'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

Monday, 25 April 2011

The Bedouin's question on the day of a battle

It has been related that on the day of the Battle of the Camel a bedouin came before the Commander of the Faithful and said, "O Commander of the Faithful! Sayest thou that God is one?"
The people attacked him and said, "O bedouin! Do you not see how the Commander of the Faithful's heart is divided (with cares)?" 
The Commander of the Faithful said, "Leave him, for surely what the bedouin wishes (i.e. knowledge of God) is what we wish for the people."
Then he said,
"O bedouin! To say that God is one (wahid) has four (possible) meanings, two of which are not permissible concerning God, the Mighty and Majestic, and two of which are established concerning Him." 

"As for the two which are not permissible concerning Him, (the first is) the saying of him who says 'one' and has in mind the category of numbers. Now this is not permissible, for that which has no second does not enter into the category of numbers. Hast thou not seen that he who says that He is 'the third of three' [This is a reference to the Quranic verse, "They are unbelievers who say, 'God is the Third of Three' " (V, 73).] is of the unbelievers?
And (the second is like) the saying of him who says (concerning a man), 'He is one of mankind', meaning that he is one kind within the species. [The first kind of "unity" that is rejected is numerical unity, or the idea that when we say "He is one God", we mean something similar to what we mean when we say, 'This is one walnut", i.e., that there may also be two Gods, three Gods, etc. The second "unity" refers to similarity in kind or species, as when we say, "this is one cat", meaning that there are also other kinds of cats. In the words of Majlisi, "When it is said in this sense of a Byzantine that he is one of mankind, it is meant that his kind is one of the kinds of men or is a kind among other kinds". This is tashbih because we are comparing God to whatever we say He is one of. Since He is one of that kind, He has to be similar to others of that kind.] This is not permissible because it is a comparison, and our Lord is greater than that and high above it."

"As for the two meanings which are established concerning Him, (the first is) the saying of him who says,
'He is one, there is no likeness (shabah) unto Him among things.'
Such is our Lord.

And (the second is) the saying of him who says,
'Surely He, the Mighty and Majestic, is single in meaning (ahadi al-mana), intending by that that He is not divided by existence, the power of reason, or imagination. Such is our Lord, the Mighty and Majestic."
Part I, A Shi'ite Anthology, 'Allamah Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Tabataba'i, Translated with Explanatory Notes by William C. Chittick

Monday, 4 April 2011


Ghazali's enlivening 5-min read worth every second

There are four stages in the belief in the unity of God. 

The first is to utter the words: “There is no God but God” without experiencing any impression in the heart. This is the creed of the hypocrites. 

The second is to utter the above words and to believe that their meaning is also true. This is the dogma of ordinary Muslims. 

The third is to perceive by the inward light of the heart the truth of the above Kalima. Through the multiplicity of causes the mind arrives at the conception of the unity of the final cause. This is the stage of the initiates. 

The fourth is to gaze at the vision of an all-comprehensive, all-absorbing One, losing sight even of the duality of one’s own self. This is the highest stage of the true devotee. 

It is described by the Sufis as Fanafittauhid (i.e. the effacement of one’s individuality in contemplating the unity of God).1 

To use a simile these four stages may be compared with a walnut which is composed of an external hard rind, an internal skin, the kernel, and oil. The hard rind, which is bitter in taste, has no value except that it serves as a covering for some time. When the kernel is extracted the shell is thrown away. Similarly the hypocrite who, uttering the Kalima, is associated with the Muslims and safely enjoys their privileges, but at death is cut off from the faithful and falls headlong into perdition. The internal skin is more useful than the external in as much as it preserves the kernel and may be used, but is in no way equal to the kernel itself. Similarly the dogmatic belief of the ordinary Muslim is better than the lip service of the hypocrite, but lacks that broad clear insight which is described as “He whose heart Allah has opened to Islam walks in his light”.

The kernel is undoubtedly the desired object, but it contains some substance which is removed when oil is being pressed out. Similarly the conception of an efficient final cause is the aim and object of the devotees, but is inferior to the vision of the all-pervading Holy One, because the conception of causality involves duality.

But the objection may be urged: How can we ignore the diversities and multiplicities of the universe? Man has hands and feet, bones and blood, heart and soul,-all distinct-yet he is one individual. When we are thinking of a dear old friend and suddenly he stands before us, we do not think of any multiplicity of his bodily organs, but are delighted to see him. The simile, though not quite appropriate is-suggestive, especially for beginners. When they reach that stage they will themselves see its truth. Words fail to express the beatitude of that highest stage. It can be enjoyed, but not described.2

Let us consider the nature of the third stage. Man finds that God alone is the prime cause of everything. The world, its objects, life, death, happiness, misery,-all have their source in his omnipotence. None is associated with Him in this. When man comes to recognise this, he has no fear of anything, but puts his trust in God alone. But Satan tempts him by misrepresenting the agencies of the inorganic and organic worlds as potent factors independent in the shaping of his destiny.

Think first of the inorganic world. Man thinks that crops depend on rain descending from clouds, and that clouds gather together owing to normal climatic conditions. Similarly his sailing on the sea depends on favourable winds. Without doubt, these are immediate causes, but they are not independent. Man who in the hour of need calls for God’s mysterious help, forgets Him and turns to external causes as soon as he finds himself safe and sound. “So, when they ride in ships, they call upon Allah, being sincerely obedient to Him, but when he brings them safe to land, they associate others with Him. Thus they become ungrateful for what we have given them, so they might enjoy: but they shall soon know”.

If a culprit, whose death sentence is revoked by the king, looks to the pen as his deliverer, will it not be sheer ignorance and ingratitude? Surely, the sun, the moon, the stars, the clouds, in fact, the whole universe is like a pen in the hand of an omnipotent dictator. When this kind of belief takes hold of the mind, Satan is disappointed in covertly tempting man, and uses subtle means, insinuating thus: “Do you not see that the king has full power either to kill or favour you, and though the pen, in the above simile, is not your deliverer, the writer certainly is”? As this sort of reflection led to the vexed question of free will, we have dealt with it already at some length.

At the outset, let us point out that just as an ant, owing to its limited sight will see the point of the pen blackening a blank sheet of paper and not the fingers and hand of the writer, so the person whose mental sight is not keen will attribute the actions to the immediate doer only. But there are minds, which, with the searchlight of intuition, expose the lurking danger of wrongly attributing power to any except the all-powerful omniscient being. To them every atom in the universe speaks out the truth of this revelation. They find tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones. The worldling will say: Though we have ears, we do not hear them. But asses also having ears do not hear. Verily there are such ears which hear words that have no sound, that are neither Arabic nor any other language, known to man. These words are drops in the boundless unfathomable ocean of divine knowledge: “If the sea were ink for the words of my Lord, the sea would surely be consumed before the words of my Lord are exhausted.”4

[* ]Ihya IV 5.

[1. ]Usually Fana is translated as “annihilation,” but Al Ghazzali here means what is implied in the statement: “To [Editor: illegible word] move, and have our being in Him.”

[2. ]“And thou shalt one day, if found worthy, so defined. See thy God face to face, as thou dost now.”
Byron Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage. CLV.

[3. ]Quran XXIX 65-66.

[4. ]Quran XVIII 109.