Who started the Arbaeen Walk?

Contributed by Ahlulbayt TV

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Friday Sermon: From theory to action

Contributed by Shk Jaffer Ladak, The Muslim Vibe

Our series has proposed the following principles for maximising our time in sermons:

First, our intention is purely for learning. Second, we must use active forms of learning. Third, we must be ready to ask worthwhile questions. Fourth, we must be willing to accept constructive criticism. Fifth, that we are willing to correct our opinions if proved wrong.

The conclusion to our series focuses on moving from being passive to active; to acting on what we have learnt. But how and what should our action look like?

There is a difference between knowledge, telling others what we know, and acting upon that knowledge. Our lives are spent in consuming information, be it useful or otherwise. In regard to Islamic and moral knowledge, we probably know a plethora and can speak well on Islamic history, our beliefs and practises; we can even tell others how to act and improve. All of these have their importance, however if we do not use our own knowledge or act on what we tell others, then indeed it we who are at a loss.

Therefore there is a clear gap between knowledge, telling others something that you know, and actually acting on that which you say. The Holy Qur’an establishes this principle asking: “O you who believe, why do you say that which you do not do? Indeed hated it is to God that you say that which you do not actually do” (61:2-3).

Acting on knowledge and activism are also two different things. Acting on knowledge may be a private act, whilst activism is the sacred act of attempting to change the social order for the better or bringing others to change their acts, whether they are private, public or institutional. The narrations speak about this with the highest of value. For example, Imam Ali (a) said: “ The best of your brothers is the one who rushes to do good and draws you alongside him, and orders you to do good and helps you with it”.

Note the subtleties about action in the narration. “Rushes to do good” is active; “Draws you alongside” is not just the individual doing good but bringing others to do good as well. “Orders” means showing you where the good can be applied and “Helps you with it” means that even then, if there is any weakness or shortcoming, He assists you in fulfilling it. All of this is action upon action.

One of the leading thinkers of our era is the Slovenian Slavoj Žižek. Commenting about ‘Green Capitalism’, he makes an important point in actions and their consequences or whether they really lead to good or not. He states that we often say, ‘We want to do our bit’. We will recycle or buy organic fruits in the hope that if ‘We all do our little bit, we will make the difference.’ He critiques this attitude saying this had lead to corporations taking advantage of this attitude.

He gives the example of Starbucks. They will say ‘If you buy the $2.95 coffee we will give 5 cents to’ xyz charitable cause. And so we choose to go to Starbucks over, for example, Costa on this basis. And so we buy the $2.95 coffee and the $2.50 donut and so on thinking ‘We have done our bit’. Žižek rightly argues that we think our ‘activism’ is good when in fact we are doing more harm than good. This is because there is the neo-Liberal order and capitalist corporate greed that has caused that injustice in the first place. To then spend money on them only reinforces the system of oppression in the first place. Moreover, this system then gets further power through your spending with them and their ability to choose what the ‘charitable needs’ are.

Islam and Islamic activism was always there to break the back of oppression, to rattle the social order, and to upset the applecart. When we listen to the sermons and the examples of the great early companions, we never imagine they were shy of upsetting people in order to establish justice and nor did they feed into the system that was curating the injustice. As the Qur’an says: “And fight them on until there is no more tumult or oppression” (8:39).

The Prophet Muhammad (s) was unrelenting and never inclined one iota to injustice to the extent that when the defeated pagan Quraysh were on the verge of yielding, they offered a compromise: For 364 days of the year we will follow Islam but for one day of the year allow us to keep our idols in the Ka’ba! What type of system would this be?

When the Prophet (s) wanted to bring change his action needed two things: 1) To be the opposite of the unjust system and 2) To lead by example.

The Qur’an states: “And if they incline to peace, then incline to it and trust in Allah; surely He is the Hearing, the Knowing” (8:61).

Allah (swt) commanded to incline toward peace. This is in light of a pagan Arab society that celebrated war. But why did Allah (swt) state, “And trust in Allah”? This is because He knew their intentions did not match their words. But peace building was so important that even then, the Muslims should lead on it and put their trust in Allah (swt).

Acting on our knowledge and knowing how to act are the two greatest goals of listening to sermons, and are the ultimate measurements of what we have taken away from our time in these lectures.

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Zakat in Shi‘a Fiqh – Part Two

By Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi (Toronto, Canada)

Zakat in The Qur’an

“When I read in Qur’an I find great stress on ‘salat and zakat’ in many, many verses and so I feel afraid to advise my children to be conscientious about paying khums from their salary but not to pay zakat. May Allah (swt) forgive me because I am not alim and not in a position to interpret Qur’an and also as a Shi‘a I have to do taqlid but my heart is not at peace about this matter of zakat. In every respect I feel Shi‘a are superior to Sunni but on this matter I am confused. How come all of them (Sunni) who have any wealth have the honour of fulfilling this duty whereas we do not?”

First of all, the repeated occurrence of an item in the Qur’an does not mean that it is more important than the other orders that have been mentioned fewer times. For example, the laws of inheritance have been mentioned only once. That one occurrence does not make the laws of inheritance any less important than zakat. Similarly, the order of going for hajj and fasting during the month of Ramadhan has occurred only once respectively even though both are part of the five arkan (pillars) of Islamic teachings.

Or, for example, there are more verses that describe the spiritual aspect (intention and sincerity) of giving recommended charity (sadaqa) than the verses on how to pay zakat. This does not diminish the importance of wajib zakat.

Secondly, the term “zakat” as used in the Qur’an does not necessarily mean the same as the “zakat” listed in the furu‘-e din or the five pillars of Islamic teachings. Majority of our people read the Qur’anic term “zakat” in the light of what they have been taught about “zakat” as one of the wajib taxes in Islam. The reality is otherwise. In many places, the Qur’an uses the term “Sadaqa” for the wajib zakat, and conversely it uses the term “zakat” for recommended charity.

“Sadaqa” in the meaning of wajib zakat
1) While ordering the Prophet to take the zakat from the people, Allah (s.w.t.) says: “Take from their wealth the Sadaqa, you would cleanse them and purify them thereby, and pray (Salli) for them; surely your prayer (Salat) is a relief to them; and Allah is Hearing, Knowing. Do they not know that Allah accepts the repentance from His servants and takes the Sadaqat. And surely Allah is the Forgiving, the Merciful.” (9:103-104)
As you see in this verse, the words “Sadaqa and Sadaqat” refer to the wajib zakat, and the word “Salli
and Salat” refer to du‘a and not to the daily prayers.
2) While describing the causes for which wajib zakat is to be used, the Qur’an says: “The Sadaqat are only for the poor, the needy, their collectors, those whose hearts are conciliatory (towards Islam), the emancipation of slaves, the debtors, in Allah’s way, and the stranded traveler.” (9:60)
Based on this verse, all the Muslim scholars have outlined the causes for which the wajib zakat is to be

“Zakat” in the meaning of recommended charity (i.e., Sadaqa)
1) The famous incident in which Imam ‘Ali (a.s.) gave charity to the beggar while he was in the position
of ruku‘ has been described in the Qur’an as follows: “Your master is only Allah, His Messenger, and those who believe: those who establish the prayer and pay the zakat while they are in ruku‘.” (5:55)
The commentators of the Qur’an say that the last phrase of this verse refers to Imam ‘Ali bin Abi Talib (a.s.) when he gave the ring from his finger to the beggar while he was in ruku‘.
It is worth noting that none of the schools of law in Islam enlist the ring or personal jewelry as an item for
wajib zakat.
2) Wherever the Qur’an quotes the pre-Islamic prophets talking about “zakat,” it is surely not talking about the wajib zakat as defined in the Islamic laws. In the historical context of those prophets, the Qur’an uses the term “zakat” in meaning of charity. For example:

Prophet ‘Isa (a.s.): “…and He has enjoined on me prayer (salat) and charity (zakat) for as long as
I live…” (19:31)

Prophet Isma‘il (a.s.): “And he enjoined on his family prayer (salat) and charity (zakat)…” (19:55)

Referring to other prophets: “…and We revealed to them the doing of good, the establishing of
prayer (salat) and the giving of charity (zakat)…” (21:73)

Thirdly, now that the variety in the meaning of zakat as used in the Qur’an is clear, let us deal with the question that: Why does the Qur’an mention “salat and zakat” so many times? In majority of the cases where “salat” and “zakat” are mentioned together, the word “zakat” covers all forms of financial obligations that we have upon one another in a Muslim society. “Salat” represents God’s rights upon us and “zakat” represents the rights of other people that God has placed upon us.

By combining “zakat” with “salat,” we are being constantly reminded that Islam is not a religion that only
gives importance to fulfill the rights that God has upon us, it also gives importance to the rights that other
human beings have upon us.
In this sense, the word “zakat” (just like the term “infaq”) encompasses all the rights of other people
including khums, fitra, anfal, etc. For example, in the very beginning of Chapter Two of the Qur’an, when
Allah (s.w.t.) describes the qualities of the righteous people, He says: “Those who believe in the unseen,
who establish the prayer, and who give in charity (yunfiqun, verb form from infaq) out of what We have
given them…”

Finally, there is no need to feel that others are more superior to us. No one has stopped any Shi‘a from
paying 2.5% (or, for that matter, from paying 10%) from his or her salary as the “zakat” in the meaning of
recommended charity (Sadaqa). But you cannot make something that is not wajib as wajib by your own
whim and desire! Why should a Shi‘a think of himself as inferior by paying khums which has been mentioned once in the Qur’an? Does its occurrence only once make it a lesser obligation? Should we not be questioning the other Muslims who have totally suspended the obligation of khums even though it has been mentioned —even if once— in the Qur’an?
They should be asked why they have suspended khums whereas all Islamic schools of law believe that zakat cannot be given to someone who is from the Banu Hashim, the family of the Prophet. The Shi‘as have not suspended the zakat; we from day one have believed that zakat is wajib in the nine items and recommended in other items that can be weighed or that grows from the earth, and have not suspended that law that all!

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Innovations that end up in wide practice

by Mohamedarif Suleman (Dar es Salaam, Tanzania)

Religion is not difficult to follow, for it prescribes the most reasonable and logical way to conduct oneself. These instructions contained in the glorious book and from the lives of the holy infallibles, are rather adequate in illuminating the path to a successful life, both here and now, and in the afterlife.

If we were to study the most prominent writings of authentic scholars, the code of life is usually surrounded on the premise of rights of others, obedience to the laws of the Creator and responsibilities of the self. However, over zealous individuals or those who wanted to deliberately pollute the clarity in matters of faith, started coining their own text extolling on practices that have nowhere been prescribed by the above twin sources, over a long period of time, a resultant confusion followed by adoption of practices and rituals ensued.

There are many instances of such acts or actions that have come to be a mainstay in contemporary religious practices, and many of them become harder to disprove with the passage of time. A compounding problem is our land of origin. Khojas (Khwajasa) emerged from the Indian sub continent, where formal conversion had taken place. Unfortunately, although the departure from idol worshipping had been attained per se, ther was a literal sense of embodying objects of worship to appease the heart, and this we can see is an ongoing struggle amongst our people, a few of whom fail to distinguish between messengers of Allah (SWT), his successors and deities (Devis or devtas).

Even today, we see many such new practices coming to the fore by virtue of our community’s expansive travel, to both India as well as the gulf region, which then offers its own set of practices, emanating from Islamic as well as pre-Islamic eras (pagan practices). It will be remembered that up until the 1990s, the atmosphere a Shaam e Ghariba nights would be dark and dull but filled with candles, and when these candles were circulated in the hall, many of our unsuspecting brothers, partook of the flame as a token of blessing. But as you can now imagine, the practice resembles profoundly, the Hindu ritual in an Aarti pooja. Not only that, for centuries, Persia was predominantly comprised of fire worshippers and this could have added to the overall influence, given that the rendition on these nights is usually in Farsi, the Persian language.

One such practice that took the community by storm was the obsession with the digits 786. Even today, it is pretty reputable to have these numbers imprinted on your car license plate or even your mobile number in many parts of East Africa. Ironically, not just Muslims, but also Hindus revere this number as both in turn claim of it as being a numerical representation of the verse Bismillah hir Rahman nir Raheem and Hare Krishna respectively.

Damodar Kumar Pamnani, in answering a public forum question, comprehensively provides an insightful understanding to this panache:

“786 is probably the most popular number in the Indian subcontinent. Irrespective of which religion an individual belongs to, most of the people here consider this number as “holy” or “lucky”. While most of the people of other faiths would not really know the reason behind it, Muslims would understand the significance as this number is believed to be a shorter or numeric form of Arabic phrase “Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim” which literally translates into “In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful”. The question however that even most of the Muslims would not be able to answer is that how does 786 mean Bismillah? How does “Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim” shorten up to 786?

The explanation behind this lies in the numeric or chronological order of the Arabic alphabet. For example, English Alphabet has 26 letters from A to Z. If you are to arrange these letters in a numeric order, then A would be number 1, B would be number 2, C number 3 and so on with Z finally getting assigned the number 26. The same way, there are two known ways of arranging the Arabic alphabet. One is Alphabetical method which also applies to all other alphabets of other languages. In this method, we put the letters in a certain order. Like the English alphabet is arranged as A,B,C,D …. Z. Here A always comes first and Z always the last. Same way, Arabic alphabet is arranged as Alif, ba, ta, tha etc where Alif always comes as the first letter.

There is however another and a lesser known method of arranging Arabic letters. This method is known as Abjad or ordinal method in which each letter of the alphabet has an arithmetic value assigned to it. This value necessarily is from one to one thousand. In this method, the letters are arranged in the following order, Abjad, Hawwaz, Hutti, Kalaman, Sa’fas, Qarshat, Sakhaz, Zazagh.

So if we are to look at the complete Arabic alphabet, the arithmetic values assigned as per the Abjad method are as follows:


Alif – 1
Baa – 2
Jeem – 3
Daal – 4
Haa (small) – 5
Waaw – 6
Zaa – 7
Haa (big) – 8
Tau – 9
Yaa – 10
Kaaf – 20
Laam – 30
Meem – 40
Noon – 50
Seen – 60
Ayn – 70
Faa – 80
Saud – 90
Quaf – 100
Raa – 200
Sheen – 300
Taa – 400
THaa – 500
Khaa – 600
Thaal – 700
Dhaud – 800
Thau – 900
Ghayn – 1000

Hamza is not included in the table above because it has the same numeric value as Alif because it is the letter which marks the glottal stop in Arabic.

Based on the numeric values above, if we break “”Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim” in arithmetic values, we would get the following numbers. We are taking all the letters used in the phrase and the arithmetic values assigned to it.
Baa: 2
Seen: 60
Meem: 40
Alif: 1
Laam: 30
Laam: 30
Haa (Small): 5
Alif: 1
Laam: 30
Raa: 200
Haa (big): 8
Meem: 40
Noon: 50
Alif: 1
Laam: 30
Raa: 200
Haa (big): 8
Yaa: 10
Meem: 40

If we add all these numeric values, the sum total would be 786 and that is how this number is used as a shorter or numeric form of the phrase “”Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim”

The interesting thing to know here is that this practice is not from the time of the Prophet nor mentioned in the Quran. This arrangement of Abjad method was done much later, most probably in 3rd century of Hijrah during the ‘Abbasid period, following other Semitic languages such as Phoenician, Aramaic, Hebrew, Syriac, Chaldean, etc. This was merely the practice of some of our pious predecessors in India who decided to use the Abjad method and came up with the number 786. For the rest of the world, this number holds no greater value or significance. It is something that Indians came up with and only people from Indian sub-continent or from the countries of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh believe in.”

The Holy Qur’an laments on numerous occasions that groups of people regularly belied the message of Allah (SWT) on the pretext that their forefathers used to act thus. However, the dictates of the Holy Qur’an are pretty clear and we should remain wary of amalgamating elements that, at worst, may be tantamount to shirk.

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The Frame of Success – a Survivorship bias?

by Mohamedarif Suleman (Dar es Salaam, Tanzania)

Everyone prays to have children – at least in our culture, but once we have them, we abscond, by and large, for providing the prerequisite parental guidance and role modelling that is desirable in order to have a well rounded decent personality.

The generation that did not see it all, are wrongly living their squandered life through their children by allowing them access to more material than they can possibly consume. In fact, many practices are now the norm, such as, for instance, feeding only when watching YouTube, not guiding about basic manners and conduct albeit softly, under the pretext that children at such and such an age are not supposed to be disrupted. All these factors then aggregate into later life issues that beg correction, but quite unfortunately lead to anti social and anti relationship behaviours, or in worst case scenarios, a total withdrawal from society because they feel they do not fit in.

But one succinct problem created by parents is that of pegging the value of success to role models and ideal outcomes on based on prominence and publicity. For instance telling your child you want him to be like Bill Gates, is more often a statement that may not be achievable to follow to the letter. For one, Mr Gates had his own life path and that in no way determines the complete outcome of his life today, without considering other mitigating factors. Also, even if another person were to have a very starkly identical life as his, chances that both would be included in Fortune 500 are remote. The negative impact that we then creat by pegging success to a celebrity on the child, is even worse.

As young people are maturing into adulthood, they need guidance from their own parents, and when this is not forthcoming, they are most likely going to pick and choose their own role model from people around them, those they adore. If they are lucky, then they end up in a good place, otherwise they try to attain his position at any cost. As a case in point, when the family keeps talking about the value of money and the lack thereof amongst tem, they are slowly driving the child to go out and assist, and then so doing without guidance and support, usually destroys the line between morality and what is immoral, for the main goal is to rid the family of the adversity. later, when things do go his way, and prosperity is spread across the board, if the family applauds this, then reinforcement occurs and the vicious cycle continues.

James Clear, in his ‘5 Common mential errors…’ writes, “Nearly every popular online media outlet is filled with survivorship bias these days. Anywhere you see articles with titles like “8 Things Successful People Do Everyday” or “The Best Advice Richard Branson Ever Received” or “How LeBron James Trains in the Off-Season” you are seeing survivorship bias in action.

Survivorship bias refers to our tendency to focus on the winners in a particular area and try to learn from them while completely forgetting about the losers who are employing the same strategy.

There might be thousands of athletes who train in a very similar way to LeBron James, but never made it to the NBA. The problem is nobody hears about the thousands of athletes who never made it to the top. We only hear from the people who survive. We mistakenly overvalue the strategies, tactics, and advice of one survivor while ignoring the fact that the same strategies, tactics, and advice didn’t work for most people.

Another example: “Richard Branson, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg all dropped out of school and became billionaires! You don’t need school to succeed. Entrepreneurs just need to stop wasting time in class and get started.”

It’s entirely possible that Richard Branson succeeded in spite of his path and not because of it. For every Branson, Gates, and Zuckerberg, there are thousands of other entrepreneurs with failed projects, debt-heavy bank accounts, and half-finished degrees. Survivorship bias isn’t merely saying that a strategy may not work well for you, it’s also saying that we don’t really know if the strategy works well at all.

When the winners are remembered and the losers are forgotten it becomes very difficult to say if a particular strategy leads to success.”

And here is where a society’s main challenge lies. Prominence comes to those who make it, but lessons are usually learnt from the lives and efforts of those who didn’t make it, but struggled with their best efforts. In only recalling the feat of the victors, which by the way may have happened due to a host of facilitating factors, is to disregard the efforts and initiatives of the others, who did not succeed.

As a community bracing for a new era of connectedness, global citizenship and fast-paced replacement of old culture with a new one, we must celebrate all kinds of people and events, and remember that if we want future generations to succeed, we must also show them the rigorous path that eliminates many brave soldiers in its wake. Having survivorship bias is easy and comes naturally, but good parenting must fight that.

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