The Holy Relics
by Sayyid Mohsen Rizvi
In the name of Allah, the most gracious, and the most merciful! The Lord of the creation has designed various schemes to remind the human beings of their duties and responsibilities. Although everything in the greater universe is a reminder of the Might and Glory of Allah (swt), however there are specific signs, symbolic objects and rituals that are established by the Divine Will to serve as a reminder so that a believer remains steadfast on the straight path of guidance. On the apparent, these signs, symbolic objects and ritualistic practices may appear very perplexing and primitive to some, especially to those who have trained their intellect to scan the reality on the surface without reaching the essence of the reality. The Holy Qur’an and the traditions of the Prophet (saw) have conveyed a comprehensive message that signifies the essence of symbolism in Islam. Hajj, which is an obligatory act of worship, is an evident example of symbolism and rituals that are considered as worship. These symbolic objects and the obligatory rituals that surround our experience of Hajj are established not just to venerate and fulfill the rituals in a frantic environment and acquire the label of a Haji, rather it is a divine plan to bestow the opportunity to the believers to ponder and comprehend the essence behind these symbols and rituals.
Among the signs, symbols and rituals that Allah (swt) have established in the form of Hajj - in order to convey a profound message of guidance - there are also relics of the messengers, the divine leaders, the martyrs, and the people of God that are also considered by Holy Qur’an as divine signs & symbols that conveys the message of guidance to humanity. Before we learn from Qur’an on this subject, we must first understand the distinction between the material and the abstract aspect of signs and symbols. Those signs or symbols that have NO bearing or concernment with Islam have no spiritual or material value in the mind of a believer, and this is the scope of the topic. But any sign or symbol that conveys the message of truth, remind the believers of the straight path, cries out the eminence of a martyr who sacrificed everything for the sake of Allah (swt), then it doesn’t matter if that symbol is a remnant of the men of God or just a manmade symbol, if it brings to attention to the love and obedience to Allah (swt) then all these signs and symbols are adorned at the stage of sanctity.
The Qur’an declares the significance of holy relics in the chapter of Al-Baqara when Allah (swt) made Talut the authority over the nation because of his superiority in knowledge and strength, the Qur’an quotes the words of a messenger in the following verse - And their prophet said to them: Surely Allah has raised Talut to be a king over you. They said: How can he hold kingship over us while we have a greater right to kingship than he, and he has not been granted an abundance of wealth? He said: Surely Allah has chosen him in preference to you, and He has increased him abundantly in knowledge and physique, and Allah grants His kingdom to whom He pleases, and Allah is Amplegiving, Knowing [2:247]. The true authority over a nation is bestowed by Allah (swt), and it is always based on the merits, like knowledge and physical strength as mentioned in the above verse. Those who have material wealth, but lack knowledge and wisdom and don’t stand anywhere on the scale of valor and strength can only be the leader of that nation that assert that Qur’an is sufficient for us, and at the same time ignore the message of Qur’an. The next verse declares that - And the prophet said to them: Surely the sign of His kingdom is, that there shall come to you the chest in which there is tranquility from your Lord and residue of the relics of what the children of Musa and the children of Haroun have left, the angels bearing it; most surely there is a sign in this for those who believe [2:248]. In other words, Authority & leadership is a bestowal of Allah (swt), and He gives His Kingdom to whoever he pleases, in other words.
The sign of the kingdom of Talut is that a chest will be bestowed by Allah (swt) as peace and tranquility to the nation. The Arabic word for the chest is (Taboot) /التَّابُوتُ), which is a sign of a kingdom/mulk that is bestowed by Allah (swt), and it is as a means of peace and tranquility for the believers. The angels are demonstrating the sacredness of the chest by bearing it with reverence because inside it is the relics of the children of Musa and the children of Haroun. The Arabic word for relics is (تَرَكَ/Taraka) which can also be interpreted as remnant – something that is left behind, according to the exegesis of Qumi cited in al-Mizan under this verse, the relics in the taboot were placed by Prophet Musa before he died, he put inside it in the tablets, and his coat of mail and whatever signs of prophethood he had, and gave it in trust to his successor – this is the material aspect of a relics, but the intent of leaving behind a relic or making a sign or a symbol is to convey the message of guidance that is embedded in its essence/manawiyyah, hence (as cited in Al-Mizan) in the exegesis of al-'Ayyashi it is mentioned that Imam Sadiq (as) was asked about the words of Allah, "and residue of the relics of what the family of Musa and the family of Harun have left, the angels bearing it", and he replied: "The children of the prophets", in other words the relics of the prophet Musa and Prophet Haroun essentially means the children of Musa and Haroun, and thus Allah (swt) revealed the sacred station of the children of the messengers. Similarly the Prophet (saw) announced during his last days that “I am leaving behind amongst you two precious things: the Book of Allah, and my kindred (`Itrah)", with the term remnant/Tarikun in this tradition which hints the believers to relate and ponder on the sanctity of the remnant of Prophet Musa and Hurun to the remnant of the Prophet Mohammed (saw)!
From the cited verse of Surah Baqara it is clear that divine Authority and the divine Kingdom belongs to Allah (swt) alone, and He gives to whom He pleases, yet the Absolute Just /Adil Lord declares the necessity of merits, like knowledge and strength. The verses of Talut surface the story of the leadership of Imam Ali (as) and his merits. Regarding knowledge the Prophet (saw) said “I am the city of knowledge, and Ali is the door”, and regarding his strength and valor the Prophet (saw) “One strike of Ali on the day Khandaq is greater than the worship of the two worlds”. The Authority/Walayah that is sanctioned to Imam Ali (as) is mentioned in Quran in the following verse “Only Allah is your Wali and his messenger and those who believe, establish prayer and give charity while they bow/ruku”, and the Kingdom bestowed to Imam Ali (as) is mentioned in the Qur’an “We had already given Aal’e Abraham the Book and Wisdom, and conferred upon them a great kingdom”, the great Kingdom/mulkan AAatheem is the kingdom of love, where the domain of the heart is under the authority of the beloved where the heart bows in adherence along with the head. The sign of his kingdom/mulk is that his followers are in the state of peace and tranquility in this world and the hereafter. Whenever the believers carry the chest/taboot of the children of Prophet Mohammed (saw) during the commemoration of their martyrdom, they are actually engaged in treading the course of the angles that carried the remnants of the children of Prophet Musa and Haroun. The aim of carrying the chest/taboot is to venerate the sacredness of remnant/taraka of Prophet Mohammed (saw) and acknowledge and submit to their Walayah, and remind the believer that purity, peace and salvation is through Ahlul Bayt (as).
Whatever interpretation the Muslims have chosen regarding this verse, but as Shiite Muslims the act of carrying a taboot is not an innovation to us; rather the act of revering the signs and symbols is a means to increase faith. As soon as the crescent of Moon of the month of Moharram becomes evident we employ our energies in preparing and decorating the signs and symbols of the martyrs of Karbala so that it brings to attention of the sublime act of servitude that was demonstrated by Imam Husain (as), the act of adherence to the absolute truth and the stance against evil forces of falsehood. The standard that was held with absolute steadfast loyalty by the commander of the army of truth in Karbala is raised high at the places of our worship calling people to renew their loyalty with Al-Abbas (as) because loyalty to him is loyalty to Imam Husain (as) and loyalty to Imam Husain (as) means submission to Allah (swt). The most significant symbol that is essential for every believer to respect, comprehend and uphold is the standard/Alam of Al-Abbas (as). According to the great scholar, Allamah Rasheed Turabi, the message behind the standard of al-Abbas (as) is that it is a symbol of declaration that was actualized on the Day of Ghadir when the Prophet (saw) raised the hand of Imam Ali (as) high and announced his Wilayah and recorded the divine declaration in the expanse of time. The construct of the hand that is mounted at the zenith of the standard is the symbolic representation of the hand that Prophet (saw) raised to declare the Walayah of Imam Ali (as), and the standard is carried as an impetus for the constant reminder of the most significance aspect of the Islamic doctrine. Thus whenever our eyes catches a sight of that standard it reminds us of the day of Ghadir and through this experience we remain constant to the most essential aspect of faith.
The verse of chapter Baqara ends with the words “most surely there is a sign in this for those who believe”, it means there is a message of guidance behind these symbols that a believer must never ignore, or belittle the signs and rituals that are established to commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Husain (as).