By: Sadruddin Noorani, Chicago, USA
Rabi’ al-Thani, also known as Rabi’ al-Aakhir, is the fourth month of the Islamic Calendar. Focusing on its literal meaning, it means the second month of Spring. As the Islamic Calendar, also known as the Hijri calendar, is based on the Lunar system, every month starts with observing the first crescent of the new moon. The Lunar year is shorter than the normal Gregorian calendar year by 10 to 11 Days. The Islamic Calendar can be seen migrating through all four seasons.
Principle of Imamat: Yad Allah (The Hand of Allah)
Over time, Muslim commentators came to understand the Holy Quran in two different, but interrelated ways. One approach was to understand the verses from a historical viewpoint, as relating to events and situations in the life of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Another approach was to find meanings in the Quran which were universal, and therefore, applicable to people in all times and places. Last ChandRaat of Rabi’ al Awwal, October 2020, we explored the Quranic metaphor of habl Allah (the rope of God). This month, we will explore the Quranic metaphor of yad Allah (hand of God) through both historical and universal approaches.
The Holy Quran says “(O Prophet) Verily, those who give you their allegiance, they give it but to Allah (Himself); Allah’s hand is upon their hands. Then he who breaks it, he certainly breaks it against himself. And he fulfills what he has pledged with Allah, He shall in return reward him in plenty.“ (Sura al-Fatah, 48:10)
This Quranic verse was revealed when the Prophet and a number of his followers gathered under a tree in a place called Hudaybiyya. The Prophet asked for the allegiance of his followers which they gave by placing their hands on the Prophet’s hand as per Arab custom. In Muslim tradition, this pledge is known as Bayat al-Ridwan, the pledge which pleased God. This is evident in the words of the verse ‘God’s hand (yad Allah) is upon their hands.’ In the Shia tradition, the Imams, as the Prophet’s direct descendants, represent the hand of God and it is to them that the faithful give their Bay’ah (pledge of allegiance). In doing so, they also pledge their allegiance to God and the Prophet. The first Imam to receive Bay’ah from the Muslims was Hazrat Ali (a.s). They pledged allegiance to him at Ghadir-e-Khumm, where the Prophet declared Hazrat Ali to be the Mawla (lord or master) of the Muslims.
During the Fatimid period, Nasir Khusraw, a poet and philosopher (1004-1088) was particularly troubled by the metaphor of yad Allah (hand of God), because it seems to give special status to those who lived at the time of Prophet Muhammad and therefore were able to personally give their allegiance to God through His Prophet. In Nasir Khusraw’s view, divine justice demanded that all Muslims be able to give Bay’ah to God through His chosen representatives. Nasir Khusraw believed that the hand of God must be a universal metaphor thus not limited to the time of Prophet Muhammad. The thirst to see the hand of God inspired Nasir Khusraw to embark on a journey. His search ended once he arrived in Cairo and gave his allegiance to 18th Fatimid Imam-Caliph al-Mustansir Billah (a.s) (1036-1095).
The metaphor of ‘hand of God’ continues to hold deep meaning for Ismaili Muslims today. We give Bay’ah to Hazar Imam, Shah Karim al-Hussaini (Aga Khan IV), just as the Muslims in the Prophet’s time gave their Bay’ah to him, and the first Shia followers gave their Bay’ah to Imam Hazrat Ali (a.s).
We honor our pledge to Allah (swt) through the Prophet and the Imams of the time. The preamble of the Ismaili Constitution refers to this act of Bay’ah, “The authority of the Imam in the Ismaili Tariqah is testified by the Bay’ah by the murid to the Imam which is the act of acceptance by the murid of the permanent spiritual bond between the Imam and the murid. This allegiance unites all Ismaili Muslims worldwide in their loyalty, devotion, and obedience to the Imam within the Islamic concept of universal brotherhood…”
It is Hazar Imam’s acceptance of our Bay’ah which privileges the worldwide Ismaili Muslim community with access to his guidance as his followers throughout our lives. However, this also places a responsibility on all of our shoulders to ensure that we too fulfill our part of the commitment by adhering to his guidance for us. He said, “...my wish for the decades ahead is that you stand firmly by the principles and the ethics of our faith. Wherever you are, whatever age you are, whatever you do in your lives, it is essentially important to me that the principles of our faith should be respected every day of your lives. This is my hope and this is my prayer.” Source
Let us reflect on this particular wish of Mawlana Hazar Imam and pledge to fulfill our commitment to stand firmly by the principles and the ethics of our faith which derives from the very Bay’ah we have all given symbolically to the “yad Allah” (hand of God) of our times.
Thank you for sharing this beautiful piece. I love how you blended the historical and universal aspects of Bayat al-Ridwan and the subsequent Bay’ah that we can all give symbolically to the hand of God. It is a testimony to the universal brotherhood of Islam that speaks volumes to this day. Beautifully written!
I really like the historical approach to the Quranic metaphor. It was very interesting to know the historical context behind it.
Both Chandraat and Milad-un-Nabi articles written by Sadruddin Noorani are very well articulated. Excellent references from Quran, Farman and Ismaili Constitution.
Thankyou for adding so much in our knowledge.