Hawzah News Agency (Karbala, Iraq) - Grand Ayatollah Sayed Mohammad Taqi al-Modarresi issued a letter to Universal Muslims Association of America.
In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful
Respected scholars and community leaders, civic and political activists, honorable guests and attendees of the Universal Muslims Association of America, Assalam Alaikom.
From the Islamic seminary in the Holy City of Karbala I send you greetings of peace and prayers for prosperity. I also send you the blessings of Imam Hussein, a man who stood up for the cause of justice, freedom, and godly principles and became a legendary martyr in that cause. A man who treated his dear son the same loving way as the black Christian slave who died defending Hussein. His majestic shrine here in the holy city of Karbala is thus the focal point of over twenty million people who participate in the biggest annual pilgrimage known as Arbaeen.
The world is now a global village and communities are more connected than ever before. No matter how many walls we build, there will always be more bridges that connect us. For better or worse, we are all in the same boat. So we need a clear vision for the future and robust theories that help tackle our common challenges.
To Muslims in America, I say, first, we must ask; who are we? Are we aliens living in a foreign land? Or are we part and parcel of this nation? Do we abandon our identity? Or do we remain attached to our home countries? Do we engage in the internal affairs of those far away regions and live in isolation, shielding ourselves from the host culture, or we do adopt this country as our permanent abode?
The Prophet has famously said, خير الأوطان ما حملك. Meaning, The best home is the one that provides for you.
And since this country has provided for you opportunities not afforded to you elsewhere, then you must believe that it will forever be your home.
But what about our religion and the big role it plays in our lives? Do we hold on to everything in it as it is practiced in Muslim countries? What about certain rites and rituals which may be unsuited to this environment? These are questions we must address or risk losing our identity and values.
For most people, religion has been meshed with culture and while culture has its value, it is separate from religion. While culture is subject to change, faith is divine and sublime.
Even within the framework of religion, we must define priorities and make a distinction between what is important and what is more important. Thus, we can prioritize and if must be, sacrifice the lesser for the greater. In short, there are rules, then there are cardinal rules.
One narration states: من اشتغل بالمهم ضيَّع الأهم
“Whoever gets occupied by things that are important, will risk losing that which is more important.”
Between these two is a very fine and delicate line, because every country has its own unique conditions and evolving norms, but jurists have the ability to do so - with God’s help.
Focusing on the family unit, education, and community is key. We must empower our women and provide them with every resource to take their rightful position as not passive participants, but leaders in our common struggles, seeking inspiration from lives of such legendary heroins as Lady Zainab who challenged the most vile tyrant of her day, shaking his throne and destroying his evil empire but little more than her voice.
Not only should we promote the value of community gatherings on Fridays and Eids, but to galvanize community members for positive social, economic, and political change. You must participate in public life and be good citizens. We must foster cooperation at every level, helping those in lower socioeconomic stages to reach higher and become productive members of society.
We must work toward establishing religious seminaries in the United States, which would produce indigenous faith leaders and - in the long term - even jurists (Maraje’a) who can crystallize a vision of the future compatible with the community’s needs and unique qualities. These scholars would
maintain a close tie with their counterparts in the major seminaries and bring the world of religious scholarship to a modern western context.
In short, I explore the Muslim community to strive for positive integration on all levels of life in the United States; culturally, politically, and economically while maintaining our values and faith traditions, in line with the teachings and examples of the Ahlulbayt.
You must engage with the wider community; your neighbors, co-workers, classmates are members of the human family. Instead of being an indignant minority, lead the charge to improving the lives of everyone around you and making a positive change.
Prophets and divinely appointed apostles never came with the intent of ruling over people, but to serve them with social justice. Even when they did reach positions of authority, they refused to use those positions for personal gain. When he was chosen as leader of fifty of today’s countries, stretching from Morocco in the Western tip of Africa, to the Russian republic of Dagestan in the heart of Asia, in what was a global superpower that had defeated both the Roman and Persian empires, Imam Ali, moved from his native city of Madinah to the capital city of Kufa. In his first public address as supreme ruler, he said that I have come here with only two shirts and my mule. If, at the end of my tenure I leave you with anything more than that, then I have betrayed you and that I will never do. He also instructed his governors to listen to the people, consult them on policy matters, and treat everyone with justice and equity irrespective of race or creed, famously declaring the statement now etched across history; “people are of two types; either your brothers in faith, or your equals in humanity”.
He refused to have bodyguards, making himself accessible to everyone. A Jewish man once came to Medina seeking an audience with the ruler. To his surprise, he was pointed in the direction of a man resting under a tree. No bodyguards, no security detail, just an old man lying in the shadow of a date palm! Astonished, the man said to Imam Ali; your justice is your security and why you have no fear of being assassinated. He had enemies, as you would if you so radically sought to challenge the status quo, enemies who would insult him to his face, but he let them be so long as he was their sole target and citizens were safe.
But perhaps the most notable aspect of Imam Ali’s system of government was his unwavering commitment to the poor, the voiceless, the minorities. He lived the life of the poorest of his citizens so he could empathize with them and not be swayed by the hypnotizing allure of power and money. “Good and silver should find another to deceive“ he would declare. “This authority that I’ve got is to me worth less than the mucus of a sneezing goat, unless I can use it to restore justice for those oppressed”.
It is these legendary stories of moral courage that have immortalized Imam Ali such that we continue to be inspired by him 14,000 years after his passing.
In a toxic climate characterized by ignorance and intolerance, the world needs examples like his and more leaders willing to resist egoistic temptations and upholding universal values of justice, compassion, love, and equity for all.