The Holy Qur`an is clear in its explication of the reason for which the jinns and humans were created: to worship Allah1 (SwT) which can only be done with any real quality after we come to know Him.2 Our fundamental aim is thus inextricably linked to gaining gnosis of Him. This task is by no means a simple one as the Qur`an clearly states that He is incomparable to anything we may already know, and therefore unknowable in His entirety.3
But far from being an oppressive ruler over His subjects and setting them a task doomed to failure, Allah (SwT) desires that humans fulfil their potential and attain salvation by achieving closeness to Him. He has therefore, through His undiminishing mercy, granted His servants access to numerous avenues to be able to reach at least some level of gnosis:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اتَّقُوا اللهَ وَابْتَغُوۤا إِلَيهِ الْوَسِيلَةَ وَجَاهِدُوا فِى سَبِيلِهِ لَعَلَّكُمْ تُفْلِحُونَ
O you who believe! Be mindful (of your duty) to Allah and seek means of nearness to Him, and struggle in His way, so that you may be successful.4
Of these avenues and means, the most effective is to seek the intercession and guidance of the Fourteen Infallibles and to obey them.5 The Qur`an mentions that by obeying the Messenger, one would have thereby followed Allah (SwT).6 The same applies when considering the family of the Prophet, the Ahl al-Bayt (AS), whose obedience may also be included in the category of being a valid act of servitude to Allah (SwT).7
By this argument, the seemingly difficult duty upon the shoulders of humans at first consideration, i.e. the worship of Allah (SwT) through His gnosis, is made somewhat manageable by the adherence of humans to the obedience and love of the Prophet (S) and his holy family, the Ahl al-Bayt AS); by loving and obeying the Prophet and his family, humans are fulfilling both a Qur`anic injunction of seeking a means to the nearness of Allah (SwT), as well as correctly identifying this means as being none other than the Fourteen Infallibles.
Allah (SwT) has created the human with an innately ordained disposition towards goodness,8 known as fitrah in Arabic.9 This fitrah, even whilst confined to the realm of the corporeal world, continuously yearns and seeks goodness and is instinctively attracted and naturally inclined to honouring and respecting those instances of goodness it perceives, whether the acts are current and live, or have happened in the past and belong to legends of history, such as members of the Ahl al-Bayt (AS).10
Therefore, through both external instruction via the Qur`an and the lives of the Infallibles, and through the internal proof, the fitrah, the connection with the Ahl al-Bayt (AS) is a fundamental part of human existence and assists to fulfil an inherent metaphysical need within us of seeking closeness to Allah through noble characteristics perceived in extra-ordinary personalities.
When describing the Islamic forms of worship two terms are often used: ‘Ibadah and Dhiyafah. The term ‘Ibadah generally relates to the outer, jurisprudential nature of our acts of worship whilst Dhiyafah can often refer to the inner, spiritual dimensions.11 As an example, our Ramadhan supplications, (our ‘Ibadah) seek for Allah (SwT) to grant us the chance to perform the Hajj pilgrimage, “… In this year and every year …”12 The Hajj, which is the resulting Dhiyafah at Allah (SwT)’s house in Makkah, actually takes place three months later in the month of Dhu al-Hijjah.
A close consideration of this will demonstrate that Allah (SwT)’s initial pleasure was for us to ask of Him in Ramadhan to grant us Hajj. In prescribing to us what our supplications should be in Ramadhan through set prayers, Allah (SwT) enables His to become aware of what his Master has to offer. The Wise Lord, in commanding His subjects to ask of Him, is able to show us the magnanimity of His banquet and the lofty aspirations we may have of Him. Thus, every subsequent supplication of the servant will improve as he is now aware of what the Host of hosts can grant to him and these two elements become inseparable – i.e. each instance of seeking is accompanied by a higher level of giving, and thus the circle continues between Master and slave. This may be the true meaning behind this excerpt of Du’a al-Iftita:
وَ لاَ يزيده كثرة العطاء إِلاَّ جوداً وَ كرماً
And His excessive giving does not increase in Him, except (from the point of view of) generosity and kindness.13
When considering the Ziyarat of the Infallibles, a similar conclusion seems to hold true. The Infallibles, through their positions as intermediaries and avenues between Allah (SwT) and His subjects, are able to encourage the elevation of people’s wants and desires beyond mere material wishes. Just as Allah (SwT) has a banquet He wishes to share, so too the Infallibles; their banquet is to assist humans to reach levels of divine proximity.
The importance and weight of this is adequately portrayed in some of the legal opinions expressed by eminent Muslim jurists of previous generations. Both ‘Allamah Hilli and Sheikh Tusi have been cited as having declared it to be compulsory for Hajj pilgrims to perform the Ziyarat of the Holy Prophet in Medina, and have even permitted the Islamic ruler to force people to do so if they do not perform the Ziyarat of their own volition.14 The Holy Prophet has declared:
من أتى مكة حاجاً و لم يزرني إلى المدينة جفانى
Whoseover comes to Makkah as a Hajj pilgrim and does not visit me in Medina has shunned me.15
Such is the importance placed upon Ziyarat that even after performing the rites of Hajj and after seeking proximity to Allah (SwT) in Makkah, ‘Arafah, Muzdalifa and Mina, the pilgrim is still expected to pay respects to the Holy Prophet. This is a view common in both Shi’a and Sunni sources.16
Al-Kulayni reports in al-Kafi from Imam al-Baqir (AS):
عَنْ أَبِي جَعْفَر قَالَ بُنِيَ الإِسْلامُ عَلَى خَمْسٍ عَلَى الصَّلاةِ وَ الزَّكَاةِ وَ الصَّوْمِ وَ الْحَجِّ وَ الْوَلايَةِ وَ لَمْ يُنَادَ بِشَيْءٍ كَمَا نُودِيَ بِالْوَلايَةِ
Islam has been founded upon five: Prayers, Alms-giving, Fasting, Pilgrimage and Walayah. And nothing has been emphasised the way emphasis has been placed on Walayah.17
The cited hadith suggests that of all the acts of worship, it is the Walayah of Allah (SwT), and the Ahl al-Bayt (AS), that is the most important. Hence one of the most important etiquettes of the act of Ziyarat is to establish a firm connection with the visited one. It is at this juncture that our acts may transform from mere ‘Ibadah to something similar to Dhiyafah.
Whilst recognising the host and his kindness it would be foolish not to be cautious of other false hosts and adversaries of the Infallibles. By distancing ourselves from these people, we engage in Tabarri, a pre-requisite to Tawalli – seeking closeness to the Infallibles. Tabarri is a key theme among the reliable ziyarat supplications. Ziyarat al-’Ashura` is emphatic upon this point, and urges the reader to seek distance from not only the direct adversaries of the Infallibles that confronted the Infallibles in their lifetimes, but even all previous usurpers and oppressors, spanning generations, and their supporters and partisans.18 This demonstrates that for our visitation to truely carry the colour of Walayah, the Walayah we profess must be comprehensive and absolute.
The folly of not adhering to this is eloquently portrayed by the Master of eloquence, Amir al-Mu`minin, ‘Ali. Al-Majlisi quotes in Bihar al-Anwar:
إنّ رجلاً قدم على اميرالمؤمنين فقال: يا اميرالمؤمنين! إنّي اُحبّك و اُحبّ فلاناً – و يسمى بعض أعدائه – فقال عليه السلام: أما الآن فأنت أعور فإما أن تعمى و إما أن تبصر
Indeed a man approached Amir al-Mu`minin (AS) and said: “Verily I have love for you and I also love so and so” – and he named one of his (the Imam’s) adversaries – he (Imam) replied: “At this moment you are as though you possess one eye (and your vision is incomplete). So either you should choose blindness or complete vision.”19
In the Imam’s words, such a person is incomplete and must address his course of action lest he were to become completely attached to falsehood, thereby becoming utterly lost.
Islamic ethical discourse stresses the importance of one’s intention and sincerity as a defining factor in the classification of the quality of any action. The purer the intention of the actor in performing the act, the more reward and benefit will be gained from that action. In this regard, people are of different grades and qualities.
Whilst the outer action may actually seem identical and uniform, the inner realities and benefits may be tremendously different due to the difference in the purity and sincerity of the intention. It is only in the non-corporeal realm where such realities exist in their truest form. The hadith reports that comment upon this reality are manifold. We cite one such report to grant light to our discussion:
عن البزنطي قال: قرأت كتاب أبي الحسن الرضا: أبلغ شيعتي أنّ زيارتي تعدل عندالله عزّ و جلّ ألف حجّة. قال: فقلت لأبي جعفر : ألف حجّة؟ قال: إي والله ألف ألف حجّة لمن زاره عارفاً بحقه
Al-Bazanti narrates, “I read in the letter of Abu al-Hasan al-Ridha (AS): Tell my Shi’as that verily the rewards of my Ziyarat, according to Allah the Mighty and Glorious, is equal to one thousand Hajj pilgrimages. So I said to Abu Ja’far (Imam al-Jawad) (AS): A thousand Hajj pilgrimages? He (AS) said to me: Yes, by Allah! A thousand thousand (a million) Hajj pilgrimages for he who performs his Ziyarat whilst understanding his rights.”20
The truly balanced servant must however realise the potential granted him by Allah (SwT) in being able to utilise all the divine bounties and be wary of satanic traps. It may be all too easy for one to assume that sincerity is sufficient; however, if one is simply unaware of the inner realities of wayfaring and its etiquette, then it is possible the intellect is under-utilised and mere sincerity, whilst praiseworthy, will lead to a lesser outcome.
The Qur`an, when describing the Messenger’s mission, speaks of both Tazkiya (purification) as well as Ta’lim (education).21 Such accuracy in one’s intake of education will result in the realisation that each one of the noble acts, Salat, Sawm, Zakat, Hajj, Walayah, has no outer, worldly existence, but rather these entities exist in their truest and most radiant form in the non-corporeal realm. If each of these were to be understood, considered and treated as living entities (albeit in the non-material realm), capable of speech, form and interaction, one’s approach to them would surely be of a particularly focused, respectful and determined nature.22
Together with these realities, the true realities of the visited ones, i.e. the Infallibles that are the intermediaries for initial receipt and subsequent channeling of divine grace, can not err nor do they suffer any imperfection; and although they exist in their most majestic form as light-ordained celestial beings in another sphere, they are able to influence matters in the physical world through their specially ordained mastership granted by Allah (SwT) and dependent upon His permission.
Following these principles, a wayfarer can coach and train himself to be mindful and intensely aware of such truths and when he is able to do so he will witness an active manifestation of the Qur`anic injunction:
وَلِلَّهِ الْمَشْرِقُ وَالْمَغْرِبُ فَأَيْنَمَا تُوَلُّوا فَثَمَّ وَجْهُ اللهِ إِنَّ اللهَ وَاسِعٌ عَلِيمٌ
To Allah belongs the east and the west, so whithersoever way you turn there will be the face of Allah…23
Such an outlook will be truly appreciative of the divine at all times and places.
There is a possibility for the opposite to also become true. The Qur`an offers a stark warning:
بَلَى مَنْ كَسَبَ سَيِّئَةً وَأَحَاطتْ بِهِ خَطيـۤئَتُهُ فَأُوْلَـۤئِكَ أَصْحَابُ النَّارِ هُمْ فِيهَا خَالِدُونَ
Indeed whoever does evil and his sins surround him on every side, such shall be the inmates of the fire, and they shall remain therein forever.24
Such a person will no longer be able to perceive the divine and the ‘face of Allah’, rather his outlook will be satanic and evil: whithersoever this person may turn he would perceive the face of Shaytan; evil would envelop him and he would descend into a spiral of negativity, blocked senses, narrow mindedness and a skewed sense of reality. It may be that he is accepting of all things he perceives as utmost truth, or even worse, he may deny all true things as utter falsehood.25
Thus, the individual wayfarer, in seeking a companion, a means, and an avenue to the Absolute Truth, must be conscious of the choice of whom he visits and must approach the visitation with a true gnosis and recognition of the visited one, as well as a heart of sincerity, and thereby be completely balanced and guided.
Marhum Tustari declares:
وتفاوتت التأثيرات بتفاوت المعرفة بحق الامام الحسين فقد ورد في الروايات التقييد بكونه عارفا بحق الامام الحسين صلوات الله تعالى عليه
And the difference in the benefits (of the Ziyarat) is due to the difference in the levels of recognition (in the people reciting the Ziyarat) of the rights of Imam al-Husayn (AS), as the narration mentions the condition (for benefiting from the Ziyarat) is to be aware of the rights of Imam al-Husayn, blessings of Allah, the High, upon him.26
Having now realized the intrinsic beneficial nature and the importance of ziyarah it befits the wayfarer and the slave of the visited one to reflect upon the inner meanings of the act of Ziyarat. The etymology of the word stems from زور , originally meaning ‘to move away’ from a thing. Ahmad Ibn Faris comments that the term is used to refer to the act of Ziyarat because when a person visits another, he has effectively moved his attention away from everyone and everything else to concentrate upon the visited one. Fayumi adds that Ziyarat involves honouring the visited one and making a bond with them.27 Ayatullah Jawadi Amoli suggests that the turning away may also be from the material world of bodies and quiddity towards the celestial realm of souls and spirits.28
The Ziyarat should therefore transport us into a higher level of consciousness and spiritual being. Freedom from the world of matter is essential if we are to reach the heights of our potential. An interesting narration quoted by Marhum Tustari encapsulates this:
إنّ من زاره كان كمن زار الله تعالى في عرشه
Surely one who visits him (Imam al-Husayn) is like one who visits Allah at His throne.29
Tustari’s own relfection on this hadith is to conclude that ‘visiting Allah’ is an allusion to the intense proximity with Allah (SwT), in this instance achieved through the Ziyarat.
Whereas proximity to Allah (SwT) can only come about through a polished level of faith and cleanliness of the heart. Hence, the Ziyarat of the Martyr of Kerbala assists and facilitates to complete one’s level of faith, and cleanse the heart, resulting ultimately in the intense closeness with Allah (SwT).
پیروی رسول حق، دوستی حق آورد
پیروی رسول کن، دوستی خدا طلب
شرع، سفینۀ نجات، آل رسول، ناخداست
ساکن این سفینه شو دامن ناخدا طلب
Following the Prophet of Truth, brings about the friendship of Truth;
So follow the Prophet, thereby seek the friendship of Truth.
The Shari’ah, is the ship of salvation, the Family of the Prophet, is its captain;
Abide aboard the ship and seek to hold tight to the captain.30
Through our closeness with the Ahl al-Bayt (AS), we are also able to benefit from some of the grace which they are granted. In Sura al-Ahzab, in one of the most well-known and oft-recited verses of the Qur`an, Allah (SwT) declares:
إِنَّ اللهَ وَمَلاَئِكَـتَهُ يُصَلُّونَ عَلَى النَّبِىِّ يَاأَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا صَلُّواْ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلِّمُواْ تَسْلِيما
Indeed Allah and Angels bless the Prophet; O you who believe! Invoke blessings upon him and and invoke salutations upon him with a worthy salutation.31
Perhaps we miss too easily our own potential in reaching such a stage, where Allah (SwT) and His angels can bless us:
يَاأَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اذْكُرُوا اللهَ ذِكْراً كَثِيراً وَسَبِّحُوهُ بُكْرَةً وَأَصِيلاً هُوَ الَّذِى يُصَلِّى عَلَيْكُمْ وَمَلاَئِكَتُهُ لِيُخْرِجَكُمْ مِّنَ الظُّلُمَاتِ إِلَى النُّورِ وَكَانَ بِالْمُؤْمِنِينَ رَحِيماً تَحِيَّتُهُمْ يَوْمَ يَلْقَوْنَهُ سَلاَمٌ وَأَعَدَّ لَهُمْ أَجْراً كَرِيماً
O you who believe! Remember Allah with frequent remembrance, and glorify Him morning and evening. It is He who sends His blessings to you and so do His angels, that He may bring you out of the darkness into light, and He is Most Merciful to the believers. The day they encounter Him their greeting will be ‘Peace’, and He holds in store for them a noble reward.32
Thus Allah (SwT) and His angels also bless certain fallible beings – those that have inculcated within themselves a plentiful remembrance. The result of this blessing is that Allah (SwT) is able to empower them to come forth from darkness into light. As we have seen, the very same effect is true when visiting the Infallibles, who assist in our spiritual migration towards Allah (SwT) and away from the material world. Because their source is ultimate purity, the Absolute Truth, in calling upon them to provide us with our spiritual guidance we are confident of the veracity and accuracy of the offerings we can obtain from them. Again this points towards Tabarri and Tawalli: ensuring that our hosts are true hosts and truly able to offer us munificence:
فَلْيَنْظُرِ الإِنْسَانُ إِلَى طعَامِهِ
So let man consider his food.33
Regarding the verse above, Imam al-Sadiq (AS) has declared that the allegorical meaning of the word food is ‘knowledge’. He states:
عِلْمُهُ الَّذِي يَأْخُذُهُ عَمَّنْ يَأْخُذُهُ
It is his knowledge that he acquires – from whom does he acquire it?34
By ensuring our source of information and spiritual nourishment is pure, we will be able to avoid spiritual stagnation and prove to be a true instance of leaving the darkness and entering the light.
According to the commandments from the Holy Threshold (الناحية المقدّسة) of the Ahl al-Bayt (AS), once this enlightenment is achieved, the journey of the new possessors of light continues onwards towards their fellow human beings. As a recipient and now a guardian of this light, the true servant of the Holy Threshold discharges the duties placed upon him by helping others to emerge from darkness. He becomes the true manifestation as described in Sura al-An’am:
أَوَ مَنْ كَانَ مَيْتاً فَأَحْيَيْنَاهُ وَجَعَلْنَا لَهُ نُوراً يَمْشِى بِهِ فِى النَّاسِ كَمَن مَّثَلُهُ فِى الظُّلُمَاتِ لَيْسَ بِخَارِجٍ مِّنْهَا
Is he who was lifeless, then we granted him life, and granted him a light by which he walks among people, like one whose likeness is that of one who dwells in manifold darkness which he cannot escape?35
Hence the truly enlightened one seeks to offer the light and bounties he receives to others, to help them in their quest for enlightenment, and in this way may become worthy of the epithet of being a servant at the courtyard of the Holy Threshold.
Thus far we have indulged ourselves in seeking from the Infallibles of the Holy Family. There is however a level of servitude and obligation expected of us, which demonstrates the comprehensiveness of Islam – a religion of faith, belief, spirituality and action. The Master of the believers describes this relationship in sermon 34 of the Nahj al-Balagha. He begins by outlining the rights that we enjoy over him which include:
1. He should advise us with sincerity
2. He should collect the monies for the public treasury and spend them according to our needs
3. He should ensure our education so we do not remain ignorant
4. He should nurture us into truly scholarly people
The Imam then mentions the rights he enjoys over us:
1. Loyalty to his allegiance
2. To do Nasihah to him in both his presence and absence
3. To answer his call when he calls us
4. To be obedient to his command
The second item in this list is worthy of some deeper contemplation. The word Nasihah in this context should not be confused with the common usage of the word which translates to ‘advice’. In this instance we are considering the choicest Imam and the truest leader, an Infallible, and the epitome of perfection; so how could advice be given from us to he who is guided by Allah (SwT), himself being the Straight Path of salvation?
A closer consideration of the term al-Nasihah will reveal that its true meaning is the opposite meaning of غِشّ, a term used to denote any type of dilutedness or taintedness. For example milk that has been mixed with water is referred to as Maghshush (مغشوش), from the same root as غشّ. According to this analysis, this would render the meaning of Nasihah in this context to its root: freedom from any type of dilutedness or taintedness. This meaning has also been used in the Qur`an where Allah (SwT) commands the believers to repent with sincerity. The word used, Nusuhan, stems from the same root as Nasihah:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا تُوبُوا إِلَى اللهِ تَوبَتاً نَصُوحاً
O you who believe! Repent to Allah with sincere repentance!36
The scholars of ethics have also elaborated the meaning of Nasihah to be the opposite of jealousy (Hasad). This would add a further dimension to the meaning of Nasihah to be that someone who truly possesses the trait of Nasihah will wish a bounty for his brother believer that will be in his brother’s benefit and something that he would wish for himself; and naturally such an act would also need to be free from any form of taintedness.37 Therefore, offering sincere advice that is open, honest and in the benefit of the one being advised, is only one manifestation of the trait of Nasihah and not the entire meaning of the term.
Thus the Imam in this context, by using the word Nasihah, regards one of his rights over us as complete sincerity without any form of taintedness. This will apply both in his presence, and equally in his absence. Our conduct in thought, belief and action, should be such that the master whom we are visiting attains confidence that we are truly his, sincerely for him, and utterly devoted to his cause. The following narration may clarify this further:
قال رسول الله : من يضمن لي خمساً أضمن له الجنّة ... النصيحة لله عز و جل والنصيحة لرسوله والنصيحة لكتاب الله والنصيحة لدين الله والنصيحة لجماعة المسلمين
The Holy Prophet (S) has said, “He who can guarantee me five things, I will guarantee for him Paradise … Nasihah for Allah The Mighty and The Glorious, and Nasihah for His Prophet, and Nasihah for the book of Allah, and Nasihah for the religion of Allah, and Nasihah to the Muslim nation.”38
In the words of the Prophet, Paradise may be earned by someone who is pure, sincere and untainted in his conduct towards Allah (SwT), His Prophet, His Book, His Religion and to the Muslim Ummah.
Marhum Tustari40 has elaborated on a series of special timings at which the benefits and rewards of the Ziyarat of Imam al-Husayn (AS) is particularly enhanced:
1. Every Friday
2. Every Month41
3. Twice per year in person for those able to afford
4. Thrice per year, to guarantee freedom from poverty
5. On the happy occasions of Nowruz, Mab’ath, Ghadir and others
6. In Rajab:
a. On the night preceding the first day of Rajab
b. On the first day of Rajab
c. On the night preceding the fifteenth day of Rajab
d. On the fifteenth day of Rajab
7. In Sha’ban:
a. On the third day of Sha’ban
b. On the night preceding the fifteenth day of Sha’ban
c. On the fifteenth day of Sha’ban
8. In Ramadhan:
a. At any time
b. On the night preceding the first day of Ramadhan
c. On the night preceding the fifteenth day of Ramadhan
d. On the last night of Ramadhan
e. On each of the nights of Qadr and the subsequent days
9. In Dhu al-Hijjah:
a. On the night preceding the day of ‘Arafa
b. On the day of ‘Arafa
c. On the night preceding ‘Eid al-Adha
d. On the day of ‘Eid al-Adha
e. On the eleventh, twelfth and thirteenth days of Dhu al-Hijjah
f. On the day of ‘Eid al-Ghadir
10. In Muharram:
a. On the night preceding ‘Ashura and on the day of ‘Ashura
b. On the thirteenth day of Muharram
11. In Safar:
a. On the twentieth day of Safar
These are some of the meritorious times mentioned for the Ziyarat of Imam al-Husayn (AS). However, such an action is praiseworthy and would yield benefits to an attentive and sincere heart at any time.
We beseech the master of martyrs to allow us his visitation and remembrance as long as Allah (SwT) grants us life and as long as time subsists.
Abbas Mohamed Husein Ismail
3 December 2008
4 Dhu al-Hijjah 1429