Saturday, January 21, 2006


On his return journey from his last hajj, our beloved Prophet (peace and blessings upon him) on the 18th of Dhul-Hijjah gave a khutba that included the following declaration:

Man Kuntu Mowlahu fa haza Aliyun Mowlahu

He of whomever I am the Mowla, Ali is his Mowla

This day is observed and celebrated by Shi'as everywhere. And as an Imami (Twelver) Shi'a myself, I recognize the signifcance of this day. However, I also feel that the day has lost some of its meaning because of the polarizations between the Shi'a and Sunni schools of Islam. As a result, the day can become an exercise in self-righteousnes - "see... we (Shi'as) are the right ones - and they are wrong."

Now, having said this, I don't think that dialogue, and having brotherly and sisterly relations between our respective communities means that we have to give up our differences, or schools of Islam. We can respectfully agree to disagree, and move on to some other unresolvable topic.

But the day is an important one, and by reducing it to a "see, we are right" day - we are losing an opportunity to further our understanding of the words of the Prophet.

I'd like to present a couple of different interpertations that readers of this blog might consider:

Maulana Rumi in the Mathnawi (Nicholson translation, pg. 509) says:

For this reason the Prophet, who labored with the utmost zeal (in devotion) applied the name "protector" (mawla) to himself and to Ali

He said, "My cousin Ali is the protector and friend of every one who is under my protection."

Who is the "protector"? He that sets you free and removes the fetters of servitude from your feet

Since prophethood is the guide to freedom, freedom is bestowed on true believers by the prophets.

Rejoice, O community of true believers: show yourselves to be "free" as the cypress and lily.

But, like the garden, at every moment give unspoken thanks to the Water.

The cypresses and green orchard mutely thank the water (that nourishes them) and show (silent) gratitude for the justice of Spring

Allama Mutahhari discusses the above in greater detail in his discourse on spiritual freedom:

If you plant a tree under a roof, you are depriving it of free space above to attain its full growth. Thus every living being needs freedom for its growth and evolution. What is this freedom? It is the absence of barriers. Free persons are those who fight against all obstacles set in their way of growth and perfection. They do not submit to obstacles.

Dr. Tahir-Ul-Qadri gives another interesting, and intriguing understanding of the declaration:

Therefore, the first man of political legacy was Abū Bakr as-Siddīq (رضي الله عنه), the first man of spiritual legacy was ‘Alī al-Murtadā (عليه السلام), and the first men of intellectual and practical legacy were the Companions (رضي الله عنه). So all these legatees were independently appointed within their own orbits of influence and had no clash or contradiction with one another.

I am sure that both Sunnis and Shi'as will find plenty to disagree over in the above articles. So, my intention here is not to create a firestorm of opposing comments -if you want, read both the articles linked above, you just might find something interesting in either or both.

1 comment(s):

  • Salam

    Hmmm, perhaps Sunni/Shia can unite on the idea of them serving different functions in Islamic history - for example symbols of the Jalal/Jamal dichotomy? I like this post's idea of bringing the two sides together on shared areas of interpretation.

    I find Moharram a good opportunity for Sunni-Shia rapprochement and am hoping to fast the first 10 days of Moharram in this Sunni country and ponder these issues.

    By Blogger Anna in PDX, at 1/22/2006 11:53:00 PM  

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