The Kawthar Learning Circle students hosted A Spiritual Weekend with Dr. Mohammad Ali Shomali on March 5th and 6th at the Shiane Haidery Islamic Association in Montreal. The two-day programme was attended by Muslims from different schools of thought and three cities of Montreal, Toronto and youth from Ottawa. There were approximately 120 participants from diverse cultural backgrounds, aged from 11 years old to mature adults. Attendants attentively listened to Shaykh Shomali’s presentations which provided thorough and clear illustrative examples. The audience’s engagement with the lectures on Imamah (divinely-appointed leadership) which included its definition, prerequisites and our current responsibility towards it and on Self-Development, which delineated its journey and its endpoints, was apparent from the questions during the Q&A sessions.
The first lecture was a historical analysis of the understanding of Imamah, held by Muslims over time, showing how it was reduced from being defined as;
1) A supreme leadership of the Ummah in both its worldly and religious affairs to any leadership that affords order. Shaykh Shomali refuted this interpretation, illustrating that Imamah first and utmost is a matter of the Command, Covenant and Vicegerency of God (Qur’an 2:124);
2) A position beyond the reach of Angels (2:30-33);
(3) A position only granted to a person who has successfully passed trials of prophetic difficulty (2:124); and
(4) The person who embodies the continuity of direct divine guidance through the person of the Imam to humankind as mentioned in the Holy Qur’an, “And those who disbelieve say: Why has not a sign been sent down upon him from his Lord? You are only a warner and (there is) a guide for every people”. (13:7)
Knowing that the depth and breadth of Islam would require generations before being fully grasped by the Ummah, Sh. Shomali explained the Messenger(s) left behind the two weighty things (al-thaqalayn), namely the Holy Qur’an and the Ahl ul Bayt(a) and he elaborated on the responsibilities divinely commissioned to the Imams(a), stating that they inherit three major roles from the Messenger of Islam; teaching of Islam, judgment over disputes and supreme governance. Over eleven generations, the Imams directly presented and guided people towards true Islam, continuously revealing more of its depth and detail in line with the evolution of the collective human mind.
Sh. Shomali also explained that during the period of occultation, qualified godly scholars must continue to fulfil the three major roles with important differences in rank and knowledge and that the quintessential connection from the believer to the godly scholars, to the Imams, and to the Messenger of God, is an inevitable milestone for our ultimate salvation.
In the subsequent lecture, Dr. Shomali elaborated on the knowledge held by the Imam, which is bestowed on him directly from God. For further clarification, he introduced the lofty position of the truthful witness (shahid) who is asked to bear testimony over the actions and realities of preset groups of people on Judgment Day. By cross-referencing a number of verses, he showed that this position of immense knowledge is not restricted to the Messenger, the Prophet Muhammad(s) (4:41) but that it carries over to the Imam of the time who is from the people (16:89), lives among them (5:117), has knowledge of the Book (13:43) and is from him (11:17).
Dr Shomali’s lectures continued with his speech on the heavy responsibility upon every Muslim to continuously strive to attain recognition and gnosis of the Imam of their time. He asserted that this knowledge is not a function of physical or temporal proximity to the Imam. Rather, it is a function of spiritual, behavioural and emotional proximity. Hence, those who identify themselves as his followers cannot be certain of having knowledge of the Imam of their time unless they have developed an intimate knowledge of the Imam and of their times.
On the subject of self-development, Sh. Shomali began by stating that our only worthy purpose is the pursuit of perfection and purity and realisation of self-purification. Tazkiyah is so significant that it is part of the historic supplications of the Prophet Ibrahim(a) (2:128-129). He then explained that birr, meaning purity and growth, can only be achieved by giving up and letting go of all forms of material attachments (3:92, 9:103). Above and beyond reduction in food, sleep and other unnecessary interactions, he asserted that self-purification is, above all, a matter of the heart as per the following verse, “The Day whereon neither wealth nor sons will avail, but only he (will prosper) that brings to Allah a sound heart” (26:88-89). He concluded that some of the most important signs of self-purification are absence of arrogance, readiness to quickly admit one’s mistakes, pursuit of the truth, and being critical with oneself. In other words, the pure find their honour in complying with the Truth, rather than endeavouring to make the Truth comply with them.
Sh. Shomali then stated that people cannot attain self-purification through detachment alone; they must also attach themselves to God through prayer (ṣalah). Through prayer our relationship with God is strengthened, just as through zakat (alms giving) our relationship with human beings is solidified. He asserted that everything we do to travel towards God is ultimately part of a journey comprised of a series of challenges. People may start at different places, however the journey itself is infinite for everybody. After exerting one’s full effort, if one puts all their trust in God alone, He guides the traveller to the necessary techniques and means and He covers most of the distance to reach the sincere traveller. (17:19, 47:7).
In the final lecture of the spiritual retreat, Sh. Shomali recounted the most important outcomes of becoming close (muqarrab) to God. He derived inspiration from the inferences that can be made from the Quranic depiction of Pharaoh’s promise to the magicians (7:113-114; 26:41-42). He noted that although these are Quranic verses that quote the words of Pharaoh, they are nevertheless the words of God and continue to provide invaluable insight. Using the analogy of being close to the King, he made several compelling deductions. Next, he asserted that the remembrance (dhikr) of God is the means to attain His Proximity. Dhikr is an activity of the heart that defines its directedness towards God. Dhikr of God needs orientation and direction, and orientation and direction needs recognition and obedience to the Imam of the time.
In addition to Sh. Shomali’s speech, over 200 books, which were either written by him or under his supervision, were sold.