Jumuah lecture on Friday 29 May 2020 (5 Shawaal 1441)
Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider
Ahlul Bait (a.s) Masjid, Ottery, Cape Town
Almighty Allah (SWT) addresses people with faith (Imaan) in His Holy Book and Divine message, the Holy Quran, and says the following in verse 153 of Surah Baqarah (chapter 2 of the Holy Quran):
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اسْتَعِينُوا بِالصَّبْرِ وَالصَّلَاةِ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ مَعَ الصَّابِرِينَ
“O ye who believe! seek help with patient perseverance and prayer; for Allah is with those who patiently persevere.”
With this crucial command and advice of Almighty Allah (SWT), we are asked in the face of challenges, to seek help and support from two elements or key pillars in our lives. Hardships and difficulties are part of life. If anyone wants to achieve anything in this world, he has no option but to face these challenges.
The question is how to respond to these challenges which is a common reality in our lives. They are there, whether we like it or not, whether we want it or not. The question therefore is about how to face these challenges and how to overcome them.
The Holy Quran commands us to seek help in two aspects of our life, in dealing with challenges. This is expressed in the above verse, namely perseverance and prayers. In other words, the Holy Quran is telling us that these two commitments are required to fight back the challenges in life. These are dependent on the commitment from yourself and dependent on your own energy and capacity, and secondly, dependence on Almighty Allah (SWT).
SABR IS ACTIVE PERSEVERANCE RATHER THAN PASSIVE SURRENDER
Success and victory are not possible without these two elements. The first is sabr (perseverance), which is a crucial element in facing any problem in our lives. Sabr is often misunderstood as meaning to submit or surrender, or simply to remain silent instead of upsetting the status quo. This is not Sabr, as Sabr is expressed in the Holy Quran and the teachings of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) and the Ahlul Bait (a.s) as a positive quality.
Sabr does not mean to surrender or compromise with the conditions. Sabr is in fact resistance, and not to give up. Sabr is about utilizing all your energies and capacities in the most rational manner, to face the challenges.
Our religious scholars have explained that in Akhlaq (moral character), there are 3 types of Sabr:
1. Sabr in obedience of Almighty Allah (SWT);
2. Sabr on the sins;
3. Sabr on hardships and calamities
SABR ON OBEDIENCE OF ALMIGHTY ALLAH (SWT)
This means that we require Sabr to obey His command. A very simple example is fasting, which requires us to control ourselves and stay away from temptations. We are required to control our desires, and Sabr directs our desires in the right direction. There are many examples to demonstrate that Sabr is required in obeying the commands of Almighty Allah (SWT).
You require this energy and capacity, and that is why I am repeatedly saying that Sabr is not to surrender and compromise to fit into the present conditions. This would be tantamount to silence and giving up. Sabr is a power!
SABR ON THE SIN
This is when Almighty Allah (SWT) forbids you from doing something and you control yourself with that power. This is patience and fortitude, which is a positive force. There are so many things which we like to eat, see, hear and do, which are all sinful acts forbidden by Almighty Allah (SWT). Now, against this background, having Sabr means to control your desires. Again, this is a powerful force, rather than to surrender.
SABR ON HARDSHIPS AND CALAMITIES
This can be individual or collectively, and the question is how we respond to these challenges. Do we respond sensibly, without being irresponsible and losing focus? Do we use whatever energy and capacity we have to face the challenge head on, in a rational manner, be it an individual or communal challenge?
The key point is how do you respond when you face a challenge or a disaster, such as a natural disaster or financial disaster, or a health-related calamity?
The current crisis is a challenge we need to all grapple with. We as South Africans, and humanity as a whole, are facing a very critical challenge in COVID-19 and its effect on different levels of society. It has brought humanity to its knees. It has challenged our capacity and energy and shaken our social norms of life.
In this sense, Sabr means to response to this challenge with rationality, and understanding this challenge and looking for what is the best possible way to respond. As we are very well aware, the whole world is faced with the very serious challenge of our lifestyle having changed, under the headline of social distancing.
Lockdowns and the resultant closure of places of crowd gatherings and renewed focus on hygiene are indeed examples of Sabr.
SABR COMMANDS A RATIONAL RESPONSE TO CHALLENGES
The guiding principles in this particular verse 153 of Surah Baqarah is that we need to depend on two key elements in facing any challenge. First is Sabr, which is our contribution, focussed on how we respond to this critical challenge and calamity. There are numerous side effects which requires a great amount of sacrifice of liberties and civil rights which we have taken for granted all along.
There is hardly any topic in the Holy Quran which places as much emphasis than on Sabr, and this quality is highlighted almost 70 times! This is Sabr in the sense of power, commitment and perseverance, instead of surrendering and giving up.
Sabr is acting rationally, with focused attention. Everyone is clear on this recommendation of the Holy Quran when facing challenges and calamities.
DEPENDENCE ON ALMIGHTY ALLAH (SWT) COMBINED WITH SABR OVERCOMES CHALLENGES
Aside from Sabr and depending on your own perseverance, fortitude, energy and capacity in facing challenges, we find that Quran emphasizes that we also need to have dependence on Almighty Allah (SWT). This connection to Almighty Allah (SWT) is a requirement.
Salaah (prayer) as mentioned in this verse of the Holy Quran cited earlier, is symbolic of our contact with our Creator and Lord, Almighty Allah (SWT). I would like to clarify that from our point of view, Sabr cannot rescue us on its own.
If we do not have the connection with Almighty Allah (SWT) and this spiritual aspect coming along with our personal commitment and sacrifice, then it is not going to be fruitful or lead to success. Therefore, spirituality, acts of worship, supplication (dua), prayers, dialogue with Almighty Allah (SWT) is absolutely critical, as it highlights our full dependence on Him.
SABR AND DEPENDENCE ON ALMIGHTY ALLAH (SWT) IN THE CONTEXT OF COVID-19
This critical command of Almighty Allah (SWT) therefore became a reality with our current situation, whereby the lockdown, social distancing, personal hygiene are all important precautions to take in order to stop the spread of the terrible coronavirus.
Perhaps we were successful to a certain extent, but at the same time, we are today sitting with serious issues impacting the mental wellbeing of the people. We are faced with a serious reality of trauma and isolation.
This trauma is largely driven by a lack of space to express yourself and connect with your Lord (SWT). Places of worship connect us to Almighty Allah (SWT) and brings us out of that vulnerable position of isolation. Therefore, we read in this verse noted above “ista-eenu bissabr wassalaat”.
Indeed, people who look at any challenge and calamity from purely a material aspect cannot understand the significant role of this second element of connection with Almighty Allah (SWT) and spirituality. The reason is that they do not believe in spirituality, or anything beyond this material world. Hence, the solutions which they offer are limited to their material approach.
OUR RELIGIOUS COMMITMENT AFTER RAMADAAN
I would like to remind you all, now that the month of Ramadaan has successfully completed. We all had to make great sacrifices this year, as our mosques and Islamic centres were on lockdown. We could not get together the way we are accustomed to, but still, the environment of Ramadaan somehow kept us connected to this spiritual aspect of our lives.
We were fasting, which in itself created a great deal of consciousness. There was endless variety of programs available online, locally in South Africa as well as a wide array of choices available internationally. The wide range of programs across the world all had one objective, and that was to reconnect us with our Lord (SWT).
We were connected to each other as followers in faith through virtual platforms and then connected through this mode to Almighty Allah (SWT). This kept us going.
Now that Ramadaan has passed, this spiritual environment is not there. Lockdowns are now reducing to level 3, indicating some level of normality returning to life. We are now sitting with this added challenge, that very little attention will be devoted to this spiritual aspect of our personality.
We may not feel it right now, nor will we realise right now what we are losing, but not very long after this period is gone, we are going to realise that we are lost. We will realise that we are sitting with serious challenges within us ie. diseases of the mind and heart.
Therefore, my humble advice and request is to continue practicing our levels of spirituality in our own capacity, to be connected to Almighty Allah (SWT) through Salaah, recitation of the Holy Quran, duas (supplications) and by listening to the lectures and joining communities online in that way.
AHLUL BAIT (A.S) MOSQUE COMPLEX REMAINS UNDER LOCKDOWN UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE
As we are all aware, in this level 3 of lockdown, places of worship are allowed to reopen, subject to a wide range of restrictions which need to be strictly followed. Considering our situation in the Western Cape, we will not be able to reopen our Mosque at this point in time.
Insha Allah, once the conditions ease further, then we will reassess and announce accordingly. Programs will continue online. Once again, my key recommendation is to keep connected and thereby keep the spiritual aspect alive in our daily program.
Let us pray to Almighty Allah (SWT) to shower His mercy and favours on our country and this world, and more particularly our own province, which is currently the epicentre of this disease in South Africa, where there is a high infection rate, with mortality numbers also being the highest.
We witness that there is also a high number of people on ventilators in ICU due to the high infection rate in Cape Town. Our health system is under immense pressure as a result.
We make dua that may Almighty Allah (SWT) grant all those who are sick a complete recovery and may He make it easy for all those families who are suffering from the lockdown due to having lost any source of income. Their challenge is no less than those who are sick. May Almighty Allah (SWT) make it easy for them, for the sake of Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) and his purified Ahlul Bait (a.s).
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