I swear by the time,
Most surely man is in loss,
Except those who believe and do good, and enjoin on each other truth, and enjoin on each other patience.
Quran, Surah al-Asr (The Time) (103), Verses 1-3
The truth is something very important, and it should always be adhered to – if a mistake is made by someone – regardless of who – a Grand Ayatullah, or a small peasant, then the mistake is a mistake – regardless. To cover up the truth of the mistake and attempt to cloak it – to make statements such as “for the sake of unity”, “it will damage the Ummah”, “the people are not ready for it”, as have been made in the past and continue to be made in regard to covering mistakes which have hence been exposed and on exposure have proceeded to destroy those who covered the truth.
In Islam, we know that to lie, to cover up the truth essentially when you are fully aware of it is a very serious thing to do. It is completely against ANY Islamic Teachings. Even the concept of Taqiyyah1 – whereby you say or do something to protect your life – is an activity that is done for a finite time and even then it is done as a last resort when one’s life is in jeopardy.
Lying is something which has been spoken extensively in Quran, and it is amongst the worst of the vices that a human can have – regardless of who that person may be. The Prophets, the Prophet Muhammad, the Aimmah have all enjoined us to TRUTH, and have always forbidden us from falsehood.
Imam Husayn’s revolution had many slogans attached to it (narrated to us through ahadith), among such slogans was a statement from one of the many sermons of Imam Husayn prior to the event of Ashura, where our beloved Aba Abdillah said – and I’ve paraphrased:
When a person, sees a time, whereby the truth is made false and the false is rendered as true, then it is incumbent upon that person to rise and resist this corruption, even if the cost should be his life.
In Quran, as I have quoted above, in Surah al-Asr, God says to us that he is swearing by the passage of time, by the movement of time, something which is for us, since God exists beyond the realms of time and space, he then says mankind is at a loss – i.e. it is darkness and confusion. But his statement, subhan Allah, is conditional, he then makes a number of conditions for NOT being at a loss. I will now list and elaborate on these conditions a little, that perhaps we can understand how we can prevent ourselves from succumbing to this darkness and destruction:
Except those who believe
This is the first condition. Those who believe in God and the Last Day, that is to say those who believe in God and the last day from ANY faith system – remember God is addressing humanity here – “mankind” – not the Muslims or the believers – this is a more general statement, it is addressing the entire Human Family.
He says clearly “Except those who believe” – that can be defined from other verses of Quran, but all add up to essentially the same thing, and since the phrase believer is not an exclusive term purely for Muslims – since it is known that as per Quran, there will be some believers from amongst the Christians, Jews and Sabians, etc.
Surely those who believe and those who are Jews and the Sabians and the Christians whoever believes in God and the last day and does good– they shall have no fear nor shall they grieve.
Quran, Surah al-Maidah (The Table Spread) (5), Verse 69
It is important to realise that this gives us a baseline universal definition of the believer. In that, it is someone who believes in God and the Last Day and does good.
Therefore, where in Quran God states, “Except those who believe”, he is talking about the generic definition of those who believe – those who believe in God (i.e. who believe in a God), and the Last Day – that is to say they believe in a deity, in God, and who believe that there is a day of reckoning where humanity will be brought to account for each and every one of their actions.
There is, of course, the argument of the verses of completion:
O, Messenger! Deliver what has been revealed to you from your Lord; and if you do it not, then you have not delivered His message, and God will protect you from the people; surely God will not guide the unbelieving people.
Quran, Surah al-Ma’idah (The Table Spread) (5), Verse 67
This day have I perfected for you, your religion and completed My favour on you and chosen for you Islam as a religion.
Quran, Surah al-Maidah (The Table Spread) (5), Verse 3
And while this does say that the religion chosen by God is, in fact, Islam, there is a provision here. When the verse was delivered by God to the Prophet, and from the Prophet to humanity; the meaning of Islam, the understanding of Islam was clear and apparent.
The situation today is not so much; Islam sadly has been hijacked by those who care little for Islam, rather who care acutely for this world and its trappings, who care not for social justice and honour, but who rape societies and indeed act in the most dishonourable manner; all the while they profess Islam. As a result, the world sees Islam through this polluted lens. They see Islam – and indeed the same can be said of all three of the divine monotheistic faiths; Judaism, Christianity and Islam – as something dark and forbidding; as something that is unattractive, that engenders violence and terror.
They see Islam as an entity that beheads mindlessly, that oppresses women and takes away all their rights, that encourages a massively patriarchal society; one where the mother has no rights and is relegated to being either a baby factory or a kitchen maid, and one who cannot be permitted to even drive or speak.
This understanding of Islam is, in reality, the antithesis of what the real Islam – the true Islam – delivered by Prophet Muhammad and protected and taught by the Ahl al-Bayt actually is.
Therefore, the author herein opines, that the first priority is for people to submit to the divine, to have faith in that which is greater than them; that is critical; secondly they must then strive, and learn, and work, to sift the truth from falsehood, and this is, in fact, the essence of this verse that we are attempting to understand.
In order to actually believe, as this portion says as a condition for not being lost and damaged by the passage of time, to have that real belief in the divine perfection, to fall into the divine entity; this requires one to in fact perform good deeds, to be steadfast to the truth and to be patient in searching for the truth.
The first priority is that people move towards the Truth, this will move the traveller into the realm of belief, as long as they ensure they perform good deeds, and spread kindness and justice around them; as long as they ensure they are patience in the face of adversities and challenges, and encourage themselves to be true.
This is the beauty of Quran; where a sentence, a verse even, is in-fact a meta-verse; self-describing; where the start of the verse is, in fact, its destination (to attain belief), and the remainder provide the pathway to reach the destination.
The same is the case with the roots of Islam, the core principles of Islam, what we refer to as the Usul ad-Deen. God willing, these will be discussed in a future paper for the sake of brevity and staying on-topic.
An important addition here is that belief in the Divine, by its very definition requires belief in a day of reckoning, a day of accounting; whence the souls are sorted, wheat from the chaff. This is something that any person who believes in the Divine, who yearns for the Divine understands innately and intrinsically; as a result, I have not dwelled on this idea as it is my opinion that the two (belief in the Divine, and belief in the judgement/reckoning) are conjoined as concepts.
The idea of Truth, Divine Truth more so, requires Justice; since truth without justice is by definition only partial. Justice requires by definition Judgement, ipso facto, the two are conjoined.
This is enough for the first condition, now onto the second condition:
And who do good deeds
The definition of good and bad is universal, everyone knows – what good is and what is evil. To harm someone is bad, to conceal the truth is bad, to attribute false statements is bad, to kill someone is bad, etc. To be kind to people – in any way possible, even if it be it a smile – is good, to respect others and not to hurt people’s feelings is good, to be strong in the face of an oppressor is good, to defend the rights of the oppressed is good, etc.
The definitions are all through Quran, and within each and every one of us, it is us who through hardening our hearts confuse the good and bad, the truth and falsehood. In Quran, in Surah al-Insaan (Humanity), God, the Mighty the Wise, tells us regarding humanity’s knowledge of the truth:
There surely came over man a period of time when he was a thing not worth mentioning.
Surely We have created man from a small life-germ uniting (itself):
We mean to try him, so We have made him hearing, seeing.
Surely We have shown him the way: he may be thankful or unthankful.
Quran, Surah al-Insan(Humanity) (76), Verses 1 – 3
God has said clearly that He has shown us the way, that is why we have common sayings, in all cultures, communities and societies – irrespective of creedal background – that children – infants – always say things how they are. Pundits will suggest this is the case because they (the children/infants) are not “sophisticated enough to understand it exactly” – but the child – the infant sees things as they are – in their true form, it is through our evil actions (conscious or unconscious) that result in us not seeing as a child, but seeing a warped reality based on our own circumstances – something known as latent subjectivity.
Sometimes, as was said by Zachariah, the Prophet, a requirement for someone to enter the Kingdom of God, is that they go back to being like a child – in other words – that they go back to that innocence, that they rekindle that love for the Divine that the passage of time erodes, unless this is nurtured and kept alive through the performance of good deeds, and through the exercising of patience and resilience in the face of all adversity – internal and external; and above all moving towards the absolute Truth.
The third condition placed by God in this verse of Surah al-Asr is:
And who enjoin each other to Truth
This is a very important condition, it is essentially saying that everyone is at a loss, i.e. humanity is at a loss, except those who possess the previous two conditions (belief in god and the last day, and the performance good deeds), and who enjoin each other to the truth – thereby defining the position of the truth within humanity – it is a key requirement for the protection of humanity from destruction and loss.
There is a logic to this also if someone is a liar, then they make one “white” lie – for example – they then have to generate multiple “not so white” lies to cover the original lie, thereby resulting in a snowball of lies and falsehoods.
After a period of constantly indulging in this activity the person who is constantly lying develops an alternate reality – a reality of the lie, and the actual reality. The two of which may be completely disassociated from each other. This can lead ultimately to serious personality and psychological disorders including pseudologia fantastica (pathological or psychological lying), where the lies become so intricate, so extreme and interwoven that they almost blur the line between one’s concept of reality and fantasy.
That is on the individual level. On a societal level, if a society habitually lies to cover its perceived faults instead of actually dealing with the causes of the faults – the results are devastating. The society becomes suspicious of itself, the issue of trust goes flying out of the proverbial window, and the related vices become worse and worse.
A stage develops where new entrants into that society – the children – can see the lies and falsehoods for what they are – they can see the cancer of corruption and deceit and begin to move themselves away from the society and go to other societies regarding which they have less information, and hence do not mistrust as much, or are able to trust – ultimately resulting in the disintegration of society.
When new people enter the society, through discovering an affinity to the ideology of said society, or through finding companionship with an existing member, they are generally looked upon with suspicion and disdain. In some cases, shunned and ostracised. If ethnically they do not share enough characteristics, they are looked upon as some sort of alien. This creates damage within both the newcomer as well as the society as a whole, resulting in – once more – people moving away from the Truth.
Every once in awhile to such a society a person has the strength of character to stand up and say enough of this deceit – let us be honest that we have a problem – this was the task performed by our beloved Prophet and Imams – however, generally this causes the society to react negatively to that person – as was seen in the revolution of the Prophet Muhammad, of Jesus, son of Mary, of Moses, and of the Ahl al-Bayt and the righteous Companions – such as Ammar ibn Yasir, Maythem at-Tammar or Abu Dhar al-Ghaffari – to name but a few.
Thankfully, there are some within any society who when warned of the problems, wake up and see the problem, and then work to take remedial action, to reform the society. There are many examples of this, from both yesteryear and today, examples such as Imam Khomeini, such as Ayatollah Fadlallah, such as both Shaheed al-Sadr I2 and Shaheed al-Sadr II3 and more besides.
Ultimately of all the social vices, the worst is social kufr – yes kufr – since those who know Arabic the root verb of the word “kufr” is K-F-R – which means to cover up. Kufr is merely the adjective – the doing word – the act of covering up is known as kufr.
Now, Islamically, there are multiple layers of kufr, this is agreed as a matter of consensus between the jurists across all the schools of thought, just like with any act, there are levels of this act, superficial to ingrained.
There is a possibility of being a kafir (a doer of kufr) in a single thing – such as one who covers up something they know as being true.
For example, a person who knows that onion he’s selling is rotten – but sells is it, professing its qualities as good to an innocent buyer – that is a form of kufr. The truth – that said onions were, in fact, rotten, is covered up when pitching the sale of onions to the potential buyer. As a result, the buyer decides based on a deception, a lie.
There is the kufr of someone who knows that person X is doing something wrong but chooses to instead not speak against that person and instead speaks in favour of that person. That is another form of kufr, there are many other levels or layers of kufr, which all if not dealt with quickly and allowed to ferment lead to the worst form of kufr, which is the complete denial of Truth and the triumph of falsehood.
The next and final condition for protection against being at a loss, as per Quran, is:
And those who enjoin each other to patience
This is a very important condition, since it tells us – in advance – that following the three conditions above requires a large amount of patience and forbearance – patience itself is a vast subject4. The notion that we can cover it in this paper is invalid, however, we can gloss over and at least understand briefly what it at the very least means:
Abu Hamza Thumali, one of the famous and sincere followers of the Prophet’s Ahl-ul-Bait and a principal member of the righteous Shi’ite movement quotes from his leader and teacher, Imam Muhammad aI-Baqir, as saying: “When the last moments of his life arrived, my father Ali ibn al-Husayn held me close to his chest and said: My son I, recommend to you what my father (Imam Husayn) recommended to me at the last Moments of his life. My son always stand for truth even if it is bitter”5.
“From Fiqh al-Ridha’ We narrate of the wills of the prophets, peace be upon them. Be patient for truth, even if it is bitter.”6
The will of all the divine prophets for their successors/vicegerents, inheritors, trustees, flag carriers of divine movements, and students of the divine school of thought has always been:
“Stand for the truth and be patient, even if it is bitter and inconvenient.”
On the basis of these traditions, patience is can be understood as the resistance shown by a person on the road towards perfection against mischief, corruption and degradation. Which can be compared to the example of a mountaineer who, in order to reach the peak, has to face internal as well as external obstacles or barriers.
Patience by its very nature is the act of resistance, resistance to difficulties and inconveniences, and resistance in the face of trials and tribulations.
Suffice it to say that the traditions mentioned above are complementing the words of God in this Surah; when God is clearly saying that patience and truth are key components to adhere to in order to not become one who is destroyed by the march of time, and become from those who are in a state of complete loss.
Returning to the subject; which was the covering up of the truth, and disclosing a falsehood as the truth, for whatever reason.
The behaviour is simply not Islamic, and those who practice it cannot in all fairness call themselves Muslims, they have set foot into the dangerous terrain of kufr, as elaborated above.
This idea of fake news that has permeated the internet as of late. News stories that are “spun” to achieve a specific goal, or promote a particular person or agenda; these fall into this mechanism.
This article was initially written as a response to the events in Iraq in 2004; however, the underlying message and lesson is useful and indeed like Quran something timeless and applicable always. In scribing this version, I have attempted to remove the more specific points as they serve no purpose here7.
And all Tawfeeq is only from God <38
Due to the length of this article, I have now decided to make a text-to-speech version available, so that it can be listened to as well as read, for the convenience of the viewer.
A discussion on the concept of Truth from an Islamic perspective, and the dangers of hypocrisy and lying. Audio version of the article at: https://shabbir.hassanally…
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- More information on the concept of Taqiyyah can be found here https://www.al-islam.org/taqiyyah-sayyid-akhtar-rizvi/taqiyyah
- Shaheed as-Sadr I is Ayatullah Shaheed Sayyed Muhammad Baqir as-Sadr – for more on him please see http://www.islamicinsights.com/religion/clergy-corner/remembering-shaheed-al-sadr.html
- Shaheed as-Sadr II is Ayatullah Shaheed Muhammad Sadiq as-Sadr – for more on him please see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mohammad_Mohammad_Sadeq_al-Sadr while this is not the best source, for information on him – it will serve as a useful starting point, since most material on Sadr II is available in Arabic, and has yet to be translated.
- There is an excellent series of lectures by Imam Khamenei on the subject of patience, that have been compiled into the book entitled “Discourses on Patience”; for anyone wanting to understand this deeply important subject, please refer to this book. An online copy can be obtained from https://www.al-islam.org/discourses-patience-ayatullah-sayyid-ali-khamenei
- al-Kafi vol. 2
- Bihar al-Anwar
- The original discussion can be found here http://www.shiachat.com/forum/topic/39499-shia-clerics-deny-opposing-resistance/ cached version can be found here https://www.evernote.com/shard/s30/sh/2085e6a4-5ea5-49ac-ad35-775acfb38a0f/17b2eff577c649d3da4670ea938f4f1e
- This article was first published in Shafaqna English on April 28, 2017