How do we study Islam? Maximising our sitting in sermonsPart 3: The purpose and tools for sitting in a sermonIn part 1 we stated that the number of sermons we sit in and religious learning engaged in must be equal to the growth we experience; if this is not the case, how can we better our learning experience of very traditional sermons?In part 2 we took our first principle known as حُسن السئال نِصف الجواب ‘A good question is half of the answer’, to not only encourage the asking of questions but what types of questions we must ask.This edition will look at the purposes of sitting in the sermons and what tools we may use to maximise our learning and application.In the biographies of the scholars, there is an intriguing story about Imam Syed Muhammad Hussaini as-Shirazi, an author of 1400 books, such that when he died, his fingers were bent from his excessive commitment to his pen. Sitting preparing his class, one of his students bursts through the door seeking urgent counsel. “I have a question, no matter how much I think it over I cannot find an answer” he says. Imam as-Shirazi welcomes him and asks what is this question he has been wrangling with, causing such anxiety. He replies, “If you have one day to live, what would you do with it?!”We shall return to the answer later InshaAllah.First, the Holy Qur’an tells us that not only should we seek knowledge, but seek it from Allah swt and with His approval. فَتَعَالَى اللَّهُ الْمَلِكُ الْحَقُّ وَلَا تَعْجَلْ بِالْقُرْآنِ مِن قَبْلِ أَن يُقْضَىٰ إِلَيْكَ وَحْيُهُ وَقُل رَّبِّ زِدْنِي عِلْمًا “Supremely exalted is therefore Allah, the King, the Truth, and do not make haste with the Quran before its revelation is made complete to you and say: O my Lord! increase me in knowledge” (20:114)The supplications of Ahl al-Bayt (a) then guide us to what else we should be seeking from this knowledge:Imam Ali ibn al-Hussain Zain al-Abideen (a) prays, “[Oh Allah] Complete for us the illuminations of knowing you deeply” و اتمم لنا أنوار معرفتكElsewhere he begs, “Make it that I fulfil all that is obligated upon me” اللهم اقض عني كل ما الزمتنيهWhilst Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a) asks for divine help in navigating those matters that may be muddied between true and false claims asking, “O God! Show me the truth as the truth so I follow it, and falsehood as falsehood so I stay away from it; and let them not seem similar o me, for if this happens then I will follow my own desires without guidance from You.” اللَّهُمَّ أَرِنِي الْحَق حَقًّا فَاَتِّبَعَهُ، وَأَرِنِي الْبَاطِلَ بَاطِلًا وفَاَجْتَنِبَهُ، وَلَا تَجْعَلْهُ عَلَيَّ مَتَشَابِهًا فَأَتَّبِعَ هَوَايَ بِغَيْرِ هُدىً مِنْكَCollectively then, these supplications for learning tells we ask for an increase, deeper insight, to act on what I learn and fulfil what is necessary for me and to have the success of distinguishing falsities from truth. These are certainly requisites to learning for without these, sitting in the sermons may become repetitive and devoid of the foundational attitudes needed in spiritual and intellectual learning.Second, the narrations remind us that knowledge must be sought, not through personalities, famous speakers, oratory power or how good the sermon makes us feel. All these are transient and devoid of stability. This asks us wrangle with the question of our biases and whether we attend the sermons of those whom we prefer to those whom challenge us; those who reaffirm my way of thinking or for seeking truth no matter whom it comes from.Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a) profoundly stated, “The one who enters this religion through men will exit through men just as they caused him to enter it. And whoever enters this religion through the Book of Allah and the Prophetic practise, mountains will move before he does [in his faith]. من دخل في هذا الدين بالرجال اخرجه منه الرجال كما ادخلوه فيه ، و من دخل فيه بالكتاب و السنة زالت الجبال قبل ان يزولThe best example of this was in the Battle of Jamal when people saw on one side A’isha the wife of the Prophet and leading companions like Talha and Zubayr, whilst on the other side Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib (a) and companions like Salmaan and Ammar. They asked which side to join?! Imam Ali (a) said, ‘Do not look at personalities. Look for the truth and you will then know its people.’Thirdly, the learning must be active and not passive. We forget so much because the sermon is long and the attention span is short. Sermons tend to be pedagogic and only make use of auditory learning, whilst in school and university we use visual and kinaesthetic tools of learning, where we engage in dialogue and sensory material. We urgently need to evolve our cultures of learning and formats of sermons lest our education system falls way behind.Ahl al-Bayt (a) emphasised this on numerous occasions:The Prophet (s) said, “Write down knowledge before the departure of the scholars” whilst Imam as-Sadiq (a) said, “Write! For you will not remember until you write.”We would never tolerate our children going to school or Madressa without a pen and paper, but our culture in the sermon’s does not encourage the same. Indeed this is a hypocrisy and a requirement to review our values between secular and religious learning.Returning to the story above! Imam as-Shirazi was desperately asked, ‘What would you do with one day to live?’He replied, “I would be doing what you found me doing now! Learning the knowledge of Ahl al-Bayt and teaching the knowledge of Ahl al-Bayt (a)!”
In the Name of Allah, the Most Kind, the Most Merciful
In the Name of Allah, the Most Kind, the Most MercifulHow do we study Islam?Maximising our sitting in sermon’s and what happens after them: Part 1How many sermons do you listen to in one year? Thursday nights; Friday Khutbas; birth and death anniversaries of the great Prophet’s and saintly figures; weddings; funerals; Islamic TV shows; WhatsApp clips; social media; email; conferences… the list goes on.It would not be an underestimation if we said a person has 200 days of the year where lectures, sermons and keynote speeches all furnished with Islamic wisdom are available to us. That’s around two thirds of the year!But also it needs questioning how much of it do we absorb, act on and make use of, such that it truly impacts the development of our souls. There is no shame in admitting it, there is a great gap between how much we take in and how much we apply. This will always be the case, especially in the ‘Information Age’ we live in.We can also admit that we wan’t to benefit more from the sermon’s we listen to. Especially in this period over Dhu al-Hijjah, Muharram and Safar when the fragrances of the revolution and sacrifice of Imam al-Hussain (a) are in the air; when the number of lecture’s will increase and the fervour of recommitting ourselves to personal development is at the forefront of our minds, it befits us to think abouthow we maximise these gatherings. Hence this series of Friday Sermon’s will ask ‘How do study Islam?’It has always been the case that the Prophet’s of Allah (swt) have had goals. Amongst the primary is Islah – reformation of the community. As Prophet Shu’ayb (a) said in the Qur’an (11:88) “I want to achieve reformation as to the best of what I can” إِنْ أُرِيدُ إِلَّا الْإِصْلَاحَ مَا اسْتَطَعْتُThis too was the mission statement of Imam al-Hussain (a) who when leaving Medina for the last time stated, “I am not rising for fame, or adventurism, nor to create mischief, or for oppression. But rather I rise for the sole purpose to create reformation in the Nation of my grandfather, the Messenger of Allah Muhammed (s)” إني لم أخرج أشراً، ولا بطراً ولا مفسداً، ولا ظالماً، وإنما خرجت لطلب الاصلاح في أمة جديHence over this period of Muharram and Safar, ‘the days of al-Hussain’, our goal of attending sermon’s and lectures and conferences should match this lofty goal of reformation otherwise that movement of sacrifice and saving Islam goes in one direction whilst my intention and participation goes in another.The Qur’an mentions two groups of people. Those who benefit from Islamic reminders and the Sign’s of Allah swt and those to whom those same things add aversion and darkness to.The first are mentioned as “The ones who believe are only those whose hearts took notice when God was remembered. When His signs were recounted to them, their belief increased and they put their trust in the Lord” (8:2)The second is he “He hears the signs of God recited unto him, then persists arrogantly as if he did not hear it. So give him glad tidings of a painful punishment” (45:8).It is for this reason that there are three stages to learning and maximising what we come across from our sermons and books and clips. In a phenomenal narration, Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a) said, “The one who learns for the sake of Allah (swt), and then acts for the sake of Allah, and then teaches for the sake of Allah, he would be invited to the grand kingdoms of the heavens.” مَنْ تَعَلَّمَ لِلَّهِ عَزَّ
وَ جَلَّ وَ عَمِلَ لِلَّهِ وَ عَلَّمَ لِلَّهِ دُعِيَ فِي مَ لَكُوتِ السَّمَاوَاتِ عَظِيماً It is this seamless motion of learning, applying and spreading what we have achieved that is the barometer of success from the sermon’s we attend.The great companions were of this nature. They made do with the little they received – not 200 sermon’s a year! The companion Ibrahim al-Karkhi narrated, “Once I came to visit Ja’far ibn Mohammed as-Sadiq. While I was with him his son Musa al-Kadhim came in. He was a young boy. I got up and kissed him and then I sat down. As-Sadiq began to tell me: Allah will derive from him the best of the people on the earth… He who waits for the Mahdi and fights with him is as if he has fought with the Prophet (s) and defended him.”Then a man of the Umayyads came in and as-Sadiq had to stop talking. I visited him eleven times wishing that he might complete his speech but I failed. In the next year I came to him he said, “O Ibrahim, al-Mahdi (a) will relieve his followers from their grief after a long period of affliction and oppression. Blessed is he who will attend to that time! Oh Ibrahim, this suffices you.”The response from Ibrahim is profound. He takes this little from the gathering and maximises it. He says, “I have never come back with something more pleasant to my heart and more delightful to my eyes than this!”We too want to maximise our gatherings and study of Islam. In this series InshaAllah, we will discuss how to be able to do so.
In the Name of Allah, the Most Kind, the Most Merciful
Special Character Building (Akhlaq) TechniquesPart 5: Richness of the Heart: An evidence of having peak moral characterVIDEO HEREIn our first sermon we took the principle of making one’s private practises excel their public behaviour. The second reminded us to learn from the faults of others. Week three discussed how certain acts cause deficiency in the intellect and last week expanded on being blessed wherever we may be.Our fifth discussion, the conclusion to the series, is from amongst the supreme qualities in an individual. It has been left till the end because although seemingly so simple and obvious, it can be the hardest to manifest in ourselves. It is known as سعة الصدر or to have ‘a rich heart’ or ‘open hearted’ or even ‘soft hearted’. Although they all have nuances, their features are similar and maybe richness of heart is the closest translation to its Arabic term.One of the golden principles of Islam is that if you wish to know the real religion of a person, do not look at how much they pray or fast, but look at how they treat people. This is the topic of having a rich heart.The Qur’an introduces this in different ways:1) وَاخْفِضْ جَنَاحَكَ لِمَنِ اتَّبَعَكَ مِنَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ ”And lower your wing for any who follow you of the believers” (26:215) meaning be humble, kind, soft and merciful.2) فَبِمَا رَحْمَةٍ مِّنَ اللَّهِ لِنتَ لَهُمْ وَلَوْ كُنتَ فَظًّا غَلِيظَ الْقَلْبِ لَانفَضُّوا مِنْ حَوْلِكَ فَاعْفُ عَنْهُمْ وَاسْتَغْفِرْ لَهُمْ”Thus it is due to mercy from Allah that you deal with them gently, and had you been rough, hard hearted, they would certainly have dispersed from around you; pardon them therefore and ask pardon for them” (3:159) which tells us that being soft hearted – not hard hearted is something which is from Allah (swt) and therefore needs to be sought from Him as a light in us. There is also a relationship between not being hard hearted and seeking forgiveness for a person, which we will return to shortly.Having a rich heart has many benefits mentioned by the scholars. These include the following:A) Having the ability to bear the mistakes of other peopleB) It helps to trivialise or temper the difficulties you encounterC) Aids you in being flexible and malleable to situationsD) Helps to reform others through your soft natureE) Builds empathy for others and the way in which they practise their religionThis last one is important as in sects and between them there are multiple ways to express religion, be it the practises of Milad an-Nabi (s) or the martyrdom of Imam al-Hussain (a) etc.Let us now look at how to gain and build on the richness of the heart. In order to make clear what is meant by ‘richness’ and its positive effects, like point (D) above, we will provide a powerful example of it.In one of his speeches, scholar Sheikh Hamza Yusuf mentions being in Mecca. Each morning, leaving his hotel for morning prayers, he would enter into the same door and each morning the same guard was sitting outside. On the first morning, as entering he greeted the guard ‘as-Salaamun Alaykum!’ the guard responded gruffly ‘Alaykum Salaam’. The second morning again he greeted the guard cheerfully ‘as-Salaamun Alaykum!’ and received a less gruff ‘Alaykum Salaam.’ The third day greeting the same he received an ‘Alaykum Salaam’ with a small smile. On the fourth day he again greeted ‘as-Salaamun Alaykum!’ and finally received as cheerily ‘Alaykum Salaam!’.It took four days but the guard’s entire demeanour changed! And sometimes we don’t realise that people are icicles that need melting! And the Prophet Muhammad (s) encouraged building love between us so much that he guaranteed it as a means of paradise saying, “None of you will enter into paradise until you believe and none of you will believe until you love one another. Shall I tell you something that if you do it, love will grow?” The companions replied, “Yes, O Messenger of Allah.” The Prophet (s) responded, “Spread peace amongst yourselves.”As mentioned above, there is a relationship between not being hard hearted, forgiving and even seeking forgiveness for them from God. Forgiving and then asking forgiveness is evidence that a person does not retain rancour in his heart for another and is even willing to put them first. The Prophet (s) would say to his companions, “Why can’t you be like Abu DhamDhamm?! When someone speaks ill of him and the person who’s doing the backbiting has his own days good deeds given to Abu DhamDhamm, he returns those deeds back as charity!”SubhanAllah how much of a wide heart this companion had for others!Our richness of heart to others is rooted in respect for ourselves and others. This is important because non-Muslims, countries or governments cannot be expected to respect the Muslim world if Muslim’s cannot respect each other. Having a rich heart will build strong communities and bridge broken ties.May Allah swt help us to practise the lessons from these five Friday Sermon’s.
Friday 14 June [Link here]
Our first Akhlaqi principle is to make our private behaviour surpass our public behaviour. It is often the case that our public behaviour is better than our private behaviour. This is because when we are in public, we want the best version of ourselves to be seen and so we become very aware of how we act; when in our private circles however, we revert to default behaviours or are less concerned with how people see us.
Friday 21 June
Expanding on this verse, narrations warn us about keeping company with fault-finders. For example “I warn you about keeping relations with people who look for faults in others, since surely there is not a single person who will be safe from such people.” إِيٌّاكَ وَ مَعٌاشِرَةَ مُتَتَبِّعِي عُيُوبِ النٌّاسِ! فَإِنَّهُ لَمْ يَسْلَمْ مُصٌاحِبُهُمْ مِنْهِم
In the Name of Allah, the Most Kind, the Most Merciful
Adab al-Ikhtilaaf: The etiquette of dealing with differences of opinion part 3 [Video here]
In our first two parts we discussed the following points:
1) The Qur’an mentions people were one. When divine knowledge came to guide them, they used this as a means of misguidance against each other..
2) Differences in any one issue show the depth of that matter and how much knowledge it may contain
3) Scholars advise to keep their differences of opinion private before going public
4) Differences emanate from two places: i) Ignorance and ego ii) Newscasters; news-hounds; and news consumers
5) The Maraji’ welcome challenges (within reason, obviously)
In this weeks discussion we will look at the question of our attitudes toward people who have differences with us.
Karen Armstrong has written one of the most important books of our generation: ‘Muhammed: Prophet for our time’. At the onset of the book she says it was disturbing to her to see the Prophet (s) denigrated as a militant Prophet, when this is a man who spent his entire life trying to solve the problem of human conflict. He was born into a society of perpetual cycles of violence. An example of this is the famous 40 year war over a horse race called ‘Harb al-Dahis was Ghafra’, referring the names of the horses between the tribes of Abs and Dibyan. The man who started the war became a monk because he could not bear to look at the faces of those whom he’d been the cause of injury or death to.
We can see how the Qur’an addresses the attitude of believers to be amongst themselves
(48:29) Muhammad is God’s Apostle; and those who are [truly] with him are firm and unyielding towards all deniers of the truth, [yet] full of mercy towards one another.”مُّحَمَّدٌ رَّسُولُ اللَّهِ وَالَّذِينَ مَعَهُ أَشِدَّاء عَلَى الْكُفَّارِ رُحَمَاء بَيْنَهُمْ
This is why the Prophet (s) had to warn, “Do not turn back after me as ingrates striking at the neck of one another” لا ترجعوا بعدي كفاراً يضرب بعضكم رقاب بعضٍ
The Qur’an is critical of those who use their extremism in personal beliefs to be a means of dividing the community. This is mentioned twice in the Qur’an:
فَتَقَطَّعُوا أَمْرَهُم بَيْنَهُمْ زُبُرًا كُلُّ حِزْبٍ بِمَا لَدَيْهِمْ فَرِحُونَ(23:53) “But they (who claim to follow you) have torn their unity wide asunder, piece by piece, each group delighting in [but] what they themselves possess.”
مِنَ الَّذِينَ فَرَّقُوا دِينَهُمْ وَكَانُوا شِيَعًا كُلُّ حِزْبٍ بِمَا لَدَيْهِمْ فَرِحُونَ(30:32) “Among those who have broken the unity of their faith and have become sects, each group delighting in but what they themselves hold.”
What is the attitude of our Maraji’ toward differences between them? I was present in the lesson of Grand Ayatollah Syed Mohammed Taqi al-Modarresi when he categorically stated, ‘Whichever Marja’ you follow you are guided’. He also said, “Syed as-Seestani is my friend. Syed Khamenei is my friend” when talking about how people wanted to create differences between them.
In a famous lesson, during the intellectual battle between the Akhbaris and Usulis, when the groups had vast differences, the leaders of of those periods kept their unity. When Sheikh Wahid Behbehani, head of the Usuli movement, died, he willed that Syed Yusuf al-Bahrani, head of the opposition Akhbari movement, should lead his funeral prayers. This shows the differences are academic but the responsibility of protecting the community was tantamount. And these are the examples set for us.
In our last part next week we will ask how do we respond when emails and video clips are circulated within the community.
Adab al-Ikhtilaaf: The etiquettes of dealing with differences of opinion part 2 [Video here]
In part 1 we introduced the importance of this topic and how we would navigate the series. We mentioned that we will look at verses of the Qur’an and Ahadith around the topic, give scholarly opinions and stories of how the scholars themselves deal with differences of opinion.
In the first discussion we mentioned the opinion of Sheikh Ahmad Zarrooq who said, “The difference of opinion about one reality, when those differences multiply, indicate toward the depths of understanding the totality of that thing (meaning it is so deep).
We also mentioned the story of ‘Allama Tabataba’i and Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi debating in private before going public with their differences of opinion.
This week we ask the question, ‘Why do differences of opinion occur? Allah (swt) mentions that divine books and Messengers (a) were sent to remove differences and unite us, but envies and jealousies caused abuse of those blessings and to were used as means of division:
“Mankind was [of] one religion [before their deviation]; then Allah sent the prophets as bringers of good tidings and warners and sent down with them the Scripture in truth to judge between the people concerning that in which they differed. And none differed over the Scripture except those who were given it – after the clear proofs came to them – out of jealous animosity among themselves.” (2:213)
Another reason for differences is peoples’ ignorance which they then convey onto others. Some narrations that mention this are:
“Ignorance is the [primary] source of evil” اَلجَهْلُ مَعْدِنُ الشَّـرِّ and “Ignorance corrupts all matters” اَلجَهْلُ فَسادُ كُلِّ أمْر
How do I know if I have an ignorance that contributes to misguidance and inappropriate opinions? Narrations also provide guidance on this: “The ignorant person feels aversion towards that which the wise person feels at ease with” اَلجاهِلُ يَسْتَوْحِشُ مِمّا يَأنَسُ بِه الحَكيْمُ , meaning that whilst the wise person feels it normal to read lengthily, reflect, not speak or choose his words particularly, the ignorant person feels averse to all of this and therefore does not do it. In turn his opinions are usually less or devoid of value, creating unnecessary differences of opinion.
“The ignorant person does not understand the learned because he [himself] was never learned before” اَلجاهِلُ لايَعْرِفُ العالِمَ لأنَّهُ لَمْ يَكُنْ قَبْلُ عالِماً, meaning that the ignorant person often speaks thinking he has encompassed a matter understanding it well, but in reality, because he has not taken time to learn, he cannot see past his own ignorance.
Again this person provides opinions which would be followed by some who share the same delusions causing differences. Another reason why differences of opinion exist are in each community there are those who are sources of sedition; they cause the differences to spread and exacerbate.
Sunni scholar Abu al-Qasim as-Samarqandi said the following: “All fitnah comes from three places: Those who spread news, those seeking to hear news and those who consume news. And none of the three are free from blame.” تنشأ الفتن عن ثلالثة نفر: قائل الأخبار ، قارب استماع الأخبار ، و متلقي الأخبار – لا يخلص احد من الثلاثة من الملامة
A question is therefore raised: Do the scholars welcome or abhor differences of opinion amongst themselves? The book ‘The Ways of the Righteous’, seventy-two stories of our Maraji’, published by The World Federation, narrates a meeting with Grand Ayatollah Syed Mohammed Taqi al-Modarresi who mentioned meeting Ayatollah Hadi Ma’rifat in Iran, both of whom are known as great commentators of the Qur’an. The latter praised the former’s commentaries as outstanding. When Ayatollah al-Modarresi conveyed this story he asked the narrator, ‘What do you think about my commentaries?’ to which the commentator says he of course praised the works too. Ayatollah al-Modarresi replied, ‘I have not told you this for you to praise me too. I am asking you to point out where the work needs improving or is no longer accurate. I wrote this work reflecting a particular period in society which changes every few years, therefore if the works no reflect the needs or circumstances of the society, the works need updating.’
In this way, we can see that scholars are not fearful of constructive criticism or differences being presented to them, rather they welcome them.