An Era of Insanity

“We relate to you their account in truth. They were indeed youths who had faith in their Lord, and We had enhanced them in guidance.” (18:13)

Syndey J. Harris, an American journalist has stated: “There’s something amazing about the passion of youth and its power to sustain. If there’s a more powerful energy source, I don’t know about it.”

There are very few age groups mentioned in the Qur’an. In fact, in the 114 chapters of the final Word of Allah (God), He speaks about some in the infancy stage – such as Moses (Musa), Jesus (Isa) and John (Yahya); and he speaks about “seniors” on a handful of occasions such as when it relates to them being granted children at old age like Zechariah (Zakariyyah) and Abraham (Ibrahim). Another reference to the ‘elderly’ is to one’s mother and father reaching old age and the encouragement – or rather, obligation, upon their children to continue to love, honour and cherish them, and to pray that God bestows His mercy upon them in their old age just as they took care of their children in their infancy. However if we look for references to the ‘youth’ in the Qur’an, we find numerous practical examples.

When Prophet Abraham destroyed the idols of worship and then called upon the villagers to engage in self-introspection into the illogical and senseless act of idolatry, Allah describes this powerful event in the following passage:

[The idol-worshippers] said, “Who has done this to our gods? He surely must be one of the unjust people.” [Some of them] said, “We have heard a youth speaking [ill] of them, and he is known as Abraham.”… [When Abraham was brought to the king,] he said, “Rather it was this leader that has done it— ask the [smashed idols] if they can speak.” (21:62-63)

Another poignant reference to the power of the youth to effect change in themselves and society is encapsulated in the story of the ‘Companions of the Cave’ (Ashabul Kahf) related in the eighteenth chapter of the Qur’an.

A group of young men who had become dejected due to the state of affairs of their society, they tried their best to make a change – however it became a very difficult task to enact – just as it is today when a young man or woman wants to ‘swim against the current’ and forge their own identity rather than relying on the “pop culture” they live in.

Allah begins their story by stating:

“When the youths took refuge in the Cave, they said, ‘Our Lord! Grant us a mercy from Yourself, and help us on to rectitude in our affair.’” (18:10)

He refers to them specifically in regards to their age bracket – YOUTH!

Although in Islam, a youth is defined other than what we see in the popular culture which practices population profiling by breaking up the human experience into: infancy, childhood, pre-pubescent, young adult, adult, senior, etc… to an extent, Islam looks at a person’s global outlook and uses that (at one level) as how to define a youth from an ‘old person’, just as the late martyr, Ayatullah Murtaza Mutahhari puts it:

I should state this point here that when we use the phrase the “generation of the youth,” our aim is not to specify the level or age of the youth.  Rather, our aim is to speak to that level or group of people who, due to the effects of their own studies and acquaintance with the new civilizations, have developed a specific way of thought and intellect – whether these people happen to be old or young.  However most of these people are from the younger generation and it is because of this that we refer to it as the “generation of the youth,” whereas we see that there are also a great number of “older people” who possess this new way of thinking and there are also many “youth” whose thought pattern and beliefs resemble the older, past generations. 

Allah then continues His story of the youth and states:

“We relate to you their account in truth. They were indeed youths who had faith in their Lord, and We had enhanced them in guidance.” (18:14)

We are shown young men who displayed an unwavering commitment to the faith and through this, Allah enhanced and increased their guidance and propensity towards the truth.

Another interesting point which Allah “takes the time” to mention is when they woke up from their deep slumber and needed to get something to eat that they said to one another:

“Now send one of you with this silver (coin) of yours to the city, then let him see which of them has purest food, so let him bring you provision from it, and let him behave with gentleness, and by no means make your case known to anyone.” (18:19)

These youth were not merely concerned about stuffing their faces and filling their stomaches with anything they could find – rather, they were looking to eat PURE FOOD.

Sadly today, many of us think that if the restaurant has a neon sign flashing the “holy word” of “Halaal”, that we’re good to go! Unfortunately, we take the “Halaal” word for granted to such an extent that today, Muslims, non-Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, Jews, Christians, etc… can open up a restaurant and advertise “Halaal” and we don’t think twice about asking them details of what they are serving, how they prepare it, etc… Just because the meat is Halaal does not mean one can eat it – have we ever thought about asking if their Halaal meat gets cross-contaminated with non-halaal meat or worse – pork? Do we ask what else is put into the food!?

Some may criticize me for “going too deep” into the religion, but the fact is that in an era in which the global forces of arrogance are working against us ONLY because of our religion and its principals, we must GO DEEP and be people who show concern for every aspect of our existence.

Sadly, many do not realize that Islamic law has two aspects – the jurisprudential and the spiritual – something may be “permissible” to eat but may affect us spiritually – not counted as a sin, but detrimental to our spiritual well-being and progress.

The youth of the cave also ‘behaved with gentleness’ – something else which we need to keep in mind – that our manners exemplify the leaders whom we love and cherish so dearly – the Prophet and his immaculate family members. It is not enough to only ‘celebrate’ them, but we must also ‘emulate’ them.

Coming back to Suratul Kahf, when we read this chapter and this story and seriously reflect on these youth (or watch the mini-series produced in Iran and available at www.shiasource.com entitled “The Men of Anjalus”) and super-impose their life example on what the youth in the “West” and “East” go through, we see many similarities.

The challenges they faced in their era could have led them to leave their religion, turn their back on faith and become like the rest of society, living a licentious lifestyle; engaging in a hedonistic philosophy of life; drinking and smoking illicit drugs and engaging in all sorts of debauchery that we see in society today and they could have perhaps presented that argument to Allah on the judgment day that they were pushed to do what others were doing and had no choice but to submit to temptation – however they did something revolutionary – they revolted against the system they were in and rather than submitting to the prevalent culture around them, they forged their own identity!

At this point, keeping in mind that although they entered the cave as ‘youth’, however after 350 years of being alive, one can hardly be called a young man or woman, the 6th Imam, Ja’far as-Sadiq said the following to Sulayman ibne Jafar al-Hadhali:

“O’ Sulayman, what is meant by a young person [al-Fataa]?”  He said, “May I be sacrificed for your sake.  In our opinion, a young person [al-Fataa] is a youth [al-Shaabb].”  The Imam said to me, “However you should know that surely the Companions of the Cave [Ashabul Kahf] were all old people, however Allah refers to them as youth who have true faith?!  O’ Sulayman, the one who believes in Allah and has consciousness of Him is a young person.” (Tafsir of al-Ayyashi, v. 2, pg. 323, trad. 11)

Now the “moral” of this story is not that the youth of today break away from society, rush to the mountainous regions of their country or flee to some other nation – even an ‘Islamic country’ to purify themselves and lead a ‘holy’ life, but rather, that we reflect on what we can do to stem the tide of secularism and the domination of ‘global arrogance’ to forge our own identity as Muslims growing up in irreligious societies and to effect change around us.

Today, we see numerous Muslim youth in “The West” who are functional members of the society; they go to public schools; they get a higher education in the University system and go on to find professional careers or launch extremely successful business ventures; they earn copious amount of money; purchase large homes and drive fancy cars and in summary, are fully enjoying their lives in this world while all at the same time, are cognizant of their responsibilities to their families, their religious community and to Allah, the Prophet and his esteemed family and their noble and trust-worthy companions. They volunteer at their local religious centres; donate their time to assisting at the food-bank or soup kitchen; they devote time to the local non-profit charities; arrange camps, seminars and other programs for their age group and the upcoming generation; they donate their hard-earned money to furthering the cause of Islam in the region in which they live through the funding of the publishing of books and magazines and the construction of religious centres and much, much more.

In essence, their ‘seclusion’ is not in a cave, but rather, they live in the world, but seclude themselves from the immorality, irreligiousness and other forces which seek to pressure them to leave the faith and all of its goodness.

We conclude with one of the most potent words of wisdom from the 2nd Imam and the grandson of the Prophet – Imam Hasan ibne ʿAli al-Mujtaba (peace be upon him) and if this something which all of us practiced, we’d see a huge paradigm shift in our community:

“Surely today you are the youth of the nation, and tomorrow, you will be the leaders of the community, thus, it is incumbent upon you to seek knowledge.  So then if you are not able to memorize all that you learn, then you must write it down and preserve it (for safe keeping) so that you can refer to it later on (when you need it).” (Ref. Bihar al-Anwar, v. 2, pg. 152, trad. 37)




Spiritual Power of Women

“God draws an[other] example for those who have faith: the wife of Pharaoh, when she said, ‘My Lord! Build me a home near You in paradise, and deliver me from Pharaoh and his conduct, and deliver me from the wrongdoing lot.’ And Mary, daughter of Imran, who guarded the chastity of her womb, so We breathed into it of Our spirit. She confirmed the words of her Lord and His Books, and she was one of the obedient.” (66:11-12)

Washington Irving, the American author, biographer and historian of the 19th century, famously known for his works “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip Van Winkle” and a biography of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him and his family, has said: “There is in every true woman’s heart, a spark of heavenly fire, which lies dormant in the broad daylight of prosperity, but which kindles up and beams and blazes in the dark hour of adversity.”

As we continue our journey into the Qur’anic narratives, we now turn our focus to women who exemplified the highest of moral teachings – not only in everyday life but more so, under the greatest of sufferings meted out to them by their society, circle of friends and family – however somehow, they maintained their composure and submission to Allah.

Even though all of the deputed Prophets and their successors were male and the Qur’an also transmits stories of other men such as Luqman, however when Allah brings forth the stories of spiritually-strong women, He presents them as exemplars for not only women – but for all humanity!

Though their mention is spread through the Qur’an, the most descriptive and beautiful remark in regards to Asiya and Maryam is contained in the 66th chapter of the Qur’an known as The Prohibition.

A short chapter of only 12 verses, it describes two groups of women:

The first group were two specific wives of the final Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him and his family). Not to dwell on these women and their history, however it should be noted that in this chapter, they were reprimanded for casting doubts on the Prophet; their plotting with one another to insult and hurt the Prophet’s feelings and their concerted efforts to work against the Prophet.

Before ending His discussion on these two individuals, Allah tells the Muslims that He, His Angels and the righteous believers (which according to some narrations is a reference to Imam Ali, peace be upon him) will protect, safeguard and honour the legacy of the final Apostle of Allah even if his own community and close ones try to humiliate him.

The chapter continues and we reach to the portion that we want to focus on in this discussion which is about two noble women who safeguarded their faith even while living in corrupt environments.

The first exemplar is the wife of the Pharaoh [of Egypt] – a woman who initially lived a life of luxury however later on, ended up enduring extreme difficulties and eventually was tortured to death by her husband for her unwavering commitment to the monotheistic message of Moses. She must have been a strong woman who, when was given the message of the truth, decided to accept it and revert back to “Islam” even against her husband’s wishes – a man who was not only her husband, but the king of Egypt; not only the king of Egypt, but a man who considered himself the “Lord” of the universe!

The Qur’an narrates only one sentence from her which formed a supplication she made to God, “My Lord! build for me a house with You in the garden and deliver me from Pharaoh and his doing, and deliver me from the unjust people.”

Although she endured the mental, verbal and physical abuse of her husband and ended up becoming a martyr, we must stress that this is not the Islamic mandate for our era and indeed for any believing man or woman! The issue of spousal abuse and family violence is not something new nor are Muslims immune from such things. Indeed, this is not something strictly limited to “The West” – it can occur and probably does happen in “The East”.

The cure is not easy and the answers on how to deal with such issues are also not quick nor are they something which we can elaborate upon in such an article, however it is safe to say as a general rule that enduring mental, verbal or physical abuse with “patience” IS NOT what the faith of Islam asks from us.

Yes, there are traditions in which we are told that if a man or woman puts up with their spouses rudeness, that we will be given a specific reward in the next life, however such traditions must not be twisted to prove that Islam condones family violence – such traditions have a greater interpretation.

Ideally, such issues should be resolved within our community if we have a mechanism in place in which trained experts can wade through the issues and offer solutions – especially if children are involved, however we know that this is not always possible and thus, when we come to a dead end, we need to ensure that the appropriate authorities are brought in to help resolve such issues.

The second Qur’anic example of a chaste woman who was castigated from society is that of Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Indeed there was a Divine plan as to why she conceived a child as she did and as the Qur’an beautifully relates mentions it, “We breathed into her of Our inspiration”, however the outcome of this immaculate conception – being a test for the people of her time and also herself, is one in which she came out with flying colours. However those around her stopped at nothing and began to accuse her of bringing shame onto her family! Allah quotes her outcome in the Qur’an in verse 12 of Surah al-Tahreem as, “And Mary, the daughter of Imran, who guarded her chastity, so We breathed into her of Our inspiration and she accepted the truth of the words of her Lord and His books, and she was of, the obedient ones.”

Without a doubt, these women, and women in general – most specifically in our era, face numerous challenges in their lives – sometimes more than men do. However through the observance of patience (in the true meaning of this word – not “passive waiting” but “active engagement”) and by taking inspiration from such role models and individuals who are closer to us (in time and experience) such as Lady Zaynab the daughter of Ali and her role after the massacre in Kerbala’ Fatima the daughter of Rasulullah and the oppression she faced after the death of her father and even contemporary women not from the Prophetic family, we understand that women cannot only reach the peaks of importance in this world in which they are the focal point of millions of people and behind whom people march in revolution, but they are given such an exalted spiritual rank that they become role-models for all of humanity!

Let us close this discussion with one of the most beautiful sayings from Allah in which He explains the rank of a woman. Allah has stated, “I am al-Rahman (the most merciful to all of My creation). I formulated the name of the womb (al-Rahm) from My name. Therefore, the one who maintains ties with his womb (mother), I shall maintain ties with him; the one who breaks off ties with his womb (mother), I shall sever ties with him.”

What greater reverence can a woman have than to be given this noble distinction and for her to be one who shares such a close affinity to Allah; imagine being one for whom heaven lies under her feet!

Indeed, when we honour, love, cherish and respect the women in our lives and our society, we are honouring Allah…




Degrees

“[There] they found one of Our servants whom We had granted a mercy from Ourselves, and taught him a knowledge from Our own. Moses said to him, ‘May I follow you for the purpose that you teach me some of the probity you have been taught?’ He said, ‘Indeed you cannot have patience with me! And how can you have patience about something you are not in the know of?’ He said, ‘You will find me, God willing, to be patient, and I will not disobey you in any matter.’ He said, ‘If you follow me, do not question me concerning anything until I [myself] make a mention of it to you.’” (18:65-70)

John Abbott has said: “How do you know so much about everything?” was asked of a very wise and intelligent man; and the answer was, “By never being afraid or ashamed to ask questions as to anything of which I was ignorant.”

Our continuation through the stories of the Qur’an brings us to one of the ‘resolute Prophets’ – Moses, peace be upon him, and his encounter with al-Khidr. However before we delve into this Qur’anic experience, let us get to know al-Khidr a little bit better as he is one of those ‘mysterious’ personalities of the Qur’an…

According to the scholars of Islam, al-Khidr is either a ‘saint’ or a prophet who lived during the era of Prophet Moses, peace be upon him, and is the one whom Moses learnt from. He is not mentioned by name in the Qur’an however he is referred to as, “A servant from amongst Our servants whom We have given from Our mercy and whom We have taught knowledge from Ourself.”

Other than his mention in Suratul Kahf (ch. 18), we don’t see any reference to him in the Qur’an, however he is referred to the supplication of al-Mashlool and the supplication of Rajab, known as the Du’a of Umm Dawud, alongside other Prophets and some traditions refer to him as the Prophet al-Yasa’a who is mentioned in the Qur’an by name [“…and Ishmael, Elisha, Jonah and Lot – each We graced over all the nations.”(ch. 6, v. 86)

There is a tradition from the Commander of the Faithful, Ali b. Abi Talib, peace be upon him, in which he mentioned six prophets who are known by two different names – one of these prophets being al-Khidr was is also known as Taaliyaa and that his full name was Taaliyaa b. Malkaan b. ‘Aamir b. Arfakhsad b. Saam b. Nuh (Prophet Noah), peace be upon all of them.

Imam as-Sadiq, peace be upon him, has stated that al-Khidr was sent by God towards his community to teach them monotheism, belief in the prophets of God and to have faith in the Books which He revealed and that one of his miracles was that anytime he sat on or passed by dry, barren land, it would transform into green pastures (thus his name al-Khidr which literally means ‘green’). He is also one of the men of God who has been granted an extra-ordinary long life as is still living on Earth.

The journey of Prophet Moses and al-Khidr is lengthy and on this trip, they went through many lands, saw many people and experienced many life-altering moments – mostly for Prophet Moses – however the lesson which we wish to derive from this meeting of the minds is the importance of HOW to seek knowledge.

Without a doubt, when we study the teachings of the Prophet and the infallibles, we understand that knowledge itself and those who possess knowledge is grand – so much so that as traditions tell us that even the fish in the oceans ask for forgiveness on behalf of those who are seeking knowledge! However with all such Islamic ‘guarantees’, there are pre-requisites which we need to follow – and if we wish to be successful in our quest for enlightenment and receive the rewards stored for the seeker of truth, there are certain points which must be kept in mind.

In our quest for knowledge – and in our discussion, knowledge of Islam – the following three points must be kept in perspective:

  1. Knowledge must be coupled with action.
    1. Imam Ali, peace be upon him, has said that the scholar who does not act according to his knowledge is as the ignorant person walking around aimlessly who will never come out of his state of ignorance. Rather, the proof of God against him (the scholar) is greater (than against others); his loss is greater (than others) and he is more worthy of and deserving of a great punishment from God than others [when he does not act according to what he knows].

One of the first things which a man or woman who is seeking Islamic knowledge must keep in mind is that the quest for knowledge must be coupled with acting upon what is learnt. Just imagine a person who spends 20 years in school studying to become a doctor or another professional and then “leaves” that profession entirely to relax and “enjoy his life” not even using what they had learnt for even one day! Most people would think such a person to be insane to dedicate his nights and days to reading, studying, attending classes and taking part in exams to just disregard everything.

When it comes to Islamic knowledge, one must not go into it hoping to become a “Shaykh” or “Alim” or to lead a community or to gain notoriety and popularity and be on the “speaking circuit” – rather, first and foremost, the knowledge must be FOR SELF and this means that whatever one learns – even if it is one sentence – must be put into practice. The seekers of knowledge need to sincerely study and learn to better themselves!

  1. Speaking without knowledge.
    1. Imam Ali, peace be upon him, advised his son, Hasan al-Mujtaba, peace be upon him, saying that he must not speak about those things which he has no knowledge of and must keep quiet in regards to those things which are not “his business”.

If this statement from the Commander of the Faithful was all that we had in our sources of Islamic guidance on how to carry ourselves in society, and everyone lived by it, we would be in a utopia! Just imagine if every single person of every single faith and every single strata of society lived these words!

First off, the Imam commanded his son (also an infallible) – and as an extension to all of us – to not speak about things which we have no knowledge about and that we should “mind our own business” and not feel that we need to always be saying something. The famous thinker Plato has rightly been quoted as saying, “A wise man speaks because he has something to say; a fool speaks because he has to say something.” Indeed, these two points are extremely important in our society more now than ever.

At one level, our communities and religious centres are in disarray as many have no ‘trained’ religious scholars to impart teachings and we rely upon the ‘local Mulla’ (we use this term very loosely and facetiously) who has read a few books, Googled a few articles and upon donning his Arab clothing, through employing verbal acrobatics, is able to impress the people, convincing them he is a scholar and is able to spell-bind the audience. When asked a question or requested to clarify something, as his knowledge is just facts spewed out, he is not able to respond and may even mislead people!

Even worse than this is the one who has no knowledge however feels that he knows everything about everything and is somehow entitled and obligated to espouse his opinions on God, the Prophet and Islamic teachings even when he is not asked or approached!

In the 21st century, this happens in no other field except for Islam!

We don’t have people who read medical text books and then become over night doctors; we don’t have people who watch CSI and become ace-detectives; we don’t have people who watch Judge Judy and feel that they are now ready to pass judgment – however we do feel that donning a hat and Arab clothing, speaking a few words of Arabic and maybe having a beard (and for our lady speakers, wearing a hijab when they enter the centre but remove it when they are in the society) entitles us to sit on the pulpit (mimbar) of the Prophet and be an expert on religion!

Consider this very powerful verse in regards to something as trivial as a DOG! One of the stories of Surat al-Kahf (18) is about the People of the Cave and at the end of the story, the people “dispute” with one another in regards to the number of people in the cave and who else was with them. The Qur’an speaks about it in this manner in verse 22: “They will say, “(There are) three; their dog is the fourth of them. They will say, (they are) five, their dog is the sixth of them,’ taking a shot in the dark (speaking with no knowledge). They will say, (they are) seven, their dog is the eighth of them.’ Say, ‘My Lord knows best their number and none knows them except a few.’ So do not dispute concerning them except for a seeming dispute, and do not question about them – any of them!”

Glory be to God! We are ORDERED by the Creator of the Universe not to talk and “dispute” about the “Companions of the Cave” and their loyal and trustworthy DOG and how many there were as only God knows how many were present, yet we who have no knowledge want to dispute with others about the Qur’an, Allah, the Prophet, the Imams, and everything else held sacred!?! Have we no shame!

  1. What is the best knowledge that one can learn?
    1. Imam Ali, peace be upon him, has been quoted as saying that people should not learn the ‘science of the stars’ (astrology) except that portion of studying the heavenly bodies which would help guide a person on land and sea.

This piece of guidance, which is a part of a much longer text, was given at a critical time in the history of Islam but the lesson to learn from it is that there is some good in all types of knowledge however NOT ALL BRANCHES of knowledge are beneficial to learn. In fact, in the supplication we read after the Asr prayers we say, “O God, I seek refuge in You from knowledge which does not benefit me.”

When we have Q&A sessions with our local scholars or visiting guests, in many cases, the queries of the believers has a lot to be desired. Rather than discussing the points of knowledge which can benefit us and give us life and can make us progress in various fields of secular or religious life, we ask the ‘regular’ questions about music, movies, makeup, mixed gatherings and the status of eating various types of food or food made by people of other religions. Islam has already given clear guidance on these issues in the books and all it takes is for us to go to these sources, however we seem to focus on the rudimentary aspects of life!

In closing as although much more could be said on this issue, we need to go back to the points outlined by al-Khidr to his “student”, Prophet Moses and work upon ourselves and our quest for Islamic knowledge.




Best of Stories

“Indeed We have sent it down as an Arabic Qur’an so that you may apply reason. We will recount to you the best of narratives in what We have revealed to you of this Qur’an, and indeed prior to it you were among those who are unaware [of it].” (12:2-3)

Sallust (86 bc to 34 bc), the Roman historian and politician, has been quoted as saying: “They envy the distinction I have won; let them therefore, envy my toils, my honesty, and the methods by which I gained it.”

As have seen thus far, the Noble Qur’an is replete with historical narratives – some mentioned in brief with its moral lessons just touched upon, while others are recounted with such vivid detail that the reader feels as if he has been transported back in time and is living the event. The story of Prophet Yusuf (Joseph) and his eleven brothers is of the second type of story of the Qur’an. In fact, unlike other Prophets and their struggles which are dotted throughout the pages of the Qur’an, interspersed with jurisprudential guidelines, moral commandments and theological arguments, the story of Prophet Yusuf is the only complete “story” contained all-together in one chapter and narrated in one instance – making it “easier” for the truth-seeker to follow the events which were transpiring so long ago…

The initial phases of the life of Prophet Yusuf in which he basked in the company of his loving father, mother and brothers is not unlike that of many other people even in today’s day and age.

Living as the youngest sibling in a large family is always fraught with difficulties and challenges – from having to deal with ‘hand me downs’ which are perhaps no longer in style; ‘competing’ for the love and attention of one’s parents which has to be equally directed towards all of the other brothers and sisters; having to endure ‘bullying’ from older siblings, and many other things. Indeed, Prophet Yusuf, perhaps like many other children, had to face these and many other challenges, however the one thing which he had to face to the greatest extreme which many people MAY NOT go through in their life is the intense feelings of jealousy and anger which his brothers felt for him.

It was these two traits – jealousy – which then manifest through anger which led to the untold number of hardships that Prophet Yusuf had to face. The history is clear that once the incorrect perception that Prophet Ya’qub (Jacob) was not “treating” his children fairly became ingrained in the hearts of the other brothers, jealousy began to simmer within their hearts which finally over took their entire being and manifest itself as the anger and rage. Through their incorrect actions, the brothers ended up losing of the most important God-given blessing – the intellect. It is from this point forward that they began to do things which are inconceivable for the children of a Prophet, such as: beating up their younger brother; throwing him into the well to be left for dead; letting a trade caravan find the brother and selling him into slavery ultimately leading him to be taken hundreds of kilometers away to Egypt; being indirectly guilty of the state Prophet Yusuf found himself in whilst being a servant in the palace of one of the elite and being tempted with sexual impropriety by the wife one of the heads of the state and everything else that he had to go through.

Ultimately, he overcame these and numerous other challenges to spiritually lift himself up, and through all of the adversities that were thrown at him, he became victorious over what would have been for most people, events which would have caused them to succumb to the pressures and to give in to temptation and buckle down under the weight of the opportunities of sinning – ending up in a state of remorse for the rest of their lives…

Indeed, the beautiful story of Prophet Yusuf contained in the Qur’an (and now thanks to the Iranian cinema industry can be seen in the multi-part mini-series – available online at www.shiasource.com), if carefully and thoroughly studied becomes an entire lesson in Islamic ethics and morality and the eternal moral lesson of always “seeing the silver lining behind the dark cloud” and “being able to make the best out of any situation” and thus, has the potential to instill timeless teachings within ourselves, our family and our entire community.

One of the most powerful lessons which we extract from the life of challenges which Prophet Yusuf went through vis-à-vis his brothers is the extreme power and uncontrollable danger which anger can play in our lives.

This very important God-given ability, if not governed and kept under control, can cause serious damage to many around us – including ourselves – and it is for this reason that the four cardinal powers which are present within all of us – the powers of: intellect; anger; desires and imagination must be channeled and ruled by something much higher and greater – the Divinely sent teachings and teachers.

No one would deny the power of desire – whether this ‘power’ guides us to food and drink, temporal authority or towards the opposite gender – however if kept uncontrolled and not reigned in under the Divine authorities, it can cause us to imbibe the forbidden; consume the unlawful; seize control of institutions, religious organizations or countries when we are not worthy of such authority and can lead to sexual impropriety on a mass scale!

The power of anger is the same – this God-given ability has the ability to change a family or society for the better … or the worse.

The same man or woman who gets angry ‘for the sake of God’ and ensures that the Divine ordinances are maintained and that when he sees poverty, homelessness, destitution, injustice and other societal evils and feels “anger” at how people are suffering would use this ‘anger’ to enact a positive change in society – be it by volunteering or establishing soup kitchens, volunteering at local food banks, making contributions to organizations which work to assist orphans, widows, single mothers, single fathers, etc… However if this same man or woman does not channel the anger ‘for the sake of God’ and rather, uses it to hurt the creations of God when he or she is upset such as through the vile crime of spousal or child abuse, physically or verbally abuses others when he or she does not get their way, etc… then the anger can destroy families, communities and ultimately, society as a whole.

Thus, one of the outcomes of the “Best of Stories” as the Qur’an refers to it as, is the destructive nature of anger and jealousy and what it can do to a family and society.

However on the other end of the spectrum, we see that these two ‘worst of traits’ molded and shaped Prophet Yusuf into being one of the most gracious and God-conscious young men of his time such that he became a role-model for those around him. His display of modesty, humility, trust, conviction in God and inner strength to keep away from sins even when being put in a position to indulge in them gives us hope that we too have the ability to work on our inner selves to learn to resist temptation when it comes knocking on our door.

Whereas we as Muslims do not condone or encourage the display of immoral behavior of any sort and are told that we should mould our characters to be as our Prophet and Imams were – beacons of guidance through their actions and noble ethical traits – we must keep in mind that there are always ways to deal with the immoral people around us.

The old adage of “fight fire with fire” does nothing but burn down everything in its way; however if a believer was to “fight fire with water” – not only would he or she put out the flames of anger and everything evil, but perhaps through that ‘water’ he would be able to permit new emotions to grow and mature; if the ‘water’ was not able to quell the heat of the aggressors, it would at least cool down and calm the spirits of the bystanders and show them who is on the right – those who are playing with fire; or those who are playing with water…

As we close yet another lesson on The Narratives of the Qur’an, let us look into our souls and see if we have the fire of jealousy and anger burning within them. If the jealousy and anger are not ‘for the sake of Allah’ but rather, are ‘for the sake of Satan’ or ‘for the sake of our own carnal desires’, we must stop and take a breather and see how it is we can redirect our passions into something which will not cause us and those around us harm…




Spiritual Migration

“He (Abraham) said: ‘Indeed I am going toward my Lord, who will guide me.’” (37:99)

 

“Say (O’ Abraham): Surely my prayer and my sacrifice and my life and my death are (all) for Allah, the Lord of the worlds; No associate has He; and this am I commanded, and I am the first of those who submit.” (6:162-163)

 

The late Martin Luther King has said: “I submit to you that if a man hasn’t discovered something that he will die for, then he isn’t fit to live.”

As we continue in our journey through the narratives of the Noble Qur’an and the men and women that Allah has given us as role-models, we come to the life of one of the world’s most famous prophets. He is a man who is revered by at least half of the population on Earth and whose daily remembrance is an obligation upon every Muslim – especially during the pilgrimage to Mecca – and he is none other than Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham), peace be upon him.

This prophet is unique within the Qur’anic narrative in that he has a chapter named after him (chapter 14) and we know more about him (through the verses of the Qur’an) than almost any other prophet or spiritually enlightened individual.

The Qur’an offers us Prophet Abraham’s biography as a child growing up in Iraq; then as a young adult in what is today’s occupied-Palestine and we then follow him in his trek to present-day Saudi Arabia with his son Ishmael and wife Hagar. The post-Makkan events and his death are not discussed in the Qur’an and thus, the Qur’anic narrative of Abraham ends with his rebuilding of the Ka’bah with his son.

Each of these three stages of his life presents us with important lessons to better understand his message and mission in life and for us to be able to follow in the footsteps of the one referred to as the ‘Friend of Allah’ (Khaleelullah).

One of the realities of the Qur’an and its address towards those who claim “Islam” is the fact that we need to be constantly upgrading and strengthening our connectivity with the Almighty through various means.

Today in the 21st century, in our age of technology and advancement, people find it a “natural progression” to go from one version of an OS to another on their home computer – spending hundreds of dollars and countless hours backing up and installing the new software; we always look for the fastest InterNet connection at home and on the road; we constantly “need” to upgrade our SmartPhone to the latest model which we are told will offer us the ‘ultimate mobile experience’ with live video conferencing, the ability to download killer apps and carry our entire collection of (halaal) MP3s with us wherever we go; and those who live opulent lifestyles feel the urge to constantly update their cars – ensuring that they always have the latest model of BMW, Mercedes, etc… in their drive-way. While we indulge in such obsessive devotions of the flesh, we must also realize that we must also increase and strengthen our connectivity with God – and that too in “new” and “innovative” ways!

In this regards, we have the tradition from the Commander of the Faithful, Ali b. Abi Talib, peace be upon him, has said, “Renew your seeking of repentance (to God) and enliven your worship.” This tradition and its commentary by the scholars of Islam explain to us that when it comes to our daily acts of ‘worship’ (such as through the Salat, recitation of supplications, etc…) that we should introduce variety into our routine and should seek to learn new supplications to recite in and out of the prayers. If we are habituated to a particular supplication in the Month of Ramadhan, we should “experiment” with ones which we have not recited before – ensuring that whatever we read comes from reliable sources of course! Engaging in our worship in this manner will help us focus on the Most High and give us a much needed change in how we live our lives!

These words from the Master of the Believers, other such traditions and verses of the Qur’an show us that we cannot remain stagnate at the level of “Islam” and being mere Muslims. Rather, there are higher levels to our faith and we need to work to attain them if we want to reach to a higher ground.

In fact, in this regards, there is an article entitled Differences Between Islam and Iman which highlights eighteen differences which exist between “al-Islam” (mere submission) and “al-Emaan” (true faith and conviction) – one must consult this piece to better understand the level and ranks of submission.

However, not to detract from the main theme, let us focus on Prophet Abraham and his levels of submission which took him through an extensive spiritual journey to “find” God and to cement the foundations within himself and those around him – from the most uncanny of sources.

To begin with, Prophet Abraham’s ‘spiritual migration’ took him through three phases – something which we also need to work through in our lives:

  1. Theological
  2. Moral
  3. Jurisprudential

One of the first things which the young Prophet Abraham enacted in his life, and is something which each and every one of us needs to seriously consider is our belief system. Is it enough to simply say, “I believe”? Is it enough to go through the motions alongside those “who believe” or is our belief system something much deeper? If we were to be thrown into an ocean of those who openly and directly reject any notion of a Supreme Creator, would our faith waver or would we be able to not only tread water but bring others to the shores of salvation?

Prophet Abraham shows us that early in his life, he was able to hang with those who had the most incorrect of belief systems yet did not let them influence him – rather, HE became the one exerting peer pressure:

“And thus did We show Abraham the kingdom of the heavens and the earth and that he might be of those who are sure. So when the night over-shadowed him, he saw a star; said he: Is this my Lord? So when it set, he said: I do not love the setting ones. Then when he saw the moon rising, he said: Is this my Lord? So when it set, he said: If my Lord had not guided me I should certainly be of the erring people. Then when he saw the sun rising, he said: Is this my Lord? Is this the greatest? So when it set, he said: O my people! surely I am clear of what you set up (with Allah). Surely I have turned myself, being upright, wholly to Him Who originated the heavens and the earth, and I am not of the polytheists. And his people disputed with him. He said: Do you dispute with me respecting Allah? And He has guided me indeed; and I do not fear in any way those that you set up with Him, unless my Lord pleases; my Lord comprehends all things in His knowledge; will you not then mind? And how should I fear what you have set up (with Him), while you do not fear that you have set up with Allah that for which He has not sent down to you any authority; which then of the two parties is surer of security, if you know?” (6:75-81)

  1. At the second level of his submission, Prophet Abraham realized that it was not enough to only have the inner belief and conviction for true-submission – for him and others – rather, he also was cognizant of the fact that as long as sin and temptation remain around a person, others may be inclined to go back to their old ways.

When people try to kick the nicotine habit, one of the first things they are told is: “Avoid people and situations where you will be tempted to smoke. If you usually smoke in a certain chair, don’t sit in that chair. If you usually smoke at a nightclub, avoid that nightclub for a while. Change your usual routine, so your new routine doesn’t include smoking.”

Therefore, there needs to be a physical change around us to effect the inner change. When we make the resolve to stop an act of transgression against God, such as listening to the impermissible forms of music, it is not enough to simply “stop” – rather, we need to break the CDs, delete the MP3s, format the hard-drive, and perhaps replace the MP3 tracks with Quran, permissible nasheed, lectures, etc… so as to not have any of the temptations around us but rather, a legitimate outlet to fill the void!

In regards to Abraham at this second stage of his submission, we are told the following in the Qur’an:

“And, by Allah! I will certainly do something against your idols after you go away, turning back. So he broke them into pieces, except the chief of them, that haply they may return to it. They said: Who has done this to our gods? Most surely he is one of the unjust. They said: We heard a youth called Ibrahim speak of them. Said they: Then bring him before the eyes of the people, perhaps they may bear witness. They said: Have you done this to our gods, O Ibrahim? He said: Surely (some doer) has done it; the chief of them is this, therefore ask them, if they can speak. Then they turned to themselves and said: Surely you yourselves are the unjust; Then they were made to hang down their heads: Certainly you know that they do not speak. He said: What! do you then serve besides Allah what brings you not any benefit at all, nor does it harm you? Fie on you and on what you serve besides Allah; what! do you not then understand?” (21:57-67)

Thus, not only did Abraham destroy the mental beliefs of polytheism and sin through logical arguments, but he also physically destroyed the physical idols of worship to prevent people from going back to their old ways.

  1. At the third and final level of submission we see that sometimes for the spiritual migration to have the impact which a person is seeking, he needs to engage in a physical migration – either a short-term temporary sojourn or a long-term – even permanent – move. In fact, perhaps all of the prophets and friends of God have engaged in migration (hijrah) from one land to another in search of the ideal place to lead a wholesome life – the final Prophet of Islam being no different in his move from Mecca to Medina; or the Commander of the Faithful’s move from Medina to Kufa; or ultimately, Imam al-Husayn’s move from Medina to Kerbala.

Prophet Abraham needed to take his wife Hagar and his new-born son Ishmael thousands of kilometers away to Mecca to engage in the third stage of his life and to work on the building of the self – and what a migration it was as through the journey to Mecca, the Hajj of the Muslims becomes manifest and many of the acts we perform now remind us of the spiritual and physical migration of Abraham.

The Qur’an beautifully speaks about such migrations in numerous passages, including the following:

“And (as for) those who migrate in Allah’s way and are then slain or die, Allah will most certainly grant them a goodly sustenance, and most surely Allah is the best Giver of sustenance.” (22:58)

“O My servants who believe! surely My earth is vast, therefore Me alone should you serve.” (29:56)

In fact, migration is such an important topic in Islam that our religious scholars have written tracts on this topic and contemporary academics such as the grand Ayatullah, Sayyid Ali al-Husayni as-Seestani has even stated the following [for more details on this, refer to the work, A Code of Practice for Muslims in the West found on www.najaf.org]:

A Muslim who is born and raised in a Muslim country where he consciously and subconsciously absorbs the laws, values and teachings of Islam, grows up into a young person who is aware of the customs of his religion, following its path and is led by its guidance. On the other hand, a Muslim who is born, and brought up in a non-Muslim country demonstrates the influence of that environment very clearly in his thoughts, ideas, behaviour, values, and etiquette unless his Lord helps him. This un-Islamic influence is seen more in the second generation of those who have migrated to non-Muslim countries.

This was the reason for Islam’s view on at-ta’arrub ba’d al-hijra as reflected in many ahadith. At-ta’arrub ba’d al-hijra literally means “becoming shorn of one’s percepts of faith after migrating [to the city],” and technically, it means leaving an environment where you could follow Islam and moving to a place where you maybe prone to not following Islam. Such a migration is counted as one of the major sins.

Abu Basir says that he heard Imam as-Sadiq (peace be with him) saying: “The major sins are seven: killing a person intentionally; associating someone or something with the Almighty Allah (shirk); wrongfully accusing a married woman of adultery; knowingly dealing in usury; running away from the battle-field in jihad; at-ta’arrub ba’d al-hijra; causing distress to one’s parents [by encroaching on their rights]; and wrongfully acquiring the property of the orphan.” Then he said, “At-ta’arrub and shirk are one and the same [in severity].”

This, however, does not mean that entering non-Muslim countries is always forbidden. Other ahadith had described for us the reward of one who visits non-Muslim lands, the reward that every Muslim longs for. Hammad al-Sindi narrates that he asked Imam as-Sadiq (peace be with him), “I visit the cities of polytheism [i.e., of the polytheists]; and there are some among us who say that ‘if you die over there, you will be raised [in the Hereafter] along with them.’” The Imam asked me, “O Hammad, when you are over there do you talk about our affair [i.e., our truth] and call [people] to it?” I replied, “Yes.” The Imam asked me, “When you are in these cities, the cities of Islam, do you talk about our affair and call [people] to it?” I replied, “No.” The Imam said, “If you die over there [in the land of the non-Muslims], you will be raised as an ummah by yourself, and there will be light in front of you!”

What beautiful words of the Imam of the Ahlul Bayt – however how difficult it is to enact such things in our busy lives. However the fact remains that physical migration for the betterment of one’s faith, is an issue which needs contemplation and resolve – if a person is in such a situation that he requires to take this third step in his or her life.

It may not mean leaving our comfortable life in “The West” to make a home in some far off, distant land in “The East” – it could be moving from one city in Canada to another one; or one state in the USA which has a small Muslim population to another which has a thriving community with many religious centers or it could mean moving within one’s own city… Whatever the case may be, sometimes change is necessary in our lives as it may have a profound impact on our ability to migrate spiritually towards the Most High.

Therefore in closing, as we engage in our own spiritual migration, let us spend some time to delve deeper into the life of one of the greatest prophets of God and the stages which he went through to effect change in himself and those around him…




Each One Teach One

Allah has said in the Qur’an: “He (Prophet Noah) said, ‘My Lord! Indeed I have summoned my people night and day, but my call only increases their evasion. Indeed whenever I have summoned them so that You might forgive them, they would put their fingers into their ears and draw their cloaks over their heads, and they were persistent [in their unfaith], and disdainful in [their] arrogance. Again I summoned them aloud, and again appealed to them publicly and confided with them privately…”

 

“Education’s purpose is to replace an empty mind with an open one.” Malcolm Forbes

Despite the fact that every prophet sent by God went through physical and mental mistreatment from the ignorant and sometimes obstinate masses, there are few prophets in the history of humanity who have had as many challenges as Prophet Noah, peace be upon him, and even fewer nations that had dire outcomes – a grand deluge – such as his.

Out of the 25 prophets mentioned by name in the Qur’an, Noah, peace be upon him, is one of the few with a chapter named after him. The 71st surah of the Qur’an is devoted to this man of God, and its 28 verses shed light on one facet of his exceptionally long life – the education and propagation of the message he was entrusted with.

Islamic sources declare that he lived for close to 2,500 years – of which 950 years were spent teaching and propagating the message. In his quest to educate the masses and open the people’s minds, Prophet Noah, peace be upon him, utilized various means at his disposal. In introducing “religion”, he instituted three distinct, yet cohesive divisions of the path towards God which we see in verse 3: “That you should serve Allah [Islamic Jurisprudence – Fiqh]; and be careful of (your duty to) Him [Islamic Morality and Ethics – Akhlaaq]; and obey me [Islamic Beliefs – Aqaaid].” In fact, his division of ‘religion’ into these three categories holds true even today.

He promised the people that if they followed his code of life that they would be showered with special favours from God, however as history has shown, “outsiders” and even those from amongst their own community end up mocking and ridiculing the propagators and educators of the faith. In Noah’s, peace be upon him, example this was carried out in three different ways: they would plug their ears; cover themselves with their clothing; and eventually run away from him!

His invitation in the “open” – en masse and in “seclusion” – on a one-to-one basis, added nothing but an aversion to the truth in their hearts and ultimately, his hundreds of years of efforts resulted in just a handful of followers.

We would never say that Prophet Noah, peace be upon him, was unsuccessful in his mission – his “job”, just as the job of all Prophets and even our own responsibility is to convey the message – whether people accept it or not is not on our shoulders. However what we do learn from his example is that as believers, we need to use whatever tools are at our disposal to convey the message and must never tire in the path of education and enlightenment.

Coming to the contemporary relevance of his story and our responsibility as Muslims: One thing is certain which is that we have not been commanded to become “missionaries” or “propagators” of the religion as is seen in other faiths and perhaps even in some sects in Islam where they are required to travel for up to 40 consecutive days in ‘tabligh’ – going door to door and inviting people to the faith of Islam. Rather as Muslims, we are reminded to be continuous and conscious educators of the faith of Islam in every instance of our lives – at work, school, in the malls, parks, etc… keeping in mind that this role as an active educator also entails a subtle ‘invitation’ to the faith of Islam through our conduct.

In fact, there is a grave misunderstanding within certain segments of the community which feel that it is only the “officially trained” scholars of the faith who have the authority or jurisdiction to “teach” and “propagate” Islam – however this can be no further from the truth! HOWEVER, it must be known that those who wish to call others to Islam and the ways of the Ahlul Bayt and are interested in teaching Muslim and non-Muslim alike MUST possess sound and factual knowledge on Islam and must have the Islamic etiquette of teaching and guiding: “Call to the way of your Lord with wisdom and goodly exhortation, and have disputations with them in the best manner; surely your Lord best knows those who go astray from His path, and He knows best those who follow the right way.” (16:125)

Consider the following tradition from the Prophet of Islam, peace be upon him and his family, in which he highlights the reward given to those who actively work to promote and educate the faith: “God shall grant a status and esteem to a person who, upon hearing my teachings, pays heed to them, retains them in (his) memory and conveys them to those who have not heard them.” al-Kafi, vol. 1, pg. 403; Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 2, pg. 14

When speaking to His chosen servant, Prophet Moses, peace be upon him, God said: “If you were to return someone to me who had run away from My door or (you were to guide) someone who had gone astray from My threshold, it would be more excellent for you than if you were to worship Me for a hundred years spending its days in a state of fast and its nights in worship and prayers.” Munyatul al-Mureed, pg. 116; Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 2, pg. 4

Practically speaking, the concept of “Each One, Teach One” can be put into practice through various ways – and in actuality, there is not really one ‘way’ to guidance – it takes place through the ways and means of the era and region in which one is living. In addition, the responsibility of dissemination of the teachings of Islam has to follow different approaches according to whether it is done among non-Muslims or Muslims (as Muslims we have the foundational belief of ‘Enjoining the Good and Forbidding the Evil’ which must be practiced amongst the believers – this too becomes a form of “propagation” and “invitation” to the truth.)

Whatever way we decide upon, the rewards are tremendous and according to the traditions, the outcome is almost guaranteed – as we see in a beautiful tradition from the 8th Imam, Ali b. Musa al-Ridha, peace be upon him, when he spoke to Abdus Salam b. Salih al-Hirawi and gave him the following light of guidance: May God have mercy on one who revives our mission!” I said to the Imam: “How can one revive your mission?” The Imam replied: “He should learn our teachings and impart them to the people for if the people become aware of the beauty of our teachings, they would have no other choice but to follow us!” Ma’ani al-Akhbar, pg. 180; ‘Uyun al-Akhbar al-Ridha, vol, 1, pg. 307




Pride and Prejudice

“Certainly We created you, then We formed you, then We said to the angels, ‘Prostrate before Adam.’ So they [all] prostrated, except Iblis (Satan): he was not among those who prostrated. Said He, ‘What prevented you from prostrating, when I commanded you?’ ‘I am better than him,’ he said. ‘You created me from fire and You created him from clay.’” (Al-Qur’an 7:11-12)

 

“Pride, the result of not remembering our status in relationship to our Creator, can take various forms. In each of these, it is an attempt to be God.” (Terry D. Cooper (2003). Sin, Pride, and Self-Acceptance: The Problem of Identity in Theology and Psychology .)

The very first narrative which the Qur’an embarks upon elucidating to those seeking spiritual guidance and insight is that concerning Prophet Adam and Eve and their encounter with Iblis (Satan) within the garden.

Narrated in both the Old Testament in graphic detail and the Final Testament (The Noble Qur’an), a cursory glance at both accounts of this same event leaves one with an entirely different understanding of what occurred so long ago.

The Old Testament “version” of the story teaches us lessons in the ‘original sin’ and the ‘temptation’ brought about by one woman (Eve) but in general women of all times, and all of the toils and struggles which we as humans have to go through due to our father and mother eating from the “forbidden fruit”! Obviously, this view is incongruent to the Islamic ethos of the event of the creation.

However, if we study this same narrative as given to us by God in the Noble Qur’an, we actually take away moral lessons and spiritual guidance which if we carefully review, can work wonders in adjusting our own character and how we deal with others.

In summary, the Noble Qur’an presents the narrative in the following fashion: In His infinite and perfect wisdom, God decided to create the human being and to place him upon the Earth as His vicegerent. The angels, who were informed of this order of God asked the Almighty for further understanding as to why the creation of this generation was necessary as (previously) the Earth was filled with blood-shed, corruption and evil and that they continuously extolled Him and praised Him so why create the human race – however God replied that He knows that what they (the angels) do not know. This event symbolizes many things, however as the late exegete of the Qur’an Allamah Taba’taba’i states in his work al-Mizan, from amongst humanity, some would rise up to the level of righteousness and spiritual nobility – leaving the dregs and filth of prejudice, arrogance and conceit aside.

The historical narrative continues to a point where after the creation of the physical body of Adam and the soul was breathed into him, that God gave the order to all who were present at this celestial event to submit (to the orders of God) and to prostate in the direction of (or to) Adam.

The angels complied with the orders of the All Merciful, however there was a lone individual within the group, who although was not an angel, however due to his intense worship and personally-acquired level of closeness to God, was regarded as one worthy of living amongst the angels who heard the order of his Maker but made the decision to disregard the commandment. To make matters worse, he entered into a debate and argument with the Most High in regards to this “small act” and this was the individual we know today as Satan.

The crux of the problem, as Satan saw it, was that he was created from ‘fire’ whereas Adam was created from ‘clay’ – and this pride and prejudice on the part of Satan is what caused his downfall – and has the potential to affect each and every one of us. Satan felt that his physical makeup of ‘smoke-less fire’ was of a loftier composition and that being made of fire, he had the potential and rather, was naturally inclined to ‘ascend’ (just as fire does) whereas the makeup of Adam which was of ‘earth’ and this was a heavier compound and that his natural inclination was to the base, lower desires and to clinging to the ‘Earth’.

To an extent, Satan was right as when we look at humanity throughout the ages, we see that ‘pride and prejudice’ have become two of the gravest evils which when followed, result in misery for everyone.

If we look at the last 100 years of human history, we can see that these two vile traits have brought forth the greatest crimes against humanity. People have used and continue to use many strange justifications to have such attitudes against their fellow human beings – some people are judged on the basis of their skin colour and without a doubt, there is nothing worse than this as it is impossible to change your complexion – if you are born black, you are not able to disguise yourself to avoid racist tendencies against you and just like Satan, you are reducing yourself to being judgmental based on the physical composition; others are judged according to their physical characteristics – height, weight, etc… – all things which are incidental traits but have nothing to do with you “as a person”; others are judged due to where they come from and what language they speak – and at this level, it is not only “the outsider” who judges, but it is even those form within a specific cultural background! How many cases have we seen in the world where people who look the same, speak the same language and are born in the same country discriminate amongst themselves – such as in various tribal communities in Africa, Pakistan, India, the Middle East, etc… This same sickness is even seen in major North American cities in which rival gangs kill each other based on their “colours” or their “turf”…

Other cases of pride and prejudice which are more prevalent today in the so-called “developed countries” take effect due to social status which comes from economic prosperity in which the one who drives the BMW or Mercedes would not associate with the one who drives a Hyundai or Toyota and those who live in private, secluded, “gated communities” and live in homes which are sometimes larger than the religious centres they frequent have nothing to do with those living in apartments, low-rentals and the like…

In fact in this same vein, there is a beautiful example as seen in a historical event which took place at the time of the Prophet Muhammad which he saw first-hand. The story goes that the Messenger was in the masjid and in addition to the multitude of other believers, a relatively wealthy man was also in attendance. After a short time, a ‘poor man’ came into the masjid and found an available place to sit which just happened to be next to the affluent man. Almost immediately, the rich man realized who was sitting beside him and moved his clothing away as it was touching the poor man! The Prophet saw this utterly disgust act and rebuked the wealthy individual as this was not the decorum of a Muslim and proceeded to ask him whether he thought that his wealth may ‘rub off’ onto the poor man or that perhaps the destitute man’s poverty may ‘affect’ him. A discussion ensued between the Prophet, the rich man and the poor man in which the wealthy individual apologized profusely and promised to give the poor man a portion of his wealth as a means of making amends – however the indigent gave a very powerful and thought-provoking reply and said that he would rather remain in his state of abjectness rather than take the money, lest he also fall into the same pit of prejudice as the rich man was consumed in!

Thus, in summary, as human beings and believers, we need to ensure that we do not repeat the sin which resulted in the fall of Satan – we need to treat all of the children of Adam as human beings and not be judgmental of things such as skin colour, tribal affiliations, language, place of birth, economic worth, social status, or even religion, as these are all merely ways for us to “know the another” rather than being means of shunning one another. After all, did the Commander of the Faithful, Ali b. Abi Talib not say that, “People are of two types – they are either your brothers in faith or your equals in humanity.”

The main push behind pride and prejudice is nothing other than the human being thinking himself to be “god” and that he feels he is better than others; however if we keep the relationship between ourselves and our Creator in mind and that He is the only one “entitled” to ‘pride’ then we bring ourselves back “down to earth” and appreciate that we are all from the same source and that even though we have differences mostly based on incidental issues, the only source of being “better” than one another (which too cannot be fully judged) is our awareness, consciousness and acceptance of God and all that He gives to us…

“O mankind! Indeed We created you from a male and a female, and made you nations and tribes that you may identify with one another. Indeed the noblest of you in the sight of God is the most God aware among you. Indeed God is all-knowing, all-aware.” (49:13)

***

“Among His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the difference of your languages and colours. There are indeed signs in that for those who know.” (30:22)

***

“Have you not regarded that God sends down water from the sky, with which We produce fruits of diverse hues; and in the mountains are stripes white and red, of diverse hues, and [others] pitch black? And of humans and beasts and cattle there are likewise diverse hues. Only those of God’s servants having knowledge fear Him. Indeed God is all-mighty, all-forgiving.” (35:27-28)

***

“Of His signs is that He created you from dust, then, behold, you are humans scattering [all over]!” (30:20)




The Narratives

People live in the present. They plan for and worry about the future. History, however, is the study of the past. Given all the demands that surround and challenge us while living in the present and planning for and anticipating what is yet to come, why bother with what has been? Given all the available branches of knowledge which exist in the world today such as medicine, chemistry, IT, law, journalism and thousands of other fields of study, why insist, as the Qur’an does, on a good dose of history? Undoubtedly, it is only through studying history that we can grasp how things change; it is only through reviewing history that we can begin to comprehend the factors that cause change; and it is only through reading and learning history that we can begin to understand what elements of a society persist despite change.

The Qur’anic narratives – whether they be of Adam & Eve and Satan; Moses and Pharaoh; Abraham and Nimrod; Prophet Muhammad and the obstinate amongst the Quraysh or the hundreds of other ‘stories’ are not mere legends that we go through to ‘pass our time’ and ‘enjoy’ ourselves.

The stories narrated in the Book of God are not the ‘Harry Potter’ of the Muslim mind-set nor are they like the thousands of fiction books which flood the market every year enticing and stimulating the minds of the readers with distant, exotic places, imaginary individuals wearing luxurious costumes with above-human powers and super-natural events which only the likes of Hollywood can bring to the big screen. Rather, the Qur’anic narratives are LIVING anecdotes for humanity to reflect upon.

Of all the ways in which knowledge can be conveyed, the most potent and effective method which all cultures, traditions, and dispensations have employed and which even the contemporary experts of today tell us is how civilizations convey knowledge and experience are stories – just has Julia Scherba de Valenzuela, Ph.D. states, “…stories are important to people, politics, and education. Stories are how people make sense of themselves and their worlds. In young children’s spontaneous stories that they act out as they play, we can see how they believe people relate to one another, who they hope to become, and how they will behave. We can see adolescents play roles in their own and other people’s stories in order to figure out where they fit into their ever-expanding worlds. As adults, the true and imaginary stories we wish to tell and believe suggest what we value most in this world. In a real sense, stories make people.”

In fact when people involved in Early Childhood Education speak about the importance of stories in the lives of young children, they give at least 5 reasons why stories are so important to young minds. However if we read these and reflect upon them in the God-Man relationship, we can appreciate how these reasons also hold true for people of any age:

  1. Stories help children understand their place in the world.
  2. A story can help your child cope with a difficult situation or experience.
  3. Learning to tell stories helps your child become socially proficient.
  4. Storytelling can be the perfect way to impart a life lesson.
  5. It has been shown that telling stories about your own childhood is one of the most powerful ways to strengthen the child-parent bond.

Without a doubt, when we reflect on the Qur’anic narratives and the reasons why they are in the Qur’an, we see that God has introduced stories into the Qur’an and the Prophet and the infallible members of his family have also given us such narratives for these same reasons that a parent tells his or her child the proverbial bed-time stories!

As the Qur’an is a book of life – a book which is from the Living: “God – there is no god except Him – is the Living One, the All-sustainer. Neither drowsiness befalls Him nor sleep…” (al-Qur`an, 2:255); it gives life: “O you who have faith! Answer God and the Apostle when he summons you to that which will give you life…” (al-Qur’an, 8:24); and is a book which is for the living: We did not teach him poetry, nor does it behoove him. This is just a reminder and a manifest Qur’an, so that anyone who is alive may be warned, and that the word may come due against the faithless.” (al-Qur’an, 36:69-70), we need to constantly be in touch with its contents – but not merely a superficial reading on a Thursday night in which the believers gather to read Surat Yaseen “for the reward of their deceased.”; nor is this a Book which is only to be read in its entirety in the Month of Ramadhan in the “traditional” Qur’anic reading circles that most communities hold – which is in and of itself a good deed, but not a religious prescribed ‘tradition’; nor is The Qur’an a book which is to be used solely to adorn the wall of our homes and our religious centres through works of Arabic calligraphy; or to decorate the rear-view mirror of our car, or a screen saver on our computer or a background on our Smartphone! Rather, the Qur’an is a BOOK OF LIFE with teachings that reverberate throughout history but is as relevant today as it was 1,400 years ago and will continue to be a book of importance until the end of time.

Thus, with the help of the true scholars, we need to begin a serious reading of the Qur’an with contemplation and reflection of the verses with a specific emphasis on the Qur’anic stories with the sole aim of understanding the “history” behind each of the narratives and then drawing lessons from each story as to HOW we can lead better lives by studying those who came before us.

If the old adage that states: “History repeats itself” is true and the saying: “Those who do not know the past are condemned to repeat it” holds weight, then we MUST begin our understanding of our present and future and the future of all of humanity with a careful and thorough study of “our past” as narrated in the Noble Qur’an so that we can see where past generations progressed so as to follow in their ways and how others digressed, leading to their complete destruction, and extract moral lessons from these nations.

God willing, over the next ten discussions which we will be embarking upon to be featured exclusively in Islamic Insights, we take on the challenge of presenting ten different Qur’anic narratives in a unique way. Each of our discussions will be structured in the same fashion to ensure continuity and an uninterrupted chain of moral and ethical lessons and life skills and will feature:

  1. The topic to be discussed from the Qur’anic narrative;
  2. A verse or two from the Noble Qur’an to introduce the topic and to acquaint the readership with the Qur’anic perspective on the topic chosen;
  3. A quotation from a non-Islamic source to highlight the universality of the Qur’anic narratives and topics discussed in the ‘Last Testament’;
  4. A brief historical account of the narrative of the Qur’an so that we are better able to appreciate the Qur’anic teachings and the lives of the previous Prophets, saints and other individuals mentioned in the Qur’an;
  5. Contemporary and practical lessons which we can extrapolate and work at implementing in our daily lives.

The topics which we will be going over during this series will focus on the following Qur’anic anecdotes: Prophet Adam & Iblis: Pride and Prejudice; Prophet Nuh: Educating Others About the Faith of Islam; Prophet Ibrahim: Champion of Submission; Prophet Yusuf: Best of Stories – the Worst of Traits: Anger and Jealousy; Prophet Musa & al-Khidr; Follow the Most Knowledgeable; Lady Asiyah and Lady Maryam: The Spiritual Power of the Woman; Ashabul Kahf – The Companions of the Cave: They were youth who believed in their Lord; Prophet Sulayman: Qualities of Leadership; Prophet Muhammad: Completion of the Prophetic Chain and the Religion with God; Imam al-Mahdi: The Awaited Savior of all of Humanity.

Upon completion of this series of ten discourses, we will, God willing, have a better picture of the role of the story in Islam and in the Qur’anic world-view and will be able to, with some of the tools used, be able to begin our own reading of the Qur’an with the intent to extract the moral lessons and teachings – the first step in facilitating the act of implementation of the teachings within our own lives to make us better believers and human beings.




Ask the Experts

“If after the occultation of your Qa’im there were not to remain a person from amongst the scholars who: invite towards him (the Imam); guide others to him; defend his religion by the proofs of God; rescue the downtrodden servants of God from the snares of Satan and his hoards and the traps of the enemies (of the Ahlul Bayt), then there would not remain a single person (on Earth) except that he would have left the religion of God. However, these scholars take it upon themselves to be the protectors of the hearts of our downtrodden Shi’a just as the captain of a boat takes control of the lives and safety of those on his ship. Thus, these (scholars – the ‘Ulama) are the best people in the sight of God, the Noble and Great.” [Biharul Anwar, vol. 2, pg. 6, sec. 8, no. 12]

When was the last time your car broke down? What did you do when you needed a loaf of bread for dinner? When your wisdom teeth were coming out, who did you turn to? Most likely, you did not take your car to your local Muslim butcher for repair; nor did you go to the pharmacy for dinner rolls; nor did you ask your lawyer to remove your teeth. In these and thousands of other daily life experiences, we refer to professionals in a particular field to help us. Even when we fall sick, we may go to our local medi-clinic for a “quick-fix”, however the doctor may simply give us something to carry us over until we are able to refer to a specialist in the field to accurately diagnose our symptoms.

Being a religion of ‘nature’, Islam has put a similar practice in place such that once, a man came to one of the Imams and as if to mock him, jokingly said, ‘You claim the Qur’an contains everything – so tell me where does the Qur’an show you how to bake bread!’ The Imam sat silently for a brief moment and then replied, ‘Read the verse of the Qur’an which states, “So then ask those who know if you do not.”‘ (Suratul Nahl, v. 43) The Imam was alluding to the point that you need to “ask the experts” when it comes to ANYTHING and EVERYTHING in life!

During the time of the Prophet Muhammad, he was the sole authority in all issues (religious, political, societal, etc…) and all questions about daily life were forwarded to him or one whom he placed in authority – those who had been trained in his ‘school’ of religious understanding. During this era, according to scholars such as the late Ayatullah Shaheed Murtaza Mutahhari and contemporary thinkers like Ayatullah al-Uzma Shaykh Nasir Makarim Shirazi and Ayatullah Shaykh Ja’far Subhani, ‘Ijithaad’ was practiced in the open by companions of the Prophet – with his full support and blessings! With his passing away, the chain of his legitimate successors – the 12 Imams – started. The first of the explicitly appointed leaders was the Commander of the Faithful, Ali ibn Abi Talib and the last rightful successor of the Prophet being the 12th Imam, al-Hujjat ibn al-Hasan al-Askari.

The Imamate of the 12th Imam was quite different than that of the previous 11 Imams since he was, by the wisdom of God required to go into two separate and distinct occultations. His minor occultation lasted for a little over 70 years, during which time he was represented by four specific representatives whose duties were to forward questions on various day to day issues from the Shi’a to their Imam, collect the various funds (khums, zakat, etc..) and distribute them as the Imam saw fit, as well as other important duties.

After the death of the fourth representative in the year 328 AH, the doors of specific representation were closed. However, the guidance did not stop and according to the directive issued to the Shi’a in the traditions we were to follow those Fuqaha (scholars) who: “…guard their soul, protect their religion, follow the commandments of their Master…” and thus, this responsibility has been placed on the shoulders of our scholars whom we refer to as the Mara’ja Taqleed (lit. sources of emulation).

Through this article, we aim to bring to light some of the questions that people have about the basis, scope, jurisdiction and necessity of the Mara’ja Taqleed in today’s day and age. Indeed much more can be said and there are countless book written on this topic however we leave the detailed discussions for another occasion.

Question 1: What is the history of Taqleed? Is this a new phenomenon, or did Taqleed exist in the time of the Infallibles as well? Is there any Qur’anic evidence to support the ‘knowledgeable person guiding the unaware person’?

Answer 1: First off, many verses guide us to ask those who have more knowledge if we do not know – for example, It is not right that the true believers in Islam all go forth (to fight a defensive battle) – rather, why does not a group from amongst them go forth to become specialists in religious learning and after completing their studies, return back to their own community and warn them (so that they will have fear of God)?” (al-Qur’an, 9:122)

Obviously, we can all not become experts in the field of Islamic studies – we need artists, doctors, lawyers, engineers and specialists in all other fields of life and it is through this verse that we understand that a group of people must go forth to gain a deep understanding of the religion and upon returning from studies and upon the others returning home (from their own vocations or in the case of this verse, the scared defence of Islam), that they learn the religion from those who have gained knowledge on the religion.

In terms of ahadith, ponder upon the following (lengthy) tradition:

It has been narrated from Ahmad b. Ali b. Abi Talib al-Tabarsi in his book, al-Ihtijaj, from Abu Muhammad al-Askari (peace be upon him) in regards to the words of God, The Grand, “So then woe be to those people who write The Book with their own hand and then say to other that this is from God.” The Imam (peace be upon him) said, “This verse was in regards to a group of people from amongst the Jews.”

A man said to Imam as-Sadiq (peace be upon him), “If this verse is about a group of people from amongst the Jews who did not know The Book (revealed from God) except through hearing it from their ‘Ulama (scholars), how is it possible that they are castigated for following them and for accepting (the statements of) their ‘Ulama? In addition, are not then the common folk from amongst the Jews similar to the common people from amongst us (the Muslims) who follow (perform taqlid) of their scholars?”

The Imam (peace be upon him) replied, “Between the common people from amongst us (the Muslims) and the common people of the Jews, there is a stark difference in one respect and also one similar trait in another respect. As for the similar trait that is shared, indeed God has also castigated our common people (the Muslims) who blindly follow their scholars just as He castigated the Jews. And as for the difference between the two, the common people amongst the Jews knew that their scholars were prone to openly speak untruths, used to consume what was forbidden for them, used to take bribes and also used to alter the practical rulings of the faith and their hearts were sent a warning that anyone from amongst them who would perform these acts would be known as an open sinner (fasiq) and that it was not permitted for him (the scholar from amongst the Jews) to speak the truths about God and it was also not permissible for them (such scholars) to act as intermediaries between the creations and God and thus because of this, they were castigated. Similarly are the lay (from amongst the Muslims) – if they recognize open and blatant transgressions being performed by their ‘Ulama (scholars), strong forms of discrimination and prejudice and an attraction to the material word then whoever follows such people (does their taqlid) will be similar to the Jews whom God had castigated as they used to follow the transgressions of their scholars!

As for the Fuqaha who protect their own soul, who safeguard their religion, who go against the desires and passions of their lower desires and who are obedient to the command of their Master, then it is permissible for the common people to follow them in religious issues (perform Taqlid) and this state is not found except in some of the Fuqaha of the Shi’a – not all of them.

So then surely those who committed some sins and vulgar acts in a similar way that have been committed by scholars of the general stream (the scholars of the Ahlus Sunnah) – do not accept anything from them that they relate from us nor show them any respect. The mixed messages (ahadith) that been related claiming to be from us (Ahlul Bayt) have increased, therefore the immoral people take from us and change it completely because of their ignorance and they put things differently because of their lack of knowledge. Others deliberate to lie about us.”

This hadith makes it clear “taqleed” as we know it today was an issue which the Imams were asked about and they spoke about it and gave guidance to their followers on the qualities of who could be considered as a Mar’ja.

As for having a ‘Mar’ja’ during the period of the Imams, there are countless examples given in the book, ‘Ijtihad during the Era of the Infallibles’ written by Muhammad Ridha Jawahiri which we do not go into here.

Question 2: Who or what is a Mujtahid and a Mar’ja Taqleed and what qualifications are required for each one?

Answer 1: A Mujtahid can be defined as “One who has reached to a profound depth within his over-all awareness of Islam and its foundation such that he is now permitted to conduct research from the four primary sources (Qur’an, Sunnah, consensus [of the past scholars] and intellect) to derive the sacred laws of Islam known as the Shari’ah (daily actions of the faith) which we refer to as our Fiqh.”

The teachings of Islam have laid down strict conditions in terms of whom we are to take our legal rulings from – however it must be clearly noted that none of these are based on any personal bias or preference as being a ‘Mar’ja’ is not a “right” given to us by God, rather, it is a “privileged” and thus, the following traits must be present: male; Shi’ah Ithna-Asheri; adult, sane; of legitimate birth; living and just (‘adil). [Each of these traits can be discussed in length as to their exact and precise definition and “why” they are there, however this article is not the place for such a discussion.]

Once a man or woman has traversed through the rigorous regiment of studies enabling him/her to delve into the Qur’an and Sunnah of the fourteen infallibles, they then begin their quest in formulating the code of law which they themselves and the lay are to follow. They continue in this journey for many years until they reach to a level of competency such that amongst their peers, they are recognized as an ‘authority’ in the extraction of the laws of Islam from the sources and, through the push of those around them, are heralded into the limelight as being a ‘Mar’ja Taqleed’ – a point of reference for the formulation of the laws of Islam according to their understanding of the world around them and the general and specific guidelines found within the Islamic texts.

Where as anyone (man or woman) can reach to the level of Ijtihaad – thus, becoming a Mujtahid (or Mujtahida in the case of a woman), the status of a Mar’ja Taqleed is something reserved for men [according to the overall consensus of the past and contemporary scholars]. In actuality, gender need not be an issue of contention as the laws are of the Divine and when it comes to the designing of these laws, a Mujtahid elevates himself such that he does not see man or woman, white or black, Arab or non-Arab – all he sees are servants of God, and all he recognizes is the need to help them fulfill their responsibilities by formulating the laws of Islam. We should not think that since the Mara’ja are men that they formulate laws to make Islam a misogynistic faith – as tomorrow, the same argument could be applied to why all Prophets, Messengers and Imams were men!

Coming to one of the ‘contentious issues’ – one of the requirements is that we follow what is commonly translated as the “most knowledgeable”. If we accept this interpretation, we have problems as who is in a position to say who is the “most knowledgeable” as if that individual can distinguish the “most knowledgeable” then it stands to reason that he himself is the most knowledgeable – and thus, we are thrown into a paradox! Thus, it is best if we state that one of the main conditions of choosing a Mar’ja is to see “who has the best ability to delve into the sources of the faith and has an understanding of the society in general to understand the prevailing situations of the world” to extract and derive laws for the benefit of the servants of Alalh.

Thus in other words, what we are asking the experts to explain to us is who, in their opinion: 1. Has the greatest grip on the Qur’an and its interpretations; 2. And a powerful understanding of all of the traditions of the Infallibles; 3. A comprehensive knowledge of the opinions of the early scholars; and 4. The intellectual aptitude to be able to look at the Quran and Sunnah and the world in general and with these four sources at his disposal, guide the servants to their responsibility.

Indeed even in this area, there are ‘differences of opinion’ and for this reason, some state that you can follow ‘any’ of the 15+ Mara’ja Taqleed present today while others narrow the choice down to one or two who have the greatest ability and combine all of the above mentioned traits in the most complete way possible.

Question 2: There is only one Qur’an and all of the scholars refer to the same corpus of hadith, so then why the difference of opinion? Does this mean that “my” Mar’ja is right while “his” Mar’ja is wrong?

Answer 2: Indeed not! What we must understand is that when we follow the rulings of the Mar’ja, we are following the orders of the Imam, Prophet and ultimately God. Now what God expects from us is ‘submission’ – and as long as the person whom we are following has been ‘permitted’ to guide us to ‘submission’ we will not be held liable for our actions. In other words, even if the Mar’ja was incorrect in his judgement and understanding, we will not be punished for an action we performed SO LONG AS we have based our actions on his understanding. In essence, the Marj’a “has the right to be wrong”.

The ‘difference of opinion’ comes about due to the fact that each scholar understands the Qur’anic injunctions and traditions in his/her own way; however we should also note that the ‘differences’ amongst the Mara’ja is VERY SMALL and these ‘differences of opinion’ should not become an issue amongst the believers such that they hurl insults or accusations against the followers of one Mar’ja over the other!

Question 3: Life in Qum or Najaf is greatly different than what I go through in Toronto, New York, London or any other major metropolis. How can I be sure that a man living “so far away” knows what I am going through or my own personal struggles and is able to correctly diagnose the problem to offer me a remedy?

Answer 3:We are correct that many of the experiences that we go through in “the West” are alien to those living in “the East” however that does not mean that the scholars whom we follow are ‘out-of-touch’ with reality or are not able to guide us. First off, we need to realize that even our own doctor, accountant or mechanic never have ‘first hand’ knowledge of what we require from them until we explain our situation to them. They then base their response or remedy to us from what we tell them. If we neglect to tell our mechanic of a certain noise in the engine, he will not be able to correctly repair our car – or if he does repair it, there are bound to be further issues as he did not go to the root cause – and it is not his job to do so – you give him the symptom and he does his best to correct the problem. The same goes with our religious scholars – if we meet our Mar’ja or write him an e-mail requesting guidance but are not specific or intentionally seek to hide the facts, he will only be able to offer us a verdict on what to do based on what he knows from US – it is not his job to know the specifics – he gives a general ruling based on what he is told of one’s situation.

We also need to give these individuals more credit than we do – yes, they live in far-off lands, however they are not cut off from civilization. They still watch the news, read newspapers, surf the InterNet and in addition, have representatives and experts in various fields who are (hopefully) providing data to them on various issues.

Question 4: Today, through globalization and the like, we see ‘councils’ setup to address various issues by bringing together the greatest minds who are well versed in the issues at hand – whether they be economic, social, medical, political, etc… With such a push to ‘work together’ to solve the problems of the modern era, why don’t our Mara’ja establish a ‘Council of Mara’ja’ in which each one would specialize in a specific field and then we could refer to that one specialist in fulfilling our responsibilities to our Creator?

Answer 4: This was a topic of discussion brought up by many scholars in the past, most notably the late Ayatullah Shaheed Murtaza Mutahhari and the late Mullah Asghar M.M. Jaffer – who went into great detail in a series of lectures on Marjaiyyah and Taqlid and quoted from various high-ranking scholars. I would suggest that you listen to the three lecture series in English delivered by the late Mullah Asghar M.M. Jaffer which can be found on-line at www.al-mubin.org in the Audio/Video section.

Question 5: OK, so I accept the fact that I need to enact Taqleed when it comes to religious rulings and that I need to choose the most qualified and knowledgeable Mar’ja from the numerous who are out there today, is there any historical benefit or advantage in this institution? Why not just ‘do what I want to do’ and hope for the best?

Answer 5: Another sphere of influence and authority which the Mar’ja takes on his shoulders is contained within the political realm. As was seen in Iran in 1979 with the Islamic Revolution, the downfall of the Ba’thist regime of Iraq in 2003 and also in 2005 with the invasion of Lebanon. In regards to Iraq, many people (including top-ranking officials in the US Government) thought that they would be able to walk into Iraq and enact their plans as they saw fit – however they did not take one person into the equation – Ayatullah al-Uzma al-Hajj as-Sayyid Ali al-Husayni as-Seestani. Perhaps they assumed that the religious authority would not involve himself in the political realm based upon their understanding of Shi’i Islam.

The Christian Science Monitor, in their analysis of the situation in Iraq in early 2004 wrote, “When US administrator Paul Bremer was pushing for an Iraqi constitution written by US appointees in the summer of 2003, Sistani issued a religious ruling, or fatwa, saying that only an elected body could write the constitution. The US backed down. In November 2003, when Mr. Bremer was seeking to choose an interim government through appointments and indirect voting, Sistani ruled that only direct elections would do.”

The nation’s newspaper, USA Today is quoted as writing, “But as the Bush administration and its Iraqi allies struggle to plot a smooth transition to Iraqi rule, the Iranian-born cleric’s political role is growing and forcing the White House to alter its plans …” Later on in the same article we read, “A Shiite ayatollah cannot be non-political”, says Amatzia Baram, an Iraq expert at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington. “The marja (source of emulation, as senior ayatollahs are known) is your guide in every aspect of your life. When the situation is not amenable to be political, they will not be political, but when circumstances change, they will immediately change.”

Thus, from these two examples we see that the greatness, freedom and strength of pure Islam is only maintained by having and strictly following each and every word of the Mar’ja Taqleed. The Mar’ja is not there only to teach us how to physical purify ourselves after using the washroom or how to slaughter an animal to make it permissible for consumption or indeed the method of praying, fasting, performing the Hajj, etc… These are important aspects of life, but they are there to, in essence, ‘fill in’ during the occultation of the 12th Imam – the sole authority.

In closing, the institution of Marja’iyyah is one which we should take more time to study about and understand so that we can see how it is benefited us over the past centuries since the occultation of the 12th Imam. It is through a review of history and the role that the scholars have played that we will begin to appreciate the blessings bestowed upon us by the Prophet and his Ahlul Bayt, peace be upon all of them, in remaining united and being able to always have answers to questions of day to day life.




Just Do It!

“O you who have faith! Why do you say what you do not do? Indeed it is very despicable in the sight of God when you say that which you do not do.”

The above quoted passage, interestingly enough, is actually a verse of the Noble Qur’an. Imagine that! In a book which has been sent as a code of guidance and which some think, raises the believers to the level of being “untouchables” and “the chosen ones of God” – rather than incessantly heaping praise on the believers, God takes the time to ‘rebuke’ those who claim to follow His way when they are caught with their “hand in the cookie jar”!

One of the human conditions which this Divinely gifted Book shares with us is that of procrastination. What the specialists of today define as a behavior which is “characterized by deferment of actions or tasks to a later time”, psychologists often cite procrastination as a mechanism for coping with the anxiety associated with starting or completing any task or decision. Researchers in psychology have three criteria they use to categorize procrastination and state that for a behavior to be classified as procrastination, it must be: counterproductive, needless, and delaying.

So, how does this discussion fit into the “Islamic” environment – one of our goals in this article?

To begin with, in the anthology of sayings, discourses and letters of Imam Ali, peace be upon him compiled by Sayyid al-Radhi known as Nahjul Balagha, there is a description of the Noble Prophet of Islam in which he is referred to as, “A doctor, who would travel around with his medicine.” In essence, the Messenger of God was a doctor who made house calls! He did not wait for the sick to come to him – rather, he was proactive in looking for the maladies which plagued the individual and society and sought to cure them with his spiritual medication – the Qur’an.

The Prophet of Islam, a man who is widely misunderstood and unknown by Muslims and non-Muslims alike, did not only teach the ways of spiritual closeness to God through prayers, fasting, pilgrimage, charity, and other acts of ‘worship’. Rather, his message also tackled social illnesses such as racism, class distinction, economic disparity and the like. If one was to study his teachings with an open mind and devoid of any preconceived notions, they would realize that statements such as “(The Prophet) Muhammad brought nothing new or good to society” is the furthest from the truth!

Within the realm of the Prophetic teachings, which are inspired by the Quran, is the lesser known area in which the Noble Messenger spoke about various psychological conditions. In one such tradition which we want to focus upon, the Prophet has been quoted as saying, “I advise you to refrain from procrastination since you need to live for today and not for tomorrow; and if there is a tomorrow (for you), then live for tomorrow as you live for today (live for the day) and if there is no tomorrow (you were to die), then at least you would not regret the procrastination which you showed today.”

While it is normal for people to procrastinate to some degree, it becomes a problem when it impedes normal functioning.

There are two main causes of procrastination:

  1. Psychological: Caused by anxiety, low sense of self-worth and a self-defeating mentality, those who are “dreamers and wishers” fall into this category. While it is not “wrong” to “wish” for a better future, Islam also draws a solid line between “attainable goals” and “impossible to reach desires” and countless traditions prohibit us from this trait.

If we know we can never afford that luxury car or 10,000 sq. ft mansion, then we need to align our goals with what is practical. Rather than go ‘window shopping’ when we rightfully know that we cannot and will never be able to afford those expensive electronic gadgets behind the glass, the large diamond ring or exquisite watch, we should spend our time and energy in better areas and in trying to achieve what is within our reach.

  1. Physiological: Damage or low activity in the part of the brain can also reduce a person’s abilities – resulting in procrastination. This area is out of the realm of things which we can personally do – rather, we need to seek professional assistance and help for physiological issues.

There are two main types of people who procrastinate:

  1. The Relaxed Type: People who fall into this category view their responsibilities negatively and avoid them by engaging in other tasks – such as students who abandon schoolwork but not their social lives; or those who are overwhelmed at work and leave the office for a round of golf – “hoping” that their work will mysteriously be done when they get back to their desk.
  2. Tense-Afraid Type: Those who feel overwhelmed with the pressures on them, are unrealistic about the time they have at their disposal and are uncertain about goals. These people will procrastinate and then find themselves in a position in which they fear that they will not be able to complete something so keep delaying it.

The Islamic traditions are replete with sayings from the Infallibles in this regard. Consider the following words of wisdom taken from the upcoming publication, “Fundamentals of Islamic Management”:

  1. “Ensure that you perform the tasks of the day on the day which they come to you (and do not delay them until the next day) since every day, you will have a sufficient amount of things to perform for that day.”[1]
  2. “Know that if you indulge in the minor responsibilities, then you will be prevented from performing the important tasks; similarly, if you only perform the important tasks, then you will forget about the minor duties and due to this, these (small things) will end up turning into major issues. Therefore, begin with focusing on the important responsibilities, however do not forget to keep your attention on the smaller issues. Delegate the lesser tasks to people who will be able to execute them for you.”[2]

The trait of procrastination can be played out on two different spheres – ones’ interaction within the temporal world and in the spiritual realms.

Consider the person who sits at his desk from 9 to 5 and is constantly preoccupied with work. If he or she begins to feel overwhelmed with the amount of work being given to him, they might begin to “tune out” and delay the work – putting it off until ‘later’; during the delay, even more work would be given which would then be added to the pile of work already pending making the person even more stressed out, and this cycle continues. As can be seen, the initial act of procrastination leads to major problems in the temporal realm.

However, procrastination can also take place in the realm of worship and the path of spiritual progression towards God. Keeping in mind the example of the paper pusher, imagine if a servant of God was to have that same trait of procrastination permeate his spiritual space. The believer may begin to delay acts of worship due to other “important things” coming up in his life, to the point that the specific act of worship is performed out of its time zone or worse, not performed at all! The person who is a procrastinator in the temporal world may begin to treat his worship in the same way and just as he puts off his daily responsibilities at the office, he may have days, weeks or months of missed prayers which would although weigh heavily upon his heart, however since he is so habituated to the act of procrastination, rather than start making them up, he would make the excuse that, “I have so many missed prayers, how will I ever pay God back for all of them? He is the Oft-Forgiving, All-Merciful and He will forgive me!” Or he may and try and justify the delay in their performance by saying, “The Month of Ramadhan is coming and I’ll be in the spiritual mood to make up the missed prayers at that time, plus on the Night of al-Qadr, I’ll be staying awake for the all-night vigil and will pray some of the Salaat at that time.” However, who knows if we will live long enough to make up the missed prayers in the Month of Ramadhan or even tomorrow or even in the next 60 minutes?

Procrastination also has serious ramifications in terms of one’s material comfort when it takes place in relation to the Hajj pilgrimage. The scholars of Islam have ruled that when a person develops the financial ability and has the physical strength to make the journey for the Hajj, that this act becomes obligatory in that actual year. If one procrastinates and makes excuses such as the fact that he ‘doesn’t want to take time off of work’, or ‘doesn’t like to be in large gatherings’ or that ‘his will miss his/her spouse’ or other such unjustifiable excuses, then he has committed a sin but more than that, if he loses either the financial ability or the physical strength to make the journey, he is still not absolved of fulfilling that rite and must, by any means necessary, ensure that it is either performed directly or through a proxy. Thus, in such a circumstance, procrastination has far-reaching consequences.

In closing, I relate a bumper sticker I remember seeing some time ago which read, “Why do today that which you can do tomorrow!” Imagine if everyone in life lived by such a grossly-inaccurate motto! Think about the construction worker building a bridge and if he decided to put off important work for ‘tomorrow’; think about if your heart-surgeon procrastinated while you were on the operation table thinking he would stitch you up ‘tomorrow’; how about if the elevator repair man who was working on a 60 story building decided to ‘come back tomorrow’ to replace that much needed part; now think deeply and seriously about the Adhaan – call to prayer – you just heard but were too busy to respond to as you had that all-important contract to close or that luncheon to attend to with an high-profile client and that on the way home from work, you never made it…

[1] Nahjul Balagha, Letter 53

[2] Bi¦¡rul Anw¡r, vol. 17, pg. 424