Transcript – Imam Ali (as) Birthday
25 February 2021 (13th night of Rajab 1442)
Ahlul Bait (a.s) Masjid, Ottery, Cape Town
by Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider
Respected brothers and sisters, I would like to foremostly extend my heartiest congratulations on this auspicious night of Milad of the Master of the Monotheists, Commander of the Faithful, The Victorious Lion of Allah (swt), Ali ibn Abi Talib (as), to the Master of this Age – Imam al-Mahdi (as) – as well to the eminent Maraji’, to his beloved followers and to all justice-loving people of this world. For these groups of people, we celebrate a personality tonight who was the complete embodiment of truth, justice, human dignity and honour for the human being.
We thank Almighty Allah (swt) that after this incredible difficult time with the COVID restrictions, we can celebrate this illuminous occasion together at the masjid of Ahlulbait (as). Many of us have been directly impacted by this virus, and by the grace of the Ahlulbait (as) have been able to come out of this tribulation. We pray in these testing times that all those afflicted with COVID-19 are granted full recovery with the intercession of Ameerul Mo’mineen.
In Surah Yunus, verse 62, a well-known verse that we are very familiar with, Allah (swt) elucidates two important qualities about a distinct group of servants:
أَلآ إِنَّ أَوْلِيَآءَ اللَّهِ لاَ خَوْفٌ عَلَيْهِمْ وَلاَ هُمْ يَحْزَنُونَ
“Behold! Verily no fear shall be upon the friends of Allah, nor shall they grieve;”
Surah Yunus (10: 62)
The Quran establishes in this ayah that everyone in this world suffers from these two problems – fear and grief. The only group that is exempted from this norm is the Awliya-Allah. There is no sorrow or grief experienced by this category of people. Why is this case? To understand this deeper, we need to really understand what the true meaning of ‘Awliya’ is.
LINGISTUIC UNDERSTANDING OF WALI
Generally, many translators have interpreted ‘Wali’ as ‘friend of God’. However, this does not encompass the comprehensive meaning that the Arabic term conveys. This needs to be further explained to fully capture what the Quran is expressing.
The root word of Waly is و ل ي, meaning something that follows the other. In simpler terms, this can also be explained as succession. A classic example of this in fiqh is in the conditions of salaah. One of the requirements that needs to be met is muwalaat – certain actions need to be performed consequentially with no interval. Therefore, the Waly is someone who has such a close relationship with another to the extent that there is no obstacle nor distance between them. In the context of the Awliya-Allah, this means that they have reached a stage of proximity in which the veils (hijab) of separation have been removed.
From this understanding, translators have derived the word ‘friend’ as between two friends there is no estrangement.
AWLIYA-ALLAH HAVE NO FEAR NOR GRIEF
What is the connection between being a Walyullah, and experiencing no fear or grief? We first need to understand what these two terms fundamentally mean.
Fear is losing something that you have attained.
Grief is the state in which one becomes regretful over not having a possession.
In the case of the Awliyaa, there is neither! This is because they are intrinsically connected with the most Almighty and Powerful. Their perspective of worldly possessions is completely different. They see everything as belonging to Allah’s (swt) wholly.
GNOSTICAL INTERPRETATION OF FEAR AND GRIEF
When the mystics approach this ayah, they take a different perspective. The Awliyaa are in a state of annihilation (fana) in Allah’s majesty and beauty. At this station there is no space to think of losing and gaining! Their very existence has moved past the point of desiring material objects to the extent that they become grieved. This is a very deep topic and has its own particularities in truly understanding what this spiritual state is.
IMAM ALI (AS) AS THE MASTER OF THE AWLIYAA
I want to pose a question tonight – if the Awliyaa are in this state, then what about Sayyidul Awliyaa? What about Rukne Wilayah (pillar of wilayah), someone who the institution of wilayah is built upon?!
To further understand this unique status of the Imam (as), we have a hadith recorded in both Sunni and Shi’ite sources. The Prophet (SAW) has been recorded to have said: ‘Ali is with the Truth and the Truth is with Ali…’
Up until this point, the content is understandable. What follows on in the latter part is what is of utmost importance.
The Prophet (SAW) then continued: ‘…and it moves as he moves.’ The report does not specifically mention which is the axis by which we can understand the correct path. There are two possibilities:
- The truth is firstly established and then Imam Ali (as) follows.
- What Imam Ali (as) establishes through his actions and words, the truth conforms.
Allamah Amini (ra) in his famous Al-Ghadeer declares that if the first opinion were the meaning of the hadith, this would not differentiate Imam (as) from the others! He further adds that many pious companions and individuals of the past had always submitted to the truth whenever they had encountered it. While this is still in the praise of Imam Ali (as), it fails to apprehend the position that he holds.
In order to supplement our understanding of this above narration, we have another authentic hadith that makes the matter clear. The Prophet (SAW) also mentioned: ‘The scale of truth is Ali (as).’ This shows that the Imam (as) is the criteria by which the truth is held against.
Ayatollah Javadi Amoli takes this argument a step further. Using the ahadith we have quoted, he cites a specific incident in relation to the battle of Khyber. To briefly recap, Khyber was fort situated on the outskirts of Madina. It was occupied by the Jews of that area, and due to failure in their commitments to the state – war had ensued. The battle had continued for days as the Muslim army struggled to breakdown the enemy forces despite their repeated efforts. During this period Imam Ali (as) was nursing an eye injury and could not participate in the war. It reached the point where the Prophet (SAW) said: “Tomorrow I will give flag the someone who loves Allah and his Rasul, and Allah loves him and Allah’s Rasul’s also loves him, and Khyber will be conquered by him.’ Numerous companions narrated that when they heard the Prophet (SAW) say this, they were all hopeful that they would receive the flag. However, this was an honour reserved for Imam Ali (as) alone.
When the morning arrived, the Prophet (SAW) called for Imam (as). He placed his blessed saliva on the eyes of the Imam (as) and had healed him of his ailment. Ameerul Mo’mineen then went to the battlefield and had achieved victory. Miraculously, he had removed the door of the fort of Khyber single-handedly. Later the Imam (as) had said this gate was not removed on account of his own strength, but rather due to the power of Almighty Allah swt). This sheds light on another deeper dimension of wilayah.
This hadith proved that Ali (as) was both habib (lover) and mahboob (beloved). We can all claim to love Allah, but nobody claims that they are the Beloved of Allah. This showed the unique status that Imam Ali (as) enjoyed.
IMAM ALI (AS) IS THE COMPLETE MANIFESTATION OF ALLAH’S ATTRIBUTES
As we move on in the attempt to further understand the position of Imam Ali (as), we reach the well-known hadith qudsi of Qurb-Nawafil: ‘None of My servants can seek proximity to Me by that which is dearer to Me than things that I have made obligatory on him. Then, with the performance of nawafil (the recommended acts), he continuously attains proximity to Me, so that I love him. When I love him, I will be the ear with which he hears, the eyes with which he sees, and the hand with which he strikes. If he calls Me, I will answer his call, and if he makes a request, I will grant it.’ It is this manner that Imam Ali (as) becomes the true manifestation of Allah’s attributes.
The important takeaway from this hadith is that this stage is accessible to every servant of Allah (swt). This is available for normal worshippers. The question we need to ask ourselves is what should the condition of Imam Ali (as) be?!
We see this evident in Imam Ali’s (as) life in many instances. One day when Imam Ali (as) had sustained an injury during war, and consequently had remnants of metal/steel inside his body. The pain experienced was excruciating, meaning that the shrapnel could not be removed. The doctors suggested that when the time of salaah arrives, the remnants could be removed as Imam Ali (as) is in a different state.
FEAR AND GRIEF IN THE WORDS OF THE IMAM (AS)
What has been discussed thus far is our perception of fear and grief, and how this was reflected in the lives of the Awliyaa. Consider our approach towards fear – specifically in relation to death. Even at the slightest of changes in our bodily health, we are thinking about the consequences if we were to die. Imam Ali (as), however, when he speaks about the true believers says: ‘If Allah would not have written their time of death, their souls would not remain inside their body for a twinkling of the eye.’ This means that their longing to be with the Almighty has reached such intensity. Furthermore, when Imam (as) was asked about death, he replied that it is nothing but a bridge that takes one across a river. This further shows fear does not exist in their souls.
Ali (as) was a lover of Allah, and we claim to be lovers of Ali (as). This too has degrees. This cannot be merely just said – there is a price that needs to be paid. Meytham Tammar, Ammar ibn Yasir, Bilal al-Habashi – these are the ones who are truly deserving to be called the lovers and followers of Imam (as).
I will conclude with this story relating to the love and hatred of Imam Ali (as). One day a lover of Imam Ali (as) had committed a crime. The Imam had cut his fingers as punishment. When he left, the people teased him as he often recited poetry about the very man who severed his fingers. The man, in the state of injury, began reciting poetry in praise of the Imam, proclaiming his beautiful titles. This story reminds one of the discerning words of Imam (as) when he says: ‘Even if I strike the nose of a believer with this, my sword, for hating me he will not hate me, and even if I pile all the wealth of the world before a hypocrite (Muslim) for loving me he will not love me. This is because it is a verdict pronounced by the tongue of the revered Prophet, may Allah bless him and his descendants, as he said:
‘O `Ali, a believer will never hate you and a hypocrite (Muslim) will never love you.’’