We know that there are different views about the nature of man, two of which stand opposed to each other: the view of the spiritualists and that of the materialists.
According to spiritualists, man is a reality composed of body and spirit. The spirit is eternal and does not perish with death, and we know that religion and Islamic texts affirm this view.
According to materialists, man comprises only this machine of the body, which is destroyed with death, and its dismemberment means the dissolution of his personality.
In spite of this great difference of opinion, there is something about which both groups are unanimous, and that is that there are certain non-material elements which may be called intellectual, and which give a man his value and personality. If he is deprived of them, he will sink to the level of animals. Sa’di, the poet, has expressed this idea in the following poem:
"Man's body is ennobled by his soul,
And this fine garment is not a sign of humanity
If man were known by his eyes, nose, mouth and ears,
What difference would there be between a picture on the wall and humanity?"
There is a saying: "How easy it is to become a scholar and how difficult to be a human being." It requires so many qualities that depend on one's personality and worth.
Deviations which take place in an individual or society are of two kinds:
1) Those anti-values which stand against values, such as tyranny against justice, suppression against freedom, atheism and lack of discipline against devotion and worship, and foolishness and stupidity against wisdom and intelligence. Most deviations do not belong to this group, because such anti-values are soon defeated.
2) Another group of deviations takes the form of a cancerous growth of one value which obliterates all other values. For example, asceticism is a value and criterion of humanity, but a person or a society may turn to it to the extent of ignoring every other value. Human values may be said to come under one heading, as expressed by Gnostics and modern theologians, and that is a feeling of pain, something which animals lack.
Pain is a source of discomfort, but at the same time it gives an awareness and alertness to find the cause. In this way, it is a blessing even though it causes some loss. Rumi expresses this idea in a poem:
"The sigh and groaning which are in sickness, Provide a wakefulness at that time. When you fall ill, you feel penitent of guilt. And a sin will seem ugly to you. Then you resolve to follow the right path And promise to obey thenceforth. So it is certain that sickness has this benefit that it grants you alertness and care. Know then, you who are searching for causes, that he who feels pain, the greater is the awareness and the greater the awareness, the paler the visage."
Feeling no pain is like having no feeling and understanding. It is tantamount to being ignorant. Which is better, to be stupid and ignorant and feel no pain, or to be aware and alert and feel pain?
It is sometimes said that being a lean Socrates is preferable to being a fat pig. Being learned and wise but deprived of comforts is better than a fool enjoying all comforts. Literature is full of complaints of having intelligence, for, it deprives its owner of comfort and ease. A poet says:
"My intelligence and wisdom are my enemies,
I wish that my eyes and ears were not open."
Another poet says:
"Do not be wise to grieve for the crazy,
Be crazy to be grieved for by the wise
But such an attitude is wrong. He who attains the level of humanity and understands the worth of sensitivity and pain, never says that his intelligence and wisdom are his enemies. He would rather repeat the utterance of the Prophet that "The true friend of a person is his intelligence and his real enemy is his ignorance."
He who considers his intelligence to be his enemy never feels the uneasiness and misfortunes caused by ignorance, otherwise he would not make such a remark. In physical illness, too, there must be pain, otherwise the illness could not be diagnosed and consequently treated; an illness which is sudden and without pain is most dangerous.
What is human pain? It does not mean only physical pain. It is a pain considered sacred by mystics and is peculiar to human beings and for this reason, a human being is preferable to an angel, for, an angel is free from pain. That human pain is the pain of seeking God. Man is a reality produced by divine breath in another world, and is not wholly homogeneous with the things of this world. He has a feeling of strangeness and alienation with all other creatures here since they are all changeable and perishable and not worthy of attachment. Man, however, has a perpetual anxiety, and this is what draws him towards devotion and worship of God, communion with Him, and proximity to Him, as his origin.
There are many parables in
mysticism about returning to one's origin. Poets speak of a parrot brought in a
Most of these parables mean to say that a human being is anxious to return to the next world, feels the pain of separation and longs for a divine reunion. Imam Ali, in a conversation with Kumayl-bin-Ziad, declares that there is no one to whom he may divulge the secret of his heart. But he says there are some individuals in the world who have attained the point of perfect certainty in knowledge and feel that there is no space to separate them from the spirit of certitude. That thing, namely livelihood, which is difficult for men of pleasure and materialists to achieve is tame and easy for them, and what is the source of terror for the former, namely privacy with God, is the means of companionship for the latter.
They go along with people but their spirits soar high, and while they are here they are also simultaneously in the next world going through the mystic and devotional pains and communions that Ali had.
This love of God makes the devotee wholly unconscious of what goes on around him and he does not feel any pain even if an arrow is being pulled out of his body. This pain of separation from God, and longing for divine proximity do not end until he attains his goal of joining God. The Qur'an says the heart is soothed by one thing only, and that is the remembrance of God.
Rumi quotes the parable of a man who was constantly in communion with God and kept on repeating the divine name. Satan came to him once and tempted him in such a manner that he stopped his invocations henceforth. One day, Satan came to the man again and said: "With all your repetition of the name of God and your wakefulness at dawn for devotion and your longing, did you ever hear once from Him saying: "Here am I?" If you had gone to any other door and groaned so much, you would have received a response at least once." This remark appeared logical to the man, so he kept silent. In a dream, an invisible voice asked him as to why he had abandoned his communion. He answered that despite all his longing and pain of love, he had never received an answer. The voice said: "I am sent by God to give you an answer. The pain of love that He has put in your heart is the response."
Imam Ali, in his prayer (du’a) of Kumayl, says: "O God, forgive that sin which causes my praying to be confined and the pain of it to be removed." Thus, prayer is a goal in itself and not always the means of receiving a favorable answer.
Another group claims that the criterion of humanity is to feel the pain of God's creatures and as Sa’di, the poet, says:
"It is not poverty that has made me pale,
I am pale because of grieving for the poor."
If the hunger and pains of others become more difficult to bear than one’s own hunger and pain, it is a value which is the basis of personality and a source of other human values. It involves a feeling of responsibility towards other human beings and their needs and sufferings.
We see its perfect example in Imam Ali, especially the last fasting month of Ramadhan in his life. For him it had a new delight, and for his household it was full of anxiety, because his behavior in that month was quite different from the fasting months of previous years.
"Ali (as) speaks of the following Qur’anic verse:
"Do men think that they will be left alone on saying, We believe, and not be tried? And certainly we tried those before them, so Allah will certainly know those who are true and He will certainly know the liars." (Sura al- ’Ankabut, 29: 2- 3).
He says: "As soon as this Verse descended, I knew that great seditions and trials lay in store for these people, and I asked the Prophet what the Verse meant!" The Prophet answered: "After me, my people will be tested and tried." I said: "Those who were martyred in the Battle of Uhud were seventy in number headed by Hamza-bin-Abdul-Muttalib, while I was uneasy not to receive the blessing of martyrdom. Why was I deprived of this?" The Prophet said: "If you were not martyred there, you will be martyred in the way of God."
In the battle of Uhud, Ali (as) was just twenty-five, had newly wedded Fatimah (as), and had Hassan (as) as his first offspring. A young family usually expects a gradual progress in life whereas the only great wish of Ali was to get martyred in the way of God. The Prophet then asked Ali (as): "How much fortitude will you show in martyrdom?" Ali answered: "Please do not speak of fortitude; ask me rather how grateful I will be."
In consequence of the Prophet's utterances and of the signs, which Ali (as) recognized and explained, his family and companions became worried. In that last fasting month, he went as a guest to different places to break his fast, but ate very little. His children asked him sympathetically why he abstained from food so much. He answered that he wished to meet his God with an empty stomach. Then, they realized that Ali (as) was waiting for something close at hand. Sometimes, he looked up at the sky and said:
"What my beloved Prophet has told me is true and quite near." On the night before the 19th of Ramadhan, the children were with him for a time.
Then, Imam Hassan went back to his own house. Ali (as) had a private place for prayer where he retired for communion with his Lord after attending to his private and public affairs. The sun had not risen yet when Imam Hassan went there to see his father. Ali (as) had a special affection for Fatimah's children. He said to his son: "As I was sitting there last night, I fell into a slumber and dreamt of the Prophet to whom I said: "I have suffered so much through your people." He said: "Curse them", I cursed them and prayed God to take me away from them and send an incompetent person to them."
It is so strange to see people not showing harmony with Ali (as) in following his way, and causing him so much suffering. Such were Ayesha's companions who broke their allegiance, and Muawiah with his cunning and cleverness, knowing well what would hurt Ali (as) most, and those 'Outsider' rebels (Khawarij) who heartily and faithfully excommunicated Ali (as). When someone hears of all such tragic events, he wonders at Ali's fortitude, and realizes as to why, in his dream, he spoke of his sufferings to the Prophet, the cackling of ducks is heard from outside the house, and Ali (as) predicts that very soon the sound of wailing and lamentation will dominate that cackling.
His family came forward to stop him from going to the mosque that day and suggest sending someone else to lead the congregational prayer instead. At first, he mentioned the name of Ja'dat-bin-Hobeira, his nephew, as substitute. But he changed his mind and said he himself would go to lead the prayer. He is asked to have someone as company, but refuses. Later that day when he was laid down with his terrible wound, he said: "I swear by God that the blow of the sword on my forehead was like a lover being united with his beloved, or like a person looking in a dark night for a well where he could pitch his tent, and is overjoyed to find it."
Anyhow, while setting off for the mosque he was very excited and tried to discover the reason. He felt that a great event was about to take place after he cried out the call of summoning the faithful to prayer, he bade farewell to that dawn, and said: "O dawn, has there been a day in Ali’s life when you appeared to find him asleep? Henceforth, his eyes will be closed for ever."
As he descended from his pedestal, he said: "Open the way to a fighting believer." We see him as a perfect man who, in all his epic-creating struggles, always remembered God and feared nothing in the way of Him. As former men of learning said, man is himself the gate through which he enters the world of spirituality. Therefore, there are elements in man's essence, which are not in harmony with the world of matter. This is not only what old psychologists believed, but modern ones, too, admit it explicitly.
The holy Prophet (saw) says: "He who knows himself knows God", and the Qur'an devotes a separate account for man as against all other creatures. It says:
"We will soon show them our signs in the Universe and in their own souls, until it will become quite clear to them that it is the truth. Is it not sufficient as regards your Lord that He is a witness over all things?" (Sura Fussilat, 41: 53).
You may ask what are those elements in man which cannot be accounted for by material things? This requires a long discussion, and is related to human values and man's humanity. In the case of animals, there is no separation between them and their entity. A horse is a horse, a dog is a dog, a tiger is a tiger, But man may lack humanity, that is, those qualities which are the basis of personality, and though they belong to this world, they are not tangible, and are spiritual rather than material.
Secondly, what is the criterion of man’s humanity and gives him personality, is not framed by nature or anyone else, but by man himself. Imam Ali-bin-Mussa-Reza, the eighth Imam, says: "What is there is known through what is here." As it was mentioned before, all the human values may be summed up into a single value, and that is, having a feeling of pain above various human pains or the pain of every living creature. It is the pain of being a stranger to this world, and being separated from his origin in the other world. He longs to return to his own home and to God, from the earthly world to heaven from where he was driven out. Yet, his coming into this world has not been wrong and futile, and has been sent for a purpose.
No matter what sublimity and perfection a man attains, he still feels he has not reached the ultimate. He desires something, and when he secures it, he feels no attachment for it. Someone said: "I was going round a foreign museum, when I saw the statue of a very beautiful woman lying down on a bed and a fine young man standing on the bed with one leg on the floor and his face turned away from the woman, as if he was on the point of running away." He could not understand what the sculptor had meant by this scene. He asked someone what it meant, and was told: "This scene illustrates the thought of Plato that a man turns with great love and zeal to something, but on attaining it, that love dies away and gets buried there. It is the beginning of weariness dislike and escape."
Others who have pondered more deeply over this issue say that man is a creature who cannot be in love with what is limited and perishable. He longs for absolute perfection and loves nothing else. That means love of God. Even those who deny God or even abuse Him are unaware that in the depth of their nature they love God, but they have lost the way and their beloved. Mohyedin Arabi says no human being has loved anyone but his own God. The Prophets have not come to teach creatures the name of God and His worship, for this is inherent in human nature. They have come to show the difference between the right and wrong paths, and tell men that they are really in love with absolute perfection. If you think that money or rank of life is perfection, you are wrong. The Prophets came to remove false veils and enable men to find their beloved through loving devotions, which we have seen in Imam Ali (as). The Qur’an says:
"Those who believe and whose hearts are set at rest by the remembrance of Allah; now surely by Allah's remembrance are the hearts set at rest." (Sura ar-Ra’d, 13:28).
The Qur'an does not ask people not to seek wealth, rank or comfort, but it says that these things do not give peace and tranquillity, for, they are not their ultimate goal.
Other schools of thought emphasize human pain for God's creatures and not for God. The Gnostics, while referring to man's progress towards perfection, say that he embarks on four journeys:
1) Man's journey towards God.
2) His journey with God in God, meaning knowing Him.
3) His journey with God towards God’s creatures
4) His journey with God among creatures for their salvation.
Nothing can be said better than the above, as long as man is separated from God, everything is wrong, But after communion with God, and knowing and approaching Him and feeling Him with himself, he returns to His creatures in the company of God, to help and salvage them and bring them near God. If we say that a man journeys from people towards God, he does not attain anything. And if we say he moves towards human beings without moving towards God, he will be like materialist human schools of today, unable to do anything, because it is absolutely false.
Only those who have delivered themselves first can deliver others from being enslaved by nature and other human beings. It means freedom from one's carnal desires in the first place and from the domination of external nature and others in the second place.
From the viewpoint of Islam, is a man someone who feels the pain of others, or feels for God and then feels the pain of His creatures?
The Qur'an says:
"Then maybe you will kill yourself with grief, sorrowing after them, if they do not believe in this announcement." (Sura Kahf, 18:6).
This Verse shows the Prophet (saw) to be so eager to guide and deliver people from the captivities and difficulties of this world that he wants to kill himself with grief.
Then, two other Verses refer to the same thing:
"We have not revealed the Qur'an to you that you may be unsuccessful."(Sura Ta Ha, 20:2).
"Certainly, an Apostle has come to you from among yourselves, grievous to him is your falling into distress, excessively solicitous respecting you, to the believers (he is) compassionate, merciful" (Sura at-Tawbah ,9:128).
Thus, the Prophet feels for other human beings and does his utmost for them.
A Muslim must feel both for God and for His creatures. Sometimes you have seen a father taking so much trouble and spending so much money for his children's education that he is called ravenous with respect to their trading. The Prophet, too, shows the same zeal for his people.
Imam Ali (as), too, shows the same
feeling as mentioned in "Nahjul-Balagha". He receives a report
Avicenna compares this pain to itching which is painful, but pleasant when someone scratches himself. It is not a bitter feeling. In mourning for Imam Husayn, tears are shed because one feels the pain, and yet one loves to do so and to participate in such ceremonies. There, one feels the spirit not to be alone, but it is the spirit of all the bodies. Such a spirit prompts one to wear patched up shoes in spite of all available resources in order to be one with a spirit like Ali' s.
A poet says woe upon that spirit which is great, for in being great it feels everyone's pain and its task becomes crucial. Ali (as) sees a woman carrying a water skin, and thinks that she must be lonely to be forced to perform such a task: he approaches her and politely offers to help her, she accepts the offer, and on reaching her house, he asks her if she has someone to help her. She says that her husband has been killed in the service of Ali-bin-Abi-Talib, and she has no one to look after her. On hearing this Ali's whole body was set afire with pity and he could not sleep all night. Next morning, he and his companions carried some provisions to her house, and then and there he cooked some meat, fed her orphans and caressed them, saying: "Forgive Ali for having neglected you". Then, he lit the oven and came near to feel its heat, and said to himself: "Ali, feel this heat so that you could not forget the heat of hell for neglecting the orphans, the poor and others". This is an example of a perfect Islamic man.
As I said before, when some radical values emerge, these eventually eliminate other values, such as an inclination to worship to the extent of forgetting other duties. Now I feel that another radical wave is about to develop, and that is an inclination to social matters of Islam and neglect of godly duties. If we are to deviate from the path of moderation in Islam, what difference would there be between forgetting the society by turning to worship and vice versa?
The Qur'an says:
"Muhammad is the Apostle of Allah, and those with him are firm of heart against the unbelievers, compassionate among themselves, You will see them bowing down, prostrating themselves, seeking grace from Allah and pleasure; their marks are in their faces because of the effect of prostration; that is their description in the Old and New Testaments; like a seed produce that puts forth its sprout, then strengthens it, so it becomes stout and stands firmly on its stem, delighting the sowers that He may enrage the unbelievers on account of them; Allah has promised those among them who believe and do good, forgiveness and a great reward."(Sura al-Fath, 48: 29).
Elsewhere, the Qur'an says:
"Surely Allah loves those who fight in His way in ranks as if they were a firm and compact wall."(Sura as-Saff, 61:4).
Here, the Verse describes the Prophet's companions and those trained by him, and calls those as the enemies of truth" who cover the face of truth, while believers stand firmly against these enemies, and when they are among faithful people, they are perfectly kind to and united with them.
This is the social characteristic of Islamic society, which has been neglected for so many centuries. The Qur’an continues to say, referred to above that these people who are highly social, always ask God for more and more for society and desire God's satisfaction, and this is the highest degree of their devotion. The Qur'an says:
"They who turn (to Allah) who serve (Him), who praise (Him), who fast, who bow down, who prostrate themselves, who enjoin what is good and forbid what is evil, and who keep the limits of Allah and give good news to the believers." (Sura at-Tawbah, 9:112).
These are the divine qualities of a people and those who reform society. And the Qur’an speaks of:
"The patient, and the truthful, and the obedient, and those who spend (benevolently) and those who ask forgiveness in the morning times."(Sura Ali-‘Imran, 3: 17).
The word 'patience 'in Qur'an stands for 'resistance, especially for those who are honest and truthful ones in battle; and all the qualities mentioned in the verse are inseparable.
There is a description of the companions of Imam Mahdi, the twelfth Imam, in various narrations saying: "All night, they are monks and in daytime lions." There is another narration about the Prophet's companions, which says: "The Prophet went one day to visit the companions at Safa according to his habit. It was between dawn and sunrise. He saw a young man staggering along, his eyes sunk in their socket, and looking very pale. The Prophet asked him: "How did you begin your morning?" He answered: "I have begun it with certainty," meaning what "You have told us through the tongue and ear, I have found it through insight".
The Prophet said: "There is a sign for everything. What is the sign of your certainty?" He answered: "Its sign is that it keeps me thirsty in daytime and sleepless at night." meaning his certainty does not allow him to break his fast or to sleep, The Prophet said: "This is not enough. I want further signs." He answered: "Now that I am in this world I have a vision of the next world and I hear the voices of those who are in both heaven and hell. Let me name those of your followers who are in heaven and those in hell. (Rumi has expressed all this in a poem.)
Then, the Prophet asked him: "What is your wish?" He answered: Martyrdom in the way of God." Thus, this man is a true Muslim with that wish and in the way he spends his days and nights. It is his feeling for God that has produced his other feeling of pain. The Qur'an says:
"O you who believe! Seek assistance through patience and prayer; surely Allah is with the patient."(Sura al-Baqarah, 2: 153).
To be an authentic Muslim in society, you must pray in all sincerity. Some people scorn prayer, consider it be suitable for old woman, and think it enlightenment to be only sociable. You may have heard that Omar omitted the sentence of "Hasten to good deeds" from the call to prayer. He thought it as an enlightened step, but he was wrong. His time was the peak of Islamic victories and effervescence of Islamic Jihad. Soldiers attacked the enemy in groups and, in spite of being small in number, vanquished it. Their number was no more than fifty to sixty thousand, and yet they fought against two empires, each of which had an army of several hundred thousand. The soldiers of Islam fought on two fronts, and were victorious in both. Umar's reason for that omission was that as the people are called to pray, which is the best devotion and the best deed, they would think that there is no need to call them to other good deeds such as the jihad, for, it would divert them and substitute prayer for other deeds. He suggested substituting the sentence: "Prayer is better than sleep" for "Hasten to good deeds."
He did not think as to why the small army of Islam was victorious. Was it the superiority of weapons of the Arabs over those of the Iranians and the Romans? No, because the two civilized countries of that time were well equipped while the Arabs' arms were insignificant. Was it because the Arab race was stronger? Again no, for, we have seen what Shahpur, the King of Iran, did to the Arabs and how he fastened iron chains to their shoulders. It was the power of faith that defeated the Iranian and Roman armies and the power that is derived from that sentence in ritual prayer: "Hasten to good deeds."
When a man stands at night to have communion with God, he gains a morale-boosting power. Prayer means renewal of faith, and the repetition of the phrase "God is great" in prayer makes everything else seem so small and insignificant. Such a man, on seeing so many hundred thousands of soldiers before him, says to himself: "God is greater than all, all powers belong to Him, and we should rely on Him:' It is this prayer that gives him strength. When going to holy war is a duty for a person he must go, and his staying on for prayer in the mosque is prohibited. The condition for the prayer to be acceptable to God is to go on a jihad, while the condition for the jihad to be acceptable to Him is to perform his prayer. Prayer without jihad is null and void and jihad without prayer is likewise null and void.
In the system of Islamic values, devotion comes at the top but it must be such whose conditions correspond with Qur'anic criteria. Prayer is real only when it shows its effect by checking wicked acts. It is then that prayer leads to other worthwhile values.
Ali (as) is the sun of all Islamic
values and a comprehensive personality. On one occasion we see him as an
epic-producing fighter, as if he had been a soldier all his life. Then, we find
him elsewhere as a mystic who knows nothing but loving communion with God. As an
example, we cite two cases from "Nahjul-Balagha". In the first
military encounter of Ali (as) with Muawiah in Siffin on the bank of the
Ali proposed to hold parleys with them to solve this problem and to prevent unnecessary bloodshed between two groups of Muslims. Muawiah discussed the matter in his war council and it was decided not to let Ali’s men have access to water. Ali (as) delivered a discourse to his men, which was more effective than a thousand drums, trumpets and military songs. He told them the bare fact that Muawiah had gathered a number of perverse men and had blocked the way of Ali's men to water, and said: "You must choose one of the two alternatives, first you must quench your swords with evil blood, and then quench yourselves next."
Then he uttered a sentence which created much excitement among all of them. He asked them as to what life and death meant, and said: "Is life just walking, eating and sleeping? Is death the act of being buried under the earth? No, that is not life, and this is not death. Life is to die victoriously, and death is to live as condemned and vanquished.
Ali’s men advanced swiftly and drove back Muawiah's army, which was now deprived of water. Muawiah wrote to Ali begging for access to water, but Ali's companions were opposed to it. Ali (as), however, was against acting unchivalrous, and said that they must not fight the enemy by creating difficulties for it. Winning victory in such a way is unmanly and unworthy of him as a Muslim. Thus, he showed that manliness and magnanimity are loftier than valour. Rumi, in his poem, calls Ali the lion of God, in courage, but he says no one can describe his magnanimity.
Then, we find Ali in a different scene and a different garment when he is free from public duties and is engaged in his devotion and worship, and utters the following prayer: "0 God, you are a greater companion for your saints than any friend. You are readier than anyone to aid those who trust you. You observe the innermost thoughts and secrets of your friends and lovers, and are well aware of their insight and knowledge, and know that their hearts beat and long for you."
You should listen to the Du’a Kumayl, which is Ali’s prayer, and, in content, it rises to the height of mysticism. There is something in it beyond the two worlds. It shows solely the relation of a sincere, humble and loving servant to the holy essence of providence. The way Imam Ali (as) and Imam Zain al –Abedin (as) commune with God in the dawns of the month of Ramadhan shows us as to how we should approach God as our first step and then perform our other duties towards ourselves and society. We should abstain from one-sided inclinations.
Imam Sadiq (as), just moments before passing away, summoned his kith and kin and uttered one sentence before breathing his last. He said: "Our intercession does not apply to those who take prayer lightly."
The life of Ali (as) may be divided
into six phases, the most amazing of which is the last of them. The first
period is from his birth to the ordainment of the Prophet. The second period is
from the Prophet's ordainment to his Emigration to
The last phase is the most amazing of all because Ali shows his perfection as a human being the way he faced death. On receiving the blow he uttered two sentences, namely: "Get hold of man", and “I swear by the God of the Kaaba that I have received my salvation through martyrdom”.
A physician, called Assad-bin-Amr, was brought to him, and he diagnosed that poison had entered Ali’s blood. He said he could do nothing and recommended the Imam to make his last will. When Umm Kulthum, the Imam's daughter, saw ibn Muljam, she spoke harshly to him and asked as to why he had acted thus towards her father and expressed the hope that Ali (as) would recover. The cursed man said: "Have no hope, for I have bought this sword for a thousand dinars and paid another thousand for smearing it with poison. The poison is so strong that it will not only kill your father; it could kill all the people of Kufa if used against them".
They brought Ali (as) some milk, and he told those around to treat the assassin kindly. Then he addressed his kith and kin and said: "0 descendants of Abdul Muttalib, after my death do not go among people saying what has happened to me and accusing such and such a man. No, my assassin is only one man."
He then said to his son Imam Hassan: "My son, this man has given your father only one stroke of the sword. After me, you have the choice either to set him free or punish him. If so deal him only one blow whether it kills him or not." Then, he asked if they have fed and treated the man well. This is how he treated his enemy and that is why Rumi, in his poem, calls him the lion of God and says no one can describe the extent of his magnanimity.
All this shows Ali's manliness and humanity. The poison is affecting him more and more and his companions are weeping and groaning, but they see his smiling lips uttering this sentence: "I swear to God that what has happened to me is not disagreeable, This death and martyrdom in the way of God is something for which I had longed all my life, and so much the better that it has happened during the act of devotion." Then Ali uses a simile that is well known among the Arabs. The desert Arabs were in the habit of staying where there was grass, and when it was exhausted, they moved elsewhere. In hot weather, they sought a place at night where water could be found. He said: “I am like a lover who has found his beloved, or like one looking for water on a dark night who is overjoyed to find it”.
In those last moments, they were all around Ali's bed. Poison had done its work, and from time to time Ali (as) fell into a coma, and whenever he opened his eyes, he preached to those present. His last words which were fiery contained a twenty-point address directed first at his sons, Hassan and Husayn, and then at his other children and finally at all people who may hear his words until the day of Resurrection.
Generally, everyone who has pioneered a school of thought has a theory about man's perfection or a perfect man. What is called ethics is related to what should be, not what is, and if man can acquire those ethical qualities, he will attain the peak of humanity, The views of various schools in connection with perfect man may be summarized as under:
1) One view is that of intellectualists who view man in terms of his mental qualities, and think that his essence is his mind and his faculty of thought. This is the view of ancient philosophers including Avicenna. For them, a perfect man was a sage, and his perfection lay in his philosophy. By theoretical philosophy, they meant the proper general understanding of the whole existence, and that is different from science, which means understanding only a section of existence.
To show the difference between science and philosophy, the following explanation will illustrate the issue. You might wish to know something about a city. This knowledge may be general or specific. A municipal engineer can draw the plan of the city to show its limits and divisions into various precincts, parks, streets and squares, in which you would not be able to locate your house. Another man can supply all the local information of a precinct, which a general engineer cannot. A philosopher gives you a plan and picture of the whole existence and tries to find its origin and cause, its beginning and end, and its phases and general principles. If you ask this man something about a plant, an animal, a stone, a star, or the sun, he may not be able to answer your question. For the philosopher, the picture of universe as a whole is significant even though the details may be vague or even unknown.
To intellectualists, finding the general picture was the goal, and its attainment the sign of perfection, in which the world of intellect corresponds with the objective world. They thought this was possible through the use of reasoning, logic and reflection. They believed in two types of philosophy:
a) theoretical philosophy or understanding the world as it is, and
b) practical philosophy which meant the complete predominance of human intellect over all of his instincts and faculties.
Books of ethics judge matters on this basis, and our ethics is a Socratic one based on intellect. Does your intellect dominate your passion, or vice versa? Does your intellect dominate your anger and fear, or vice versa? Thus, if you can manage to understand the world through reasoning, and allow your intellect to dominate the self, then you are a perfect man.
2) Another school is the school of love or Gnosticism. By love is meant affectionate devotion to God. Unlike the intellectual school which is the school of reflection and not movement and in which all movements are intellectual, the school of love is all movement, a vertical rather than a horizontal motion, though at a later stage it assumes a horizontal direction. At first it is an upward flight towards God. They do not believe in reasoning and reflection as the means of advancement; it is the spirit of man that moves ahead until it reaches God. It berates the school of intellect, and this attitude is the basis of one of the finest debates in literature between love and intellect, and those who are engaged in such discussions are themselves mostly Gnostics who have given love victory over intellect. This school considers intellect as a small part of man’s existence and only a means, whereas the essence of man is his spirit, which belongs to the world of, love involving nothing but moving towards God. That is why the followers of this school, such as the poet Hafiz, prefer love and its intoxication to intellect.
Their monotheism is the unity of existence, which takes the form of absolute truth once a human being attains that position. It means that a perfect man becomes ultimately God or a part of Him.
3) Another school of thought thinks
of perfect man depending neither on intellect nor on love, but on power,
meaning thereby force, strength or something similar. In ancient
In the last two centuries, this idea was revived by Nietzche, the German philosopher. He and his followers say truth, honesty and goodness are all nonsense. If a person is weak, it is his own fault and he deserves to be vanquished. He believes religion is invented by the weak, and he himself is opposed to religion, and this is opposite to Karl Marx's view that religion is invented by the strong to enslave the weak. Nietzche thinks the weak have invented it to limit the power of the strong, and the treachery of religion to mankind has been to propagate such ideas as generosity, kindness, humanity and justice etc. among the people, and this has deceived the strong into diminishing their power for the sake of humanity.
He (Nietzche) thinks those who say that 'one should combat the self' are wrong; rather, the self should be nourished. Those who speak of equality are wrong; there should always exist inferiors to work for superiors so as to enable them to grow and produce the superman. He is against the equality of the sexes because the male is created as the stronger sex and the female is to serve the male. Thus, this school thinks superman or the perfect man to be at par with a strong and powerful man, and perfection means power.
Such ideas have consciously or otherwise become prevalent among the Muslims, and sometimes we carelessly speak of life as the "survival of the fittest," whereas this phrase means that defence of right and truth is permissible, Without such a war, no priest, monk or clergy could peacefully engage in worship in churches, temples or mosques; and they should all be thankful to the soldier who makes this worship possible.
It would be fine for mankind to reach a stage of education and perfection where no aggression exists, in which case no legitimate war would be needed. Islam presents such a society in the form of the rule of Mahdi, the upcoming Imam (as). It is said that then even wild beasts will be reconciled with one another and there will exist no war and aggression.
A sentence is attributed to Imam Husayn (as), which is neither correct nor verified as having been uttered by him. This sentence has become prevalent in the last fifty years and says. "One should fight a jihad for the sake of one's opinion". Such a sentence is in agreement with Western ideas, while the Qur'an says that a jihad must be waged in the way of right and truth.
A belief may be right or wrong.
Another school of thought says that one should have a belief, and an ideal for
which one must put in efforts, no matter what that belief is. But the Qur'an says
these efforts must be made in the way of right, and if the belief proves to be
wrong, it must be reformed. Very often, it is necessary to combat one's own
belief to discover the truth, and then begin combat in the way of truth. The
idea of the "survival of the fittest" is the basis of the supposition
that "might is right", an idea derived from
But we cannot consider human beings to be at the same level with animals with regard to the fact that war is the only way of survival. If this is so, then what can they say about co-operation, unity, sincerity and affection among human beings? They may say these acts and sentiments, too, are for survival, and are imposed on human beings by a superior enemy. It is a necessity to have these elements to face a stronger enemy, the proof of this is that no sooner the enemy is removed, than unity turns into dispersion, and differences and disputes arise among them even when there are only two individuals left.
As the schools of intellect and love meet with opposition, the school of might, too, is faced with those who scorn it and say that man’s perfection lies in his weakness not in his strength for, if he has power, he will show aggression. Sa'di, the poet, has made the same mistake by saying:
"I am the ant that is trampled on,
And not the wasp to make others groan with the pain of my sting.
How can I express my thanks for this blessing
There is no reason, in fact, to be an ant or a wasp. One should be thankful to have strength without hurting others. Sa’di speaks also of an ascetic who had retired to a cave, and when he was asked as to why he did not live in the town among people, he answered: "There are too many elegant and pretty ones, and an old man slips on an abundance of flowers."
Sa'di also expresses the opposite view in another poem describing the difference between an ascetic and a man of learning, and says an ascetic wants to save his own skin, whereas a man of learning tries to save a drowning man.
The Qur'an speaks, in Chapter "Yusuf" which is called "The Best Story", of him:
"Who guards against evil and is patient,"(Sura Yusuf, 12:90),
meaning Yusuf who, in spite of all the available resources for seeking pleasure, controls himself and guards his chastity. He is threatened with death if he does not yield to lustfulness, but he says in the same Chapter:
"My Lord! The prison house is dearer to me than that where they invite me to; and if Thou turn not away their device from me, I will yearn towards them." (Sura Yusuf, 12:33).
This proves that man's perfection does not lie in his weakness, even though the opposite view is expressed in many of our poems. For example, Baba Taher Hamadani says: "Help me against the eye and the heart, for, what the eye sees, the heart desires. I must make a dagger with a steel blade, to hit the eye in order to liberate the heart."
This poet should also have hit his ears so as not to desire what he hears! What an example of a perfect man who cannot control himself except by getting rid of his organs and limbs!
We have many examples of such weak and abject-producing morality in literature, but we should remember that human beings are prone to err and go to excess. When we compare other schools of thought with the genuine Islam, we realize that Islam must have come from God. Socrates concentrates on one aspect of man while each one of Plato, Avicenna, Mohyedin Arabi, and foreign scholars stress other specific aspects. But all of them are led astray. If so, then how can a prophet rely only on his human brain and produce such a fine, progressive and comprehensive school of thought? All those thinkers are children compared with him, and he is their teacher who speaks last and best.
There is another school of thought about a perfect man that is based on love and self-realization. This school dates back to several thousand years, and has produced lofty ideas in ancient Indian books, some of which have also been translated into Persian, such as Upanishads. The great scholar Tabatabai who had read this book was greatly impressed by its lofty thoughts. In this school, self-realization is the basis of all human accomplishments. Socrates and various prophets as well as the Prophets of Islam express this point.
But this school concentrates on the above single point only. Gandhi's collection of essays and letters called 'This is my faith", is a fine book in which he says: "I discovered three principles by the study of Upanishads, which have been my guide in life: firstly, there is only one reality and that is to know the self. This is the point by which he criticizes the West and says those in it have understood the world, but not discerned themselves, and for this reason they have brought misfortune upon themselves and the world.
Secondly, he who understands himself will understand God and others. Thirdly, there exists only one power, the power of dominating oneself. If one can dominate oneself, it would be possible for him to dominate everything else. Gandhi also says there is one goodness and that is to desire for others what one desires for oneself. Indian philosophy is based on self-realization, contemplation, and renunciation of desires and discovery of one's reality, which, in turn, produces affection.
In modern times, that is, in the last three centuries, a number of schools of thought have appeared which have a social tendency. One school considers a perfect man as a classless individual, and believes that belonging to a class, particularly a high class, is the sign of being imperfect and perfection means equality with others. Another school like existentialism emphasizes liberty and social awareness and responsibilities. Another school agrees with this, but says that being quarrelsome is a requisite for this attitude.
Another school believes in enjoyment, a school that is somewhat close to the school of might. It says that one should get maximum benefit out of the blessings of creation to attain perfection. Those who consider knowledge as the height of perfection desire it in order to know nature and thereby dominate it to serve mankind. Thus, for them knowledge is a means, not an end. Such people belong to the school of maximum enjoyment.
These were the various views that have been expressed about a perfect man, and we will elaborately describe the views of Islam in this connection and show the relative value of Intellect, might, social responsibilities etc. in it. Another manifestation of man's perfection is the way he faces death, because the thought and fear of death is a weak point in man which produces many miseries and submission to much cruelty.
If there is no fear of death, the whole life will be transformed. Very great men are those who face death courageously or even seek it cheerfully and smilingly, not a death which is suicide, but one which is for a goal to attain which they feel to have a mission and responsibility. Suicide means abandoning responsibility, while death for the sake of duty is happiness. This kind of death is welcomed only by saints for whom death is nothing other than a change of abode, or as Imam Husayn says "It is like crossing a bridge to reach a place which is inconceivable." It is reported that when he was being beheaded, there sat a smile on his lips.
Such men have both a great power of attraction and repulsion; they have very loyal friends as well as wicked enemies that knowingly oppose what is right. The noble Imams of Islam were such perfect men and models for their society.
Thus, man is the only creature who can separate "self" from himself, whereas stones, plants and other living creatures are unable to remove from themselves the qualities given to them in creation. But man should acquire his humanity, which has nothing to do with his biological aspects. As Sa'di says: "Man’s body is ennobled by his soul, and this fine garment is not a sign of humanity:"
Being born a human being does not make him human. He has the potentiality of being human in the same way that he has the potentiality of being learned. A biologist or a physician cannot show this humanity to us. It is something which is not denied even by the most materialistic school of thought, and yet there are no material criteria for it.
We begin the discussion with the school of intellect. According to ancient philosophers, the essence of man is his intellect. As man's body is not a part of his personality. His spiritual and psychological peculiarities, too, are not a part of his true personality. Only his power of thinking is the measure of that personality. What he sees is nothing but a tool and a means for his thought; so are his desires. A perfect man is he who has attained perfection in reflection, and has understood the world of existence as it is. According to this school, intellect is capable of discerning the reality of the world, and can, like a mirror, truly reflect that reality in itself. Islamic philosophers who accept this view believe that this is what Islamic faith, which is mentioned in the Qur'an, means.
To them, it means understanding the universe, its origin and process, its system, the direction of its return, faith in God and angels as the steps of existence, faith in the world as a created thing, faith in the idea that God has not left the world to itself but guides it through prophets, and faith in the fact that everything has come from God and returns to Him, namely Resurrection These Philosophers consider this discernment to be philosophical and general, and not a scientific one which is a partial understanding.
The schools that have opposed the intellectual school are the Illuminati or Platonian philosophers, and the Gnostics and school of love, and the school of traditions and annals. In modern times and in the last four centuries, the school of sentiments has risen against the school of intellect, and it claims that intellect is in the service of the senses and can only make use of the product of the senses, like a factory turning raw materials into some substance or object. Nevertheless, the intellectual school holds its own against various onslaughts.
Let us see how the school of intellect compares with the view of Islam. The first point is the validity and genuineness of intellectual understanding. Many schools deny this validity for intellect. In Islamic texts, however, we come across an extraordinary support of intellect, which is not seen in any other religion. Compare Islam with Christianity, and you will see that Christianity gives intellect no right to interfere in matters related to faith, and it is the duty of the clergy to check every reflection and reasoning in the question of faith.
Islam, on the contrary, believes that nothing but intellect has the right to interfere in religion, For example, when you are asked as to how you came to believe in the first principle which is monotheism, your answer must only be that it was through intellect. If your reason is based on imitating the elders or following the example of others, such a belief is not acceptable, and it should only come through reasoning.
The Qur'an constantly speaks of reasoning. Annals and traditions, too, consider intellect to be great importance, so much so that the first chapter of such books is devoted to intellect. Imam Musa ibn Jafar (as) says that God has sent two signs for man, the internal messenger, which is man's intellect, and the external prophet, which means those men who, are to guide human beings. These two are complements to one another, and without them man cannot attain happiness. Sometimes, it is said that a wise man’s sleep is worthier than an ignorant man's worship and the former's refraining from fasting is better than the latter's fasting; and his remaining stationary is wiser than the latter's movement. No prophet was ever ordained by God before he was granted intelligence. We consider our Prophet as having divine wisdom and this is in contrast with Christian belief in which intellect and religion are quite apart.
From the viewpoint of philosophers, the essence of man is his intellect, and all other things such the senses, memory, imagination, talents and aptitude are tools and the means for that intellect. Islam does not confirm this point, but says that intellect is one of the branches of man's existence and not the whole of it. The idea of philosophers, who declare that faith is limited to only understanding, does not correspond with what Islam says. In Islam, faith is a reality which is more than mere understanding. It is also inclination, submission, humility and love.
An astronomer knows the stars, but
he has no love and inclination for them. A mineralogist does not necessarily
have a feeling for mines and minerals. A person may have the knowledge of
something, and dislike it at the same time. In politics very often one knows one's
enemy better than oneself. For example, in
The Qur'an gives the best examples of those who know God, the prophet and basic principles of religion highly, and yet they are pagans and infidels. Does Satan not know God and yet act against God? He knows God better than any other creature and has worshipped Him for thousands of years, Has he not been an angel for thousands of years in the company of other angels? He knows the prophets too, and is well aware of Resurrection and hereafter. And yet the Qur'an calls him an unbeliever.
If what the philosophers say about understanding were true, Satan would then be the top believer. But he is not, and opposes the truth that he knows so well.
The Qur’an says:
1)"I swear by the fig and olive,
2) And Mount Sinai,
3) And this city made secure,
4) Certainly we created man in the best make.
5) Then we rendered him the lowest of the low.
6) Except those who believe and do good. (Sura at-Tin, 95:1-6).
The Verses 1 to 5 are the basis of theoretical wisdom and Verse 6 is practical wisdom.
So far, three points have been explained in connection with the school of intellect:
1) Intellect is the basis, its perceptions are reliable, and it can secure true knowledge.
2) Intellect is not the whole of human essence, and Islam does not confirm it as such.
3) What is called Islamic faith is the perception of intellect or understanding.
But what is important is that faith is preliminary to action and has no genuineness of its own, and this, in turn, brings two schools of thought face to face. What is meant by the genuineness of faith? Is it because faith is the basis of human deed, and one should constantly endeavour according to a plan and for a goal, using faith as its foundation? For, activity is inherent in man’s nature and this requires a basis of thought and belief, a matter which can be compared to building a one-room house as a goal, and all other acts or things or parts such as the base and walls etc. are subsidiary to that goal.
In today's social schools, such as
communism, a set of views and beliefs exists which is based on materialism.
There also exists a series of social, political, economic and moral principles,
which are considered as the foundation, but not the goal. Materialism cannot be
considered as a goal for a communist. This inclination was due to a stupid
conflict of the church with such social and political thoughts and especially
with freedom, so that this view became prevalent in
Recently a number of communists who say that materialism is not a necessity, and communism could be had without materialism have appeared in the world. For them faith in those mental principles has no genuineness of its own, and these are used only as a basis of world vision on which they can build up their school.
In Islam there is faith in God, angels, prophets, Imams and Resurrection, but do these faiths figure only as the basis of thought and belief without being genuine in themselves? No, this is not true. In Islam while faith is the foundation of thought and belief and Islamic ideology is built on them, this foundation has a genuineness of its own, and here philosophers are right in thinking that faith has its own authenticity. If its value is for action, then action without faith is nothing at all. Faith is one pillar of happiness, and action is another. In Islam the perfection of man in this world, and especially the hereafter, depends on his faith, for, in Islam the spirit is really independent.
The spirit has its own perfection, and is everlasting, and if it does not attain perfection, it is deficient and cannot secure happiness. The Qur’an says:
"And whoever is blind in this world, he shall (also) be blind in the hereafter; and more erring from this way." (Sura al-Isra’, 17:72).
Here by blindness is of course not meant physical blindness, but mental and spiritual blindness, which prevents man from discerning truth and having faith in it. If someone performs even all the good deeds possible in this world, enjoys the good and forbids the evil, and lives like an ascetic, and devotes his life to the service of mankind, but at the same time he does not understand God and Resurrection and the world of existence, he is undoubtedly blind here and will also be blind in hereafter. The Qur'an says:
"He shall say: My Lord! Why hast Thou raised me blind, and I was a seeing one indeed? He will say: Even so: Our communications came to you, but you neglected them; even thus shall you be forsaken this day" (Sura Ta Ha, 20:125-126).
Nahjul-Balagha believes in the genuineness of faith, and says about men of God that when they call God and beg forgiveness, they feel within themselves the breeze of salvation, and there are people in every era who have communion with God, Fakhr Razi says in a quatrain; "I fear that I may pass away without having truly understood the world, and without going out of my physical being into my spiritual existence."
In Islam, knowing God, and knowing angels as the media of the world of existence, and knowing prophets and saints who are, in another respect, the media of God's blessing to us, and the knowledge of the reason for our coming to this world and where we are going to, and of our ultimate return to God like every other created thing, all these understandings are genuine, and, at the same time, they are the basis of Islamic ideology.
Therefore, neither faith should be sacrificed for deeds, nor deeds for faith. Consequently, it can be said that the perfect man of philosophers, on the whole, is not perfect, for, he possesses a partial perfection by seeking that perfection only in his intellect, Such a man is full of knowledge but without yearning, zeal and motion.
In Gnosticism, knowledge and intellect have been much scorned. Islam while accepting love and heart does not scorn intellect, reasoning and logic but respects them. That is why in later periods of Islam, there appeared a group that respected both love and intellect. Sheikh Shahabeddin Sohrverdi of the Sect of Illuminati is one of them, and to a greater extent is Mulla Sadra Shirazi who thinks this way of love and intellect must follow the Qur'an, and has no desire to scorn the heart like Avicenna, or Sufis who look down upon intellect.
Another matter that is found in Gnosticism and is unacceptable to Islam, is its introvert nature which dominates its extrovert side, and its individualistic aspect which almost obliterates its social side. In Gnosticism, a perfect man is engaged with his own self and that is all. But in Islam, in addition to love, righteousness, self-purification and spirituality, a perfect man is also an extrovert and sociable.
The companions of Imam Mahdi (as) are said to be monks at night and lions in daytime, The Qur’an speaks of both aspects:
"They who turn (to Allah), who serve (Him), who praise (Him), who fast, who bow down, who prostrate themselves, who enjoin what is good and forbid what is evil, and who keep the limits of Allah; and give good news to the believers." (Sura at-Tawbah, 9:112).
In this Verse, the points mentioned up to the subject of prostration are internal acts of devotion, and the remainder of the Verse is related to social duties.
The Qur'an refers to similar matters:
“Muhammad is the Apostle of Allah, and those with him are firm of heart against the unbelievers, compassionate among them selves; you will see them bowing down, prostrating themselves, seeking grace from Allah and pleasure; their marks are in their faces because of the effect of prostration; that is their description in the Old Testament and their description in the New Testament; like as seed produce that puts forth its sprout, then strengthens it, so it becomes stout and stands firmly on its stem, delighting the sowers that He may enrage the unbelievers on account of them; Allah has promised those among them who believe and do good, forgiveness and a great reward.” (Sura al-Fath, 48:29)
In this Verse, the first part speaks of the social side of the Prophet and his companions, while the next part refers to acts of worship and devotion. But in this devotion, they are trying to win God's satisfaction which is the highest thing for them.
This devotion to win God’s satisfaction is extravagantly seen in the perfect man of the Sufis. Some Gnostic leaders who have been deeply influenced by Islamic teachings, and have often pointed it out observe this weak point. And yet there has been an excess of introversion, so that extroversion has been effaced.
There is another aspect and that is mortifying the self, by which is meant purification and avoiding selfishness, egotism and egoism, but the Gnostics, in emphasizing these things, have forgotten the positive aspect of purification which is magnanimity and qualities that are beyond materialism and biology, that is, non-material human values.
Without a survey and analysis of various schools of thought, we cannot fathom the depth of Islamic views in this connection. We mentioned before that the Gnostics have scorned the intellect and have exalted love to a position much higher than intellect, but it is an extravagant attitude to consider reflection, reasoning and logic as invalid.
It is said that Avicenna who lived
in late fourth century and the beginning of the fifth century of Hejira and
was a great Philosopher of the intellectual school, was a contemporary of a
very distinguished Gnostic called Abu-Sa'id Abol-kheyr. Avicenna lived in the
Transoxania region of
What we say is that if we place the view of the Qur'an on one side and the Gnostic view of intellect on the other, we would realize that they are incompatible. The Qur'an attributes a great worth to and respect for intellect, reflection and even pure intellectual reasoning as compared to Gnosticism.
Imam Ali (as) is considered as the pivot of Gnosticism by all groups and sects of Shi’a and Sunni (about seventy sects in number), and only one group follows Abu-Bakr. In Nahjul Balagha" Ali (as) has, according to Ibn-Abil-Hadid, expressed the nucleus of Gnosticism in just four lines whereas all Gnostics have discussed this in so many books. But, the same Ali elsewhere becomes a philosopher whose reasoning no philosopher can rival. Thus, the perfect man of Islam differs from the perfect man of Gnosticism in its growth of intellect. Another view of Gnosticism is that what one wishes to offer others should be from within the self. For them to become perfect, one should purify oneself, pay attention to God only and to nothing else, retire within oneself, and sever one's relations with external things. Thus, they attribute no worth to discussion and reasoning, and as Rumi, the poet, says. "The leg of a reasoner is wooden, and a wooden leg is very unruly." Elsewhere he says:
"If an intellectual discussion is pearl and coral
Something else the essence of life;
Talk of life is in a different rank
And the wine of life is of a different order"
What was the end of the road for the philosopher? It was to be a world of thought and reflection, a mirror in which to see the world.
What is the end of the road for the mystic? To reach God by self-purification and love and cover the road under the care of a more perfect being.
The Qur’an says:
"O man! Surely you must strive (to attain) to your Lord, a hard striving until you meet Him." (Sura al-Inshiqaq, 84: 6).
It means that after attaining Him, you will have everything, What is puzzling is that after attaining that rank, one desires nothing but God’s grace. Abu-Sa'id says in a quatrain:
"What can one do with life after knowing you?
What can he do with a wife, children and household?
You turn him crazy and then grant him both worlds.
What does he need for both worlds who is mad for you?"
The above points show what a perfect man is from the viewpoint of Gnostics: that when he attains God, he becomes His perfect manifestation and a mirror of His essence. What does Islam think of self-purification? The Qur'an says:
"He will indeed be successful who purifies it, and he will indeed fail who corrupts it… " (Sura ash-Shams, 91:9- 10).
Is self-purification in Islam the way of knowing God, or is the recognition of God possible through reflection and reasoning? Concerning self-purification, a sentence of the Prophet is quoted by both Shi 'as and Sunnis, that is, if anyone can purify himself for God for forty days, i.e. if he regards God's satisfaction as the only worthy thing and abandons all desires, he will become a man like Abraham, of whom the Qur'an says:
"Say: indeed my prayer, my devotion, my life and death are all for God."(Sura al-An’am, 6:162).
"Then they found one from among our servants whom we had granted mercy from us, and whom we had taught knowledge from ourselves."(Sura al-Kahf, 18:65).
The Prophet is also quoted as saying: "Is it not true that devils move round the hearts of Adam's sons and create dust and gloom whereas Adam's sons could see the angels with their heart's eye." And again the Prophet says: "If it had not been for your talkativeness and if it had not been for your heart which is like a pasture in which every animal grazes, you would be able to see what I see and hear what I hear."
Thus, it is not necessary to be a
prophet to see and hear. Many could do so; and so could Ali (as). He was ten
years old when he accompanied the Prophet (saw) to the temple and the
In this way, the only effect of self-purification is not only to make the heart pure and sincere and remove carnal desires, but its greater result is to produce knowledge and wisdom from within. It is narrated that one day the companions of the holy Apostle said to him: "We fear to be hypocrites." They were true believers and yet they felt this anxiety. The Prophet asked the reason. They said: "When we come before you, and you preach of God, resurrection and sin, we have a deep feeling of penitence that is so pleasant. But when we leave you and go back to our family, we find ourselves as we had been before. Is this not hypocrisy" The Prophet answered: "No, this is not hypocrisy which is the act of being double-faced. What you describe about is about two conditions of the mind, when it is downcast." Then he continued: "If you remain in the same state as when you are with me, then the angels will shake hands with you, and if it becomes a habit with you, you can walk on water without being drowned."
Our Gnostic literature which is
considered to be among the masterpieces of the world, owes everything to Islam,
All the delicacy that you find in the works of Rumi, Hafiz, Sa’di and Naser Khosrawi
is derived from Islam. Hafiz says explicitly that he owes everything to the
Qur’an. Sa'di says something similar in the story of Jacob and Joseph. When
Joseph made himself known to his brothers in
"Most surely I perceive the greatness of Yusuf, unless you pronounce me to be weak in judgment, " (Sura Yusuf, 12:94).
Sa’di in his poem says;
"Someone asked that man who had lost his son, O wise old man of sound
judgment, You got the scent of his shirt from
To confirm the above points, the following passage is quoted from Ali's utterance from Nahjul-Balagha speaking of a mystic wayfarer: "He has revived his intellect and killed his passion, so that divine asceticism has made him delicate and the coarseness of the spirit is changed into tenderness. In this condition, a spark strikes out of his interior and illuminates his way, and he follows it until he reaches his destination which is his safe and permanent dwelling and his ultimate goal." Thus, a perfect man should have purified his self first.
Islam says that a wayfarer of humanity holds an exalted position in having covered various stages of travel and reaching a place where there no longer stands a veil between him and God. He sees Him with the heart's eye, and he no longer requires any outward manifestations such as the sky, the earth, nature, leaves of trees etc, in order to discover God. Someone asked Imam Ali (as) if he had seen God. He answered; "I never worship a God that I have not seen. But this act of seeing is not with the eye or in a certain direction, but with the heart and in all directions."
There are, however, some matters in the school of Gnosticism, which are scorned, contrary to Islam's views, and for this reason the perfect man of Gnosticism is half-perfect. The views of the Gnostics in this connection are more important for us than those of philosophers, such as Aristotle and Avicenna, since the views of the latter are mostly confined to their books and have not become prevalent among people. Whereas those of mystics, both in prose and poetry and in the form of parables, have influenced public thought greatly.
This school offers a number of ideas acceptable to Islam, while in other respects it is open to criticism, and its perfect man of Islam. The Gnostics, unlike philosophers, do not consider intellect as a criterion of man, but only as a means, and the real ego is, for them, related to the heart, not the physical one, but the centre of sentiments and to what is desired by intellect, A mystic attributes much importance to love and emotion which are the strongest in man, His love is not a sexual one, but a love that rises high until it attains God who is his beloved. He also believes that this love is not confined to man, but exists in all creatures and in all particles of creation, Rumi compares this love to an ocean over which all nature and all skies and heavens are like foam. Hafiz says in a poem: "We have not come to this door for rank and glory,
We have taken refuge here from misfortune.
We are wayfarers of love from non-existence,
and we have come so far to the realm of existence".
The last two lines are almost a translation of a sentence uttered by Imam Sajjad, the fourth Imam, in praise of God who created the world and roused it to love Him. Thus, for a Gnostic the ego is what shows love, not what shows thought.
For a philosopher, man can reach perfection by means of logic, deduction, reasoning and reflection, whereas for the Gnostic, talk and knowledge are of no avail, but a pure heart is required, a heart which is purified from all vices, to turn to God, and drive out the devil form the heart to make room for the angel which is the light of God. Hafiz says in this connection:
"I intend if it is at all possible, to do something to end my sorrow.
The privacy of the heart is not for strangers; once the devil goes out the angel comes in.
Talk of precepts is for the darkness of the longest night,
Seek the light from the sun and beg it to come out Why sit at the door of the ungenerous masters of the world? How long do you wait for the master to come out? Do not abandon mendicancy if you wish to find treasure, By following the wayfarer who comes forth."
Gnosticism is a school of introversion in which the heart is greater than the world, even if on one side you place the whole universe, on the other the heart which is, according to the Qur'an, the divine spirit breathed into man. They call the world the 'small man', and the heart the 'great man" or the small and big world, Rumi says;
"If you are Adam's offspring, stay like him, and see all particles within yourself,
What is in the vat that is not in the stream?
What is in the house that is not in the town?
This world is the vat and the heart is the stream'
This world is a room and the heart a wonderful city."
Gnosticism negates extroversion and believes that the attainment of God must be from within. Hafiz says in another poem:
"For long the heart desired Jamshid's Cup,
And begged from strangers what it had itself,
It sought from the lost ones at the seashore,
A pearl which was out of the shell of existence.
A lovesick man had God with him at all times.
Yet he saw Him not and cried out: 'O, God,
Last night I took my problem to the Magi priest,
Who could solve it by his confirmation?
I asked: "When was this Cosmorama Cup given you?"
He said: "That day when He built the azure dome,
And that follow who has risen up the gallows
was guilty of revealing secrets."
Rumi describes in a parable a man who kept on begging God for some of the treasure which was hidden by so many people under the earth, One night he dreamt that someone came to him as God's messenger to show him the place of treasure. He pointed out a certain hill from the top of which the man should shoot an arrow, and the treasure would be where the arrow fell. Next day, he found the hill, but he did not know what direction he should shoot at. He decided to shoot at some direction, but failed to find the treasure. Every day he tried a different direction, but his labour of digging the earth with a pickaxe and spade produced nothing.
Another night the same fellow appeared in his dream and the man complained to him for having given him wrong indications. The man was asked if he had found the hill, and he answered that he had and spoke of having pulled the bowstring hard to let the arrow fly, The fellow said; "I never told you to draw the bowstring; I only said; "Let the arrow drop by itself."
Next day, the man went there and put the arrow on the bow and let it drop, and it fell at his feet. He dug the earth at once and found the treasure.
Rumi concludes the story by saying:
"God is nearer to you than the jugular vein,
and yet you shot your arrow afar.
You got your bow and arrow and made yourself ready.
Your shot went afar, whereas the treasure was near."
One of the recent learned priests said that he had heard the above story from a preacher who had mastered the "Mathnavi", but the priest did not know what it signified and asked the priest its meaning. He answered it in one sentence and said: "It is within your self." Thus, the outside world as compared to the heart is scorned in Gnosticism, whereas the words attributed to Imam Ali show that the world is the major thing and man is a minor one.
If we compare the Gnostic view with the viewpoint of the Qur'an, we find some positive aspects in it as well as deficiencies. The Qur'an does not ignore nature and says:
"We will soon show them our signs in the universe and in their own souls, until it will become quite clear to them that it is the truth."(Sura Fussilat, 41:53).
Of course, we agree that the highest and noblest enlightenment for man is within himself, but we cannot disregard the outside nature as a manifestation of God.
Here is a very fine point that the Gnostic view has had a deeper influence on the public than philosophical ideas on account of their poetic delicacy, and warmth and beauty. The influence of Rumi, Hafiz and Sa'di is found in every home. That is the reason why we have devoted more space to this discussion than to the school of philosophy.