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Discourse 34: Conflict Between Actions and Beliefs

عَنْ عَبْدِ اللٌّهِ بْنِ عُمَرَ قَالَ: سَمِعْتُ رَسُولُ اللٌّهِ يَقُولُ: اِنَّمَا هُوَ خَيْرٌ يُرْجى، أَوْ شَرٌّ يُتَّقى، أَوْ بَاطِلٌ عُرِفَ فَاجْـتُنِبَ، أَوْ حَقٌّ يَتَعَيَّنُ فَطُلِبَ، وَ آخِرَةٌ أَظَلَّ إقْبَالُهَا فَسُعِىَ لَهَا، وَ دنْيَا عُرِفَ نَفَادُهَا فَأعْرِضَ عَنْهَا… إِنَّ الْعَجَبَ كُلَّ الْعَجَبِ لِمَنْ صَدَّقَ بِدَارِ الْبَقَاءِ، وَ هُوَ يَسْعى لِدَارِ الْفَنَاءِ، وَ عَرَفَ أَنَّ رِضَى اللٌّهِ فِي طَاعَتِهِ، وَ هُوَ يَسْعى فِي مُخَالَفَتِهِ.

It has been narrated from 'Abdullah b. 'Umar: “I heard the Messenger of Allah (S) say, “Surely that which is good is what a person anticipates, and that which is bad is what a person keeps away from; and that which is vain is what a person is made to know about and it is avoided; and that which is the truth is clear and apparent when a person seeks it; and the next life is drawing near so work towards it, and it is known that this world shall come to an end, so then turn away from it. Surely that which is the most amazing is that a person who believes and accepts as being true that there is an eternal abode, however he strives and struggles for the abode (of this life) which is transitory; and one acknowledges that surely the pleasure of Allah lies in obedience to Him, however one struggles in going against Him.” 1
 
The sentences in this tradition are somewhat complex, however that which can be noted is that in the beginning of his words, the Noble Prophet (S) wanted to discuss the substance of this material world. In the continuation of the tradition, the Prophet (S) talked about the inconsistencies between the actions and theological beliefs of a person; meaning that the problem with people is not their inability to recognize Allah (SwT) - rather, it is the shortcomings in their (righteous) actions.

The traits of this world are of two types - they are either good or bad. If they are good traits, then they are worthy for a person to seek, and if they are bad, then it is better that a person keeps away from them. In other words, there are a series of truths which are recognized and defined and a person too must recognize these and accept them and must realize that without doubt there is a next life. Each and every person is standing at the threshold of a path, and in order to reach to felicity in the next world, one must put forth an effort and struggle hard.

Each of us must realize that we cannot trust this material world for it has never been loyal to anyone, thus we must try to keep our distance from this material world.

Many times we commit sins and place the blame of this sin on the shoulders of being ignorant and not knowing better - although we do not say that ignorance is not one of the causes of being misled since many of the despicable acts and bad deeds stem from being unaware - however if we were to put this in the balance, we would see that most of the issues (of life around us) are clear and it is the person himself who is to blame.

It has been mentioned in Nahjul Balagha2 in relation to a person who denounces the material world as being one of deception and trickery and a wicked place, and the Imam (as) said to him, “O you who denounce the material world and have been deceived by it's trickery, tell me where has the world deluded you?”

The Imam then continues and states, “Are these bones of your forefathers and ancestors that are under the ground the things which have deluded you?  Is it these graves which are now destroyed which belonged to your friends and relatives the things which have deluded you?  Is it the ill people who had fallen sick for nights on end and had been bed-ridden and called you to their side, and through their cries, screams, yelling and the soul leaving  their bodies the thing which has deluded you?”

Imam 'Ali (as) stated that the best of warners are these same corpses that are placed in front of a person and with the chanting of “لا إله إلا الله”, are passed in front of our eyes to see…

فَكَفى وَاعِظاً بِمَوْتى عَايَنْتُمُوهُمْ، حُمِلُوا إِلـى قُبُورِهِمْ غَيْرَ رَاكِبينَ، وَ أُنْزِلُوا فِيهَا غَيْرَ نَازِلِيـنَ.

“The dead whom you witness suffice as warners. They were carried to their graves, not going themselves, and were placed in them (the grave) but not of their own accord. It seems as if they never lived in this world and as if the next world had always been their abode.”3

In the fall season, we just need to walk through the gardens and look at all of the lessons around us within the dead plants and trees. This is the same garden - which in the spring time - was full of the sound of the nightingales and the sights of all of the other beautiful sights including the budding and blossoming flowers - and this scene is similar to the world around us. Sometimes for a period of six months, sometimes for a period of sixty years and sometimes for a period of… these beauties last. So where are these things that have deluded us?  It is the person himself who wished to delude himself and thus, when he sins he tries to place the blame of this act on the world?

It is because of this that we have been told to occasionally pay a visit to those who are buried in the graveyard. At least once a week we should try to make a trip to the cemetery so that we know that our final stage in this world is there. It has been mentioned in the traditions that through visiting the people in the graveyard, our depression and sorrow is reduced, because these feelings are not related to the spiritual aspect of our lives. We show grief because of the fact that we are not able to reach such and such a lofty station (in the material world).

We show grief over not having a nice house!  We show grief for many reasons and thus, when we go to the graveyard and see our eventual resting place, our hearts then become as the grave - at ease and full of tranquility.

There is a graveyard in Qum in which many scholars are buried. One day I went to this area of the graveyard and saw many photos above the graves - those of my previous teachers and many of my friends - not just one or two but all of them are buried there. When you see these photos and the graves, then you realize that death has also been prescribed for us and these things that the common people say in relation to death such as: “May Allah protect us from death” and, “May we seek refuge in Allah (from dying)” have absolutely no meaning!  Death does not joke around with people - and all nations and religions accept the fact that the final outcome of everyone is death and that not a single person knows exactly when he will die!

The Commander of the Faithful, 'Ali b. Abi Talib (as) spoke some amazing words while on his death bed and summarized everything in one sentence when he said:

أَنَا بِالأَمْسِ صَاحِبُكُمْ وَ أَنَا الْيَوْمَ عِبْرَةٌ لَكُمْ وَ غَدًا مُفَارِقُكُمْ.

“Yesterday I was your companion and today I am the lesson (which you should learn from) and tomorrow I will depart from you.”4

Thus, we can summarize our life in this world into these three days - yesterday, today and tomorrow.

Therefore, is there any value that a person should commit sins or take the rights of another person?  If these things have no value, then let us step forward and try to correct and reform ourselves.

A Conflict Between Actions and Beliefs:

… إِنَّ الْعَجَبَ كُلَّ الْعَجَبِ لِمَنْ صَدَّقَ بِدَارِ الْبَقَاءِ، وَ هُوَ يَسْعى لِدَارِ الْفَنَاءِ، وَ عَرَفَ أَنَّ رِضَى اللٌّهِ فِي طَاعَتِهِ، وَ هُوَ يَسْعى فِي مُخَالَفَتِهِ.

“Surely that which is the most amazing is that a person who believes and accepts as being true that there is an eternal abode, however he strives and struggles for the abode (of this life) which is transitory; and one acknowledges that surely the pleasure of Allah lies in obedience to Him, however one struggles in going against Him.”

Sometimes we see that a conflict arises between a person's beliefs and actions - by this we mean that he may believe one thing however his actions go against this. For this sort of a conflict, we must go straight to the source and determine what it is, since a person's beliefs have a direct impact on his actions and similarly, his actions are related to his beliefs.

The difference between mankind and animals is that animals only posses the natural and animalistic instincts to work with, however mankind has the use of power of intelligence - meaning that mankind should think and rationalize and then determine the good and bad in the act which one wishes to perform. Once this is determined, then one should decide how to act. However even though mankind has been given this trait, we see many people still have a conflict between their actions and their beliefs and thus we must analyze where this comes from.5

An example of this is in two sentences which the Prophet (S) stated in the tradition mentioned: “It is amazing that a person accepts the Day of Resurrection however all of his endeavours are for this material world!  In addition, it is amazing that a person knows that the pleasure of Allah (SwT) lies in obeying Him, however he leaves this to perform sins!”

From the point of view of psychology, such a disparity between actions and beliefs actually stems from various sources, some of which include:

1) Weak Faith:

One's theological beliefs are weak and in this instance, they get mixed with doubt and uncertainty. This doubt stems from the absence of true acceptance (of the religion) in the heart. Such things also have an impact on the actions that one performs since the actions are a mirror image of that which is inside a person's heart.

When you see a fire burning, it is impossible to think that you will ever bring your hand close to that fire. If we had this same amount of belief in the words of Allah (SwT) then it is impossible that a conflict could ever occur between our beliefs and actions that we perform:

إِنَّ الَّذِينَ يَأْكُلُونَ أَمْوَالَ الْيَتَامى ظُلْماً إِنَّمَا يَأْكُلُونَ فِي بُطُونِهِمْ نَاراً وَ سَيَصْلَوْنَ سَعِـيراً

“Surely those people who oppressively eat (take) the wealth of the orphan, certainly they are eating fire in their stomachs and soon for them shall there be a punishment of (hell) fire.”6
Thus, in order to be protected from these trials and tribulations and calamities, we must make our beliefs firm.

2) Power of the Lower Desires:

On the surface, a person may have good, strong faith - however his lower desires are so strong that they actually take over his faith. In order to prevent this spiritual disease, the person has no other choice but to control his lower desires through the (spiritual) mortification of his soul and this can not be accomplished except by studying the lives of the great Muslims in history, reading about our previous scholars and studing the verses of the Qur`an and the traditions.

3) Negligence:

Such a person has faith and his lower desires are not powerful but this person can be compared to the negligent one who unintentionally goes towards fire or who, due to his negligence, accidentally pours hot water on his hand. In summary, negligence is one of the factors responsible for this form of conflict between one's faith and actions.

The material aspects of this world are so beautiful and alluring that a person becomes negligent of all other things. The path to confront this is through constant thinking - meaning that during the day, a person must set aside some time for contemplation - and the best time is just before going to sleep. One must stop and think for some time about the actions that one performed during the day and what one was not able to do. One should think to himself where one is and why he was brought into this world and what was the purpose of being created?  One should ask himself if he has reached close to the purpose of existence on this Earth?  In summary, this continuous thinking can result in the curtains of negligence being ripped apart from oneself.7

In any case, when we see that there are people who act contrary to that which they believe in, it is due to the reasons mentioned above.

Keeping in mind these issues, from one point we see that we must strengthen our pillars of faith and from another point, we see that we must constantly be engaged in thought.

Our faith can be increased and strengthened through more reading and studying and through performing good, righteous deeds and by restraining our lower desires.

Righteous actions make a person unwavering and steadfast in one's faith; and it increases the nur (Divine Light) of guidance in the heart of a person!

  • 1. Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 74, pg. 182
  • 2. Nahj al-Balagha, Short Saying 131
  • 3. Ibid., Speech 188
  • 4. Ibid., Speech 188
  • 5. It is important to mention this point here that the meaning of this speech is that from one point of view, this world is a mirage and can delude people; however from another point of view, it is a place of learning lessons. If a person was to only pay attention to the material aspects of the world and its glitter and gold, then it would take him off the path of truth and make him negligent of the next life and of Allah (Glory and Greatness be to Him). Thus, each and every person must look towards death and those who have died before and take lessons from them and through this, one can remove the negligence from one's heart.
  • 6. Surat al-Nisa (4), Verse 10
  • 7. The following poem explains that which was mentioned:
    روزها فكر من اين است و همه شب سخنم كه چرا غافل از احوال دل خويشتنم از كجا آمده ام، آمدنم بهر چه بود؟ به كجا مى روم؟ آخر ننُمايى وطنم مانده ام سخت عجب كز چه سبب ساخت مرا يا چه بوده ست مراد وى ازين ساختنم؟ جان كه از عالَم عِلوى است، يقين مى دانم رختِ خود باز برآنم كه همان جا فكنم مرغ باغ ملكوتم نِيَم از عالَم خاك دو سه روزى قفسى ساخته اند از بدنم اى خوش آن روز كه پرواز كنم تا برِ دوست به هواى سرِكويش پر و بالى بزنم

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