Hawza in a Nutshell – Lessons on Akhlaq

From theory to practice by Ezra Hashme

When we learn a new skill be it theoretical or  practical, it always takes time to practise and  takes even longer to allow it to become part  of our DNA. This means that there will be a  lot of mistakes, slips and falls along the way. In the Hazwa  during our Akhlaq (Ethic) classes, I’ve gained a good amount  of theoretical and practical knowledge. However applying  these to real life can be a very challenging task.  For example, a few months ago when I was travelling on the  London Underground, a man was sitting opposite me. The  train carriage wasn’t that busy and every time I looked in his  direction, he was staring at me. The situation made me feel  uncomfortable because I didn’t know why he was looking at  me. My thought pattern drifted to the negative because I  fitted a typical Muslim profile, he looked European, and in  my mind I erected an instant wall between us. Maybe he was  worried that I might do something. To look less intimidating,  I opened a book and started reading. If only this man knew I  posed no threat and not all Muslims are terrorists.  Luckily my stop came and I got off trying not to look in his  direction. As I went through the barrier in Euston Square  station I saw a Muslim woman struggling to go up the stairs.  I stopped and tried to figure a way to help her, thinking  about the best way to approach and offer my assistance. A  man walked passed me and like a true gentleman offered his  arm to the lady. Lo and behold, it was the same man that  had been staring at me on the train. She grabbed on to his  arm as he assisted her up the stairs. I walked behind them  just in case she needed extra help.  Both of them turned out to be from the same city in  Scotland, Glasgow. All those negative feelings towards this  man vanished as I stood there defeated by inadequacy and  in awe of his quick response to help the lady. This man’s  actions made me realise that I cannot simply play the victim  card and think negatively of others without evidence. I made  a promise to myself never to judge anyone based on my own  shortcomings.  During the month of December in the Hawza, two  Benedictine monks visited us. It was a pleasure listening to  their speeches especially a parable used by one of the  monks. Two friends, one Muslim and the other a Christian  monk, met regularly to converse about God. They called  these meetings “digging a well” as the plan was to dig these  hypothetical wells side by side and see who reached water  first. The monk posed a question: “when we reach the  bottom of this well, will we find Muslim water or Christian  water?” They both realised that it would be only God’s water.  In our pursuit towards perfection, we are advised to avoid  any actions which stop us or even slow us on this journey,  whilst any actions which help us improve or even propel us  forward, are encouraged. If we are in a race and we slow  down or stop our chances of winning will be reduced.  Sheikh Shomali used Ayatollah Muhammad Reza Muzafar’s  example to explain the different levels of action. Some  actions are completely good on their own and remain good  regardless of the situation, which is the highest level. Justice,  for example, is always good by itself and will always remain  good regardless of time, place or situation. Below this is the  second group. This can be a good or bad action on its own  but an external factor could change it. An example would  be a child who is drawing a picture. He has put in a lot of  effort to impress his teacher or parents. They look at the  picture and cannot figure out what the child has drawn.  They are in a dilemma over telling the truth or saying it is  terrible. If they speak their mind the child would be  heartbroken and it could ruin his confidence. On the other  hand with a little white lie the child’s hard work would be  recognised and he/she will be encouraged to do a better job  in the future. There are many other examples in real life  where a white lie is beneficial such as to save a marriage or  to reconcile between enemies.  The third category is the action which is neutral; it does not  have the tendency of good or bad attached to it. An example  could be drinking water, which is not seen as good or bad. If  we drink water to quench our thirst for the sake of God then  this is a good action.  Thus an action, which is a complete necessity, is always  good. An action can be good or bad by nature, so the cause  is good as long as there is no obstacle. There are other  actions that are neither good nor bad and require a situation  to make it either positive or negative. Sheikh Shomali noted  that understanding these concepts is very important and  that if we attended Hawza for a month just to understand  them it would be worthwhile.


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