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By Ibn al-Hussain in Just Another Muslim BloggerFollow on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/IqraOnlineBlog/
Original post: https://www.iqraonline.net/dialogue-with-believers/
An epidemic harming our communities is the general inability, hesitance & fear of engaging in dialogue with one another. In fact, in recent years, it appears there has been a significant increase in our communities engaging and initiating inter-faith dialogue, yet we do not see this phenomenon within our own communities. This is while we need such initiatives perhaps even much more so than inter-faith. We lack the ethics and etiquette of engaging in dialogue with other believers and this naturally weakens, distances and breaks up our communities on various fronts. This is of utmost concern particularly for the diaspora that is already in a vulnerable position – and things do not seem to be getting any better. Dialogue is not simply “speaking” – speaking is not the issue, in fact, many of us speak and have a lot to say, and our pulpits are occupied all year long with trained scholars, untrained lecturers and academics speaking.
A dialogue will generally have these three elements:
1) Two or more people
2) A subject of dispute or a subject that needs clarification
3) An expectation that the result of dialogue will either be in favour of you and/or the other party, or not (depending on the conclusion).
When dialogue does not take place, the results we observe are usually the belittlement of others, insults, accusations and rumours, swearing, and in fact, a lack of dialogue can even lead to physical confrontations, wars and bloodshed. These are of course all horrible consequences, particularly when the victims are no other than our selves. These consequences show that the subject of dispute was not resolved or there was no capacity to engage in a dialogue to begin with.
Why do we not engage in dialogue amongst ourselves? Are those who we disagree with amongst the believers so off the mark that we need to maintain a position against them like we should do with those who are genuine enemies of our belief? This is most often not the case at all and only in extremely exceptional circumstances do we have to encounter such groups of people – at which point it would be difficult to even classify them as believers. In the Treatise of Rights, Imam Sajjad (a) says that people of your creed enjoy the following rights over you:
The right of the people of your creed is harbouring safety for them, compassion toward them, kindness toward their wrong-doer, treating them with friendliness, seeking their well-being, thanking their good-doer, and keeping harm away from them. You should love for them what you love for yourself and dislike for them what you dislike for yourself. Their old men stand in the place of your father, their youths in the place of your brothers, their old women in the place of your mother, and their young ones in the place of your children.
Neglecting dialogue over matters of contention, more often than not, results in the trampling of some or all of these rights. So what prevents us from engaging in dialogue? Perhaps one or more of the following preliminaries required for dialogue do not exist:
1. The need to recognize other believers as noble creations of Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى). Verse [17:70] says Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) has given the children of Adam nobility and honour. In some of our communities, we see believers giving a lot of respect to Sayyids and this is not for any reason except for the fact that they are connected to the Prophet (p) through a chain of many generations. However, it behooves us to realize that we (and creation as a whole) are connected to Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) directly (or as per certain schools of philosophy, we are the very connection itself). Looking at another believer through the lens of dishonour and painting them as ignoble will not lead us anywhere and signifies a much greater spiritual problem.
2. Acknowledging that humans are different from certain aspects – gender, ethnicities, tribes, physical and spiritual capacities, affinities, tastes etc. We have two types of Sunnah (pl. Sunan) – the Sunnah of the Prophet and the Sunnah of Allah. The Sunan of Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) are divided into two: there are some Sunan that only become applicable when humans bring them upon themselves through their free-will; for example, the increased bestowal of guidance once we have wilfully chosen to come into Islam -
[47:17] As for those who are [rightly] guided, He enhances their guidance.
[19:76] Allah enhances in guidance those who are [rightly] guided.
There are some Sunan of Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) that are absolute, not conditioned to the free-will of man. One of these Sunan is His creating us different. These differences are one of the necessary conditions for trial and tribulation to have any meaning in this world.
[5:48] …and had Allah wished He would have made you one community, but [His purposes required] that He should test you in respect to what He has given you…
[6:165] It is He who has made you successors on the Earth, and raised some of you in rank above others so that He may test you in respect to what He has given you.
As such, it is normal that even within the same worldview, there will be times people reach different conclusions and do things differently. Acknowledging this opens the door to considering certain points of contention worthy of engagement. On the contrary, allowing these contentions to break us apart may very well be a sign that the believers are failing in their trials.
3. The lack of desire to engage in Ṣulḥ - to reach a conciliation and compromise. Ṣulḥ is often discussed in the context of resolving personal disputes and ironing out details of settlements, or as a treaty for halting warfare. But the general principles of Ṣulḥ can also be used to resolve larger community disputes – as was common in the Muslim world in the past and continues to be the case in many rural places. However, this generic understanding of Ṣulḥ only works if parties involved have a desire to discuss their disputes in a sincere manner (the details and mechanisms of Ṣulḥ have been discussed in detail in their appropriate places). One should not see the mere existence of differences as necessarily going against the command of holding on to the rope of Allah [3:103] - these two are reconcilable on many occasions as the scholars have mentioned. The absence of Ṣulḥ breaks and fragments the communities of the believers.
4. Reality is too vast and not all of it is in our hands. At any given point we have only understood certain aspects of it and that as well to a certain degree, not absolute reality –
[17:85] and you have not been given of the knowledge except a little.
We need to acknowledge that there are other perspectives and there is genuine room for these perspectives to be justified within an Islamic framework. The vastness of reality should alone be enough to humble and soften us to engage in dialogue with another party amongst the believers. The delusion of having uncovered all of the truth regarding a certain matter and behaving as if no one else could possibly say anything that would add anything to our knowledge is a deterrent and barrier for dialogue.
By Ibn al-Hussain in Just Another Muslim BloggerFollow on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/IqraOnlineBlog/
Original post: https://www.iqraonline.net/when-apologies-becomes-unethical/
There is no doubt that apologizing and seeking forgiveness for having done something wrong is an ethical act. It is something we should all do for any of our mistakes and shortcomings that became the cause of harm and nuisance to others. Apologizing shows us that the individual has intuitively realized the flaws of a certain decision they had made and their regret over it, and so, we qualify it as a moral and ethical act originating in their recognition of this fact.
However, we only qualify the act of apologizing as an ethical act when it is within a certain framework and meets certain conditions. If one’s apology does not meet these conditions, the act of apologizing itself becomes immoral and unethical. This is something Muslims at large need to be wary off, particularly the Muslim diaspora in the West.
An apology is only ethical when it is offered in response to one’s own mistake or criminal offence. If one apologizes in a situation where they know they have committed no crime nor offence, this is an unethical instance of an apology. Imam ‘Alī (a) has been reported to have said: “One who seeks pardon without having sinned, has imposed that sin upon himself.” This is because by apologizing, one gives the impression of being guilty of something, even though they are not guilty of anything. A very apparent example of this is the initiative taken by some Muslims to apologize for crimes certain other Muslims happen to commit.
An even more unethical type of apology is one that is done after fulfilling a religious responsibility and duty. This is an apology one offers after doing something they had to in order to fulfill the commands of Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى), yet after doing so, they offer an apology because they realized that the other party was unhappy with them for whatever reason. In another tradition, Imam ‘Alī (a) has said, “Do not seek pardon for obeying the commands of Allah – it being a sign of honour for you should suffice.” A simple example of this would be Muslims who refuse to shake hands with the opposite gender, yet still apologizing for their behaviour.
Furthermore, one notices that the Islamic tradition is silent on whether one should expect and insist on an apology from someone who causes them harm. On the contrary, what we find are ample traditions on accepting an apology when it is offered. It is not strange then that we do not find any historical reports telling us that Imam ‘Alī (a) demanded an apology during his own caliphate from anyone who caused him trouble. This notion of being expected to apologize is important to note because another instance of an immoral apology is one where one is expected to give an apology by an individual or a community for a wrong ulterior motive – often political.
For example, when ‘Uthmān exiled Abū Dharr, he ordered Marwān to take Abū Dharr out of the city and not allow anyone else to accompany them. Despite the orders of the caliph, Imam ‘Alī (a) alongside ‘Aqīl and his sons came to accompany Abū Dharr – their presence also signifying a sign of protest against the exile. Marwān saw this as an insult to himself and the caliph was also angered when he came to know about this. The seniors amongst the Muhājirūn and the Anṣār began pressuring the Imam to apologize to Marwān, implying that he expects an apology, but the Imam (a) responds to them, “As for Marwān, I will not go to him and neither will I apologize to him.” In our own day to day life, we see these expectations being put on Muslims – often with ulterior motives behind them – where one is to apologize for certain positions or views they hold or certain decisions they make while being within their right to do so.
In the same light, another unethical apology is one that is to someone who sees you as worthless, denies you your rights, and sees themselves as the possessor of all rights. In one of the wisdom of Luqmān, narrated by Imam Ṣādiq (a), he is reported to have said, “do not apologize to someone who does not ascertain any rights for you.” This is because apologizing to such an individual does nothing but bring humility and shame to you.
Finally, one should only apologize if they know they are truly in the wrong. This is the case even if one is found guilty in court after evidence has been established against them. They can be reprimanded according to the law for what they were found guilty of, but despite this, if they themselves know they were not guilty in reality, apologizing in such a situation cannot be considered ethical. We also see that Islamic law is silent on the matter of demanding and insisting the guilty to apologize for their errors.
By Haji 2003 in Stories for SakinaIt's taken me nearly 15 years to get to 10,000 posts, so I thought I'd post something special.
I remember the cold. I think it was the first time in my life that keeping warm was a struggle. Shafts of cold air channelled in through a train not designed to keep it out. Arriving at Amritsar station, there was some relief. I remember the shouts of ‘garam chai’ (hot tea) rising above the cacophony of engines, whistles, and general yells. This trip was the first time that I was allowed to drink tea. At home in London, tea was an adult’s drink, and there simply had been no occasion or need to drink it. Here at Amritsar station, in Indian Punjab, during the middle of the night, I was allowed to drink the strong, sugary hot tea and eat the hard-boiled eggs that the hawkers were selling. It was only many years later that I appreciated the business nous of selling hard-boiled eggs. Pre-packaged and ready to eat, what could be easier for a hawker to sell?
Some years later standing in the cold in the school playground would help me appreciate all the more as I read of Ivan Denisovich’s battles against hunger and cold in Solzhenitsyn’s account of life in a Soviet gulag. And many years later still this way of experiencing the novel would prompt me to encourage my daughter to read Denisovich’s account while she was fasting for Ramadan.
Standing on the platform with my snacks, amongst the flow of passengers and porters, I took in the destination signs on the different trains, heading off to distant parts of a sub-continent. Perhaps my diminutive 10-year-old perspective added to the perceived size of the place; I would not be surprised. The porters wore a uniform, after a fashion. For each one of them, the acquisition of a customer provided a sense of purpose and superiority of status which would be underlined by rearranging their head-covering to better protect themselves from the luggage that would soon be loaded on top. On this trip, I was just a spectator to the rituals of engaging porters. When old enough to be a participant, I’d find it a difficult balance between exploiting and being exploited.
At last, it was time to get back in the train and cover myself as best I could with an assortment of clothes, waiting for the morning to bring some respite. Some mornings were awesome, the rising rays of sunshine spread across green fields, punctuated by trees and seemingly in rhythm with the regular beat of the wheels on the track. At some point, I’d have to go to the toilet, which was a balancing act of the toothbrush, toothpaste and some attempt at washing and keeping my distance from the ubiquitous hole in the floor.
At first, I had distanced myself from the perceived filth of the train and had tried to keep myself to as small an area as possible. But as the hours passed my comfort zone expanded until I was even comfortable lying full stretch on the wooden slats of the third-class benches. As the miles passed the squalor, even that of the toilet, was no longer alien but something to which I had become habituated. Though I still haven’t managed to achieve the level of equanimity displayed by a fellow airline passenger who went into the toilet barefoot. As someone else commented on this practice, the liquid on the floor isn’t water.
Safety was and still is a distant concept when it comes to Indian railways, best observed by the person at risk. In both my childhood travel and in recent times safety seems to lie, for example, in keeping your distance from the open door of the railway carriage. As a 30-year-old on a train from Chennai to Hyderabad and no parent to hold me back, I was able to lean out to take videos and photos to rekindle childhood memories of fleeting Indian railway stations. The observation stimulated the same sense of passing through and catching the moment in local lives. What I was not able to recapture in a photo was the rising dawn that I had observed in my childhood journey.
On that childhood trip, I had brought a couple of books with me, which I still remember. There was ‘Tarka the Otter’ and Joy Adamson’s ‘Home Free’. I can’t remember which one was more boring, but Tarka does stand out as being particularly good for being interrupted by the least remarkable scenery outside. The same can’t be said for the novel I discovered at our destination in Lucknow. Our host had a copy of ‘War of the Worlds’ the title itself was captivating and the story engrossing. I remember sitting in various locations of the house working my way through the invasion.
A few years before this train trip, aged six, I had seen a book titled ‘War and Peace’ sitting on another relative’s bookshelf in London and that also seemed to suggest excitement within. I wasn’t there long enough to pick it up, but a few years after the Indian trip, when I was about 14 I made a point about buying the novel but the enthusiasm stimulated by the title was very, very quickly dimmed by the story within. I decided to grind down the story by reading a page a day. It took a couple of years, but I managed to finish it.
‘War of the Worlds’ was the starting point, since then I’ve come to associate books with the places where I read them: Sterling Seagrave’s, ‘Dragon Lady’ accompanied me on a trip to Singapore and provided the incentive to visit China.
Aged 17, I was transiting between two Paris metro stations, on a trip to Aix-en-Provence when a kindly gentleman took pity on me and helped me with my overweight suitcase containing Lipsey’s tome ‘Positive Economics’. Amongst other books, this would be entirely superfluous to my needs at the French language summer course I was about to attend. Even in adulthood, I have never quite managed to balance taking on travels work-related things that I would use as opposed to those I might regret not having brought with me. Laptops and cloud storage have meant that that personal deficiency no longer has to be addressed.
This had been a unique trip in some different ways. My mother was a widow, and we did not have a great deal of money. I hadn’t been abroad between the ages of 5 and 10. But travelling third class on Indian railways and staying with relatives wherever we went meant that this trip was fairly affordable. So, it was not unreasonable that my mother was not too impressed with what took place when we arrived at the border crossing between India and Pakistan sometime earlier.
When we got off the train for the immigration check, there was a French lady in front of us, and she and my mother started speaking. Quite proudly my mother presented me as someone who could speak French. The unexpectedness and ambition of the challenge meant that I was completely dumbstruck. For a good few hours to follow, I’d hear my mother’s lament about how much she had paid for a French Linguaphone course for me, which was well beyond our means. I had assured her that this would be a great aid to my linguistic efforts, the advertisement promised as much, and I had waited with great anticipation for its arrival. Finally, one day there was a brown rectangular package waiting for me outside our house. But for a 10-year-old to master the use of the different texts and develop some semblance of a study plan was quite an ambition and one for which my abilities and self-discipline fell seriously short.
There must have been a subconscious notion that the pursuit of academic endeavours would give access to budgets otherwise unavailable. A few years later I’d decide that photography O’level would offer a greater chance of scholastic success. Once more I was lured in by a mixture of an economy with the truth by the people promoting the offering and my imaginative willingness to fill in the blanks. First, there was a need to buy an SLR camera, and as time passed it became obvious that the necessary skills to process photos could not be acquired in the few minutes, I’d have to be in front of the enlarger at school every week. An investment in a darkroom became a necessity. This time self-discipline wasn’t needed to drive study. I had discovered a subject for which I had a passion. I’d end up spending many happy hours in the darkroom, well past midnight channelling Diane Arbus and Cartier Bresson. By the time a school trip to the Soviet Union took place, I was reasonably competent and still have some of the photos of that visit.
Looking back, both the camera and the Soviet trip itself seemed like a judicious investment in an unrepeatable experience, a few years later the USSR would cease to exist. This lesson in political upheaval was to prove particularly useful before a trip with my wife and kids to Syria. My brother had borrowed my video camera and forgotten to return it, and the realisation only came in the departure lounge at Heathrow. Buying a video camera specifically for one trip seemed like an extravagance, but soon afterward the civil war broke out. I have clips of my daughter walking amongst a temple to the Phoenician God Melquart, I wonder whether ISIS have left it standing?
For the India trip, in contrast, there was no camera at all. As I had left London, I had been given a compact camera, which refused to show any sign of working for the duration of the trip and which it had not been possible to repair either. So, I have no tangible images of the entire trip. Whether that has forced me to try harder to remember over the years or whether I have become better at embellishing the details, I don’t know. I do know that on one review I have left on Tripadvisor, I have commented that the prohibition on taking cameras into a particular museum means that visitors are more likely to pay attention to the exhibits in their own right rather than as fodder for an Instagram feed.
From Lucknow, we went to my mother’s ancestral home in Fatehpur. We drove through the potholed roads of Uttar Pradesh, slowed even further by overladen agricultural traffic. We arrived in the evening, and all I could sense was that we entered a courtyard and then another. This was quite different to any home I had visited previously. Morning brought a much better sense of the place. The hallmark of the building was its twin towers, installed a couple of hundred years previously, with permission from the rulers of Awadh, since they were considered a mark of royalty and my maternal ancestor’s position as a tutor to the princely household earned him the favour to use them. These rose above the building and the surrounding town. Beneath them was the building’s mosque entered through several large wooden doors, several steps then led to a large courtyard at the other end of which was a narrow staircase leading to some apartments on the first floor. The men of the family had offices cum bedrooms on the ground floor of the courtyard, and their families slept in apartments on the first floor. Any tangible evidence of conjugal relations, such as a couples’ double bed was considered impolite. There were also apartments on the ground floor. To the right of the towers was the entrance to the building and beyond that the disused stables, a further courtyard and then the exit to the main street of the town.
In Fatehpur, there were no books, or indeed television, but there was exploring the building, listening to stories, fishing and staring at a night sky whose lights I had never previously seen in such profusion. Frustratingly, the shot guns could only be seen and not touched, in fact, I wasn’t allowed to use the air gun. Even the fishing wasn’t with actual rods, but the sensation of the lightness of a short stick with a bait at the end being replaced with the sensation of something tugging at the end of a line remains vivid.
Exploring the old building would be an experience for someone who had lived in a terraced house all his life. Playing cricket in its central square meant that we had room for both wickets and the ability to run between them, while back in London the garden lawn barely stretched a couple of metres and in our London suburb kids just didn’t play on the street. And then there was the dungeon. Like quite a bit of what we were to experience the name or prior description didn’t quite live up to schoolboy expectations. The Urdu word they all used was ‘mahal’ as in Taj Mahal, but you could hardly describe it as a palace. The dungeon itself was no more threatening than a basement room.
The family mahal stood in contrast to the Taj that we had visited on a side-trip while staying in Delhi with an uncle. The sense of serenity reflected off the colour and curves remains in my mind. The sound track no longer remains, perhaps the size of the place drowned out the chattering throngs. The image is now distilled from the range of different perspectives: the head-on view as captured by those photographers who pictured Princess Diana in the foreground, to my standing under the columns staring up and being up close to the marble.
While the Taj was glorious enough to represent the nation and thus rose above its religious and ethnic antecedents, this was not the case with the family mahal. The condition of this modest building perfectly reflected the state of the community it housed: elegant decrepitude with only a memory of former glories. While the building’s statelier past was visible from the remnants of the structure, so the stories passed by each generation reminded subsequent ones of the lifestyle they had been denied because of opportunities missed and talents wasted.
Such was the problem they were facing that even acts of renovation seemed like destruction, where older styles of building work and decoration were replaced with more functional and cheaper modern ones. My youthful displeasure at the erasure of history would later be tempered by a more mature realisation of the practicalities of habitat when I had the chimney breasts and fireplaces of my Victorian house removed to create more space.
Occasionally the person who had hosted us in Lucknow would visit. He was a local politician and would arrive in a stately Ambassador car or even more excitingly a ‘jeep’. Not an eponymous one of course, but I still remember the fact that it had gun racks. Both that vehicle and the Ambassador were made in India. This was India before trade liberalisation. Not as familiar a place as the Pakistan we had travelled through to get here. Pakistan had the welcome familiarity of brands that I had grown up with; the ketchup was Heinz and the coke a recognisably friendly white swoosh on a red background. Billboard and television advertising was reassuring. Here unfamiliar names came across as peculiar. Why would a cola be called ‘Thums Up?’.
Such has been the irony of globalisation that a few weeks ago eating at Dishoom restaurant in London’s East End I saw the Thums Up logo once more. A symbol of rejecting western capitalism had itself become a brand, with a consumerist meaning, evoking a carbonated essence of India.
Like all children of Asian immigrants on visits to their parents’ country of origin, I was also overwhelmed with the extensivity and density of familial connections. There were first cousins, second cousins, and quite a lot more complicated combinations, for which there are no words in English. Added to this, a matriarchal aunt could also be a cousin. My wife came up with a novel way of explaining one such relationship to me. “If that aunt were Mary Queen of Scots, your mum would be Elizabeth I”. Indeed, an artefact of such complex and inter-related ties was the obvious existence of rivalries, jealousies, and squabbles spanning generations. In England, my younger brother and I had been protected from this aspect of extended family life. The protection came at a price: we didn’t know how to deal with it at all. At the age of 10 this did not matter, but on future visits, it would become more significant and certainly by the time my brother and I reached marriageable age. For the time being, it was just nice that as I wandered from apartment to apartment in the mahal, everyone I met was a relative and I was too young to understand any political dimension of that relationship. It would also be in subsequent visits to the mahal, when I was older, that I’d appreciate the tensions with the communities who lived outside the mahal.
On my daily walks, I’d see hand powered sewing machines and food being prepared more laboriously than anything I had seen at home. The dirt floor did not afford the comfort of sitting cross legged and sitting on my haunches was not something my leg muscles were prepared for. Unlike the urban homes, I had come across in the sub-continent, the toilet here was a platform raised above the multi-coloured offerings beneath. So large was the place that any smells remained distant from any other rooms.
The cold had not left us in Fatehpur. At night, they would light braziers which were wonderful for bringing around family members, sitting together on the Indian style wooden beds, sharing each other’s warmth, stories and gossip.
By Ibn al-Hussain in Just Another Muslim BloggerFollow on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/IqraOnlineBlog
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The 11th Imam (a) was able to remain in contact with the general Shī’ī community over a large geographical area through the Wakālah system. The Wakālah system comprised of a large number of agents and representatives who would serve as the point of contact between the Imam and their respective communities. The foundations of this specific system can be traced back to the time of Imam Ṣādiq (a) and its exponential growth can evidently be seen from the time of Imam Kāẓim (a) onwards. After Imam Naqī (a), control of this complex network was transferred over to Imam ‘Askarī (a).
There were a number of reasons why this network was developed. Firstly, to tackle the physical distance between the Imams (a) and their followers. Secondly, in cases where the Imams were imprisoned or under house arrest and were permitted to have very little contact with outsiders, it was more convenient to remain in contact with specifically chosen individuals rather than a large number of people – often for the safety of both the followers and the Imams. For example, since 11th Imam was under surveillance by the government, he would have to visit the officials once or twice a week to announce his presence and report on his activities, but some of his followers would try to use this opportunity to stand on both sides of pathway so they could meet him (a). Imam ‘Askarī (a) instead asks these followers to not talk to him or even point towards him as it would cause problems.
It has been reported from ‘Alī bin Ja’far al-Ḥalabī who said: We gathered at the military compound to observe Abī Muḥammad (a) on the day of his visit. However, his (a) letter reached (us) with the warning: No one should say their greetings to me, no one should point towards me with their hand, and no one should signal (towards me), because your lives are not safe.
Another reason a number of scholars have mentioned is that the Wakālah system foreshadowed what the Shī’ī community would have to deal with in the near future and allowed them to prepare for a smoother transition into the period of occultation of the 12th Imam. In other words, by the time of the occultation, much of the Shī’ī community was very much used to not having direct contact with an Imam, or rather, having contact with them through chosen representatives.
Some of the tasks these agents would perform were the collection and delivery of letters, gifts, khums, zakāt, different types of endowments, and at times even addressing communal issues in their cities. By mid-third century hijrī, the network extended over four large areas: The Arabian Peninsula, Iraq, Iran and Transoxiana – though some reports indicate there were a couple of agents even in some cities in Africa.
Much of the communication between the Imam (a) and the communities was occurring through letters. One of the famous agents, Aḥmad b. Isḥāq had to ask Imam ‘Askarī (a) for a sample of his (a) handwriting so that he would be able to recognize it from any possible attempts of forgery by government officials. Aḥmad says:
“Once I went to see Abū Muḥammad (a) and asked him (a) to write for me few lines so that whenever I see his (a) handwriting I can recognize it. The Imam (a) said, ‘Yes,’ and then said, ‘O Aḥmad the writing with a fine pen and with thick pen will look different to you. Do not have doubts.” He (a) then asked for a pen and inkpot and began writing.
One of these agents was ‘Uthmān b. Sa’īd al-‘Amrī who grew up in the house of Imam Jawād (a) from the age of 11, then became a wakīl for Imam Naqī (a) and ‘Askarī (a). His significance was such that he also became the first nā’ib of the 12th Imam (a). ‘Uthmān b. Sa’īd eventually began residing in Baghdad, disguising himself as an oil seller. If the Shī’a had to deliver that which was obligatory upon them to Imam ‘Askarī (a), they would send it to ‘Uthmān who would put their money or any other items in containers of clarified butter due to dissimulation and fear and carry it to Imam ‘Askarī (a) in Sāmarra.
Another important agent was Aḥmad b. Isḥāq b. Sa’d al-Ash’arī, mentioned earlier. He was a wakīl of Imam Naqī (a) and ‘Askarī (a) in Qom and during the occultation he moved from Qom to Baghdad and became a close assistant of the aforementioned ‘Uthmān b. Sa’īd. Aḥmad’s significance was such that he was also the senior-most scholar in Qom during his time, whose narrations can be found in Shī’ī works of ḥadīth. He trained numerous students and had written a number of works. After Imam ‘Askarī (a), Aḥmad was one of the individuals who demonstrated that the brother of the 11th Imam, Ja’far – who at the time was claiming to be the Imam himself – could not have been the Imam and God’s authority on Earth.
There is no denying that there was definitely a degree of confusion in the Shī’ī communities after the 11th Imam, but nevertheless, a lot of this confusion was contained and dealt with by these very agents and representatives who had garnered the trust of their communities over the decades. This is true not just in the case of the 12th Imam but as well as when confusion arose amongst some communities after the demise of any one of the previous Imams (a). In a meeting Imam ‘Askarī (a) has with Aḥmad b. Isḥāq after the Imamate had transferred to him from the 10th Imam, he (a) asks him about the people of Qom and whether their confusion regarding who the next Imam was had been dispelled. Aḥmad (a) who was also a wakīl for the 10th Imam in the city of Qom before that, responds to the 11th Imam saying, “O my master, when your letter was received, there was not a man or a woman from amongst us, and neither a young child who had reached a level of understanding, except that they confessed to the truth (of the fact that you are indeed the Imam).”
Likewise, when the 12th Imam is born, Imam ‘Askarī (a) sends Aḥmad b. Isḥāq a letter in Qom informing him of the birth of his son. Aḥmad says that a letter was sent in the same handwriting of Imam ‘Askarī (a) in which all of his previous correspondences and letters would be sent, and it said we have been blessed with a child who will remain hidden from people and that the Imam (a) is only informing the closest of his followers.
Later when Aḥmad visits the 11th Imam (a), the Imam tells him that if Aḥmad was not seen as a noble individual in front of Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) and the Imams, he (a) would not have informed him about the birth of his son – who will fill the Earth with justice and equity.
The birth of the Mahdī (a) was kept closely guarded and hence many Muslims at the time never came to believe Imam ‘Askari (a) had a son. Few trustworthy individuals – especially from amongst the network of agents – who over the decades had not only gained the trust of the 11th Imam but as well as the trust of their own communities, had been told about the birth and some fortunate enough even had the opportunity to see the 12th Imam. While naturally there was confusion and perplexity in certain segments of the Shī’ī community, this confusion was addressed and dealt with by these agents and as well as Shī’ī scholars over the years. In essence, the Wakālah system and the individual agents themselves paved the path for a smoother transition into the occultation.
By Ibn al-Hussain in Just Another Muslim BloggerExcerpt from: https://www.iqraonline.net/surat-al-inshirah-an-introductory-exegesis-of-the-meanings-and-messages-contained-within
There is a question raised in the Quranic sciences, and the answer to it is a starting point that will distinguish the exegetical methodology that a scholar chooses. This question is whether the Qur'an is only a book of information or also a book of moral training and guidance?
To clarify the first part of the question, let’s give an example. Suppose you visited a jurist to ask them for a ruling on a jurisprudential matter that concerns you. A jurist, in so far as he is a jurist, doesn’t have a responsibility beyond answering you with a yes or no based on his expert opinion on the matter. The jurist will not usually involve himself in the development of the person and his moral training in order that the person stays away from what is impermissible. Similarly, a mathematician who presents mathematical theories will explain his ideas so that others understand it but is not concerned with anything more than that.
As for the second part of the question, let’s also give an example. Suppose you visited a psychiatrist and complained to them of a problem you are suffering from. The psychiatrist will not just suffice themselves with writing a prescription to help cure you. Rather, they will sit you down and have a discussion with you that seeks not to give you information per se, but in order that the very discussion itself acts as a positive help for your situation and improves your psychological state.
After these two examples, let us present the question once again: Does the Qur'an play the same role as a jurist, philosopher, physicist or chemist in presenting ideas purely without thinking about a mechanism of ingraining them ideologically within the person’s mind thereby acting as a channel for knowledge that doesn’t have a responsibility beyond delivering information to the other person? Or is the Qur'an – in addition to being a channel for knowledge – a book of moral and spiritual training that seeks to convince its listeners of the ideas it presents, and furthermore seeks through various means to develop a person and deepen their ideas, removing unclarity from them, and thus through itself acting as a cause for human reform and to emphasize ideas that they may have previously known?
Undoubtedly, the second option is the correct one. If the Qur'an was merely a book of information, what was the need to bring it down in such disparate stages? It would have been possible for Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) to give it all at once to His Prophet (p) and the Prophet can subsequently explain this divine information, whilst comparing all its verses, without the need to bring it down in divided stages.
The Qur'an, however, plays an important role in building and reforming the Islamic society. One is mistaken if he expects answers akin to the jurists and scientists or considers it similar to a book that presents scientific theories in a dry mechanical style. The Qur'an, in addition to being a book with information, is a book of moral guidance and spiritual refinement, through its style, mode of presentation and its artistic way. The Qur'an aims through its eloquence, the arrangement of its words, its musical effect and its psychological impact to affect its listeners and to enter deeply inside their hearts, not merely to present them with some information. It is thus akin to an ethical scholar who seeks not to merely place information in the mind of his students, but rather act as a moral guide and exemplar for the information he has given them. If we restricted the role of an ethical scholar to just giving ethical information, the value of such scholars would be diminished.
Based on this premise, we can address another question: Why does the Qurān repeat itself?
[94:5-6] For indeed, after hardship will be ease. Indeed, after hardship will be ease.
In Sūrah al-Inshirāḥ, Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) twice repeats the point: there will be ease after hardship. There are many other places where the Quranic verses are repeated, either congruently in their words, or with very minor differences conveying the exact meaning. What is the reason behind the Qur'an containing multiple verses saying the same thing? Exegetes have been divided in their understanding of the secret behind this repetition:
a) A group of exegetes held the view that there is no repetition of meaning between any two verses, even though the same terms are used. For example, some advocates of this view argue that the basmalah at the start of Sūrah al-Baqara will indicate a different meaning to the basmalah at the start of any other surah. This is because each basmalah is part of a distinct composition that is exclusive to each chapter.
This view is based on the premise that repetition is useless and futile. They went as far as to say that such futility is impossible for a wise being such as God. If the meaning was completed in the first text, what need would the second text be trying to fulfil? This is what caused some contemporary exegetes to refuse the idea of repetition for the purposes of emphasis like in these verses and other verses in the Qur'an. As such, “indeed, with hardship comes ease” in the sixth verse must give a different meaning to the fifth verse “for indeed, with hardship comes ease”. This way, the Qur'an is placed – according to them – in its lofty position and we do not attribute pointless repetition to God.
b) In contrast to the first view, the second group of exegetes considered it unnecessary to go to these difficult lengths. Rather, repetition for emphasis amongst Arabs is something acceptable. As such, in the case of Sūrah al-Inshirāḥ for example, the second verse wished to emphasize the principle that ease accompanies hardship. A person who faces a hardship must not be overwhelmed by despondency and anxiety, because the Lord will place ease to accompany this hardship.
This group of exegetes reject there being any issue with the Qur'an repeating itself, whether its stories or other concepts if this repetition represents a way to emphasize the moral training present in the Qur'an and if it increases the importance of these concepts in the mind and soul of the listener. This is akin to you repeating a concept dozens of times in front of your children. Your purpose is not merely that they know the concept; this is achieved with you mentioning it once, but that the concept is emphasized in their minds and so that they consider it a priority. This way, they can act accordingly. This is one of the main differences between books of information and books of moral training, especially those which use various rhetorical means and tools of influence like the Qur'an.
Perhaps for this and other reasons, many narrations state that when a believer reads the Qur'an, he makes himself sad through it and he lives a state of fear, hope and is impacted spiritually and emotionally. This is because the Qur'an is not merely a book of information that has no ability to ability to impact through its content and style. It’s a book of knowledge that uses all the means of influence that purposeful and upright media would use.
By Ibn al-Hussain in Just Another Muslim BloggerFollow on FB: https://www.facebook.com/IqraOnlineBlog/
Many Muslim theologians in their discussions on the Problem of Evil have argued that existence in the material realm and the systems that govern it are the best possible systems (al-niẓām al-aḥsan) that could have been created and that they enjoy excessive good (ziyādah al-khayr) as opposed to excessive evil. Thereafter, Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) based on His infinite Love and Beneficence certainly [55:3] created man [95:4] in the best of forms, so that He [18:7] may test them to see which of them is best in conduct.
Our lives are a journey where we are meant to improve day by day, working towards nurturing our best possible selves. In order to do so, we must refrain from anything that distances us away from that which is better for us and we ought to remain subservient to the Lordship of Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى), subscribing to the path He (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) has ordained for us – [3:19] Indeed, with Allah religion is submission (Islam). One of the prerequisites for self-improvement is to be able to manage our time and to have discipline. One of the greatest tragedies afflicting us in our lives is the loss of time, particularly when caused by lack of discipline and a failure to organize ourselves. This issue afflicts not just the young, but as well as the elders – males and females.
Imam ‘Alī (a) in one of his letters advises his children to fear Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) and to keep their affairs in a naẓm. When the beads of a rosary are tied together with a string, this act is called naẓm – you give the beads an order, as you count the beads you expect there to be one bead after another, you know how many there are in total, and you know how many times you are meant to recite any given dhikr. Naẓm is the opposite of being disorderly and all over the place.
The journey towards nurturing our best possible selves requires us to contemplate over our day to day affairs, make changes to our lifestyle, repent and learn from our past sins and mistakes, increase the amount of good we do, decrease our bad behaviour towards others, and so on. This can only be done effectively when we have discipline in our lives and are able to manage our time appropriately. In the limited lifespan we have, failure to make any improvement on a daily basis is nothing but a loss. Imam Ṣādiq (a) has said, one whose two days are equal has been deceived, one who does not see any improvement in themselves during the course of the day is at loss, and one who is at loss then death is better for them than life.
By Ibn al-Hussain in Just Another Muslim BloggerOriginal post: https://www.iqraonline.net/disobedience-of-Allah-(سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى)-is-foolishness/
إِنَّمَا التَّوْبَةُ عَلَى اللَّهِ لِلَّذِينَ يَعْمَلُونَ السُّوءَ بِجَهَالَةٍ ثُمَّ يَتُوبُونَ مِن قَرِيبٍ فَأُولَٰئِكَ يَتُوبُ اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِمْ ۗ وَكَانَ اللَّهُ عَلِيمًا حَكِيمًا
[4:17] [Acceptance of] repentance upon Allah is only for those who commit evil out of ignorance, then repent promptly. It is such whose repentance Allah will accept, and Allah is all-knowing, all-wise.
Repentance (al-tawbah) is expected from us when we sin and transgress. However, the scenario in which repentance for sin is expected is when we sin while knowing that a certain act is against Allah’s (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) legislation and commands, yet we engage in it. On the other hand, if a person commits an act without knowledge, it is not technically classified as a sin and therefore one is not expected to repent. This is all the while verse [4:17] cited above says that Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) only accepts the repentance of those who commit a sin out of ignorance (jahālah), instead of knowledge (‘ilm).
The word jahl in Arabic is homonymous between two meanings: one meaning “absence of knowledge” which is the opposite of ‘ilm, and the other meaning can be loosely translated as foolishness or mindlessness, which is the opposite of ‘aql. For example, Shaykh Kulaynī in his Uṣūl al-Kāfī has a book titled Kitāb al-‘Aql wa al-Jahl, where jahl is used in the opposite of ‘aql – not ‘ilm – hence translated by some as the Book of the Intellect and Foolishness, rather than the book of knowledge and ignorance. The verse in question also uses the word jahalah as the opposite of ‘aql and not as the opposite of ‘ilm. In other words, the verse is saying repentance is for a situation where a person commits an act which the sound intellect does not permit one to do or is against one’s rational intuitions, yet due to the overpowering of one’s desires and lust they engaged in it. Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) accepts the repentance of those who commit evil when their sinning is a result of their foolishness, carelessness and mindlessness – while they know it is a sin. This would be in opposition to those who transgress the boundaries laid down by Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) while knowing it is a sin, but yet they engage in it due to hypocrisy or disbelief.
Mullā Ṣadrā in his commentary on Uṣul al-Kāfī says that the word jahālah in the verse is either grammatically indicating a state of being – meaning they commit evil deeds while they are mindless, or it is an accusative of specification (tamyīz) – meaning they commit evil deeds which originate from foolishness and mindlessness, because committing a sin itself is foolishness and a feigning of ignorance. Hence some scholars have said, anyone who disobeys Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) is jāhil (foolish).
As for the subsequent verse [4:18] But [acceptance of] repentance is not for those who go on committing misdeeds … these are people who have exceeded in their sins and are accustomed to it. Therefore Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) rejects the repentance of both those amongst the immoral ones who postpone their repentance till the time of their death and those who die upon disbelief. As such, what is meant by [4:17] those who commit evil (al-sū’) are the sinners from amongst the Muslims whose repentance is accepted and [4:18] those who go on committing misdeeds (al-sayyiāt) are the hypocrites whose repentance is not accepted.
Furthermore, [4:17] says that the acceptance of repentance is “upon Allah” – the phrase generally indicating a type of obligation. Is the acceptance of repentance rooted in Allah’s (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) Justice, or His (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) Kindness? If He (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) decides not to accept someone’s repentance, does that mean He (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) has been unjust? The scholarly opinion on the matter is that His (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) acceptance of our repentance is rooted in His (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) Kindness, not His (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) Justice. After Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) granted us capacity, knowledge, innumerable blessings, sent forth Prophets (p) and made all the necessary preliminaries available to us, He (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) established His (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) argument and evidence upon us – leaving us with no excuse. If despite this a person commits a sin and Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) does not accept their repentance, then this is not inherently and initially unjust – it is against his Kindness.
Though it can be argued it is also against His (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) Justice from one perspective, and that is because Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) out of His (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) Kindness promised to accept our repentance, then not fulfilling this promise would be an act of injustice. In other words, not accepting one’s repentance is not directly against Allah’s (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) Justice, rather His acceptance is a fulfillment of His (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) promise, which if unfulfilled is an act of injustice. The Qurānic verse acceptance of repentance “upon Allah” is also indicative of the fact that it is something He made necessary for Himself – not that His (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) initial Justice necessitated it.
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