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The Father of Kittens, Cat Stevens, and the Bliss of the Abyss of Ambiguity 19 March 2007

Posted by MOZAFFAR in History, MOZAFFAR, Politics, Psychology.

I memorized from the Messenger of Allah – peace and blessings of Allah be upon him – and I keep them (the knowledge) in a jar. As for one of the two (groups of knowledge) I share and explain them to you. As for the other, if I share and explain it, this throat would be cut.

– Abu Hurayra, as recored in al-Bukhari’s Kitab al-‘Ilm

In our longing for the days ahead, we often find ourselves longing for the days behind us. But, our longing is often in the search of days that never happened. When we see such reports (like the one above), we wish that Allah had written history differently. We wish that that knowledge was revealed to us.

Deeper than that, we wish that we would receive immediate, packaged answers to the questions of our time. We imagine that if Abu Hurayra – may God be pleased with him – would have shared that hidden knowledge mentioned above, that all the gaps in our understanding would be filled.

Likewise, we recall the narration from the deathbed of the Prophet – p – when he was asked to identify his successor. We know the story: the great companion Umar – may God be pleased with him – interrupted, and we do not know what the Prophet – p – was going to tell us. Perhaps he – p – was going to select his beloved son-in-law and cousin Ali, or perhaps he was going to select his beloved friend and father-in-law Abu Bakr. Or, perhaps someone else? We will never know, but we wish that he was not interrupted, for if he gave his answer, perhaps this Shi’i – Sunni divide would have never happened.

Taken a step further. Imagine that the Tragedy of Karbala took place on any day other than the 10th of Muharram, perhaps even the day before or after, but not on that day. How different would our history have unrolled, and how different would today’s world be?

And, in today’s world. What would have happened had Br. Malcolm not been gunned down? Perhaps he would have led us Muslims, Americans, Muslim Americans to a new world of hope.

What would have happened, had Cat Stevens’ conversion had not ended his recording career? What beauty could he have shared with us, had he continued for decades to strengthen his craft?

Our hearts cry for what could have been. We cry for what could have been. At least we think that’s what we cry for.

In actuality, we cry for something different. We cry because we wish for two things. We wish that our hurt would be gone.

And, more than that, we cry because it is easier to cry than to build.

We are crying for something that has never happened, and would never happen, and cannot happen. That is not the world that our Beloved Creator has handed us.

If Abu Hurayra states in that one narration that he has withheld some knowledge, it does not mean that that knowledge was not withheld.

If the Prophet – p – identified a successor, what problem has been solved? If Abu Bakr was identified as the successor, then what of Abu Bakr’s successor? If Ali was identified as the successor, then what of his succession? The question is not answered. Rather, the question itself is wrong, because no answer would have sufficed, unless the Prophet – p – identified for us all of his successors for the next 2000 years. Perhaps, his answer was going to be: “That is your job.”

It was in God’s will that history took the course that it took. If we wanted, we could point to 1000 elements in history that we wish would have taken a different route. But, identifying even 100,000 elements changes nothing. This practice serves only to perpetuate the ethos of displeasure. It is like the wife who finds no good in the efforts of her husband, or like the husband who finds no goodness in his own history. It is the like the child who finds no good in the tireless efforts of his parent. It is an ethos of displeasure. Frankly, displeasure with the Past risks being displeasure with God’s decree.

Identifying the wrongs of history runs the risk of ignoring the rights. Imagine if God had withheld the knowledge of the Prophet – p – or even the knowledge of the Qur’an. Then, where would we be? Only good can from God; the wrongs are of our own doing. The wrongs of history are based on our own perspective of how history should have unrolled.

And, thus we find the disease. And, thus, we must cure the disease by restructuring and rebuilding our outlook. What comes from God is good. What came from God is good. And, the choices people make for themselves, be they artists or companions of the Prophet – p, they are for our purposes, good.

Then, once we have re-turned our outlook towards God, we can start building. We build by making our own choices.

And, we should hit the ground running.

And God knows best.



1. Mohammed Husain - 19 March 2007


You have mentioned several issues that are at the heart of the shi’i-sunni divide, in the context of understanding our past. How do we understand history with reference to the will of God? Surely nothing is outside of His will, and yet he is above the injustices that have occurred during the course of history. This is immanence (tashbih) and transcendence (tanzih) applied .

In your reference to the issue of successorship to the Prophet, I feel as though you understand it as primarily an issue of political authority. When understood as such, then the issue of who was to be Khalifa 1400 some hundred years ago seems trivial. Why obsess with the past when the present, with all its challenges, stands before us? I would like to submit to you the notion that what is at the crux of the divide between Shi’is and Sunnis is not so much the personality of the Prophet’s successor, but rather the nature of sucessorship. For Shi’is, successorship to the Prophet is far more than political authority, its basis is wilaya, and it is for this reason that Shi’is consider Imam Ali and the 11 Imams that follow him, as successors to the Prophet, regardless of whether they were awarded political authority by the Muslim ummah. A Prophet is a Prophet regardless of whether he is acknowledged as such by the people, and from a Shi’i perspective, the same goes for the Imam, both honors are a matter of divine appointment.

I hope my comments do not appear to be overly polemical. My intention is not to engage in polemics, but rather to explain why a Shi’i position on history is not equivalent to dissatisfaction with divine decree (an implication that I felt followed from your post). Had the Imamate been simply an issue of political authority, this accusation might be valid. However, since from our perspective, the Imam is the Imam by virtue of divine decree, affirming the Imamate is affirming divine decree.

If the Imamtate from a Shi’i perspective is much more than political authority, the obvious question that follows is: what is it? The best answer to this perhaps can be found by a comparison. In Sunni Islam, one might say that the legacy of the Prophet was inherited by three groups of people: the Khalifa inherited the Prophetic political authority, the faqihs inherited the knowledge of the outer dimension of religion (i.e. the sacred law), and the sufis inherited the inner dimension (i.e. the sciences of tasawwuf). The Imam, from the Shi’i perspective, inherits these three dimensions of the Prophetic legacy comprehensively. It is by virtue of the special knowledge of the Imams (recieved, of course, from the Prophet), and their privleged position as conclusive interpreters of the Qur’an and the Sunnah, that their importance transcends the rifts and political disputes which occurred following the Prophets death.

Again, my intention is only to delineate how the nature of the Khalif and the Imam -both offices of succession to the Prophet- differ in Sunni and Shi’i traditions. I do not mean to open up a Pandora’s box of controversy, only foster better understanding between different schools of thought. I appreciate your post, your willingness to mention some very controversial events of our history, and the depth of your writing in general.

Jazak’Allah khayr

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