Self-purification, Islamic guide for spiritual migration towards God (Part 1)

SHAFAQNA (International Shia News Agency) – The greatest aim of Divine Messengers was to emphasize the importance of refinement, purification, and training of human selves. God-Almighty said in the Holy Quran:

“God did confer a great favor on the believers when he sent among them an apostle from among themselves rehearsing unto them the signs of God, sanctifying them and instructing them in scripture and wisdom, while before that, they had been in manifest error.” -the Holy- Quran (13: 164)

Therefore, it is obvious that the subject of human education and training was of such vital importance that God-Almighty sent Divine Messengers especially for this purpose thus, conferring a great favor ul1on the believers. The individual as well as collective personality, prosperity or cruelty (of this world and Hereafter) of a human being depends upon how much efforts he had already made or is still making for self-building. It is from this consideration that self-building is regarded something of such vital importance because it determines ones eventual destiny.

The Divine Messengers came to teach human beings regarding the path of self-building, nourishment, and perfection of self, as well as to accompany them as their guide and helper in this vital and determinant task.

They came for cleansing and sanctifying human selves from their indecent moral characteristics and animal instincts, and bestowing upon them superior spiritual virtues. The prophets lectured human beings about the self-building program, acted as helper and knowledgeable guides in identifying the ugliness in their moral conducts, and showed them the ways and means for self-control against their selfish whims and passions. By timely issuance of warning and intimidating they succeeded in sanctifying the human selves from the moral obscenities and indecencies. They came for plantation of sapling of higher moral virtues within human souls, nurtured and protected it for its eventual blooming, and in doing so acted as guides, friends, and helpers of the people by encouraging and pursuing them towards the desired sublime’ objectives. The Holy Prophet (S) has said:

“I emphasize the importance of good morals for you because God-Almighty has sent me especially for this purpose.” -Bihar al-Anwar vol. 69, p-375.

He further said:“I was appointed for the Prophethood so that I may accomplish the important task of moral perfection within human souls.” -al-Mustadarak, vol. 2, p-282.

Imam al-Sadiq [1] (A) said:“God-Almighty appointed prophets with good morals; therefore, whoever discovers these virtues within himself should be thankful to God for this bounty, whoever lacks these virtues must pray, cry, and shed tears 1before God Almighty asking for such blessing.” -al Mustadarak, vol. 2, p-283.

The commander of faithful Imam Ali [2] (A) said:“Supposedly, if neither there was any desire for Paradise nor there was any fear of Hell, and also there would have not been any belief about the reward and punishment in the Next World; even then it would have been be fitting to strive for moral perfection, because, good morals are the path towards prosperity and victory.” -al Mustadarak, vol. 2, p-283.

Imam Baqir [3] said: “The most perfect believers from the point of view of faith are the ones who excel in moral conduct.” -al-Kafi, vol. 2, p-99.

The Holy Prophet (S) said:“There is nothing better than good moral conduct which could be written on the “Letter of Deeds” on the Day of Resurrection.” -al-Kafi, vol. 2, p-99.

And said :“My Ummah will enter into Paradise mostly on the basis of piety and excellence in moral conduct.” -al-Kafi, vol. 2, p-l00.

and the following narration:

“A man approached the Holy Prophet (S) and asked: ‘What is religion?’ The Holy Prophet (S) replied: ‘Good moral conduct.’ The man asked the same questions from the Holy Prophet (S) alternatively by appearing from right, left, and behind the Messenger. Finally the Holy Prophet (S) took a deep look at him and said: ‘Why don’t you understand?’ Religion is defined as never to get angry.” -Mohajateh al-Baiza, vol. 5, p-89.

Islam has attached special importance for moral ethics, and because of these consideration the Holy Quran contains relatively more verses regarding ethics as compared verses related to obligation. Inside the books of narrations, one may finds thousands of narrations regarding ethics as compared to narrations dealing with other topics; if this number is not regarded greater in quantity, certainly it is not smaller either. The rewards and promises mentioned for good moral deeds are certainly not lesser than the rewards prescribed for other actions, and likewise the warnings and punishments described for indecent moral actions are certainly not less than the punishments for other actions.

Therefore, in Islam, ethics constitutes the basics and should not be treated simply as secondary religious obligations or something related to the beautification and decoration of religious persons. If religion has defined do’s and don’ts for obligations, it has defined the same for ethics. If encouragement, persuasion, rewards, punishment, and warnings have been utilized for obligations, the same approach has been applied for ethics as well as. Therefore, there exists no difference between ethics and obligations as for as religious recommendations are concerned, and in order to achieve perfection and prosperity one cannot remain ignorant of ethical matters.

The moral obligations cannot be ignored by taking the excuse of treating them simply as moral obligations, likewise forbidden moral acts should not be performed either. If performance of daily-prayers is compulsory and their non-performance is prohibited and brings Divine-Punishment, equally important is the fulfillment of a promise and its breach is prohibited and brings Divine-Wrath. The real religious and prosperous is some one who is committed to his religious obligation as well as is honest in fulfillment of his moral commitments. On the contrary ethics play an important role for achieving prosperity and spiritual perfection that will be explained in the book later on.

4.1. Self-awareness and Self-building.

Although a human being is not more than a single reality, but is the possessor of different dimensions within his single existence –the existence which starts from the insignificant dusty material lacking any sort of sense and feelings and ultimately terminates into a precious celestial jewel.

God-Almighty said in the Holy Quran:

“Who made all things good which He created, and He began the creation of man from clay, then He made his seed from a draught of despised fluid; then he fashioned him and breathed into him of his spirit; and appointed for you hearing and sights and hearts; small thanks give ye” -the Holy- Quran (32: 7-9)

A human being is the possessor of various facts and parameters within his existence. From one aspect he is the possessor of physical body and a name, while from another aspect he is possessor of animal instincts as well as. Eventually overall, he is a human being possessing superior human virtues which are not found in other animals.

Therefore, human being is a single reality, a reality that possesses various dimensions and facts within his single existence. When it is said: My weight and my face, it is indicative of his body and name; when it is said: My food and my health, it is also related to his body; when it is said: movement, anger, and sexual passion, it indicates his animal self; and lastly when it is said; my wisdom, my thinking and my thoughts, it indicates to his superior human virtues. Therefore, a human being possesses different kinds of selves namely; self related to his physical body, self related to his animal instincts, and the human-self, but the most valuable and precious self is his -human-self. What had made human beings, “Vicegerent of God” upon earth and has distinguished them over other creatures is nothing but the single heavenly “Spirit” blown into his existence by the God-Almighty, called Human Soul. The wise God has explained the creation of human beings in the Holy Quran as follows:

“Verily we created man from a product of wet earth; then placed him as a drop (of seed) in a safe lodging; then fashioned we the drop a clot, then fashioned we the little lump bones, then clothed the bones with flesh,. and then produced it as another creation. So blessed the God, the Best of Creators.” -the Holy Quran (23:12-14)

It is about the creation of human being that God-Almighty has said:

“So blessed the God -the Best of Creators.” -the Holy- Quran (23:14)

It was because of this Heavenly Spirit that human being reaches to an exalted position that God-Almighty orders the angels as follows:

“So when I have made him and have breathed unto him of My Spirit, do ye fall down prostrating yourself unto him.” -the Holy Quran (15: 29)

If, human beings were bestowed distinction over other creatures and God-Almighty said about them as follows:

“Verily, we have honored the children of Adam. We carry them on the land and the sea, and have made provision of good things for them, and have preferred them above many of those whom we created with a marked preferment.” -the Holy Quran (17: 70)

Therefore, if a human being should strive for self-building he must build his human-self and not his animal or physical-self. The aims of prophets had been to strengthen the human beings in their endeavors for perfecting their human selves. The Prophets said to the human-beings:

Don’t forget that your self is your human-self; in case you sacrificed your human-self for the sake of whims and passions of your animal-self; you will inflict upon yourself a terrible loss.

The God-Almighty has said in the Holy Quran:

“Say: the losers will be those who loose themselves and their house folk on the Day of Resurrection. Ah, that will be the manifest loss.” -the Holy- Quran (39:15)

Those who never think about any thing except their animal existence have indeed lost their human personality and are not striving for their recovery either. The Commander of the Faithful Imam ‘Ali (A) has said:

“It is indeed strange to see someone so desperately looking for lost personal things, while making absolutely no efforts to find his lost (human) self.” -Gharar al-Hukm p- 495.

There can not be more severe and painful loss than some one’s loosing his human personality and real self; for such a person nothing is left except animalism.

4.2. Human-soul and Animal-self

The verses of the Holy Quran and narrations about human-self could be divided into two categories. Some of the verses define human-self as a precious valuable jewel possessing Heavenly excellence, descended from Heaven, which is the source of all superior characteristics and human virtues. These verses recommend that human beings must strive for achieving self-refinement and self-perfection through training, and must be careful for its protection, never to loose such a precious Heavenly gift. For example God-Almighty in Holy Quran defines this precious jewel as follows:

“They will ask the (of Muhammad) concerning the spirit. Say: The spirit is by command of my Lord, and knowledge ye have been vouchsafed but little.” -the Holy Quran (17:85)

In the above verse the spirit has been defined as an existence belonging to the celestial world that is superior than the material world. The Commander of the Faithful Imam Ali (A) about the self said:

“Self is like a precious jewel, whoever strives for his protection, he will help him attaining exalted positions, and whoever acted negligently in his protection he shall pull him towards humiliation.” -Gharar al-Hukm, p-226.

And said:“Whoever knows the worth of his self will never allow himself to be indulging into passing worldly amusements and shameful deeds.” -Gharar al-Hukm, p-669.

And said: “Whoever discovers the nobility of self shall guard him against lowness of passions and false desires.” -Gharar al-Hukm, p-710.

And said: “Whoever possesses the nobility of self will have more compassion.” -Gharar al-Hukm, p-638.

Also said: “Whoever possesses the nobility of self will become free from Wants.” -Gharar al-Hukm, p-669.

From the above quoted verses and narrations whose examples are frequent, it can be derived that human self is a valuable and precious jewel which should be carefully guarded protected and nourished.

The second category of verses and narrations defines the self as something wicked and dangerous enemy responsible for all sort of evils, against whom we are supposed to wage a great struggle (Jihad-e-Akbar) till it becomes completely submissive, otherwise it will inflict terrible misfortune and cruelty upon the defeated person.

Following are some examples:

“But as far him who feared to stand before his lord and restrained his soul from lust, Lo ! The garden will be his home.” -the Holy Quran (79:40-41)

The Holy Quran quotes from Prophet Joseph (A):

“I don’t exculpate myself Lo! the (human) soul enjoineth unto evil, save that whereon my Lord hath mercy. Lo! My Lord is Forgiving, Merciful.” -the Holy Quran (12: 53)

The Holy Prophet (S) said:

“Your’s greatest enemy is your self, which is located between your two sides.” -Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 70, p-64.

Imam ‘Ali (A) said:

“Self commands you continuously to indulge into evil deeds, therefore, whoever trusted his self -he will deceit him, whoever believed his self -he will destroy him; and whoever is satisfied with his self –he will lead him to face worst kind of disasters.” -Gharar al-Hukm, p-226.

He further said:

“Trusting the self provides the most dependable opportunities for devil’s entrance” -Gharar al-Hukm, p-54.

Imam al-Sajjad [4] (A) said:

“Oh God! I do complain to you against the self –which continuously commands; to indulge into sinful acts and deviations,. Stands up against Your wrath and punishment; and pulls me towards the path of absolute destruction.” -Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 94, p-143.

From the above quoted verses and narrations whose examples are frequent, it can be derived that human self constitutes an evil existence which is the source of all sort of sins and therefore, should be made submissive through efforts and waging greater struggle (Jihad-e-Akbar). Here it is quite possible that some may consider that these two categories of verses and narrations are incompatible and contradict each other; or one might imagine that a human being possesses two selves, namely: human- self which is the source of all goodness and blessing, and the other one animal-self which is the source of all evil and sinfulness.

Both of the above mentioned interpretations are incorrect because firstly there exists no conflict between the above mentioned verses and narrations of two categories; secondly, the sciences had already proved that a human being is not more than a single reality possessing a single self and it is not such that his animalism and humanism are separate from each other.

But human self comprises of two stages and two dimensions of his single existence. At lower the stage, self is an animal possessing all animalistic characteristic, while at higher stage, the self is a human possessing Divine-spirit -descended from the Celestial Heavenly Kingdom. When it is said: Self is noble, precious, source of all virtues and blessings; one must endeavor for his nourishment and perfection -here the higher stage of self has been indicated.

But when it is said: Self is your greatest enemy; don’t trust him because he will lead you to eventual destruction, control and make him submissive through greater struggle -here his animal and lower stage have been pointed out. If it is said: Nourish and strengthen your self here the human dimension of the self is meant. When it is said: Wage greater struggle for his total submission, here the animal dimension of the self is meant.

There exists a continuous confrontation between these two selves or two stages of human existence. The animal self continuously strives to dominate by keeping human being amused with whims, passions and lower animal desires, thus, closing the path of advancement perfection, exaltation and movement towards God-Almighty and making a human being captive of his animal self. While on the contrary his human self or the higher stage of his existence continuously strives for attaining the higher sublime spiritual stations of human perfection leading towards God’s Countenance, and in order to accomplish his cherished goal, tries to control, and forces the animal-self for his absolute submission. This internal struggle, within the human existence continues until one of the combatant becomes victorious defeating his opponent.

If the human or celestial-self gets upper hand -the human values become alive, thus, leading human being towards the road of spiritual excellence and perfection ultimately achieving the highest position of God’s Countenance. But, on the contrary if the animal-self becomes victorious -he turns off the light of wisdom, thus, throwing the human being into the deepest valley of darkness confusion and deviation. It was because of this internal confrontation within human existence that Divine Prophets came to help guide and support the human beings in their holy struggle which ultimately determines their destiny.

BY: Ayatollah Ebrahim Amini

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