By Imam Khomeini
When man orients himself to other-than-God, veils of darkness and light envelop him. All the worldly affairs that cause man to devote his attention to the world and become unaware of God Almighty give rise to veils of darkness; indeed, all corporeal realms become a series of such veils. But when worldly affairs lead man to orient himself to reality and aspire to the hereafter–which is the realm where man is to be ennobled–the veils of darkness are transformed into veils of light. Total separation from this world is achieved when all veils, both those of darkness and those of light, have been drawn or torn aside, allowing man to enter the divine hospice that is the “fountainhead of magnificence.” That is why the Commander of the Faithful petitions God Almighty in his famous invocation for the vision and luminosity of heart–so that penetrating the veils of light, he may attain the fountainhead of magnificence.
But one who has not penetrated even the veils of darkness–one whose whole attention is directed to the natural world, who (God forbid) has completely turned away from God, and who is completely unaware of what lies beyond this world, the realm of spirituality–is subjugated to nature. He will never reach the stage of refining himself, of creating spiritual, inner motion and energy within himself and casting aside the black veils that overshadow his heart. He remains at a standstill at the lowest of the low, the outermost of the veils of darkness (“Then We sent him down to the lowest of the low,” Qur’an, 95:5), whereas the Lord of the World has created man in the highest station and rank: “Truly We created man in the fairest of forms” (95:4). Anyone who follows the desires of his carnal self and devotes his attention exclusively to the dark world of nature from the first day that he attains consciousness of himself, never thinking that apart from this dark world of nature from the first day that he attains consciousness of himself, never thinking that apart from this dark and polluted world another place and abode may exist–such a person is completely caught up in veils of darkness, and serves as an illustration of the verse: “He inclined to the earth, and followed his own vain desires” (7:166). With his heart polluted by sin and enveloped in veils of darkness, and his constricted spirit distanced from God Almighty by the abundance of his sin and rebellion, and his intelligence and eye, which otherwise would have been capable of seeing the truth, blinded by his servitude to passion and his worship of the world, he will never be able to escape from the veils of darkness, let alone penetrate the veils of light and become fully absorbed in God. Even if such a person does not deny the station of awliya and does not regard the intermediate realms, the bridge of Sirat, the return to God’s presence, resurrection, the reckoning and judging, paradise and hellfire as mythical, he will nonetheless, as a result of his sins and attachment to the world, gradually come to deny these truths and to refuse to acknowledge the stations of the awliya.
Occasionally you encounter a person who has knowledge of these realities but does not believe in them. The washer of the dead does not fear the dead, for he is very certain that the dead have no power to harm or injure him; even when alive, with spirit still joined to bodily shell, they were quite harmless, and now their shells are empty of spirit. Those who fear the dead do so because they have only knowledge of these truths, not certain conviction. Similarly, men have knowledge of God and the Day of Requital, the intellect has perceived. They know by means of rational proofs that there is a God, a return to His presence, a resurrection; but the proofs may themselves come to serve as a veil over their hearts, preventing the light of faith from shining upon them, so that God Almighty might bring them forth out of the darkness and shadows and into the realm of light and brilliance: “God is the Protector of those who believe; He brings them forth from the darkness into the light” (2:257). The one whom God the Protector has brought forth from darkness into light will no longer sin. He will not backbite, he will not engage in false accusation, he will not feel envy toward his Muslim brothers and, with luminosity in his heart, he will attribute no value to the world and all it contains. Thus the Commander of the Faithful (upon whom be peace) said: “If I were offered the world and all that it contains on condition that I steal a barley husk from the mouth of an ant, I would not accept it.”
But some of you trample everything underfoot, and even slander the great ones of Islam. While other people may slander and abuse the corner grocer, there are some who rudely insult and make false accusations against the ‘ulama. The reason for this is that their faith has not yet firmly taken root: they do not believe in the existence of punishment for their deeds and conduct.
‘Ismat derives, in fact, from the perfection of faith. The ‘ismat of the prophets and the awliya, for example, does not mean that Gabriel has taken them protectively by the hand (though, of course, if Gabriel were to have taken Shimr by the hand, even he would never have sinned). Rather, ‘ismat is the product of faith. If a man believes in God Almighty and with the eye of his heart sees Him as clearly as he sees the sun, it is impossible for him to commit any act of sin or rebellion against Him. The fear of a powerful presence will always deter man from falling into sin.
As for the ma’sumin (upon whom be peace), not only were they created out of a pure substance, but they also constantly perceived themselves to be in the presence of God Almighty, Who knows and encompasses all things, as a result of their ascetic exercises and the acquisition of luminosity and noble virtues. They had complete faith in the meaning of “La ilaha illa ‘Llah,” believing that all persons and things except God are destined to perish and cannot play any role in the destiny of man: “All things shall perish but His face” (28:88). If a man has certain faith that all the realms of creation, seen and unseen, are a form of divine presence and that God Almighty is present everywhere and watches over all things, given this awareness of God’s presence, as well as the enjoyment of God’s gifts, is it at all possible that he will commit sin? A person will not commit sin or do anything shameful in the presence of a perceptive child; how is it that he will do so in the presence and awareness of God Almighty and have no fear or hesitation in committing crime of all kinds? It is because he believes in the presence of the child but does not believe in the divine presence, although he may have knowledge of it. Indeed, as a result of the multiplicity of sins that have blackened and darkened his heart, he can no longer accept the truths of religion; he considers it improbable that they are true and correct. In fact, it is not necessary that a person have certain faith; it is enough that he regard the promises and threats set down in the Noble Qur’an as probably true and revise his conduct so that he ceases his unrestrained and carefree sinning.
If you regard it as likely that there is a wild beast along the route you are to travel and that it may harm you, or that an armed bandit is lying in wait for you, you will decide not to take that route; you will stop and think things over. Is it possible that someone would regard it as likely that hellfire exists, as well as the prospect of burning in it eternally, and still commit offenses against God? Someone who knows God Almighty to be present everywhere and watching over all things, who perceives himself to be in the divine presence, who believes that there will be requital for his words and deeds, that an accounting and recompense will take place, that every word he utters in this world, every step he takes, and every deed he performs is being recorded and registered, that God’s angels are watching him vigilantly, recording all his words and deeds– is it possible that such a person will undauntedly continue to sin?
The problem is that people do not consider these truths to be even likely. The conduct, manners, and behavior of certain people clearly indicate that they see the existence of any world beyond the natural world as improbable, for to view it simply as probably would be enough to deter them from many evil deeds.
How much longer do you wish to continue your sleep of neglect, to remain immersed in evil and corruption? Fear God and the consequences of your deeds; wake up from your sleep of neglect. You have not yet awakened and taken the first step on the path of wayfaring, for awakening is the first step. Yes, you are asleep. Your eyes are open, but your hearts are deep in sleep.
If your hearts were not intoxicated with sleep and black and rusted with sin, you would not be able to continue so tranquilly and heedlessly with your wrong deeds and words. Were you to think a little about the hereafter and the places of horror it constrains, or to reflect on the heavy duties and responsibilities you bear, you would take these matters more seriously.
You have another world ahead of you; there is resurrection and a return to the divine presence awaiting you. You are not like other creatures who face no return. Why do you not take heed? Why do you not awaken and come to your senses? Why do you engage so nonchalantly in backbiting and slandering your Muslim brothers, or cheerfully listen to others doing it? Are you at all aware that the tongue that is now busy backbiting will be trodden underfoot by others on the Day of Resurrection? Do you know that the backbiter will be devoured by the dogs of hellfire? Have you ever reflected on the evil consequences of all these disputes, all this enmity, envy, pessimism, selfishness, pride, and arrogance? Do you know that the outcome of all these vile and forbidden things is hellfire, and that (God forbid) they may earn you an eternity there?
May God preserve man from affliction by diseases that are without pain, for while diseases that cause pain impel man to seek a cure, to go to a doctor or the hospital, a disease without pain remains unfelt and is therefore more dangerous; it is often too late when a man finally learns of his disease.
Diseases of the spirit are of this type. If they involved pain, it would be something of an advantage; one would be impelled to go seek a remedy or cure. But what is to be done, for these dangerous diseases produce no pain? The disease of arrogance and selfishness, for example, causes no pain. Other sins, too, corrupt the heart and the spirit without causing any pain, and indeed these diseases not only cause man no pain but even appear pleasurable to him. Sessions and circles devoted to backbiting are very lively and enjoyable! Self-love and love of the world, which lie at the root of all sin, are also very pleasurable. The dropsy sufferrer will be destroyed by water, but he continues to drink it with enjoyment until his very last breath. If a person derives pleasure from a disease, and moreover, it entails no pain, he will never seek to be cured of it. However much he is warned that the disease will prove fatal, he will not believe it.
Islam and Revolution: Writings and Declarations of Imam Khomeini (1941-1980) . Translated and Annotated by Hamid Algar