The Virtues of the Midnight Prayer:
Now remains the exposition of these two phrases of the hadith: In this blessed pronouncement, the Commander of the Faithful, al-'Imam `Ali (A), has placed the actions of the heart, contemplative awareness, and the taqwa of God by the side of night vigils and keeping aloof from the bed for the sake of worship. This proves the distinction and merit it commands, and the practice has been greatly glorified in the traditions. The biographies of the Imams of guidance (A), and those of great sages and eminent scholars, indicate that they not only assiduously observed it, but attached great importance to the practice of staying awake until the late hours of night, aside from the aim of worship.
There are forty-one ahadith recorded in Wasai'l al-Shi`ah (the greatest of Shi'i books, which is the pivot of the Shi'i legal school and the source book of Shi'i scholars and fuqaha') about the benefits and merits of observing this practice, and there are several ahadith about the undesirability of giving up this habit. There are, of course countless of similar traditions in the books of supplications and prayers, but we shall quote only a few in the following, as a token of barakah and blessing:
It is reported in al-Kafi from Mu'awiyah ibn 'Amman who said that he heard al-'Imam al-Sadiq (A) say: "In the wasiyyah addressed to 'Ali (A) by the Prophet (S), he (S) said: 'O 'Ali, I enjoin you regarding certain habits that you must safeguard.' Then the Prophet (S) prayed, 'O God, succour him.' Then (continuing his advice) he said: 'Observe the midnight prayer. Observe the midnight prayer. Observe the midnight prayer. 
Its great significance may be understood from the entire tradition:
In al-Khisal, Abu 'Abd Allah (A) is reported to have said: "The Prophet (S) asked Jibra'il to exhort him about something. Jibra'il said: 'O Muhammad! Live you as you wish, for verily you will die one day. And love whatever you like, for verily you will have to part from it. Act as you wish, for verily you will have to face it. Know that the distinction of a believer lies in his establishing the night vigil and his nobleness lies in refraining from (maligning) the people's honour. 
The high degree of its significance can be understood from Jibrail's especially recommending it to the Messenger of God (S); for had Jibra'il (A) deemed anything else as more important, he would have mentioned it while giving advice.
It is reported in al-Majalis on the authority of Ibn 'Abbas that the Prophet (S) sad in a hadith: "When God Almighty appoints the night vigil as sustenance for His slave, man or woman, when he/she wakes up at night with sincere devotion towards God, performs a full ablution, and says prayer for the Almighty God with the purity of intention, with whole heartedness and with tearful eyes, God Almighty appoints seven rows of angels (to pray) behind him/ her. No one except God can count their number on each side of each row, which extends from the east to the west. When he concludes the prayer, God Almighty writes grades for him equal to their number." 
In 'Ilal al-shara'i, it is reported from Anas that he heard the Messenger of God say: "Two rak'ah of prayer performed in the middle of night are dearer to me than the entire world and everything therein." 
In a number of ahadith it has been reported that the midnight prayer is the mu'min's honour and dignity, and his adornment in the Hereafter, in the same way as children and wealth are the adornments of this world.
In `Ilal al-shara'i, Jabir is reported to have heard the Prophet (S) say: "God did not befriend Ibrahim (A) except for his feeding people and offering prayers by night while the people were fast asleep." 
Had there been no other merit besides this for the midnight prayer, it would have been enough - but for those alone who deserve to practise it, not the likes of me. We do not know what honour and distinction it is and what it means to possess the station of being befriended by God. All intellects fail to comprehend it. If all the adornments of Paradise were displayed before his eyes, such a man would not even glance at them. You also, had you a beloved dear to your heart, or a very dear friend, were he to be present in front of you, it will cause you to neglect all the good and delicious things, absorbing your attention entirely with the vision of the beloved and the radiance of the countenance of the dear one, though this similitude is out of proportion for describing this condition, to the extent that the east is far from the west.
From 'Ali ibn Ibrahim who, with his chain of narrators, reports from al 'Imam al-Sadiq (A) that he said: "For every good deed that a slave of God performs, the reward for it is specified in the Quran, except for the midnight prayer, which commands an unusually high reward on account of its great worth. (God says in the Quran): Their sides shun their beds as they call on their Lord in fear and hope; and they expend of what We have provided them. No soul knows what delight is laid up for them secretly, as a recompense for that they were doing (32:16,17)." 
What can be the delight that God Almighty has kept in store for them, concealing it from the eyes of all? Had it been something similar to the flowing streams, the magnificent mansions, and the diverse bounties of Paradise, He would have described it - as in the case of other deeds, of which (at least) the angels are aware. This shows that this reward is above all these and of a different kind; its greatness stands beyond that which can be communicated to anyone, especially the inhabitants of this lowly world. Do not liken the bounties of this world to those of the other. Do not imagine that the Paradise and the gardens therein are similar to the gardens of this world, only somewhat vaster and of a greater degree of grandeur. There is the abode of Divine beneficence and the house of the hospitality of the Lord. The entire world is not comparable in grandeur to a single hair of a houri of Paradise. Rather it is not comparable even to a thread of the garments made for its inhabitants.
Despite all this, God Almighty has named none of these as reward for the performers of the midnight prayer, and has only referred to the high station of theirs in the words of the above verse. But, alas, we are indolent, being not men of certitude. Otherwise, it would not have been possible for us to be neglectful to such a degree and to be so drowned in deep sleep till morning. If the night vigils were to make man aware of the mysteries of salat, were he to preoccupy his mind with the remembrance and contemplation of the Lord, and were his nights to become mounts of ascent into the Divine Proximity, his reward would be nothing other than the vision of the Absolute Beauty.
And woe to us, the negligent who do not wake up from slumber till the end of life and remain under the intoxication of nature! Woe to us, whom every day increases in stupefaction! Woe to us, who live on the animal plane, comprehending nothing but eating, drinking and lovemaking! Whatever we do, even if it is worship, that too is merely meant for catering to the needs of the belly and the underneath. Do you imagine that the salat of Khalil al-Rahman, the Friend of the Beneficent (Ibrahim), was similar to that of ours? He did not speak of his wishes even to Jibra'il - and we? We do not hesitate to beg even Satan (if we believe him to be mighty enough to grant our prayers) to fulfil our desires!
Yet there is no need to lose hope. It is possible that after a period of performing the night vigil and habituating ourselves to it God Almighty may gradually help you and cover you, with an invisible gesture of grace, with the robe of His mercy. But, on the whole, do not be oblivious of the mysteries of worship, and do not devote yourself merely to the outward refinements of Qur'anic recitings. If you cannot perform it with a sincerity of intention, strive at least for the delight that God Almighty has kept hidden from all the sights. And remember in your prayers, should it be your wish, this rebellious and beastly sinner who has forgone all higher stations to remain content to thrive on the animal plane. And chant with full attention and sincerity of intention this prayer:
My God, I implore Thee to rescue me from the house of illusion and this abode of delirium, and help me to return to the abode of eternity. Grant me the ability and preparedness to die before such an opportunity is lost. 
What is Taqwa?
This should be known that taqwa (derived from wiqayah, defence) is a kind of defence and shielding. In common speech, as well as in the vocabulary of traditions, it means to restrain or bridle oneself from violating Divine commands (awamir and nawahi) and from going against what is pleasing to God. It is usually used for efficacious guarding of the soul and total control of it from falling into illegal and illegitimate acts, by refraining from all that is suspect (i.e. not known to be permissible for certain):
Whosoever pursues dubious things, falls into forbidden things (muharramat) and is destroyed on account of his ignorance, such as an animal that grazes around a mire is liable to soon get entrapped in it. 
This should be known that although mere taqwa does not by itself constitute the higher stages of perfection and spiritual accomplishment, but reaching a high station is also not possible without it; for as long as the soul is smeared with commission of prohibited deeds, one cannot enter the door of humanity and cannot be a wayfarer of its path. As long as man remains obedient to his carnal wishes and sensual pleasures and their sweetness hangs in his mouth, he cannot even reach the preliminary grades of human perfection. As long as he cherishes the love of the world in his heart and has the fondness: for mundane things, he cannot reach the station of even those who are halfway on the road (mutawassitun) and the zuhhad. And as long as self-love lies embedded in his essence, he will not reach the station of the sincere (mukhlisun) and the lovers of God. Until the love for the pluralities of the world (mulk) and the Hereafter (malakut) is evident in his heart, he will not reach the high station of the majdhubun (those immersed in the Divine and detached from all worldly attachments). And until the plurality of the Names is manifest within the core of his essence, he cannot attain total annihilation (fana). As long as his heart is turned towards the spiritual station, he has not attained the station of complete extinction. And until his essence is prone to take up different colours (talwin), he has not reached the station of stable endurance, and the Essence; as the referent of the Name of the Essence, will not cast Its eternal and everlasting radiance into his heart. Thus, for ordinary men taqwa is with respect to the forbidden things; for the elect it is vis-a-vis sensual pleasures; for the ascetics it is in relation to the world, for the sincere it is in relation to the love of the self; and for the majdhubun it is in relation to the plurality of Act; for the faniyun (those who have annihilated themselves in the Essence) it is in relation to the plurality of the Names; for, the wasdun (those who have reached the Essence) taqwa is in relation to absorption in the annihilation; and for the mutamakkinun it is in regard to inner instabilities (talwinat), and hence the Quran enjoins:
So be as steadfast as thou art commanded. (11: 112)
There is much that can be said for each one of these stations, the description of which would not lead the likes of us anywhere except into confusion and bafflement over terms, blind as we are to the meanings concealed by the veils of concepts, and there are a people who befit every field. Now we shall turn our attention to taqwa in its elementary form, which is more significant for mankind.
Taqwa for the Common People:
Remember, my dear, that in the same way as there is health and sickness for the human body and remedies and cures for correcting it, there is also health and disease and remedies and cures for the human soul as well. Its health and well-being is observance of moderation, it lies in treading the human path, and sickness and affliction is the result of deviating from the right path of humanity. The spiritual maladies and diseases are a thousand times more significant than the physical maladies; for at the most the latter ultimately lead to death. As soon as death approaches and the soul leaves the body, all physical maladies and corporeal defects and infirmities disappear for one, and one does not feel any bodily pain and affliction any more.
But if, God forbid, one is afflicted with spiritual maladies and diseases of the soul, the time of death is withdrawal of the soul's attention from the body and its redirection towards the domain of the spirit: that is the beginning of the experience of these sicknesses and afflictions. The similitude of attention toward the world and its attachments is like the narcotics which makes its addict oblivious of himself. The breaking of the soul's bonds with the realm of the physical world makes the soul gain self-consciousness. As soon as it becomes self-conscious, all the pains, diseases and indispositions that lie latent within the depths of the essence, now overwhelm it and each and every thing that remained invisible until that time, like fire smouldering under ashes, becomes evident. Those diseases and maladies either cannot be driven away and adhere firmly to one, or if they are remediable, it is only after being subjected to tortures, pains, fire and burning for thousands of years that they can be wiped away: `the last cure is cauterization.' God Almighty says:
...It will be heated in the fire of hell, and their foreheads and their flanks and their backs will be branded therewith. (9:35)
The apostles of God are similar to kind physicians who out of great concern for treating illnesses prescribe different remedies in accordance with the severity of the disease. They have strived to guide mankind on the right path of genuine guidance (We are God-trained physicians). The effect of the spiritual deeds and actions of the heart, as well as the external deeds and actions of the body, is similar to that of a medicine. In the same way, the effect of taqwa, on each of its levels, is similar to abstaining from those things that aggravate the disease. Unless the sick man does not abstain from harmful things, it is not possible that his malady be replaced by well-being and the prescribed remedy be effectual. During physical illness, sometimes, despite a little intemperance, medicine and nature do their work and one may regain his health and well-being; for nature itself is a protector of health and medicine acts as its assistant. But the matter is more serious in the case of spiritual maladies, as here the nature dominates the spirit from the very beginning. and the spiritual side heads towards corruption and decline:
Verily, it is the self which incites to evil (12:53)
Accordingly, the disease overwhelms it on the slightest indulgence and intemperance, making inroads and destroying its health and vigour completely. Therefore, anyone who is concerned with his spiritual soundness, will try to improve his condition after finding the ways of getting rid of painful chastisement. His well-being rests upon two things: one is to adopt those things which bring spiritual health, and the other is to abstain from things which bring spiritual harm and affliction.
It should be remembered that the spiritual harm inflicted by the forbidden things is greater than all other vices, and it is for this very reason that they have been forbidden. And to perform the obligatory and incumbent duties is also most necessary, and it is for this reason that they have been made obligatory and given priority over all other things. These have been considered as the foremost and the most essential steps in the direction of spiritual advancement.
Treading the path of felicity and reaching the highest human grades and stations depends upon having traversed these two stages. Anyone who observes them acquires felicity and salvation. Of these two, taqwa, or abstinence from muharramat, is the more significant. The mystics and the wayfarers have also considered it more significant than the other step. A study of the traditions (of the Prophet [S] and the Imams [A]) and the sermons of the Nahj al-balaghah further confirms this that the Infallible Ones (A) also laid great emphasis on this step.
Therefore, O dear, consider the first stage to be of utmost importance and be greatly heedful and attentive regarding these matters. If the first step is taken rightly and this foundation is laid solidly, there is hope of reaching the other stations; otherwise it is impossible to attain the higher stations and very difficult and painstaking to obtain salvation. Our precious Shaykh used to enjoin us to attend constantly to the following verses of the Surat al-Hashr:
O ye who believe! Observe your duty (taqwa) to God. And let every soul look to that which it sendeth on before for the morrow. And observe your duty (taqwa) to God! Verily, God is informed of what ye do. And be not ye as those who forgot God, and He caused them to forget their souls. Such are the evildoers. Not equal are the people of the Fire and the people of the Garden. The people of the Garden, they are the victorious. If We had caused the Quran to descent upon the mountain, thou (O Muhammad) verily hadest seen it humbled, rent asunder by the fear of God. Such similitudes coin We for mankind that haply they may reflect. He is God, than Whom there is no other god, the Knower of the invisible and the visible. He is the Beneficent, the Merciful. He is God, than Whom there is no other god, the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One, Peace, the Keeper of faith, the Guardian, the Majestic, the Compeller, the Superb. Glorified be God from all that they ascribe as partners (unto Him)! He is God, the Creator, the Shaper out of naught, the Fashioner. His are the most beautiful names. All that is in the heavens and the earth glorifieth Him, and He is the Mighty, the Wise.(59:18-24)
Our Shaykh would ask us to recite these verses after daily prayers and to contemplate over their meaning, especially in the late hours of night when the heart is relaxed, stating that it is very effective for curing the soul and for holding the mischief of the self and Satan at bay. He would recommend us to be with ablution (wudu') all the time, for, he would say, it is like a warrior's armour.
In any case, beseech and entreat God Almighty with supplications and tears to succour you and assist you during this trial and to help you in acquiring the faculty of taqwa. Remember that in the beginning it will appear to be a little hard, but after strict observance of a few days discomfort will change into comfort and hardship into leisure and tranquillity; rather, it will give you a unique spiritual joy, which those who have tasted value higher than all other enjoyments.
God willing, after strict vigilance and total taqwa, you will progress towards the station of taqwa attained by the elect, which is taqwa against sensual pleasures. When you taste the sweetness of spiritual enjoyment, you will gradually turn away from physical pleasures and try to evade them. Traversing the path will become easier for you and you will not attach any value to transitory physical enjoyments; rather, you will abhor them. The worldly treasures will appear ugly and coarse to your eyes.
In this state of consciousness, you will realize that each one of the worldly pleasures leaves its trace on the soul, a black blot on the heart: it intensifies the love for this world, which itself causes one to cling to this place, and, at the time of the wrenching away of the soul from the body, takes the form of the agony of death and its distresses and squeezes. Mainly, the anguish and agony of death and its severity are the result of these pleasures and these attachments to the corporeal world, as said earlier. As soon as man gains consciousness of this fact, all the physical pleasures lose their significance in his eyes.
He becomes abhorant towards the world, its treasures and adornments. This itself is another success, whence the wayfarer advances towards the third grade of taqwa. Thereupon, treading the Path of God becomes easier for him and the road to humanness becomes illuminated and spacious. Every step that he takes carries him further on the way of Truth.
His exercises assume sacred validity. He becomes averse to the self, its ways and its demands. He senses within his being the love of God and he is no more satisfied now with the promises of Paradise and the palaces and the houris thereof. He yearns for a higher ideal and end hating his (earlier) self-seeking and self-love. His taqwa is now directed against self love and he becomes muttaqi in regard to his own self-indulgence. This is a high and lofty attainment and the first step in the direction of sensing the fragrance of wilayah. God Almighty specifies a seat for him under the shelter of His grace and succours him with His special favours.
The matters that the wayfarer on the Divine path experiences after this are beyond the ken of expression. And praise belongs to God, in the beginning and the end, outwardly and inwardly, and may His benedictions be upon Muhammad and the pure of his progeny.
. Al-Kulayni, Rawdat al-Kafi, p.162; al-Hurr al-'Amili, Wasa'il al-Shi'ah, V, 268; al-Shaykh al-Saduq, Man la yahduruhu al-faqih. I, 484; al-Kulayni, Furu al al-Kafi, I, 73.
. Al-Shaykh al-Saduq, Thawab al-'a'mal, p.63, hadith 41; Man la yahduruhu al-faqih, I, 471,
. Wasa'il al-Shi'ah, V, 275.
. Al-Shaykh al-Saduq, 'Ilal al-shara'i, p.138.
. Ibid., p.23; Wasa'il al Shi'ah, V, 276.
. 'Ilal al-shara'i, p.23; Wasa'il al-Shi'ah, V, 276.
. Shaykh 'Abbas al-Qummi, Mafatih al jinan.
. Wasa'il al-Shi'ah.