Reflection on Eve of Month of Rajab
Jumuah lecture by Brother Bashier Rahim on Friday 12 February 2021 at the Ahlul Bait (a.s) Mosque Complex, Ottery, Cape Town
After what felt like an extra long break for the lockdown due to COVID-19, we praise and thank Almighty Allah for once again granting us the Tawfeeq to have our programs in His House to draw from the unique spirituality that the mosque affords us that one cannot obtain outside.
NECESSITY TO RECONNECT TO MOSQUE
Marhoom Ayatullah Misbah Yazdi who passed away at the beginning of this year left an ocean of knowledge, which is still to be discovered by many of us, which is contained in his various books that he left as his part of his heritage, some of which have been translated into English for our benefit.
In his book titled “Provisions for the Journey”, which essentially is a book on practical spirituality or practical irfaan which outlines a program to follow to be successful in this life and particularly in the next life, he makes many very beautiful points, one of which relates to the importance of the mosque.
In this book he dedicates an entire chapter on the issue of the role of mosques in Islam. And after elaborating on various issues he quotes Prophet Muhammad (sawa) saying to his great companion Abu Thar al-Ghaffari (r.a) the following:
“O Abu Dharr! Every breath that you take earns a higher level in paradise for as long as you are in a mosque.”
Ayatullah Misbah then elaborates on the meaning of this hadith and even goes further to later state that the mosque is the place of Ascension or Mi’raj of those who are lovers of Liqa-ullah or the spiritual station of “Meeting Allah”. Of course this concept requires a very detailed discussion by itself which is not our focus today.
So at the onset let me remind myself and our entire community of the critical importance of reestablishing our connection to the mosque and keeping our programs and activities alive while simultaneously doing so within the official adjusted lockdown rules and protocols.
DIFFERENT LEVELS OF PERFECTION IN CREATION
We are also extremely blessed to gather again on the eve of the commencement of what we consider to be the special spiritual season of the year starting with the month of Rajab which probably starts tomorrow which is followed by the month of Shabaan and then the Holy Month of Ramadaan.
We make dua and call upon Almighty Allah and request from Him:
اللهم بارك لنا في رجب وشعبان وبلغنا رمضان
“Oh Allah, bless us in Rajab and Shabaan and cause us to reach Ramadaan”.
In line with the season that we are entering and it’s potential positive impact on our lives, I would like to share with you a further very interesting point that Ayatullah Misbah makes in another of his books called “Self Recognition for Self Development”.
In this book he mentions the categorization of all creation of Allah in this world based upon their potential perfection and this categorization is presented in a hierarchical structure.
At the bottom are all those things in nature that we consider inanimate or lifeless like stone and sand and minerals and so on and thus they don’t have the capacity to grow but they do have a level of perfection in line with their creation.
Then a level higher would be everything that we classify as plants or vegetation as this category has the capacity to grow and further can even bear fruit and vegetables.
Now the plant shares in the perfections of inanimate or natural objects as it also consists of atoms and minerals found in nature, but the plant has something more that characterizes its unique perfection compared to what is found in nature in that it can grow and even bear something like fruit and vegetables that objects in nature itself can’t do.
Then a level higher is everything that is commonly classified as animals which have the qualities of growth which is found in plants but then also has additional perfections consisting of certain physical powers which include sensory qualities like seeing and hearing etc. as well as the ability to move voluntarily when it wants to.
Human beings who occupy the highest position in this hierarchy then do also have natural properties in it like atoms and so on, it also has properties in it found in plants like growth, it also has properties in it found in animals like physical powers including sense perception and voluntary movement, and then it has an additional perfection which is unique to it and that is it’s intellect.
FOCUS ON LAST DIFFERENTIAL TO REACH PERFECTION
For each category of creation discussed, it’s perfection is recognized in terms of what makes it unique compared to a lower level of creation.
So a plant’s perfection is recognized for the quality of its growth compared to lifeless objects in nature that don’t grow. One does not recognize the plants perfection by the number of atoms it possess or it’s size and say that since it is smaller than the mountain that it is less perfect than the mountain.
Perfection is recognized in terms of its last differential quality and NOT in terms of what it shares with lower forms of existence.
This is a very important point to absorb!
And the same goes for animals. It is recognized as a higher level of existence compared to plants due to the qualities that differentiates it from plants and that is its physical powers which includes qualities of sense perception and voluntary movement.
One does not recognize the perfection of an animal for the size it can grow to because growth is something common that it shares with plants.
So we don’t say that because trees grow bigger than animals that it is more perfect than animals because animals have perfections in it that are not found in trees or plants.
Furthermore, within each category of existence, it can have potential perfection that others in the same class don’t have.
Example within everything categorized as plants, only certain trees will bear fruit and certain plants will provide edible vegetation.
Now we see that in the case of fruit bearing trees that it typically consists of much less foliage or leaves than plants that produce no fruit at all.
In other words, those trees that bear fruit tend to restrict its common plant properties that it shares with other plants to focus on producing a greater perfection which is fruit which other plants don’t produce or have the potential to produce.
And the same concept we see in animals. For a deer that is meant to run at high speed, it restricts it’s capacity to eat which affects its growth that it shares with other animals and plants so that it has a lean body to achieve the perfection of a fast running animal.
If it does not do this, then it won’t achieve it’s perfection of a fast running deer and will be slow and sluggish.
And then the same goes for human beings.
What is the point of this long winded complicated sounding discussion?
For us to reach human perfection, it is necessary to RESTRICT the perfections we share with animals like our various physical powers which include eating and drinking and lust and our sense perception like what we look at and what we listen to and what we speak, etc. and our voluntarily movement so that we can focus on our differentiating quality that makes us uniquely human which is our intellect.
We participate in the activities of plants and animals ONLY TO THE EXTENT that it serves the development of our differentiating quality which is our human intellect.
When our intellect is perfected, then it manifests in human virtues like Mercy, Forbearance, Kindness, Truthfulness, etc.
Whereas if our life is focussed on unrestricted indulgence in activities that are common with what animals and plants do, then we effectively will remain animals or even vegetables and not become human beings.
FASTING IS GOOD FOR YOU, IF YOU ONLY KNEW!
Now like we earlier mentioned, we are entering the spiritual season starting with the month of Rajab Insha’allah.
It has many recommended acts of worship including ghusl on the first night and Ziyarah of Imam Husayn (a.s) and reciting Quran and seeking forgiveness and nawafil prayers, performing umra and so on, but in addition to all that we find that one of the recommended acts of worship which is recommended to be performed as much as possible in these 2 months preceding the Holy Month of Ramadaan is the act of fasting.
Which is an act aimed at restricting our animalistic side so that the unique aspect of our human side develops and becomes stronger.
One point that is very interesting about how the Quran refers to the institution of fasting is found in Surah Baqarah from verse 183 onwards.
In these Verses, before the details of fasting in the Holy Month of Ramadaan is mentioned, the actual institution is referred to as one that existed among basically all nations prior to Islam in some shape or form.
However, after mentioning this, then we find that Verse 184 of Surah Baqarah ends with saying something interesting and very important about the institution of fasting itself, not specifically about fasting in the Holy Month of Ramadaan, but about the institution of fasting itself.
The verse concludes by saying:
وأن تصوموا خير لكم إن كنتم تعلمون
“and that you fast is better for you, if you only know”
Fasting itself is an excellent practise if we only realise it. Not just fasting in the Holy Month of Ramadaan – that is bare minimum and not the standard of those who want to reach great heights.
Fasting as a regular practice is excellent because it restricts our animalistic side and creates the environment for our distinct human side to develop and flourish.
And thus in every month of the Islamic calendar there are days wherein fasting is recommended, but when it comes to Rajab and Shabaan the emphasis is even greater.
OUR OUTLOOK TO LEARNING
The month of Rajab has many recommended acts of worship.
But as our ulama inform us even in the greatest night of the year which is the Night of Qadr in the Holy Month of Ramadaan that having a session of learning some beneficial knowledge is the best Ibadah.
And if one thinks about it one realizes that this is so because it strengthens our intellect which is our unique human side.
So during these Holy Months it is critical to allocate time to acquire more religious knowledge.
We start our month of Rajab by remembering the birth anniversary of the 5th Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s) on the first of Rajab who is well known by the title Baqirul ilm or the one who “split open knowledge”.
And then later in the month on 13th Rajab we celebrate the birth anniversary of Amirul Mumineen Ali ibn Abi Talib (a.s) who is the gate to the city of knowledge.
Insha’allah next Saturday 20 February 2021 our Madressatul Imam Husayn (a.s) will restart and every one is encouraged to make an extra effort to attend as we have much catching up to do.
Lockdown has had a negative impact on the learning of many of our young people. Many have simply been on a go slow and have missed out so much.
This brings into question our communal outlook to the issue of learning, especially the foundations of the Islamic Sciences.
If we truly understood the importance of learning, then we would have a very positive approach to learning, no matter how much struggle it involves.
INSPIRATION FROM ATTITUDE OF PROPHET MUSA (A.S) TO LEARNING
The story of Prophet Musa (a.s) going to find Prophet Khithr (a.s) and then spending some time following him and learning from him the hidden meaning of things is well known and various angles of this story has been discussed in the past by various scholars.
Of course the details of this story is in Surah Kahf and on the day of jumuah like today it’s also recommended to recite this surah.
So to conclude this first khutbah, I would like to mention one aspect of this incident that we read about in this surah that we perhaps did not elaborate on sufficiently previously and that relates to our attitude to learning.
And again on attitude to learning there are a number of Akhlaqi points to derive from this story but I only want to focus on one.
The popular view about this story is that Prophet Musa (a.s) in the later years of his life after being appointed a Messenger was instructed by Almighty Allah to go to find Prophet Khithr (a.s) and learn from him certain knowledge that he did not have and that a servant accompanied him who was Yusha ibn Nun who later became his wasi or successor.
Other ulama believe that this event happened when Prophet Musa (a.s) was still a young man and being groomed to one day be a Messenger.
Thus for example he was trained by Prophet Shuaib (a.s) when he married his daughter and lived with him and in a much earlier part of his life when he was still a young man and living in the house of Phirown that Almighty Allah probably instructed him to go find Prophet Khithr (a.s) to learn from him.
And the servant who travelled with him was not necessarily Yusha ibn Nun as various reasons are given why this is not probable but that it was probably one of the many servants who served him in the house of Phirown who offered to accompany him on this trip as the servant had come to appreciate the good character of Prophet Musa (a.s) and wished to be in his company.
So that is a different possibility about how this story goes.
However the issue I want to highlight is that Almighty Allah did not give Prophet Musa (a.s) the exact address of where to find Prophet Khithr (a.s) but gave him a brief description that he will find him at the place where the two seas meet.
When he comes to the correct address, he will experience a miracle and then know that Prophet Khithr (a.s) is there somewhere.
Now there are many places where the two seas meet, some people will try to convince you it’s even here at Cape Agulhus. But it was somewhere in the Middle East where they would experience a miracle.
With this rather vague direction they set off. They go from place to place and don’t experience a miracle and realise that this was not the place they were looking for and carry on traveling to the next possible place where the two seas meet.
The journey took its toll on Prophet Musa (a.s) and we deduce this from his own words in Surah Kahf Verse 62 where Prophet Musa (a.s) says:
فَلَمَّا جَاوَزَا قَالَ لِفَتَاهُ ءَاتِنَا غَدَآءَنَا لَقَدْ لَقِينَا مِن سَفَرِنَا هَذَا نَصَباً
“but when they had gone farther (i.e. passed the seaside), Musa said unto his servant: ‘Bring us our morning meal. Indeed we have become exhausted from this journey of ours’.”
The truth is that they had become so exhausted that they even missed the fact that they actually saw a miracle and that they eventually came to the correct destination but passed it.
Prophet Musa (a.s) completely exhausted himself – for what? – he exhausted himself in search of knowledge that he did not have.
Probably just before this time, when they went from place to place and seemed to be going nowhere slowly, the servant was already tired and suggested to Prophet Musa (a.s) that there was no point in this journey and that they should rather go back home.
And the reply from Prophet Musa (a.s) ignites a fire in the heart of seekers of knowledge and is a verse that every seeker of knowledge should recite over and over and over and over WHENEVER you go through moments of wanting to give up on your search for knowledge and it feels like your progress is too slow – read this reply of Prophet Musa (a.s) to the suggestion of giving up on your search for knowledge.
In fact this whole story in Surah Kahf starts off with this reply of Prophet Musa (a.s) in Verse 60 which says:
وإِذْ قَالَ مُوسَي لِفَتَاهُ لآ أَبْرَحُ حَتَّي أَبْلُغَ مَجْمَعَ الْبَحْرَيْنِ أَوْ أَمْضِيَ حُقُباً
“And (remember) when Musa said to his servant: ‘I will not stop until I reach the Junction of the two Seas, or I will go on for years.”
In other words in my search for knowledge I am prepared to travel the world and exhaust myself and continue this journey virtually forever but I will not give up.
That is the attitude we should display towards our search for knowledge and developing our unique human side which is our intellect.
Having faith or Imaan is our greatest asset, but having faith combined with deep knowledge causes us to reach ultimate human perfection.
يَرْفَعِ اللَّهُ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا مِنكُمْ وَالَّذِينَ أُوتُوا الْعِلْمَ دَرَجَاتٍ
“Allah will elevate those of you who are faithful, and raise those endowed with knowledge in rank” (Surah Mujadalah Verse 11).
ANNIVERSARY OF IRANIAN REVOLUTION
In the discussion of human free will, there is a debate about how free human beings really are or whether human beings are bound to factors beyond their control like factors of nature or being bound to our history or being bound to the norms of our society and so one.
And the short answer is that we are not bound to any of those factors and every individual is free to determine his own destiny.
But at the same time it is acknowledged that our environment on different levels DOES have an impact on our development. That is because we interact so much with our environment and have an interdependent existence and relationship with it that does influence our development, though it does not compel us.
One of the points we started today’s khutbah with was the importance of being associated and connected to the mosque.
We emphasize this point as the mosque has a spiritual environment that gives us identity and guides our effort and is a major source of motivation to us to become better human beings.
On 11 February 1979, the Muslim world was blessed with a new spiritual environment with the establishment of the Islamic Revolution in Iran.
From its founder Imam Khomeini whom Professor Hamid Algar describes as one who fused spirituality with politics to the very noble intention of this revolution which was preparing the ground for the global revolution of Imam Mahdi (a.s), no one can deny the overall positive impact that this newly established environment had and continues to have on the Muslim world.
Muslims overall had a new environment which promoted their pursuit of perfecting their humanity.
Global imperialism whose primary function is to push the world to become more animalistic and enslaved to their desires was being repelled on a grand scale.
This victory saw the enriching of the development of further Islamic political theories in it’s neighboring countries where other Muslim countries realised that Islam can be established in the political level.
This victory saw the expansion of resistance movements across the world, the promotion of a culture of learning instead of illiteracy and the promotion of women’s rights that hardly exists in some Muslim countries, and much more.
The price that the Iranian people have paid through defending themselves against war on every front from physical war to cultural war and to economic wars leaves one in complete awe and amazement and a sort of disbelief that they actually survived.
Their very survival for so long is the greatest sign of their success.
May our society find inspiration from this Revolution, not to establish Iran in South Africa, but to establish the ideals that we share with this Revolution Insha’allah.