In previous articles, we have explored different Ayat (verses) and Surah (chapters) of the Holy Qur’an as a way of deepening our piety. Today we will focus on Surah al-Ma’idah which contains some of the last verses received by Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him and his family). The entirety of this Surah was revealed during the final two years of the Prophet’s life.
Many of us are familiar with the Surah’s third Ayat which reads: “This day I have perfected for you your religion, and completed My Blessing upon you, and have approved for you Islam as your religion.” (5:3). Some scholars believe that this was the final verse revealed to the Prophet before his passing in the year 632. This and a number of other verses in the Qur’an were revealed during the Prophet’s final sermon at Ghadir-e Khumm.
Today, let us see the verse which reads: “Your protector is only God and His Messenger and those who believe, who perform the prayer and give charity while bowing down.” (5:55)
In this verse we are told by Allah that in addition to Himself, our protectors include His Messenger, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), believers and the curious phrase those “who perform the prayer and give charity while bowing down.” In both Sunni and Shi’a sources, there are specific mentions to this being a reference to Hazrat Ali (alay-hi salaam). According to these accounts, this verse refers to a specific incident in which our beloved first Imam Hazrat Ali (a.s), while praying and in a state of prostration, gave his ring to a man who requested charity from him.
This verse is seen as encouraging the practice of charity and recommends that believers aim to emulate Mawlana Ali’s high degree of virtue. For even while in prayer, he avoided delay in giving something to someone in need, even if that meant waiting only for a few minutes until the end of the prayer. Shi’a Muslims often refer to this ayat as the “verse of wilaya” and believe that spiritual authority of Hazrat Ali is sanctioned in this verse after that of Allah and His Prophet.
The word wilaya in Arabic comes from the same root as the word mawla and has overlapping meanings: friend, protector, guardian and leader. The verse of Wilaya can also signify a nearness or closeness in the way that Hazrat Ali was very dear and near to the Holy Prophet. Wilaya is an important concept in Shi’ism and Al-Wali is often translated as the Protector, which is one of God’s Most Beautiful Names.
As we celebrate Mawlana Hazar Imam (Aga Khan lV)’s 84th Birthday on December 13, it is also an opportunity to continue to think of those less fortunate than ourselves. While charity is often thought of as material means, it can take many forms. The Prophet, in a hadith, once called an expression of a smile also a form of charity. In fact, anything that we have and can offer someone who is impoverished is an act of charity. This could mean sharing of our time, knowledge and expertise. It could also mean our compassion and dedication.
It is in this verse, that we also see that charity is linked to piety. While Hazrat Ali (a.s) continued to pray, he also understood that he had a duty to his fellow human beings. While prayers links us to our Creator, it is our charitable acts which link us to our human family and remind us of the many who are less fortunate than us. While we celebrate, there are many in the world who suffer.
Suffering is not something that happens only outside our neighborhoods or national borders. It is all around us and takes many forms. While there are those who suffer that we see and feel, there are many who suffer in silence. Financial woes, loneliness and other physical, emotional and mental health concerns often cause much anxiety; stress can even cause great disillusionment with the world.
It is our responsibility as Muslims, as global citizens and as God’s creatures to ease the burden of those in need if we are able to. It is also important to teach our children the skills of empathy, compassion and reflection so that they too are moved by the sorry state of others. As we prepare ourselves for the upcoming holiday season welcoming the new year 2021, let us find time to pray for those in need, and, where possible, aspire to be like our beloved Imam, whose example is safeguarded in the verses of the Holy Qur’an.