The following is the translation of a letter written by Samāḥat al-ShaykhʿAlī Riḍā Aʿrāfī for the Inauguration Ceremony of the Ahl al-Bayt Islamic Seminary, September 1, 2014. It was originally published on al-Sidrah, a Publication of the Ahl al-Bayt Islamic Seminary.
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Samāḥat al-Shaykh ʿAlī Riḍā Aʿrāfī is the rector of the Al-Mustafa International University, the largest formal ḥawzah institution in the world, headquartered in Qūm, Iran. Shaykh Aʿrāfī is a recognized scholar in his own right, having continued to teach the highest level of jurisprudence (fiqh), dars al-khārij, throughout his tenure as rector of Al-Mustafa International University. He is known for his specialization in the “jurisprudence of ethical development” (fiqh al-tarbiyyah), a field which he has pioneered, as well as in Islamic gnosis (ʿirfān).
Shaykh Aʿrāfī was to have graced this occasion with his presence, but due to circumstances beyond his control was unable to attend. He conveyed his congratulations and greetings to all of those present, and sent the following message for this auspicious and historic event.
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The Message of Samāḥat al-Shaykh ʿAlī Riḍā Aʿrāfī for the Inauguration of the Ahl al-Bayt Islamic Seminary in Chicago, Illinois
With the name of God, the Kind, the Merciful. All praise and adoration is for God. And may God’s benediction be with His messenger and his purified progeny.
“With the name of God, the Kind, the Merciful. Recite in the name of your Lord, who created. He created man from that which clings. Recite, and your Lord is most noble. The one who taught with the pen.” [Sūrat al-ʿAlaq: 1-4]
With these life-giving words of God, the Exalted, learning and scholarship in the path of knowing God and servitude to Him became an enlightening and guiding message in the ever-luminous teachings of the noble Messenger of God and his infallible progeny, upon all of whom be God’s blessings. For it is these very two shining lanterns of “knowledge” and “contemplation” that together bring a person from the abyss of materialism to the peak of servitude of God, and that pull him from nonbeing to being, connecting him in the end with the Ever living. As the Noble Qurʾān states:
“Are those who know and those who do not know equal?”
And as Imām ʿAlī (as) said:
“If they were to contemplate the greatness of Divine power and the enormity of Divine blessings, they would return to the Path.”
It is on this foundation that the caravan of the knowledge and thought of the true followers of the Ahl al-Bayt (upon whom be peace) has continued on its progressive movement through the vicissitudes of history in spite of having to face ignorance and political and societal impediments, creating in the process, a valuable and weighty legacy for the future.
Today the scholarly arenas, libraries, and academies of both Islam and the broader world are filled with treasured works that have been produced in the disciplines of religious law and jurisprudence, exegesis and hadith study, philosophy and theology, doctrine, ethics, history; and the various disciplines of human study, including even astronomy, medicine, mathematics, physics, and other fields of academic endeavor. With their amazing depth, these works have illuminated the path of producing and honoring knowledge. All of this is due to the steadfastness and efforts of scholars and thinkers who engaged in jihād—a struggle for the sake of God—and who donned the apparel of knowledge, piety, and responsibility in both the individual and the societal arena.
We are speaking of the blessed Ḥawzah ʿIlmiyyahs, who have traversed this noble path stride by stride and with perseverance, writing this voluminous and noble tome page by page and teaching it to their future generations letter by letter. Like their predecessors, they too became lanterns on the path of guidance for multitudes of devoted and searching individuals.
Today, Al-Mustafa International University is proud to continue in this tradition of scholarship and spiritual development. Over the last three decades, as the largest international contemporary institution of the Ḥawzah [of Qūm], it has been able to tread this path with reliance on that same worldview and courage, on the basis of knowledge, rationality, spirituality, unity, and compassion. Al-Mustafa International University has gifted to Islamic society many eminent and committed scholars who have graced this honorable institution with their presence.
With Divine grace and favor, a number of these very individuals, together with sincere and selfless scholars in the West, have taken the initiative to establish a ḥawzah program in line with the same goals and with reliance on their extensive years of scholarship and leadership. They are pioneers of a noble tradition and founders of a blessed edifice. It is a time to express humble gratitude to God and prostrate one’s forehead on the ground that such a Divine favor has been granted to His sincere servants. All of us should have the tenacity and perseverance to contribute to this initiative to the extent of our ability, lest this momentous opportunity pass us by.
I congratulate from the depths of my heart the worthy initiative of the Muslims of the region in launching the Ahl al-Bayt Islamic Seminary. I pray to the Almighty for Divine assistance for all who are part of this noble work. Taking advantage of this unique opportunity, I would like to briefly emphasize the following points:
- To the pioneers and workers involved in this Godly endeavor, I enjoin reliance on the Ever living God and seeking help from His door in purifying their intention. May their work take place in a wholly academic and spiritual environment and far from distracting side issues. Let them have unfaltering confidence that this Divine work will elicit God’s special attention and favor, and Inshā Allah all of us will soon see its fruits.
- It is also obligatory that this Divine initiative be at once a new beginning and a continuing link of an innovative and influential movement in tying together all of the values that our beloved Islam and the Infallible Imāms, upon whom be peace, have emphasized throughout their teaching of Islamic sciences and disciplines. Combining the acquisition of knowledge with purification of the soul; scholarly specialization with religious commitment; rationality with servitude; doctrine and ethics; personal development and social responsibility; attention to oneself and to others; and in short, preserving all of the worthy traditions of Islam while availing oneself of modern methodologies and benefiting from today’s resources are things that this ḥawzah should place in its course of action.
- I ask the believers and lovers of God in Islamic society to vie with one another and not hesitate to join and assist in this path of learning and spirituality, for joining in this path will be among clear examples of a “lasting charity”—ṣadaqah jāriyyah.
- I enjoin the students and seekers of this institution to value this golden opportunity and dedicate all of their energies and vitality to learning the relevant disciplines and competencies and attaining spiritual growth, keeping in their view the future and its responsibilities. Make use of each instant of your lives and prepare yourselves for the day of when you will shoulder a great responsibility.
I pray for all of you and beseech God for myself and for all the dear brothers and sisters to grant us His favor in service to our beloved Islam and the institutes of religious learning.
ʿAlī Riḍā Aʿrāfī
Qūm, Islamic Republic of Iran