAT THIS WORLD CONTINUES TO BE UNEQUAL
Unfortunately, this selfishness rules everywhere! Covid-19 affected the whole world, with millions of people suffering directly or indirectly. Nobody can debate this fact. Now, when it comes to the vaccine rollout, we see the same selfish attitude is clearly seen in its distribution.
Rich countries are monopolizing and controlling the distribution of these vaccines! This is not just a claim, as the United Nations is acknowledging the ugly reality of how the rich nations are controlling the distribution of this vaccine, while it is needed much more in poorer countries, in particular for the poorer people who are much more vulnerable.
Then again, in this whole vaccination dilemma, we see how the pharmaceutical companies are profiteering. The whole scenario is driven by selfishness ruling the minds of human beings. This is where liberation is required from the inner prison which we are all held captive by.
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