One beautiful idea, that is expressed so eloquently in the post I’ve shared below is to make the Imam’s absence felt in our homes. This can be done by having an empty picture frame somewhere in the house, with the hope that it will be filled with his picture with us one day. Another way is to set an extra place at the table, in the hope that he will come join us for a meal one day. I’ll leave it to the post below by Zahra Jiwan on Facebook (unfortunately i could not link to it directly), to elaborate further…
“Almost every year, my family spends Shahr Ramadan opening our fasts with many other believers. This was the first year after a long time that the four of us sat on the first night of the month, looking at each other with tears in our eyes. My sister sighed, “well this is going to be one lonely Shahr Ramadan!”
We recited the Dua for the safety of the Imam, thanked him for being the medium through which we receive our Rizq from Allah, and were about to start eating. However, my sister’s words reminded me of the loneliness of Imam al Hujjah. And I began to think, we pray for the safety of the Imam on our tongue but how often do we actually wonder about where he is in ‘this moment and in every moment’? Is he alone? Is he healthy? Is he safe? Yes, the A’immah are divinely protected but, just like the Prophet, they experience hunger and thirst, they feel pain, and they fall ill.
So I got up and grabbed another plate and glass and made another table setting beside by dad.
“Who is this for?” My dad asked. “There’s only four of us.”
Overcome with a profound feeling of sadness I answered, “but there could be five. Maybe the Imam will look at us tonight. And if he does, he knows that there is always a place for him here. Our table is never full, our family is never complete – unless he is the centre of it.”
My sister responded, “but we’re unworthy to be sitting at the same table as the Imam.” We are covered in sin, and he is the closest thing to Allah, how could we even invite him to our table?”
My sister had a point, and the weight of it sat in my heart for a few days.
Yet, night after night we set the table for five. And I think all of us at some point or another looked at that empty seat thinking that perhaps it would be filled by its owner the next day.
Then came the 15th of the month, the birth of the master of the generous hosts, Imam al Hasan. I was reminded of the famous incident wherein the Imam in all of his glory, rode by a group of beggars who were sitting on the ground. They were eating torn up pieces of bread from the ground and when they saw the Imam, they said “come join us O son the the daughter of the Messenger of Allah to eat.” Despite their filth and their loneliness, the Imam descended from his steed and joined these men. Thereafter, the Imam said, “ you have invited me and I accepted, so you must do me the same honour. Please join me for a meal.” The Imam took the beggars to his home, fed them in the best of ways, clothed them in the best of garments, and relieved them of their poverty.
At that moment, I turned to my sister and said, “we’re those beggars. Yes, we are lowly, we have so little to offer our Imam in terms of our deeds and belief. But for this small act of inviting him to our table, however dust-covered it may be, perhaps he will treat us as his uncle Imam al Hasan treated those beggars. He is more noble than to leave any act of love, however small, unthanked. In return for merely remembering him like this, he will remember us and bring us into the folds of his generosity. Perhaps by inviting him to our humble table, he will one day invite us into his tent.
That empty seat brought a lot of change to our home. The conversations at the table changed as we constantly wondered, “what if he walks in right now?” The reality is, he is the eye of Allah that never sleeps. He is already listening and witnessing our every action, word, and thought. Yet something about that physical empty spot being there made it seem all the more ‘real’ for the weak-minded like myself who are still stuck in the womb of physicality.
Even after the blessed month has passed, we have made this a new tradition when we eat. And in this way, the lonely iftars resulting from COVID- 19 ended up being the most beautiful moments to anticipate the companionship of our Imam.
Why am I sharing this? For a long time I didn’t want to. It is a deeply private activity that organically grew from a few sentences here and there. I decided to share this because we deprive ourselves of the power that even the slightest attempt to connect with our Imam, in the period of his Ghaybah, can bring. Just because our Imam is hidden from our eyes, doesn’t mean we can’t benefit from him like the people of his forefathers benefitted from their Imams. Many saw the Prophet in front of their eyes day after day and yet they ignored his call, belied him, and betrayed him. And many (like Uways al Qarani) never saw him with their eyes and yet they benefitted from him immensely.
In the Quran we read, “everywhere you turn, there is the face of Allah.” (2:115)
What is the face of Allah? It is that through which Allah’s attention is sought. Friday after Friday, I moan about the absence of my Imam in Dua Nudbah and cry “Where is the face of Allah?” And the answer is clearly right in front of me in the Quran, “everywhere you turn”.
So why does it not ‘feel’ like this for us so often? If we truly believe this is true, then why do we act as if the Imam’s Ghayba means he’s exiled to an island or locked up in a box- unable to help us and us unable to connect with him, until he rises? Why do all of our discussions about the Imam revolve around the signs of his rising only, and not about how to connect with him now? Why should we not connect with our Imam in every moment of our life and not limit his dhikr to Fridays and the prayer mat? If an empty chair could bring change, imagine what our lives would be like if we found a way to connect with our Imam in everything- From saying Salam to him in the morning, giving Sadaqah in his name daily, speaking to him, reading his letters, dedicating worship to him, and teaching our children to call out his name before ours when they’re hurt or scared. We can do whatever speaks to us, the possibilities are endless.
The Dhuhur of the Imam and the Raj’a has its own beauty and greatness which is beyond description. And it is something we should yearn deeply for. But the only ones depriving themselves of companionship with their Imam in the Ghayba is us. He hasn’t left us. So why have we abandoned him?
All it takes to feel the presence of the Imam in the heart, which can be much stronger than seeing him with eyes, is the smallest effort on our part.
My family and I haven’t achieved anything. In fact, many times we find ourselves back pedalling. We’re definitely not an example for anyone. However, in this small act of putting a fifth plate on the table, the abundance of Khayr was not from us, but from Allah.”