Discourse 2: Characteristics Of The Shi’a Part 1

The main area of discussion of volume 65 of the compilation of traditions entitled Bihar al-Anwar is in regards to elucidating on the characteristics of the Shi’a (Sifatush Shi’a). How helpful it would truly be if we would all read this section (of Bihar al-Anwar) and truly comprehend what a massive responsibility we have been given by being referred to with the sacred title of being the Shi’a of the Ahl Al-Bayt (as).

A person cannot simply profess to be a Shi’a nor can one simply say that he is a Shi’a just because his mother and father were Shi’a. Being a Shi’a is a concept so comprehensive that it encompasses many responsibilities which have been thoroughly explained by the Infalliables (as), under the banner of “Sifatush Shi’a” - the characteristics of the Shi’a.

Muyassir Ibn 'Abdul 'Aziz was one of the most well-known companions of Imam Muhammad Ibn 'Ali al-Baqir (as) and has been highly praised in the books of 'Ilmul Rijal. The 5th Imam (as) has also said the following in relation to Muyassir:

“O' Muyassir! Certainly death was prescribed for you on many occasions, however Allah delayed this event from coming to you since you maintain your family relations (Silatul Rahm) and because you try to alleviate the problems of your family members.”

*Imam Muhammad Ibn 'Ali al-Baqir (as) once said to Muyassir:

يَا مُيَسِّرُ أَلاَّ أَخْبِرَكَ بِشِيـعَـتِنَا؟ قُلْتُ بَلى جُعِلْتُ فِدَاكَ. قَالَ إِنَّهُمْ حُصُونٌ حَصِينَةٍ وَ صُدُورٌ أَمِينَةٍ وَ أَحْلاَمٌ وَزِينَةٍ لَيْسُوا بِالْمَذِيعِ الْبَذَرِ وَلاَ بِالْجُفَاتِ الْمُرَاعِينَ. رُهْـبَانٌ بِاللَّيْلِ أَسَدٌ بِالنَّهَارِ.

“O' Muyassir! Should I not describe to you who our Shi’a (true followers) are?” Muyassir replied, “But of course, may I be sacrificed for you (O' Imam).” The Imam continued: “Unquestionably they (our Shi’a) are like a fortified stronghold; their chests (hearts) are places that preserve the trusts (given to them such as secrets and private information) and are those who have a firm, dignified intelligence; they do not spread rumors that they are told (by others) and are not strict, severe people; nor are they people who show off. During the night time, they are as monks (they stay up in the night, busy in prayer and the worship of Allah) while during the daytime, they are as lions (active, energetic, and involved in the activities of the world and their community).”

In this concise tradition, there are seven characteristics mentioned which one must possess in order to be classified as a Shi’a. Truly, a veiled and hidden (comprehensive) world of subject-matter and responsibilities has been given to us in this saying.

It is possible that the meaning of “a fortified stronghold” could mean that: “Our Shi’a are those who are not influenced by the negative propaganda of the enemies.”
Right now, the state of culture of the world is in a very dangerous phase. Our youth are being faced
with this (cultural) menace - yet have we found any way to strengthen the inner will of our youth in relation to this cultural onslaught? If we are not able to destroy the causes of this sickness, then we must at least strengthen ourselves (in defence).

This point must also be kept in mind that during the time of the infallible A’immah, one of their greatest complaints was that some of their Shi’a used to speak openly about their (the A’immah's) secrets. The people of that time were told not to speak about the great rank and status which the A’immah possessed to just anybody. The stations of: Knowledge of the Unseen of the Imam; the Intercession of the Imam for his followers on the Day of Judgement; The Imams being the custodians of the knowledge of the Messenger of Allah (S); them being witnesses and observers of all of the actions of the Shi’a and also their rewards and punishments and… were all issues that the common people and the enemies of the Ahl Al-Bayt did not have the ability to hear or accept.

There were some Shi’a that were very simple minded and would sit in any gathering and would speak about whatever they wanted (about the A’immah) and this act of theirs did not bring about anything except for division, enmity and hatred (for the A’immah). Therefore, the Imam has said, “Our Shi’a are they in whose chests (hearts), secrets and trusts are kept.”

The A’immah have also said that their Shi’a are those who do not spread secrets of others without any reason; they do not seek to cause division between two people and even worse than this, they do not go to extremes in the religion such as those which have recently come about.

By using the pretext of having firm belief in the Wilayah (of the Ahl Al-Bayt), there are some people who use terminology (in relation to the A’immah) that may lead to disbelief. In addition, they make use of expressions which are not befitting the A’immah and as such, the infallible leaders would never be pleased with such people and their words. Thus, we too must be careful of this new form of Ghulluw or extremism in the faith of Islam.

These people have two defects in them which lead them towards their own destruction. First off they think that if they attribute the characteristics of Allah (SwT) to the A’immah, Sayyidah Zainab (s.a) or the Shuhada’ of Karbala, then this is exactly what the definition of Wilayah demands.

The major defect in these people is - keeping in mind the present day and age (that we are living in) which is a time in which various ways and methods of diffusion of news and information are available such that if something happens that makes the news headlines this morning, then within one hour, it will reach the furthest points of the world - that these people use words of exaggeration in relation to the A’immah. It is these incorrect statements which are made and then spread far and wide and strike a huge blow to the Shi’a populous.

Once they say the things they want to say and then the news reaches to the various cities (of the world), people then proceed to scribble graffiti on the walls of their cities proclaiming the Shi’a to be disbelievers! After this of course, the enemies start to kill and murder the Shi’a. These simple minded, unaware people unknowingly utter some words that ultimately lead to the murder of the Shi’a in another part of the world!

May the curse of Allah (SwT) be upon such uninformed individuals; and may the curse of Allah (SwT) be upon those ignorant, unaware, uneducated people in whose hands are these Majalis (religious gatherings)! We must not let the organization and planning of such gatherings and Majalis lie in the hands of such people. Thus, their planning must stay in the hands of the 'Ulama (scholars) of the society.

From the characteristics that have been mentioned in the tradition under discussion in relation to the Shi’a is that they do not get angry. Rather they are people who are full of love and possess the traits of elegance and grace; they have the soul and spirit (of action and speech) of ‘Ali Ibn Abi Talib (as) within themselves. They have the spirit of Imam Ja'far Ibn Muhammad as-Sadiq (as) and the rest of the Infallible Leaders of true guidance within themselves and thus, they even show love and kindness to their enemies!

In addition, the true Shi’a do not show off. The Imam has said that: “Our true Shi’a have two different states within themselves. If one of our Shi’a is busy in the night in the worship of Allah (SwT) and someone sees them, then that person would think that this worshipper has entirely cut himself off from the world and is an ascetic, since he does not take part in the activities of this world. On the other hand, when anyone sees them in the daytime, they would say that he is like a lion in his behavior and is always present in the daily activities of the society, keeping active.”

With this said, we can divide the Shi’a and the Muslims into one of the following five categories:

1. The Geographical Muslim Or Shi’a

By this we mean a Shi’a who was born in (for example) Iran. From the point of view of geography, Iran is a country where the Shi’a live and thus, when they want to count the number of Shi’a in the world, simply being born in Iran is used as a criteria (for being Shi’a). Therefore, this humble servant of Allah (SwT) is counted as being a Shi’a just as all others born in Iran. So then if the person has true belief or not; if he know the names of the A’immah or not; if he can list the A’immah in order that they came or not - it makes no difference. This is what is referred to as the Geographical Shi’a.

2. Shi’a By Inheritance

By this we mean a person whose father and mother were Shi’a and thus, they were born into a family whose parents are Shi’a.

3. The Verbal Shi’a

These are people who verbally declare that, “We are the Shi’a of ‘Ali Ibn Abi Talib (as),” however there is no sign of this belief in their actions.

4. The Marginal Shi’a

These are Shi’a that practice the beliefs however are 'border-line' and have not reached the true depths of being a true follower. From the teachings of the Ahl Al-Bayt, the only thing that you can see is their taking part in the 'Azadari [mourning for the death of Imam Al-Husayn Ibn 'Ali (as)] and seeking help and taking the A’immah as an intermediary (Tawassul) and other things such as this - however, how else can we tell that these are Shi’a? When the days of 'Ashura come about, they all gather together to beat their chests and attend the Majalis to mourn the death [of Imam Al-Husayn Ibn 'Ali (as)]. They also rush to go to Masjid Jamkaran1 to pray and perform the special prayers there.

We do not wish to say that these things have little importance - rather, they are very, very important, however this is all that they understand from being a Shi’a and nothing else. As for the characteristic of being “monks during the night (staying up in prayer and worship during the night)” and being “a lion during the daytime (active and involved in the society)” and possessing the beauty of intelligence and preserving the trusts which are given to them (secrets), there are absolutely none of these signs in this group of “Shi’a”!

5. The True Shi’a

These are people who have complete knowledge of the Divine (Allah (SwT) and the books of the Ahl Al-Bayt (their sayings and words) and their way of life is just as has been mentioned as far as the characteristics have been mentioned in this tradition!

  • 1. A Masjid outside of Qum, Iran which was built by the order of the 12th living Imam. (Tr.)