Jumuah Khutbah of 22 May 2015 delivered at Ahlul Bait (a.s) Islamic Centre, Ottery

The 3rd, 4th and 5th of Shabaan which co-insides with today, tomorrow and Saturday, are significant dates in Islamic history as it corresponds with the dates of the birth of 3 of the heroes of Karbala, namely Imam Hussain (a.s), Abul Fadhlil Abbas and Imam Zainul Abideen (a.s).

Even though the ummah was already essentially divided into Sunni and Shia immediately after the demise of Prophet Muhammad (sawa), or actually in our view during the very lifetime of Prophet Muhammad (sawa), this dividing line really became cemented after the most unfortunate event of Ashura when Imam Hussain (a.s) and 72 of his family and companions were martyred.

And that divide throughout history took on a different shape depending on the circumstances and the experiences in the Muslim Ummah at the time. And during our time, these theological differences are being manipulated internationally to prevent the Muslim Ummah from being United, and here in South Africa there are certain groups who simply refuse to realize that reality.

Whereas history proves that before the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979, though the world had Sunni and Shia Muslims, that these groups lived in relative harmony and were closely knit together in that it was common for families to have followers of both Schools of Thought in one family or in one’s extended family. But today, any remote association with the term Shia has made one a target of being physically attacked or being subject to verbal abuse and ridicule.

How Do We Move Out of This Abyss That We Find Ourselves In?

Of course it starts with a change of attitude which I believe is very possible for most people.

But at the same time one needs to talk about and tackle the issue that is at the core of this fault line between Sunni and Shia, and that is the issue of how we view the sahabah. If this issue can somehow be resolved or if we can somehow show how we are prepared to meet the opposite party half way, then we certainly have performed our Islamic duty to building Unity which is a necessity that is continuously emphasized in the Quran.

Let me say from the start that this khutbah on this topic is not focussed on determining who is on haq and who is on baatil, but rather is an attempt to understand the existing views on sahabah and to appreciate that there is more than one understanding possible. This point is a critical principle point to understand, that there is more than one view possible.

View of Sahabah from Imam Zainul Abideen (a.s)

So where do we start? Well, with the blessing of the birth of Imam Zainul Abideen (a.s) whom we all venerate, whether Sunni or Shia, let’s see what he has to say about Sahabah?

It is well known that we have a compilation of duas from Imam Zainul Abideen (a.s) in a book called Sahifatus Sajjaadiyya. In the post Karbala period, Imam Zainul Abideen (a.s) was mostly under house arrest and was not allowed to openly give lectures in public. So the Imam spent his life in Ibaadaat and moral training of the people and also achieved the objective of teaching people by making dua loudly and his message was hidden in the duas.

So Imam Zainul Abideen (a.s)’s duas are a source of knowledge and an expression of his views regarding a wide variety of issues.

One such dua of keen interest to all of us that we should share with the world and should be the foundation of our viewing of sahabah is his very dua for the sahabah of Prophet Muhammad (sawa) which is dua No.4 in this book and is called:

“Blessing upon the believers and followers of the Messengers”

In this dua, he specifically says the following about the companions of Prophet Muhammad (sawa) which is captured from paragraph 3 to paragraph 12 of the dua and I quote for you a few paragraphs:

3 – O Allah,
and as for the Companions of Muhammad (sawa) specifically,
those who did well in companionship,
who stood the good test in helping him,
responded to him when he made them hear his messages’ argument,

4 – separated from mates and children
in manifesting his word,
fought against fathers and sons in strengthening his prophecy,
and through him gained victory;

5 – those who were wrapped in affection for him,

hoping for a commerce
that comes not to naught in love for him;

6 – those who were left by their clans
when they clung to his handhold
and denied by their kinsfolk
when they rested in the shadow of his kinship;

7 – forget not, O Allah,
what they abandoned for Thee and in Thee,
and make them pleased with Thy good pleasure
for the sake of the creatures they drove to Thee
while they were with Thy Messenger,
summoners to Thee for Thee.

8 – Show gratitude to them for leaving the abodes of their people for Thy sake
and going out from a plentiful livelihood to a narrow one,
and [show gratitude to] those of them who became objects of wrongdoing (by others) and whom Thou multiplied in exalting Thy religion.

9 – O Allah, and give to those who have done well in following the Companions,
who say, Our Lord, forgive us and our brothers
who went before us in faith,
Thy best reward;

10 – those who went straight to the Companions’ road, sought out their course,
and proceeded in their manner.

Analysis of This Dua

In the very first line of his dua for the companions of Prophet Muhammad (sawa), Imam Zainul Abideen (a.s) says something that is exactly in keeping with how the Quran views the companions, how Prophet Muhammad (sawa) viewed the companions and how history has recorded the lives of the companions, when he makes the following distinction by saying:

“those who did well in companionship”

This is a point to ponder on.

And then the Imam Zainul Abideen (a.s) gives a long list of their sacrifices.

And then the Imam makes a dua for the followers of the companions which is a dua from the Quran wherein we, years later pray for the sahabah when we say “Our Lord, forgive us and our brothers who went before us in faith.”

In this dua we praying for our predecessors who include the sahabah with specific reference to the fact that they had faith.

So this is a principle point, there were many sahabah, and Islam would not have been established without their sacrifice and we venerate them for that and we pray for them and their reward for that and that Allah should be please with them! This is the approach of the Ahlul Bait (a.s).

And there are other recorded duas which include a dua from Imam Saadiq (a.s) with a similar message.

So if this is the Shia position of respect to sahabah, then what is the problem?

The Problem is a Political One First

Our problem we faced with is that sensitivity towards sahabah is reduced to maybe 10 of them, and even from these 10 of them, it’s reduced to 4 of them. That’s it. The fact of the matter is that this aspect of the problem is rooted in the political history of the Muslim Ummah which has a specific context and understanding to consider.

People always want to know what is your view of a few very specific sahabah and in particular the most sensitivity being towards Ummul Mu’mineen A’isha? This is what we are always asked. If we can overcome this hurdle, then Unity is within reach. That’s the core of the problem.

But then there are narrations in Shia resources which suggest that after the demise of Prophet Muhammad (sawa) everyone became murtad (apostate) except 3 or 4 people. That adds to the problem.

Then there are those who go about cursing the companions in general and particular sahabah specifically. That further adds to the problem.

Then there are those who make takfir of the innocent Shia who do not curse the sahabah, who do not consider the sahabah as apostates but simply have an opposite view regarding the khalifate. This also adds fuel to the fire.

Then there are those who, though they agree that the sahabah were not infallible, in practical terms they believe that one should turn a blind eye to real historical facts. This certainly does not help either.

So let’s briefly look at some of these major stumbling blocks to try and understand each other.

Do Shia Really Believe All Sahabah Became Murtad (Apostate)?

Though there are narrations to this effect, it must be emphasised that our scholars collected hadith irrespective of whether they were authentic or not and then left it to the reader to conduct further research. So the fact that you see something in Al-Kafi or other Shia books does not mean it is authentic. Those who are not keen on Unity will never accept this explanation.

But are we capable of applying some logic? Did Imam Zainul Abideen (a.s) make that elaborate dua for the sahabah in relation to only 3 or 4 people? That’s highly unlikely and in fact illogical.

Just a simple count of the well known sahabah that supported the Ahlul Bait (a.s) bring us to numbers much more than 4 people. For example you have Salman Farsi, Abu Thar Ghaffari, Miqdad, Ibn Abbas, Bilal, Habib ibn Mazahir, Malik Ashtar, Ubay Ibn Ka’b, Uwais Qarani, Jaabir Ibn Abdullah, etc. This is a quick list of 10 people off the top of my head. And I have not even included members of the broader Ahlul Bait (a.s) themselves. So logic dictates that such a claim was not possible.

But what about the narrations like the one in Bukhari itself in Volume 8 Hadith number 578 wherein Prophet (sawa) is recorded to have said: “I am your predecessor at the Lake-Fount, and some of you will be brought in front of me till I will see them and then they will be taken away from me and I will say, ‘O Lord, my companions!’ It will be said, ‘you do not know what they did after you had left.’

And there are other Sunni narrations like that.

In Hadith number 587 in volume 8 of Bukhari the words used is “They turned Murtad (apostate) as renegades after you left.”

So what does this all mean?

Firstly “murtad” does not mean necessarily mean someone became kaafir like everyone wants you to believe. Someone who openly declares he is not Muslim any longer is a “murtad” who became kaafir. But “murtad” also means someone who deviated. That person is still Muslim. And it is this meaning that more than likely is the more prominent one in cases where “irtidad” might have occurred as the hadith in Bukhari states.

So are we honest enough to recognise this reality??

Quranic Approach is a Balanced Approach

From the Quranic perspective, the companions of Prophet Muhammad (sawa) are never called by the term “sahabah” but are called by a variety of spiritual titles to categorise them in terms of their spiritual development. These terms are not empty names given to different groups of people but are spiritual realities.

Thus the companions of Prophet Muhammad (sawa) are called by terms like Saabiqun (foremost) (Surah Tauba Verse 100), Abraar (pious), Muhajirun (those who made migration), Mujahidun (those who struggle in path of Allah), Muslimun (Muslims), Mu’minun (Believers), Shuhadaa (Martyrs), Awliya Allah (those under the guardianship of Allah) (Surah Yunus), etc. and others were even called hypocrites.

This last point is overlooked as if it never existed. Surah Munafiqun which is an entire surah titled “The Hypocrites” starts by introducing them

ذَا جَاءَكَ الْمُنَافِقُونَ قَالُوا نَشْهَدُ إِنَّكَ لَرَسُولُ اللَّهِ ۗ وَاللَّهُ يَعْلَمُ إِنَّكَ لَرَسُولُهُ

“When the hypocrites come to you they say “We testify that you are the Messenger of Allah.

These people are the ones who publicly made shahada and physically saw the Prophet (sawa) which is the definition of a sahabi in line with how most Muslims define a sahabi.

And then there are beautiful examples of sahabah who did hypocritical actions, but followed it up with such beautiful repentance and tauba that their tauba became immortalised. One such example is Abu Lubaba who, out of a feeling of guilt for having done an act of treason against the state tied himself to a pillar in the Masjidun Nabawi until he was forgiven. When we go to Madina, we make 2 rakaats salaah at that very pillar in memory of this great action.

And while on the topic of being in Madina, we go to Uhud and remember all those sababah who were martyred for Islam and martyrs who are also buried in Baqi. And if we can manage we do the same at Badr which is a bit far away from Madina.

And Fatima (a.s) used to visit Uhud once a week to pay respects to those sahabah who gave their lives for Islam.

But from the Quranic perspective that has been highlighted it is also critically important to note that none of the verses which refer to the followers of Prophet Muhammad (sawa) are unconditional verses which gives them the right to do as they please. If through their action they lived up to those conditions, then very certainly they have achieved those various different spiritual statuses referred to.

In the light of this it’s always very confusing to understand how Sunni Muslims, while clearly do not consider anyone of the sahabah to be infallible (some extremist Wahabis even question the infallibility of Prophet Muhammad (sawa) himself), but at the same time are so ultra sensitive on the issue of sahabah to the extent that it practically results in according them a type of infallibility.

Based on the above mentioned reality, we believe it is not possible to unconditionally categorize everyone who “saw the Prophet (sawa)” and “who proclaimed to be Muslim” to be beyond scrutiny with a type of blanket amnesty. It goes against the very Quranic categorization and that of the ahadith.

Sahabah Used to be Critical of Each Other

Other than the unfortunate well known practise in history when Muawiyya institutionalised the cursing of Imam Ali (a.s) in jumuah which is a specific targeted practise that lasted for 70 years, it is well known that sahabah used to curse each other at the time of the Prophet Muhammad (sawa) himself.

There are many, many examples in Bukhari and other books which show that sahabah used to verbally abuse each other. But I just give you one example to demonstrate:

Narrated ‘Urwa: I started abusing Hassan in front of ‘Aisha, whereupon she said. “Don’t abuse him, for he used to defend the Prophet (with his poetry)”.(Bukhari, Volume 4, Hadith 731).

There are even other ahadith in Bukhari wherein it states that some of the wives of Prophet Muhammad (sawa) used to verbally abuse each other.

And you never find one recorded incident where Prophet Muhammad (sawa) who witnessed some of these incidents proclaiming that “cursing one of his sahabah amounted to kufr.” Not one.

What you would find is that Prophet (sawa) would rectify their manners and akhlaq, not declare them kaafir.

And thus when someone enters the fold of Islam and takes shahadah, there is no mentioning of belief in sahabah as this is not a pillar of faith OR from the necessities of religion like salaah, haj, fasting, etc.

Shia Should Not Give the Ahlul Bait (a.s) a Status That They Did Not Have

So having stated the above mentioned about the sahabah, it’s also critical for certain extremist Shia to be careful and cognisant of what they say about Ahlul Bait (a.s).

Our view of the status of Ahlul Bait (a.s) is sometimes confused and portrayed that it looks like we believe that they are event greater than Prophet Muhammad (sawa). The various lectures delivered at this centre in the past and especially in past 6 months on the “haqiqat of Muhammad (sawa)” and the Mi’raj lecture on the “Unmatched status of Prophet Muhammad (sawa)” should very clearly dispel any such suggestion.

Imam Ali (a.s) himself says: “two people will be destroyed regarding me; the one who loves me excessively and raises me higher than my status and praises me the way he [should] praise Allah, and the enemy who, I seek refuge in God, curses me.”

But in the Azadari during Muharram for Imam Hussain (a.s), the reciters are a variety of people and are not all trained ulama. In these events it has sometimes occurred in certain cultures that they may go overboard in the wording that they use for Ahlul Bait (a.s) without realising it. Our ulama during Muharram warn us against such practices that we should relate information that is factual.

Ayatullah Makarim Shirazi gives the example of a man called Hajib Hashi Kashani who recited a poem about Imam Ali (a.s) which goes “Hajib if you will be raised with Ali, then commit whatever sin you want. If our affairs will be with Imam Ali on the Day of Judgment, then sin as much as you like”. At night he saw Imam Ali (a.s) in his dream. Imam told him; Hajib, you recited a very wrong poem today. You are a good recitor but you recited a bad poem. Hajib asked, what should I say? He said say; “Hajib if you will deal with Ali on the Day of Judgment, be ashamed of meeting Ali and sin less”.

So What is Our Approach in This Day and Age in Relation to Sahabah?

Having had a glimpse of this very complicated reality, it’s not possible to achieve Unity if there is extremism from both sides.

Shia are within their right to take all their instructions regarding religion direct from the Ahlul Bait (a.s) as there is sufficient text to support this which is found in Sunni books and is thus not a baseless approach to religion.

Sunni’s are within their right to take their instructions regarding religion directly from sahabah as they have a different interpretation of the text that exists. In a sense one can actually say that even though the long analysis I have presented of the position of sahabah in Quran and ahadith is well known, our Sunni brothers have in essence taken a “policy decision” to still treat all sahabah the same and they base that on certain reported ahadith like “my sahabah are like stars, whomever of them you follow you will be guided.” All we can say is that that decision is respected but it must be accepted that, given all the evidence that exists, it’s not the ONLY possible conclusion that one can come to.

And thus there is a mutual right of both schools of thought to follow their understanding which must practically be respected.

Sahabah and in particular Ummul Mu’mineen A’isha receive special veneration within the School of Ahlul Sunnah. Irrespective of the fact that Shia do not take their religious instructions from sahabah, it is haram to abuse or curse the sahabah, in particular those personalities which are held in extremely high esteem by our Sunni brothers. That must be observed at all cost and is in line with the fatawa of our most imminent Scholars, namely Ayatullah Khamenei, Ayatullah Seestani, Ayatullah Makarim Shirazi, Marhum Ayatullah Fadhlullah, Ayatullah Ja’far Subhaani, Ayatullah Nuri Hamadani, Ayatullah Jawadi Amoli and others.

But we have to have a fair reading of history if we are going to get anywhere with Unity. On the one hand, it’s a fact that Shia are critical of the stance that was taken by Ummul Mumineen Aisha in history as she led a fully-fledged army with sahaba like Talha and Zubayr on her side against Amirul Mu’mineen Imam Ali (a.s) who was the democratically elected khalif.

In the time of the first Khalif Abu Bakr, when people did not want to pay him Zakaah he declared a war against them as they were considered to have rebelled against the khalif and that war was called the war of “Irtidad” which has already been explained to either mean having deviated or left the fold of Islam completely. And these people were still practicing Muslims, they never denounced Islam, they only refused to pay zakah to the khalif.

So without making any judgement calls at all, anyone who rebelled against Imam Ali (a.s) when he was the rightful raashid khalif could be viewed in a similar light if one was fair in applying the same criteria as Abu Bakr applied.

But before you jump to any conclusions, the balanced approach in this regard with respect to A’isha is that we must all be reminded that Imam Ali (a.s) forgave her and sent her home in a dignified manner and leave all judgment in this regard to Almighty Allah. Let us all observe that etiquette and denounce the practice of a few extremists who curse her.

And any of the good work that sahabah in general did for Islam on the different levels of sacrifice for Islam as described in Quran are all appreciated as Almighty Allah is “Thankful and the All Knowing” (Quran). If they erred in any way, the judgement is left to Allah. Again I repeat let us respect them and denounce the practice of a few extremists who curse them.

Takfeer is an unIslamic concept in terms of the way it has manifested in the world today. But Unity is a Quranic concept and religious necessity. I call upon all Muslims, Sunni and Shia to have taqwa and consciousness of Almighty Allah and play their individual roles in achieving Unity of the Ummah through mutual respect and tolerance and giving other schools of thought the space to practice their understanding of Islam and to avoid any form of extremism at all costs, Inshallah.