Chapter 3: The Qur’an and the Cultural Onslaught
The status and importance of the Qur’an and the role of this divine book according to Nahj al-Balaghah in the guidance of mankind toward felicity and perfection has been explained briefly. The next important question that comes to mind is: Is it enough to observe the abovementioned points to benefit from the Holy Qur’an and cling to the thiql al-akbar—this great legacy of the Great Prophet (S)?
It might be concluded that if all the points necessary in correctly understanding the Qur’an are observed, the ordinances and teachings of the Qur’an will accurately be understood, the culture of society will be formed according to the instructions of the Holy Qur’an, and under the auspices of the religious government and the Qur’an, people will become immune from the threat of deviation.
In the guidance of individuals, this answer is to some extent correct but comprehensive guidance can only be achieved when this is done on the macro level. It is clear that without knowing the deviant ideas of the enemies of the Qur’an and thwarting their cultural conspiracies through enlightenment, it would be extremely difficult to establish the culture of the Qur’an and guide society according to its religious beliefs and values. This is the area which is usually neglected.
Truth and falsehood clash in the realm of practice just as they do in the realm of theory. Once truth is identified, falsehood will also be identified, and knowing falsehood also helps you know the truth. Similarly, in the realm of practice, making the Qur’an reign supreme in society is not possible without knowing the enemies and combating their satanic plots and schemes against the religious culture of the people.
In this regard, we shall first pay attention to the statement of Hadhrat ‘Ali (‘a) recorded in Nahj al-Balaghah. Then, we will acquaint the masses, especially the youth and the educated with the satanic stratagems of the opponents of the Qur’an to mislead the people.
Hadhrat ‘Ali (‘a) said:
وَاعْلَمُوا أَنَّكُمْ لَنْ تَعْرِفُوا الرُّشْدَ حَتَّى تَعْرِفُوا الَّذِي تَرَكَهُ، وَلَنْ تَأْخُذُوا بِمَيثَاقِ الْكِتَابِ حَتَّى تَعْرِفُوا الَّذِي نَقَضَهُ، وَلَنْ تَمَسَّكُوا بِهِ حَتَّى تَعْرِفُوا الَّذَي نَبَذَهُ. فَالْـتَمِسُوا ذلِكَ مِنْ عِنْدِ أَهْلِهِ، فَإِنَّهُمْ عَيْشُ الْعِلْمِ، وَمَوْتُ الْجَهْلِ.
“You should know that you will never know guidance unless you know who has abandoned it, you will never abide by the pledges of the Qur’an unless you know who has broken them, and will never cling to it unless you know who has forsaken it. Seek these things from those who own them because they are the life spring of knowledge and death of ignorance.”1
This instructive statement of Hadhrat ‘Ali (‘a) on the need to know the enemies and identify their deviant ideas renders the burden of responsibility of the religious scholars, preachers and propagators much heavier.
Purging the minds of the people, especially the youth, who do not have sufficient knowledge of religion, of the objections and doubts of the atheists is one of the fundamental tasks of propagation and promotion of Qur’anic or religious culture, without which one cannot expect a desirable result. To make this matter clear, we shall deal with this subject in three sections: the doubts, the approach, and the motive of the enemies in instilling the doubts.
It is true that the Qur’an is the greatest favor that God, the Exalted, has ever granted His servants and He Himself has guaranteed its protection and preservation from distortion by the wicked, but this is not the end of the story.
At every moment, depending on the condition and spiritual state of those who in terms of social status are capable of exerting influence on the minds of people, Satan, the sworn enemy of the Children of Adam, instills doubts into their minds so as to draw the masses of people towards him and away from the Qur’an and religion.
Since the Qur’an is the greatest means of guidance, salvation and felicity of mankind, the main goal of Satan is to separate human beings from the Qur’an and religion. One of the means used by Satan along this way is to instill doubts about religion or the Qur’an to weaken the faith of the people.
The activities of Satan and his human entourage in suppressing the Qur’an have been there since its revelation. They started with the closing of ears and refusing to listen to the divine verses, followed by impugning and calumniating the Prophet (S).
They continue today in various forms and will continue in future. In this regard, we shall cite only some of the doubts expressed in society today, and try to clear the minds of readers so that by becoming aware of their satanic stratagems, they can confront the cultural onslaught of the enemies.
As the devils failed to destroy and annihilate the Qur’an in their campaign against it, they decided to deprive the people of getting acquainted with its content. For many centuries the enemies of the Qur’an propagated among the Muslims, the Shi‘ah in particular, that the Qur’an is beyond their understanding and they have no knowledge of its esoteric aspect. As such, one cannot rely only upon its exoteric aspect.
By promoting this idea, they tried to deprive people of the benefits of the Qur’an and remove it from the lives of Muslims. It is true that the outward respect to the Qur’an in the form of reciting and kissing it and considering it holy remained among Muslims, but they were deprived of its content and discouraged from putting its divine instructions into practice.
Nowadays, so-called intellectuals who have scanty knowledge of the Islamic sciences instill the most deceiving doubts—used in the past centuries in the West against the distorted scriptures of other religions—under the rubric of “new thinking” among the cultural and academic circles and influence the educated class who are uninformed of their false ideas and satanic imagination.
They are doing so with the hope of undermining the foundation of beliefs of this class without knowing that the Muslims, especially the educated ones with inquisitive minds, soon realize the falsity of their baseless, fictitious, illogical, and irrational ideas.
The beliefs of the Muslims and religious scholars are anchored in logic and rationality, derived from the knowledge of the Apostle (S) and the infallible Imams (‘a) and stem from the fountain of divine revelation. Whenever a Muslim comes across with deviant ideas in the intellectual and ideological domain, he refers to experts and scholars of the religious sciences so as to receive the logical and correct answer.
The alleged “inaccessibility of the truth of religion” has been advanced with extremely wicked motives and far-reaching destructive effects, but presently it will suffice to explain the nature of this doubt and explicitly mention some of its hidden dimensions and properties, and leave the judgment to you.
Since our discussion pertains to the Holy Qur’an, we shall examine and discuss the abovementioned doubt or misgiving in relation to it. This doubt is raised in various forms on different levels. Sometimes, it is claimed that some verses of the Holy Qur’an have diverse interpretations on which the exegetes do not have a consensus of opinion.
No matter how we research to arrive at the correct view, at the end we will accept the interpretation and opinion of one of the exegetes, which other exegetes do not regard as the view of the Qur’an. It is therefore impossible to obtain the real view of the Qur’an.
By doing so, the promoters of this misgiving unsurprisingly want to instill doubt into the minds of those who are mentally weak and do not have sufficient knowledge of religious sciences to analyze and respond. The skeptics think that the intellectual and ideological foundations of Muslims are based upon blind following.
They know that whenever there is talk about thought, reason and logic, only the Qur’an, along with its teachings is affirmed by a sound mind and correct logic, and wholeheartedly accepted by every truth-seeking person. They then try to raise this doubt in a more profound way so that they can render a severer blow to religious thought, without realizing that by scrutinizing their ideas Muslim thinkers will discover that this type of idea leads to nothing but the abyss of skepticism.
In any case, it can be inferred from the way this doubt is expressed that the promoters believe that the Holy Qur’an has immutable truths but since the exegetes do not have a consensus of opinion on the exegesis of the Qur’an, we are incapable of stating the truth of the Qur’an. It is therefore impossible to benefit from the Qur’an and it must be set aside.
But when they are confronted with explicit and categorical verses of the Qur’an and cannot find fault with the unambiguous verses nor refute its reasoning and precise verses, they express the doubt in a different manner. They totally withdraw from their former stance on the alleged impossibility of understanding the Qur’an and religious knowledge and assume the diametrically opposite stance.
They regard the Qur’an and religious accounts as devoid of any reality, and religious ordinances and precepts as human beings’ theoretical understandings of Qur’anic verses. They claim that not only the Qur’an but all religious scriptures have been sent down so that they may be interpreted in diverse ways, and all these different interpretations and various understandings are correct and right.
If it is asked, “Is it so even if these interpretations and understandings are contradictory to each other?” they will reply that the diversity of interpretations, even if conflicting, does not create any problem, because in essence, the Qur’an has never stated any reality.
Rather, mere empty words and frameworks under the guise of “divine revelation” have been imparted to the Prophet (S), and by consulting them everyone can deduce anything from them! What is actually presented is mere human understanding, and since humans have different mentalities, their interpretations may vary from one another.
Religion is nothing but diverse human understanding of the words and verses of the Qur’an and religious accounts, and since they do not represent any reality, diverse interpretations cannot also be confirmed or falsified. All interpretations reveal the truth and must be deemed correct and right because the Qur’an does not state immutable truths which are consistent with only one of these interpretations.
The founders of the theory of “straight paths” or “different interpretations of religion” have gone further. In a bid to strike a blow to the basis and foundation of religion, i.e. divine revelation, they assert that not only can human beings not discern immutable truths from the Qur’an or divine revelation, and that everyone expresses and interprets what is in his mind as “revelation”, but even the Apostle (S), because of his being human, has expressed his understanding and interpretation as “revelation” to the people.
Accordingly, the understanding of the Apostle (S) has also been a personal one in accordance with his mentality and the circumstances of his time and place and has been expressed in the form of words and verses. As such, it is asserted that the Qur’an cannot be considered the Word of God and divine revelation. Instead, it must be said that the Qur’an is the word of the Prophet (S).
Definitely, you will ask: what can we say about the verses quoted below?
وَمَا يَنطِقُ عَنِ الْهَوَى ٭ إِنْ هُوَ إِلاَّ وَحْيٌ يُوحَى
“He does not speak out of [his own] desire: it is just a revelation that is revealed [to him].”2
تَنزِيلٌ مِن رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ ٭ وَلَوْ تَقَوَّلَ عَلَيْنَا بَعْضَ ٱلأَقَاوِيلِ ٭ لأَخَذْنَا مِنْهُ بِالْيَمِينِ ٭ ثُمَّ لَقَطَعْنَا مِنْهُ الْوَتِينَ
“[It is] gradually sent down from the Lord of all the worlds. Had he faked any sayings in Our name, We would have surely seized him by the right hand and then cut off his aorta.”3
The proponents of this theory say in reply that these points are also the understanding or interpretation of the Prophet (S) and represent his feelings.
It is evident that such theories lead to nothing but skepticism, denial of reality, disregard for logical reasoning, and playing with words. In dealing with the most explicit meanings and unambiguous concepts, the promoters of this theory say, “This is your feeling and interpretation which does not indicate any truth except your own personal opinion. Hence, it is good and respectable for you but for others it has no value at all!”
The promotion of such notions about religion and the Qur’an is one of the most advanced stratagems and snares of Satan which have so far been used to deceive and beguile the Children of Adam.
One of the stratagems of the devils in beguiling human beings is their persistence and determination to influence minds. For this reason, the Qur’an describes them as “sneaky tempters” [al-waswasi’l-khannas] and instructs people to seek the protection of God from the evil of the devils from among the jinn and humans,4 for by incessant inculcation and repetition of false notions, they want to place them under the sphere of their influence and misguide them.
The devils from among the jinn and humans know that in order to inculcate satanic notions in the minds of God-worshipping people, they have to speak and write a lot so as to accustom minds with their false notions and exert constant influence. They admit that they have to speak and write a lot so that the people finally entertain doubt and uncertainty.
By taking inspiration from Iblis (Satan), their priority is to beguile and mislead the professional and educated class, for they believe that by deceiving them they can mislead the masses with greater ease, without realizing that God, the Exalted, has set plenty of torches for the guidance of Muslims who, by divine grace will unravel the satanic stratagems of the enemies and become firmer and more determined to follow the Qur’an.
It was stated earlier that one of the functions of the Apostle (S) and the infallible Imams (‘a) is to interpret and expound divine revelation, for the Qur’an has precise [muhkamat] and allegorical [mutashabihat] verses, and as mentioned before, it has an interior [batin] and exterior [ẓahir]. It is impossible for anyone except the Apostle (S), the infallible Imams (‘a) and those who have access to divine knowledge to fathom the depth of its knowledge, and none can interpret and expound it except those who seek knowledge through the school of the Ahl al-Bayt (‘a).
Therefore, according to the rational way of the ignorant referring to the learned, there is no way of understanding the Qur’an and religious precepts except by referring to the Transmitter (S) of this divine book and the infallible Imams (‘a) and the students of their school.
Yet, not all people follow the rational way and are faithful to reason and the logical principles of understanding [fahm], instruction [tafhim] and comprehension [tafahhum]. They are those whose only pursuit is the misguidance of people and whose sole aim is to instill doubt and create sedition [fitnah] in society. The Qur’an has also predicted this reality:
هُوَ الَّذِيَ أَنزَلَ عَلَيْكَ الْكِتَابَ مِنْهُ آيَاتٌ مُّحْكَمَاتٌ هُنَّ أُمُّ الْكِتَابِ وَأُخَرُ مُتَشَابِهَاتٌ فَأَمَّا الَّذِينَ في قُلُوبِهِمْ زَيْغٌ فَيَتَّبِعُونَ مَا تَشَابَهَ مِنْهُ ابْتِغَاء الْفِتْنَةِ وَابْتِغَاء تَأْوِيلِهِ وَمَا يَعْلَمُ تَأْوِيلَهُ إِلاَّ اللّهُ وَالرَّاسِخُونَ فِي الْعِلْمِ يَقُولُونَ آمَنَّا بِهِ كُلٌّ مِّنْ عِندِ رَبِّنَا وَمَا يَذَّكَّرُ إِلاَّ أُوْلُواْ الألْبَابِ
“It is He who has sent down to you the Book. Parts of it are definite verses, which are the mother of the Book, while others are metaphorical. As for those in whose hearts is deviance, they pursue what is metaphorical in it, courting temptation and courting its interpretation. But no one knows its interpretation except Allah and those firmly grounded in knowledge; they say, ‘We believe in it; all of it is from our Lord.’ And none takes admonition except those who possess intellect.”5
The muhkamat of the Qur’an refer to the verses whose meanings are clear and whose contents are undeniable. The verses constitute the principles and quintessence of Qur’anic knowledge. The criterion and basis of the correctness or incorrectness of “religious knowledge” are the muhkamat or “the mother of the Book”. On the contrary, there are verses which cannot be understood without the assistance of the muhkamat and not everybody can fathom the depth of their meanings. These verses are called “allegorical” verses [mutashabihat].
The Qur’an has forbidden the people to follow the mutashabihat without paying attention to the muhkamat and the exegesis and exposition of the Apostle (S) and the infallible Imams (‘a). The Holy Qur’an regards the act of following the mutashabihat as a sign of deviation of the heart, stating that those who take the mutashabihat of the Qur’an as the basis of their thinking, understanding and beliefs are looking for sedition, speculative interpretation [ta’wil] and distortion [tahrif] of the Qur’an.
According to the Qur’an, none knows the interpretation and exegesis of the allegorical verses except God and “those firmly grounded in knowledge”. “Those firmly grounded in knowledge” refer to those who have wholeheartedly acknowledged their servitude to God, saying: “We believe in the Qur’an—both its definitive and allegorical verses. Its entirety comes from God.”
At this point, it may possibly be asked: Why has the Qur’an not been revealed in such a manner that all its verses are evident, definitive, complete, and unambiguous so that all of them can be understood and grasped by everybody?
In reply to this question, some preliminary factors need to be pointed out. The minds of common human beings like us follow natural factors. When common human beings are born, they are first acquainted with tangible and material things through the senses, and their understanding and perception is confined to them. However, the mental power of man gradually becomes stronger and acquires the power of abstraction.
Finally, he acquires the power of perceiving allegorical truths. The stronger man’s intellect and power of abstraction are and the further he goes beyond the material realm, the better he can perceive allegorical realities. Since all human beings are not equal in terms of intellectual growth, they are also not identical in terms of perceiving intangible things.
There are many cases when the level of understanding and perception of a 10-year child is still like that of a seven or eight-year old and even later he may possibly think of God and abstract things in the framework of time and space. It is because his understanding and talent as well as the power of thinking are still within the bounds of material things while the foundation of religion is faith in the unseen; that is, faith in abstract and immaterial realities. In this regard, the Qur’an states:
ذَلِكَ الْكِتَابُ لاَ رَيْبَ فِيهِ هُدًى لِلْمُتَّقِينَ ٭ الَّذِينَ يُؤْمِنُونَ بِالْغَيْبِ
“This is the Book; there is no doubt in it, a guidance to the God-wary, who believe in the Unseen.”6
The foundation of faith, therefore, lies in belief in intangible realities. But the truth or essence of these realities is something which can not be understood except through divine inspiration to the apostles and infallible Imams (‘a). There is no way for us common human beings to perceive metaphysical truths and realities except by strengthening our rational power and gradually rising from the tangible to the abstract and metaphysical realities.
On the other hand, most of the words used in the abstract sense are originally used with tangible meanings. Take for example the following verses:
يَدُ اللَّهِ فَوْقَ أَيْدِيهِمْ
“The hand of Allah is above their hands.”7
وَهُوَ الْعَلِيُّ الْعَظِيمُ
“And He is the All-exalted, the All-supreme.”8
The words fawq, ‘ali, ‘ali, and ‘uluww all mean “high” as opposed to “low”. It is evident that at the beginning man could not understand any meaning of these words beyond the tangible. For example, man takes his head as the criterion for what is “high” and regards his feet as “low”. He considers whatever is below his feet as “low”. For this reason, it is said that the sky is “high” while the earth is “low” or “below”.
However, with his entrance into social life, he goes beyond these meanings and gradually perceives intangible and abstract meanings. That is, when it is said that so-and-so occupies a high position or is promoted to a higher position, man no longer understands “high” or “higher” in its tangible sense.
Obviously, in this kind of usage the intended meaning has become abstract. When it is said that “The One who has created all things by His will has an extremely high status,” the highness attributed to God is infinitely above the highness attributed to an office head in relation to his subordinates.
The distance between the two is the distance between zero and infinity, as well as that of real and virtual, for any highness or delegated position is false and perishable expect the Real Highness which is due and belongs to God, the Creator of the universe.
إِنَّمَا أَمْرُهُ إِذَا أَرَادَ شَيْئًا أَنْ يَقُولَ لَهُ كُنْ فَيَكُونُ
“When He wills something, all He needs to do is say to it, ‘Be,’ then it is.”9
Therefore, when the Qur’an states, “He is the All-exalted, the All-supreme,”10 it implies that neither the Highness of God is physical and tangible nor His Magnificence and Greatness have any material and corporeal connotation. But the truth behind the Magnificence and Greatness of God is something which is beyond human comprehension.
Of course, in many cases there is no word which can be used in an intangible sense. So, there is no option but to use the same word and give an abstract meaning to it. For example, it is said that God is High and Great. “High” is the same word used to refer to the roof in relation to the floor. “Great” is also the same word used when describing Mount Damavand.11 Yet, when these words are used to describe God, their meanings become abstract. Again, their becoming abstract in meaning does not mean that their true sense, when applied to God, can be comprehended.
It is said that words which get closer to their true meanings through the above way are of the same type of similitude which elicits ambiguity and fallacy. When it is said that “God is above,” one who has not yet been able to separate the above meanings from their tangible properties and attributes thinks that God is in heaven, although He is not a body to occupy space:
فَأَيْنَمَا تُوَلُّواْ فَثَمَّ وَجْهُ اللّهِ
“So whichever way you turn, there is the face of Allah!”12
But he cannot comprehend it. Of course, he does not have any duty beyond what he can comprehend for he has no power beyond it.
When it is said, “Verily, Allah is the All-exalted, the All-supreme,” one who goes beyond this stage, has more power of understanding and also comprehends delegated meanings, thinks that the Highness and Greatness of God is also like that of a head office in relation to his subordinates. But these two are actually cheese and chalk apart!
One who has spent his life seeking knowledge, wisdom and comprehension of abstract meanings understands an even higher meaning of exaltedness and greatness, saying that God has Essential Greatness in relation to others.
All the creatures exist and so does God, but the existence of God, the Blessed and Exalted, in terms of the existential level of greatness, cannot be compared with His creatures. But, again, the truth behind His Highness, Greatness and sublime level of existence is something which everyone can discern depending on his power of discernment although comprehending its essence is impossible for anyone.
Now, keeping in view the above explanation, we argue that whenever God wishes to tell us human beings something which is beyond our common understanding, He has to use words which we can comprehend to some extent after reflection, although it is beyond our comprehension to understand its essence. In such cases, there is no option but to use allegorical words.
As such, the verses which indicate metaphysical points and beyond the understanding of common human beings will more or less have certain degrees of metaphor, and whose essence can be known by the help of precise verses.
For instance, whenever the Qur’an states, “And He is the All-exalted, the All-supreme,”13 and we cannot comprehend the truth or essence of the greatness and exaltedness of the Supreme Being, we have to interpret it through precise verses such as “Nothing is like Him”14 so as to avoid misunderstanding and misinterpretation.
The first verse states that God is Exalted and Great while the second one informs us that He has no equal and partner. That is, whatever state of greatness and exaltedness we think of it is still below His true Greatness and Exaltedness because He is above that.
The same is true with respect to the Attributes of God. When it is said that God is All-knowing and All-powerful, it is clear that the essence of knowledge in relation to God is above that which is applied to human beings. But the truth of the Attributes of God is something which is incomprehensible for anyone except God whose Essence is His Knowledge, Life and Power.
For the guidance of man towards Him and His Attributes, God, the Exalted, has used the same words which man initially understands in their tangible senses so that man does not remain deprived of that lofty knowledge, no matter how imperfect.
Hence, the existence of allegorical verses in the Qur’an is part of divine wisdom, for without them, the means to comprehend abstract and intangible concepts and facts would be totally lost. But to cite, interpret and expound the allegorical verses, as stated earlier, is something that must be done by the help of precise verses.
But not all individuals who intend to understand the Qur’an and its sciences would choose the abovementioned logical, rational and natural way of understanding divine knowledge. In the verse under discussion, God mentions the existence of definitive and allegorical verses in the Qur’an and says that “Those in whose hearts is deviance”15 have some psychological and moral sickness.
In other words, “There is a sickness in their hearts.”16 They take the allegorical verses as the basis of their thinking and action. Without taking into account the precise verses of the Qur’an, they give preference to allegorical verses and thus pave the ground for their own and others’ misguidance.
Naturally, those who want to oppose religion, the Qur’an, religious values and precepts in Islamic society will never adopt the way of direct confrontation to achieve their objectives. It is because they know that, in doing so, they will face massive opposition from the Muslims and be defeated at the very start. Following psychological tips, they choose the appropriate approaches to achieve their satanic objectives.
One of their approaches is the amalgamation of truth with falsehood. They fuse elements of truth and falsehood in a beautiful manner so that their addressees who occasionally do not have sufficient knowledge and expertise in distinguishing truth from falsehood accept their words as a whole. As such, the false point embellished with the luster of truth and hidden under the veil of elegant literary expression gets unconsciously instilled in the minds of listeners.
Hadhrat ‘Ali (‘a) said:
فَلَوْ أَنَّ الْبَاطِلَ خَلَصَ مِنْ مِزَاجِ الْحَقِّ لَمْ يَخْفَ عَلَى الْمُرْتَادِينَ، وَلَوْ أَنَّ الْحقَّ خَلَصَ مِنْ لَبْسِ البَاطِلِ انْقَطَعَتْ عَنْهُ أَلْسُنُ الْمُعَانِدِينَ، وَلكِن يُؤْخَذُ مِنْ هذَا ضِغْثٌ، وَمِنْ هذَا ضِغْثٌ، فَيُمْزَجَانِ! فَهُنَالِكَ يَسْتَوْلي الشَّيْطَانُ عَلَى أَوْلِيَائِهِ، وَيَنْجُو الَّذِينَ سَبَقَتْ لَهُمْ مِنَ اللهِ الْحُسْنَى.
“If wrong had been pure and unmixed, it would not be hidden from those who are in search of it. And if right had been pure without admixture of wrong, those who bear hatred towards it would have been silenced. What is, however, done is that something is taken from here and something from there and the two are mixed! At this stage Satan overpowers his friends, and they alone escape for whom virtue has been apportioned by Allah from before.”17
Naturally, the deviators and those whose hearts are in deviance, as described by the Qur’an, and are not willing to submit to God, take the allegorical verses and the group of traditions which are adulterated in terms of the chain of transmission [sanad], or metaphors in terms of content, as the frontispiece of their propaganda activities against Islam. Meanwhile, they abhor listening to the precise verses of the Qur’an, the statements of truth and divine knowledge authentically transmitted from the Ahl al-Bayt or infallible Imams (‘a).
They who sometimes regard themselves as Muslims are knowingly or unknowingly in tandem with the enemies of Islam, for they are looking for negative points to be falsely attributed to Islam. By magnifying these negative points, they aim at undermining the inclination towards Islam of those truth-seeking individuals who have not yet embraced Islam. In this book, we are dealing not only with atheists and non-Muslim enemies but also with those who claim to be Muslims.
In order to refuse to listen to the words of truth and submit to reason and logic, they make justifications for themselves such as those mentioned in the section about “different readings and interpretations of religion”, and maintain their stance without considering the implications of their statements.
In this part, I shall let the dear readers themselves judge those justifications and their effects. However, out of sympathy and concern, we invite them to reexamine their faith, just as the Qur’an urges the faithful to invite one another to thinking, reflection, reform, and guidance, and remind one another of the truth
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اسْتَجِيبُوا لِلّهِ وَلِلرَّسُولِ إِذَا دَعَاكُم لِمَا يُحْيِيكُمْ
“O you, who have faith! Answer Allah and the Apostle when he summons you to that which will give you life.”18
It should by now be clear that the said idea which is expressed under the name of “straight paths,” the expression “different understandings, readings or interpretations of religion,” or within the theoretical framework of “the language of religion” or “minimalist or maximalist religion” has no agenda but to oppose the religious beliefs of monotheist thought. Let them know that the wary Muslim scholars are smart enough to detect the illogical and irrational nature of their arguments and more than aware of the hidden agenda of the promoters of these groundless misgivings.
Keeping in view our discussions, this question can be asked: What is the motive of the opponents of the Qur’an and religious culture behind these wicked acts? In reply, we shall first examine the view of the Qur’an and then explain the statement of Hadhrat ‘Ali (‘a) in Nahj al-Balaghah in this regard.
It can be inferred from the Qur’an that since the very beginning of revelation, Satan has tried his best, by exploiting the weaknesses of the jinn and humans, to separate the people from the Qur’an. Other than this, nothing could be expected from Satan, for he swore:
فَبِعِزَّتِكَ لَأُغْوِيَنَّهُمْ أَجْمَعِينَ ٭ إِلاَّ عِبَادَكَ مِنْهُمُ الْمُخْلَصِينَ
“By Your might, I will surely pervert them, except Your exclusive servants among them.”19
In order to execute his plan of misguiding people and depriving them of the knowledge of the Qur’an, he made the precise verses a pretext. He encouraged or urged the materialists and his friends to follow the allegorical verses of the Qur’an without paying attention to its precise verses, so that through them he could also draw the rest towards uncertainty and doubt. After dividing the verses of the Qur’an into muhkamat and mutashabihat, God, the Exalted, states:
فَأَمَّا الَّذِينَ في قُلُوبِهِمْ زَيْغٌ فَيَتَّبِعُونَ مَا تَشَابَهَ مِنْهُ ابْتِغَاء الْفِتْنَةِ وَابْتِغَاء تَأْوِيلِهِ
“As for those in whose hearts is deviance, they pursue what is metaphorical in it, courting temptation and courting its interpretation.”20
His followers assist him in attaining his objective. The Qur’an describes these individuals as “Those in whose hearts is deviance” and “Those in whose hearts is a sickness” and forbids people from following them.
Our concern here is to explain from the Qur’anic perspective the motive of such individuals in their opposition to religious culture. The Holy Qur’an states that those who, with the intention of “courting temptation”, take the allegorical verses as the basis of their thinking and actions, or abandon the exterior [ẓahir] of the Qur’an under the pretext of the mutashabihat, are sedition-mongers.
The question which is posed here is: what is sedition [fitnah] and sedition-mongering? The lexicographers, especially those who strive to look for the original meaning of the word and give meanings to words while keeping their root-words in view, have said that fitnah originally means “heating a thing by means of fire”. Whenever a thing is placed over a fire to be warmed, burned or melted, the Arabs say “It made the thing hot” [fatanahu]. In the Qur’an, the phrase fatanahu has also been used in its literal sense when it says:
يَوْمَ هُمْ عَلَى النَّارِ يُفْتَنُونَ
“It is the day when they will be tormented in the Fire.”21
Therefore, the essence of the literal meaning of fatanahu is to burn and melt. However, as lexicographers say, the requisite of a literal meaning becomes the second or third meaning of the word. The same is true in the case of the word fitnah. As stated, fitnah originally means “to grow hot” but “to grow hot” has a requisite and that is if this growing hot or getting burned happens to a man—such as the verse “It is the day when they will be tormented in the Fire”—he will be in a state of agitation [idhtirab].
Agitation is the outward condition of one who is physically burned. At times, it is an inner or spiritual state. As such, agitation is actually one of the requisites of fitnah or growing hot, and considering the expansion of the meaning of a word, fitnah also refers to the things that cause inner or spiritual agitation. Since a part of the inner or spiritual agitation is the worry or uncertainty in matters of beliefs, whatever causes such agitation is also called fitnah.
There is the term “sedition [fitnah] in religion” because by instilling superstitious or false notions, some individuals wish to create agitation or uncertainty in the conviction or faith of the faithful, and let them abandon the religion of truth.
An examination or test is also called fitnah for it causes agitation and worry. Since at the time of an examination a person is worried about the result, he has no peace of mind. In the Qur’an, the word fitnah, in the sense of agitation on account of a test, can be found in numerous verses. The Qur’an states:
أَنَّمَا أَمْوَالُكُمْ وَأَوْلاَدُكُمْ فِتْنَةٌ
“Your possessions and children are only a test.”22
It also says:
وَنَبْلُوكُم بِالشَّرِّ وَالْخَيْرِ فِتْنَةً
“And We will test you with good and ill by way of test.”23
Sometimes, the punishment or inconvenience itself is also referred to as fitnah.
It is evident that in the verse under discussion—“It is He who has sent down to you the Book. Parts of it are precise verses, which are the mother of the Book, while others are allegorical. As for those in whose hearts is deviance, they pursue what is allegorical in it, courting temptation [fitnah]”24—fitnah implies “sedition in religion”, for following the mutashabihat is inconsistent with examination or test, and those who follow the mutashabihat do not intend to torture and torment others.
It does not mean to heat or burn either. Rather, they are sedition-mongers because under the pretext of the allegorical verses, they intend to create agitation or doubt in the minds of people and misguide them.
“Sedition in religion” in the above sense can be considered as masked confrontation by the elements of deception and trickery. This activity is undertaken with the aim of uprooting the essence of religion under the garb of ostentatious faith. Through hypocrisy [nifaq], sedition-mongers keep their satanic ideas secret so that it becomes difficult for the common people to detect their anti-religious motives.
For this reason, the Qur’an has considered it the gravest sin and informed people of the greatest of dangers in this world and the hereafter, urging them to rise up and exert all their efforts to defend their religion.
The enemies usually approach confronting Islam and the Muslims in two ways. The Qur’an also offers guidance in dealing with the enemies’ conspiracies.
One of the enemies’ conventional ways of confronting Islam and the Muslims is physical combat or open war. By military invasion of Muslim countries, killing of Muslims and plundering their resources, they strive to achieve their objectives. In this way, they kill a number of Muslims and destroy Muslim countries but they never attain their goals. By getting killed for the sake of religion, not only do Muslims not suffer any loss but their belief becomes stronger and more formidable.
In religious culture, the goal of life in this world is the perfection of man and the attainment of divine proximity through belief, worship and servitude to God, its highest degree being martyrdom in the way of God.
Meanwhile, the stance of the Qur’an against this strategy of the enemies is as follows:
وَقَاتِلُوهُمْ حَتَّى لاَ تَكُونَ فِتْنَةٌ وَيَكُونَ الدِّينُ كُلُّهُ لِلّه
In this fighting, the slogan of the Muslims is as follows:
قُلْ هَلْ تَرَبَّصُونَ بِنَا إِلاَّ إِحْدَى الْحُسْنَيَيْنِ وَنَحْنُ نَتَرَبَّصُ بِكُمْ أَن يُصِيبَكُمُ اللّهُ بِعَذَابٍ مِنْ عِندِهِ أَوْ بِأَيْدِينَا فَتَرَبَّصُوا إِنَّا مَعَكُم مُّتَرَبِّصُونَ
“Say, ‘Do you await anything to befall us except one of the two excellences? But we await that Allah shall visit on you a punishment, from Him, or by our hands. So wait! We too are waiting along with you.’”27
The second main approach of the enemies in confronting Islam and the Muslims consists of cultural activities which instill doubt in the hearts of the Muslims. The approach, means and tools, methods and consequences used in this type of conflict are different from a military attack. In a military attack the enemy comes to the front with the most advanced weapons to physically kill the Muslims and plunder their resources, in the cultural attack pen and speech are used to mislead and corrupt the minds of Muslims.
In a military attack the enemy confronts the Muslim combatants in the harshest way possible, in the cultural onslaught the enemy pretends to be full of “sympathy and concern”. In a military attack the Muslims can see the enemy, while in the cultural onslaught identifying the enemy is not an easy task. In a military attack the enemy intends to eliminate physical bodies by the use of mines and advanced weapons, in the cultural onslaught he intends to win hearts and minds towards his interests by brainwashing them.
In a military attack the enemy has the capability to send off only a specific number of Muslim combatants from this base materialistic world, in the cultural onslaught the devils lie in ambush to allure the innocent youth—the greatest asset of a Muslim nation that does not have sufficient knowledge of the religious sciences and precepts—and drown it in irreligiousness.
It is true that the enemies will not derive advantage from this coquetry against religion and the Muslim nation, because our educated Muslim youth, who honorably and victoriously emerged from the armed struggle and invasion, are vigilant enough to detect the enemy’s transfer from the military front to the cultural front.
Yet, because of the gravity of the danger and the irreparability of the consequences of defeat on the cultural front, the Holy Qur’an, while warning the Muslims, urges them to stand firmly against the enemies of God and religion.
Since the felicity of the Muslims in this world and the hereafter will be jeopardized in case of negligence, the Qur’an warns the Muslims against cultural sedition, and regards it as more serious than a military assault.
The Holy Qur’an says:
وَاقْتُلُوهُمْ حَيْثُ ثَقِفْتُمُوهُمْ وَأَخْرِجُوهُم مِّنْ حَيْثُ أَخْرَجُوكُمْ وَالْفِتْنَةُ أَشَدُّ مِنَ الْقَتْلِ
Of course, we are aware that the opponents of the Qur’an during its revelation and the advent of Islam, mostly participated in military aggression to extinguish Islam and the Muslims. Yet, the Qur’an gives more emphasis to the menace of cultural and religious sedition than military aggression. The Qur’an states:
وَالْفِتْنَةُ أَكْبَرُ مِنَ الْقَتْلِ
“And faithlessness is graver than killing.”30
That is, polytheism is more dangerous than military aggression and killing, and the sin of its commission is graver than that of killing Muslims.
Polytheism [shirk] has existed alongside monotheism [tawhid] throughout the history of mankind. Those who refused to submit to the Creator of the universe have been in pursuit of satisfying their carnal desires and constantly obstructed the monotheists in various ways.
The proponents of polytheism cleverly adopted the lifestyle of people of the time and chose appropriate methods to achieve their objectives. As such, since polytheism manifested itself in the form of idol-worship during the early period of Islam, the chiefs of polytheism promoted the worship of idols made of stone and wood, and prevented people from inclining to the worship of One God. The reason behind this attitude was that with the dominance of the monotheistic culture, there would have been no room for them to satisfy their carnal desires.
Today, polytheism in its modern form is promoted under the guise of “scientific theories” in different gatherings and circles. If during the early period of Islam 360 idols or so were worshipped and promoted by materialists to stupefy the minds of people, today the exponents of polytheism try to build as many idols as the people, dissuade them from thinking of God, the Exalted, and draw their attention to satanic insinuations and superstitions.
It is clear that the notion of “straight paths” or “different interpretations of religion” belongs to this category, since it means that any person can take whatever he understands regarding God and religion from the religious texts as the basis of his belief and action because that is the truth and reality.
Therefore, everyone can have his own private or personal deities and religions. It is evident that this notion is diametrically opposed to the spirit of monotheism which is embodied in the formula of faith “There is no god but Allah” [La ilaha illallah].
Since the most sensitive subject in the life of man is his belief, on which his felicity in this world and the hereafter depends, it is worthwhile for him to reexamine his beliefs and ideas on the basis of the Qur’an and the teachings of the Ahl al-Bayt (‘a), and rationally or logically assess them without being led astray by his whims and caprice, for it is only in this way that he can free himself from the snares of Satan and the abyss of deviation.
Of course, to purify one’s self and overcome one’s carnal desires is extremely difficult, and it is not without purpose that the Apostle (S) has considered it “greater jihad” [jihad al-akbar]. It is especially true if the enemies of monotheism and Islam are willing to grant him international fame in order to achieve their political and colonial agendas of confronting Islam.
It is true that in such a situation, for man to embark on jihad al-akbar, and disregard the pledges and promises of the enemies of Islam is an astounding and amazing accomplishment, but it is not impossible. In history, many individuals came to their senses at the last moment, freed themselves from their carnal desires and the trap of the devils from among the jinn and humans, saved themselves from impending perdition, and returned to the fold of monotheism.
The Holy Qur’an has shown the Muslims the ways to attain perfection and bliss. Like a luminous torch that will never be extinguished, it has made the straight path of guidance clear to the seekers of truth.
The Apostle (S) also washed the dust and filth of polytheism off the face of humanity, implanted the seed of hope and deliverance in the hearts of those who were thirsting for truth and made it fruitful, and founded a government based upon monotheism. Meanwhile, many became Muslims out of expediency and their faith was not beyond oral declaration.
True belief in God did not enter their hearts. Naturally, such individuals gave preference to their carnal desires over the will of God and the orders of the Apostle (S). During the lifetime of the Apostle (S), the secret enemies of Islam and the Apostle (S) did not consider it expedient to openly express their hostility and divulge their plot to change the direction of the divine government, oppose the infallible Imams (‘a) and deprive the people of their divinely guided leadership. These devils and worldly people waited for the passing away of the Apostle (S) to implement their sinister schemes.
Predicting this conspiracy, the Holy Qur’an gives this warning:
أَحَسِبَ النَّاسُ أَن يُتْرَكُوا أَن يَقُولُوا آمَنَّا وَهُمْ لا يُفْتَنُونَ
“Do the people suppose that they will be let off because they say, ‘We have faith,’ and they will not be tested?”31
One day, Hadhrat ‘Ali (‘a) was talking about the Qur’an, inviting the people to firmly cling to the divine stronghold [habl’ul-matin] and follow its instructions, and giving glad tidings of felicity in paradise to the faithful, and warning the hypocrites and seditionists of chastisement in hell.
A man stood up and asked about sedition and requested Imam ‘Ali (S) to quote a saying of the Apostle (S) in this regard. In reply, the Imam (‘a) recalled the moment of revelation of the verse, “Do the people suppose that they will be let off because they say, ‘We have faith,’ and they will not be tested?” and how the Apostle (S) informed the people of the occurrence of fitnah in religion a great test.
He said he understood that this fitnah would occur after the demise of the Apostle (S), and asked the Apostle (S) about the nature of fitnah in religion that would take place as mentioned by God, the Exalted. The Apostle (S) said: ‘After me my ummah will experience fitnah.’ He (S) then mentioned the types of sedition (fitnah) that would be carried out by the materialists, emphasizing three types:
يَا عَلِيٌّ إِنَّ الْقَوْمَ سَيُفْتَنُوْنَ بِأَمْوَالِهِمْ وَيَمُنُّوْنَ بِدِيْنِهِمْ عَلىٰ رَبِّهِمْ وَيَتَمَنَّوْنَ رَحْمَتَهُ وَيَأْمَنُوْنَ سَطْوَتَهُ يَسْتَحِلُّوْنَ حَرَامَهُ بِالشُّبَهَاتِ الْكَاذِبَةِ وَالأَهْوَاءِ السَّاهِيَةِ، فَيَسْتَحِلُّوْنَ الْخَمْرَ بِالنَّبِيْذِ وَالسُّحْتَ بِالْهَدِيَّةِ وَالرِّبَا بِالْبَيْعِ.
O ‘Ali! Surely the people will be tested with their wealth. They will count as a favor to their Lord their acceptance of the religion and expect His mercy and immunity from punishment. They will make lawful what He prohibited through unjustifiable misgivings and carnal desires. So they will equate wine with fruit syrup, bribery with gift, and usury [riba] with trade.”
The first type the Apostle (S) mentioned was fitnah in matters of wealth. Those who are familiar with Islamic jurisprudence [fiqh] know that a large number of the practical laws of Islam deal with wealth, business, trade, and economic affairs. In Islam, individual rights have been given the best possible attention.
The rules and regulations in commercial, business and trade transactions have been enacted based on the real interests of man’s social life. By observing them, people can have felicity in this world and the hereafter. Economic relations in society are mostly undertaken in the form of trade or buying and selling, and the edifice of social life is founded on social transactions, cooperation and helping one another in solving problems.
On account of the profiteering instinct of man, usurious transactions—the worst and most abhorrent type of transaction according to Islam—have been widespread among people which the Qur’an has sternly prohibited the people from undertaking. The tone of the Qur’anic prohibition of this practice is so admonishing that it regards it as tantamount to waging war against God:
فَإِن لَّمْ تَفْعَلُوا فَأْذَنُوا بِحَرْبٍ مِنَ اللّهِ
“And if you do not [desist from practicing usury], then be informed of a war from Allah.”32
The Apostle (S) said: “After me the people will be afflicted with a fitnah in their wealth and economic relations, ignore the explicit decrees of the Qur’an on the prohibition of usury, and practice usury under the pretext of trade and business based on false justifications.”
It is God, the Exalted, who has created the universe and granted us the blessing of existence. He has completed His favor upon us human beings by sending His best servants along with heavenly scriptures for us to attain perfection and bliss. Gratitude for the blessing of guidance can be expressed only by acknowledgment of servitude to God which is the highest conceivable station of man.
It is abominable, detestable and loathsome to find ignorant man feel he is doing God a favor by accepting His guidance and ordinances, and not to know that God actually deserves our gratitude, for it is He who has guided us to the religion of truth.
Addressing the Apostle (S), the Holy Qur’an states:
يَمُنُّونَ عَلَيْكَ أَنْ أَسْلَمُوا قُل لاَّ تَمُنُّوا عَلَيَّ إِسْلَامَكُم بَلِ اللَّهُ يَمُنُّ عَلَيْكُمْ أَنْ هَدَاكُمْ لِلْإِيمَانِ
“They count it as a favor to you that they have embraced Islam. Say, ‘Do not count it as a favor to me your embracing Islam. Rather it is Allah who has done you a favor in that He has guided you to faith.”33
Therefore, from the religious perspective, the criterion is servitude and submission to God, and not self-centeredness and the feeling of arrogance vis-à-vis God. The Apostle (S) presents self-centeredness and the feeling of arrogance in lieu of the spirit of servitude and submission to God as one of the manifestations of fitnah in religion.
The Prophet (S) said: “After me, one of the manifestations of fitnah in religion is that instead of being grateful to God for the blessing of religion and divine guidance, people will feel God should be indebted to them for their acceptance of His religion and expect His reward and mercy as a matter of right! Similarly, for embracing Islam they will arrogantly think they should not deserve any punishment.
It is true that God, the Exalted, does not punish His servant for no reason, but the Apostle (S) regards having such a feeling as fitnah in religion, for those who have this feeling—whenever observance of a religious ordinance is inconsistent with their carnal desires—would easily deceive themselves and others through baseless justifications. As such, to have a sense of arrogance vis-à-vis God is repugnant to the truth of religion and the spirit of Islam, which is total submission to the Will of God.
The most dangerous fitnah which worried the Apostle (S) and which he warned the people by mentioning it to Hadhrat ‘Ali (‘a) is the fitnah or conspiracy of distortion [tahrif] in religion and passing a verdict on what God has prohibited. It is true that non-observance of religious laws [shari‘ah] and a sense of arrogance vis-à-vis Almighty God is indeed a cardinal sin, but what is more serious is to fabricate false justifications for anti-religious activities and give a religious color to carnal desires.
In this case, Satan rushes to the rescue of materialistic Muslims and assists them by distorting religious laws.
The Apostle (S) said that in order to serve their carnal desires, the fitnah-mongers resort to doubts, false justifications and futile arguments to declare lawful what God has prohibited and make a mockery of His religion.
What is worth mentioning is that the Apostle (S) specially mentioned the persistence of the fitnahs that would continue to exist until the advent of Hadhrat Sahib al-Amr,34 the Imam of the Time (‘a). What the Apostle (S) mentioned as examples of fitnahs such as wine being regarded as lawful under the pretext that it is the same lawful fruit syrup or juice, or bribery as synonymous with giving gifts, or usury as identical with trade are only a few of the fitnahs in religion, and they are not confined to these examples.
Nowadays, there are Muslims who do not consider themselves outside the fold of Islam, but in reality they do not faithfully accept the divine laws. Those who have social positions acquire a self-defeating attitude due to the influence of Western culture and become alien to their religious identity. On the other hand, their knowledge of religious sciences is not sufficient.
Meanwhile, notwithstanding their incompetence in expressing views on specialized religious issues, they dare to give verdicts and are sometimes influenced by satanic insinuations and encouraged by the enemies of religion. Consciously or unconsciously, their conversation means nothing but the denial of religion and going outside the fold of Islam.
For example, if a person asserts that the laws of Islam are applicable only to the people of that period, and that in the 21st century, the Qur’an and the laws of Islam are not capable of administering society, and its laws and ordinances must be changed according to the demands and discretion of the people, or that the people of the 21st century need a prophet who is appropriate for the time, such assertions can be considered not only a denial of religion but the claimants’ incorrect understanding of religion and its laws.
Those who make such assertions are supposed to pay attention to the implication, corollaries and repercussions of their assertions. Perhaps they would avoid saying something that could be considered seditious in religion and save themselves from the snare of Satan and the enemies of Islam and the Qur’an.
The modus operandi of the enemies of religion and the Qur’an in creating fitnah and military aggression is totally different from their way of undertaking cultural onslaught and sedition. Opposed to military aggression, in the cultural fitnah they never openly show themselves denying religion and opposing the religious culture of the people, or openly express their true beliefs.
What exists in our society as cultural fitnah currently is that the enemies of the Qur’an and religious culture obscure the cultural atmosphere in such a manner that the people, especially the educated youth, lose the power of identifying truth from falsehood and unconsciously fall into the trap of their false notions and deviant beliefs. Naturally, if the educated class of a country is afflicted with intellectual deviation, the door for misguidance and deviation of the public will also be opened, because
إِذَا فَسَدَ الْعَالِمُ فَسَدَ الْعَالَمُ.
“If the scholar [‘alim] is corrupt, the world [‘alam] is corrupted.”35
Therefore, cultural fitnah as warned by the Apostle (S) is one of the most dangerous things that threaten people’s felicity in this world and the hereafter.
It is clear that in dealing with such threats, the Islamic state must be so forceful in stating the truths of religion and propagating the culture and teachings of the Qur’an, and supervise the educational system from pre-school to university and all cultural centers that the malevolent enemies of Islam cannot mislead others by means of obscuring the cultural atmosphere.
On the other hand, the most fundamental duty of the religious scholars is to enlighten the people, especially the youth, who do not have sufficient knowledge of religious teachings and Qur’anic sciences, and combat cultural fitnah. The religious scholars are obliged to inform the people, especially the young generation, of the cultural threats and conspiracy of the enemies of religion and keep them away from the snares of Satan. Religious people can assist committed religious scholars in accomplishing their great mission of guiding society.
As stated at the beginning of the book, in this part we shall mention the motives of the opponents of religious culture as recorded in Nahj al-Balaghah by Imam ‘Ali (‘a). We shall first identify these elements and then mention the motives of these individuals in opposing religious culture and the teachings of the Qur’an.
Imam ‘Ali (‘a) named those who distort the truths of religion and corrupt the religious culture of the people as “pseudo-learned ignoramuses”. The Imam (‘a) said:
وَآخَرُ قَدْ تَسَمَّى عَالمِاً وَلَيْسَ بِهِ.
“While the other (kind of) man is he who calls himself learned but he is not so.”36
Opposing the upright followers of the Qur’an are a group of people who are sometimes considered scholars though in reality they are not so. By the use of fictitious and false titles, they mislead the people. They present their arguments as an interpretation of religion and the Qur’an. About them, Hadhrat ‘Ali (‘a) said:
فَاقْتَبَسَ جَهَائِلَ مِنْ جُهَّال.
“He has gleaned ignorance from the ignorant.”37
In other words what they assert as academic subjects and interpretations of religion and intend to impose religious beliefs under the pretext of different interpretations of religion, are elements of ignorance they have acquired from fellow ignoramuses. Perhaps, you may wonder how an ignorant could learn something from another ignorant! What does it mean by “an ignorant learning from another ignorant”?!
In order to become aware of the wonders of the words of Imam ‘Ali (‘a) and become more informed of our responsibility to enlighten people of such deviators from truth, we shall cite an example of pseudo-learned ignoramuses learning from fellow ignoramuses through what they call “scientific methods”.
In the West today it is believed that acquisition of knowledge is impossible for man and he must be skeptical of everything and have no certainty in any subject. The proponents of this idea believe that for a person to say that he is certain of the certain subject is a sign of ignorance and folly, for it is impossible to have knowledge of anything. Being proud of this doubt and ignorance, they argue that the sign of knowledge, learning and intelligence is for man to be skeptical of any knowledge and certainty in any subject whether religious or non-religious.
Such weak arguments have been advanced for the past one hundred years or so among the Europeans. Prior to it, it had also been the intellectual basis of the skeptics. In our society today, there are those who intend to weaken the religious convictions of the people by casting doubt upon their religious beliefs under the pretext that we cannot have certain knowledge in any field, and, thereby, realize their goals and satisfy their carnal desires. Interestingly enough, they advance these contentions under the guise of “academic subjects” and expect our wary and sagacious people to accept them hook, line and sinker.
Hadhrat ‘Ali (‘a) pointed to the existence of such wicked individuals throughout history and said:
فَاقْتَبَسَ جَهَائِلَ مِنْ جُهَّال وَأَضَالِيلَ مِنْ ضُلاَّل.
“He has gleaned ignorance from the ignorant and misguidance from the misguided.”38
They learn ridiculous subjects from a group of ignorant and misguided persons and discuss them as “scientific facts”. An example of their “scientific facts” is that one must doubt everything and not have certainty in anything! Concerning religious affairs, they say whatever a person understands is the truth! It is because in essence truth and falsehood do not exist! There is no criterion for truth and falsehood except the personal understanding of every person.
Imam ‘Ali (‘a) also said:
وَنَصَبَ لِلنَّاسِ أَشْرَاكاً مِنْ حبالِ غُرُور، وَقَوْلِ زُور.
“He has set for the people a trap (made) of the ropes of deceit and untrue speech.”39
The Imam (‘a) continued:
قَدْ حَمَلَ الْكِتَابَ عَلَى آرَائِهِ.
“He takes the Book (Qur’an) according to his own views and right after his passions.”40
Then, the Imam (‘a) turned his attention to the propaganda styles of these people and said:
وَعَطَفَ الْحَقَّ عَلى أَهْوَائِهِ، يُؤْمِنُ مِنَ الْعَظَائِمِ، وَيُهَوِّنُ كَبِيرَ الْجَرَائِمِ.
“He makes people feel safe from big sins and treats serious crimes lightly.”41
That is, in a bid to draw the attention of people, they make them feel safe from the consequences of their major sins, present major sins as trivial, and thus encourage them to commit crimes and offenses. They actually try to weaken religious convictions and piety.
The Imam (‘a) also said:
يَقُولُ: أَقِفُ عِنْدَ الشُّبُهَاتِ، وَفِيهَا وَقَعَ، وَيَقُولُ: أَعْتَزِلُ الْبِدَعَ، وَبَيْنَهَا اضْطَجَعَ. فَالصُّورَةُ صُورَةُ إِنْسَان، وَالْقَلْبُ قَلْبُ حَيَوَان، لاَ يَعْرِفُ بَابَ الْهُدَى فَيَتَّبِعَهُ، وَلاَ بَابَ الْعَمَى فيَصُدَّ عَنْهُ، فَذلِكَ مَيِّتُ الاَْحْيَاءَ!
“He says that he is waiting for (clarification of) doubts but he remains plunged therein, and that he keeps aloof from innovations but actually he is immersed in them. His shape is that of a man, but his heart is that of a beast. He does not know the door of guidance to follow or the door of misguidance to keep aloof from. Such people are living dead bodies.”42
Then, Imam ‘Ali (‘a) addressed the people and said:
(فَأَيْنَ تَذْهَبُونَ)؟ و (أَنَّى تُؤْفَكُونَ)! وَالاَْعْلاَمُ قَائِمَةٌ، وَالاْيَاتُ وَاضِحَةٌ، وَالْمَنَارُ مَنْصُوبَةٌ، فَأَيْنَ يُتَاهُ بِكُمْ؟ بَلْ كَيْفَ تَعْمَهُونَ وَبَيْنَكُمْ عِتْرَةُ نَبِيِّكُمْ؟ وَهُمْ أَزِمَّةُ الْحَقِّ، وَأَلْسِنَةُ الصِّدْقِ! فأَنْزِلُوهُمْ بِأَحْسَنِ مَنَازِلِ القُرْآنِ، وَرِدُوهُمْ وُرُودَ الْهِيمِ الْعِطَاشِ.
““So where are you going?”43 “Then where do you stray?”44 The signs (of guidance) are standing, indications (of virtue) are clear, and the minarets (of light) have been fixed. Where are you being taken astray and how are you groping while you have among you the descendants of the Prophet?
They are the reins of Right, signs of Faith and tongues of truth. Accord to them the same good position as you accord to the Qur’an, and come to them (for quenching the thirst of guidance) as thirsty camels approach the water spring.”45
In a tone harsher than that of Hadhrat ‘Ali (‘a), the Holy Qur’an describes these pseudo-learned ignoramuses and warns the people of their deception:
وَكَذَلِكَ جَعَلْنَا لِكُلِّ نِبِيٍّ عَدُوًّا شَيَاطِينَ الإِنسِ وَالْجِنِّ يُوحِي بَعْضُهُمْ إِلَى بَعْضٍ زُخْرُفَ الْقَوْلِ غُرُورًا وَلَوْ شَاء رَبُّكَ مَا فَعَلُوهُ فَذَرْهُمْ وَمَا يَفْتَرُونَ
“That is how for every prophet We appointed as enemies the devils from among humans and jinn, who inspired each other with flashy words, deceptively. Had your Lord wished, they would not have done it. So leave them with what they fabricate.”46
The enemies of the prophets (‘a) and the opponents of divine guidance are outwardly human but because all their activities are directed towards misguiding others, instilling doubts, weakening religious beliefs, and opposing divine guidance, the Qur’an describes them as devils in human form and warns people from following them.
Those whose faith is not strong will not be pleased with religion, and always be inclined to interpret and justify religious laws and values according to their whims and carnal desires. If only their interpretation of religion and the Qur’an according to their carnal desires were permitted, it would be very pleasant for this group for then they could satisfy their carnal desires and keep enjoying the privileges of being Muslims in an Islamic society.
Similarly, it is natural that those who are not attached to the religious values and divine laws welcome such interpretations of religion and the Qur’an. They follow those who interpret and justify religion, the Qur’an and religious values according to their carnal desires, take them as their models and express gratitude.
It is equally natural that such individuals are not in terms with religious scholars who interpret and expound the Qur’an and its laws as they are, without considering the pleasure and preference of individuals and people.
It is indeed a pity that today we can witness those who, under the pretext of “different interpretations of religious texts,” intend to give a religious color to their own carnal desires and yearnings and make a mockery of the religion of God and the Holy Qur’an.
By predicting the condition of society, Hadhrat ‘Ali (‘a) complained of the alienation of the Qur’an during his time as well as the end of time, saying:
“I complain to Allah about persons who live ignorant and die misguided. For them nothing is more worthless than the Qur’an if it is recited as it should be recited, nor anything more valuable than the Qur’an if its verses are removed from their places.”47
Similarly, regarding the status of the Qur’an and religious teachings during the end of time, Imam ‘Ali (‘a) thus said:
وَإِنَّهُ سَيَأْتي عَلَيْكُمْ مِنْ بَعْدِي زَمَانٌ لَيْسَ فِيهِ شَيْءٌ أَخْفَى مِنَ الْحَقِّ، وَلاَ أَظْهَرَ مِنَ الْبَاطِلِ، وَلاَ أَكْثَرَ مِنَ الْكَذِبِ عَلَى اللهِ وَرَسُولِهِ، وَلَيْسَ عِنْدَ أَهْلِ ذلِكَ الزَّمَانِ سِلْعَةٌ أَبْوَرَ مِنَ الْكِتَابِ إِذَا تُلِيَ حَقَّ تِلاَوَتِهِ، وَلاَ أَنْفَقَ مِنْهُ إِذَا حُرِّفَ عَنْ مَوَاضِعِهِ، وَلاَ فِي الْبِلاَدِ شَيءٌ أنْكَرَ مِنَ الْمَعْرُوفِ، وَلاَ أَعْرَفَ مِنَ المُنكَرِ! فَقَدْ نَبَذَ الْكِتَابَ حَمَلَتُهُ، وَتَنَاسَاهُ حَفَظَتُهُ، فَالْكِتَابُ يَوْمَئِذ وَأَهْلُهُ مَنْفِيَّانِ طَرِيَدانِ، وَصَاحِبَانِ مُصْطَحِبَانِ فِي طَرِيق وَاحِد لاَ يُؤْوِيهِمَا مُؤْو، فَالْكِتَابُ وَأَهْلُهُ فِي ذلِكَ الزَّمَانِ فِي النَّاسِ وَلَيْسَا فِيهِمْ، وَمَعَهُمْ وَلَيْسَا مَعَهُمْ! لاَِنَّ الضَّلاَلَةَ لاً تُوَافِقُ الْهُدَى، وَإِنِ اجْتَمَعَا، فَاجْتَمَعَ الْقَوْمُ عَلَى الْفُرْقَةِ، وَافْتَرَقُوا عَنِ الْجَمَاعَةِ، كَأَنَّهُمْ أَئِمَّةُ الْكِتَابِ وَلَيْسَ الْكِتَابُ إِمَامَهُمْ.
“Certainly, a time will come upon you after me when nothing will be more concealed than rightfulness, nothing more apparent than wrongfulness and nothing more current than untruth against Allah and His Prophet. For the people of this period nothing will be more valueless than the Qur’an being recited as it ought to be recited, nor anything more valuable than the Qur’an being misplaced from its position.
And in the towns nothing will be more hated than virtue, nor anything more acceptable than vice. The holders of the Book will throw it away and its memorizers forget it. In these days the Qur’an and its people will be exiled and expelled. They will be companions keeping together on one path, but no one will offer them asylum.
Consequently at this time the Qur’an and its people will be among the people but not among them, will be with them but not with them, because misguidance cannot accord with guidance even though they may be together. The people will have united on division and will therefore be cut away from the community, as though they were the leaders of the Qur’an and not the Qur’an their leader.”48
The Commander of the Faithful (‘a) clearly predicted that after him a time will come when nothing will be more concealed than the truth and nothing more apparent than falsehood. Lies and calumny against God and His Apostle (S) will frequently be done by the pseudo-learned ignoramuses and materialistic hypocrites in order to attain their goals.
The point worth noting and being warned about is that it portrays and describes the spiritual and cultural state of the masses in the future. It is true that the Qur’anic verses and statements of Hadhrat ‘Ali (‘a) discussed and examined in this book are addressed to the people, but most of them are addressed to the elite of society and those who can exert influence on the culture of society.
In this sermon, Imam ‘Ali (‘a) explicitly predicts the spiritual state and religious culture of the people in the future and warns them of the affliction of such a culture and negligence of truth. After describing the dominant spirit of a section of the elite of society who, in order to advance their worldly objectives and desires, would mostly attribute lies and calumnies to God and the Apostle (S), interpret the Qur’an and religion according to their personal opinions, and misguide the people, the Imam (‘a) predicted the dominant culture of the masses in this manner:
“The people at that time would also be such that if the Book of Allah (Qur’an) were correctly and rightfully interpreted and explained, it would become one of the most valueless things for them and if it were interpreted according to their carnal desires, it would become the most valuable and lovable of things for them. At that time, the religious or divine values will be the most abominable things for the people while the anti-religious values will be the most cherished things for them.”
It is known to those who are informed that today the enemies of the Qur’an and the arrogant powers want such a culture to prevail in our society. In line with the cultural onslaught conspiracy, by attacking the religious sanctities and launching anti-religious propaganda, they strive for such conditions as predicted by the Commander of the Faithful (‘a).
In continuation, Imam ‘Ali (‘a) said: “At that time, no action will be seen from those who are knowledgeable of the Word of God except indifference, and from the protectors of the Qur’an whose duty is to guard the religious values nothing but complacency and negligence in the performance of duty. At that time, the Qur’an and its true followers and the religious scholars will be among the people but in reality separate from them and the people will be equally away from them.
It is because the people will isolate them and not follow them. They will live among the people but the hearts of the people will not be with them because the people will tread the path of misguidance, which cannot be reconciled with the way of the Qur’an, the path of guidance.
At the end of the sermon, Imam ‘Ali (‘a) thus said: “The people will have united on division and will therefore have cut away from the Islamic community, as though they were the leaders of the Qur’an and not the Qur’an their leader.” That is, the people at that time will be united on discord and dissension.
It is as if they will agree on not to concur with the Qur’an and its true interpreters, to follow the pseudo-learned ignoramuses as though they were the leaders of the Qur’an and will interpret and justify the Qur’an according to their carnal desires, and to separate and keep aloof from the true Muslims, religious scholars and authentic interpreters of the Qur’an. Instead of taking the Qur’an as their guide and model in their thinking and action, they will overtake the Qur’an, refuse to acknowledge its leadership and guidance and interpret the Qur’an and religion according to their opinion.”
Now, the enemies of religion and the Qur’an have tried their best to remove the religious identity of the Muslim nation and deprive them of their independence, freedom and honor by means of weakening their religious beliefs. Considering the importance and sensitivity of the situation, it is expedient for the Muslim nation, especially the religious scholars, to realize the threat, be vigilant and never be complacent concerning their situation vis-à-vis the threat posed by the enemies of Islam and the Qur’an.
Meanwhile, as mentioned earlier, in a bid to achieve their imperialist agenda, the enemies of Islam and global kufr do not openly express their enmity to Islam and the Muslim ummah in confronting the religious culture of the people. They usually utilize those Muslim elements living in the Islamic society who, on one hand, have social and cultural positions and, on the other hand, have somehow religious credentials.
Knowingly or unknowingly, they who are tools in the hands of foreign agents pave the ground for the misguidance of people by distorting religious teachings. These individuals have been condemned and reproached in many verses of the Holy Qur’an and traditions of the infallible Imams (‘a) and the people have been warned about them.
As I have said earlier, the Holy Qur’an labeled the activity of such people as fitnah and those who intend to distort the Qur’an and the religious truths and teachings are fitnah-mongers who come to the rescue of Satan in misguiding the people. Now, this question may possibly be asked: Why in spite of knowing the truth and being aware of the groundlessness of the superstitions they have acquired, are they determined to justify their misguidance of people? In other words: What is the psychological problem of those who intend to distort religious teachings and misguide people? In reality, what is the origin of fitnah in religion which is actualized in the form of distortion of religious teachings?
In reply to this question, Hadhrat ‘Ali (‘a) said:
إِنَّمَا بَدْءُ وُقُوعِ الْفِتَنِ أَهْوَاءٌ تُتَّبَعُ، وَأَحْكَامٌ تُبْتَدَعُ.
“The basis of the occurrence of evils consists of those desires which are acted upon and the orders that are innovated.”49
The seditions [fitan] in religion emanate from carnal desires, worldly yearnings and cravings. Those who misguide the people by means of distorting the religious teachings have lost their spirit of surrender and submission to God, the Exalted, as a result of satanic insinuations and temptations.
The spirit of servitude and submission to God demands that man be faithful to Islamic laws and religious values in words and deeds, because many religious ordinances might not be consistent with his carnal desires, and he may not be willing to sincerely accept and abide by them.
In such cases, human beings are always in a state of dilemma and have no option but to choose the will of God and Islamic law and oppose their carnal desires, or prefer their carnal desires and whims over the will of God.
In this great test, most people are overcome by their carnal desires, and they prefer their personal desires over the will of God and religious values. Some of them have the courage to say: “We are bound by the religious beliefs and values. We will not distort and oppose religious values.” This kind of attitude towards religion cannot be considered fitnah in religion because no one has been misguided by deception.
The lack of the spirit of submission and servitude to God and His decrees can be a source of fitnah when those who lack this spirit intend through false justifications to interpret religion according to their carnal desires.
If such individuals enjoy a social status on account of which some people listen to them, they are more than any other the object of Satan’s temptation, because they have desires which have been prohibited by religion, and it is difficult for them to dispense with them on account of the weakness of their spirit of servitude to God. Meanwhile, they have the power by the use of which they can present the truth in their favor.
Satan exploits this golden opportunity, and draws and incites them to fitnah and the distortion of religion. Satan kindles the fire of satisfying these desires in their hearts. He also instills this doubt in their minds: What is the proof that what the religious scholars have declared as religious obligations and values are exactly what God or religion wants from us?
Since such individuals observe that with the existence of the Qur’an, the sayings of the ‘ulama’, and the teachings of the Ahl al-Bayt (‘a), they cannot fully satisfy their carnal desires, whims and caprice, they decide to find a new way so that they can fully satisfy their desires and at the same time remain in the fold of Islam and maintain their social standing in society. Therefore, what internally draws them toward deviation is the lack of the spirit of submission and servitude to God and acquiescence to their carnal desires.
In reply to the question on why some people in Islamic society intend to create fitnah in religion, Hadhrat ‘Ali (‘a) said that the root of all seditions in religion lies in carnal desires which these people cannot abandon. In order to satisfy these desires, they engage in fitnah by treading a new way of confronting religious laws and values.
By the way, what is this new way they adopt to advance their objectives? Imam ‘Ali (‘a) said that they formulate laws according to their carnal desires and attribute them to Islam. They engage in distorting the truths of religion by baseless interpretations and false justifications, and interpret the Qur’an and its verses as they wish.
As a result, they tell something which is inconsistent with the truth of religion and the Holy Qur’an and encourage the people to disobey the Qur’an. It is evident that these individuals behave in a way that the people do not become aware of their satanic agenda and stop following them.
For Hadhrat ‘Ali (‘a) the root of all seditions and innovations in religion is egoism and the lack of the spirit of submission and servitude to God. He (‘a) also dissuaded the people, especially their leaders, from following their whims and caprice and warned them that the following verse could be applied to them:
أَرَأَيْتَ مَنِ اتَّخَذَ إِلَهَهُ هَوَاهُ
“Have you seen him who has taken his desire to be his god?”50
Those who are today the most influential forces and agents of Satan in distorting religious teachings were not like this to begin with. There are many cases of individuals who were among the upright Muslims and true propagators of the Qur’an and religious teachings, but they changed direction along the way and joined the ranks of the enemies of Islam.
They get expelled from the guardianship [wilayah] of God and accept the wilayah and friendship of Satan. On the contrary, there are also many persons who, after many years of deviation and misguiding themselves and others, repent by returning to the fold of Islam and spend the remaining parts of their lives compensating for their undesirable deeds in the past.
This shifting of positions of individuals throughout life is not unusual or uncommon. Yet, what is worthy of note is that according to the Qur’an, there is no sin more dangerous and graver than fitnah in religion. The gravest sin is that after knowing the truth and being acquainted with religious laws and teachings, one decides to obstruct people from knowing and acting upon them.
To conclude, I would like to draw the attention of everybody to the precious saying of Hadhrat ‘Ali (‘a) when he said:
حَاسِبُوا أَنْفُسَكُمْ قَبْلَ أَنْ تُحَاسَبُوا.
“Take account of yourself before you are called to account.”51
That is, evaluate yourself, your beliefs, your ideas, and your actions in the court of your conscience. Before you return to God and lose the opportunity to repent, return to the fold of the Qur’an and the religion of truth. Save yourself from the trap of Satan and the commanding self or carnal soul [nafs al-‘ammarah] and frighten it with the inevitable destiny.
Let me conclude with the warning of the Holy Qur’an in this regard when it states, thus:
ثُمَّ كَانَ عَاقِبَةُ الَّذِينَ أَسَاؤُوا السُّوأَى أَن كَذَّبُوا بِآيَاتِ اللَّهِ وَكَانُوا بِهَا يَسْتَهْزِئُون
“Then the fate of those who committed misdeeds was that they denied the signs of Allah and they used to deride them.”52
I implore God, the Exalted, to guide everybody in the path of truth.
وَالسَّلاَمُ عَلَىٰ مَنِ اتَّبَعَ الْهُدَىٰ
“And may peace be upon him who follows guidance!”53
- 1. Nahj al-Balaghah, Sermon 147.
- 2. Surah al-Najm 53:3-4.
- 3. Surah al-Haqqah 69:43-46.
- 4. See Surah al-Nas 114:1-6. [Trans.]
- 5. Surah Al ‘Imran 3:7.
- 6. Surah al-Baqarah 2:2-3.
- 7. Surah al-Baqarah 2: Surah al-Fath 48:10.
- 8. Surah al-Shawra 42:4.
- 9. Surah Ya-Sin 36:82.
- 10. Surah al-Baqarah 2:255; Surah al-Fath 48:10.
- 11. With a height of 5,670 m, Mount Damavand which is located near Tehran is the loftiest peak of Alborz Mountains, a mountain range in northern Iran, extending along the southern shore of the Caspian Sea. [Trans.]
- 12. Surah al-Baqarah 2:115.
- 13. Surah al-Shawra 42:4.
- 14. Surah al-Shawra 42:11.
- 15. Surah Al ‘Imran 3:7.
- 16. Surah al-Baqarah 2:10.
- 17. Nahj al-Balaghah, Sermon 50.
- 18. Surah al-Anfal 8:24.
- 19. Surah Sad 38:82-83.
- 20. Surah Al ‘Imran 3:7.
- 21. Surah al-Dhariyat 51:13.
- 22. Surah al-Anfal 8:28.
- 23. Surah al-Anbiya’ 21:35.
- 24. Surah Al ‘Imran 3:7.
- 25. Or ‘polytheism.’ Cf. Surah al-Baqarah 2:193. [Qur’an Trans.]
- 26. Surah al-Anfal 8:39.
- 27. Surah al-Tawbah (or, Bara’ah) 9:52.
- 28. Or ‘polytheism’. [Qur’an Trans.]
- 29. Surah al-Baqarah 2:191.
- 30. Surah al-Baqarah 2:217.
- 31. Surah al-‘Ankabut 29:2.
- 32. Surah al-Baqarah 2:279.
- 33. Surah al-Hujurat 49:17.
- 34. Sahib al-Amr [The Owner/Master of the Affair]: one of the titles of Imam al-Mahdi (‘a). [Trans.]
- 35. Ghurar al-Hikam, vol. 7, p. 269. [Trans.]
- 36. Nahj al-Balaghah, Sermon 86.
- 37. Ibid.
- 38. Ibid.
- 39. Ibid.
- 40. Ibid.
- 41. Ibid.
- 42. Ibid.
- 43. Surah al-Takwir 81:26.
- 44. Surah al-An‘am 6:95; Surah Yunus 10:34; Surah Fatir 35:3; Surah al-Ghafir (or al-Mu’min) 40:62.
- 45. Nahj al-Balaghah, Sermon 86.
- 46. Surah al-An‘am 6:112.
- 47. Ibid., Sermon 17.
- 48. Ibid., Sermon 147.
- 49. Nahj al-Balaghah, Sermon 50.
- 50. Surah al-Furqan 25:43.
- 51. Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 8, p. 145.
- 52. Surah al-Rum 30:10.
- 53. Surah Ta Ha 20:47.