13 August 2021 (5th Muharram 1443)
Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider
Ahlul Bait (a.s) Masjid, Ottery, Cape Town
In our discussion last night, we had spoken about a major institution in the Quran, namely Amr bil Maroof (enjoining towards good) and Nahi anil Munkar (forbidding against evil). Based on the verses described as well as the collective accountability we have as an ummah, fulfilling this duty is of utmost importance.
Furthermore, we had said that Imam Husayn’s (as) stand in Karbala was the ultimate manifestation of this Quranic injunction. As per his words in his final will to Muhammad ibn Hanafiyyah (ra), performing Amr bil Maroof and Nahi anil Munkar was what the Imam (as) desired to achieve with his mission.
Imam Husayn (as) fulfilled this obligation at a deep level within that Umayyad society. The Imam (as), by taking this stand, categorically showed that he was not fighting against symptoms, but rather against the root cause.
He was not fighting with the mere performance of certain rituals, but against the corruption and deviation that had allowed for such practices to arise in the first place.
In Imam Husayn’s (as) understanding, Amr bil Maroof needed to manifest in the form of speaking truth to the oppressive power. Arguably, this may be the most important lesson we learn from this movement.
As I mentioned previously, this is an incredibly vast discussion and synthesizing the entire topic into one night cannot do justice to the subject.
In order to perform this duty, certain circumstances and conditions need to be met. Additionally, not every person is suitable to perform this deed, while there are also stages to performing it in society.
We have the example of Imam Husayn (as) who gives his life for Amr bil Maroof and Nahi anil Munkar, while at another level a person simply rejects the evil in his heart with no outward expression of disdain.
A companion had once asked Imam Ali (as) why the Quran labels some members of society as ‘dead’ while they were alive. Imam (as) responded that life also has degrees. Someone who lives in society and responds to its challenges actively is most certainly alive.
This type of people, even when in the most restrictive circumstances, still feel discomfort towards evil albeit that they are unable to reveal themselves. However, there others that whether good or evil is practiced is immaterial – they are completely indifferent. This class of people is classified as ‘dead’ according to the Quran.
One of the first conditions of Amr bil Maroof is that the individual needs to be practicing what he/she preaches. One cannot invite people to good actions while their character does not reflect this behavior. Similarly, one cannot warn against sin if they do not refrain from it as well.
JOINING THE CARAVAN OF IMAM HUSAYN (AS) BEGINS WITH TAWBAH
In Surah Tawbah verse 112, Almighty Allah (swt) gives a unique description of different types of believers:
التّائِبونَ العابِدونَ الحامِدونَ السّائِحونَ الرّاكِعونَ السّاجِدونَ الآمِرونَ بِالمَعروفِ وَالنّاهونَ عَنِ المُنكَرِ وَالحافِظونَ لِحُدودِ اللَّهِ ۗ وَبَشِّرِ المُؤمِنينَ
“[The faithful are] penitent, devout, celebrators of Allah’s praise, wayfarers, who bow [and] prostrate [in prayer], bid what is right and forbid what is wrong, and keep Allah’s bounds —and give good news to the faithful.”
The Quran speaks about many lofty stations that the believers can be classified into. As we notice from the structure of the verse, those who “bid what is right and forbid what is wrong” is one of the final stages reached. This also explains why only a select group of individuals can truly perform this obligation as they need to traverse a path of spiritual purification.
If we want to be considered members of Imam Husayn’s (as) caravan, we must be inviters towards good and forbid what is wrong. The burning question is: how do we start the journey to join the mission of the Imam (as)?
The answer lies in the very first word of this blessed verse.
THE DOOR OF TAWBAH NEVER CLOSES
Undoubtably, this is one of the major concepts of the Quran that has been repeated in many chapters. Considering the statistics of the word “tawbah,” it appears 92 times in the Quran with its different variants. “Istighfar” which has a similar meaning has been mentioned 45 times.
In several other verses – without explicitly using the words “tawbah” and “istighfar” – the Quran directly or indirectly has spoken about this concept.
Tawbah translates to “to return” or “come back.” When one has committed a sin, they have distanced themselves from Allah (swt), and thus perform repentance to return to Him. It is important to note that this distance and returning is not meant in a physical sense, but rather in a spiritual meaning. The Quran in multiple places also emphasizes that the mercy of Allah (swt) is vast, and that the doors of forgiveness always remain open for those who seek it.
In the famous verse 53 of Surah Zumar, Allah (swt) says:
قُل يا عِبادِيَ الَّذينَ أَسرَفوا عَلىٰ أَنفُسِهِم لا تَقنَطوا مِن رَحمَةِ اللَّهِ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ يَغفِرُ الذُّنوبَ جَميعًا ۚ إِنَّهُ هُوَ الغَفورُ الرَّحيمُ
“Say [that Allah declares,] ‘O My servants who have committed excesses against their own souls, do not despair of the mercy of Allah. Indeed, Allah will forgive all sins. Indeed, He is the All-forgiving, the All-merciful.”
This verse clearly teaches us that there does not exist a point of no return with Almighty Allah (swt). Regardless of how many evil actions a person may perform, Allah (swt) is always willing forgive.
One of the greatest sins according to our Imams (as) is despairing in the mercy of Allah (swt). If an individual decides to surrender in the face of difficulty and believes that all hope of salvation is gone, he essentially dies a death of ignorance (jahiliyah). Becoming hopeless under any circumstances is absolutely not allowed – there is no exception in this regard.
PHILOSOPHY OF TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS
One of the aspects of tawbah which the Quran highlights is the philosophy of hardships and difficulties. This is intended to remind human beings of their internal deficiencies and limitations, and as a result cause them to turn towards Allah (swt). If everything in life was care-free – no problems regarding our wealth, health, family, reputation, and the like – human beings would think of themselves as needless.
As soon as troubles enters an individual’s life, they are reminded of their need in front of a higher power than themselves.
Perhaps the best example is what we have been experiencing over the past 18 months. The pandemic has shown us that despite all our technological progression as a civilization – we are feeble in front of a virus that cannot even be seen with the naked eye.
Allah (swt) says in verse 126 of Surah Tawbah:
أَوَلا يَرَونَ أَنَّهُم يُفتَنونَ في كُلِّ عامٍ مَرَّةً أَو مَرَّتَينِ ثُمَّ لا يَتوبونَ وَلا هُم يَذَّكَّرونَ
“Do they not see that they are tried once or twice every year? Yet they neither repent, nor do they take admonition.”
Furthermore, in Surah A’raf verse 168 Allah (swt) says:
وَقَطَّعناهُم فِي الأَرضِ أُمَمًا ۖ مِنهُمُ الصّالِحونَ وَمِنهُم دونَ ذٰلِكَ ۖ وَبَلَوناهُم بِالحَسَناتِ وَالسَّيِّئَاتِ لَعَلَّهُم يَرجِعونَ
We dispersed them into communities around the earth: some of them were righteous, and some of them otherwise, and We tested them with good and bad [times] so that they may come back.
This selection of verses shows that the response Allah (swt) would like to see from us is one of humility and turning back towards Him.
It must be noted at this point that these tests come in many different forms. At times, Allah (swt) may decide to take something away and observe how we act under incredibly obstructive circumstances. Alternatively, He may decide to bless us with an abundance of favours and examine whether we become neglectful of His presence in our lives.
The reality of tawbah is the ultimate manifestation of Allah’s (swt) love for His servant. Despite crossing all the boundaries and exceeding every single limit that He has placed for their own well-being, Allah (swt) remains still so invested in their success.
There are multiple layers of tawbah that appear throughout our Islamic sciences. This includes:
- Fiqh (jurisprudence)
- Akhlaq (ethics)
- Legal – looking at the implications of a guilty individual performing repentance.
From amongst all these sciences, the one in which tawbah has been extensively discussed is in mysticism (Irfan). Every spiritual journey begins by purification of the heart. According to the mystics, one cannot beautify the house until it has been thoroughly cleaned of all its impurities. Thus, the first stage the wayfarer needs to undergo is repentance. In this manner, they remove the dirt they have accrued over their life. This first stage has also been referred to as Takhliyah.
Tawbah is truly a gate to into a completely new world. Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (as) has said in a hadith that:
“Allah (swt) loves tawbah…”
To illustrate these words, the Imam (as) then gave an example:
“…like when a traveler, all alone in a dark forest loses absolutely all of his possessions and becomes completely lost. In this desperate situation, he suddenly finds his belongings. Similarly, Allah (swt) loves repentance like the passenger who recovers his possessions.”
REMARKABLE STORY OF AYATULLAH JAHANGIR KHAN QASHQA’I
Within Shi’ite history, we have amazing anecdotes of how some of the greatest ulama in this school had reached their high stations by returning to Allah (swt).
Jahangir Khan Qashqa’i was a musician that was part of a nomadic tribe in the mid-1800s of Iran. He was an acclaimed instrumentalist, known for playing a tar – a traditional Iranian guitar.
One day a man from amongst his tribe had asked him to perform at a party where the aristocrats of the tribe would be gathered. He refused, citing that the string for his guitar had broken and thus could no longer play his songs. This had caused the host much disappointment, as Jahangir was famous for the music he would play.
The host then suggested that he said go to Isfahan at once, repair the string and return tomorrow so that he can play for the elites. Jahangir agreed and departed for the city.
Once Jahangir had entered the city, he was quite confused. Being a tribesman, he was not familiar with the bustling life of Isfahan at that time. He found an old man sitting in a corner and decided to ask him where in the city he could fix the string of his guitar.
This old man thought for a moment and then remarked, “Fix the string of your heart.” When Jahangir Khan had heard this, he was astonished. Jahangir then inquired as to where they fix the broken string of the heart.
The old man instructed him to go to the area wherein Madressa al-Sadr was located. When Jahangir reached, he saw that there was a great scholar teaching many students of knowledge. He decided that it would not be appropriate for him to go in and decided to sit at the door and listen to the lesson.
The class had finished, and the teacher was on his way out. As the Aalim was leaving, he asked Jahangir what he was doing here as he looked completely misplaced. Jahangir had replied that he was informed he should come to this place to fix the string of his heart. At that point the scholar realized that this was no ordinary individual. He decided to take Jahangir in under his tutelage, after which he never returned to the Qashqa’i tribe.
After a period of 3 months, the people from his tribe had visited Isfahan to find Jahangir Khan. When they had finally found him, he was unrecognizable. His life had completely changed within this time. From making this complete turnaround in his middle age, he eventually became a grand philosopher, faqih (jurist) and mystic of the 19th century.
The greatness of this scholar can be seen in the unique sages he had produced including:
- Ayatollah Hossein Borujerdi
- Ayatollah Abul-Hasan Isfahani
- Ayatollah Shah Abadi, the spiritual teacher of Imam Khomeini
- Ayatollah Sayyid Hasan al-Mudarris
- Shaykh Hasan ‘Ali Isfahani Nukhudaki
IMAM HUSAYN (AS) AND THE STORY OF RASOOL TURK
The personality of Imam Husayn (as) is beyond any doubt the perfect manifestation of the mercy of Allah (swt). Explore the journey of Imam Husayn (as). From Makkah all the way till the night of Ashura, the Imam (as) was still trying to save individuals such as Umar ibn Sa’ad who was leading the army against the Ahlulbait (as). Despite all his letters to cities across the entire Islamic empire so few had only joined him.
A famous scholar once said that the shortest route in returning to Allah (swt) is Babul Husayn (the door of Husayn). Not only in Karbala, but even after 14 centuries, the shortest route remains Imam Husayn (as).
In modern history, there was a famous gangster who had lived in Tehran known as Rasool Turk. We in Cape Town are unfortunately all too familiar with the phenomenon of gangsterism – as I am sure you can imagine what his demeanour was like. Rasool was an ardent alcoholic who would drink throughout the year – but would only stop on the night of Ashura.
Despite all his bad actions, somehow, he still had in his heart the love of Imam Husayn (as). When Muharram used to come, he used to attempt to clean his mouth of the smell of wine and attend the majlis of Imam Husayn (as).
Naturally, the committee of the mosque deemed it inappropriate for such a gangster who wreaks of alcohol to sit with the pious believers in the majlis. The chairperson decided to ask him to refrain from attending the majlis. Although he was a thug, he was humble in front of Imam Husayn (as) and agreed.
The very next morning the same chairperson was standing in front of Rasool’s door. He insisted that Rasool Turk, this gangster, should attend the majlis. Rasool was dumbfounded by the request of this individual, having previously been asked to leave. When Rasool asked for the reason for this sudden change of heart, the chairperson refused to divulge. After he was threatened, the man revealed what had happened.
He says that after he had instructed Rasool to stay away from the majlis, he had returned home and went to sleep. He then had a dream that he was in the plains of Karbala, after Imam Husayn (as) had been killed. Now, the tents of the ladies of the family of the Prophet (saw) were unprotected as every soldier was killed. This chairperson says he tried to go near the tents of the ladies, but each time a dog would attack him. He tried repeatedly to move towards the tents, but each instance this dog attacked him. After some time, he realized that the face of the dog was Rasool Turk’s face!
When this gangster had heard this, he exclaimed out of great elation, “So Husayn has accepted me as a dog!?” He started striking himself in matam and shouting, thanking Imam Husayn (as) for accepting him as a dog. After this event, he had completely turned his life around. Many accounts have been given where he would attend the majlis of Imam Husayn (as) and detail how his crying was never ending.
The great Marja of the past, Ayatullah Sayyid Ahmad Khonsari, used to say that he desires and looks forward to attending the majlis in which Rasool Turk is present!
Look at what Imam Husayn (as) did to this gangster.
From being amongst the most sinful people in society, to being an individual that the greatest of scholars desire to be in his company.
When Rasool Turk had become extremely ill, many around him were saying that his time of death had arrived. Rasool Turk rejected these comments, saying that he would die until his master (Imam Husayn (as)) comes to receive him. On the day of his death, it was as he had said.
A scholar in Tehran had a dream about the funeral procession of Rasool Turk. He says that he had seen a lady amongst the men. He decided he should tell her to remove herself from this situation as it was inappropriate. This lady responded by saying this funeral belongs to us, as this was Lady Zainab (as)!
HURR IBN YAZID AL-RIYAHI CHOOSES HEAVEN
As we have reached the tragedy of Karbala in our discussion, tonight we discuss a man that exemplified the true power of repentance at any single point in history. Hurr Ibn Yazid al-Riyahi (ra) was a commander in the army of Ubaidullah Ibn Ziyaad, the governor of Kufa.
As Imam Husayn (as) and his caravan left Makkah towards Kufa, the army of Hurr (ra) had intercepted them.
When Hurr (ra) and his army had reached Imam Husayn’s (as) caravan, they were extremely debilitated. Thirst had overcome all the soldiers, with their horses showing life-threatening weakness as well. Imam Husayn (as) then watered this very army that would in a matter of days leave him and his family thirsty for 3 days in the burning sands of Karbala.
Once the army had regained their strength, Hurr (ra) informed Imam Husayn (as) that his journey was over. He was no longer allowed to progress. Upon hearing this, the Imam (as) remarked, “May your mother mourn over your death.” When Hurr had heard this, he paused for a moment and responded: “If your mother was anyone but Lady Fatima Zahra (as), I would have retorted with the same!” This shows that despite his faults, there was an intrinsic respect that Hurr (ra) had for the family of the Prophet (saw).
Eventually the night of Ashura had arrived, and Hurr (ra) was in confused state. From one camp the sounds of music and laughter, while from the other the cries of children dying from thirst. A friend of Hurr (ra) had approached him and asked him why was so disturbed, further saying if he was asked about who the bravest man in Kufa was, he would undoubtedly say it was Hurr ibn Yazid (ra). Hurr (ra) then responded by saying: “I swear by God, I find myself between heaven and hell and I do not prefer anything over heaven, even if they cut me to pieces and burn me.”
In the morning of Ashura, Hurr (ra) along with his son and servant rode towards the camp of Imam Husayn (as). He wore his armor and weaponry as an individual that had surrendered in war, edging closer to the camp. Historical narrations say that Imam Husayn (as) himself came out of the tent to receive him. Hurr (ra) then asked Imam Husayn (as) if there was any chance of him being forgiven, after which the Imam (as) had replied affirmatively!
Reflect over this epic!
If one would like to list the grave crimes Hurr ibn Yazid (ra) had committed, they are not few nor insignificant that they can simply be glossed over. Yet despite all these major shortcomings, when Hurr (ra) sincerely turned back to Allah (swt) and Imam Husayn (as), he was received with open arms.
The final request Hurr (ra) had from Imam Husayn (as) was to be allowed to be killed first as he was responsible for them being placed in this foreign land. Imam (as) had agreed, with Hurr (ra) deciding that his son should be sent first to the battlefield to represent him.
Hurr’s (ra) son fought valiantly until his very last moments, whereat he called for his father as he was dying. Hurr (ra) rushed to reach him, but to his surprise found Imam Husayn (as) reached his son before he did! When Hurr (ra) had asked Imam (as) him why he had reached before, Imam (as) responded by saying that a father should not carry the dead body of a young son.
We are left in pain asking – who was there to say these words when Imam Husayn (as) carried the bloodied, wounded body of his son Ali Akbar (as)?