In today’s exploration of Juz 6, we address the definition of what is ‘good’. Taqwa or God-wariness is the central criteria for judging ‘good’ in terms of actions and intentions. This is exemplified by the story of Habil and Qabil narrated here in Surat al-Ma’idah. Both of these sons of Adam followed Allah’s command to give a sacrifice, but it was only Habil who had the right intention of God-wariness which is why his sacrifice was accepted. While fiqh and ahkam are starting points for seeking closeness to Allah (swt) they are a starting point, not the end-all-be-all. When ahkam is combined with Godliness in our intentions, our actions achieve a level of quality and true taqwa and take us on a spiritual ascension.
Innaa Hadha Al Qur'ana Yahdee li-latee hiya aqwamu wo yo-bashir Al mu'mineen Al-lathi ya'malun al-salihat Anna lahum Ajran Kabira (17:9) [Indeed, this Qur'an guides to that which is most suitable and gives good tidings to the believers who do righteous deeds that they will have a great reward (17:9)].
Juz 6. 'A'udhu billahi min al-shaytan al-rajim. Bismillah Al-Rahman Al-Rahim. I begin in the name of Allah, compassionate to all, merciful to each. As-salamu alaykum, and welcome to the sixth episode in this podcast series titled, "Journeying Our Eyes Through the Qur'an: Exploring 30 Juz in 30 days".
Today, InshaAllah, we will continue our journey through the pages of the Qur'an, as we take a brief look into the sixth Juz of the Qur'an, which consists of the last 28 verses of Surat an-Nisa, and the first 81 verses of Surat al-Ma'idah.
Besides Surat al-Fatiha, all of the chapters that we have explored thus far are Medinan, and this trend continues with Surat al-Ma'idah. This chapter contains a few verses familiar to every Shi'i, including part of verse 3, known as the verse of Ikmal al-Din (or the Verse of the Completion of Religion), the verse of Wilayah (or Authority) in verses 55 to 56, and lastly, the Ayat of al-Iblagh (or the Verse of Conveyance) in verse 67. According to Twelver Shi'i scholars, these verses were all revealed with regards to the Wilayah of Amir ul-Mu'minin Imam Ali, alayhi assalam, with some of them being revealed on the event of Ghadir.
Like most Medinan surahs, we see themes and expositions of Islamic law, commonly known as the Shar'iah, or the way in which we should live, throughout the surah. Throughout Islamic history, there have been many discussions about the nature of Islamic law and its relationship with ethics. According to some Sufi orders, not all, there is the notion that Islamic laws are a starting point, and that one no longer needs the Shar'iah after reaching a certain point of spirituality. Indeed, in today's world, dominated by post-modern ethics, there is the rather rampant opinion that an action or a person can be good even when the action or the person is entirely godless.
It is commonly believed that goodness is independent of religion and that Islamic law, the Shar'iah, does not define or denote what is truly good. In the post-modern world, what is good is relative and rarely defined, being more subjective than anything else, and while it would be impossible to dissect and articulate Islamic ethical philosophy in today's 10 minute podcast, I would like us to take a look at the ethical messages of the Qur'an when it comes to fulfilling the commands of God. What is it that makes an action truly good and worthy according to the Qur'anic worldview, i.e. reality? To illustrate this point, I would like us to take a look at one of the earliest stories of Bani Adam, which is the story of Habil and Qabil, or known as Abel and Cain, the story of the first two brothers of mankind, which is told in verses 27 to 32 of this chapter.
Bismillah Al-Rahman Al-Rahim. Wa atlu ‘alaihim naba abnai Aadama bilhaqq; idh qarrabaa qurbaanan fa tuqubbila min ahadihimaa wa lam yutaqabbal minal aakhari qaala la aqtulannnaka qaala innamaa yataqabbalu Allahu min al-muttaqeen (5:27). La’im basatta ilaiya yadaka litaqtulanee maaa ana bi baasitin yadiya ilaika li aqtulaka inneee akhaafu Allaaha Rabb al-‘alameen (5:28).
"Relate to them in truth the account of Adam's two sons. When the two of them offered an offering, it was accepted from one of them and not accepted from the other. One of them said, 'Surely I will kill you.' The other one said, 'Allah accepts only from the God wary' (5:27)." "'Even if you extend your hand toward me, I will not extend my hand toward you to kill you. Indeed, I fear Allah, the Lord of all the worlds'" (5:28).
This story is told to our children from a young age, and it indeed has a place in all of the Abrahamic religions as the story of the first murder to take place amongst the progeny of Adam alayhi assalam. Although the Qur'anic verses do not ascertain many of the details of this event, some ahadith mention that although Habil was younger than Qabil, he was chosen to be the successor of Prophet Adam, alayhi assalam, which led to a level of strife between the two. Qabil verbalized his contentions to this appointment, and the two brothers were told to offer a sacrifice to Allah Subhana wa Ta'ala, and the sacrifice which Allah Subhana wa Ta'ala accepted would then be appointed as the next leader.
This acceptance was that it would be swallowed by fire, as indicated in Surah Aali-Imran verse 183, as a way of the Bani Israel. Habil, seeking the pleasure of God, and who was a shepherd, selected one of the best of his rams, and Qabil, a farmer, selected a handful of some of his worst grains of wheat. When they offered the offering, Habil's was accepted, and Qabil's was rejected, and this is what triggered the anger of Qabil, and his eventual murder of his brother, Habil.
The verses mentioned in this story, and the conversation that ensued between Qabil and Habil, and the reason as to why Habil's sacrifice was accepted, and Qabil's was rejected - the reason was nothing other than Taqwa, as Habil says, "innamaa yataqabbalu Allahu min al-muttaqeen"(5:27) - that, indeed Allah only accepts from those who are muttaqeen, from those who are God wary.
When I was reflecting upon the story and the nature of what is good and bad, and thinking about the Shar'iah, I realized that interestingly enough, Qabil, in a sense, had acted. He had submitted an offering to Allah Subhana wa Ta'ala - and of course, Allah Subhana wa Ta'ala neither needs wheat, nor sheep. Materially speaking, on the surface level, both brothers fulfilled submitting an offering to Allah Subhana wa Ta'ala as they were commanded to. But while they both acted, one of their sacrifices was accepted and the other was rejected.
What this means is that goodness is not ascertained simply by action alone, and when it comes to fiqh and the Shar'iah, this is why there are so many contentions and nuances at times. Somebody may pray, fast, and fulfill all of their obligations according to the rules in the risalah, and yet they may never ascend spiritually. Sometimes, two people will do the exact same a'maal in the hopes of their hajjat or their wishes being fulfilled, and one of them is accepted and the other is not. How can this be the case? The heart of the issue here is in terms of how we look at it, where sometimes we go to either extreme; we either give so much importance to the form, or we forego the form entirely.
The Qur'anic worldview is that both are important, but Allah, Subhana wa Ta'ala, in his infinite wisdom and love for us to become closer to Him, has given us a set of laws, a set of forms by which many of our actions take place, and must take place, and this form is important. It is mandated by Allah Subhana wa Ta'ala. He has lines and he has bounds which cannot be crossed, and He has a covenant with all of us by virtue of Him being our Master, our Creator and our Owner. As mentioned in verse 7 of Surat al-Ma'idah:
Bismillah Al-Rahman Al-Rahim. Wa adhkuroo ni’mata Allahi ‘alaikum wa meethaaqah ulladhee wa athaqakum biheee idh qultum sami’naa wa ata’naa wa at-taqu Allah; inna Allaha ‘aleemum bi dhaati as-sudoor (5:7). "Remember Allah's blessing upon you and His covenant with which He has bound you when you said, 'We hear and obey.' And be wary of Allah. Indeed, Allah knows best what is in the hearts (5:7)".
But the spirit in which we go through these laws is so crucial, and it is the spirit of God-wariness and Taqwa which is what gives quality to an action or to a form - and this is why Taqwa can be gradational. Fiqh and ahkam is the beginning of a journey where we purify our intentions, and we use the fiqh and the ahkam to get closer to Allah Subhana wa Ta'ala. Fiqh was never meant to be the end point, or our destination, but rather a starting point, but something that we need to abide by.
It was the level of Taqwa - or lack thereof - that manifested itself in the form of Qabil's qurban, or "sacrifice". Ironically, the word "qurban" used here in this verse (5:7) comes from the verb "qa ra ba", which means, "to become close" and we use it for sacrifice - the word that we use for sacrifices is "qurbani" - and the reason for that is that we seek closeness to Allah Subhana wa Ta'ala through them. But instead of Qabil seeking nearness to Allah Subhana wa Ta'ala through his sacrifice, he sought power and material gain. It was not an action that was done for Allah Subhana wa Ta'ala. It was not the fact that Qabil's sacrifice was a small, meager amount of wheat, but rather, it was that his intention was small and meager. There are times in which we may only be able to give a small amount in the way of Allah Subhana wa Ta'ala, but that is not what Allah looks for. It is our actions, it is the form, along with our capacity and our intention to sincerely please Allah Subhana wa Ta'ala, that He judges based off. It is not solely based on the tangible form of an action.
To return to the initial question that we set out with, what is it that makes an action good? That depends on how we define good, and in the Islamic worldview, what is good is God. So instead of asking ourselves whether what we are doing is good, it is more meaningful to ask ourselves if what we are doing is Godly. By removing an owner from the word "good", the question that we ask ourselves when we say, "Is this good?" or "Is this Godly?" becomes exceedingly more meaningful.
With this, we end today's episode with a hadith, narrated in a reliable chain from Imam-e-Sajjad, alayhi assalam, in Volume 2 of Al-Kafi. The Hadith says: "La amala illa bi niyyatin" - "There is no action that is worthy except with its intention."
Wa Al-Hamdulillah Rabbi Al-Alameen, wa salla Allahu alaa nabiyyina Muhammadin, wa alihi al-tayibeen, al-tahireen. Wa assalamu alaykum, wa rahmatullahi, wa barakatu.
Rabbana La tuzigh Qulubana (3:8) [Our Lord, let not our hearts deviate (3:8)]