Rabi` al-Awwal and the Shi’as

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All praise to Allah. We praise Him, we seek His help, we beg His forgiveness, we believe in Him and we rely upon Him. We seek refuge in Allah from the evil within ourselves; and from our evil deeds. Whomsoever Allah has guided none can mislead, and whom He causes to go astray none can lead aright. We bear witness that none is worthy of worship save Allah; and we bear witness that Muhammad is the servant and messenger of Allah. O Allah, shower salutations and blessings upon our Master and Leader Muhammad, and upon his family and Companions.

Last month, Rabi’ al-Awwal, was a special month. It was the month in which Sayyiduna Rasulullah [sallallaahu alayhi wasallam] was born. To many people, both Sunni and Shi`i, it was an occasion of joy that had to be celebrated. Gatherings were held for the purpose of discussing the sirah of Rasulullah [sallallaahu alayhi wasallam], disseminating information about his life and renewing love for him and commitment to his cause.

As the month of the birth of Rasululluh [sallallaahu alayhi wasallam], Rabi’ al-Awwal has traditionally become a time in which to discuss particularly his birth and the events that occured around it. Important and significant though that topic may be, and as deeply as the narration of those events might stir one’s emotions, sight must never be lost of the fact that the birth of our Nabi [sallallaahu alayhi wasallam] cannot be divorced from his actual life, just like his life cannot be seen in isolation of his achievements. It is probably on account of this that the birth of Rasulullah [sallallaahu alayhi wasallam] was never seen by the Muslims of the first seven centuries of Islâm as an individual event on the Muslim calendar.

To the Ahl as-Sunnah wal-Jama’ah the mission of Rasulullah [sallallaahu alayhi wasallam] reached its zenith during his last years. First there was the Year of the Deputations, when the people of the Arabian peninsula entered Islam in their thousands. A lifetime of struggle was nearing completion, and Allah informed His Messenger of his approaching departure from this world in the revelation of Surah al-Nasr: “When the help of Allah and victory comes, and you see the people entering the Din of Allah in their multitudes, then celebrate the praises of your Lord and seek His forgiveness. Indeed He is Oft-forgiving.”

Then followed the Farewell Hajj, and Allah revealed to him: “Today I have completed for you your faith, and fulfilled my favour upon you, and I chose Islam as your religion.”

At last came the day, shortly before his demise, when he was on his deathbed. In the masjid adjoining his house he could hear the Muslims, the products of his 23-year toil and struggle, being led in salah by his confidante and lifelong friend Abu-Bakr [radhiallaahu anhu]. It was he himself who had insisted upon Abu Bakr to be their Imaam in salah, and whenever it had been possible he had joined the congregation, Abu Bakr giving way for him to lead. But this time it was not with the intention of joining the jama’ah that he opened the curtain. It was to take a final inspection of the fruits of his labour. And as he looked, a smile appeared upon his noble face…

That was the last time the community saw their Nabi [sallallaahu alayhi wasallam] alive. Not long thereafter the Mercy to the Worlds [sallallaahu alayhi wasallam], left this world, but not before he had expressed his satisfaction with his companions, being led in the salah – that most significant of all duties – by his own appointee, Abu Bakr as-Siddîq [radhiallaahu anhu]. The embodiment of Mercy had left the world, but his mission of Guidance and Mercy would continue, its standards being carried aloft by those with whom he had expressed his satisfaction. And why should he not be satisfied with them when Allah Ta’ala Himself expressed His satisfaction with them in revelation that will be recited by all, friend or foe, upto the end of time.

To the Shi`ah too, Rabi` al-Awwal is a special month. They too, celebrate the birth of Rasulullah [sallallaahu alayhi wasallam]. But one is at pains to see how their particular view of the history of Islam – in which the usage of terms like “usurpation”, “oppression” “deviation” in connection with the Sahabah [radhiallaahu anhu], recur with alarming frequency – allows them to rejoice not only the birth, but also the life of Rasulullah [sallallaahu alayhi wasallam], and the success of his mission. The success of his mission depended, in their way of thinking, upon the accession of Sayyidunâ ‘Ali [radhiallaahu anhu], to the spiritual and temporal leadership of the community. When that did not happen it constituted to the Shi`i mind the destruction of the mission of Rasulullah [sallallaahu alayhi wasallam]. Ayatullah Khumayni was therefore giving an honest reflection when he declared in a speech delivered on the occasion of the birth of the Awaited Mahdi that the mission of all prophets, including Rasulullah [sallallaahu alayhi wasallam], was singularly to establish justice upon earth. All of them, including Sayyiduna Muhammad [sallallaahu alayhi wasallam], says Khumayni, failed to achieve that purpose, and that is why the Mahdi is needed.