Jumuah lecture on Friday 16 July 2021 (5 Dhul Hijja 1442)
Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider
Ahlul Bait (a.s) Masjid, Ottery, Cape Town

أَفَمَنْ أَسَّسَ بُنْيَانَهُ عَلَىٰ تَقْوَىٰ مِنَ اللَّهِ وَرِضْوَانٍ خَيْرٌ أَمْ مَنْ أَسَّسَ بُنْيَانَهُ عَلَىٰ شَفَا جُرُفٍ هَارٍ فَانْهَارَ بِهِ فِي نَارِ جَهَنَّمَ ۗ وَاللَّهُ لَا يَهْدِي الْقَوْمَ الظَّالِمِينَ

“Is he, therefore, better who lays his foundation on fear of Allah and (His) good pleasure, or he who lays his foundation on the edge of a cracking hollowed bank, so it broke down with him into the fire of hell; and Allah does not guide the unjust people.”
Verse 109 of Surah Tauba (Chapter 9 of the Holy Quran)

After reciting this verse, we remind each other about Taqwa (God-consciousness).

The past week can never be forgotten in our country’s history. We are all acutely aware of the scale of devastation inflicted on ordinary South Africans. Crisis, chaos, destruction and a dark, gloomy picture of our country is in front of the world.

Plenty of analysis has already been shared, but what I would like to draw your attention to is a more Islamic insight into this whole scenario. There is absolutely no doubt, that what transpired over the past week is the result of a very complex reality in our country’s fledgling history since liberation from Apartheid, with multiple layers involved.

SOUTH AFRICA REMAINS RANKED WITH THE HIGHEST GINI COEFFICIENT

The creation of this explosion on such a large scale is clearly not the result of one particular incident or only the result of a high-ranking individual’s imprisonment.

The angle I would like to reflect on and draw some lessons from is the nature of this violent reaction in our society. By the way, this is not the first time that this reaction has manifested. For example, we will all recall the regular frustration expressed in service delivery protests. Another example is the #FeesMustFall movement a few years ago. And then also the experience of corruption in the management of the Covid pandemic is another sad reality before us.

All these examples share a common fibre and denominator. All these examples of frustration, anger and rage exposes the blunt reality on the ground in our country, namely the huge, widening gap between the haves and the have nots. Extremely high levels of poverty, desperation, hopelessness is the common factor, but what we experienced over the past week was on a gigantic magnitude.

It is absolutely crucial we understand this harsh reality on the ground, otherwise we will never be able to learn and emerge from this chaos. The big question is, how do we respond to this big challenge before us ie. looting, stealing, destruction of infrastructure, and burning down whatever is in front of us to create a state of anarchy.

LOOTING OVER THE PAST WEEK IS A PITTANCE COMPARED TO THE SYSTEMATIC LOOTING OF POLITICIANS

While the ghastly scenes we witnessed over the past week has rightly set off the alarm, the fact of the matter is that the shameless plundering of our country’s wealth has been happening for a long time, on a much larger scale, in a supposedly civilized manner in the corridors of power by the leadership entrusted with service delivery and who supposed to be the protectors of law!

The looting and stealing we saw in the streets this past week is a subset of the much bigger looting and stealing perpetrated by the politicians of this country for a long time! The cost of repairing the damage witnessed over the past week will be a fraction of the cost of repairing the damage of widespread, sustained corruption.

If you look at how people expressed their rage in the streets this past week is in its substance no different to the behaviour of people who stole money from the Covid-19 Fund!

People have been suffering and dying from this terrible virus, which has ravaged our country and the world, yet the funds which was supposed to rescue those in desperate need was brazenly stolen by the so-called protectors of law and order, to buy luxuries and enrich themselves, conveniently ignoring those for whom these funds were earmarked.

What is the difference between this appalling behaviour and what we witnessed on the streets over the past week?

GRADUAL ACCUMULATION OF ANGER RESULTED IN THE PAST WEEK’S EXPLOSION

Corruption, stealing in our country has reached its peak, being state capture, where the whole system of governance has been taken ransom by a few individuals. This saga of state capture rears its ugly head on every corner of this country’s corruption, and the scale of endless suffering it has brought the people is clear for all to see. And now, it has very clearly reached the point of explosion, where people simply cannot take it anymore, and they look for any opportunity to express their anger and desperation.

Of course, there are those pious fraud politicians who want to teach morality and noble character, saying that you have the right to protest, but you need to protest within the construct of the law. The irony is that these holy lessons are coming from the same people who did not remember morality when they emptied the public treasury or stole from Covid-19 coffers!

Very true, the civil right of protest is indeed there, but if this only results in the impassioned pleas of the protesters repeatedly falling on deaf ears, then we see this all culminate in an explosion of anger and rage.

So, in a nutshell, looters, thieves and criminals are on both sides; those who are giving flowery sermons of good citizenship and law-abiding behaviour on the one hand and those who are perpetrating the criminal activity over the past week on the other hand.

MORAL BANKRUPTCY AND ABSENCE OF GOD (SWT) IS THE ROOT OF ALL EVIL

I want to now draw your attention to another major insight from the problem facing our beloved country. Yes indeed, this country is hurt and full of wounds from Apartheid, injustice and oppression, to the wounds of corruption, incapable leadership and political bankruptcy.

At the same time, what is a common in all these terrible realities before us, from the person in the street committing a crime, who loots or steals, to the highest-ranking public officials who take millions of Rands in bribes, is that we have completely lost our sense of morality, faith and God-consciousness.

When we respond, we think that we are free to respond in whatever way possible. Our mentality is that because I cannot enjoy, why should anybody else enjoy?! That then leads to the scale of destruction we witnessed over the past week. This is where I wish to present the Islamic angle to this dangerous mentality.

HOLY QURAN: ABSENCE OF TAQWA IS A FOUNDATION ON A COLLAPSING BANK

Verse 109 of Surah Tauba, which I opened this discussion with, in summary explains that anything which is not based upon Taqwa (God-consciousness) and the realization of the fact that whoever you are, and whatever challenges you find yourself in, no matter how desperate your situation is, nothing justifies you to establish your reaction on anything but Taqwa of Almighty Allah (SWT).

Almighty Allah (SWT) challenges us in verse 109 of Surah Tauba (Chapter 9 of the Holy Quran) to think about what is better for us: building our life of struggle based upon faith and acknowledgement of the responsibility of our actions before Him to attain His ultimate pleasure, or establishing our structure based on anything other than Taqwa, which is described in this verse as establishing a foundation on the brink of a collapsing bank!

أَفَمَنْ أَسَّسَ بُنْيَانَهُ عَلَىٰ تَقْوَىٰ مِنَ اللَّهِ وَرِضْوَانٍ خَيْرٌ أَمْ مَنْ أَسَّسَ بُنْيَانَهُ عَلَىٰ شَفَا جُرُفٍ هَارٍ فَانْهَارَ بِهِ فِي نَارِ جَهَنَّمَ ۗ وَاللَّهُ لَا يَهْدِي الْقَوْمَ الظَّالِمِينَ

“Is he, therefore, better who lays his foundation on fear of Allah and (His) good pleasure, or he who lays his foundation on the edge of a cracking hollowed bank, so it broke down with him into the fire of hell; and Allah does not guide the unjust people.”

This is the important realization we need to acknowledge, that faith, morality and God-consciousness has unfortunately disappeared from our society. Our political leadership has given the least bit of importance to these crucial ingredients of a healthy society, and accordingly, it has gradually disappeared.

Political leaders, when they commit corruption and loot the public treasury, to those people who attacked property and human life over the past week, all have a common denominator, namely that there is not even an iota of moral compass remaining. The moral fibre of all levels of society has gradually dissipated into thin air, as we do not have the smallest of fear of God, or presence of God in our practical life.

LESSONS FROM THE GOVERNANCE OF IMAM ALI (A.S)

Suddenly we see revolutionary, leftist slogans and ideologies gaining ground on social media. The argument presented is that revolutions always start with criminality, which results in an explosion, and without an explosion, we will never come right.

On the contrary, Islam and especially in the school of Ahlul Bait (a.s), and in particular, the political thought of Amir al-Mu’mineen Imam Ali ibn abi Talib (a.s), does not accept this approach of revolutionizing criminality. They are quite clear that it will not produce a moral revolution.

People came to Imam Ali (a.s) when he became the Caliph of the Islamic state, asking him to become more political in his approach ie. they wanted him to adopt a greater sense of political trickery. His response was an unequivocal refusal, challenging them by saying “you want to suggest I seek help of injustice to establish justice?”

Therefore, one can argue that Imam Ali (a.s) was perhaps not a very successful politician the way we associate with politics, because he was not ready to compromise on this morality!

SHOPS WILL BE RESTORED BUT THE HURT FROM RACISM WILL REMAIN FOR A LONG TIME

Those who will suffer the long-term effects from the lawlessness of the past week is again none other than the poorest of the poor. One does not think when one is angry and enraged the way we saw this past week. And when we have no concept of God-consciousness, then we do whatever our anger and rage fuels us to do.

The whole world has seen the ugly face of our country from the past week’s unrest. But what was the reaction? Interestingly, the reaction from those supposedly more civilized, who portray themselves as being on a higher moral standing, was one of strong racial undertones. This was particularly evident in Kwazulu-Natal.

The unrest over the past week was not due to racism. However, some people reacted to the anarchy by purely looking at the skin colour of the criminals. This is because they are blinded by their racism, and they do not see human beings as human beings. Hence, their immediate reaction is in the form of ugly racism, while claiming that they are reacting to the looters to protect the economy and life (but in the most racist manner)!

This naturally provoked a racist reaction from the other side as well, turning it into a racial war. For how long this will continue is indeed unpredictable, because it is a whole lot deeper than simply looting a store. The store will eventually be restored, but the seeds of hate from racism is certainly not going to be repaired easily.

This is where the guiding principles of Taqwa and morality once again has to come to the fore in our response. It is also against this backdrop of racism where the big thieves in the form of political parties and political leaders come to exploit the ugly situation.

POLITICS OF IMAM ALI (A.S) VERSUS MU’AWIYA

I can never forget that beautiful statement by Imam Ali ibn abi Talib (a.s), where he says:

“Don’t think that Mu’awiya is shrewder than me.
I can be much more cunning than Mu’awiya, but he deceives and commits evil deeds.
Had it not been reprehensible to commit evil deeds and deceit, I would have been the most cunning and shrewd of all the men.
Every deceit is a sin, and every sin is a disobedience of Allah (SWT), and every deceitful person has a banner by which he/she will be recognized on the Day of Judgement.”

Imam Ali (a.s) then makes the following very deeply thought-provoking statement:
“By Allah (SWT), I swear, I cannot be made forgetful by strategy, nor can I be overpowered by hardships.”

When one aims to follow the path of Imam Ali (a.s), then hardships never deviate them from the path of justice, nor does it steer them towards the path of racism or breaking the law with irrational behaviour which has nothing for the long-term other than destruction!

I would like to conclude by saying that we desperately need faith in God (SWT). We really need His presence. We really need the consciousness and recognition of our accountability before our Creator, Almighty Allah (SWT).

This is the solution to our problems, whether it be the current state of anarchy, or gender-based violence or violence in general in our society. It all comes down to this common denominator, that the presence of God (SWT) has been removed from society and urgently needs to be restored.

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