Hawza in a nutshell

Imagine you are standing outside a mosque, admiring the magnificent architecture; while in awe, many questions arise such as: how was the beautiful building assembled? Now imagine the mosque being built in a time lapse; visualising it coming to life brick by brick, one on top of another, each brick shaped for a specific place and serving its own purpose.  As the building comes together beautifully, we question whether this masterpiece is actually in need of a minaret? And what is the significance of a minaret?

The importance of the minaret is internationally recognised to be a unique feature of a mosque. Without the minaret one might confuse it for another building, such as a Temple. It also has a significant purpose to attract the attention of onlookers and call worshippers to prayer. If each brick represents each of the Prophets’ contributions towards Akhlaq (Ethics), then the minaret represents our Prophet’s completion of Akhlaq.

This analogy is a recap of what we learnt in last month’s edition – our Prophet saying he was sent only to perfect Akhlaq. A 15 year-old heard this and his reply was ‘Cool story, bro’. It is a cool story, but how do we proceed in learning this Akhlaq? Is learning enough or do we need to put this into practice? And can it only be learnt through situations of trial and error?

A few years ago when I was learning Kung Fu, my first lesson was on the art of punching, which I managed to learn in five minutes. Noticing the teacher making his way towards me, I increased the speed of my punches and tried to perfect the motion. My only aim was to impress my teacher; I wanted his recognition, approval and sense of admiration. Disappointingly, the only response I received was, “To perfect it, will take you a lifetime”. At that very moment I did not appreciate his remark, however, his statement remained with me, and only years later did I understand the philosophy of what he meant; learning a skill does not take long, but perfecting it can take a lifetime.

The same applies to Akhlaq, we learn many good traits of character, for example, “Love for your brother, what you love for yourself.” Many have heard this saying, but the ultimate question remains as to how many of us apply this in our lives? And out of those who do apply it, how many practise with the aim of achieving perfection?

With this in mind, I would like to paraphrase a hadith in a ‘Love Muhammad(s) conference that I attended a few months ago. In one of the battles the narrator reports; A few Muslim soldiers were injured who were either sat or were lying injured next to each other. The narrator gave water to the first soldier who declined; saying my brother next to me is more in need, so water was provided to the second soldier. He had also refused, stating ‘that my brother next to me is more thirsty than I, please quench his thirst’. The narrator worked his way down, but all refused, insisting that the brother next in line was in greater need of water. He finally reached the tenth soldier, only to find that he had passed away. Upon this realisation, he desperately looked back at the remaining soldiers to help, but saw that they had all passed away.

We can look at this narration from two different angles; either the soldiers were not wise enough to tend to their needs or they developed so much compassion for one another that they could not bear quenching their thirst first. I prefer the second interpretation because it would take a great sense of discipline not to quench one’s thirst when injured, but these soldiers, were in a desperate situation and still managed to love for their brother what they loved for themselves.

Sheikh Shomali elevated my Kung-Fu teachers’ advice in our first Akhlaq lesson. We learn, we practise what we have learnt and we teach. All three actions are continuously practised and perfected, with the intention of gaining proximity to God. I learnt a lot in my first Akhlaq lesson, even though it was just an introductory class. Later during the lesson, the sheikh mentioned a quote from the hadith, which stated that, we should try to acquire the virtues that exist in God. At this point I had many questions crossing my mind, such as, why we are being told to become like God? But it was I that misunderstood. Sheikh clarified that our ultimate aim is to have some of the traits of character that are all present in God. God is All-Just and we should aim to be just. God is All-Wise and we should aim to increase our knowledge and wisdom. God is The Greatest, and if we aim to be The Greatest, then we have become arrogant, as there are some traits of character that are only reserved for God. Each trait we are commanded by God to perfect, God has made it incumbent upon Himself first. How wonderful is this Lord that I prostrate to daily. It gives the phrase ‘lead by example’ a whole new dimension. I learnt two things in my first class:

  1. For a believer Akhlaq is just as important as Jurisprudence and faith because Akhlaq is the foundation that faith is built on.
  2. We can only perfect our Akhlaq by practising what we’ve learnt, so it is both theoretical and practical.
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