Lesson 23:The Perfect Scholar and the Practical Appearance of Belief in the Unity of Divine Actions

In continuation of the Noble Prophet’s (S) recommendations, we come to a section regarding the unity of divine actions [tawhid-i af‘ali] which stands in need of exposition: belief in monotheism [tawhid] has several stages, the lowest level of which is conviction in monotheism in Islam and every person who believes in that is considered as monotheist [muwahhid] from the viewpoint of Islam; belief in absolute unity of the Essence and divine Attributes of Allah and conviction in the existential sovereignty [rububiyyat-i takwini] of Allah and the institutional lordship [rububiyyat-i tashri‘i] of Allah1 and also certitude that the only object of worship is Allah. After this stage are other stages, one of which is conviction in the unity of divine actions [tawhid-i af‘ali].

The unity of divine actions denotes that man ought to comprehend first by knowledge and later on by intuition or inner witnessing that the real Influencer [or the only true One who causes or affects] in the cosmos is Allah, the Exalted, and there is no existent independent in effect. (Whether this belief is or is not compatible with the issue of free will and responsibility has been discussed in theological and philosophical discourses and there is no opportunity for us to engage in that now.)

As has been mentioned, there are two stages for the unity of divine actions; the first level is conviction in the unity of divine actions as a result of definite, deductive and demonstrative reasoning and knowledge that there is no existent which is in itself independent and every existent is like a connection and attachment to the Cause (Allah). All the effects and influences and causes and effects spring from the divine Essence of Allah. Even if this stage of belief in the unity of divine actions is very important and invaluable, still its worth is not the same with the value of the stage of inner witnessing or vision of the unity of divine actions.

The second stage: after attaining knowledge in regard to the unity of divine actions, man perceives and becomes convinced by way of spiritual wayfaring and traversing and mystical intuition and vision that the real Influencer [mu’aththir] in the cosmos is only Allah. It is at this stage that he perceives that all else other than Allah, according to their strength and weakness, have no independent effect in the destiny of man and it is the will of Allah which has penetration and appears in the causes and agents.

Abraham and Belief in the Unity of Divine Actions

The best example of those who believe in the unity of divine actions and believe that the order of causes and effects is attached to the divine will and authority and have certitude that independent influencing is only a unique right especially confined to Allah, and do not take anyone save Allah as their safe haven and shelter, are the prophets (S) and frontrunners of religion. Here, we will mention the most excellent role model of the monotheists, a man who feared no one in calling people to the divine path, and he was none other than Prophet Abraham (‘a).

After resisting and not surrendering to the polytheists and idol-worshippers of Babylon, and after he had been breaking idols in their absence and after returning to their cities when they asked who had broken their idols, he used to engage in debate with them and used to prove as false and void their unfounded beliefs by means of sound and clear reasoning so much so that they did not have any response in the face of his strong logic and the only option they had was to throw him in the fire of their wrath:

قَالُوا حَرِّقُوهُ وَانْصُرُوا الهَتکُمْ إِنْ کُنْتُمْ فَاعِلِين

“They said: Burn him and help your gods, if you are going to do anything.”2

After that they gathered a lot of wood and cast him into the core of the fire. At that moment, Prophet Abraham (‘a) only set his attention on the divine Essence of Allah, to the extent that Imam al-Baqir (‘a) states:

On that day, Prophet Abraham (‘a) only said,

« يَا أَحَدُ يَا أَحَدُ يَا صَمَدُ يَا صَمَدُ يَا مَنْ لَمْ يَلِدْ وَلَمْ يُولَدْ وَلَمْ يَکُنْ لَهُ کُفُوًا أَحَدٌ »

“O One! O One! O Refuge! O Refuge! O He who begets not, nor is He begotten, O He whom none is like [Him].”

After that, he said, “I only rely on You.”3

He had so much faith in Allah and was so firm in his faith that he used to perceive his entire being as being in need of the divine Essence and did not ask any one for help, not even the angels in the proximity of Allah.

Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) states:

“When they cast Abraham in the fire, the arch-angel Gabriel, who was in a state of descending from the sky, saw him and said, ‘Do you need help and assistance?’ His Holiness Prophet Abraham (‘a) said, ‘But not from you’.”4

This discourse of Prophet Abraham (‘a), which has been narrated by both the Shi‘ahs and Sunnis, denotes the high level of monotheism in the spirit and soul of this divine champion and it is this belief and spirit which made him befitting of receiving invisible help; Allah commanded the fire to become cold. They say that the fire got so cold that Prophet Abraham (‘a) begun shaking and gritting his teeth, so that Allah once again ordered the fire to become suitable and sound for him. The Archangel Gabriel descended and sat down with Abraham in the fire and they began to converse.

Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) states:

“Qanbar, Imam ‘Ali’s (‘a) slave, loved Imam ‘Ali (‘a) very much and armed with a sword, he used to follow Imam ‘Ali (‘a) whenever His Holiness left the house and went out. One night, Imam ‘Ali (‘a) saw him and asked, ‘O Qanbar! What is that you are doing?’ Qanbar answered, ‘O Amir al-Mu’minin! I came behind you in order to protect you.’ Imam ‘Ali (‘a) stated, ‘Woe upon you! Are you protecting me from the dwellers of the skies or the dwellers of the earth?’ Qanbar answered, ‘Not from the dwellers of the skies, but from the inhabitants of the earth.’ His Holiness replied, ‘The inhabitants of the earth cannot harm me save with Allah’s permission, therefore, return and go back.’ Qanbar returned as ordered.”5

Reliance on Everything Else Other than Allah Is a Result of Lack of Belief in the Unity of Divine Actions

What has been mentioned is a reflection of the belief in the unity of divine actions in the human perception, temperament and behavior of man and that man ought to rely only on Allah and not pay any heed to anything else other than Allah regardless that before arriving at the stage of inner witnessing of the unity of divine actions, man depends on other people and imagines that he is in need of them and hopes that they will provide his needs and solve his problems.

Or, he fears that they will harm him. In reality, he believes in the independence of causes and effects in influencing events and puts his faith in them. With all certainty, this trend is not compatible with monotheistic thinking. The exigency of monotheistic knowledge is that man ought not to give his heart to and not rely on all else save Allah. In this regard, the Noble Prophet (S) states:

“O Abu Dharr! A man does not attain perfect comprehension and complete scholarship until he perceives people as camels lacking in understanding being moved by Allah, the Exalted, and then he looks at himself and sees himself lower than all of them.”

It is interesting that the Noble Prophet’s (S) expression is that no person is a perfect scholar until he perceives the will of people in the hands of other than them, like camels whose harnesses are in the hands of the camel driver and he guides the drove of camels and they have no free will of their own. Selecting the course of direction, arranging and managing duties are controlled by the one in whose hands are their harnesses.

In the beginning, man fantasizes that other people are independent in their movements, in their wars and victories and the events that come to pass. But when his cognition grows and he attains monotheistic knowledge, he conceives them as a convoy of camels whose harnesses are in the hands of someone else and the order of the movements of these causes as being in the hands of Allah. It is true that the causes and effects are at work and this order is in a state of movement, this order is not a series of movements. There is someone who has gotten the reigns and harnesses of these horses in his hands.

Of course, this does not imply that people are under compulsion, but the point is that absolute influencing is not in their hands; it is not true that they are the doers of all their deeds and the deciders of their affairs. They are under the influence of another order and a will above the human will controls them. Therefore, a monotheist is a person who does not forget Allah and does not overlook the hand of Allah in the order of the cosmos; in other than this case, he has not comprehended monotheism.

Of course, explaining this matter is not easy and exposition does not play a fundamental role in perceiving and understanding this reality, on the contrary we ought to ask Allah to grant us the grace to conceive these realities.

Man ought not to feel safe from the insinuations of the accursed Devil for the reason that the Devil never at all leaves man free on his own. The Devil strives harder at misleading those who have set foot on the right course and are traversing the path of perfection. But weak people go after the Devil of their own volition and there is no need for the Devil to deviate them.

Shaykh Ansari and His Flight from the Devil’s Trap

There is a well-known story that a person during the days of the deceased Shaykh Ansari saw the Devil in his dreams with ropes of various colors in his hands. Some ropes were green, red and orange and some of those ropes were thin and the others were thick. Among those ropes, he saw a very thick rope which had gotten broken. He asked the Devil what those ropes were. These are ropes with which I deceive and trap the son of Adam. That person asked about every one of the ropes. He was told which rope was a woman, which one was a house, money and position. That man asked which one of the ropes was his trap.

The Devil replied that there was no need to have a rope for trapping that man because he was so weak that he followed the Devil of his own volition. These ropes were for throwing around the necks of people who did not follow the Devil and by this means force them to come after me. That man asked whose the broken rope was. The Devil replied that he had taken lots of pains to make that rope ready with purpose of trapping Shaykh Ansari but last night when the Devil cast it around the neck of the Shaykh, he broke it with one shaking of the head. After saying that, the Devil gave out a loud painful cry.

That person woke up from sleep and spent the rest of the night sad and worried about what had occurred. Early in the morning, he went to visit Shaykh Ansari and related the dream to him. The Shaykh began crying and said, “Last night the time for my wife was about to deliver arrived and the midwife and the other neighboring women said a woman in child labor ought to consume oil and ordered me to go and buy a little oil. I did not have any money with which to buy the needed oil. The only money with me was two tumans6 of the portion of the Imam [sahm-i imam] which I had put aside to give to anyone entitled to it. I got that same money with the intention of buying oil for my wife.

Along the way, all of a sudden, it occurred to me that what if the wife of another religious student got in labor tonight and that religious student did not have any money with which to buy oil? I told myself that perhaps in the outskirts of Najaf there is a student whose wife will get into labor and they have no money to buy oil for her. At once, I returned home and put the money back in its place and said my wife will deliver with or without oil.

This was the trap which the Devil had set for me and he had been expecting and planning for this opportunity for nine months now. He intended me to take possession of the portion of the Imam but Allah granted me the grace to tear the Devil’s trap and rope.

Yes the Devil devotes his effort to mislead people who have set foot on the course of perfection and trudging the path of completion. When man attains levels of perfection and awareness and his heart becomes enlightened and manifestations of monotheism become indisputably evident, or the unveilings of inspiration become apparent to him, he sees or hears something, the Devil visits man without the least delay and incites him that you have attained very high stations and you are very different from the rest of the people.

When man becomes successful at attaining this level of awareness of understanding that other people are not independent influencers and they do not have such value so as to impel man to bow down before them for an amount of money and/or ask them for a favor, all of a sudden, the Devil insinuates him to think that he has attained very high levels and has become very important. In this instance, man becomes afflicted by pride.

It is with the intention to prevent such pride that the Noble Prophet (S) states that man ought to perceive the rest of the people as though they were camels next to Allah. Without any delay, he says that man ought to conceive himself as lower than everyone else. Perceive yourself as not just similar to the others, but even lower than the others and as a link in the chain of existents just like the rest of the links and the chain of all the movements of creatures is in His hands.

Therefore, if a person attains scholarship in religion, firstly he compares the rest of the creatures with Allah and perceives them as nothing, secondly he compares himself with the rest of the creatures and conceives them as better than himself, and this is a very surprising quality.

That is to say, Allah grants such grace to man, on the one hand, to perceive human beings as ineffective as regards influencing his life and does not give any value to them, and, on the other hand, observe legal customs. In spite of the fact that he does not believe in the role [or function or influence] of any human being, his humility, manners and respect in regard to them does not decrease. He observes legal manners and truly perceives himself as humbler than the rest of the people.

On the other hand, he perceives human beings similar to burden bearing camels in contrast to Allah whose harnesses are in the control of them and, on the other hand, perceives himself as smaller than the camels. He ought not to imagine that once he has perceived the rest of the people as camels, then he ought to fancy that he himself is their rider! On the contrary, he ought to perceive himself as both smaller and lower than the others and admit the meanness of his soul.

Of course, with this kind of perception, it is hard for man to count himself as small and be humble and modest; but this is possible and is real in the objective world. If man perceives this issue and at the same time not believe in the effect and role of other human beings, and also have perfect humility and modesty in regard to them, the responses to a lot of religious queries which exist in the divine sciences become clear.

In reality, with this exposition, the Noble Prophet (S) clarifies the limits of humility and that humility does not denote that a human being ought to make himself weak and servile in the face of other people. On the contrary, the humility expounded in the words of the Noble Prophet (S) increases the honor and greatness of man.

Humility Is an Agent of Dignity and Honor

It has been related in a hadith that Hasan ibn Jahm asked Imam al-Rida (‘a) about the limit of humility. In response, His Holiness (‘a) said:

“Humility has stages; one of those stages is that man ought to comprehend his value and esteem, and with peace of mind and of his own free will, attain his rightful position and behave with people in the same way that they behave with him and if they have behaved kindly with him, he ought to behave in kind with them, and if they have behaved badly with him, he swallows his anger and forgives the people and Allah too loves the doers of good.”7

Beyond the shadow of doubt, such humility not only is not a cause of lowliness and servility, but also increases the honor and dignity of man. The Prophet (S) states:

“… Verily, humility increases the station of man; then, be humble so that Allah increases your honor…”8

Some of the psychologists are of the opinion that if man perceives his self as lower and less valuable than the others, he is afflicted by an inferiority complex and in the end he cannot relate to the rest of the people; he cannot speak fluently, becomes afflicted by a lot of shyness and embarrassment and loses his self-confidence. He flees from the community and lives in isolation and solitude.

The question which arises is that how can a medium be struck between humility and self-confidence? That is to say, how ought we, on the one hand, to pursue humility and, on the other, preserve the soundness of psyche, and how must we preserve the vigor of our psyches at the same time as perceiving ourselves as smaller than the rest of the human beings?

It appears as though the fountainhead of a lot of psychological disorders in human beings (without having to overlook the role of the household and the environment) is the lack of belief in Allah and the lack of man’s reliance on the great source of divine inspiration: if man loses this fundamental and important point of reliance, a storm of psychological dilemmas and crises overcome him and his psyche becomes a target of the arrows of diseases and disorders.

But if he regulates all his actions and reactions according to heavenly criteria, he finds salvation from a great deal of psychological disorders; it is for this reason that humility in the hadiths has been restricted only to modesty before Allah: “Whoever be humble before Allah, He increases his honor.”9 If man’s humility before other human beings is only for the intention of pleasing Allah and his deeds were purely for Allah, he will never feel servile and low.

Therefore, humility is acceptable only if it results from purity of intention for none other than Allah, otherwise humility which is a product of weakness and inferiority complex is devoid of any value and there is no reward for it.

According to this analysis, it ought to be said that if man’s humility is only motivated by obedience and adoration of Allah, not only is it not a cause of weakness, but is also a cause of pride for man; that is to say, he perceives modesty as a way of adoring Allah and feels proud of it.

In the same way that falling on clay and grinding one’s forehead on the ground in prostration for the divine Essence does not cause lowliness in any believer at all, on the contrary, is gives rise to pride and honor in the same way that man’s humility in the face of other people, on the condition that it is done for the good pleasure of Allah and for the cause of executing his orders.

Imam al-Sajjad (‘a) and the Perception of Spiritual Deficiency and Poverty

By taking what has already been discussed into consideration, we can be helped to better understand why Imam al-Sajjad (‘a), in spite of being infallible and of pure soul, in the supplication he taught to Abu Hamzah al-Thumali, addresses Allah thus:

“… Who is in a state worse and bleaker than mine? If I am transferred to the grave right now, I have not made ready the provisions for my peace and tranquility…”

(An Infallible Imam does not flatter any one and does not speak with the intention of making funny jokes and all his words are serious.)

How the state of an Infallible Imam (‘a) can be worse than that of the rest of the people is an intricate enigma which gets solved once man has had an acquaintance with monotheistic sciences [or knowledge]. Once he perceives that all that he has is provided by Allah, he comprehends that whatever insufficiency that exists is ours and arises from our existential poverty. When we commit sin, it is either as a result of our lacking knowledge and our not knowing with Whom we are confronted and with Whom we are in opposition; or our resolution is so weak that we surrender ourselves to carnal desires and anger.

All these are indicative of our weakness and man has nothing save weakness. What do we have of ourselves that was not granted to us by Allah? Knowledge, comprehension, thought, worship and the grace to adore Him and do good deeds and everything that we have are all gifts from Allah. They have all been allotted to us as a result of divine grace.

He has also placed at our disposal the means, otherwise we have nothing save those same modalities of non-being (weakness and insufficiency) and if we want to separate our accounting from Allah, what remains of us is an empty container; assuming that this expression of an empty container is correct.

We of ourselves neither have wealth nor understanding and the intellect; what we have is ignorance, lack of custom, deviated conception and weakness of resolution, which are instances of imperfection and weakness.

If weaknesses and imperfections are a cause of deviation and error, a person who has more weakness and imperfection has more likelihood of being misled. A human being who has more weakness and defects is the one who has more existential capacity; a container which is bigger has more volume and needs more items to be filled up. When the existential capacity of man is more, he has to be granted more perfection and in any case he has nothing from himself.

One sparrow, in regard to its small size, has less capacity and Allah has granted it eyes, ears, the ability to fly and to make noisy sounds according to the limit of its capacity. If Allah divests it of all these capacities, your container will be empty of the size of one sparrow. But an elephant whose capacity is more, Allah has granted it limbs and members and ability and power according to its capacity. Now, if you divest it of all its capacities, its container becomes empty to the extent of one elephant.

Is our spiritual capacity the same as that of Imam al-Sajjad (‘a)? Beyond the shadow of doubt, this is not true at all. Our capacity is very little and goes only so far as our understanding and intellect goes. It is for this reason that we will be chastised according to our capacity and never will we be held to account in the same way that Imam al-Sajjad (‘a) will be held to account. The duties which the Noble Prophet (S) and the Imams (‘a) are charged with can never at all be directed at us because we do not have the ability to bear them.

Therefore, our capacity is very limited in comparison to the capacity of the Infallible Imams; it is for this reason that our deficiencies and weaknesses are limited as well. When the Imam looks at the capacity which Allah has granted him, he witnesses a lot of weaknesses in himself because he has a great deal of capacity for what Allah has granted him and is going to grant. It is for this reason that when he looks at himself, he conceives that his weakness is more than the weaknesses of all the other human beings for the reason that his capacity is more. That is why he says, “Whose state is worse than mine?”

Is the sin of a mistake and error of an adolescent who has just attained the legal age to discharge religious obligations and has little knowledge the same as the sin of a scholar who has spent fifty years studying hadith and Qur’anic sciences and commits the same sin? Without the least doubt, the sin of that scholar is more because he has more capacity and capability.

The sin of that adolescent is very small because the understanding and capacity that he has is very limited, and taking into consideration the high capacity of that religious scholar, his sin is doubtlessly more and his retribution is going to be more severe. It is for this reason that it has been narrated in a hadith:

“… Seventy sins of an ignorant man will be forgiven before one sin of a scholar has been forgiven…”10

The sin of an ignorant man is less, because his understanding and capacity is less. To grant an impossibility, if an Infallible Imam were to commit sin, his retribution is a thousand times more than the retribution of ordinary people because his perception and capacity is more.

When the Imam looks at himself, he conceives that whatever obedience and worship and praiseworthy deeds he has performed are all from Allah, the Exalted, and has been discharged with his grace and nothing remains of him save weakness and because he perceives his weakness more, he is more guilt ridden than the rest of the people. This was a justification and accounting for the words of Imam al-Sajjad (‘a).

If man’s inner eyes become more open and he is able to perceive realities more, he perceives how weak he is in the face of Allah. He conceives that there is no room to feel pride of and perceive his self. Was he not a drop of liquid which has been nurtured to attain this stage?

Now that he has grown and attained physical perfection, has he brought himself to this stage so as to feel proud of himself? Therefore, if we truly look at ourselves, we perceive ourselves as lower and humbler than all the human beings; not that we ought to pretend to be humble.

It is hypocrisy for man to apparently appear humble and falsely claim with his tongue that he is lower and humbler than everyone else but perceive himself as better and higher than the rest of the people.

We ought to consider ourselves smaller and humbler than the rest of the people from the depths of our hearts. This state is not attainable save by means of divine grace and the light of awareness which Allah makes to shine in man’s heart. I hope that Allah will grant us this knowledge and awareness and even higher than that.

The Fruits of True Faith in the Words of the Noble Prophet (S)

In continuation of the hadith, the Prophet (S) says:

“O Abu Dharr! You cannot attain the reality and truth of religion unless you perceive as dull in regard to their religion and clever in regard to their world.”

O Abu Dharr! Once you have perceived the reality of faith and you notice that other people have made advancements and are active in their lives in this transitory world, know that they are clever and have understanding and intelligence in regard to their lives in this transitory world but they are very ignorant and foolish in regard to their lives in the next world.

(In the Noble Prophet’s (S) statement, the expression ‘kulluhum (all of the people)’, that is to say all the people are like this because the ones who are not like this are scarce; in this regard, in contrast to the majority of the people who are fools, the wise are not considered countable at all.)

Wise is a person who, when faced with deciding between useful and useless, profitable and profitless, chooses the useful and profitable. When we compare the transient world with the eternal hereafter, we perceive that the hereafter is more rewarding and profitable, for the reason that both from the point of view of length and from the aspect of infiniteness—the earthly lifespan of man ranges between seventy and eighty years and/or does go beyond a hundred years; even if we were to imagine that man’s lifespan were to last a thousand years, but still it is reckoned as nothing when compared to the eternal life of the last world—and also from the point of view of quality: the pleasure of the world is attained by way of enduring painstaking toil and exertion, and in addition to that, is intertwined with labor and hardships but we have gotten so accustomed to pains and hardships that we content ourselves with that same gratification which is mixed with hardships.

How much hard work do we have to do for the pleasure of food? We have to make money and with that procure food and even after then our jaws become tired when chewing the food. All these pains and hardships are undertaken for the sake of putting food in our mouths so as to derive [transient] pleasure from the food. In addition to that, we get tired and worn out by the effort to acquire our needs. But the pleasure of the last world is not coupled with pain and tiredness. Man does not expend any effort to procure or derive benefit from the pleasure of the hereafter and not even after using it:

... لاَ يَمَسُّنَا فِيهَا نَصَبٌ وَلاَ يَمَسُّنَا فِيهَا لُغُوبٌ

“…toil shall not touch us therein nor shall fatigue therein afflict us.”11

The hereafter is higher than this world in regard to quality and also from the point of view of the length of durability of its everlastingness:

وَالآخِرَةُ خَيْرٌ وَأَبْقَی

“While the hereafter is better and more lasting.”12

Taking into consideration the unimaginable superiority of the hereafter over the world, which one of those two does the intellect select after comparing them with each other? Without the least doubt, the intellect selects the hereafter, but among mankind there are very few people who do such kind of comparing and act according to the deduction of their comparison for the reason that a lot of people have not attained the reality of faith.

But people who have attained the reality of faith, in addition to preferring the hereafter over the world, know that people are wise in regard to their world but are ignorant in regard to their Last Abode. In connection with earthly affairs, they distinguish very well between what is profitable and unprofitable, and are cognizant of their material benefits but have no awareness of the hereafter. They do not believe that there is a hereafter and that it is superior to the world.

Perhaps, the secret of the Noble Prophet’s (S) words is that once a believer has arrived at this conviction that the majority of people are ignorant and uninformed in regard to their religion, they do not try to follow them in life and take a separate path from them. They try in connection to the Last Abode to take lesson from the errors of other people and follow the right path. From another point of view, in connection with the world they try to derive benefit from the experiences of other people, of course by following the rules and laws of religion.

  • 1. Monotheism in existential lordship [rububiyyat-i takwini] denotes that the management and will of the world is in the hands of Allah, the Exalted, and that we ought to believe that the revolving of the moon and the sun and the appearance of the day and the night, and that the life and death of human beings and giving subsistence to creatures is in the hands of Allah and it is He who safeguards the skies and the earth. In the same way, every existent which comes to appearance in this expansive world, and grows and multiplies, and every existential effect which appears from it, are all at the same time under the divine management and will and there are no phenomena which exist outside the realm of Allah. Institutional lordship [rububiyyat-i tashri‘i] is related to the volitional management of people. Among all the creatures of Allah, only people have free will and control over their development and gradual perfection.
  • 2. Surat al-Anbiya’ 21:68.
  • 3. Tafsir al-Mizan, vol. 14, p. 307.
  • 4. Ibid., p. 308.
  • 5. Usul al-Kafi (with Farsi translation), vol. 3, p. 98.
  • 6. The Iranian currency.
  • 7. Usul al-Kafi (with Farsi translation), vol. 3, p. 189, Kitab al-Iman wa al-Kufr.
  • 8. Ibid., p. 185.
  • 9. Ibid.
  • 10. Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 2, p. 27.
  • 11. Surat Fatir 35:35.
  • 12. Surat al-A‘la 87:17.