Jumuah lecture on Friday 8 March 2019 (1 Rajab 1440)
by Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider
at the Ahlul Bait (a.s) Masjid, Ottery, Cape Town
Respected brothers and sisters, we have now entered the great month of Rajab, which signals the start of the season of spirituality in the Islamic calendar. It is the time when we are supposed to reflect on the state of our inner self (soul), by purifying it through various acts of worship (Ibadah).
Then, of course, we gradually move to the next month, which is Shabaan, and then culminating with the divine feast, being the month of Ramadaan. These 2 months (Rajab and Shabaan) prepare us to be ready and capable of receiving the great month of Ramadaan and all its bounties.
This month of Rajab also has a number of important dates to remember significant events in our Islamic history. I would like to draw your attention to the first, today specifically, which is the first of Rajab, as it coincides with the birthday of the 5th Imam of Ahlul Bait (a.s), Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s).
THE PURIFIED ANCESTRY OF IMAM MUHAMMAD BAQIR (A.S)
The lineage of Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s) from his father’s side is as follows. He is the:
- Son of Imam Zainul Abideen (a.s)
- Grandson of Imam Hussain (a.s)
- Great grandson of Imam Ali (a.s) and Lady Fatima (s.a)
Even from the lineage of the mother of Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s), we see that he is connected ultimately through Imam Hassan (a.s). Through this lineage from his mother’s side and father’s side, we see how closely Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s) is connected to our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA).
Some very important aspects of the life of Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s) will be the topic of today’s Jumuah khutbah.
Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s) is regarded as one of the leaders of this family of Rasulullah (SAWA) ie. Ahlul Bait (a.s). Religious scholars of Islam across the spectrum, meaning not only the followers of the Ahlul Bait (a.s) or Shia, respected Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s) as the most pious person of his time with great Akhlaq (moral character), Taqwa (God consciousness) and Ilm (knowledge).
That well-known Hadith which is recorded in both Sunni and Shia resources says that Jabir ibn Abdullah Ansari (r.a) (the companion of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA)) was told the following by Rasulullah (SAWA):
“Oh Jabir, you will live until you meet a grandson of mine, whose name will be my name, and he will open the chapters of knowledge and information toward my Ummah. Please convey my salaams to him.”
Jabir (r.a) did exactly this in the life of Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s)!
Now, this particular aspect of what Rasulullah (SAWA) predicted ie. Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s) will open the gate of knowledge and wisdom for the Muslim nation (Ummah) is really very significant to understand the great contribution made by this Imam.
IMAM MUHAMMAD BAQIR (A.S) LIVED DURING POLITICAL TURMOIL
Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s) was born in the year 57AH and passed away in the year 117AH. So, he lived during the latter part of the first century and early part of the second century of Islam. There were a number of political challenges which the Muslim nation (Ummah) was facing during this time.
This was the time of the downfall of the Umayyad dynasty and the rise of the Abbasid dynasty. So there was this political turmoil. Then also during this time we see the vast expansion of the Islamic state and the entry of different sciences and ideologies in the Islamic state, and especially the capital.
This permeated in the religious clergy at the time as well, and the political authority exploited ideological positions to justify their actions. This challenging background resulted in serious ideological diversions for the pure Islamic doctrinal position.
One example of this is the issue of Jabr ie. compulsion. It is in this era where this concept of compulsion was promoted. People were duped into believing that whatever happens is purely by the decree of Almighty Allah (SWT), and we have no say over our actions. So, we should be happy with whatever happens.
Now, those in power promoted this particular trend of thought to justify their actions, that whatever happens (good or bad) is purely through the will of Allah (SWT) and we must accept it as it is and not react negatively.
This is just one example of many challenges existing during the time of Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s). Other influences from Hindi and Greek ideologies also occurred during this time and numerous questions which resulted from this infiltration.
In fact, the whole phenomenon of atheism and materialist approach infiltrated the Islamic society too, at that time. There were strong tendencies towards the notion of this world being material, and created as an accident, as there is no God.
Similarly, diversions and deviations presented themselves in the form of ideological, theoretical, philosophical and intellectual challenges, during the time of Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s). These challenges by their very nature were quite severe.
IMAM MUHAMMAD BAQIR (A.S) RESPONDS TO DEVIATION WITH ACADEMICALLY SOUND CHALLENGES
These diversions and deviations also presented themselves in the close circles of Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s) and the followers of Ahlul Bait (a.s). Extremism was another serious phenomenon challenging that society, where people claimed that they loved the Ahlul Bait (a.s), but at the same went way overboard and crossed the boundaries in this supposed love, whereby they attributed the attributes of God (SWT) to the Ahlul Bait (a.s), and in particular to Imam Ali ibn abi Talib (a.s).
This was another diversion impacting from within the followers of Ahlul Bait (a.s). This particular diversion resulted in many people accusing the Ahlul Bait (a.s) of committing Shirk (associating partners with Allah (SWT)) and that they deviated from the path of Tauheed by declaring for themselves the attributes and divine characteristics of Almighty Allah (SWT).
These people fabricated Hadith narrations, and connected them to the Ahlul Bait (a.s). The background to how this occurred is indeed a detailed discussion, but in short, the huge expansion of the Islamic state over a very short period of time resulted in these intellectual, philosophical, and sometimes politically motivated challenges emerged.
Now, against the backdrop of this reality facing the society, we see that Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s) decided to undertake this Jihad (struggle) of knowledge to defend the pure and pristine Islamic ideology and philosophy, and broader Islamic outlook on this world and its creation and existence.
Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s) was also fortunate enough, that due to the clashes between the Umayyad dynasty and their opponents, the attention of the ruling authority was not as heavily focused on the Ahlul Bait (a.s).
It therefore created a relatively calm environment where Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s) and the followers of the Ahlul Bait (a.s) could teach and establish academic activities, especially in Madina, to the extent that when this Imam and his son, Imam Jafar Sadiq (a.s), ascended to the pulpit of Masjidun Nabi, thousands of pens would be in motion to record their teachings.
IMAM MUHAMMAD BAQIR (A.S) ESTABLISHES ACADEMIC EXCELLENCE OF AHLUL BAIT (A.S)
There are narrators of Hadith who have recorded thousands of Hadith from Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s). Similarly, there are debates of Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s) recorded with the atheists and materialists, and similarly with others whose position has deviated in their understanding of the Islamic ideology and Islamic thought.
The lessons conducted by Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s) in Masjidun Nabi in Madina did not only attract the followers of the Ahlul Bait (a.s) in his congregation. In fact, it attracted a much broader audience in the Islamic Ummah, and amongst them were great scholars in Islamic history.
What is really important to note is the amazing balance we find, that on the one hand Imam Muhammad al-Baqir’s (a.s) struggle was to protect the pure and pristine teachings of Islam, especially on Tauheed and related matters which became hot subjects of controversy, like the matter of Jabr (compulsion) noted earlier.
This issue of compulsion became such a big problem, where people would have nothing but despair, claiming that their hands are tied and they have no say on their destiny because everything happens by the divine decree of Almighty Allah (SWT). In direct contrast to those who held this ideological position were those who believed that Almighty Allah (SWT) created us and left us free to do whatever we want!
It is in this chaos where Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s) emerges to clarify that both extreme views of compulsion and unlimited freedom are not correct. So, we see that Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s) very firmly resisted against these deviations.
In fiqh (jurisprudence), we see for example, that the issue of Qiyas (analogies) and analogical conclusions using our own intellect to justify religious decrees (fatwas) was another serious challenge which started in the time of Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s).
Again, we see that Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s) resisted, explaining that analogies do not produce credible conclusions. He further explained that the religion of Almighty Allah (SWT) is dependent on the text of the Holy Quran and the text of the Prophetic Sunnah of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA), which is sufficient to respond to all the challenges of our time and the future. We therefore do not need to resort to analogies to resolve our issues.
As noted earlier, the issue of exaggeration and extremism amongst the followers of Ahlul Bait (a.s) was a very, very serious challenge. Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s) addressed this issue decisively, referring to these people as enemies, and even requested his followers to dissociate with people who hold this mentality, as they are abusing the name of Ahlul Bait (a.s) and making people become resistant to the Ahlul Bait (a.s) through this flawed beliefs which they are ascribing to the Ahlul Bait (a.s).
Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s) made it abundantly clear that they, the Ahlul Bait (a.s), are servants of Almighty Allah (SWT) and He is our creator. He furthermore stated the true Islamic position, that Almighty Allah (SWT) is the source of power etc.
There was also another big debate regarding the reality of the Holy Quran, along the lines of specific theological discussions, where Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s) responded decisively. Then, there were also debates about Prophethood and the infallibility of Prophets (a.s), which Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s) needed to address in an academically robust manner.
The list goes on and on…the main theme dominating the Imamat of Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s) was his decisive and firm approach to the ideological challenges, without compromise, but with sound reasoning and rational arguments.
IMAM MUHAMMAD BAQIR PROMOTED FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION
I would like to link this to the next point about the life and strategies of Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s). He never stopped people from expressing their diverse thoughts. Indeed, Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s) was heavily opposed to extremism, in any form.
His approach was to allow people to think differently and express themselves, as he did not allow an extremist approach in combating extremism. His emphasis was on responding rationally, with sound arguments and reasoning, instead of declaring fatwas of Kufr (decrees of disbelief) etc.
Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s) allowed people with differences to interact with each other. He did not suppress this platform. There is a great companion of Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s) by the name of Zurarah ibn A’yan. I don’t think there is anybody else who is as greatly praised by the Ahlul Bait (a.s) than this great personality.
He has narrated thousands of Hadith from the Ahlul Bait (a.s), and he was the prime student of Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s) and Imam Jafar Sadiq (a.s).
One day, this man, Zurarah ibn A’yan, came to Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s) to discuss our yardstick when we interact with people, be it friends or enemies. Zurarah ibn A’yan explained that we only interact and establish friendships with whoever is Shia and a follower of the Ahlul Bait (a.s) in their ideological position. We believe it is only such people who are on the path of salvation, and we have nothing to do with those who differ with us, as such people are destined for doom. This was how Zurarah ibn A’yan presented his yardstick to Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s).
Let us now look at how rationally Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s) responded to this approach of his dear companion Zurarah ibn A’yan. Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s) started by asking Zurarah whether his approach is correct or that of the Holy Quran…
Naturally, Zurarah responded that he is nothing and that the statements of Almighty Allah (SWT) in the Holy Quran are correct. So, Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s) responds by saying that if that is the case, then what do you, Zurarah, say about verse 98 of Surah Nisaa (chapter 4 of the Holy Quran), which reads as follow:
إِلَّا الْمُسْتَضْعَفِينَ مِنَ الرِّجَالِ وَالنِّسَاءِ وَالْوِلْدَانِ لَا يَسْتَطِيعُونَ حِيلَةً وَلَا يَهْتَدُونَ سَبِيلًا
“Except the weak from among the men and the children who have not in their power the means nor can they find a way (to escape)”
The response of Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s) to Zurarah takes this matter onto a different level, beyond Islam. Zurarah is saying that even within Islam, his approach is not to have any relations with those who are not followers of Ahlul Bait (a.s). Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s) explains that this verse goes beyond Islam, to say that those oppressed on whom the doors of guidance have been closed, have been granted an exemption. They are not really regarded as disbelievers or enemies for that matter.
So, Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s) is challenging Zurarah that it is not correct for him to regard his own Muslim brethren as outcasts when the Holy Quran grants an exemption for even the non-Muslims who were weak and oppressed, unable to escape the environment of injustice, to the extent that they do not have access to true Islam ie. they did not deliberately reject Islam. Hence, Islam does not regard such people as enemies. Hence, how can we regard those within Islam as our enemies?
Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s) further challenges Zurarah on those people whom the Holy Quran describes as having hope in Almighty Allah (SWT). These are people who could not reach to the ultimate guidance, but they are hopeful.
Then, Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s) further explains the position outlined in the Holy Quran that we should even give Zakat to non-Muslims and you hope that their hearts will melt and will be inclined towards Islam.
Zurarah ibn A’yan, with all his knowledge had to bow down to the Quranic reality espoused by Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s). This explains the balanced academic approach of Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s).
Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s) strongly believed in peaceful coexistence with others, as this was the Prophetic message emphasized in various Hadith narrations. Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s) explains that we should even meet with a hypocrite. We do not need to fight with him, but we should purify our love for a true believer (Mu’min).
Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s) further explains that even if we have meetings with a Jew, who are regarded from that time until today as the worst enemies of Islam, we should seek to establish cordial relations based upon noble moral character, because this is how we will convey to others what we believe in.
This is the combination and contrast of principles and at the same time social engagement with the masses, which we learn from the life of Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s).
CLARIFICATION POINT ON MOONSIGHTING FOR RAJAB 1440
We announced that the moon as sighted last night (Thursday night), resulting in today (Friday) being 1st Rajab 1440. Muslim organizations and Ulama bodies in South Africa have apparently announced that the moon was not sighted, and that 1st Rajab will be tomorrow (Saturday).
First of all, this should not be an issue to create disunity. Difference of opinion in the Muslim nation (Ummah) is a Rahmah (blessing) and should not be used for sowing disunity. This is a fiqh issue. There can be such differences within Sunni and within Shia, where different authorities within these 2 schools will hold different fiqh positions amongst them. This does not make them enemies, nor does it cause disunity amongst them.
The basis of our conclusion on moonsighting last night was not as a result of the moon being sighted anywhere within South Africa. In fact, we do not have any evidence of moonsighting in South Africa last night. However, we do have sufficient credible evidence of moonsighting in areas close enough to us, who share our horizon, for example in Reunion, Tanzania, etc. This means that there is a high probability that we could also have seen the new moon if there were no obstacles, such as clouds for example. We could have then seen it via telescope or by naked eye.
As you know, the lunar cycles differ on a monthly basis. However, according to astronomical calculations, we shared the same sphere where the possibility of sighting was equal, in this particular lunar cycle. So, the possibility of sighting in Reunion was no different to the possibility of sighting in Cape Town, for this month. However, the new moon for Rajab was not sighted in Cape Town, but it was sighted in Reunion (without telescope as well), and on that basis, we declared today to be the 1st Rajab 1440.
According to Ayatollah Khamenei, sighting by telescope is sufficient. At the same time, Ayatollah Sistani’s ruling is that sighting by telescope is not sufficient, and therefore requires sighting by naked eye as well.
These are some of the criteria for establishing moonsighting according to Jafari fiqh or the school of Ahlul Bait (a.s), on which the rulings of Ayatollah Khamenei and Ayatollah Sistani are based.
Of course, the opinion of others is highly respected and understood, and this should really not be an issue for no reason, especially when there is no highly sensitive moonsighting involved, such as for Ramadaan or Eid! So, it is not such a serious issue to make it a point of difference and dispute.
This month of Rajab is highly significant to focus on our spirituality, and focus on the numerous supplications and acts of worship recommended during this month.