Four Californian Lectures – Part 3

Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi is a researcher and a world-renowed author and speaker of the Shia faith. He is currently translating the 13th volume of Tafseer al-Mizan.

(Toronto, Canada)

Lecture 1: Islam, Religion of Peace

A lecture delivered at the University of California Merrill College, Santa Cruz on 28th October, 1987.

There is a short treatise Risalatu ‘l-Huquq1 (The Charter of Rights), written by our 4th Imam, ‘Ali Zaynul’ Abidin (peace be upon him), the great-grandson of the Prophet (upon whom be peace). In this booklet, the Imam has divided the things and persons (with whom man comes into contact, with whom he deals) into fifty categories. It begins with the rights of God on man; then the rights of man’s soul on himself; then rights of various powers and organs of his body, like eyes, ears, hands and feet.

Then come the rights of the mother, father and children; of husband and wife; of other relatives. Then it proceeds to the rights of neighbours, friends, teachers, students, employer and employee; the rights of an advisor, of one whom you advise, creditors and debtors. It goes on until it reaches to the rights of your adversary on you. It is a gem of Islamic ethics, and it may be adopted even by non-Muslim scholars of ethics – if one has the will to do so.

Before going ahead, I should mention an important principle of Islamic ideology, and that is the interrelation of Islamic Law and Islamic Ethics. Islamic Laws teach the minimum a person is required to do, and transgression of which entails sin and is sometimes considered a crime. Islamic Ethics takes a man from that starting point to the highest peak of spiritual perfection.

If a man is sick and weak, he first needs treatment to cure his disease; after that he needs special regimen of diet, exercise and tonics to restore his body, to bring him to the peak of his health and strength. The same principle applies in the spiritual field. Islamic Laws keep man free from ills of sin and crime, while Islamic Ethics show him the way to noble spiritual perfection and strength. From Islam’s point of view, it is not enough to merely ordain some basic laws to protect the believers from sins, and leave them at that. A weak patient, even when cured of a disease is an easy target of further attacks unless his strength is restored. Nor has Islam merely exhorted its followers to strive to reach high moral standards, without prescribing some rules to prevent them from negative influences. Of what use will be
tonics if the body is riddled with debilitating diseases. Thus Islamic Laws and Islamic Ethics are interlinked; they are different stages of the same spiritual journey, Islam knows that the spiritual level of all people is not the same. Therefore, it has chosen for us the highest ethical and spiritual ideals, and exhorted us to strive hard to reach the summit; at the same time it has laid down minimum requirements which one cannot transgress except by exposing himself to spiritual peril.

Many Orientalists who are generally oblivious or even ignorant of this inter-relation of the Islamic Laws and Islamic Ethics, take it upon themselves to pronounce judgement on Islam, unfavourably comparing its Laws (i.e. the minimum requirements) with “the highest ethical standpoints” of Christianity; and then pontificating that Islamic “moral teachings” have “shortcomings”.2

Now I would like to mention a few of the rights that others have on us— in other words, our duties towards others.
Let us begin with the beginning of it all; i.e. God. Islam by its very definition is submission to Allah. A Muslim should forget his ego or self; he should submerge his thoughts and actions to the will of Allah.

That is the “just” relationship between the Creator and the created. Some of us obey Allah’s commands because they are afraid of the hell — this is the lowest level; and, according to ‘Ali (as.), it is like the obedience of slaves. Others worship Allah in the hope of going to the paradise —it is a bit higher, and the above-mentioned tradition of ‘Ali (a.s.) equates it with traders’ mentality. But the ideal worship and obedience is that which springs and emanates from the love of Allah.

When man reaches that stage, then he is neither afraid of the hell nor cares for the paradise. His whole being is immersed into the love of Allah. Of course, it does not make him oblivious of his shortcomings and he feels apprehension — not of hell but of Allah’s displeasure. At the same time he remains confident and optimistic, because he knows Allah is Merciful. Neither his hope exceeds his fear, nor does his fear exceed his hope. These well-balanced feelings create equilibrium, tranquility and peace in his inner self, or as they say, in his heart.

It will not be out of place to quote here a short paragraph from a well-known supplication, called Du’a’ Kumayl. It is a long invocation, regularly recited by many Muslims every week. It was taught by ‘ Ali (a.s.) to his companion, Kumayl ibn Ziyad. In this supplication, the reciter, after confessing his sins and transgressions, asks Allah for His forgiveness and pardon. Then he expresses his hope that Allah would not punish him, because He, being the Creator, knows that His servant’s body cannot endure even this world’s transient pains; so how can it endure next world’s punishment. Then comes the part in which the servant asks his Lord:

Therefore, my Lord if You will subject me to the penalties in company of Your enemies, and cast me with them, and keep me away from Your friends and those and who will be near to you, then, my God! My Lord! My Master! Suppose I may patiently bear Your punishment, but how can I calmly accept being kept away from You? And suppose I may patiently endure the scorching fire, yet how can I resign myself to the denial of Your mercy?

Here we find the love and fear of Allah radiating from every sentence. And this is the Islamic ideal of man’s relation with God, where the servant loves only God and fear only denial of God’s favour.

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About the author

He was born in 1957 in a family of ‘ulamã’ in Bihar, India. He comes from a region in Bihar (Siwan District, previously known as Saran) that has produced well-known Shi‘a scholars in the Indian sub-continent. Migrated to Africa with his parents where he received elementary education in English medium school. After that for two years, he studied Arabic and Farsi with his respected father and two other ‘alims in Dar-Es-salaam, Tanzania.

In 1972, at the age of fifteen, he went to the Hawza-e ‘Ilmiya-e Qum, Iran. During his ten years stay in Qum, he studied with various teachers; and moved from the levels of muqaddimãt to sutûh (equal to graduate level in secular universities) and, finally, attended the dars-e kharij (ijtihad lectures equal to post-graduate studies) of Ayatullah al-Uzma Shaikh Wahid Khurãsãni.

In 1982, he returned to India where he stayed at Gopalpur for about a year.

In June 1983, at the invitation of the Shia Muslim Community of British Columbia, he and his wife moved to Vancouver where he stayed till June 1991 and served Shi‘a Islam through his lectures, writings, and teachings. Based on his publications and educational background, in September 1987, the Simon Fraser University (Vancouver) admitted him in the post-graduate program at Masters’ level. This was even though he had no formal degree nor was he asked to sit for any exams. In 1990 he completed his thesis; and after successfully defending the thesis, was awarded the Master of Arts degree in History in 1991.

In July 1991, he moved to Toronto and till 1996 worked as the Director of Islamic Education & Information Center providing a variety of religious services to Shi‘as in North America. During this time, he was also involved in the founding of the As-Sadiq Islamic School, a full time Islamic school from KG to Grade 8 levels. Since July 1996, he has accepted the responsibilities of the Imam-e Jum‘a and Resident ‘Ãlim of the Jaffari Islamic Center / Jaffari Community Center.

He has traveled to most cities in Canada and U.S.A.; as well as to Australia, Guyana, Trinidad, United Kingdom, Dubai, Pakistan, Tanzania and Kenya for lectures.

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