Table of Contents

Chapter 8: The Limits of Attraction and Repulsion (Peace and Violence) in Islam (Part 2)

Three Types of Questions about Attraction and Repulsion in Islam

In continuation of the previous session, if we want to discuss the limits of attraction and repulsion in Islam in a more extensive manner which is relatively multifaceted, then one can discuss it in at least three forms and three areas.

One area is that we would approach the discussion in the following manner. In essence, the totality of Islamic tenets including the doctrinal, moral and legal issues, laws pertaining to the individual, society, worship, rights, politics, etc… makes man attracted to some things and repugnant to others, both material and spiritual. As such, when we say that Islam has attraction, it means that the totality of its tenets is such that they persuade man to attract certain things toward him.

Likewise, the meaning of saying that Islam has repulsion is that it persuades man to avoid certain things and keep away from them. This is the first meaning that can be taken into account for the attraction and repulsion in Islam, and on the basis of which the question could be raised. The brief answer is that among the following four conceivable assumptions:

(1) Islam has attraction only,

(2) Islam has repulsion only,

(3) Islam has neither attraction nor repulsion, and

(4) Islam has both attraction and repulsion, the fourth assumption is correct.

The second meaning is for us to say that the totality of Islamic tenets is attractive to all individuals and people and it draws the same toward themselves, or, it is repulsive to them and it makes them shun and keep distance from Islam, or, as a whole, the tenets of Islam have elements which are pleasant to all people and attract them as well as elements that some people do not accept and make them repulsive to Islam.

The third meaning is that we have to see what methods Islam employs in inviting non-Muslims to Islam and for the advancement and training of those who have become Muslims. Does it use only the repulsive method, or the attractive method? Or can both methods be observed?

The Development of Man Depends on Attraction and Repulsion

Before examining each of these three meanings, let us first pose this question: For man as a moving and dynamic being that considers a certain aim in the process of his own development and struggles to attain such aim, in principle, does the force of attraction help him more along this way, or the force of repulsion, or both?

It is not very difficult to answer this question, and through a bit of reflection and analysis, it can be found. If we examine the living things such as plants, animals and man, we will find out that all of them are in need of both attraction and repulsion. The first characteristic of a living creature is nourishment. All living creatures are in need of nourishment in order to grow and subsist, and nourishment is impossible without attraction. That is, for nourishment a material from the outside should be attracted and enter the body.

Similarly, to attract everything is not useful for the living creature. In fact, to attract certain things will cause malfunctioning in the activities and suspension of growth of the living creature and even death. So, with respect to those things there is need for repulsion and for the creature to keep them away from its body. Therefore, every living creature is in need of both attraction and repulsion for its survival, growth and development. At this juncture, when we say, “The creature should attract certain things and repulse other things,” what initially comes to mind is to attract and repulse a material thing.

That is, we imagine that in all cases, what is to be attracted and repulsed is a material and tangible thing, but we should bear in mind that from the Islamic perspective, the life of man is not only confined to his material and biological life; rather, man has also a spiritual life which is related to his soul. That is, there is a stage of life, advancement and perfection which is related to the body of man and there is also another stage of life, advancement and perfection which is related to his soul. The Holy Qur’an says thus:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اسْتَجِيبُوا لِلَّهِ وَلِلرَّسُولِ إِذَا دَعَاكُمْ لِمَا يُحْيِيكُمْ ۖ وَاعْلَمُوا أَنَّ اللَّهَ يَحُولُ بَيْنَ الْمَرْءِ وَقَلْبِهِ وَأَنَّهُ إِلَيْهِ تُحْشَرُونَ

O you who have faith! Answer Allah and the Apostle when he summons you to that which will give you life. (8:24)

Certainly, the addressees in this verse “O you who have faith!” are living beings and they can hear the sayings of the Prophet (S). Yet, why it is said to them, “Answer Allah and the Apostle when he summons you to that which will give you life”? Definitely, this “life” is not material and physical, and a different life is referred to. In another place, it thus states:

وَمَا عَلَّمْنَاهُ الشِّعْرَ وَمَا يَنْبَغِي لَهُ ۚ إِنْ هُوَ إِلَّا ذِكْرٌ وَقُرْآنٌ مُبِينٌ لِيُنْذِرَ مَنْ كَانَ حَيًّا وَيَحِقَّ الْقَوْلُ عَلَى الْكَافِرِينَ

We did not teach him poetry, nor does it behoove him. This is just a reminder and a manifest Qur’an, so that anyone who is alive may be warned. (36:69-70)

Does the fact that the Qur’an is guiding a “living” being refer to this material and physical life? If it is so, then all human beings have this kind of life. Thus, the Qur’an is supposed to guide all of them. Yet, we know that it will not guide the likes of Abu-Jahl and Abu-Lahab1 in spite of their being outwardly and physically alive. As such, it will become clear that the Qur’an refers to a different life. It is “aliveness of the heart” and “spiritual life” that gives a person the sense of hearing for him to be able to listen to the word of God and be guided:

فَإِنَّكَ لَا تُسْمِعُ الْمَوْتَىٰ وَلَا تُسْمِعُ الصُّمَّ الدُّعَاءَ إِذَا وَلَّوْا مُدْبِرِينَ

Indeed you cannot make the dead hear. (30:52)

What is meant by “dead” in this verse is the same people whose hearts are “dead” and it is they whose bodies are alive but their spirits are dead.

What is the sign of the aliveness of the heart and soul? Its sign is the state of “fear”:

وَلَا تَزِرُ وَازِرَةٌ وِزْرَ أُخْرَىٰ ۚ وَإِنْ تَدْعُ مُثْقَلَةٌ إِلَىٰ حِمْلِهَا لَا يُحْمَلْ مِنْهُ شَيْءٌ وَلَوْ كَانَ ذَا قُرْبَىٰ ۗ إِنَّمَا تُنْذِرُ الَّذِينَ يَخْشَوْنَ رَبَّهُمْ بِالْغَيْبِ وَأَقَامُوا الصَّلَاةَ ۚ وَمَنْ تَزَكَّىٰ فَإِنَّمَا يَتَزَكَّىٰ لِنَفْسِهِ ۚ وَإِلَى اللَّهِ الْمَصِيرُ

You can only warn those who fear their Lord in secret. (35:18)

The sign of heart aliveness is that once it understands that you have the Creator God; He has right over you; and He has created you for a purpose and given you a responsibility, it will tremble and not remain indifferent. The outcome of fear and penetration of faith [iman] into the heart is this:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اتَّقُوا اللَّهَ وَآمِنُوا بِرَسُولِهِ يُؤْتِكُمْ كِفْلَيْنِ مِنْ رَحْمَتِهِ وَيَجْعَلْ لَكُمْ نُورًا تَمْشُونَ بِهِ وَيَغْفِرْ لَكُمْ ۚ وَاللَّهُ غَفُورٌ رَحِيمٌ

He will grant you a double share of His mercy and give you a light to walk by. (57:28)

This light is not material and perceptible; rather, it is light related to the aliveness of the heart and soul the aliveness which is pointed out by the Qur’an in many instances and through many ways:

أَفَلَمْ يَسِيرُوا فِي الْأَرْضِ فَتَكُونَ لَهُمْ قُلُوبٌ يَعْقِلُونَ بِهَا أَوْ آذَانٌ يَسْمَعُونَ بِهَا ۖ فَإِنَّهَا لَا تَعْمَى الْأَبْصَارُ وَلَٰكِنْ تَعْمَى الْقُلُوبُ الَّتِي فِي الصُّدُورِ

Indeed it is not the eyes that turn blind, but the hearts turn blind—those which are in the breasts! (22:46)

Material and physical eye has life and vision, but it has no vision of the soul and inner being. The muscular heart in the bosom beats and is alive but there is another heart which has the problem:

ثُمَّ قَسَتْ قُلُوبُكُمْ مِنْ بَعْدِ ذَٰلِكَ فَهِيَ كَالْحِجَارَةِ أَوْ أَشَدُّ قَسْوَةً ۚ وَإِنَّ مِنَ الْحِجَارَةِ لَمَا يَتَفَجَّرُ مِنْهُ الْأَنْهَارُ ۚ وَإِنَّ مِنْهَا لَمَا يَشَّقَّقُ فَيَخْرُجُ مِنْهُ الْمَاءُ ۚ وَإِنَّ مِنْهَا لَمَا يَهْبِطُ مِنْ خَشْيَةِ اللَّهِ ۗ وَمَا اللَّهُ بِغَافِلٍ عَمَّا تَعْمَلُونَ

Then your hearts hardened after that; so they are like stones, or even harder. (2:74)

That heart, like a stone, is hard and impenetrable, nay it has become more solid than stone:

ثُمَّ قَسَتْ قُلُوبُكُمْ مِنْ بَعْدِ ذَٰلِكَ فَهِيَ كَالْحِجَارَةِ أَوْ أَشَدُّ قَسْوَةً ۚ وَإِنَّ مِنَ الْحِجَارَةِ لَمَا يَتَفَجَّرُ مِنْهُ الْأَنْهَارُ ۚ وَإِنَّ مِنْهَا لَمَا يَشَّقَّقُ فَيَخْرُجُ مِنْهُ الْمَاءُ ۚ وَإِنَّ مِنْهَا لَمَا يَهْبِطُ مِنْ خَشْيَةِ اللَّهِ ۗ وَمَا اللَّهُ بِغَافِلٍ عَمَّا تَعْمَلُونَ

For indeed there are some stones from which streams gush forth, and indeed there are some of them that split, and water issues from them. (2:74)

From many verses in the Qur’an, it can clearly be deduced that it refers to certain eyes, ears, hearts, and life of men which are different from the physical eyes, ears, hearts, and life. Just as the physical life and its growth and development are based on attraction and repulsion, so also does the life of the soul depend on attracting certain things and repulsing some others. Just as there are things that have effect on the physical life of man and for which they are either useful or harmful, so also are there elements which are influential in the spiritual life of man for which they are either useful or harmful.

Just as the physical life has different stages and has imperfection and perfection as well as strength and weakness, the spiritual life is also an uncertain affair and has different stages. The first stage of spiritual life is that in face of the primary invitation of the prophets (‘a) to faith and monotheism, man would be affected and attached to it. Of course, later on, as the result of the guidance of the prophets (‘a) and acting upon their teachings and orders, the spirit will become more perfect and man will attain a loftier station of spiritual life. It is here that the topic on self-purification and self-refinement will be discussed.

Self-Purification as Attractions and Repulsions Necessary for the Perfection of the Soul

The issue of self-purification in reality is the same issue of attractions and repulsions. For a tree to grow well, apart from attracting materials from the air and soil, its surplus branches must also be cut, and pests and simoom must be kept away from it. Regarding man, similar measures must be taken and something must be done in order for the soul to be polished. The groundwork of this venture is for man to become aware of and be able to identify that which is useful for his spiritual life and must be attracted, and that which is harmful and must be repulsed. Therefore, the first step is knowledge and understanding and abandonment of negligence and ignorance. Man should know that his soul is such that:

الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَتَطْمَئِنُّ قُلُوبُهُمْ بِذِكْرِ اللَّهِ ۗ أَلَا بِذِكْرِ اللَّهِ تَطْمَئِنُّ الْقُلُوبُ

Look! The hearts find rest in Allah’s remembrance! (13:28)

The nourishment of the soul is thus remembrance and glorification of God and there is a relationship between the aliveness of the heart and remembrance of God. The same heart is such that if it is not protected and not kept away from pests and simoom, it will become so corrupt and disgusted with God:

وَإِذَا ذُكِرَ اللَّهُ وَحْدَهُ اشْمَأَزَّتْ قُلُوبُ الَّذِينَ لَا يُؤْمِنُونَ بِالْآخِرَةِ ۖ وَإِذَا ذُكِرَ الَّذِينَ مِنْ دُونِهِ إِذَا هُمْ يَسْتَبْشِرُونَ

When Allah is mentioned alone, [thereat] shrink away the hearts of those who do not believe in the Hereafter. (39:45)

Albeit that to know God and to search for Him is a natural disposition of man and that our primordial nature has been created in such a manner that it loves and knows God, the simoom has corrupted and perverted it so much so that whenever the name of God is mentioned, it will be annoyed. Similarly, the primordial nature of the human body is such that whenever smoke enters its throat and lungs, it will be annoyed and through the natural reaction of coughing, it emits the smoke.

Yet, by smoking cigarette, calamity is brought to this body in that this time, whenever no smoke enters the throat and lungs, it will not remain at ease! And even more serious than this, sometimes he smokes and is totally satisfied but once his cigarette pocket is empty and no cigarette is available at home, he cannot sleep! The same irritating smoke which was against his primordial nature and used to annoy him destroys so much his temperament in that it becomes the alpha and omega of his life and he becomes so addicted to it that without it he cannot sleep at night.

Among things that are influential in the spiritual life of man is the feeling of love toward God, the friends of God and the friends of the friends of God, for the attainment of which one should strive. On the contrary, with respect to sin, Satan, and love for the enemies of God and religion, one should repulse them and keep them away from the heart. For the spiritual life of man not only sin but also to think about and remember it are harmful, and if a believer wants his faith to be more perfect and his spirit to be loftier, he should not even entertain the idea of sinning in his mind.

Perhaps, these words during our time and under the conditions and circumstances prevailing in our society are like fiction and it is problematic for us to imagine it and it is even more difficult for us to affirm them. Yet, these are existing realities. I personally do not believe in some of the stories being narrated and it is usually not my style to prove my points through stories, but sometimes in order for the mind to grasp the idea, to narrate some of the stories is useful. Thus, I shall mention one of the stories which have been narrated in this connection.

An Outstanding Example of Spiritual Attraction and Repulsion

There is a famous story related to Sayyid Murtaza and Sayyid ar-Razi. Sayyid Murtaza and Sayyid ar-Razi are brothers. Sayyid ar-Razi is the compiler of Nahj al-Balaghah,2 while Sayyid Murtaza is one of our prominent and outstanding ‘ulama’. When these two brothers wanted to go to their teacher, Shaykh al-Mufid3 for the first time, the preceding night the late Shaykh saw in a dream that Lady Fatimah al-Zahra' (‘a) was holding the hands of Imam al-Hasan and Imam al-Husayn (‘a) who are kids, brought them to the Shaykh and said, “O Shaykh! Teach jurisprudence to these two.” The Shaykh woke up. He was astonished. What does it mean? “Who am I to teach something to Imam al-Hasan and Imam al-Husayn (‘a)?” The following morning, as he went out to teach his pupils and students, he saw a woman coming, holding the hands of her two male children and as she turned to him, she said, “O Shaykh! Teach jurisprudence to these two.” These two kids were no other than Sayyid Murtaza and Sayyid ar-Razi.

In any case, my point in narrating this story is that it is said that one day, these two brothers wanted to pray together. It is recommended [mustahabb] that the one leading the prayer is more virtuous than the one following him, and the spiritual stations of these two brothers are so exalted that not only were they observing the rules pertaining to what is obligatory and forbidden, but they also were particular of the rules pertaining to which acts are commendable and abominable.

Sayyid Murtaza wanted to observe the said recommended practice (of letting the more virtuous lead the prayer). And on the other hand, he did not want to explicitly say to his brother, “I am more virtuous than you. So, I have to lead the prayer and thus both of us will receive greater reward.” As he wanted indirectly to let his brother understand the fact, he said, “It is better that the one who will lead the prayer is he who has not committed a sin so far.” He wanted to indirectly point out that “From the day I reached puberty, I have not committed any sin. So, I am more qualified to lead the prayer.” Sayyid ar-Razi said, “It is better that the one who will lead the prayer is he who has so far never thought of committing a sin!” He indirectly wanted to say that “From the day I reached puberty, I have not even thought of committing a sin.”

At any rate, whether this story is true or not is not important. What matters is that it is a fact that the high degree of faith is that even the thought of sinning is not entertained in one’s mind:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اجْتَنِبُوا كَثِيرًا مِنَ الظَّنِّ إِنَّ بَعْضَ الظَّنِّ إِثْمٌ ۖ وَلَا تَجَسَّسُوا وَلَا يَغْتَبْ بَعْضُكُمْ بَعْضًا ۚ أَيُحِبُّ أَحَدُكُمْ أَنْ يَأْكُلَ لَحْمَ أَخِيهِ مَيْتًا فَكَرِهْتُمُوهُ ۚ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ تَوَّابٌ رَحِيمٌ

O you who have faith! Avoid much suspicion. Indeed some suspicions are sins. (49:12)

The faithful should shun even the practice of thinking of anything bad and keep aloof from it. To think of a sin and to imagine some of the scenes of sinning may insinuate a person gradually and drag him to sin. The faithful should remember God at all times:

الَّذِينَ يَذْكُرُونَ اللَّهَ قِيَامًا وَقُعُودًا وَعَلَىٰ جُنُوبِهِمْ وَيَتَفَكَّرُونَ فِي خَلْقِ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ رَبَّنَا مَا خَلَقْتَ هَٰذَا بَاطِلًا سُبْحَانَكَ فَقِنَا عَذَابَ النَّارِ

Those who remember Allah standing, sitting, and lying on their sides. (3:191)

You have lied on your sides and closed your eyes in order to sleep. In such a condition, you also remember Allah and try to sleep while remembering Him so that your soul at the time of sleep will soar toward the Divine Throne and travel to the celestial world. There are also those who at the time of sleep entertain other things in their minds and these things corrupt them, and once they fall asleep they travel to the world of evils and see bad dreams.

These are effects and outcomes existing in the realm of the spiritual life of man. Just as in the realm of his material and animalistic life, man has to eat good and wholesome food and avoid poisonous stuffs and harmful things in order to grow and remain healthy, in the realm of spiritual and humane life, he also has to take in things which are beneficial to his soul and shun those which are poisonous and harmful.

Interpretation of the Verse, “So Let Man Observe his Food”

The Holy Qur’an says:

فَلْيَنْظُرِ الْإِنْسَانُ إِلَىٰ طَعَامِهِ

So let man observe his food. (80:24)

Of course, considering the preceding and succeeding verses, this verse is related to the material food and physical nourishment because they talk about the following: O man! Think as to where this food has come from; how We poured down water from the sky and how We let the plants grow; and how the plants sustained the sheep while the meat of these sheep is sustenance for you. This is a blessing which God has provided for you in this manner.4 In sum, that is the purport of the verses and as such, the word ta‘am in this verse apparently refers to material food, but under this noble verse there is a narrated tradition which actually serves as the esoteric interpretation and meaning of the verse, stating that the meaning of the verse in question is as follows:

Let man consider his knowledge from whom it acquires.

Knowledge is the soul’s nourishment and in consuming it one must observe caution. That is, just as you sometimes want to eat your food outside, you ask and then look for the restaurant which is clean and whose foods are better and higher in quality, knowledge is also a nourishment of your soul. It cannot just be taken from everywhere and everybody. You have to consider that this professor from whom you want to acquire knowledge possesses the necessary spiritual hygiene or not. You should not trust every item of knowledge in whatever medium it is presented, be it book, speech, lecture, etc. You have to see through the channel of whom that this knowledge is transmitted because the effect of knowledge on your life and soul is not less than the effect of food on your body. Just as you see that the food you want to consume is clean, the fruits and vegetables are antisepticised, and then consume them, you should also be careful of the knowledge which is the nourishment of your soul; lest they were polluted and spoiled. Here, you should also practice attraction and repulsion.

We have to avoid things that weaken and corrupt our faith, beliefs and values, and we should not look after them except when we attained the station wherein we have immunity from them. Just as by injecting vaccine, we immunize our body from some ailments and we make sure that the microbe and virus will no longer harm our body, by strengthening the mental faculty and acquiring certain knowledge, we can also possibly immunize our soul from some corrupt ideas and misleading doubts to the extent that those doubts and wrong ideas no longer affect us. Of course, there is nothing wrong to read or listen to subjects that bring about doubts, but as long as one has not yet attained such degree of immunity and intellectual growth, he should avoid such subjects:

وَقَدْ نَزَّلَ عَلَيْكُمْ فِي الْكِتَابِ أَنْ إِذَا سَمِعْتُمْ آيَاتِ اللَّهِ يُكْفَرُ بِهَا وَيُسْتَهْزَأُ بِهَا فَلَا تَقْعُدُوا مَعَهُمْ حَتَّىٰ يَخُوضُوا فِي حَدِيثٍ غَيْرِهِ ۚ إِنَّكُمْ إِذًا مِثْلُهُمْ ۗ إِنَّ اللَّهَ جَامِعُ الْمُنَافِقِينَ وَالْكَافِرِينَ فِي جَهَنَّمَ جَمِيعًا

When you hear Allah’s signs being disbelieved and derided, do not sit with them until they engage in some other discourse, or else you [too] will be like them. (4:140)

We should not say that we are faithful and we believe in God, the Prophet and the Qur’an, and these words have no effect on us. So long as we are not yet immunized, there is the possibility that participating in their meetings and listening to their statements, this mental virus will gradually affect us and rob us of our faith and beliefs:

وَإِذَا رَأَيْتَ الَّذِينَ يَخُوضُونَ فِي آيَاتِنَا فَأَعْرِضْ عَنْهُمْ حَتَّىٰ يَخُوضُوا فِي حَدِيثٍ غَيْرِهِ ۚ وَإِمَّا يُنْسِيَنَّكَ الشَّيْطَانُ فَلَا تَقْعُدْ بَعْدَ الذِّكْرَىٰ مَعَ الْقَوْمِ الظَّالِمِينَ

When you see those who gossip impiously about Our signs, avoid them until they engage in some other discourse. (6:68)

The order of God, Who is the Physician of your and my souls and the medicine He injects is that prior to the acquisition of immunity through the vaccination of necessary knowledge and understanding, you should not participate in any meeting where mental doubts are infused, and not read any newspaper, article or book in which religious sanctities are vilified and insulted while the fundamentals of religion are questioned. What will happen if we participate and read so? This is the reply of the Qur’an:

وَقَدْ نَزَّلَ عَلَيْكُمْ فِي الْكِتَابِ أَنْ إِذَا سَمِعْتُمْ آيَاتِ اللَّهِ يُكْفَرُ بِهَا وَيُسْتَهْزَأُ بِهَا فَلَا تَقْعُدُوا مَعَهُمْ حَتَّىٰ يَخُوضُوا فِي حَدِيثٍ غَيْرِهِ ۚ إِنَّكُمْ إِذًا مِثْلُهُمْ ۗ إِنَّ اللَّهَ جَامِعُ الْمُنَافِقِينَ وَالْكَافِرِينَ فِي جَهَنَّمَ جَمِيعًا

Or else you [too] will be like them. Indeed Allah will gather the hypocrites and the faithless in hell all together. (4:140)

If you do not accept and pay attention to our admonition, and sit together and mingle with such people, you will gradually join the group of those who vilify religious sanctities and undermine the religious values and beliefs, and you will be thrown to hellfire.

Just as you keep away from a person who has a contagious disease so as for it not to transmit to you, you should also keep aloof from people, gatherings and subjects which are transmitters of mental sickness, unless you are equipped with safety and anti-microbe devises and instruments. In that case, not only should you not isolate yourself but you should also strive to cure their sickness and save them. Like physicians and nurses, by using sterilized instruments and systems of protection, they do something to save the lives of patients.

Of course, it is the duty of a physician to approach the patient and interact with him, but he does so with utmost caution and observance of necessary preventive measures. Because of lack of necessary knowledge and equipment, not only could others do nothing but rather if they approach the patient, they themselves will get sick. Thus, they are not supposed to interact with him. The soul, mind and heart of people may also be afflicted by a dangerous contagious disease and in case of absence of necessary caution, it is possible that the disease transmits to us.

Spiritual Ailment and Wellbeing

The sign of perfect soundness of the soul is fondness of God; to remember and glorify God is pleasant for it; and the soul loves anything and anybody who in one way or another is inclined toward the obedience and submission to Him. Meanwhile, the sign of the ailment and lack of wellbeing of the soul is that once there is talk about prayer, supplication, and religious discussion and gatherings, it resents them and deals with them unenthusiastically and out of compulsion. If a person who has not eaten any food for a couple of hours is not hungry, and a wholesome and delicious food does not stimulate his appetite, this is a sign of sickness and poor health.

We should know and be cautious that the heart has also diseases: “There is a sickness in their hearts, (2:10) and if a sickness is found in the heart and is not treated, it will deteriorate: “Then Allah increased their sickness. (2:10)” And if its deterioration is not checked and it engulfs the entire heart, it will become incurable and there is no more hope for recovery and relief, just like one who is located at a very steep slope and cannot control himself from running down:

أُولَٰئِكَ الَّذِينَ طَبَعَ اللَّهُ عَلَىٰ قُلُوبِهِمْ وَسَمْعِهِمْ وَأَبْصَارِهِمْ ۖ وَأُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الْغَافِلُونَ

Allah has set a seal on their hearts, and on their hearing and their sight [as well], and it is they who are the heedless. (16:108)

Sometimes, while our sickness is turning cancerous and incurable, we are still heedless and in many cases, we are instead very glad, imagining that day by day we are progressing and getting closer to perfection:

قُلْ هَلْ نُنَبِّئُكُمْ بِالْأَخْسَرِينَ أَعْمَالًا الَّذِينَ ضَلَّ سَعْيُهُمْ فِي الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا وَهُمْ يَحْسَبُونَ أَنَّهُمْ يُحْسِنُونَ صُنْعًا

Shall we inform you about the biggest losers in regard to works? Those who endeavor goes awry in the life of the world, while they suppose they are doing good. (18:103-104)

Our soul is in need of attraction and repulsion, and to choose which thing is to be attracted and which one is to be repulsed has also been delegated to us. Like the smokers and drug addicts, we may “inject” smoke and poison into our soul, and like the mountaineers and athletes, we may also provide fresh and clean air as the breathing space for our hearts and souls:

مَنْ كَانَ يُرِيدُ الْعَاجِلَةَ عَجَّلْنَا لَهُ فِيهَا مَا نَشَاءُ لِمَنْ نُرِيدُ ثُمَّ جَعَلْنَا لَهُ جَهَنَّمَ يَصْلَاهَا مَذْمُومًا مَدْحُورًا وَمَنْ أَرَادَ الْآخِرَةَ وَسَعَىٰ لَهَا سَعْيَهَا وَهُوَ مُؤْمِنٌ فَأُولَٰئِكَ كَانَ سَعْيُهُمْ مَشْكُورًا كُلًّا نُمِدُّ هَٰؤُلَاءِ وَهَٰؤُلَاءِ مِنْ عَطَاءِ رَبِّكَ ۚ وَمَا كَانَ عَطَاءُ رَبِّكَ مَحْظُورً

Whoever desires this transitory life, We expedite for him therein whatever We wish, for whoever We desire. Then We appoint hell for him, to enter it, blameful and spurned. Whoever desires the Hereafter and strives for it with an endeavor worthy of it, should he be faithful the endeavor of such will be well-appreciated. To these and to those to all We extend the bounty of your Lord, and the bounty of your Lord is not confined. (17:18-20)

Those who yearn for the transient life and enjoyment of this world and do not think of anything else will naturally strive to attain them, but they will not acquire everything they desire because in essence, desires of man are boundless, and whenever he attains a certain level, he will aspire for a higher level. In any case, God helps this group so as for them to attain some of their desires, but their final destiny will be perdition and hellfire.

There are also people who desire for the Hereafter and its blessings and pleasures. The description of this group mentioned in the Qur’an is noteworthy when it says: They are those who, firstly, “are desirous of the Hereafter” but it is not a desire for which they do not will to pay the price. In fact, they do not fail to exert efforts and pay the price worthy of what they desire, but again, it is not enough. Thirdly, action and endeavor should be supplemented by the proof of faith. Not only will these people obtain what they aspire for, but also God will appreciate them. Of course, as to what His appreciation is, only God the Exalted knows.

The most important and noteworthy part of these verses is this:

To these and to those to all We extend the bounty of your Lord.

That is, “We will assist both groups to attain their desires and We will provide them with the necessary means and tools.” The choice of which thing is to be attracted or repulsed is your decision, and there is no difference whichever you choose good or bad. You will be provided with Our assistance in obtaining it. The Holy Qur'an also reads:

مَنْ جَاءَ بِالْحَسَنَةِ فَلَهُ عَشْرُ أَمْثَالِهَا ۖ وَمَنْ جَاءَ بِالسَّيِّئَةِ فَلَا يُجْزَىٰ إِلَّا مِثْلَهَا وَهُمْ لَا يُظْلَمُونَ

Whoever brings virtue shall receive ten times its like; but whoever brings vice shall not be requited except with its like, and they will not be wronged. (6:160)

That is to say, “As to those who choose the perverted and noxious things, We shall make these things effective only to the extent of their capability, but We shall increase the effect of chosen good and desirable things up to ten times.”

Summary of the Discussion

In conclusion, apart from the physical dimension, man has spiritual and celestial life, in which, like the physical dimension, he is in need of attraction and repulsion. That is, he is in need of a power through the assistance of which he can attract elements such as faith, love for God and beneficial knowledge which are useful for his heart and soul and they strengthen and increase his humanity. Also, he needs a power through which he can keep certain things such as Satan, sin and love for the enemies of God and His religion, which are harmful to his spiritual life, away from his soul.

Of course, we should not forget that our main topic, as indicated at the beginning of this session, is attraction and repulsion in Islam, which can be tackled in three ways. One way is to ask: Does the totality of the teachings of Islam be they in the realm of beliefs, laws, or ethics persuade man only to attract certain things, or only to repulse certain things, or both? The second way is to ask: Is the totality of the teachings of Islam attractive or repulsive to all people? And the third way is to ask: In inviting people to Islam and training them, does Islam use attractive, repulsive, or both methods? Whatever we have said in this session is actually an introduction to the main subject, and our three initial questions still remain unanswered. God willing, in the next meeting we will deal with them.

Question and Answer

Question: Regarding the body, the issue is that it has a specific capacity in taking foods. If foods beyond that specified capacity are consumed, it will be harmful to the body and this state of affairs will become repulsive for it. Do the soul and its nourishment have the same limitations?

Answer: This is an important question and it has connection with one of the famous schools in the philosophy of ethics called “School of Moderation.” The proponents of this school believe that concerning moral virtues, the criterion of virtue is moderation, and extremism and profligacy are harmful. Naturally, this question comes to mind: Certain things have no specific limitation and the more there is the better; for example, love of God, worship, knowledge, and many others. Is moderation in this context also sensible? This question is similar to the previous one and its answer is also as follows: It is true that to acquire virtues has no bounds and limits, but the problem here is that in this world man has a limited power and capability, and if he wants to spend his entire power and strength in one aspect, he will lag behind in all other aspects. If we only engage in worship and not pay attention to food, rest and health, we will get sick and also lose the strength to worship. That is, our worship will be suspended and our body will become sick. Or is it that, for example, what God wants is the perpetuity of the human generation and this issue also requires family formation, sexual relations, rearing of children, and in sum, management of a family and meeting the needs of its members to which we should naturally spend much of our strength and time?

If man only thinks of his spiritual and moral growth, and not exert efforts for his family, wife and child, the human generation will become extinct or corrupt. Or, for instance, if a person wants to go to the battlefront and wage war, he cannot engage much in optional and supererogatory forms of worship.

Therefore, since man has various responsibilities in this world while his power and strength are limited, he is supposed to divide this strength among them and engage in every area as much as necessary and in such a manner that it does not infringe on other areas.

Of course, man can do something in that his entire life ranging from his prayer and reading of the Qur’an to eating, sleeping and the most trivial of his daily activities will become forms of worship, and from time to time, he can climb higher up the ladder of proximity to God.

  • 1. Abū-Jahl, the nickname of ‘Amr ibn Hisham al-Makhzūmi, and Abū-Lahab (see the Holy Qur'an, 111:1-5) are the bitter opponents of the Noble Messenger (S) from among his relatives. [Trans.]
  • 2. Nahj al-Balaghah (Peak of Eloquence) is a collection of speeches, sayings and letters of the Commander of the Faithful, Imam ‘Ali ibn Abi-Talib (‘a) compiled by Sharif ar-Radhi, Muhammad ibn al-Husayn (d. 406 AH/1016). Contents of the book concern the three essential topics of God, man and the universe, and include comments on scientific, literary, social, ethical, and political issues. Except the words of the Glorious Qur'an and of the Holy Prophet (S), no words of man can equate it in eloquence. So far, more than 101 exegeses have been written on Nahj al-Balaghah, indicating the importance of this treatise to scholars and learned men of research and investigation. For more information, visit: http://www.al-islam.org/nahjul. [Trans.]
  • 3. Shaykh al-Mufid: the common designation of Abū-‘`Abdullah Muhammad ibn Muhammad ibn Nu‘man al-Harithi (d. 413 AH/1022) who was a great Shi‘ah jurist, traditionist and scholar of scholasticism. Notable among his disciples were Sayyid Murtadha ‘Alam al-Huda, Sayyid ar-Radhi, Shaykh at-Tūsi, and an-Najashi. Around 200 works are attributed to him, from which we can cite Kitab al-Irshad, Ikhtisas, Awa’il al-Maqalat, ‘Amali, and Muqni‘ah. See Shaykh al-Mufid, Kitab al-Irshad: The Book of Guidance into the Lives of the Twelve Imams, trans. I.K.A. Howard (Karachi: Islamic Seminary Publications, n.d.), introduction, pp. xxi-xxvii; Martin J. McDermott, The Theology of al-Shaikh al-Mufid (Beirut: Dar al-Mashreq, 1978), introduction, pp. 8-45. [Trans.]
  • 4. Sūrah ‘Abasa 80:25-32:

    “We poured down water plenteously, then We split the earth into fissures and made the grain grow in it, and vines and vegetables, olives and date palms, and densely-planted gardens, fruits and pastures, as a sustenance for you and your livestock.” [Trans.]