Jumuah lecture on Friday 23 July 2021 (12 Dhul Hijja 1442)
Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider
Ahlul Bait (a.s) Masjid, Ottery, Cape Town
It is customary for us to conclude the first part of the Jumuah khutbah (sermon) with the following:
“Prepare yourself to take with you from this world, something which Allah (SWT) has honoured you with, namely Taqwa (God-consciousness) and good deeds. Nothing reaches to Allah (SWT) from the deeds of His servants, except those who are the most sincere and pure ones.”
I would like to use this as the basis of our discussion, since we repeat this in Arabic every Friday as part of the Jumuah khutbah, along with the last part of verse 27 of Surah Maa’ida (chapter 5 of the Holy Quran):
إِنَّمَا يَتَقَبَّلُ اللَّهُ مِنَ الْمُتَّقِينَ
“Allah only accepts of the sacrifice of those who are righteous.”
WHAT IS TAQWA?
The definition of Taqwa is a detailed discussion, but I wish to summarize what it is, as follows:
- Taqwa is that status and condition in ourselves, that when it reaches its climax and state of perfection, it is the status of infallibility. This is the stage where your level of Taqwa protects you from any form of Haraam (forbidden acts/disobedience of Almighty Allah (SWT)).
- Taqwa on the lower level, namely of a random person wishing to be good, has Taqwa on the level where he/she fears His displeasures. Verse 15 of Surah An’aam (chapter 6 of the Holy Quran) refers:
قُلْ إِنِّي أَخَافُ إِنْ عَصَيْتُ رَبِّي عَذَابَ يَوْمٍ عَظِيمٍ
Say: “I would, if I disobeyed my Lord, indeed have fear of the penalty of a Mighty Day.”
So, to illustrate the point, I first described the higher level of Taqwa, which is on the status of infallibility, and then Taqwa on a lower level.
TAQWA: THE BALANCE BETWEEN FEAR AND HOPE
To fear Almighty Allah (SWT) means to have the realization that we are accountable before Him. Sometimes, we find people who are believers, and apparently very pious too, in that they are very regular with their ibadah (acts of worship). They also make a concerted effort to stay away from Haraam.
Along with this commitment to the commandments of Almighty Allah (SWT), they also have a status of peace and satisfaction. They carry the trust and confidence (itminaan), since they believe they are doing lots of good and staying away from bad.
This state of “itminaan” can be very, very problematic, because you fool yourself into a false sense of security by virtue of your trust and confidence in your good deeds. As a result, that real spirit and substance of Taqwa, which is fear of Almighty Allah (SWT) in every condition, unfortunately disappears.
On the contrary, there are those who try their best to do whatever good deeds they can and abstain from forbidden acts. At the same time, the fear of Almighty Allah (SWT) rules over them. This is where I have derived the headline for today’s discussion, namely that the anxiety of a believer is a positive condition.
These people do everything that they are supposed to, yet that anxiety is still there, out of concern for whether their good deeds will be accepted or rejected in the court of Almighty Allah (SWT).
A mu’min (true believer) is always in this condition of flux between fear and hope. Such a person is not paralysed with fear of God (SWT) to the point of losing hope, as that would be a form of disbelief. Hence, a mu’min hangs onto that hope of the infinite mercy, kindness and compassion of Almighty Allah (SWT). However, this level of confidence does not reach the point of complacency.
This may appear to be a simple point, but this condition is often present in our character. We very often feel content with the little bit of good that we have done, which leads one to no longer have that fear of God (SWT).
The ideal position to be in is always a balance between fear and hope.
FEAR OF ALMIGHTY ALLAH (SWT) THROUGH THE EYES OF THE GRAND MARJA AYATOLLAH BORUJERDI
The great intellectual giant of the 20th century, Shaheed Ayatollah Murtaza Mutahhari (r.a), narrates that it was the time of passing away of the grand Marja of the time, Ayatollah Borujerdi (r.a) in Qom. At the time, arguably the majority of Shia Muslims in the world followed this grand spiritual authority. Indeed, he was a very pious person.
Shaheed Mutahhari (r.a) narrates that someone came to Ayatollah Borujerdi (r.a) before he departed from this world. Ayatollah Borujerdi (r.a) was found crying profusely, in deep anxiety, saying that he does not know what is going to happen to him as he will be departing this world soon. His fear was that he claimed to have nothing to offer in the court of Almighty Allah (SWT).
This is coming from this grand spiritual authority!
The person who came to see Ayatollah Borujerdi (r.a) was naturally perplexed and questioned why he of all people would be afraid, given his extremely high spiritual status. This person found it most strange that Ayatollah Borujerdi (r.a) is filled with anxiety, given the great contribution he has made in the service of Islam.
This person was saying that ordinary people like himself should be the ones filled with fear, and Ayatollah Borujerdi (r.a) should feel at ease since he is surely going to be favourably placed, with his lifelong sacrifice for Islam.
In an attempt to calm him down, this person then cites a few examples to Ayatollah Borujerdi (r.a) of the great work he has as his defence, namely the thousands of students he produced, and the schools, seminaries and mosques he established for Islamic propagation, amongst the many books he has written too. After listing these, this person then asks Ayatollah Borujerdi (r.a) why he would be worried with these very impressive achievements.
Ayatollah Borujerdi (r.a) gave a very thought-provoking response, saying that we should purify our good deeds, as the critique is very discerning ie. referring to Almighty Allah (SWT). He then asked the person if he knows the one who created the worker and work ie. the doer and the deed. He may choose the pearl from the pile of black stones and he may not see, in the work of the slave, anything but burning, smelly charcoal!
Ayatollah Borujerdi (r.a) says that this is how he looks at himself, because what we may perceive as good could well be very different in the eyes of Almighty Allah (SWT). This is what we also learn from verse 57 of Surah Israa’ (chapter 17 of the Holy Quran):
أُولَٰئِكَ الَّذِينَ يَدْعُونَ يَبْتَغُونَ إِلَىٰ رَبِّهِمُ الْوَسِيلَةَ أَيُّهُمْ أَقْرَبُ وَيَرْجُونَ رَحْمَتَهُ وَيَخَافُونَ عَذَابَهُ ۚ إِنَّ عَذَابَ رَبِّكَ كَانَ مَحْذُورًا
“Those whom they call upon, themselves seek the means of access to their Lord– whoever of them is nearest– and they hope for His mercy and fear His chastisement; surely the chastisement of your Lord is a thing to be cautious of.”
The last part of the above verse explains the anxiety that a true believer (mu’min) constantly experiences.
OUR TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS ARE A BLESSING FROM ALMIGHTY ALLAH (SWT)
Sometimes Almighty Allah (SWT) blesses us with something which we had long desired, and then we feel very proud, thinking that nothing can now happen to us which will set us back. You feel that you are sorted! Then all of sudden, one is struck with calamity which shakes your foundations! This then serves as a reminder that we are not in control. In fact, we are nothing, as Almighty Allah (SWT) is the One in control.
The true believer is hopeful for the infinite mercy of Almighty Allah (SWT), but at the same time, fearful of His punishment.
The situation we are living through today is indeed extremely difficult, and we beg from Almighty Allah (SWT) to relieve us. There are so many different challenges we are facing in our society and our country at large, from Covid-19 to the recent unrest, amongst everything else. The accumulation of all these issues makes one desperate at times. We therefore ask Almighty Allah (SWT) to relieve us.
At the same time, these difficulties and challenges are a gift from Almighty Allah (SWT), because they let us realize and understand that He is the supreme. This sense of consciousness of His superiority should at all times be foremost in our minds.
THE CANCEROUS PLAGUE OF RACISM WHICH CONTINUES TO BE A MALIGNANT SPREAD
Our own country, South Africa, is going through major strife. Thankfully, things have calmed over the past week with the unrest having ended. There is some semblance of relative peace as the massive clean up operation is now underway.
It is now also the time to reflect. There are so many things to learn from what occurred. One very serious disease plaguing our country for centuries, which we clearly do not want to get rid of, is that of RACISM! Unfortunately, this serious disease showed its ugly face yet again in this episode of unrest last week. This hate for people whom we regard as OTHER, and not US!
What we saw was racism initiated by some communities in response to the chaos of looting and infrastructure damage. While this unrest was indeed horrific, racism has absolutely no justification. If the looting was a criminal act, the reaction in the form of racist attitudes is exponentially worse than the looting of a supermarket or a factory, etc.
The way that people used racism supposedly in self-defence and in the name of protection of their property, to justify their attack is indeed the ugliest outcome of last week’s unrest.
NOBLE ACTS OF CHARITY CAN NEVER HEAL THE WOUNDS OF RACISM
We only saw people looting shops. But there was the other side of the spectrum to see how people reacted, and not only towards the looters, but towards anybody whose skin was black! Now, by offering food parcels and loads and loads of charity, the wounds inflicted with racist behaviour will not be healed through these acts of kindness.
The hurt which was created is simply too deep, which cannot be covered with charity. While charity is indeed noble, it does not absolve one from the crime committed through racism. In fact, it has long lasting effects through the divisions it creates in society. Racism presents an enduring challenge to the social cohesion of that society and gross mistrust permeates, creating vengeful reaction.
We see how it is in the world, where land is occupied, with its occupants killed, and then the killers bring humanitarian aid. This achieves absolutely nothing, and it does not make occupation legitimate. Therefore, any charity work cannot justify racism, because racism is downright WRONG! It is a crime and worse than the looting.
It is high time we accept and acknowledge that this cancer of racism is still very much malignant in our society. We simply have to cut it out from our thoughts and actions. For as long as we do not cut it out, it will simply spread like a cancer, and we will keep seeing such flare ups.
I wanted to connect this to the major discussion earlier, about the believer’s anxiety being a positive condition. With our so-called pious face, we often think that we are on the right path and feel like we have a license based on our true faith as believers, and we do so much good work, and we distribute so much food and we reach out to those in need.
The point I was making earlier is that a mu’min (true believer) having all these achievements still carries the anxiety of not having achieved anything, questioning the value of his/her good deeds in the court of Almighty Allah (SWT), like Ayatollah Borujerdi (r.a) explained.