Friday, October 14, 2011

From Resolution to Revolution: The Message of Ashura by Sayed Moustafa al-Qazwini

Muharram season is still about 6 weeks away, but I just received this book, and in interest of preparing for the season I thought I might read and make notes on some or all of it. This book is a compilation of lectures made by Sayed Moustafa Al-Qazwini during the Muharram season for Western youth. The portions of the lectures which relay the history of Ashura are removed to avoid repetitiveness.

 Part One is from lectures in London in 2005. Last night I read Chapter One, titled Dignity and Honor In this lecture, he tries to point out the honor of the human being. He notes that human life is sacred and sites the verses about not killing children due to poverty or other reasons, that Allah swt will provide for them. This did not particularly move me until he relayed a hadith from Imam Sadiq (as). In this hadith, a man complained to Imam (as) about being poor. The Imam instructed him to get married. "The man thought that perhaps the Imam did not understand that the reason why he was not married was because he was poor. However, the Imam understood his complaint the first time and again instructed the man to get married. The Imam was indicating to the man that God would provide him a better life for the sake of his wife and children if he gets married!" This just made me think that many times we create obstacles for ourselves that Allah swt did not impose upon us, and that many times the solution to our problems lies in hope and expectation for a good outcome and in keeping moving forward, trusting in God no matter what.

 In the lecture, this subject was the introduction to the idea that human honor is from the Creator, but many people seek it in the wrong places. We think that honor comes from wealth or beauty, etc. He notes that, "The commercial tendency of society has conditioned a great number of people into believing one's value lies in their appearance and possessions.... Unfortunately, this sort of thinking is a fallacy and a trap designed to exploit the vulnerable. However, while this trend has spun out of control today, it is nothing new as it was also rampant among the hypocrites who claimed Islam but secretly fought the Prophet. 'When you look at them, their exteriors please you; and when they speak, you listen to their words. They are as (worthless as hollow) pieces of timber propped up (unable to stand on their own). 63:4' These hypocrites looked impressive...but they sank beneath the level of animals." This point is so true - especially women, but all of us, are so damaged by this conditioning and it is so pervasive that it is almost impossible to eradicate - it is so second-nature to who we are that we are not even aware of it in many cases and have no idea how to think differently. We inherently judge people by how they look, but just because someone looks great and talks eloquently does not mean his honor and message are better than someone else.

 He then talks about a historical incident when a person complained that removing a person's fingers for wanton theft (not of out need) was against the honor of the human being. The complaint was to Sharif Al-Radi, who compiled Nahjul Balagha. His response was that the value of a human being was "in his soul, not his hands. As long as a person used his hands for honest deeds, they were invaluable." But once he used them for evil, they were worthless - it was the quality of the soul that gave them their value. This leads to what was for me the main point of the lecture that recognizing our honor is important to our self-development. He says it very well when he says that, "When we respect ourselves, we will consider it beneath our honor to do any wrong actions." This particular point was powerful to me. It shows that when we sin or commit doubtful acts, we are disrespecting ourselves and showing how little we value and think of ourselves. It shows we undervalue our worth while Allah swt does not undervalue it - Allah swt values us greater than we value ourselves! It also provides a means for us to improve ourselves.

By adopting this thinking, that doing wrong is beneath our honor as believers, we can find help in getting the will power to avoid sins. And the great thing is that this will power has a positive rather than negative source. Instead of saying, "I fear hell," which is true, but a negative motivation, this is a positive motivation, "I am better than this, or I am worth more than doing this." He goes on by talking about how honor is sincerity of our actions in doing them for God and gives examples from Karbala and he talks about the validity of crying for losses like the death of Imam Husain (as) even though it was a victory - it is part of our natural compassionate humanity that God made us to have and is part of the practice of the Prophet (saw) and Imams (sa). Insha'allah I will cross post this on the Muharram blog ( see side bar), and also post additional chapters there.

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