'O God, carry us in the ships of Thy deliverance, give us to enjoy the pleasure of whispered prayer to Thee, make us drink at the pools of Thy love, let us taste the sweetness of Thy affection and nearness, allow us to struggle in Thee, preoccupy us with obeying Thee, and purify our intentions in devoting works to Thee, for we exist through Thee and belong to Thee, and we have no one to mediate with Thee but Thee!' Imam Sajjad ('A); Sahifa al-Sajjadiyya

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

A lovers instructions for his beloved

Amir al-Mu'mineen (a) to Malik al-Ashtar:
Do not say, ‘I have been given authority, I order and am obeyed’, for this leads to corruption in the heart and the erosion of religion; and it brings closer the adversities of fate. If the authority of your position engenders vanity and arrogance, then look at the grandeur of God’s dominion above you, and at His power to do for you that which you have no power to do for yourself. This will calm your ambition, restrain you from your own vehemence, and restore to you what had strayed from your intellect.

Beware of comparing [yourself] with God in greatness and likening [yourself] to Him in might, for God abases every tyrant and disgraces every braggart. Never be quick to believe a slanderer, for a slanderer is a deceiver, even if he appears in the guise of a good adviser.

Study much with the scholars (al-'Ulama') and hold much discourse with the sages (al-Hukama'), in order to consolidate that which brings well-being to your lands, and to further entrench that which has already been established by your predecessors.

Then—O God, O God!—[pay particular attention to] the lowest class, those who have no wherewithal, the destitute, the needy, the afflicted, the disabled. Within this class are those who beg, and those whose wretchedness calls out to be alleviated but do not beg. Be mindful of God in regard to their rights, for He has entrusted these rights to your care. Assign to them a portion from your public treasury (bayt al-mal), and a portion of the produce of what is taken as booty by the Muslims in every region, for those who are furthest have the same rights as those nearest.

Apportion a part of your time to those who have special needs, making yourself free to attend to them personally, sitting with them in a public assembly with all due humility before God, your Creator. Keep your soldiers, guards and officers away from them, so that they can speak to you in an uninhibited manner for I heard the Messenger of God say—God bless him and his family—on more than one occasion: ‘A nation in which the rights of the weak are not wrested in an uninhibited manner from the strong will never be blessed.’

Perform each day the task proper to it, for to each day belongs a particular task. Set apart the most excellent of your available time, and the greatest portions thereof, for your soul, for what is between you and God, even though all times [and actions performed therein] are for God, if the intention underlying them is good, and if your subjects derive security as a consequence. Let your observance of those duties (fara'idh) relating exclusively to God be the special means by which you purify your religion for God. Give unto God of your vital energy in your nights and your days, and perform fully that by which you draw near to God, doing so perfectly, without becoming dull or deficient, taking your body to its limits.

When you lead the people in prayer, do so without repelling [them] or squandering [it], for there are people with infirmities or special needs. Indeed, I asked the Messenger of God—God bless him and his family—when he sent me [as his representative] to Yemen, ‘How should I lead them in prayer?’ He replied, ‘Lead them according to the prayer performed by the weakest among them; and be merciful to the believers.’

Citation from the letter of Imam Ali to Malik al-Ashtar - Nahjul Balagha Letter 53

Thursday, 18 November 2010

“I am the Son of the Two Offerings”

Ahmad ibn Al-Hassan al-Qattan narrated that Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Sa’eed al-Kufi quoted on the authority of Ali ibn Al-Hassan ibn al-Fadhdhal, on the authority of his father,
“I asked Abul Hassan Ali ibn Musa Al-Reza (s) about the meaning of the statement made by the Prophet (s),
‘I am the son of the two offerings.’
Imam Al-Reza (s) said, ‘That means that the Prophet (s) was the descendant of both Ishmael, the son of Abraham - the friend of God (s), and Abdullah - the son of Abdul Muttalib. Ishmael was the patient son, about whom God gave the glad tidings of his birth to Abraham (s).

Then when (the son) reached the age of (serious) work with him, he said, ‘O my son! I see in a vision that I offer thee in sacrifice. Now see what is thy view!’ (The son) said, ‘O my father! Do as thou art commanded. Thou will find me, God willing, one practicing Patience and Constancy!’ [Qur’an, 37:102]
When he decided to offer him as sacrifice, God replaced him with a chubby black and white sheep. This sheep had been raised in a fresh green area, and had grazed in the Gardens of Heaven for forty years. It had no mother. Rather the Honorable the Exalted God said to it be and it was created so as to be substituted for Ishmael, ‘We but say the word, ‘Be’, and it is.’ [Qur’an, 16:40]

Whatever is sacrificed in Mina [A place in the hills east of Mecca on the road from it to ál-Rafa] until the Resurrection Day will be sacrificed on behalf of Ishmael. This is one of the offerings. Now let us consider the second one.

Abdul Muttalib grabbed the doorknob of the Kaaba and prayed to God to be granted ten sons. He bet with the Almighty God that he would offer one of them for sacrifice if his prayer was accepted. When the number of his sons became ten, he took them all inside the Kaaba and drew lots for their names. The lot fell to Abdullah's name - the father of the Prophet Muhammad (s) - whom he loved the most. He drew lots again, and it fell to Abdullah's name. He drew lots for the third time. Again the lots fell to Abdullah's name. Then he took him, imprisoned him and decided to offer him for sacrifice. All of the people of the Quraysh tribe got together and the other tribes also got together crying.

Abdul Muttalib's daughter - Ateka - said, ‘Ask the Almighty God to excuse you from offering your son , for sacrifice.’ Abdul Muttalib said, ‘My daughter! How can I ask for an excuse? You are mature and intelligent.’ Ateka said, ‘Draw lots concerning your son, and your camels that are around the Shrine (the Kaaba). Increase the number of camels so much that your Lord gets pleased and the lot falls to the name of the camels.’ Then Abdul Muttalib sent someone after his camels. They brought them all there. He chose ten of the camels and drew lots. The lot fell to the name of Abdullah. He chose an additional ten and drew lots again. The lot fell to the name of Abdullah again. He added to the number of camels and repeated drawing lots until the number of camels reached one hundred. Then the lot fell to the name of the camels.

The people of the Quraysh tribe became very happy and said ‘God is the Greatest’ so loud that the Tehamat mountains started to shake. Abdul Muttalib said, ‘No. I must draw lots three more times.’ He drew lots three more times. The lot fell to the name of the camels all three times. On the third time, Zubayr and Abu Talib dragged their brother Abdullah away from under Abdul Muttalib's feet. The part of his face that was on the ground got hurt. They picked him up and kissed him. Abdul Muttalib ordered all the one hundred camels be taken to Hazvareh and slaughtered there. He stressed that no one should be deprived of the meat.

There were five traditions practiced by Abdul Muttalib which the Almighty God continued their practice of in Islam as follows:

1- He forbade the (marriage of) the father's wives with the sons.
2- He established one hundred camels as blood compensation for killing.
3- He circumambulated the Kaaba seven times.
4- He found a treasure and paid one fifth of it as levy.
5- When he dug up the 'Zam Zam' spring, he established it as the supply of water for the pilgrims.

If Abdul Muttalib was not a proof (of the Divine God) and his decision to offer his son as sacrifice was not similar to that of Abraham (s) about his son Ishmael, the Noble Prophet (s) would not have been proud of being related to them (Abraham and Abdul Muttalib) and would not have said, ‘I am the son of the two offerings.’

The reason God prevented Ishmael from being sacrificed was the same one that He prevented Abdullah from being sacrificed. The reason was that the Noble Prophet (s) and the Immaculate Imams (s) were in their loins. Thus God prevented their being sacrificed due to the Blessed Prophet (s) and the Imams (s). Thus the tradition of offering one's son as a sacrifice did not become popular among the people. Otherwise, it would have become obligatory for people to offer their sons for sacrifice on the day of celebrating the ‘Eid ul-Adha each year until the Resurrection Day so as to seek nearness to God. Everything sacrificed on the ‘Eid ul-Adha until the Resurrection Day will be a substitute for Ishmael.

The author of this book (Sheikh Sadooq) said, “There are many traditions on the offering. In some traditions we read that Isaac was the one offered for sacrifice. In others we read that Ishmael was the one offered for sacrifice. We can not reject a tradition that has an authentic documentation. Ishmael was offered for sacrifice. However, when Isaac was born later, he wished that it was he himself who was offered for sacrificed by his father. He would have been patient and would have submitted to the decree of the Almighty God just as his brother did. Then he would have earned the same rank and reward that his brother had earned. God was aware of his intentions. For this reason he called him ‘the offering’ among his angels. I have quoted the related tradition in the book An-Nubowwa.”

'Uyun Akhbar al-Ridha, Sheykh al-Sadooq, Chapter 18

Saturday, 6 November 2010

The Ka’bah – What is it really?

(only a bit lengthy but certainly a great read particularly for those embarking on the great journey to meet the Only Beloved and be His guest in Hajj)

The Hajj season is upon us, when millions of Muslims journey to Mecca and circumambulate the Ka’bah, that simple square building that we face toward when we pray.  How strange it is that an insignificant structure such as this is the center of our hajj rites and the direction of our prayers! Why is this tiny stone cubic house so important?  The Ka’bah has great cosmological significance that we all should understand in order to make better sense of our rites and prayers.  The Ka’bah is the physical correspondence of the highest heaven.

The Ka’bah is called the Bait al Allah or Kaba e Allah, meaning House of God.  But we know God needs no house, and is not confined to any space.  It is also called the first house of mankind.  Yet no human is known to have ever lived in it, so what does that mean? It is certain that Abraham (as) constructed the Ka’bah.  But, before he built it, when he moved Hagar and Ishmael (as) to the empty desert, he said, “O our Lord!  I have made some of my offspring to dwell in a valley without cultivation, by Thy Sacred House….” (Qur’an 14:37)  So he was already aware of the Ka’bah before he built it!  Many scholars say that the Ka’bah was first built by Adam (as) but the structure had wasted away. All agree at least that it existed somehow prior to Abraham (as).

The Ka’bah is like the Bait ul Mamur (the Oft-Frequented House) and is said to be built directly under it.  The Bait ul Mamur is a house located in the fourth heaven that angels circumambulate and enter.  Several traditions state that Adam (as) had prayed at that house, as well. So to understand the Ka’bah, we need to understand the Bait ul Mamur.  So what is the significance of Bait ul Mamur?  Both the Ka’bah and the Bait ul Mamur are symbols of how God brings about and attends to His creation.

To understand that, we have to first understand how the decrees of Allah swt come to reality. The Qur’an says, “And your Cherisher-Lord creates what He wishes….” (28:68) and “Surely His commanding is such that, when He desires a thing, He just says to it, “Become!” and it becomes.” (36:82)  These two ayahs describe creation as mashi’ah (wishing),  iradah (desiring), and amr (commanding), as well as symbolizing it by speech of Allah swt.  All of these indicate that creation is the production of the outcome of Allah’s mashi’ah.  A hadith of Ahlulbayt (as) says, “Allah created the Wish through itself, then He created the things through the Wish.”

The Wish is symbolized as “the Water” or “Waters” in Qur’an and hadith.  For example, “And from the Water We made everything alive.” (21:30) The scholars tell us this ayah also shows that every created thing is alive in some fashion.  The fact that water (H2O) is repeatedly described as Mercy from Allah swt contributes to the symbolism of the Wish from which creation begins as the ultimate Mercy of the Creator.

The Creator-created relationship is a polar one, with the Creator in the seat of guardianship and authority.  This position of guardianship is in the Qur’an called ‘arsh, which is translated most often as “throne (raised, shaded seat of authority)” or “empyrean” (the highest heaven).  As Allah swt is not confined to a body, it does not mean a literal chair throne.  The Arabic verbal root meaning of ‘arsh is a pillared structure raised from the ground.  The Wish descends from and is beneath the empyrean “… and His empyrean was over the Water.” (Qur’an 11:7)

Imam Ali bin Husain (as) said that in the ‘arsh or empyrean is a likeness of every created thing, and this is the meaning of  “And there is not a thing except that its treasuries are with Us.” (15:21) The empyrean is also the gate of Allah’s administration over Creation: “He projects His guardianship uniformly to all creation over the empyrean; He administers the command.” (10:3)

Imam ‘Ali (as) has said that the empyrean is a cubical structure made of four pillars of light – one white, one yellow, one green and one red.  The white light is the light of consciousness (‘aql) and knowledge and is the first, foundational pillar.  Its symbol in the Qur’an is the pen (qalam).  The green light is the Preserved Tablet (Lawh Mahfuz), the record or soul (31:28) of creation in the empyrean.  The yellow light pillar is the Spirit (Ruh) as mentioned in Qur’an 17:85.  It is through the Spirit that prophets and those close to Allah swt receive their knowledge and power.  Ruh is related to rih, the wind.  Thus, according to Imam Baqir (as), just was the Wish is symbolized by water, the Spirit is symbolized by wind  - a movement and energy that effuses everything.  The red light of the empyrean is the blood line that connects the empyrean to the physical universe or nature; it carries all the vibrations of created things.

So the Ka’bah is itself an ‘arsh, representing the ‘arsh of Allah swt, the highest heaven.  Like the empyrean, it is a cube, with four corners mirroring the four corners of the empyrean.  Imam Sadiq (as) quoted the Prophet (saw) about this correspondence.  “The Ka’bah is called the Ka’bah because it is square-based.  It is square-based because it is in correspondence to the Bayt ul Mamur.  The Bayt ul Mamur is square-based because the empyrean is square-based.

The empyrean is square-based because the phrases upon which Islam is based are four: Subhanallah, Alhumdulillah, La ilaha illa allahu, and Allahu akbar!”  The corner with the black stone corresponds to the corner of the empyrean of the white light (consciousness).  Incidentally, some hadith say that the black stone is actually white, but blackened by repeated touching.  As pilgrims move around the Ka’bah, the move past the pillars of consciousness (white), then Spirit (yellow), then Soul (green), then nature (red).

With this knowledge, we can understand why we face toward the Ka’bah when we pray.  We are facing toward the symbol of the highest heaven where Allah’s swt guidance, mercy and creation are all projected from.  So facing toward the Ka’bah symbolizes facing towards the gateway between the physical Universe and Allah swt.  This does not imply that Allah swt is confined out of the physical Universe, but rather refers to the methodology of creation, guardianship, and bestowal of mercy.

Scholars have noted that the Ka’bah is empty and has in its cubic shape all cardinal directions in three dimensions.  All to be seen there is absoluteness, eternity.  It is not a shrine.  It is a symbol, a projection, a source of connection to the highest heaven, and an opening for the descent of Allah swt’s Wish into manifestation in the physical Universe.  Some hadith indicate that the creation of the land of the Earth began at the location of the Ka’bah, as it is the Origin of physical creation.  It is the symbol of our original home as we manifest from Wish in the empyrean, and that is why when we go for pilgrimage, we do not pray shortened prayers like travelers.  We are going back to our source.

The hajj rites all are steeped in symbolism.  We recreate the actions of Abraham (as) and Hagar (ra) to represent and learn from their deeds.  Therefore, it is probable that the symbolism of the Ka’bah as the ‘arsh has a significant meaning in the context of those rites and our understanding of our roles in the Universe and in the Ummah. Knowing that the Ka’bah is itself a symbol can give us much to ponder about the possible meanings of events in history such as Imam ‘Ali (as) being born in the Ka’bah. At the very least, the Ka’bah as a symbol of the ‘arsh has very deep implications about the direction we face when we pray.
The History of Ka’bah by Hasan Zafar Naqvi
Islam Dynamic:  The Cosmology, Spirituality and Practice of Walayah by Idris Samawi Hamid
Hajj: Reflections on its Rituals by Ali Shariati