Reflections on Dua Jawshan Kabir

Reflections on Dua Jawshan Kabir

Mohammad Ali Shomali

International Institute for Islamic Studies, Qom, Iran
Spiritual Quest Summer and Autumn 2012. Vol. 2. No. 2

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Dua Jawshan Kabir, literally Great Armor, has been narrated from Prophet Muhammad (s). In his beautiful introduction to this dua, the late Shaykh 'Abbas Qummi writes,

[This dua] is mentioned in the books, al-Balad al- Amin and al-Misbah of al-Kafa'mi. It is related from Imam 'Ali ibn al-Husayn Sayyid al-Sajidin from his father from his grandfather, the Prophet of Allah, who received it from the Angel Gabriel during one of the battles. [In that battle] the Prophet had a very heavy coat of armor on to protect himself. The coat was so heavy that it was hurting the Prophet's body. In this state, the Angel Gabriel came to the Prophet and said, "O Muhammad! Your Lord conveys his salutations to you and tells you to take out this coat of armor (jawshan) and to recite this dua [instead], as it is a protection for you and your Ummah."1 (Qummi 1994, 86)

At this point, the Angel continued to explain the greatness of this supplication to the Prophet. Our limited space does not allow us to quote the entire narration here. However, it suffices us to mention that, according to this narration, whoever writes down this dua on his kafan (burial shroud), God will not lead him to the hellfire and whoever recites this dua with a pure intention in the beginning of the month of Ramadan, God will grant him success to witness the Night of Qadr and will create for him seventy thousand angels, all of whom will be busy praising and glorifying God. The rewards of this praise and glorification will be given to the person who recited this supplication.

In addition, it is mentioned that whoever reads this supplication three times during the month of Ramadan, God will make the hellfire forbidden to him and will make it certain for him to enter Paradise. For such a person, God will also appoint two Angels to protect him from all evils in this world. Imam Husayn ibn 'Ali (a), also, has reportedly said, "My father Amir al-Mu'minin 'Ali ibn Abi Talib (a) bequeathed to me that I should memorize and protect this supplication, write it on his kafan, and teach it to my family members, encouraging them to recite it, as it contains one thousand names of God, among which is the Greatest Name (Ism al-A’zam)" (Qummi 1994, 86-7).

Shaykh 'Abbas Qummi then explains that he has not found any narration to the effect that this dua must be recited particularly on the Night of Qadr. However, it could be argued that because it was recommended to recite this dua three times in the month of Ramadan, people gradually over the centuries appropriated the three famous nights (one of which is considered as the night of Qadr) for recitation of this dua. Besides, as Shaykh 'Abbas mentions, the fact that 'Allama Majlisi, in his Zad al-Ma'ad, has included the recitation of this dua among the rituals of this night suffices us to believe that reciting the supplication of Jawshan Kabir is specially recommended on these three nights.

Sources and Structure

Dua Jawshan Kabir has been narrated by prominent Shiite scholars, such as 'Allama Majlisi (1037-1110 AH) in his Bihar al-Anwar (Majlisi 1982, 91:384-97), Ibrahim b. 'Ali al-'Amili al-Kaf'ami (840-905 AH) in his al-Misbah, (Kaf'ami 1984, 247-60) and his al-Balad al-Amin (Kafami, al-Balad al-Amin 1997, 402-11)

The dua consists of one hundred sections, each containing ten names or attributes of God. It includes, therefore, a total of one thousand names and attributes of the Almighty, some of which are mentioned in the Holy Qur'an.

After every section, the following sentence should be recited:

سبحانك يا لا إله إلا أنت إني كنت من الظالمين

Immaculate are You! There is no god but Thee. Help us! Help us! Protect us from the Fire, O my Lord!

The Concept of Tasbih

This very sentence, which is repeated one hundred times in this dua, is very important and significant. According to the Holy Qur'an, when Prophet Jonah (s) was in the belly of the whale, he regretfully asked God for forgiveness. Regarding this, Qur'an 21:87 reads,

وَذَا النُّونِ إِذْ ذَهَبَ مُغَاضِبًا فَظَنَّ أَنْ لَنْ نَقْدِرَ عَلَيْهِ فَنَادَىٰ فِي الظُّلُمَاتِ أَنْ لَا إِلَٰهَ إِلَّا أَنْتَ سُبْحَانَكَ إِنِّي كُنْتُ مِنَ الظَّالِمِينَ

And the Man of the Fish, when he left in a rage, thinking that We would not put him to hardship. Then he cried out in the darkness, "There is no god except You! You are immaculate! I have indeed been among the wrongdoers!"

After supplicating God in such manner, the Glorified, answered Jonah positively. The next verse reads,

فَاسْتَجَبْنَا لَهُ وَنَجَّيْنَاهُ مِنَ الْغَمِّ ۚ وَكَذَٰلِكَ نُنْجِي الْمُؤْمِنِينَ

So We answered his prayer and delivered him from the agony; and thus do We deliver the faithful. (Qur'an 21:88)

Based on this verse, the believers are recommended to call God in the same way and with the same sentence:

سبحانك إني كنت من الظالمين

This phrase is a very well-known one and is called by the scholars Zikr al-Yunusiyya, which is recommended to be recited repeatedly especially at nights.

Elsewhere in the Holy Qur'an, however, God, reporting the same story, states,

فَلَوْلَا أَنَّهُ كَانَ مِنَ الْمُسَبِّحِينَ لَلَبِثَ فِي بَطْنِهِ إِلَىٰ يَوْمِ يُبْعَثُونَ

"And had he not been one of those who celebrate Allah's glory, he would have surely remained in its belly till the day they will be resurrected." (Qur'an 37:142-3)

According to this verse, tasbih (glorification), which includes attesting to God's oneness, was the main reason for Jonah's deliverance.

Another point that shows us the importance of tasbih is the fact that the angels are occupied with doing tasbih all the time. This has been referred to in several verses of the Holy Qur'an. For instance, Qur'an 2:30 reads,

وَإِذْ قَالَ رَبُّكَ لِلْمَلَائِكَةِ إِنِّي جَاعِلٌ فِي الْأَرْضِ خَلِيفَةً ۖ قَالُوا أَتَجْعَلُ فِيهَا مَنْ يُفْسِدُ فِيهَا وَيَسْفِكُ الدِّمَاءَ وَنَحْنُ نُسَبِّحُ بِحَمْدِكَ وَنُقَدِّسُ لَكَ ۖ قَالَ إِنِّي أَعْلَمُ مَا لَا تَعْلَمُونَ

When your Lord said to the angels, "Indeed I am going to set a viceroy on the earth," they said, "Will You set in it someone who will cause corruption in it, and shed blood, while we celebrate Your praise and proclaim Your sanctity?" He said, "Indeed I know what you do not know."

Qur'an 40:7 refers to the same fact:

الَّذِينَ يَحْمِلُونَ الْعَرْشَ وَمَنْ حَوْلَهُ يُسَبِّحُونَ بِحَمْدِ رَبِّهِمْ وَيُؤْمِنُونَ بِهِ وَيَسْتَغْفِرُونَ لِلَّذِينَ آمَنُوا رَبَّنَا وَسِعْتَ كُلَّ شَيْءٍ رَحْمَةً وَعِلْمًا فَاغْفِرْ لِلَّذِينَ تَابُوا وَاتَّبَعُوا سَبِيلَكَ وَقِهِمْ عَذَابَ الْجَحِيمِ

Those who bear the Throne, and those around it, celebrate the praise of their Lord and have faith in Him, and they plead for forgiveness for the faithful: "Our Lord! You comprehend all things in mercy and knowledge. So forgive those who repent and follow Your way and save them from the punishment of hell.

According to Qur'an 10:10, the call of the inhabitants of the heaven is tasbih as well:

دَعْوَاهُمْ فِيهَا سُبْحَانَكَ اللَّهُمَّ وَتَحِيَّتُهُمْ فِيهَا سَلَامٌ ۚ وَآخِرُ دَعْوَاهُمْ أَنِ الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ

Their call therein will be: "O Allah! Immaculate are You!" And their greeting therein will be: "Peace!" And their concluding call: "All praise belongs to God, the Lord of all the worlds."

Therefore, tasbih and hamd (praising God) are two important acts performed by both the angels and the believers.

In our prayers, we follow the same pattern when we say, in the state of ruku',

سبحان ربي العظيم وبحمده

And, while prostrating,

سبحان ربي الأعلى وبحمده

So, like the angels and the inhabitants of the heaven, we begin with tasbih and conclude with hamd.

God has put so much power in tasbih that, according to some narrations, the angels gain their energy from tasbih. The Prophet (s) is reported to have said,

طعامهم التسبيح

Their (i.e. the angels') food is tasbih. (Majlisi 1982, 57:249)

The Concept of Dua and its Proper Meaning

Interestingly, the whole dua Jawshan Kabir contains only one single request i.e. the one contained in the repeated sentence. The rest of the dua is about calling God's names and attributes. This teaches us that, unlike what most people assume, dua is not restricted to asking God one's requests; rather, dua is essentially calling God, even if one does not ask Him anything. Nevertheless, when we call God, we usually ask Him what we need, since we are needy creatures and He is our Merciful Lord, and for many believers, this is the main purpose of dua. Even those who remember God out of their love for Him, usually ask God what they need in their duas, because they do not want to miss this great opportunity. Naturally, therefore, dua comes with requests.

But dua literally means to call, and ijabat, on the other hand, means to answer, not necessarily to give something. When you call someone and he answers you, this is ijabat and if you, then, ask him something, whether he fulfils your request or not, he already has answered your call.

Thus, whoever calls God, the Almighty will definitely answer him. If he asks God something, He either fulfils his request in this world, quickly or with some delay, or gives him something better in the hereafter. Hence, we read in our narrations that

من أعطى الدعاء أعطى الإجابة

The one who has the success to call God, his call will be answered. (Kulayni 1986, 2:65)

In a very famous narration, called qurb al-nawafil, the Holy Prophet of Islam (s) quotes God:

وما تقرب إلى عبد بشئ أحب إلىّ مما افترضت عليه وأنه ليتقرب إليّ بالنافلة حتى احبه فإذا احببته كنت سمعه الذي يسمع به وبصره الذي يبصر به ولسانه الذي ينطق به ويده التي يبطش بها ان دعاني اجبته وان سألني أعطيته

The most beloved thing to Me, through which a servant is able to get close to Me, is performing obligatory acts. Then, he gets closer to Me through recommended acts until I love him. When I love him, I will be his ear by which he hears, his eyes through which he sees, his tongue with which he speaks, and his hands with which he strikes. If he calls Me, I will answer him, and if he asks Me something, I will bestow it upon him." (Kulayni 1986, 2:352)

The Concept of Ism al-A'zam

Among the one thousand names of God mentioned in this dua is the Almighty's Greatest Name (Ism al-A'zam). If anyone knows Ism al-A'zam, whatever they ask God will be fulfilled. On the other hand, Ism al-A'zam is in the Holy Qur'an because we read in the supplication for the Night of Qadr that

اللهم إني أتوجه إليك بما فيه وفيه اسمك الأكبر وأسمائك الحسنى

O Allah! I turn to You through whatever is in the Holy Qur'an. And in it are Your Greatest Name and Your best names. (Muhaddith Nuri 1987, 6:384)

Thus, the Ism al-A'zam is to be found among those names and attributes of God that are mentioned both in dua Jawshan Kabir and in the Holy Qur'an. But which of those names is the Greatest Name of God?

I believe that Ism al-A’zam is not a hidden or strange name of God; rather, it is a combination of some of the divine names we invoke all the time. As a similitude, imagine a password, consisting of ordinary digits that are nothing but zero to nine. What is important is the order of these digits. Without knowing that order, we would not know the password, even if we knew the exact digits that constitute the password. Thus, it is very important to know which names of God, how many times, and when they should be called.

All of these one thousand names and attributes of God are beautiful and profound. In order for their meaning to be absorbed, deep reflection is necessary.

Now, I will focus on two sections of the dua, one of which emphasizes light and the other stresses life.

Light in Section 47

In section 47 of the dua, ten names of God have been mentioned, all of which are related to light. It reads,

يا نور النور يا منور النور يا خالق النور يا مدبر النور يا مقدر النور يا نور كل نور يا نور قبل كل نور يا نورا بعد كل نور يا نورا فوق كل نور يا نورا ليس كمثله نور

O Light of lights, O Illuminator of light, O Creator of light, O Planner of light, O Estimator of light, O Light of all lights, O Light that precedes in existence every light, O Light that will survive all lights, O Light that is above every light, O Light like of which there is no light. (Majlisi 1982, 90:390)

According to the first attribute in this section, God is the light of lights and every light comes from Him. We read in Qur'an 24:35 that

اللَّهُ نُورُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ ۚ مَثَلُ نُورِهِ كَمِشْكَاةٍ فِيهَا مِصْبَاحٌ ۖ الْمِصْبَاحُ فِي زُجَاجَةٍ ۖ الزُّجَاجَةُ كَأَنَّهَا كَوْكَبٌ دُرِّيٌّ يُوقَدُ مِنْ شَجَرَةٍ مُبَارَكَةٍ زَيْتُونَةٍ لَا شَرْقِيَّةٍ وَلَا غَرْبِيَّةٍ يَكَادُ زَيْتُهَا يُضِيءُ وَلَوْ لَمْ تَمْسَسْهُ نَارٌ ۚ نُورٌ عَلَىٰ نُورٍ ۗ يَهْدِي اللَّهُ لِنُورِهِ مَنْ يَشَاءُ ۚ وَيَضْرِبُ اللَّهُ الْأَمْثَالَ لِلنَّاسِ ۗ وَاللَّهُ بِكُلِّ شَيْءٍ عَلِيمٌ

Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The parable of His Light is a niche wherein is a lamp the lamp is in a glass, the glass as it were a glittering star lit from a blessed olive tree, neither eastern nor western, whose oil almost lights up, though fire should not touch it. Light upon light. Allah guides to His Light whomever He wishes. Allah draws parables for mankind, and Allah has knowledge of all things.

"Planner of light" means the one who manages the light, who determines which deeds give how much light, and how one may lose one's light. The planner of light is the one who regulates everything about light.

God has created everything with a portion of light, as is implied in Qur'an 6:1:

الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ الَّذِي خَلَقَ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضَ وَجَعَلَ الظُّلُمَاتِ وَالنُّورَ ۖ ثُمَّ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا بِرَبِّهِمْ يَعْدِلُونَ

All praise belongs to Allah who created the heavens and the earth and made the darkness and the light. Yet the faithless equate [others] with their Lord.

In dua Kumayl, also, the light of everything is attributed to the divine light:

ونبور وجهك الذي أضاء له كل شئ

And by the light of Your face which illuminates everything. (Ibn Tawus 1997, 3:332)

Thus, everything is shining as far as it is facing God and may become wajh (face) of God. Therefore, everything has the capacity to direct us toward God. This is why we read in Qur'an 2:115 that

وَلِلَّهِ الْمَشْرِقُ وَالْمَغْرِبُ ۚ فَأَيْنَمَا تُوَلُّوا فَثَمَّ وَجْهُ اللَّهِ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ وَاسِعٌ عَلِيمٌ

To Allah belong the east and the west: so whichever way you turn, there is the face of Allah! Allah is indeed all-bounteous, all-knowing.

Life in Section 70

Section 70 of dua Jawshan Kabir focuses on life:

يا حي قبل كل حي يا حيا بعد كل حي يا حي الذي ليس كمثله حي يا حي الذي لا يشاركه حي يا حي الذي لا يحتاج إلى حي يا حي الذي كل حي يا الذي يرزق كل حي يا حيا لم يرث الحياة من حي يا حي الذي يحي الموتى يا حي ويا قيوم لا تأخذه سنة ولا نوم

O Ever-living, preceding every living being, O Ever-living, succeeding every living being, O Ever-living, like unto Whom there is none, O Ever-living, Who has no living partner, O Ever-living, Who is not dependent on any living being, O Ever-living, Who causes every living being to die, O Ever-living, Who has not inherited life from any living being, O Ever-living, Who provides sustenance to every living being, O Ever-living, Who quickens the dead, O Ever-living, O Self-Subsistent, Slumber seizeth Him not, nor sleep".

God's attribute of life is so important that sometimes it is mentioned right after His Oneness, as we read in Qur'an 2:255:

اللَّهُ لَا إِلَٰهَ إِلَّا هُوَ الْحَيُّ الْقَيُّومُ

Allah - there is no god except Him - is the Living One, the All-Sustainer".

Based on this verse, if God was not Living, He would not be able to be the All-Sustainer who keeps all the worlds and creatures.

Interestingly, sometimes divine life is mentioned even before His Oneness, as in Qur'an 40:65:

هُوَ الْحَيُّ لَا إِلَٰهَ إِلَّا هُوَ فَادْعُوهُ مُخْلِصِينَ لَهُ الدِّينَ ۗ الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ

He is the Living One, there is no god except Him. So supplicate Him, putting exclusive faith in Him. All praise belongs to Allah, Lord of all the worlds.

"O Ever-living, like unto Whom there is none!" This phrase indicates that no living being's life can resemble God's perfect life. For instance, human life is always in danger; humans occasionally get ill and, in a defined term, they die. Even if they do not become ill, they regularly go to a lower level of life when they fall asleep.

"O Ever-living, Who is not dependent on any living being!" Except for God, every living being is in need of other living beings. Human beings in order to survive, depend on other humans, animals, plants, etc. Animals are in need of other living beings as well.

"O Ever-living, Who causes every living being to die!" One of the Qur'anic principles is that life is given only by God and is taken away only by Him. Even when a murder takes place, the murderer is not the one who literally takes away the victim's life; rather, his crime leads to the victim's death only if God permits. Here, the story of Prophet Abraham (a) is worthy to be mentioned. His enemy, Nimrod, claimed that he is the one who gives life and takes it away. Regarding this, Qur'an 2:258 reads,

أَلَمْ تَرَ إِلَى الَّذِي حَاجَّ إِبْرَاهِيمَ فِي رَبِّهِ أَنْ آتَاهُ اللَّهُ الْمُلْكَ إِذْ قَالَ إِبْرَاهِيمُ رَبِّيَ الَّذِي يُحْيِي وَيُمِيتُ قَالَ أَنَا أُحْيِي وَأُمِيتُ ۖ قَالَ إِبْرَاهِيمُ فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ يَأْتِي بِالشَّمْسِ مِنَ الْمَشْرِقِ فَأْتِ بِهَا مِنَ الْمَغْرِبِ فَبُهِتَ الَّذِي كَفَرَ ۗ وَاللَّهُ لَا يَهْدِي الْقَوْمَ الظَّالِمِينَ

Have you not regarded him who argued with Abraham about his Lord, because Allah had given him kingdom? When Abraham said, "My Lord is He who gives life and brings death," he replied, "I [too] give life and bring death." Abraham said, "Indeed Allah brings the sun from the east; now you bring it from the west." There at the faithless one was dumbfounded. And Allah does not guide the wrongdoing lot".

God showed Nimrod that he is wrong in his claims. When Nimrod wanted to kill Abraham (a) by throwing him in a huge fire, God saved Abraham (a) in the middle of the fire. Thus, it was made known to everybody that it was only God who gave life and brought death. Regarding this, Qur'an 21:68-70 reads,

قَالُوا حَرِّقُوهُ وَانْصُرُوا آلِهَتَكُمْ إِنْ كُنْتُمْ فَاعِلِينَ قُلْنَا يَا نَارُ كُونِي بَرْدًا وَسَلَامًا عَلَىٰ إِبْرَاهِيمَ وَأَرَادُوا بِهِ كَيْدًا فَجَعَلْنَاهُمُ الْأَخْسَرِينَ

They said, "Burn him, and help your gods, if you are to do anything!' We said, 'O fire! Be cool and safe for Abraham!" They sought to outmaneuver him, but We made them the biggest losers.

"O Ever-living, Who has not inherited life from any living being!" Except for God, every living being inherits life from another living being. All human beings, animals, and plants owe their life to a living being before them.

Finally, let's finish this article by calling God by reading the 14th section of this dua, which is one of its most beautiful sections:

يا دليل المتحيرين يا غياث المستغيثين يا صريخ المستصرخين يا جار المستجيرين يا أمان الخائفين يا عون المؤمين يا راحم المساكين يا ملجأ العاصين يا غافر المذنبين يا مجيب دعوة المضطرين

O Guide of the waylaid, O Rescuer of those who appeal, O Helper of those who call, O Aider of those who call, O Shelter of the fearful, O Succorer of the faithful, O Merciful to the indigent, O Refuge for the disobedient, O Forgiver of the sinner, O Responder to the supplicant!

References

The Holy Qur'an. Translated by 'Ali Quli Qara'i.

Ibn Tawus, Ali b. Musa. Al-Iqbal. Qum: Daftar Tablighat Islami, 1997.

Reflections on Dua Jawshan Kabir Mohammad Ali Shomali

Kaf'ami, Ibrahim b. Ali al-. Al-Misbah. Qum: Dar al-Radi, 1984.

Kafami, Ibrahim b. Ali. Al-Balad al-Amin. Beirut: Muassassa al-Alami li al-Matbuat, 1997.

Kulayni, Muhammad b. Ya'qub. Al-Kafi. Tehran: Dar al-Kutub al- Islamiyyah, 1986.

Majlisi. Bihar al-Anwar. 111 vols. Beirut: Dar Ihya al-Turath al-Arabi, 1982.

Muhaddith Nuri, Husayn b. Muhammad. Mustadrak al-Wasa'il. Qum: Mu'assasat Al al-Bayt, 1987.

Qummi, Shaykh Abbas. Mafatih al-]inan. 8th. Tehran: Daftar-i Nashr-i Farhang-i Islami, 1994

  • 1. The complete narration, including the merits of the recitation of this dua, is recorded by Allama Majlisi in his Bihar al-Anwar (Majlisi 1982, 91:482-4).