A Question of Faith

Shaikh Mustafa Abdulhussein

Faith is a much
more complex concept than it first appears. It may have dictionary definitions, but like an attitude of mind, its origin is elusive. Reason, logic, facts, historical evidence, upbringing, role models, spiritual experience, may all contribute to what a person decides his or her faith is, but what really causes one to have faith is as baffling an endeavour as understanding the human spirit itself. This understanding, called hidayyat (inspired guidance), we are told in Islam, comes only from Allah, and that is quite a powerful philosophy.

But once a person has faith, however acquired, it has overwhelming consequences. Almost everything the person perceives and experiences is looked at through the looking glass of this faith. Faith defines and moulds the person and his entire life is shaped by it. His morality and his views on almost anything are affected or even defined by his faith. Even facts are interpreted to strengthen that faith or to dispel doubts about it. The same event in history, for example, is described by people of differing faiths as being completely different things. To a Christian for whom Rasulullah (SAW) was an impostor, every action of Rasulullah (SAW) is regarded as proving just that. The very same actions viewed by a Muslim, prove only that Rasulullah was the pure embodiment of Allah’s mercy to mankind. Similarly, the event of Gadir-e-Khumm, to the Sunni Muslim, was simply Rasulullah’s (SAW) siding with Maulana Ali (SA) in a private dispute, whereas to the Shia, it was nothing less that the conferring of succession and the completion of the religion of Islam. Human behaviour and attitudes are shaped by faith, wars have been fought to protect or propagate faith, religions have been built on the bedrock of faith, and faith has caused civilisations to blossom. Faith is indeed a powerful force, raising the human endeavour to unimaginable heights.

Whilst faith is a complex concept, difficult to pin down and define, there is one simple way of at least recognising it. This is by identifying it with a single belief. Belief itself is fraught with multiple definitions and can be as complex as faith itself, but it is possible to find a core belief that forms the basis of a faith. For example, the core belief of a Christian faith is accepting Nabiullah Isa (AS) as a one part of a God in Trinity, sent to earth to wash away the sins
of mankind. A Muslim’s core belief is encapsulated in the Kalemat ush-shahadat, that there is only Deity, Allah, and Mohammed (SAW) is His Messenger. In Tajul Aqaid, Syedna Ali (AQ), the great 5th Dai, enumerates a hundred beliefs associated with the Fatimid faith. Included in them are beliefs about Allah, the prophethood of Rasulullah (SAW), the position of the Qur’an as the word of Allah, etc, most beliefs being common to all Muslims. If we had to pick one that finally identifies our Fatimid faith, it would be belief in an Imam existing in every age to guide and lead the people of his time, in an observable manner as well as in an esoteric sense, to their return to Allah.

This is a belief that is born out of the notion of flawlessness of the justice of Allah. If there is to be a living, manifest guide sent by Allah in one era, in the form of a Prophet or a Wasi, then surely justice demands that the people of another era should likewise benefit from a living guide too. Such a guide may be with ordinary people all the time, living as though he is one of them, suffering mankind’s trials and hardships, but in reality, has to be quite different due to the salvational role he has to play. He has to be divinely chosen, be made of angelic material, in effect, be an angel in man’s garb. Called the Imam, this core belief requires, that this guide would be immaculate and infallible, born in the
lineage of Rasulullah (SAW) and Maulana Ali (SA) through Imam Husain (SA), the mantle being passed from father to son. But what truly distinguishes us from other Shias who also have the same belief in such an Imam, is not just who this
Imam is, but what happens when he is no longer manifestly participating in society.

Our identifying belief is that there is nothing inappropriate in such circumstances arising under Allah’s celestial plan, and should that happen, the Imam’s position, his function and his role is undertaken by a Dai al-Mutlaq, who summons the believers to hold fast to their faith, in readiness for the Imam’s return. By virtue of undertaking this immense responsibility of occupying the Imam’s office and functioning on behalf of the Imam, the Dai is infused with the Imam’s impeccability and infallibility, for if such were not the case, the people would be devoid of a manifest divine guide and Allah’s justice would not be done.

Our core identifying belief therefore is that in our times, the Imam of the time is followed by following the Dai of the time, who is Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin (TUS). That obeying him is obeying the Imam; that he sees with the eyes of the Imam, the light of Allah, and is faultlessly inspired in matters spiritual or worldly. That he is the first door to paradise, and no one may approach the Imam except through this Dai. Once this belief is accepted, the identity of our
faith is found and everything else, the entire structure of religion, falls into place. Without it, one may have a thousand beliefs similar to ours, and have strong faith in those beliefs, but it would be a faith that is not ours.

Now there are many who confuse this faith by distorting the core belief. The reformists, for example, base their faith on the belief that the Dai is simply a fallible religious leader who would do well to leave worldly matters to others (such as themselves) and become a guru confining himself to spiritual matters. Based on this belief, then, the Dai could commit error like anyone else and would be subject to the judgement of others. Having thus lost the belief in an
infallible Dai, it becomes acceptable for them to criticise the Dai about everything, whether spiritual or worldly. The criticism soon turns to open enmity and ultimately they are forced into the ludicrous position of having to accept the Dai as their spiritual leader and guide and at the same time defy and vilify him in almost everything he does! Once the core belief of the faith is compromised, the nature of faith changes unrecognisably.

There are also some so called Bohras who have made it their mission to convert mumineen to Wahhabism, which is a radical Sunni faith born about 150 years ago. Their faith, like that of all Wahhabis, is based on the central belief that Allah has no interceders and to believe in the divinity of anyone, including that of Rasulullah (SAW) or the Ahl ul-Bait (SA) is blasphemy. According to this belief then, there is no choice but to adopt the faith and religion of the strictest Sunni, and reject the wasayat of Amir ul-Mumineen (SA), the importance of shahadat

of Imam Husain (SA) and defend instead, innovations such as tarawi and accept the caliphate of even the likes of Muawiyya. For a person with a Bohra upbringing, this may seem strange, but then it is not new in history. About five centuries ago, a man named Ja’afar, also born to a Bohra family and privileged to acquire religious learning, turned against his faith of birth and adopted Sunnism. Not only that, but he destroyed the lives and souls of thousands
of believers whom he either converted or tyrannised.

Of late, we have witnessed yet another leaf from the pages of history. A man claimed that the Dai was unaware that people around him had innovative beliefs and that these people had made him inaccessible. He wished that this innovation be brought to the attention of the Dai, not by approaching the Dai, but by sending material to mumineen by email and CDs and in the process, create confusion and make mischief. What such a stance does is cause a distortion in the belief in an infallible and immaculate guide, for it implies that the Dai is not only unaware of things going on around him, but can also be moved to act one way or the other by the pressures of others rather than by the guidance of the Allah!
There is not much difference between this position and that of the reformists. Both standpoints belittle the status of the Dai and move away from the fundamental belief in a Dai who sees with the light of Allah, whom Allah protects from all error and who is truly the Rabb (lord) of the Dawat. Once that belief is lost, the edifice of faith crumbles.

The path to salvation is narrow and brittle. It is easy to fall astray and be wrong. If the fundamental belief is not protected and adhered to, if it is not nurtured with whatever means we have, faith can be lost. And when faith is lost, life itself becomes meaningless.

Thus we beseech Allah many times in our prayers each day Ehdinas siratal mustaqeem, keep us always on the straight path.

by: Shaikh Mustafa Abdulhussein