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Archive for the ‘Ahl al-Bayt’ Category

What follows as an abridged and edited presentation of ʿAllāmah Ṭabāṭabāʾī’s exegesis of the opening section of Sūrah al-Muʾminūn, the 23rd chapter of the Qur’an. For those interested in the 18 page original, it can be found here.

Sūrah al-Muʾminūn (The Believers) was revealed in Mecca and consists of 118 verses. This chapter calls to believing in God and in the Last Day. It distinguishes the believers from the disbelievers by presenting the beautiful manifestations of servitude in the former, against the moral vices and evil deeds of the latter. The chapter then gives glad tidings to the believers, and warnings to the disbelievers.

قَدْ أَفْلَحَ الْمُؤْمِنُون

Successful (aflaḥa, from falḥ) indeed are the believers (al-muʾminūn, from īmān).

Falāḥ means “victory, success, achieving one’s goal.” There are two types of falāḥ: worldly and otherworldly. Worldly falāḥ is gaining what helps, facilitates and enhances one’s life in this world, such as health, wealth and honor. Otherworldly falāḥ consists of four things: life without death, wealth without need, honor without humiliation, and knowledge without ignorance. That is why it has been said, “There is no [real] pleasure except that of the hereafter.” Success is called falāḥ (lit. “splitting”) because it splits the barriers and cracks open one’s intended objective. Īmān (belief, faith) is “to admit and confirm a statement and abide by its implications.” In Qur’anic terminology, īmān means: to accept God’s Oneness, His messengers and their teachings, and the reality of the Last Day, accompanied by obedience [to God and His religion] in general. That is why we see that whenever the Qur’an praises a positive quality of the believers, or describes one of their loſty rewards in the hereafter, it couples belief with righteous deeds. For example: Whoever does good, whether male or female, and he is a believer, will most certainly make him live a good life (16:97), and [As for] those who believe and do good, a good final state shall be theirs and a goodly return (13:29), and numerous other verses. Merely acknowledging something is not considered having īmān in it, until the acknowledgement is accompanied by observing its requirements and implications in practice. This is because there are two elements in īmān: (1) knowing about something; and (2) having conviction and confidence toward it. Having conviction toward something necessitates abidance by its implications, unlike having knowledge of something, which can be devoid of conviction and observance. For example, many individuals are addicted to evil deeds or harmful habits, and whereas they admit the evil or harm in their actions, they do not quit, using the excuse of addiction. Similarly, God says [about the Pharaoh and his people’s denial of God’s clear signs]: And they denied them unjustly and proudly while their soul had been convinced of them (27:14). Having said that, it is possible for īmān to be accompanied by disobedience toward some of its requirements due to personal impediments and/or pleasant attractions. However, īmān cannot be completely devoid of obedience and its implication.

الَّذِينَ هُمْ فِي صَلَاتِهِمْ خَاشِعُون

Who are humble (khāshiʿūn, from khushūʿ) in their prayer.

Khushūʿ is a specific emotional state of a person who is dominated and defeated by a mighty being, such that it disconnects the person from everything else and directs his attention only to that mighty being. Khushūʿ is apparently a state of the heart, but based on some viewpoints, it is also ascribed to other organs and members. This extension of the meaning of khushūʿ is seen in the Prophetic narration about a person who was playing with his beard in prayer: “Had his heart been humble (khashaʿa), his limbs would have also been humble.” Another example is the verse: And the voices shall be low (khashaʿat) before the Beneficent God (20:108). The above is a comprehensive definition of humility which incorporates all other suggested meanings of the term by other exegetes, such as:(1) a feeling of awe accompanied by serenity of limbs; (2) lowering one’s gaze and being humble in behavior; (3) bowing one’s head [in humility];(4) being focused and not turning right or left; (5) glorifying God’s position and focusing one’s attention on Him; (6) demonstrating one’s subservience.

These eight verses [23:2-23:9] describe the qualities of the believers that are necessary outcomes of their belief being alive and active. It is such faith that will bring about what is meant for īmān to bring about salvation. Prayer is when one who has nothing but need and humiliation turns one’s attention toward the Threshold of Magnificence and Greatness, and toward the Source of Might and Glory: God. A person who is conscious of God’s position will necessarily be impressed by it, as he finds himself immersed in a feeling of humiliation and abasement before His Lord. This will sever his heart from any attachment or engagement that is of no significance in what he is facing [that is, his eternal life]. If one’s belief is genuine, then it will concentrate his focus on one thing alone whenever he turns to his Lord. He will not be distracted by anything else, as he is completely absorbed by his Lord. Aſter all, how does a beggar react when he faces a rich person whose wealth cannot be measured? And how does a helpless person behave when he faces the Absolute Might that can never be tainted by humility and humiliation? This idea [of faith having outward effects] is seen in a tradition where the Prophet says to Ḥārithah b. al-Nuʿmān, “Surely there is a sign for every truth, and there is a light for every right.”

As we have pointed out more than once, religion is a social institution that shapes a person’s social life in this world. Social institutions are accompanied by practices that are based on beliefs concerning the reality of the world of existence, a part of which is humankind. The differences between various social institutions are typically because of their different views concerning these matters. For instance: Suppose the people in a society believe that the universe has a Lord by Whom it has been created and to Whom it will return to, and that humankind has an eternal life which is untouched by death or destruction. Then, the daily actions and interactions of these people will incorporate a consideration of eternal life and everlasting otherworldly pleasures. But suppose the people in a society believe that the universe has one or multiple gods that conduct its affairs according to their satisfaction or dissatisfaction, but they do not believe in returning to their lord(s) [in the herefter]. Life in this society will be directed at seeking nearness to these gods and pleasing them, in order to benefit from material wellbeing and gain. Then, suppose the people in a society neither believe in God, nor in the eternal life of humankind, such as the materialists and others with the same mindset. Then the social rules and customs of this society will be based on maximizing material pleasure in the life of this world, which ends by death. As we see, religion is a practical tradition that is founded on a set of principles and worldviews (ʿaqīdah, iʿtiqād), including an understanding of humankind as a part of the world. The principles and worldviews in religion are not purely in the form of theoretical knowledge about the universe and humankind, because theoretical knowledge does not necessitate any practice by itself, even though practice hinges on theory. Rather, a religious worldview is the knowledge and realization that one should follow the practical implications of a certain theory. In other words, it is when one decides to follow and abide by the practical implications of some theoretical knowledge. This is called practical knowledge (al-ʿilm al-ʿamalī). One example of such a decision is to say: It is incumbent upon humankind to worship God, and to observe the practices that ensure human happiness in both this world and the herefter. Now, what does it mean to have īmān (faith, belief) in a religion? Given that religion is a practical tradition based on a certain worldview and cosmology, when a religious call promotes īmān it is promoting commitment to the practical implications of true belief in God, His messengers and their teachings, and the Last Day. Hence, īmān is a form of practical knowledge. Practical knowledge can either be strong or weak in terms of intensity, according to the strength or weakness of its incentives and motivations. We never perform an act unless there is an incentive or disincentive: to gain a benefit or to avoid a loss. It sometimes happens that one incentive pulls us toward a certain act, but then we are diverted from the act due to another incentive that is stronger and more influential than the first. For example, one feels the necessity to eat food in order to satiate his hunger, but sometimes he would not do so—if he realizes that the food is not good for his health. In this case, the second incentive qualifies and constrains the unconditionality of the first incentive. It can be explained more simply as follows: eating to fulfill one’s hunger is not absolutely necessary under all circumstances whatsoever, but it is necessary only when it does not harm one’s health. Similarly, the belief (īmān) in God will have its effects—such as righteous deeds and splendid moral traits like awe, humility and sincerity—only if it is not overcome by wrong incentives and devilish deceptions. In other words, belief will be effective if it is not conditional or circumstantial, as God says: And among men is he who serves Allah (standing) on the edge (22:11). Hence, a believer will only be an absolute and unconditional believer when his actions are in accordance to the implications of his belief. Some of these implications are humility in worship, abstinence from vanity, and so on.

وَالَّذِينَ هُمْ عَنِ اللَّغْوِ مُعْرِضُون

And who keep aloof (muʿriḍūna, from iʿrāḍ) from what is vain (al-laghw).

An action is called vain (laghw) if there is no benefit in it. This can differ according to the different types of benefit. For example, an act might be vain in one respect, but beneficial and useful in another. From the point of view of religion, vain acts are permissible acts that: (1) have no benefit in the hereafter, and (2) have no benefit in this world in a way that would continue to the hereafter. An example of such acts would be eating and drinking for the pleasure of it, as opposed to eating and drinking to gain strength to serve God. Therefore, if an action neither benefits one in the herefter nor in this world such that it somehow results in a benefit in the hereafter, then it is vain. To be more precise, a vain act is any action other than the obligatory and recommended acts (wājibāt and mustaḥabbāt). The verb used in this verse is iʿrāḍ (to turn away, to keep aloof), as opposed to tark (to avoid, to quit, to desert). God does not say that the believers “avoid” vain acts in an absolute sense, because aſter all, humankind is always subject to slip and mistake, and God pardons the lesser sins as long as they avoid the major ones: If you shun the great sins which you are forbidden, We will do away with your [lesser] evil deeds (4:31). Instead, He has described the believers as those who “turn away” from vanity, which means that their overall direction is not toward vanity. Iʿrāḍ (turning away, keeping aloof) is an active decision, where one is being pulled toward an action, but he turns his face away from it because he does not care about it and does not see it significant. This means that the person elevates his soul above base acts. He prefers to strive for greater objectives and more significant affairs, instead of simply engaging in matters that are contrary to nobility and goodness. It is indeed most befitting of īmān (belief, faith) to inspire one toward such nobility, because it connects one to the Origin of Magnificence and Grandeur, and the Source of Nobility and Honor: God. A believer in this sense would not be concerned with anything except achieving an everlasting, timeless and happy life. Thus he would not engage himself in anything other than what God deems to be great, and would not have a high regard for what ignorant and ignoble people care about. And when the ignorant address them, they say: Peace (25:63); And when they pass by what is vain, they pass by nobly (25:72). These verses show that their description as “those who keep aloof from vanity” is a way of describing the loftiness of their determination and the nobility of their souls.

وَالَّذِينَ هُمْ لِلزَّكَاةِ فَاعِلُون

And who are doers of charity (al-zakāh).

Given the mention of prayer (ṣalāh) above [in verse 23:2], what is meant by zakāh here is also a ritual. Therefore, zakāh here is meant in its financial sense, which is paying the poor-rate or almsgiving, as opposed to zakāh in the sense of self-purification from moral vices. Meanwhile, it should be noted that this chapter was revealed in Mecca, while zakāh as a financial duty in Islam was legislated later in Medina. That was when zakāh gradually became a specific term, meaning the amount of money that one pays, and this specific meaning dominated the other meanings of the word. Therefore, it is more likely that zakāh here is meant as a verbal noun (maṣdar), meaning the act of purifying one’s wealth by spending part of it in God’s way, as opposed to the actual amount that is paid. Given this sense of zakāh—as the act of charity and almsgiving—it makes sense to say that they are “doers” (fāʿilūn) of zakāh, as the verse does. It means that they are active in helping the poor financially. However, if zakāh is interpreted as the actual money that is paid, then one cannot say that they are doers of it, because money is not an action to be ascribed to a “doer.” Saying that they are “doers” (fāʿilūn) of charity shows their special attention to this act, as opposed to saying that they are “fulfillers” or “payers” of charity. For example, when someone asks a person to drink water: if the person says, “I will be a doer,” it conveys a higher degree of attention and determination to performing the act than if he says, “I will be a drinker.” Belief in God is such that it calls one to financial charity. One cannot achieve total happiness unless one lives in a felicitous society where each person receives their due rights. And a society is not felicitous unless its classes are close to one another in terms of standard of living and quality of life. Giving financial charity to the poor and the less fortunate is one of the most effective ways of achieving this objective of equity.

وَالَّذِينَ هُمْ لِفُرُوجِهِمْ حَافِظُون

And who guard their private parts (li-furūjihim).

إِلَّا عَلَىٰ أَزْوَاجِهِمْ أَوْ مَا مَلَكَتْ أَيْمَانُهُمْ فَإِنَّهُمْ غَيْرُ مَلُومِين

Except before their mates (azwājihim) or those whom their right hands possess, for they surely are not blameable.

“Guarding one’s private part” means abstaining from sexual intercourse, which includes adultery, sodomy, intercourse with animals, and other such forms. The second verse mentions an exception to guarding the private parts. Azwāj means lawful wives. The believers are not blameworthy in sleeping with their lawful wives. Although this verse primarily describes believing men, the entire verses are about all believers, both male and female. Therefore, it can be inferred that the same standard holds for believing women: they do not sleep with any man who is unlawful to them.

What leads the people to establish certain laws in the society and induces them to abide by them is their realization that they have certain needs in life that can only be fulfilled by setting and practicing these laws. The more primary a need is and the closer it is to the simple human nature, the more urgent it will be to fulfill it, and the more detrimental it will be to neglect it. For example, the need to indulge in various types of foods and fruits comes nowhere close to the need for food in general. The same hierarchy holds for other needs. One of these primary needs in human beings is the need of each of the two genders—the male and the female—to one another for sexual intercourse. Clearly from the point of view of the Creator [or creation], the purpose of this need is that the human race may continue. Thus He has endowed humankind with a sexual instinct in order to reach this objective. That is why we find marriage and the formation of households as a universal institution in all human societies that we see [today] or hear about [in past]. This has been the case since very ancient times, showing that the survival of the human race up to this point has depended on marriage. You may object that the above view is not true because in the modern civilization, marriage is based on partnership in life, not based on procreation or satisfaction of the sexual need. The answer to this objection is that such partnership is not natural. Why not? Because if it were really a matter of partnership in life [and not sexual need], then these societies should have equally led to life partners of the same sex at a large scale. This has not occurred exactly because of its opposition to what human nature calls for. In short, marriage is a natural custom that has always existed in human societies. The only [main] obstacle in the way of this natural custom is zinā (adultery, fornication), for it is the greatest barrier against family formation, which comes with heavy burdens to bear. The satisfaction of the sexual instinct through extramarital sex results in the destruction of families and the discontinuation of the human race. That is why religious societies—in line with the pristine human nature—count adultery as a reprehensible act and an abominable indecency, and try to prevent it through any possible means. This can be seen even in modern societies: although they do not ban it completely and do not show the same opposition to it, they do not count it as something commendable either, because they can see its profound opposition to the formation of families, population growth and the subsistence of humankind. They try to minimize such relationships, and promote marriage and procreation through subtle ways like bonuses, child support, recognition and other incentives. Nevertheless, we find in all countries, whether big or small, that some people turn to this act [adultery]—which is destructive to the foundation of the society—either openly or secretly, depending on the laws and customs of that society. This tendency exists despite the facts mentioned above, that: (1) permanent marriage is a legal institution which is accepted in all human societies in the world; (2) the governments encourage it; and (3) they discourage adultery and especially try to keep the youth away from it. This is the strongest evidence that the practice of permanent marriage is not sufficient to satisfy the sexual instinct of humankind. It leaves a deficiency that must be fulfilled for humanity. Thus, it is mandatory for those who are in charge of legislation to ease and facilitate the matter of marriage further. This is why the Legislator of Islam has complemented permanent marriage by temporary marriage—in order to facilitate this matter. There are certain conditions for temporary marriage that prevent the unwanted consequences of adultery, such as the mixing of waters, destruction of the household, discontinuity of the human species, and problems concerning lineage, ascription and inheritance. These conditions are: (1) the wife exclusively belongs to her husband [during the marriage period]; (2) she must hold ʿiddah (a waiting period) after they part with one another; (3) the children count as legitimate children of the parents; (4) she is entitled to any conditions that she sets in marriage; and (5) the man does not have to carry the burdens and responsibilities of permanent marriage. By the Truth, this is something to be proud of in Islam’s simple and lenient code of law (shariah), just as many other Islamic laws like divorce and polygamy. But alas, for the signs and warners do not avail a people who cannot hear [10:101] to the point that some people say, “I prefer to commit adultery and fornication than to do temporary marriage.”

فَمَنِ ابْتَغَىٰ وَرَاءَ ذَٰلِكَ فَأُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الْعَادُون

But whoever (fa-man) seeks to go beyond that, these are they that exceed the limits.

This verse is mentioned as a consequence and conclusion that builds on the exception in the previous verse, as indicated by the letter fāʾ(lit. “so, then, therefore”; translated as “but” here). That is, belief necessitates the absolute guarding of their private parts except with two groups of women: wives and bondswomen. Then, those who seek to go beyond that—that is, those who seek to have intercourse with anyone who is not among the lawful ones—they are transgressors and violators of the limit that God has defined for them. We already presented a discussion on how adultery (zinā) destroys and ruins the human species under the verse: And go not nigh to fornication; surely it is an indecency and an evil way (17:32).

وَالَّذِينَ هُمْ لِأَمَانَاتِهِمْ وَعَهْدِهِمْ رَاعُون

And those who are keepers (rāʿūn, from riʿāyah) of their trusts (li-amānātihim) and their covenant (ʿahdihim).

Amānah is originally a verbal noun (meaning the act of “entrustment”), but sometimes it refers to the thing that is entrusted to someone, such as money. This second sense is meant in this verse. Amānāt is in plural form in this verse, apparently referring to the different types of trust among the people. Some have suggested that it includes not only entrustment between the people, such as entrusting each other with wealth and possession, but also God’s trust to human beings, which includes: (1) God’s covenants and rules that people must follow; and(2) the body parts, organs and faculties that one should use in a way that pleases God. However, this interpretation is an unlikely possibility given the primary meaning of the words, although it is true once we analyze and generalize the meaning. In the shariah, ʿahd (covenant) is when one commits to something by uttering a prescribed formula. It stands parallel to nadhr (vow) and yamīn (oath). However, ʿahd could also include any duty that has been laid upon a believer. This usage can be seen in the verses: Is it not that whenever they made a covenant, a party of them would cast it away? (2:100), and: And certainly they had made a covenant with Allah before, that they would not turn (their) backs; and Allah’s covenant shall be inquired of (33:15). In these verses and other similar verses, the words covenant (ʿahd) and contract (mīthāq) refer to having a belief that is coupled with observance of the practical duties prescribed by God. Perhaps the singular form of ʿahd [in the current verse] implies this very meaning [of God’s covenant with humankind]: all religious duties are included in a single covenant which is that of īmān (belief, faith). Riʿāyah means ḥifẓ (to preserve, to maintain). Some have said: The root word raʿy originally means “to protect an animal,” either by giving it the food that it needs to survive or by defending it against its enemies. However, in terms of usage, the root raʿy is used for any kind of protection and maintenance. The opposite is arguably more plausible. Either way, the verse describes the believers as those who preserve their trusts from being breached, and keep their covenants from being broken. Indeed īmān( belief, faith) calls for such attitude, because it involves a sense of composure, confidence and security. When one shows trust in a believer by leaving one’s possession with him, or shows confidence in the person by making a contract with him, then that possession or contract will remain stable with him, and will be secure from loss and damage due to a breach of trust or a break of contract.

وَالَّذِينَ هُمْ عَلَىٰ صَلَوَاتِهِمْ يُحَافِظُون

And those who keep a guard on their prayers(ṣalawātihim).

Ṣalawāt is the plural of ṣalāh (prayer). The verse talks about keeping a guard on the prayers, which means maintaining their number and order. That is, they are careful not to miss any of the obligatory prayers, and are constantly mindful of them. Again, this is a necessary consequence of īmān. The verse says “prayers” in plural, while earlier we read “prayer” in singular: Who are humble in their prayer (23:2). This is because humbleness (khushūʿ) is a quality that equally applies to any prayer. Therefore, the singular form of “prayer” in that verse indicates genus (jins), which effectively includes all prayers.

أُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الْوَارِثُون

These are they who are the heirs

الَّذِينَ يَرِثُونَ الْفِرْدَوْسَ هُمْ فِيهَا خَالِدُون

who shall inherit the Paradise; they shall abide therein.

Paradise (al-firdaws) is the highest of the heavenly gardens. “Inheriting” Paradise is meant in the following sense: initially, anyone can earn and enter Paradise, but some people fail to do so. Thus they forfeit their potential share and chance, and instead, the believers become heirs to them. According to the narrations, each person initially has a place in heaven and in hell. If a person dies and enters hell, then the people of heaven will “inherit” his place in heaven.

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there is a Love that never ends

there is a Beauty that never fades

there is a Peace that can never be broken

الله

yet to enter it you must travel through zaynab’s tears

and weather al-sajjad’s trials

الله

for this earth is too small

and this life too short

to contain all the dreams dreamt

in the heart of a single boy

الله

somewhere beyond

grasping with hope

trusting in You

i will follow You to the end

my King

الله

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ya Husayn

we lost our friend this week

and our grief is real

but we know it will pass

and the world will return to what it was

الله

he died at home

surrounded by family

and a whole community mourned him

and raised money for his legacy

الله

but where was the outpouring when you died

O Master of the Martyrs*

where was the community when your head was raised on a lance

and paraded through the streets of Kufa and Damascus

where were the donations to take care of Zaynab and Sakina

when your unburied body lay on the sands of Karbala

who was there to lament the deaths of Qasim and Ali al-Akbar

who couldn’t bear to see you hurt and betrayed

ya Aba Abdillah*

الله

for we loved our friend

and respected our friend

but he was not you

he was not the grandson of the Messenger of Allah

blessings and peace upon him and his family

he was not the Lamp of Guidance*

and the Ark of Salvation*

he was not Husayn ibn Ali

nor are any of us

الله

and he was not killed in the name of “Islam”

as a punishment for wanting to rectify the community of his grandfather

as a warning to any who would pledge allegiance to the children of Fatima

set upon by a darkening mass

of cowards and hypocrites and yes men of the caliphs

no

our friend was simply taken back

by natural means

at the time that Allah decreed while he was still in the womb of his mother

in peace and security

and yet

we feel what we feel

الله

so we know

perhaps now more than ever

ya Husayn

that our grief for you will never end

it is not lessened by knowing that you exist in peace and bliss

a guarantee our friend does not have

so may Allah’s Mercy be upon him

but flows from the awareness that recognition of your sacrifice

and your beauty

and your guidance

and your truth

is still fought against

is still reviled

is still obfuscated

is still ignored

by the same community that you loved so much

as to lay before it not only your own life

but also the lives of your children

and your nephews

and your friends

and your own brother and sister

without any doubt in your heart

to let us know how much we strayed

from the Sunnah

and still do

الله

But that sad legacy was not our friend’s

for when I turned to you

ya Husayn

our friend listened patiently

and never threw shade

and in a few years

allowed your name to be honored

at the school which had such an impact

on both our lives

and allowed me to share a message to those in his community

and invited alums who are dedicated to you

to share your story

during the Muharram nights which we hold so dear

الله

in time

I had hoped he would have more opportunities

to learn about that which he had never been taught

but that cannot happen now in this dunya

so I leave it up to you now

ya Husayn

in the barzakh

to take my friend by the hand

and lead him home

O Master of the Youth of Paradise*

for he was only 40

and so had yet to know

the fullness of adulthood

by Allah’s Decree

اللهم صل على محمد و آل محمد

*Names of Imam Husayn mentioned in hadith: Sayyid al-Shuhadāʾ, Abū ʿAbd-Allāh, Miṣbāḥ al-Hudā, Safīnat al-Najāt, Sayyid Shabāb Ahl al-Jannah

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This sermon of Imam ‘Alī really spoke to me this day of Friday. It is originally found here but I have made some edits:

Divine orders descend from heaven to earth like drops of rain, bringing to everyone what is destined for them whether increase or loss.

So if any one of you sees your brother [or sister] with children or wealth or abundance in their own person, then do not make a big deal out of it. So long as a Muslim does not commit such a deed that, if it were made known, they would be humbled if it were mentioned or lowly people would feel emboldened by hearing of it, that person is like a gambler who expects that the first draw of his arrow would secure him gain and also cover up the previous loss.

أمَّا بَعْدُ، فَإِنَّ الاْمْرَ يَنْزِلُ مِنَ السَّماءِ إِلَى الاْرْضِ كَقَطر المَطَرِ إِلَى كُلِّ نَفْسٍ بِمَا قُسِمَ لَهَا مِنْ زِيَادَةٍ أَوْ نُقْصَانٍ، فإذا رَأَى أَحَدُكُمْ لاِخِيهِ غَفِيرَةً في أَهْلٍ أَوْ مَالٍ أَوْ نَفْسٍ فَلاَ تَكُونَنَّ لَهُ فِتْنَةً، فَإِنَّ المَرْءَ المُسْلِمَ مَا لَمْ يَغْشَ دَنَاءَةً تَظْهَرُ فَيَخْشَعُ لَهَا إِذَا ذُكِرَتْ، وَيُغْرَى بهَا لِئَامُ النَّاسِ، كانَ كَالفَالِجِ اليَاسِرِشة الَّذِي يَنْتَظِرُ أَوَّلَ فَوْزَةٍ مِنْ قِدَاحِهِ تُوجِبُ لَهُ المَغْنَمَ، وَيُرْفَعُ عَنْهُ بهاالمَغْرَمُ.

Similarly, the Muslim who is free from deception expects one of two good things, either responding to the call of Allah – and what is with Allah is better for him – or sustenance from Allah. They already have children and property, as well as their religion and honor. Wealth and children are the gains of this world, whereas virtuous deed are the gains of the next. For some people, Allah joins them both together.

كَذْلِكَ المَرْءُ المُسْلِمُ البَرِيءُ مِنَ الخِيَانَةِ يَنْتَظِرُ مِنَ اللهِ إِحْدَى الحُسْنَيَيْنِ: إِمَّا دَاعِيَ اللهِ فَمَا عِنْدَ اللهِ خَيْرٌ لَهُ، وَإِمَّا رِزْقَ اللهِ فَإِذَا هُوَ ذُو أَهْلٍ وَمَالٍ، وَمَعَهُ دِينُهُ وَحَسَبُهُ. إِنَّ المَالَ وَالبَنِينَ حَرْثُ الدُّنْيَا، والعَمَلَ الصَّالِحَ حَرْثُ الاْخِرَةِ، وَقَدْ يَجْمَعُهُمَا اللهُ لاِقْوَامٍ،

Be wary of Allah regarding what Allah has told you to be wary of, and hold Allah in such esteem that no lame excuses will be necessary.

Do good works without showing off or need for them to be known by others. For if someone does a good deed for other than Allah, then Allah leaves them to the one for whom they did that deed.

And we ask Allah to bless us with the ranks of the martyrs, the company of the blissful, and the friendship of the Prophets.

فَاحْذَرُوا مِنَ اللهِ مَا حَذَّرَكُمْ مِنْ نَفْسِهِ، وَاخْشَوْهُ خَشْيَةً لَيْسَتُ بَتَعْذِيرٍ وَاعْمَلُوا في غَيْرِ رِيَاءٍ وَلاَ سُمْعَةٍ؛ فَإِنَّهُ مَنْ يَعْمَلْ لِغَيْرِ اللهِ يَكِلْهُ اللهُ إِلَى مَنْ عَمِلَ لَهُ. نَسْأَلُ اللهَ مَنَازِلَ الشُّهَدَاءِ، وَمُعَايَشَةَ السُّعَدَاءِ، وَمُرَافَقَةَ الاْنْبِيَاءِ.

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I don’t know you

and I am not worthy of you

but my worthiness is not the standard by which I will reach you

rather

it is your nobility and generosity

upon which I rely

sitting here

across the sea

it seems impossible that I would get there

but I once thought it impossible

to stand in front of Husayn

and then it was real

so I know that I can find myself in front of you

should God bestow upon me a mercy I do not deserve

yet again

as-salāmu ‘alayka yā Imām al-Riḍā!

I remember

sitting in a majlis

and hearing a story

that someone thought you were a servant

and asked for a massage

you did not scold him

but rather fulfilled his request

until another indicated to him who you were

I wonder if he asked you because your skin was black

and thus assumed you could not be the leader of the Muslims

beloved by God

abundant of knowledge

excellent in conduct

he saw you as fit to be his servant

when in fact the mountains and stars praised your name

as-salāmu ‘alayka yā Imām al-Riḍā!

I pray that God grants me life enough

and strength enough

and wealth enough

to find myself in your courtyard

to renew a relationship

meant for eternity

as-salāmu ‘alayka yā Imām al-Riḍā!

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I want to remember these two moments clearly.

First moment:

I have been wanting to go to Mashhad in Iran, so that I can make the ziyāra of Imām al-Riḍā عليه السلام. I was speaking with a shaykh in the winter about going this past summer, but it obviously was not possible due to COVID. I try to do things to keep this intention fresh, because it is important to me. But at times I feel despondent, partially because of COVID and partially because of the Trump administration’s belligerent stance towards Iran. At times I have felt overwhelmed and trapped when thinking about this.

Then I was reading in a book about an Iranian shaykh wanting to visit his Iraqi teacher. In telling the story of how they met up in Syria, he casually mentioned that due to Iraq’s belligerence towards Iran in the aftermath of the Revolution, he wasn’t able to go for ziyāra in Iraq for sixteen years!!! At that moment, I knew that my intention has to stay fresh at least for the next 15 years (2035).

Second moment:

At times, I want so badly to see the blessed people of the past, it hurts. I want to see with my own eyes the people to whom we give our allegiance – the same people about whom we debate endlessly. I just want to break through all those words to the people that those words are about. At times, it feels like I just go on waiting and waiting, and it will never happen.

Then I was reading in a book, and a story was told about a man who prayed for 30 years for something. One day, the man meets up with the Prophet Ibrahīm عليه السلام but does not know who he is, and they walk together. Eventually he tells the prophet that he has been praying for something for 30 years and it still hasn’t come to fruition. The prophet replies that, “when Allah holds a creature dear, He delays the acceptance of his prayers so that he may continue to plead and supplicate Him.” So the prophet asks him what he has been praying for, and the man reveals that he has been praying to see Prophet Ibrahīm عليه السلام. The prophet replies, “Now your prayer has been answered. I am that Ibrahīm.”

I knew in that moment that I have only been yearning for maybe 5 years, so I at least have to be prepared to wait another 25 (2045).

The signs are there, even when we aren’t looking for them.

yā Allāh, as long as I can still move about on this Earth, I will want to go to Mashhad, and as long as I still have eyes I will want to see my beloveds. I will ask this of You today and tomorrow as a matter of worship, and will await Your decision with patience. You have taught me in these two moments that I have no right to feel overwhelmed by either of these things.

You have reminded me that things happen in due time

according to Your decision

not mine.

اللهم صل على محمد و آل محمد

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240px-Sayyid_'Abd_al-Ḥusayn_Dastghiyb

Dear Shaykh Sayyid ‘Abd al-Ḥusayn Dastghaib Shīrāzī,

السلام عليكم و ر حمة الله

I do not know that much about you, but I know that you were assassinated on the way to prayer. And I know your book about sin. I have been reading it as a form of muḥāsaba (taking account of one’s praiseworthy and blameworthy actions and inward states). It is very challenging for me. It reminds me of all the times I failed to obey Allah, and all the inward characteristics that have made me prefer what I want to what Allah wants. Honestly, at an earlier point in my journey, I am not sure I would have been able to handle it. I read it slowly, when I am up for it, so that I can take it as seriously as possible.

But I want to take the time to thank you for writing it. You were writing it for a context very different than my own, but I have benefitted from it. You probably never thought someone like me would end up reading it, but we plan and Allah plans and Allah is the best of planners. May Allah reward you for writing it, and may these rewards comfort you in the barzakh.

I don’t know what your life is like right now. But I think the best about you, because everything that I know about you indicates that you wanted to please Allah and the Messenger of Allah, may blessings and peace be upon him and his family. One day I hope to be able to visit your grave in Shiraz. And I hope to be given the tawfīq (Divinely-granted success) of finishing your book and implementing it, as well as reading more of your works translated into English. Insha’Allah.

If Allah gives you the ability, please pray to Allah for me. Ask Allah to make me someone who never intentionally chooses the ḥarām (that which has been categorically forbidden for Muslims to do), and to forgive me completely for every time I did in the past. That I become someone who does not look at the smallness of the sin that I am inclined towards, but the greatness of the One whom I am turning away from.

The struggle is hard. Long hopes and the pleasures of the world whisper to us who are still here. But where you are, the Truth is laid bare. To be honest, I cannot even imagine it. I know that one day I will be there too, but it still seems so unreal. Maybe that is why I am writing this letter – to remind myself that I am ultimately on my way to visit you.

Perhaps one day you and I will be sitting together in the company of Imam Ḥusayn, upon him peace…just thinking of the possibility makes me want to be there right now.

But I do not get to choose how long this road goes on. All I can choose is what to do with the time that has been given me. And so I am taking the time to write this letter, which I had been thinking about for the last week. Thank you for reading this letter – I trust that the angels will translate its contents if necessary.

If there is any more advice or help you can provide to this weary traveler, please do so. I really need it.

your student,

R. David Coolidge

Tomb_of_Ayatollah_Dastghayb

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People often ask about how to develop a culture of Azadari (mourning commemorations for Imam Husayn) in the English language.

The short answer is that it is a work in progress, and it takes all of us trying out different things, and sharing with each other.

I have written one song to be used in majalis. I know it is not perfect. But I hope by sharing it someone with more talent than myself might improve upon it. Anyone has my permission to recite it without attribution. There is a video at the bottom that demonstrates how I have recited it, but no one should feel that they have to recite it that way. I provide it simply as an example.

Here are the lyrics:

Ameeri Husayn wa ni’ma’l-ameer
Commander Husayn, my allegiance is clear

Standing on this plain
Preparing to die
I have no more questions
No reason to ask why
Your house is my life
My sword is for you
I am ready to do
whatever you want me to

Ameeri Husayn wa ni’ma’l-ameer
Commander Husayn, my allegiance is clear

All of this life
Is for your one breath
All of these men
Will defend you til death
Now the time has come
To stand in front of you
My body is a shield
Just as God wants me to

Ameeri Husayn wa ni’ma’l-ameer
Commander Husayn, my allegiance is clear

This blood in my eyes
Makes it hard to see
I think that is you
Who is looking down on me
I would give my life again
For the son of Fatima
al-salam ‘alayk
Ya Aba Abdillah

Ameeri Husayn wa ni’ma’l-ameer
Commander Husayn, my allegiance is clear

[here is a video I made to accompany these lyrics]

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Tonight is the 27th of Rajab. It is considered a holy night for a number of different reasons, all of them centered around the spirituality of the Prophet Muhammad, may Allah bless him and his family and grant them peace.

It is cause for me to reflect on why I try to align myself with the historical mission of the Prophet Muhammad. What does it mean for me to be a Muslim, to declare that “Muhammad is the Messenger of God (محمد رسول الله)”? On this night, and tomorrow in the day, what will I do because of this belief? In 21st century America, in the midst of a global pandemic, why is this important?

I have never met the Prophet Muhammad, may Allah bless him and his family and grant them peace. As much as I have prayed for it, I have never seen him in my dreams, to answer my questions or give me specific directives for my life. But he is at the center of my life regardless. Is it not strange that someone whose face I have never seen has so much influence over me?

Growing up Christian, it was normal to imagine what Jesus, upon him peace, looked like. When I look at this picture, I am 100% certain that I am looking at Jesus:

Lord-Jesus

Sure, I get it that he was Jewish and that this picture is perhaps too light skinned, but I still know that I am looking at Jesus. No doubt. But show me any reverential painting or Persian miniature or caricature of the Prophet Muhammad, and I will not accept that it is him. It is just an image that exists in someone’s imagination. The only thing that is acceptable to me is his actual face. I trust I will know it when I see it. I really do not like listening to hadith descriptions of him, because it reminds me that I have never seen him. It is a literature of absence.

And yet, this man has more say over my life than anyone.

I never get to sleep in, ever, because he said to wake up at a certain time to pray.

I never get to drink Jack Daniels, ever, because he said to stop doing that.

I don’t get to just do what I want – I have to do what he has told me to do.

Before I was confined to my house by the orders of the governor, my egotistical self was confined by prophetic orders.

He wants me to honor the old people in my life, and be merciful to the youngsters. He told me to give my money away for the sake of others who need it more. He expects a lot, and sometimes it is really hard.

In short, he is like a father to me.

He is larger than life, and better than I can ever be.

He has made such a difference in so many people’s lives, so I sometimes wonder what I mean to him and where I fit in his life.

And for the last 20 years, I have tried as best I can to make him proud of me.

And so on this night I want to say to him that I hope you are proud of me, yā Rasūl Allāh.

I know that I have screwed up a lot, and that I am not as strong as I should be, but I am trying.

And tomorrow I will keep on trying.

I will wake up early to pray just like you want me to.

I will try to put others before myself as you have taught me.

I will remember that Allah has everything in control, just as Allah did at Khandaq when you were surrounded.

And I will carry on.

For every 27th of Rajab to come, I will carry your flag as best I can.

So when I can no longer walk with these legs

and my arms cannot carry your flag anymore

at the moment my days come to an end

please be there to carry me home

no matter how well I performed in comparison to others who love you too

for you will always be like a father to me

and I will always seek the safety of your embrace

hb_1998.268

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This post was written during the month of Ramadan 1440 AH.

As a white American, I have gone through a decades-long process of unlearning the white supremacy that was engrained in me in the formative years of my life. The pillars of that unlearning have been:

1) developing substantive encounters with non-white people
2) listening to non-white narratives with as much empathy as I can
3) being in non-white spaces even when I wasn’t fully comfortable
4) having real-life role models who were not white

There is no doubt in my mind that the ways of engaging with others that I have struggled to embrace by this ongoing experience have had a central role to play in my unlearning the dominant Sunni narratives of Islamic history, thought, and practice. Even though I read about Shi’ism fairly soon after converting, it wasn’t a real thing to me. It took going through the same 4 pillars of unlearning for me to experience Shi’ism as real. I even remember asking Najam Haider and Tariq al-Jamil for book recommendations when I first got to Princeton in 2002. In the course of the exchange, they said, “Give it 10 years, and you’ll become Shi’i.” I thought they were totally wrong, but more than 10 years later I was sitting in Najam’s office admitting that they had been right. It was one of the hardest things, to admit that for years I just couldn’t see it.

I was frustrated with God when this process began, because it began with simply wanting to rectify my state with God. And I thought that meant I was going to be led deeper into the study and practice of the Maliki madhhab and the suhba of Shadhili and Qadiri shaykhs with whom I already had a close relationship. But instead it led me to the majalis of Imam Husayn, which completely upended my life. I made new Shi’i friends, listened to alternative Shi’i narratives, was uncomfortable at times in Shi’i spaces, and started to embrace Shi’i role models. At times, I worried that Shaytan had me in his grasp, and began praying for protection from Shaytan more fervently than I ever had done. And almost every single du’a I uttered became about guidance. “O Allah, just guide me to what You want. I don’t care what it is anymore, because You know best.”

And over and over again, this process led me away from what had once seemed perfectly natural and normal. But because it had happened once before with whiteness, it wasn’t a complete shock. The only difference was that I had explicitly chosen Sunnism whereas I was born into whiteness. But over time I realized that wasn’t quite true. I had chosen Islam, and the only real option at the time to learn and practice it was through a Sunni modality.

For me, a real turning point was fajr prayer in Kadhimayn in Baghdad. The night before I had visited the 7th and 9th Imams buried there, along with many notable Shi’i scholars. The shaykh leading the prayer was an old and knowledgeable scholar, the congregation was probably 1000 people, and the masjid was large and beautiful. And I remember thinking, “Oh my God, if this was what I was introduced to as Islam when I first converted, I never would have questioned it!” I think it was the first real moment in my life where I saw Shi’ism as just plain Islam, the same way I had thought about Sunnism for many years.

When you grow up white, you never talk about people or things as “white,” although you qualify many other things with ethnic adjectives like “Black people” or “Indian food.” Similarly, my experience of Sunnism was where we rarely talked about things as Sunni, and instead used the word “Islam,” “Islamic,” or “Muslim.” So “Islamic literacy” really just meant “Sunni literacy,” and “Islamic law” really just meant Sunni law. But we rarely saw it that way.

The privileging of a dominant category is perhaps an unavoidable part of life. By privileging the Twelver-Shi’i narrative of Shi’ism, for example, one underplays the narratives of Isma’ili communities. However, what is not unavoidable is being completely blind to them. Just as I expect my own white sisters and brothers in humanity to open their eyes to whiteness, I expect my own Sunni sisters and brothers in faith to open their eyes to the dominant Sunni narrative of speaking about Islam.

At the end of the day, we are all going to die. Today we have to act on what we believe pleases Allah, manifesting the balance between hope and fear. But tomorrow we might revise what we believe pleases Allah most, and thus we will act differently. As Shaykh Rizwan Arastu taught me, we are not held accountable today for what we will find out tomorrow. Each day we try to do our best with what we currently have. Life is a continual process of change, and we hope that change leads to positive growth.

But the past is always with us. I am still white, and I am still culturally Sunni in many respects. I don’t know what day during Muharram Pakistanis talk about which figures from the Karbala narrative (is it ‘Ali al-Akbar day or Qasim day?), nor do I understand the reasons why some Shi’is seem to dislike other Shi’is so much. When I lead people in prayer, I have had to learn how to pray according to Ja’fari fiqh in a way that doesn’t alienate Sunnis who aren’t used to praying behind Shi’is. After 40 years of being white in America, and 17 or so years of being Sunni in the Ummah, I can never have the social experience of a Shi’i kid growing up in LA or NYC. And that is okay.

When I look back, the only real reason I became Muslim was to prepare for death. It was only the Qur’an that convinced me that I would live after my death, and have to face Perfect Judgement. That is the main motivating factor for trying to neutralize my contributions to white supremacy. And maybe that is the secret of the Shi’i tradition for me – that it is the most hopeful of all narratives. That even if one is of the greatest people who ever walked this Earth

that even when one’s mother and father were from the greatest people to walk this earth

that even when one’s grandfather was the greatest person to walk this earth

that the people who claim to practice the same religion as you

that the people who claim to honor the same prophet as you

that the people who memorize the same book as you

that they can still chop your head off, alone in the desert, surrounded by the bodies of your family and friends who died defending you

and it can still all be okay

in some miraculous and completely radical way

it can still work out beautifully in the end

if we are of those who stand with Husayn

even when the Ummah is united against him

actively and through tacit consent

that we can look death and evil and oppression squarely in the face

even when it is done by the Salaf

and see nothing but Beauty

because we know what Islam really is

by the Mercy of the Most Merciful

Kadhimiya-Al-Kadhimiya-Mosque-1080x720

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