Dimensions of Self-Purification in Nahj al-Balagha – 2

Dimensions of Self-Purification in Nahj al-Balagha Part 2 of 3
By Sheikh Husayn El-Mekki Abdullah-Aziz

Self-Awareness

Self-awareness is the means to proactively shun misconduct, sin, immorality and transgression.[1] It is perhaps the first step in self-purification. This is analogous to individuals who suffer from struggles with substance or alcohol abuse or other damaging habits, when they decide to make a change for example by enrolling in a program to counter their illness or when they themselves, through intervention or epiphany or other means come to a halting realization. This realization is the starting point of an embarkation of self-development. The concept is similar in spiritual purification where without awareness and realization, true progression does not take place. Should one be in denial of a spiritual illness, or unaware of having it, then the disease would proceed to consume and overtake. “Waking up”, and become aware of where one stands in regards to his spiritual purity is the foundation for ridding oneself of such unwanted obstacles.

Sermon 191 is known as “al-Khutbah al-Qāsi`ah”, and it reiterates the commandment of God to the Angels and to Iblis to prostrate to Adam.[2] Ironically preceding this incident, it is said that there was news of the unseen amongst the inhabitants of the heavenly realm that an individual from amongst them would betray the divine command. Satan is said to have been aware of this prophesized event himself, but seemingly wondered whom from amongst the heavenly inhabitants would fall into the trap of committing such a preposterous act of transgression.

The unawareness of Satan of his own inner-ego is evident in the words of this sermon:

Then He put His angels on trial concerning these attributes in order to distinguish those who are modest from those who are vain. Therefore, Allâh, who is aware of whatever is hidden in the hearts and whatever, lies behind the unseen said: ‘Verily I am about to create man from clay,’ And when I have completed and have breathed into him of My spirit, then fall ye prostrating in obeisance unto him. And did fall prostrating in obeisance the angels all together, Save lblis… (Qur’an. 38:71-74)

But should man be unaware or not take the time to reflect upon his own situation then he may fall to a dreadful fate. And his Lord is always ever aware of his condition, imperfections and needs, and therefore man should call upon his Lord to guide him in matters of achieving awareness. God has enjoined man: “Call on me, I shall answer you.”

And in Sermon 85 About getting ready for the next world and following Allâh’s commandments he touches on this matter again:

Allâh knows hidden matters and is aware of inner feelings. He encompasses everything. He has control over everything and power over everything. Everyone of you should do whatever he has to do during his days of life before the approach of death, in his leisure before his occupation, and during the breathing of his breath before it is overtaken by suffocation, should provide for himself and his journey and should collect provision from his place of halt for his place of stay.[3]

The Great Jihād

In Sermon 160 Imam ‘Alī states:

So close your eyes, O’ creatures of Allâh, from its worries and engagements, because you are sure about its separation and its changing conditions. Fear it like a sincere fearer and one who struggles hard, and take a lesson from what you have seen about the falling places of those before you, namely that their joints were made to vanish, their eyes and ears were destroyed, their honor and prestige disappeared and their pleasure and wealth came to an end.”[4]

This is reminiscent of the words he utters in the famous “Munājāt (whispered prayer) of Imam ‘Alī in Masjid al-Kūfa”. He calls out to his Lord and Master seeking his help and pardon on the day when “wealth will be of no benefit, nor offspring”.[5]

This world is the world of development and struggle and test, and the eternal life does not have such tests. The Hereafter is the world of punishment or reward based upon the actions of this life and this world. Therefore the world itself is a struggle and the great struggle for man is to overcome his carnal desires and become the master of his own nafs.

The ‘great Jihād’ or Jihād al-Akbar, according to the Messenger of God was the struggle of self-purification. And worldly calamities, inclinations, trials and tribulations are the gateway to spiritual advancement.  This is not to say that difficulty is absolutely synonymous with spiritual progression. One could be wealthy or well off and still face the same struggles or perhaps different ones. In other words, observance of responsibility and duty itself are the portal to spiritual progression. Even a great contemporary scholar, Ayatollah Jawadi Amoli, mentioned in his tafsīr (Quranic exegesis) class, that Satan can cause progression. How is this possible? He went on to explain that the difficulty of making the right choice due to the sneaky temper and whisper of Satan only becomes the source of a greater reward, should the aspirant overcome such a difficulty; the more difficult the circumstance, the more substantial the reward.

In the section of sayings from Imam ‘Alī, he explains about some of the struggles man faces:

“Daily prayers are the best medium through which one can seek the nearness to Allâh. Hajj[6] is Jihād (Holy War) for every weak person. For everything that you own there is Zakāt, and Zakāt of your body is fasting. The Jihād of a woman is to afford pleasant company to her husband.”[7]

The end result of successful self-struggle is the ability to be in control and to gain mastery and command of one’s self. As the famous proverb goes ‘The best medicine is prevention’; the idea is to not have to contaminate the spirit at all in the first place. This is done by strengthening one’s will power and subsequently a high level of purity is maintained.  Should one not commit sin then there is no need to fear its consequence. As imam ‘Alī states in his maxims:

“It is wiser to abstain then to repent.”[8]

Egotism and Worldly Attachment

Almost every human being and jinn struggle in the areas of egotism, self-pride, arrogance and self-importance. The attachment to angelic realms and proximity to the Divine constitutes the relinquishment and detachment of the material world and its worldly components, which obstruct progression. For the one who is ignorant, it is a struggle to humble his or her self and remember that he must bury his pride in order to learn and to be able to eradicate his own ignorance. For the educated individual it is very easy to become taken by his own vast knowledge and comprehension, and it is not always easy to accept that still his knowledge is quite limited in comparison with the expansive ocean of knowledge itself; as all of it, known and unknown, hidden or disclosed is encompassed by God’s divine and omniscient existence just as it is mentioned in the Quran: “To Allah belong the east and west […] Allah is indeed all-bounteous, all-knowing.” (2:115)[9]

Iblis had progressed to such a degree that he commanded authority over angels. Nonetheless, pride, proved to be the straw that broke the camel’s back, and earned him the title of the “cursed”(la`īn) and “banished” or “rejected” (rajīm).[10]

The importance of being aware of egotistic behaviors and worldly inclinations is illustrated in Nahj al-Balagha, as it clearly is quite an impediment for spiritual growth as it causes obstinacy and greed.

In Sermon 45, about Allâh’s greatness and the lowliness of this world it is mentioned:

“This world is a place for which destruction is ordained and for its inhabitants departure from here is destined. It is sweet and green. It hastens towards its seeker and attaches to the heart of the viewer. So depart from here with the best of provision available with you and do not ask herein more than what is enough and do not demand from it more than subsistence.”[11]

And in another sermon, Imam ‘Alī cautions of the effects of trying to chase the elusive mirage of the dunyā (the material world):

So now, certainly I frighten you from this world for it is sweet and green, surrounded by lusts, and liked for its immediate enjoyments. It excites wonder with small things, is ornamented with (false) hopes and decorated with deception. Its rejoicing does not last and its afflictions cannot be avoided. It is deceitful, harmful, changing, perishable, exhaustible, liable to destruction, eating away and destructive. When it reaches the extremity of desires of those who incline towards it and feel happy with it, the position is just what Allâh, the Glorified, says (in the Qur’an): Like the water which send We down from heaven, and the herbage of the earth mingleth with it, then it becometh dry stubble, which the winds scatter; for Allâh over all things hath power. (18:45) No person gets rejoicing from this world but tears come to him after it, and no one gets its comforts in the front but he has to face hardships in the rear. No one receives the light rain of ease in it but the heavy rain of distress pours upon him. It is just worthy of this world that in the morning it supports a man but in the evening it does not recognize him. If one side of it is sweet and pleasant the other side is bitter and distressing.[12]

So the aspirant must be wary not to become overly concerned with the ephemeral world and its transient pleasures.

Repentance

Man is constantly in the presence of dangers and is surrounded by hurdles, all which can cause excessive interference, delay or obstruction of his journey to spiritual perfection. So often for man, he is entrapped by material gain and ambushed by animal desire resulting in his spiritual plummet. Sin is the pitfall for the wayfarer and the polar of success.

A group of pilgrims traveled to the Islamic Republic of Iran in 2003 to visit holy places, cities, shrines and to meet some of the well-known scholars. Amongst the great scholars, whom they met, was the Late Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Taqī Behjat (May God have mercy on his soul). In the field of Islamic mysticism he was considered by his contemporaries to have been at the highest level amongst the spiritual elite. He was well known for his karamat and impeccable wisdom.[13]

Having heard so much about his persona, during their short meet, the question was posed: how can Muslims in America or other non-Muslim societies, considering the particular difficulties they face, achieve such acclaimed degrees of spiritual awareness? In response to the practical recommendation to attain true spirituality he paused and simply replied to them “Do not commit Sin. Do not commit sin.” He went on to explain that the act of sin is such that it is the same as taking one thousand steps backwards. That is to say that our good deeds take us step by step closer to God, but one sin can land us back at the very beginning of walking the path of spiritual progression.

In his second advise to them, he mentioned that the aspirant should regularly seek God’s mercy and forgiveness, by saying 70 times per day “astaghfirullâh wa atūbu ilayh” (I seek God’s pardon and I turn to him).[14]

In other traditions the method and principles of repentance are mentioned. One of these is to have sincere regret to the extent where one has no intent to go back to committing the same sin again.[15]

This therefore becomes a pivotal point for the wayfarer, as it defines an awakening. So while man is not infallible and may not be sinless, he can decide firmly from one point onward in his life to stay upon the straight path (sirāt al-Mustaqīm) of good deeds and to stay away from sin. Such is the power of repentance as also dictated in Nahj al-Balāgha (Sermon 142):

“Allâh may shower mercy on him who took up repentance, gave up sins and hastened (in performing good acts before) his death.”

And also he states in sermon 63:

So everyone should fear Allâh, should admonish himself, should send forward his repentance and should overpower his desire, because his death is hidden from him, his desires deceive him and Satan is posted on him and he beautifies for him sin so that he may commit it and prompts him to delay repentance till his desires make him the most negligent. Piety is for the negligent person whose life itself would be a proof against him and his own days (passed in sin) would lead him to punishment.[16]


[1] Amini, Ibrahim. Self-Building (An Islamic Guide For Spiritual Migration Towards God). Ansariyan Publications. 2007?. Pg.27-31

[2] http://www.al-islam.org/nahjul/191.htm

[3] http://www.al-islam.org/nahjul/85.htm

[4] http://www.al-islam.org/nahjul/160.htm

[5] http://www.duas.org/ramazan/munajaat_e_amir.htm

[6] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hajj

[7] http://www.nahjulbalagha.org/sayings.php

[8] http://www.al-islam.org/masoom/sayings/saying5.html

[9] Holy Quran. Translated by Ali Quli Qara’i. 2nd revised edition. ICAS Press. 2005. Pg 25

[10] Holy Quran. Translated by Ali Quli Qara’i. 2nd revised edition. ICAS Press. 2005. Pg 383 {16:98}

[11] http://www.al-islam.org/nahjul/45.htm

[12] http://www.al-islam.org/nahjul/110.htm

[13] http://www.bahjat.org/fa/index.php

[14] Personal Communication. Conversation with Late Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Taqi Behjat, Masjid-e-Fatimiyyah. Qum, Islamic Republic of Iran. 2003.

[15] Holy Quran. Translated by Ali Quli Qara’i. 2nd revised edition. ICAS Press. 2005. Pg 799 {66:8}

[16] http://www.al-islam.org/nahjul/63.htm