Kawthar Learning Circle’s first annual summer retreat with Dr. Mohammad Ali Shomali took place this August at an outdoor facility located in northern Ontario. This retreat brought together the Kawthar Learning Circle students from all over Canada, namely the Greater Toronto Area, Montreal, Ottawa, Winnipeg, and Vancouver, and allowed them to reinforce and strengthen their relationship of wilayah amongst one another. Other seekers of knowledge from diverse backgrounds also attended the retreat, which resulted in approximately 60 participants, including children. The three-day, two-night programme included three lectures on social wilayah, two interactive Quranic tafsir discussions, two segments on the importance of spiritual tools, and two interactive question and answer sessions. The sisters were also blessed to have Sister Israa Safiedine from Dearborn, Michigan amongst them as she led a number of interactive and inspiring discussions and answered their questions with great care and detail. Sr. Israa is a writer, teacher, and educational consultant who specialises in Islamic instruction. From September 2016, she will be teaching at the Hawza Ilmiyya of England.
The first lecture on social wilayah focused on its definition whilst underlining that it is the core of every religion. Sheikh Shomali began by expressing how much this crucial concept has been neglected, despite the central role it can play in building strong fraternal bonds in all faith-based communities. The positive response the Sheikh has received from past initiatives encouraged him to continue to propagate and spread the message of social wilayah.
By surveying several verses of the Holy Qur’an based on wilayah (2:166; 9:71; 10:62), he presented the horizontal and vertical dimensions of such relationships as multi-directional associations that contribute to the formation of two distinct camps, namely haqq (truth) and one of batil (falsehood). In an effort to define wilayah, Sheikh Shomali explored its intrinsic qualities of ma’rifa (knowledge), ta’a (obedience) and mahabba (love), with a description of the multi-dimensional manifestation of each quality in both camps.
Having set the theoretical backdrop of social wilayah through its qualities, he approached the definition of wilayah by considering the relationship between both camps and exploring its opposing concept, namely ‘adawa (enmity). Citing various narrations and excerpts from ziyarat, he established ‘adawa as a party or group committed to intercepting the opposing group’s success. On the other hand, wilayah is defined as a party committed to a shared goal and destiny that sees the success of one member as a shared success, and the loss of one member as a shared loss.
Finally, the Sheikh explained that there are two camps but three types of people: Awliya Allah (Friends of God), Awliya Al-Shaytan (Friends of Shaytan) and Mudhabdhabeen bayna Dhalik (neither here nor there, with no clear aims or objectives; unfortunately, many times the majority of people fall in this camp). The third group are not organised and do not actively and consciously pursue any common goals. Members of the camp of the truth should not think that everyone who is not with them is against them. They should try to communicate to others especially those who are undecided and stand in between two camps. Of course, this should happen whilst remaining unwavering to one’s loyalty to the truth.
The second lecture addressed common misconceptions of wilayah and explored its practical side. Sheikh Shomali explained that wilayah is not simply a belief or doctrine; rather it is something that needs to be practised and actualised to the full extent. Furthermore, as indicated in the first lecture, wilayah is not limited to the relation between one person and his Master; rather it connects all members with each other as well as their leader.
To further elucidate this concept, Sheikh Shomali drew on a number of ahadith and a multitude of passages from ziyarat and duas, namely Ziyarat Ashura, Ziyarat Ameenullah, Dua Ahad, Dua Iftitah, and Dua Nudba. From this collection of references, he concluded that wilayah is not only about one’s relationship with God or Imam Mahdi (a); rather, it is the way that one has defined one’s position in this world by associating with certain people and disassociating from the opposite group, leading to the development of intimate bonds of brotherhood with people who share the same mentality and understanding. For this, one must be ready to sacrifice one’s comfort and pleasure, even to the extent of giving up one’s life. This is truly social wilayah. Sheikh Shomali then dedicated some time to underlining the significance of loving for the sake of God as well as developing trust among the faithful in order to achieve social wilayah. The lecture concluded with an interactive discussion with the participants on how to love purely for the sake of God and how to overcome some of the challenges of achieving social wilayah.
The third and final lecture continued in emphasising the various directions of the relationship of social wilayah and how one’s love for God can be measured by one’s love of others for the sake of God. The concept of the appearance of comradeship (ja’at al muzamala) is introduced along with an exploration of how the unity of Shias and the establishment of social wilayah amongst each other is intimately linked to the reappearance of Imam Mahdi(a). Sheikh Shomali then explored one’s role in paving the way for the Imam by first putting into practice social wilayah, establishing unity amongst each other and in the communities, and resolving internal affairs and conflicts. Through exploration of hadiths, Sheikh Shomali acknowledged that determination is a necessary quality of the companions of Imam Mahdi(a) and he underlined that without unity, one’s iman (faith) is incomplete. In closing Sheikh Shomali interactively explored the practical considerations and steps that can be taken to start the pursuit of unity and social wilayah.
For the Qur’an tafsir sessions that took place immediately after the dawn congregational prayers, Sh. Shomali explored the story of Prophet Moses(a) in Surah Taha. In the first session, he focused on verses 9-24 and presented some points of reflection on Prophet Moses’(a) first receipt of revelation from God. When travelling with his family in the middle of the night, Prophet Moses(a) observed a friendly fire and approached it, seeking a source of guidance for himself and his family (20:10). Sh. Shomali emphasised the nature and the significance of the verbal exchange between God and Prophet Moses(a), with God having a warm, personable, yet goal-oriented conversation with Prophet Moses(a). Through this encounter, Prophet Moses is informed that he has been chosen by God to deliver a purpose and is reminded of the message of tawheed (Oneness of God), establishment of prayers and the importance of taking heed to the Day of Judgement. God also manifests two miracles, endowing Prophet Moses with the power to transform the ordinary (i.e. his staff) into the extraordinary – thus introducing him to the world of commands. Ultimately, Prophet Moses is commanded to go to Pharaoh as a spiritual guide and healer. In explaining (20:15), Sh. Shomali underlined that although a life filled with difficulties and challenges may be physically draining, it is actually replete with opportunities for growth; therefore, it is important for one not to lose patience or hope and accept the challenges that one has been given.
The second tafsir session focused on verses 25-38 of the same chapter as Sh. Shomali delved deeper into the meaning of Prophet Moses’(a) request to God after God commanded him to go to Pharaoh. Prophet Moses asked for the following: a big heart, an ease of his affairs, a removal of the blockage from his tongue so that people would understand him, and a partner (in particular, his brother Haroon (a)) to assist him in his affairs.
Sh. Shomali stated that these are things that all good leaders should seek; however, he placed lots of emphasis on Prophet Moses’(a) humility and humbleness as well as the understanding that he has a big message to carry. It is worthy to note that Prophet Moses (a) requested these things in order to be able to glorify God more and remember Him more; thus, his whole revolution was to glorify and remember God, but in a collective way. He wanted to free the people from Pharaoh so that society as a whole can glorify God.
Sh.Shomali concluded by touching upon the plan of God and how His enemies, such as Pharaoh, unknowingly contribute to His plan with their own free will.
In between Maghribayn congregational prayers, Sh. Shomali used that time as an opportunity to discuss the importance of spiritual tools, namely salat (ritual prayer), dua (supplication), tawakkul (trusting God), and tafwid (delegating one’s affairs to God).
The first segment focused on salat, which is considered the best type of dua, as a crucial aspect of one’s spiritual growth. Sh. Shomali used Quranic verses and hadith to illustrate how salat is exemplified as kheirul ‘aml (the best of deeds) and ‘amood eldeen (the pillar of religion). Although it holds such a lofty position, it is, unfortunately, not well understood and appreciated, primarily because people do not see any impact from their own way of performing salat. However, Sh. Shomali underlined that given the spiritual nature of salat, when it acts upon the soul, the impact it leaves can vary substantially from person to person. He delineated between three groups of people. Some may perform salat and become worse; others may remain neutral, without feeling any difference at all; but most importantly, salat can change people for the better. According to hadith, it is considered the best thing that has been designed and it contains so much power that even the best of people, i.e. the Holy Prophet (a) and the Ahlulbayt (a), can benefit from it. Thus, if people truly connect to God through salat, there is no limit to what they can gain. The only limits come from the soul, such as being dishonest with oneself or not being attentive. Furthermore, Sh. Shomali explained that depending on the way one approaches salat, it functions differently. If one thinks salat is useless and troublesome, then it will be just that; however, if one shows appreciation to salat, it will work for him and it will change him. In closing, Sh. Shomali distinguished between the fara’id (obligatory daily prayers) and nawafil (supererogatory prayers), underlining that the former is much more powerful than the latter as the latter are likened to servants for the former. Nawafil are very helpful but they can only do so, if the obligatory ones are already performed and put in pace. Thus, Sh. Shomali emphasized the necessity to perform salat, especially the fara’id, when faced with a problem before asking God for help.
For the second segment, Sh. Shomali further expanded on the concept of the soul as the limiting factor for spiritual tools and introduced the concepts of tawakkul and tafwid. He used the parable of Abdul Muttalib and Abraha to illustrate the effect of tawakkul, which means placing one’s trust in God. As a result of Abdul Muttalib’s tawakkul, Abraha’s army was destroyed. He then explored the practice of tafwid, noting how it is similar to tawakkul. While in both cases, the believer exerts their best effort, the one who practices tawakkul inwardly places exclusive trust in God, that He will take one’s affairs to one’s desired end. On the other hand, one who practices tafwid goes beyond and inwardly relinquishes all control and management over one’s affairs to Allah. Sh. Shomali provided an array of examples to further illustrate and distinguish between these two spiritual tools. He concluded by reminding the attendees to never underestimate dua, salat, tawakkul, and tafwid. There is an unlimited source of energy in these spiritual tools—one just needs to release it.