Jumuah lecture on Friday 22 October 2021 (15 Rabiul Auwal 1443)
Maulana Syed Aftab Haider
Ahlul Bait (a.s) Masjid
Ottery, Cape Town
We are in the week of the great celebrations of the Milad and birthday of the best of creation of Almighty Allah (SWT), the seal of His Prophets, and final of His Messengers, our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA). These joyous days provide us the ideal opportunity and excuse to take a step back and review our relationship with our Nabi, our Rasul, our leader and example (SAWA).
While these days provide us an emotional and passionate connection to our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA), it also grants us the opportunity to reflect where we stand today as his Ummah (nation), in light of his teachings, Prophetic lifestyle (Seerah) and his noble mission.
This auspicious week is also very importantly celebrated as Unity Week because there is no one more appropriate to provide the foundation for the unity of the Muslim Ummah. I would like to add that nobody has provided the foundation for the unity of humanity at large, more than our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA).
Rasulullah (SAWA) is beyond any doubt the axis of unity. The very basic fibre of his Prophetic message in that dark Arab society of compound ignorance (Jahiliyyah) was unity!
RASULULLAH (SAWA) ARRIVED TO REFORM AN ILLITERATE AND UNCIVILIZED SOCIETY
There were two very, very serious problems in the Arabian society at the time of the arrival of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA).
The first was divisions in society. Internal fights and civil wars were commonplace. I don’t think history has seen a society more fragmented than the Arab society of that time when our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) arrived in this world. Divisions and disputes were based upon ethnicity, tribalism, economic status, skin colour, and other issues of absolutely no value, which was a very serious challenge at the time.
The second serious problem was ignorance and superstitious beliefs, in the form of idol-worshipping, and in fact, ignorance in how the whole society functioned.
Rasulullah (SAWA) emerged in this divided and very scattered society with the message of unity and a messenger of rationality and reasoning against compound ignorance.
These two qualities of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) are most outstanding in terms of the influential impact they had in that Arabian society.
MADINA WELCOMED RASULULLAH (SAWA) AS A UNITER AFTER MECCA SANCTIONED HIM AS A REBEL
The great 13th century poet and mystic, Rumi, very beautifully explains that we, the Muslim Ummah, came to connect and unite! This was the message of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA). Those who were sober minded but suffering from the challenge of division, disunity and internal fights, realized that Rasulullah (SAWA) was their saving grace!
If you compare the Meccan and Madani society of that time, we understand from history that Mecca resisted against Rasulullah (SAWA). These were supposedly his own people, but they tortured him.
Madina, on the other hand, welcomed Rasulullah (SAWA). They accepted him and he therefore managed to very quickly establish his first exemplary state in Madina. There are many reasons behind this success, but the key reason for the people of Madina to be attracted to Rasulullah (SAWA) so easily, without strong resistance, was because Madina was suffering from internal wars between the Aws and Khazraj.
Yathrib, as Madina was known by at that time, was inhabited by two tribes ie. Aws and Khazraj. Then also, Jews use to live on the outskirts of Madina, and they also had numerous tribes. Now, these two tribes, the Aws and Khazraj, use to fight over any trivial thing for centuries! The Jews living on the outskirts of Madina use to make pledges with the group that was advantageous to them in the prevailing conflict.
RASULULLAH (SAWA) WON THE CONFIDENCE OF MADINA TO STOP MINDLESS CIVIL WARS
One of the reasons why the people of Madina surrendered so easily to our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) and the introduction of Islam was because they saw he could be a unifying factor. History has recorded that the small group of people who approached Rasulullah (SAWA) to take the first pledge of allegiance, addressed him saying:
“You know that great differences existed between Aws and Khazraj over centuries, which resulted in bloodshed and caused our society to be completely destabilized and destroyed.
But we love you and we surrender to you, because we believe that with trust in Allah (SWT), you are the one who will be able to bring this war and division to an end.”
This was their understanding of the Prophetic message! Rasulullah (SAWA) propagated God-consciousness (Taqwa) and belief in One God (monotheism/Tauheed). His message was beyond racism, tribalism, economic classes, etc. They could feel in the early years of Islam that this message can rescue the society and bring solidarity and social cohesion.
Many orientalists, such as John Davenport for example, who published the well-known book 150 years ago titled “An Apology for Mohammed and the Koran”, beautifully stated therein that it was only the noble, moral character and divine message of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) which could successfully unite a society that was divided on many fronts.
This is also consistent with what the Holy Quran describes in verse 63 of Surah Anfaal (chapter , that it is Almighty Allah (SWT) who created softness in the heart of Rasulullah (SAWA) to achieve unity, which could not have been achieved without His divine decree, even if Rasulullah (SAWA) had spent everything in this world:
وَأَلَّفَ بَيْنَ قُلُوبِهِمْ ۚ لَوْ أَنْفَقْتَ مَا فِي الْأَرْضِ جَمِيعًا مَا أَلَّفْتَ بَيْنَ قُلُوبِهِمْ وَلَٰكِنَّ اللَّهَ أَلَّفَ بَيْنَهُمْ ۚ إِنَّهُ عَزِيزٌ حَكِيمٌ
And united their hearts; had you spent all that is in the earth, you could not have united their hearts, but Allah united them; surely He is Mighty, Wise.
RASULULLAH (SAWA) HAD AN UNCOMPROMISING POSITION ON UNITY AS THE MAIN PRIORITY
Rasulullah (SAWA) established the foundation of unity upon migrating to Madina. He signed approximately three contracts there, to create this united society, with the non-Muslims and also to establish brotherhood between the Ansar and Muhajirun, as the migrants and supporters.
We also see from history how sensitive he was on this issue of brotherhood. In the Battle of Banu Mustaliq, there was a conflict between the Muhajir and Ansar over water, which was also conveniently exploited by some of the hypocrites to sensationalize the issue and create disunity amongst the Ummah.
Rasulullah (SAWA) immediately commanded that his party move right away, given the sensitivity of this issue on the brotherhood he was working tirelessly to achieve. They were moving along day and night to get to Madina as quickly as possible, pausing along the journey only for Salaah. It was against this backdrop that Surah Munafiqun (chapter 63 of the Holy Quran) was revealed, and the issue was addressed accordingly.
The point I am trying to highlight is the sensitivity of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) towards unity, ensuring that the relationship between the diverse groups in society is strengthened.
It is famously recorded that Rasulullah (SAWA) would address the people saying that “on you it is incumbent to be together as one community and I warn you against divisions.” There is also that very well-known statement, which is filled with rich meaning, where he says “Jama’ah (congregation) is the Rahmah (compassion and mercy) of Almighty Allah (SWT)!”
We learn from this that unity is the manifestation of the compassion and mercy of Almighty Allah (SWT), and conversely, division and disunity is the manifestation of His punishment.
RASULULLAH (SAWA) NEVER EXPLOITED THE IGNORANCE OF THE MASSES
The other important point is that in achieving this unity, Rasulullah (SAWA) did not simply project the rhetoric of unity. It was not just lip service! What is most important to analyse is the practical steps Rasulullah (SAWA) took to establish unity. Here, we see that he established his program of propagation based upon rationality! This is the backbone of his approach to achieving unity!
Our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) never exploited the ignorance (jahl) of the people or played with their emotions to garner support. Let me relay a very simple example to illustrate the point. Rasulullah (SAWA) had a son by the name of Ibrahim passed away at a very young age. Rasulullah (SAWA) loved him dearly and was naturally grieving at his passing.
Coincidentally, there was a sun eclipse on the same day he buried his son. People started creating a story that the reason for the solar eclipse is because the heart of Rasulullah (SAWA) is sad, and therefore the sun is also sharing in his mourning.
Rasulullah (SAWA) immediately intervened upon hearing this story being cooked up, commanding everyone to gather in the mosque. He then explained to everyone from the mimbar, that the sun eclipse is a natural phenomenon from the system which Almighty Allah (SWT) has created.
Rasulullah (SAWA) could have played on this story to further his agenda of promoting Islam, and it would have been very effective in that society where superstitions were prevalent. However, he categorically denounced any connection of the eclipse with the death of his son. He does not need fake stories to prove his point!
This incident gives deeper insight into the noble, rational manner that Rasulullah (SAWA) used to present the divine message, which follows the command of Almighty Allah (SWT) in verse 125 of Surah Nahl (chapter 16 of the Holy Quran):
ادْعُ إِلَىٰ سَبِيلِ رَبِّكَ بِالْحِكْمَةِ وَالْمَوْعِظَةِ الْحَسَنَةِ ۖ وَجَادِلْهُمْ بِالَّتِي هِيَ أَحْسَنُ
Invite (all) to the Way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious.
This verse makes reference to the three methods of Da’wah (Islamic propagation):
- Hikmah – pure philosophical, rational, intellectual approach
- Mou’idhatil hasana – good advice, which has some emotional aspects involved
- Mujadila – debates
We note from this verse that the first approach is Hikmah, as that is about reasoning with concrete proofs. This was the approach consistently applied by Rasulullah (SAWA), whether he was in war or whether he was in the hostile environment of Mecca!
We also note this consistent trend with the first migration to Ethiopia, which was a decision based on rationality, and similarly his migration from Mecca to Madina, and his decisions on war, and the list goes on and on.
HAVE WE PROGRESSED TOWARDS ACHIEVING REAL UNITY?
These are two very important principles from the Prophetic Seerah (lifestyle), namely the message of unity and rationality. Unfortunately, we see the Muslim Ummah (nation) continue to face both challenges!
Unity continues to be a serious challenge on a macro level as well as micro level in our society. At the same time, let me acknowledge that things are a lot better than what it used to be in our community. The extent of the hate campaign experienced prior to the Durban Mosque attack, which was filled with the vitriolic flames of sectarianism from the Mimbar (pulpit), has largely subsided. Alhamdu Lillah, this is commendable, but it is not good enough!
We still have clear barriers dividing us, even if we Shia Muslims are no longer being castigated as renegades and being subjected to abusive language. The problem is that we Shia Muslims are still not being readily accepted. Hence, upholding that Prophetic lifestyle and Quranic command of dialogue based upon rationality still remains a far-fetched dream rather than a reality!
Let me ask a frank question. Do we see the leadership of different schools of thought within Islam sharing a platform of dialogue with us Shia Muslims? UNFORTUNATELY NOT!
For almost all of the religious leadership of our Sunni brothers, coming to the Ahlul Bait (a.s) Masjid continues to be a serious allergy! The question is WHY?
Rasulullah (SAWA) did not have any fear in speaking to even non-Muslims. He engaged in dialogue with anybody. Why do we then have a fear of dialogue inside the house of Islam and Ummah of Rasulullah (SAWA)?
REAL UNITY OUT OF FREE WILL VERSUS TOLERANCE OUT OF NO OPTION
What we currently have is a very fragile unity. It is NOT a unity based upon rationality and dialogue. The unity we see is more of tolerance, out of no option, instead of acceptance out of free will and understanding! We are very far from this level of unity, where we accept and understand each other, and appreciate our ideological differences. This is the level where we agree that disunity is a defect.
Diversity of approaches is neither bad nor a defect. Rather, it creates an environment of dialogue and progressive thought. Evolution of thought is impossible without acceptance of diversity. How can there ever be intellectual enrichment if everyone has to follow the same line of thinking?
Unfortunately, we are still very far from this objective.
In this masjid of the Ahlul Bait (a.s), we continue to try our level best to open the channels of dialogue with the broader community of South Africa, including Christian and other faith traditions, because we believe there is lots we can share, despite our ideological differences.
We adopt this approach based on the wording of Imam Ali (a.s) which has been overwhelmingly repeated: “People are of two types, either your brothers in faith or your equals in humanity.” This humanity ought to be much stronger with people of the same faith who face the same Qibla in prayer!
Needless to say, the channels of dialogue, sharing and understanding and acceptance of each other still appear to be closed. It is high time we progress on this agenda towards real unity!