Connect yourself to a community of learners

Hujjat al-Islam Dr Mohammad Ali Shomali address to staff and students of the Hawza Ilmiyya in London as it opened for a new academic year

In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

Today we find that we have a paradox in the world, for, on one hand, we have a great expansion, which some may call an explosion of information and data; nevertheless, on the other hand, it seems that more than ever we are confused. If I wanted to mention a few marks of our age I would surely mention uncertainty as one of the marks of this century. Thus, having information is not saving us from confusion or uncertainty. Indeed, I think if you want someone to be unable to function you can do two things: either do not give him any information at all or give him too much information. In both cases, he would be unable to function. Definitely, uncertainty is one of the characteristics of our age. Despite the expansion of knowledge and the spread of numerous universities, books, libraries, and online information, we are still uncertain.

 In my understanding, another characteristic of this is disconnectedness. You may be surprised, for this is the age of connection and the age of communication. Although that is true, our souls are disconnected and more than ever human beings are disconnected. Yes, bodies are connected and you can travel by fast planes. Today you are here, but in the evening you are in Canada or the US. Yes, you can communicate over Skype, but I do not think in any time in history people were so disconnected from their family members or neighbours. Even sometimes you are disconnected from your children or parents; you do not know what is going on in the mind of the person who you are living with for years. Therefore, in the same way that expansion of information and knowledge has not saved us from uncertainty, and indeed has added to our uncertainty, advancement of communication skills, tools and technology has not saved us from disconnectedness and loneliness but indeed has added to our loneliness. Sometimes you are surrounded by many people, have thousands of likes on your Facebook, and many people on your Telegramchannel, but you still feel lonely.

Thirdly, I think humanity has become very weak. It is true that we have learned how to develop our muscles and how to make machines that serve us in everything so that we do not need to do that much; we do not need to walk or do any farming because robots are doingeverything for us. However, I believe humanity has become weaker compared toany time in the past because the strength of humanity is in how much you can dothrough your intellectual and spiritual faculties, not just by pressing abutton and then seeing many things happen. The strength of humanity is measuredby the strength of willpower, not the power of muscle. Even animals likeelephants have more power than us.

In one Akhlaq (ethics) lecture, I explained this issue of how it seems we are becoming more and more like elephants. Although an elephant is massive in size, it can be managed by a child. Jinns are massive in their power, but they can be captured and controlled by human beings. Thus, you can not measure strength by physical power and mobility; you can only measure it by willpower. Unfortunately, I believe that today the willpower of humanity is in decline. How much are we able to resist temptations, fashion, trends, and advertisements? This is the age of instant satisfaction. You only do those things by which you can quickly get back some pleasure and satisfaction. To summarise, we have three characteristics among other characteristics, but these three are extremely important in my mind. The first is uncertainty, the second is disconnectedness and loneliness, and the third is weakness of willpower.

Therefore, what is the solution? The solution is to connect yourself to a community of learners who are connected to the sources of true knowledge. Imam Ali(a) eloquently explains this point, and with the introduction, I have mentioned perhaps now you can have a new look at this hadith(tradition). Recently in Toronto I had three sessions on this hadith which you can find online. Imam Ali(a) took the hand of Kumayl ibn Ziyadan-Nakha’i and led him to the desert. He did not say this hadith on the mimbar(pulpit); he did not even say it in private in Kufa to Kumayl. Imam took him all the way to the desert and then he said to Kumayl:

These hearts are containers and the best of them are the best in containing. They can contain more and better.” I do not have time to explain this statement”. The Imam further said: Remember what I am telling you”. “People are of three types: godly scholars.” Through their knowledge, they reflect the light of God on their own life and the lives of others. “And seekers of knowledge, learners who are on the path of salvation.” And the third is like “flies who have no significance, whenever a wind comes they go to the direction of the wind. They have not been seeking and enlightened with the light of knowledge. They have not been able to hold onto a firm pillar.”

I think this hadith of Imam Ali(a) can be very well understood today. Either you are a godly scholar, a member of a community of seekers of knowledge under the guidance of ‘ulama, or a misguided person.

It seems this is the only way to save ourselves. If we need to overcome uncertainty, if we want to overcome disconnectedness, and if we want to be powerful, not in our body but in our soul and spirit, then we have to dedicate our life to learning from its sources. Of course, this means not learning everywhere, not learning everything, and not being connected with everyone. As theProphet of God(s) said: you have to get knowledge from the experts.

 I hope that God would see in our little community that we have here in this Hawzah a real thirst for knowledge and true dedication to what we learn so that God would accept us as a group of talebeh (students of theology). I am a talebeh and I am proud till the end of my life if God accepts me as a seeker of knowledge. God willing, we will all try to seek knowledge till the last breath of our lives. If God sees in us this value and this dedication, then Godwilling do not be surprised if from this small community here in Hawzahlots of good things spread all over the world. We count on your dedication, we count on your sincerity, and we count on your willpower.

It is inevitable that obstacles will be faced, for they come whenever you want to do something good. However, if you want to study in Hawzah obstacles come from the ‘sky and the earth’. I remember that my first teacher used to say to me: “For everything there can be a problem, barrier, or obstacle, but for learning there will be many.” God willing, we count on your dedication, on your willpower, connecting to each other, and as Sister Dr Fatima said: mubahitha (after class discussion). Till I am here you will always hear from me that you have to do mubahitha. So, from the beginning of the year please find your partners for mubahitha, set up a proper time and do mubahitha. God willing, with all your work and the work of our team and teachers I hope we can have a very successful year byGod’sleave. Thank you very much.

 “All praise belongs to God, the Lord of allthe Worlds.”

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  1. In this issue – islam today magazine UK

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