Nahjul Balagha – Commandment 31
From the father who is (shortly) to die, who acknowledges the hardships of times, who has turned away from life, who has submitted himself to the (calamities of) time, who realizes the evils of the world, who is living in the abodes of the dead and is due to depart from them any day… to the son who yearns for what is not to be achieved, who is treading the path of those who have died, who is the victim of ailments, who is entangled in the (worries of the ) days, who is a target of hardships, a slave of the world, a trader of its deception, a debtor of wishes, a prisoner of morality, an ally of worries, a neighbor of griefs, a victim of distresses who has been overpowered by desires and a successor of the dead.
Now (you should know that) what I have learned from the turning away of this world from me, the onslaught of time over me and the advancing of the next world towards me is enough to prevent me from remembering anyone except my soul and from thinking beyond myself. But when I confined myself to my own worries, leaving aside the worries of others, my intelligence saved me and protected me from my own desires. It clarified to me my affairs and led me to seriousness wherein there was no trickery and truth which was not tarnished by falsehood. Here, I found you a part of myself, rather I found you my whole, so much so that if anything befell you, it was as though it befell me, and if death came to you, it was as though it came to me. Consequently, your affairs meant to me what my own matters meant to me. So, I have written this piece of advice (to you) as an instrument of seeking help, whether I remain alive or cease to exist.
I admonish you to fear Allah, O my child, to abide by His commands, to fill your heart with His remembrance and to cling to hope from Him. No regard is more reliable than the regard between you and Allah provided you take hold of it. Enliven your heart with preaching, kill it by renunciation, energize it with firm belief, enlighten it with wisdom, humiliate it by recalling death, make it believe in mortality, make it see the misfortunes of this world, make it fear the authority of the time and the severity of some changes during the nights and the days. Place before it the events of past peoples, recall to it what befell those who were before you and walk among their cities and ruins, then see what they did and from what they have gone away, where they have gone and stayed. You will find that they departed from (their) friends and remained in loneliness. Shortly, you, too, will be like one of them. Therefore, plan for your place of stay and do not sell your next life for this one.
Give up discussing what you do not know and speaking about what does not concern you. Keep off the track from which you fear to go astray because refraining (from moving) when there is fear of straying is better than embarking on dangers. Ask others to do good; you will thus be among the doers of goodness. Discourage others from evil deeds with your own actions as well as speech and keep off, to the best of your ability, from whoever commits it. Struggle for Allah as is His due, and the reviling of a reviler should not deter you in matters relevant to Allah. Leap into dangers for the sake of what is right wherever it may be. Acquire insight into religious law. Habituate yourself to endure hardships since the best trait of character is endurance in matters of righteousness. In all your affairs, resign yourself to your Lord because you will thus be resigning yourself to a secure shelter and a strong protector. You should ask only from your Lord because in His hand is all the giving and depriving. Seek goodness (from Allah) as much as you can. Understand my advice and do not turn away from it because the best saying is that which benefits. Be informed that there is no good in that knowledge which is futile, and if knowledge is not implemented, then its acquisition is not justified.
O my child! When I noticed that I was of goodly age and noticed that I was increasing in weakness, I hastened with regard to my will to you and wrote down salient points lest death should overtook me before I divulged to you what I have in my heart, or lest my wit should be affected just as my body has been, or the forces of passions or the mischiefs of the world overtake you making you like a stubborn camel. Certainly, the heart of a young man is like an uncultivated land. It accepts whatever is strewn on it. So, I hastened to mold you properly before your heart hardened and your mind became occupied, so that you might be ready to accept through your intelligence the results of the experience of others and be saved from going through these experiences yourself. In this way, you will avoid the hardship of seeking them and the difficulties of experimenting. Thus, you are getting to know what we had experienced and even those things are becoming clear to you which we might have missed.
O my child! Even though I have not reached the age which those before me have, yet I looked into their behavior and thought over events of their lives. I walked among their ruins till I was like one of them. In fact, by virtue of their affairs that have become known to me, it is as though I have lived with them from the very first to the very last. I have, therefore, been able to discern the impure from the clean and benefit from harm.
I have selected for you the choicest of those matters and collected for you their good points and have kept away from you their useless points. Since I feel for your affairs as a living father should, I aim at giving you guidance. I thought it should be at a time when you are advancing in age and new to the state of the world, possessing upright intention and a clean heart and that I should, being with the teaching of the Book of Allah, to Whom belong Might and Majesty, and its interpretation, the laws and commandments of Islam, its lawful matters and unlawful ones and that I should not go beyond these for you. Then I feared lest you should get confused as other people had been confused on account of their passions and (different) views. Therefore, in spite of disliking the thought of warning you, I thought it better for me to make this issue strong rather than leave you in a status where I do not regard you safe from falling into destruction. I hoped that Allah will help you in your straightforwardness and guide you in your resoluteness. Consequently, I wrote this piece of my will for you.
Be informed, O my child, that what I love the most for you is that you adopt my will to fear Allah, to confine yourself to what Allah has made obligatory on you, to follow the actions of your forefathers and the virtuous people of your household. These did not fall short in seeing for themselves what you will see for yourself, and they did about their affairs as you will like to think (about your own affairs). Thereafter, their thinking led them to discharge the obligations which they came to know and to desist from what they were not required to do. If your heart does not accept this without acquiring knowledge as they acquired it, then your search should first be by way of understanding and learning, not by falling into doubts or getting entangled in quarrels.
Before you probe into this, you should begin by seeking your Lord’s help, turning to Him for competence and keeping aloof from everything that throws you into doubt or flings you towards misguidance. When you have made sure that your heart is clean and humble and your thoughts have come together, and once you have only a reflection about this matter…, it is then that you will see what I have explained to you. If you have not been able to achieve that peace of observation and thinking which you will like to have, then be informed that you are only stamping the ground like a blind she-camel and falling into darkness while a seeker of religion should not grope in the dark, nor should he create confusion. It is better to avoid this.
Appreciate my advice, O my child, and be admonished that Whoever is the master of death is also the master of life, that the Creator causes death as well as gives life, that Whoever destroys is also the restorer of life, and that Whoever inflicts disease is also the one Who cures. This world continues in the way which Allah has made it with regard to its pleasures, trials, rewards on the Day of Judgement and all that He wishes and you do not know. If anything of this advice is not understood by you then attribute it to your ignorance of it because when you were first born, you were born ignorant. Thereafter, you acquired knowledge. There are many masters of whom you are ignorant. There are many issues regarding which your sight first wonders and your eye wonders then, after this, you shall see them as they are. Therefore, cling to the One Who created you, Who fed you and put you in order. Your worship should be for Him, your eagerness should be towards Him and your fear should be of Him.
Be informed, O my child, that no one received messages from Allah, the Glorified One, as the Prophet did. Therefore, regard him as your guide and leader towards salvation. Certainly, I shall spare no effort in giving you advice, and surely even if you try, you cannot acquire such insight for your welfare as I have for you.
Be informed, O my child, that if there had been a partner with your Lord, his [alleged partner’s] messengers, too, should have come to you and you would have seen signs of his authority and power; you should have known his deeds and qualities. But He is only One god, Allah, and He has described Himself. No one can dispute with Him regarding His authority. He is from eternity and will remain for eternity. He is before all things without any beginning. He will remain after all things without an end. He is far too great to have His divinity proved by any encompassing heart or by any vision. Once you have understood this, you should do what is done by him who is like you by way of his low status, his lack of authority, his increasing incapability and his great need for his Lord so as to seek His obedience. Fear His chastisement and be forewarned of His wrath because He does not command you save to be virtuous; He does not refrain you save from evil.
O my child! I have informed you about the world, its condition, its decay and its passing away, and I have informed you of the next world and of what has been provided in it for its people. I have recounted to you parables about it so that you may draw instruction from them and depend upon them. The example of those who have understood the world is like those travelers who, being fed-up with drought-stricken places, set off for greenery and a fruitful place. Then they endure difficulties on the way, separation from friends, hardships of the journey and unwholesome food in order to reach their fields of plenty and place of stay. Consequently, they do not feel any pain in all this and do not regard any expenditure to be a waste. Nothing is more lovable to them than what takes them near their goal and carries them closer to their place of stay. (Contrariwise), the example of those who are deceived by this world is like the people who were in a green place but became disgruntled with it and went to a drought-stricken place. Therefore, for them nothing is more detestable or abominable than to leave the place where they were and go to a place which they will reach unexpectedly and for which they were heading.
O my child! Make yourself the measure (for dealings) between you and others. Thus, you should wish for others what you wish for yourself and hate for others what you hate for yourself. Do not oppress as you do not like to be oppressed. Do good to others as you like good to be done to you. Regard as bad for yourself whatever you regard as bad for others. Accept that from others which you like others to accept from you. Do not talk about what you do not know even though what you know may be very little. Do not say to others what you do not like to be said to you.
Be informed that self-admiration is contrary to propriety (of action) and is a calamity for the mind. Therefore, increase your striving and do not become a treasurer for (wealth to be inherited by) others. When you have been guided on the right path, humble yourself before Allah as much as you can.
Be informed that in front of you lies a road of long distance and severe hardship and that you cannot avoid treading it. Take your requirements of provision keeping the burden light. Do not load your back beyond your ability lest its weight should cause you mischief. Whenever
you come across a needy person who can carry for you your provision to hand it back to you on the Day of Judgement when you will need it, accept it as a good opportunity and get him to carry it. Put in that provision as much as you are able to, for it is likely that if you need him (afterwards), you may not get hold of him. If a person is willing to borrow from you in the days of your affluence to pay it back to you at the time of your need, then make use of this opportunity.
Be informed that in front of you lies an impassable valley wherein the light-burdened man will be in a better condition than the heavy-burdened one and the slow-paced will be in a worse condition than the swift-paced. Your terminating point at the other end of this passage will necessarily be either Paradise or Hell. Therefore, reconnoiter for yourself before alighting and prepare the place before getting down because after death there can be no preparation nor any return to this world.
Be informed that Whoever owns the treasuries of the heavens and earth has permitted you to pray to Him and has promised you acceptance of the prayer. He has commanded you to beg from Him in order that He may give you and to seek His mercy in order that He may have mercy on you. He has not placed anything between you and Him that may veil Him from you.
He has not required you to get a mediator between yourself and Him, and if you err, He has not prevented you from repenting. He does not hasten His punishment. He does not reprimand you for repenting, nor does He humiliate you when humiliation is more appropriate for you. He is not harsh in accepting repentance. He does not severely question you about your sins. He does not disappoint you regarding His mercy. Rather, He regards abstention from sin as a virtue. He counts your sin as one while counting your good deed as ten.
He has opened for you the door of repentance. Therefore, whenever you call upon Him, He hears your call, and whenever you whisper to Him, He knows the whispers. Place before Him your needs, unveil yourself before Him, complain to Him of your worries, beseech Him to remove your troubles, seek His help in your affairs and ask Him to grant you from the treasuries of His mercy that which no one else has power to give, namely length of life, health of body and an increase in your sustenance. Then He has placed the keys of His treasures in your hands in the sense that He has shown you the way to ask Him.
Wherever you wish, He opens the doors of His favor by virtue of your prayers. Let the abundant rains of His mercy fall on you. Delay in acceptance of your pleas should not disappoint you because the granting of a plea is dependent on the extent of (your) intention. Sometimes, acceptance (of a plea) is delayed with a view to its being a source of greater reward to the pleading one and a better gift to the anticipating person. Sometimes, you may ask for a thing but it is not given to you and a better thing is given to you later, or a thing is taken away from you for some greater good because sometimes you may ask for a thing which contains ruin for your religion if it is granted to you. Therefore, your request should be for things the beauty of which should be lasting and the burden of which should remain away from you. As for wealth, it will not last for you, nor will you live for its sake.
O my child! Be informed that you have been created for the next world, not for this one, for extinction (in this world), not for lasting, and for dying, not for living. You are in a place which does not belong to you, an abode for making preparations and a passage towards the next world. You are being chased by death from which the runner-away cannot escape, as it will surely overtake him. So, be on guard against it least it should overtake you at a time when you are in a sinful state and you are thinking of repenting, but it creates obstruction between you and between repenting. In such a case, you will ruin yourself.
O my child! Remember death quite often and the place where you have to go suddenly and reach after death, so that when it comes, you will be already on your guard against it, having prepared yourself for it, and it does not come to you all of a sudden and surprise you. Beware lest you should become deceived by the leanings of the people towards worldly attractions and their rushing upon it. Allah has warned you about it and the world has informed you of its mortal character, unveiling to you its evils.
Surely, those (who go) after it are like barking dogs or devouring carnivore who hate each other. Those who are stronger among them eat away the weaker ones, and the big among them tramples over the small. Some are like tied cattle, and some are like untied cattle that have lost their wits and are running in unknown directions. They are flocks of calamities wandering in rugged valleys. There is no herdsman to detain neither them nor anyone to tend to them and take them to graze. The world has put them on the track of blindness and taken away their vision from the beacons of guidance. They have, therefore, been perplexed in its bewilderment and sunk in its pleasures. They took it as a god, so it played havoc with them. They, too, played with it and forgot what is beyond it.
Darkness disappears gradually. Now it is as though travelers have got down and those who hasten will soon meet. Be informed, O my child, that everyone who is riding on the carriage of night and day is being carried by them even though he may be stationary; he is covering the distance even though he is staying and resting.
Know with certainty that you cannot achieve your desire and exceed your destined life. You are on the track of those before you. Therefore, be humble in seeking and moderate in earning because often seeking leads to deprivation. Every seeker of livelihood does not get it [on his own], nor is everyone who is moderate in seeking is deprived. Keep yourself away from every low thing even though it may take you to your desired aims because you will not get any return for your own respect which you exhaust. Do not be the slave of others for Allah had made you free. There is no goodness in anything “good” achieved through evil, and there is no good in comfort that is achieved through a (disgracing) effort.
Beware lest bearers of greed should carry you and make you descend down to the springs of destruction. If you can, manage that there will be no wealthy person between yourself and Allah. Do so because in any case you will find what is for you and get what is your share. A little received directly from Allah the Glorified One is more dignified than that which is more but is received through His creatures, although (really) all is from Allah.
It is easier to rectify what you miss by silence than to secure what you lose by speaking. Whatever is in a pot can be retained by closing the lid. I should prefer you retain what is in your hands rather than seeking what is in the hands of others. The bitterness of disappointment is better than seeking a hand-out from people. Manual labor with chastity is better than the riches of a vicious life. A man is the best guard of his own secrets. Often, a man strives for what harms him. Whoever speaks much speaks nonsense. Whoever ponders perceives. Associate yourself with the people of virtue; you will become one of them. Keep aloof from people of vic, you will remain safe from them. The worst food is that which is unlawful. Oppressing the weak is the worst type of oppression.
Where leniency is unsuitable, harshness is lenience. Often, cure is illness and illness is cure. Often, the ill-wisher gives correct advice while the well-wisher cheats. Do not depend upon hopes because hopes are the mainstay of fools. It is wise to safeguard one’s experience. Your best experience is that which teaches you a lesson. Make use of leisure before it changes into grief. Every seeker does not achieve (what he seeks), and everyone who departs never returns. To lose provision and to earn evil for the Day of Judgement means ruin. Every matter has a consequence. What is destined for you will shortly come to you. A trader undertakes a risk. Often a small quantity is more beneficial than a large one. There is no good in an ignoble helper nor in a suspicious friend. Be compliant with the world as long as it is in your grip. Do not put yourself to risk regarding anything in expectation for more. Beware lest the attitude of enmity should overpower you.
Bear yourself towards your brother in such a way that if he disregards kinship, you maintain it; when he turns away, be kind to him and draw near to him; when he withholds, spend over him; when he distances himself, approach him; when he is harsh to you, be lenient to him; when he commits a wrong deed, think of an excuse for him as though you were a slave of his. Take care that this should not be done inappropriately and that you should not behave thus with an undeserving person. Do not take the enemy of your friend as a friend of yours because you will thus antagonize your friend. Give true advice to your brother, be it sweet or bitter. Swallow your anger because I did not find a sweeter thing than its taste in the end, and nothing is more pleasant than it in the end. Be lenient to him who is harsh to you, for it is likely that he will shortly become lenient to you. Treat your enemy with favors because this is the sweeter of the two successes (the success of revenge and the success of doing a favor).
If you intend to cut yourself off from a friend, leave some room for him from your side by which he may resume his friendship if it so occurs to him some day. If anyone has a good idea about you, prove it to be true. Do not disregard the interests of your brother depending upon your terms with him, for he is not your brother if you disregard his interests. Your family should not become the most miserable people on your account. Do not lean towards him who turns away from you. Your brother should not be more firm in his disregard for kinship than you in paying regard to it and you should exceed in doing good to him than his doing evil to you. Do not feel too much the oppression of a person who oppresses you because he is only busy in harming himself and benefitting you. The reward of him who pleases you is not that you should displease him.
Be informed, O my child, that livelihood is of two kinds: a livelihood that you seek and a livelihood that seeks you which is such that if you do not reach it, it will reach you. How bad it is to bend down at the time of need and to be harsh while being in riches! You should have from this world only that with which you can adorn your permanent abode. If you cry over what has gone out of your hands, then also cry for what has not at all come to you. Infer about what has not yet happened from what has already happened because occurrences are ever similar. Do not be like those whom preaching does not benefit unless you inflict pain on them because the wise take instruction from teaching while beasts learn only from beating.
Ward off from yourself the onslaught of worries by firmness of endurance and purity of belief. Whoever gives up moderation commits excesses. A companion is like a relationship. A friend is one whose absence also proves his friendship. Passion is a partner of distress. Often, the near ones are more remote than the distant ones, and often the distant ones are nearer than the near ones. A stranger is one who has no friends. Whoever transgresses right narrows his own passage. Whoever stays in his status remains constant upon it. The most trustworthy intermediary is that which you adopt between yourself and Allah the Glorified One. Whoever does not care for your interests is your enemy. When greed leads to ruin deprivation is an achievement. Not every defect can be reviewed and not every opportunity recurs.
Often, a person with eyes misses the track while a blind person finds the correct path. Delay an evil deed because you will be able to hasten it whenever you wish. The disregard of kinship of the ignorant is equal to regarding the kinship of the wise. Whoever takes the world to be safe, it will betray him. Whoever regards the world as great, it will humiliate him. Not everyone who shoots hits. When authority changes, the time changes, too. Consult the friend before taking a course, the neighbor before buying the house. Beware lest you should mention in your speech what may cause laughter even though you may be relating it from others.
Do not consult women because their view is weak and their determination is unstable. Cover their eyes by keeping them under the veil because strictness of veiling keeps them for long. Their coming out is not worse than your allowing an untrustworthy man to visit them. If you can manage that they should not know anyone other than you, do so. Do not allow a woman matters other than those about her because a woman is a flower not an administrator. Do not pay her regard beyond herself. Do not encourage her to intercede for others. Do not show suspicion out of place because this leads a woman on the right course to evil and a chaste woman to deflection.
For everyone among your servants fix a task for which you may hold him responsible. In this way, they will not fling the task one over the other. Respect your kinsmen because they are your wings, with which you fly, the origin towards which you return and the hands with which you attack. Place your religion and your world at Allah’s disposal and beg Him to ordain the best for you with regard to the near and the far, this world and the next, and that is the end of the matter.