SHAFAQNA -Â Indisputably, God has created man of earth in order to nurture him during his worldly life with the heavenly teachings of the prophets, remove pollutions from him, make him pure, and promote him to the highest stage of affinity with Himself.
Since an earthy man is not worthy of affinity with God, and if such a man is left to himself, he will be drowned in the quagmire of lusts, God Who has made man evolutionize from the stage of mineral to plant and from plant to animal and then to human, can promote man to a stage making him unison with the angels.
God does not withhold His favor from man and protects him with His special kindness and mercy. To prepare man to ascend to a metaphysical world, God has made a house of stone and mud in this world calling it His House and inviting his helpless and shelterless servants to shower them with His special blessings.
God has called all servants on the earth to make pilgrimage to Mecca, circumambulate His House, and link their hearts to the Lord of the House so as to gradually prepare themselves for visiting the Lord of the universe. God says,Â â€œI am not contained in the earth nor in the heavens, but I am contained in the soft and tranquil heart of My believing servant.”
Whoever goes to Mecca on foot will circumambulate the Kaaba, but whoever goes there with his heart present, the Kaaba will circumambulate him.
What a great favor God has done to human beings to choose a House for Himself on the earth! What need does God have for a house in a ruined village? To fondle the villagers and to shower them with favor, God has chosen a house of the village as His to invite the helpless people to it once a week, a month, or a year calling them His guests and bestowing gifts on them so that they will improve their living conditions, learn manners, obtain knowledge and gnosticism, come to the city from the village and come to the capital city to be worthy of being received by the king and become his favorites.
God is too Great to be contained in a ruined village and take a house there. But the favor He has done to the villagers had made them feel dignified in a way to say that we are so much respected by the King that He has made a house among us and we have a link with Him. He is near us and we seek the settlement of our need from Him.
What a favor it is that God Who is free from any defect and need has been so kind as to make a house of stone and mud for Himself making Him a neighbor of the servants to imply that â€˜I am with you; ask Me for everything.â€™ He has also appointed all mosques as His Houses making Himself available to His servants.
God has not said: You have necessarily to come to the heavens to seek help from Me or you have to come to Mecca to visit Me. I accept any corner you choose in My Name as My House and will receive you. I consider any hour in day or night you stand for prayer at home in the direction of My House as pilgrimage to My House and will answer your call and attend to your needs. Therefore, glorify Allah, the Merciful King, there is no god but He; the Lord of the universe.
The external acts of Hajj symbolize the spiritual stages of the prophets and the Imams. Hajj is a display of the spiritual journey of the devotees and the stages of servitude. The essence of worship is the journey towards God and the external acts of Hajj, devoid of presence of the heart, are not considered as worship. The Holy Prophet (saw) says:
â€œO you who believe! Do not go near prayer when you are intoxicated until you know what you say. (4:43)
Genuflection and prostration are worthy if they indicate humbleness of soul and broken heart. The spiritual path too is real only when it is manifested in the form of bodily acts. As long as man continues to live in this world, his soul and body are not separate.
Manâ€™s body is a manifestation of his soul and the acts of the body are manifestations of his inner feelings. In the same way that physical acts represent spiritual acts, the physical acts push the soul towards spiritual journey.
â€œTo Him do ascend the good words; and the good deeds life them up. (The Holy Qurâ€™an 35:10)â€
Physical prostration that symbolizes humbleness and a broken heart is true only when it illuminates manâ€™s inner being, making the soul ascend to the heavens to sit with the angels, otherwise prostration based on hypocrisy, pretense, and habit will have no spiritual effect on the soul.
Whoever tries to win My pleasure, I will commit him to three characteristics; I will acquaint him with an approach of gratitude that is free from ignorance, a form of (continuous) remembrance of Me that is free from oblivion, and a kind of love with which he will never prefer the love for any creature to Mine.
When he loves Me, I will love him and will then open the eyes of his heart to My Glory making him so intimate to Me and will confide him with supplication to Me in the heart of nights and daylight to the degree that he will stop speaking and associating with people. I, too, will make him hear My own words and those of the angels and reveal to him the invisible facts that I hide from My creatures. I will garb him with the uniform of prudency that all My creatures will act modestly towards him.
He will walk on the earth guiltlessly, I will cause his heart to be cognizant and discerning, and he will be acquainted with all the affairs of Paradise and Hell. I will reveal to him the hardships of the Day of Judgment, including the way how I will settle account with the rich, poor, ignorant, and scholars.
I will light up his grave, ask Munkar and Nakeer â€“the two angels in charge of the interrogation in graves- to interrogate him, he will neither experience the agony of death nor the darkness of the grave until the Balance â€“of his deeds- will be deposited for him and the registry â€“of his deeds- will be opened and the book of his deeds will be finally put into his right hand and he will read it peacefully and there will be no interpreter between Me and him. These are the characteristics of the lovers of Allah.â€
From Qurâ€™anic Verses and Hadiths it is inferred that it is in the inner part of man that spiritual journey takes place and it is in the light of the physical acts that manâ€™s soul becomes so illuminated that it will see no other being as real but God. In this connection, the Holy Qurâ€™an says:
â€œWe will soon show them Our sings in the universe and in their own souls until it will become quite clear to them that it is the truth. (41:53)â€
It is in the state that a godly man is so plunged in the sea of knowledge and Godâ€™s love that he will hear, see, and recognize everything with the light of God and he will become manifestation of Godâ€™s Attributes and recipient of Godâ€™s Mercy. In this relation, the Holy Qurâ€™an says:
â€œIs he who was dead then We raised him to life and made for him a light by which he walks among the people like him whose likeness is that of one in utter darkness whence he cannot come forth? (6:122)â€
Worship is the journey of the soul and a continued spiritual life in divine light. Since there is unity and interaction between manâ€™s body and soul, the journey of the spirit will be naturally manifested in body, and physical acts in prayer too will influence the soulâ€™s spiritual life. Since spiritual journey is found in the prophets and the Imams in its highest degree, their spiritual lives are said to be presented to man in the form of prayer, fasting, Hajj, almsgiving, and other religious duties. The Holy Qurâ€™an says:
â€œCertainly, you have in the Apostle of Allah an excellent exemplar. (33:21)â€
In this Qurâ€™anic Verse, the Messenger of God has been introduced as excellent exemplar, and people are duty-bound to adapt their deed and ethical lives to those of the Holy Prophet (saw). Addressing the Holy Prophet (saw), the Holy Qurâ€™an says:
Many Hadiths testify that the purpose of prayer, fasting, Hajj, almsgiving, and the other acts of worship mentioned in the Holy Qurâ€™an is the Imams (as) as interpreted by the exegetes of the Holy Qurâ€™an:
Dawud ibn Kathir quotes Imam Sadiq (as) as saying:
“O Dawud, we are (the purpose of) the prayer in the Book of Allah, we are the (meaning of) almsgiving, fasting, Hajj, Sacred Month, the Sacred City, the Kaaba, Kiblah, and the Face of Allah Who says:Â â€œWhither you turn, thither is Allahâ€™s Face. (The Holy Qurâ€™an; 2:115)â€ We are the clear signs of Allah.
Al-Mufazzal ibn Umar quotes Imam Sadiq (as) as saying:
â€œLet me inform you that the religion and the root of the religion is a man; a man of faith and certainty. He is the same Imam of the ummah and the Imam of his time. Whoever knows him has known Allah and the religion of Allah, whoever denies him has denied Allah and His religion, and whoever keeps ignorant of him has kept ignorant of Allah and His religion. Except through that Imam, no one can understand Allah, His religion, and the religious laws. This is the meaning of â€˜the religion of Allah is the cognition of men.â€™
â€¦I inform you that I have told the truth if I say that the prayer, almsgiving, fasting, Hajj, the Sacred Mosque, the House of Allah, ablution, ritual washing, and all the religious duties are the same prophet who has brought all these precepts from Allah. Getting to know these religious duties is the only way for getting to know the Prophet. If you cannot get to know, believe in, and submit to the Prophet, you cannot get to know the truths. Therefore, the purpose of all these truths is the prophet.â€
I asked Imam Sadiq (as) about the meaning of the Qurâ€™anic Verse,Â â€˜And We will set up a balance on the Day of Resurrection; so, no soul shall be dealt with unjustly in the least. (21:47).â€™ He (as) answered: â€œThey are the prophets and their successors. -According to another narration related to the Imams (as):- â€œWe are the balance of justice.â€
â€œIt is the path to the knowledge of Allah, Glorified and Majestic is He. They are two paths; one is in the world and the other in the Hereafter. The path in this world is the Imam the obedience to whom is obligatory. Whoever knows him and follows his guidance will pass the Bridge of the Requital in the Hereafter. But whoever does not know him in this worldly life will stumble and fall into Hell.”
â€œI am the prayer and the fasting of the believing men.â€
Some people however have misinterpreted the above-mentioned Hadith, claiming that when one recognizes his Imam, he is not obliged to perform the religious duties, for the recognition of the Imam is considered as prayer, fasting, Hajj, almsgiving, and jihad. They invoke the Hadith, â€˜When you reach the stage of cognition, do as you wish.â€™
â€œHe who believes in such matter is, in my sight, evidently polytheist. Allah has not ordained any prophet to invite people to cognition without obeying the commandments and prohibitions being accompanied by cognition.
Allah has asked His servants to act to all religious duties but after getting to know the one who has brought those commandments and calls people to Allah. Therefore, cognition is of primary and obedience is of secondary importance. Whoever reaches cognition will become obedient and whoever becomes obedient will consider disobedience as sin.â€
I asked Imam Sadiq (as) whether he has actually said the hadith, â€˜When you reach the stage of cognition, do as you wish,â€™ that is related by some people. The Imam said: â€œI have said it.â€ I asked: â€œEven such doings are adultery, theft, or drinking of wine?â€
He (as) answered: â€œSurely, we belong to Allah and to Him we will return.Â By Allah, it is not fair that we are obliged to perform religious duties and they are free! I have said that when you reach the stage of cognition (of Allah), do good deed a little or as much as you can, for it will be accepted by Allah.â€
To sum it up, the external feature of the Hajj rites represents spiritual journey of a perfect man who has gone through different stages of servitude, detached from worldly ties and ornaments, and rescued from darkness and entered into the illuminated kingdom of God. Therefore, a true Hajj is an evolution in soul. It is not a plaything or entertainment as some ignorant people think, for their performance is more like a game than worship.
Malik ibn Anas says:
One year, I accompanied Imam Sadiq (as) in the Hajj pilgrimage. Being on the back of his horse and in the state of Ihram, the Imam (as) was trying to utter â€˜Labbaykâ€™ but his voice stuck in his throat. He therefore rode off his horse. I said:Â â€œO son of the Messenger of Allah! Say â€˜Labbaykâ€™, you have to say it.â€ He (as) replied:
The Imamsâ€™ sayings act as warning to the ignorant ones that Hajj is the journey of soul, not distance. If a manâ€™s soul gets into the state of Ihram, reaches the House of God, touches the Black StoneÂ with the hand of the heart, stays on Mount Arafat with full heart, stops in al-Mashâ€™ar al-Haram with full soul, sacrifices the sheep of the carnal desires with the knife of certitude and submission (to the Lord), he has performed a true Hajj.
Prophet Ibrahim (as) reached such a stage of contentment and submission (to the Lord) inspired by God that he was ready to sacrifice his son for his Lord. He rolled up his sleeves without hesitation, laid down his endeared son, put the sharp knife on his throat, and thought of nothing but carrying out Godâ€™s order. Such a degree of cognition of God is the result of his true spiritual journey.
He truly visited Godâ€™s House and out of sincerity took off the garment of pleasure and worldly inclinations from his soul and put on a garment of submission to God and said â€˜Labbaykâ€™ from the bottom of his heart, entered into the sanctuary, stayed in the lap of the mountain of cognition, immersed his senses in divine thoughts, and saw world ornaments as worthless pebbles. He took his son to the altar and put the knife on his throat in Mina saying to himself, â€˜I turn my face to the direction of the One Who originated the heavens and the earth.â€™
Reaching such a state requires traversing different stages including giving up pleasures, forgetting oneâ€™s desires, and throwing pebbles at the alluring Satan to a degree that Godâ€™s pleasure is considered above the life of even the endeared son.
It is strange to see that people in everyday life look for truth and reality but when the religion and the Hereafter is concerned, they become content with form and external feature rather than true meanings. We never expect a sugarless piece of cake to taste sweet, but consider a prayer without the presence of heart as perfect, complaining to God that we have offered our prayer but we have not seen a positive effect!
A nourishing food or a trip of leisure leave certain effects, how is it then that a month-long fasting and being guest of God do not leave any effect on souls? How is it acceptable that we do not benefit by the supplications while we have the household of the Prophet -the Ahl ul-Bayt- (as) as the best spiritual food and the means for purification? How is it that a weak-long trip to the seaside changes our complexion, but seven-fold circumambulations of the Kaaba, visiting the graveside of the Holy Prophet (saw) and the Imams (as) do not change our souls?
As a matter of fact, if we take the title of Hajji off most of those who have been to Mecca, what emblem of Mecca, circumambulation, or touching the Black Stone do we see in them?
â€œâ€¦Their marks are in their faces because of the prostration. (The Holy Qurâ€™an; 48:29)â€
The effect of prostration alone in the face of a Muslim is not a sign of servitude; rather it should be seen in his business, culture, and all aspects of life. Regrettably, what is not seen in the life of the ummah is the true feature of Islam and the marks of prostration. In certain cases, the feature of unbelievers is seen in Muslimsâ€™ lives.
It was narrated that, once, during a moonlit night, Imam â€˜Ali (as), coming out of the mosque, headed for wilderness. The crowd following him reached there. He asked about their identity, and they answered, â€˜O Amir ul-Muâ€™mineen, we are your Shiites (followers). The Imam cast a deep look at them, saying, â€˜How is it that I do not see any mark of Shiism on your faces?â€™
â€˜What are the marks of a Shiite Muslim?â€™ they asked, and the Imam (as) answered:
â€˜Those who are pale of keeping vigilance, weeping out of fear of Allah, bent out of too much standing for prayer, hungry due to fasting, dry-mouthed because of supplications, with marks of prostration in their faces.â€™
Imam Sadiq (as) narrated: As he was sitting in his house, a group of people knocked the door at Imam Sajjad (as). He asked his slave girl to see who it was. They shouted, â€˜It is a group of your Shiites.â€™ The Imam (as) jumped so hurriedly that he was about to fall down. When he opened the door, he took back and said, â€˜They must be lying. Where is the mark of Shiism on their faces? Where are the marks of prostration on them?
Our Shiites are known of fear of the Day of Judgment, their foreheads having the marks of prostration, being thin due to fasting, and dry-mouthed because of supplications. The prayer makes their faces wrinkled, keeping vigilance, and fasting on hot days make their bodies exhausted. When (other) people are at rest, they (the true Shiites) glorify Allah, when people are asleep, they are in prayers, and when people are merry making, they are sad.â€™
The same God-fearing, enlightened people, in their love for the Hereafter, have fought the enemies of God throughout the history of Islam. They considered martyrdom in the way of God as the highest degree of happiness and the best means for affinity with God.
We therefore realize that a true Shiite is pious and heedless of the worldly ornaments but does not live the life of a recluse. He stands against the oppressing powers with his strong faith and steadfastness. Describing such people, the Holy Qurâ€™an says:
â€œThose who fight in His way in ranks as if they were a firm and compact wall. (61:4)â€
Therefore, no one can say that the school based on piety, detachment from this world, prostration, and prayer fails to nurture heroes.
Nevertheless, we stand in prayer with our heart full of love for this world without Godâ€™s remembrance. We fast with a soul polluted with sins. We go on Hajj pilgrimage with illegally gotten money, abandon what is obligatory but do what is praiseworthy and expect the positive effects on our lives and wish to be among the angels at the same time!
â€œO Jesus, tell the Israeli wrongdoers not to call upon Me while they have illegal riches under their arms and keep idols at home, for I have sworn I will answer one who calls upon Me. My answer to the call for these wrongdoers is to curse them until they part from one another.â€
Skepticism about religious laws made by certain individuals has different motivations. Part of it is by prejudiced and malevolent individuals aimed at diluting Muslimsâ€™ ideology so as to carry out their destructive plots in the Islamic society and to attain their satanic goal.
Another part arises from ignorance of the truth and philosophy of the heavenly teachings. These skeptics see the external face but they are unaware of the philosophy behind them. These people are ignorant, arrogant, egotist, and unwilling to understand the philosophy of the religion.
Ibn-Abiâ€™l-Aujaa was unbeliever. He was an abusive orator whom scholars avoided for his sharp tongue. It was Hajj season when he was sitting with a group of unbelievers in the Sacred Mosque looking at pilgrims mockingly. In another corner of the Mosque,
Imam Sadiq (as) was sitting surrounded by the Shiites who benefited by his heavenly knowledge. The unbelievers turned to Ibn-Abiâ€™l-Aujaa saying:Â â€œHow good it is to debate with the man sitting there surrounded by his devotees making him ashamed!â€
Ibn-Abiâ€™l-Aujaa who was too proud of himself said:Â â€œI will go right now and make him helpless.â€ Entering into the Imamâ€™s assembly, Ibn-Abiâ€™l-Aujaa said:
â€œO Abu-Abdullah, assemblies are safe. (He was afraid of being killed by the believers.) Everyone having phlegm in his chest has to cough it out. (i.e. one who has a question has to ask it.) Can I ask you a question?â€
The Imam (as) gave him permission. Ibn-Abiâ€™l-Aujaa bared his heart shamelessly of his atheistic ideas in an enchanting rhymed prose, mocked the Hajj rites, and insulted the pilgrims, adding:
â€œTill when will you work in this threshing-floor, seek refuge to this stone, worship this house made of mud and stone, and go round it like frightened camels? Anyone reflecting on the matter will find out that it is unwise act. Give me the answer, you who are at the top, a prominent personality, and a person whose fathers set up and maintained this religion.â€
Even nowadays such a question is asked by some of the so-called intellectuals!
However, Imam Sadiq (as) who was the propagator of the monotheistic school of Islam and had trained students in his mystical sessions, uttered sentences that exposed the evil intention of Ibn-Abiâ€™l-Aujaa and his co-thinkers and bewared them of the sinister fate awaiting them. He (as) said:
â€œWhomever Allah causes to go astray and to be blind in heart will find the truth bitter and will have Satan as guardian and lord, and will be damned to perdition from which there is no return.â€
The Imam (as) then made statements the summary of which is as follows: This Kaaba is the House that God has appointed as a means to test His servants making them duty-bound to respect and visit and to be a balance from manâ€™s devotion and obedience to God. Through the Kaaba, the devoted believers are made distinct from hypocrites.
This House is the resting-place for the prophets, Kiblah of worshippers, and a means to please God. Therefore, the aim of Hajj is to worship Godâ€”the Creator of the heavens and the earth and the human soul and bodyâ€”, not the stone. Kissing or caressing the Black Stone, too, is aimed at carrying out Godâ€™s order.
Imam â€˜Aliâ€™s sermon known as â€˜al-Khitba al-Qassiya â€“Sermon of Disparagement-â€™ answers the above and similar questions. A part of the sermon, which is related to the Holy Kaaba, will be quoted hereinafter:
â€œDo you not see the Allah, the Glorified, has tried all the people among those who came before, beginning with Adam up to the last ones in this world with stones which yield neither benefit nor harm nor see nor hear. He made those stones into His sacred house, which He made a standby for the people. He placed it in the most rugged stony part of the earth and on a highland with least soil thereon, among the narrowest valleys between rough mountains, soft sandy plains, springs of scanty water, and scattered habitants, where neither camels not horses nor cows and sheep can prosper.
Then, he commanded Adam and his sons to turn their attention towards it. In this way, it became the center of their journey in seeking pastures and the rendezvous for meeting of their carrier-beasts, so that human spirits hasten towards it from distant waterless deserts, deep and low-lying valleys and scattered islands in the seas.
They shake their shoulders in humbleness, recite the slogan of having reached His audience, march with swift feet, and have disheveled hair and dusted faces. They throw their pieces of cloth on their backs; they have marred the beauty of their faces by leaving the hair uncut as a matter of great test, severe tribulation, open trials, and extreme refining. Allah has made it a means to His mercy and an approach to His Paradise.
If Allah, the Glorified, had places His Sacred House and His great signs among plantations, streams, soft and level points, plenty of trees, and abundance of fruits, a thick population, close habitats, golden wheat, lush gardens, green land, watered plains, thriving orchards, and crowded streets, the amount of recompense would have been decreased because of the lightness of the trial.
If the foundation on which the House is borne and the stones with which it has been raised had been of green emerald and red rubies, and there had been brightness and effulgence, then this would have lessened the action of doubts in the breasts, would have dismissed the effect of Satanâ€™s activity from the hearts, and would have stopped the surging of misgivings by means of different troubles, wants them to render worship through hardships and involves them in distress, all in order to extract out vanity from their hearts, to settle down humbleness in their spirits, and to make all this an open door for His favors and an easy means for His forgiveness (for their sins).2472
It is noteworthy that the religious duties have various categories. Some, while being performed for God, have physical pleasure with them too, and man is naturally inclined toward them, such as marriage, eating, and sleeping. They can be both godly and means for satisfying oneâ€™s nature. Other religious duties are not accompanied by physical pleasure but logically desirable, such as acquisition of knowledge, benefaction, helping the poor, and guiding those who have gone astray.
Although such acts are not sought by desire, they are logically desirable, and if they are done for the sake of God, their godly aspects will be mixed with their logical aspects. Hence, it is difficult to acquire devotion in them. Therefore, man cannot claim that his motivation for doing such acts has been God or another factor. If man carefully looks at most of these acts performed as religious duties, he will realize that the share of logic and desire in these acts is more than that of God, and the religious aspect has been naturally overshadowed by the aspect of logic and desire. Hence an effective weapon has not been used for suppressing the concupiscence. In these acts, Satan pollutes manâ€™s pure intention with pretense, love of fame, and other desires rendering the good deeds worthless.
Other religious duties have neither sign of physical pleasure nor logical benefits. A series of acts are neither desirable by temperament nor logic, such as taking off oneâ€™s normal clothes and putting on clothes of Ihram (two pieces of unstitched clothes) making oneâ€™s head and feet bare, quitting many of everyday habits, going round a house of stone, kissing a black stone installed in the corner of the Kaaba, sevenfold shuttle between two mountainsâ€”Safa and Marwa, compulsory stay in specified times on the plain of Mina, Arafat and al-Mashâ€™ar and throwing pebbles, which are desirable neither for temperament nor intellect.
It is Godâ€™s order that persuades a Muslim to do these acts without expecting to get a physical pleasure or intellectual benefit. This is because Islam is the only factor ensuring the prosperity and perfection of a Muslim who has been trained in the school of monotheism and inspired by the Holy Qurâ€™an.
â€œThe true religion with Allah is Islam. (The Holy Qurâ€™an; 3:19)â€
Islam means to be submissive to God. Even if there are no socio-political as well as hygienic and economic benefits in enjoining the good and forbidding the evil, the virtue of being submissive to God alone is enough to encourage a wise man to do religious duties and to abstain from committing sins
â€œâ€¦and best of all is Allahâ€™s pleasure. (The Holy Qurâ€™an; 9:72)â€
A believing Muslim does not care whether a religious duty has a benefit or not. What is important to him is the pleasure of God. Since most of us do not pay attention to the great impact of devotion and do not know what a great blessing devotion is, we look at it dubiously not knowing that the best acts are those done for the satisfaction.
We should note that those acts not having physical or logical motivation, which are merely done for God, are extremely positive in generating devotion and submission, making man devoted servant of God. We all get married but it is not known who does it for the sake of God and who does it for satisfying his instincts. We all study but it is not known who studies with the intention of promoting the Name of God and who does it for pursuing worldly goals. We all help the poor but hypocrites are not distinct from the God-seekers. In this relation, the Holy Qurâ€™an says:
Godâ€™s commandments are aimed at revealing manâ€™s submission to the Creator. But, unfortunately, man being unaware of the secret behind those commandments keeps on asking about the benefits of the Islamic laws and their socio-economic effects, which have their roots in materialism. This way of thinking is not limited to a specific period. All prophets have been asked such questions with sinister results.
According to the Holy Qurâ€™an, a Jewish tribe was living in a town near the sea and their job was fishing. On Godâ€™s order, the Jewish tribe was duty-bound to keep the Sabbath, that is, to be engaged in prayer and not to catch fish on that day.
Since Godâ€™s trial is always accompanied by difficulty, it so happened that fish would come to the surface of water abundantly on Saturdays, which was the Sabbath, but were scarce on other days. The abundance of fish on the Sabbath was so alluring that refusal to catch all those fishes was painful for the Jewish tribe.
â€œâ€¦Thus did we try them because they transgressed. (The Holy Qurâ€™an; 7:163)â€
Finally, avarice overcame faith and pushed the mammonists to sin. So they tried to catch fishes on Saturday with the tricks that Satan had taught them. Hence, God sent tribulation upon them. In this relation, the Holy Qurâ€™an says:
â€œ He said: Surely, Allah has chosen him in preference to you, and He has increased him abundantly in knowledge and physique. (2:247)â€
This strong man was appointed by the prophet of that time to be the leader of the Israelis to fight their enemies. Talut mobilized a great army to fight Jalut (Goliath) the tyrant, who oppressed the Israelis. He (Saul) said to his soldiers: Be careful, for God will test you through a river on your way; he who will not drink from it though he might be very thirsty will be (considered as) obeying God and will be among my helpers and entitled to Godâ€™s grace. But anyone who will drink from it is not my follower and will be deprived of Godâ€™s assistance.
It was hot, the land was dry, and thirst prevailed. Suddenly, the river came into sight and the thirsty soldiers saw a river flowing with limped water before them. It requires great patience and strong faith to resist desire to pass by a river and not quench oneâ€™s thirst for the sake of God. The river was a great test for the army of Talut.
Satan began to tempt them as what the philosophy of suffering from thirst is while being near to a river. Why water, a source of life, should be banned. No, one must drink from it, feel fresh, and fight the enemies; not knowing that manâ€™s number one enemy is his concupiscence which disobeys Godâ€™s orders.
First of all, one must fight this inner enemy and then be sure that after suppressing it, Godâ€™s help will come. Finally, the pleasant sight of the river and Satanâ€™s temptations weakened their will. Except for 313 soldiers, the entire army whose number was 80,000 drank from the river and revealed their weak faith against physical desires.
â€œSo, when Talut departed with the forces, he said: Surely, Allah will try you with a river; whoever then drinks from it, he is not of me, and whoever does not taste of it, he is surely of me, except he who takes with his hand as much of it as fills the hand; but with the exception of a few of them, they drank from it. (The Holy Qurâ€™an; 2:249)â€
â€œAnd when we said: Enter this city, and then eat from it a plenteous (food) wherever you wish and enter the gate making obeisance; and say, forgiveness. We will forgive you your wrongs and give more to those who do good.
But those who were unjust changed it for a saying other than that which had been spoken to them, so We sent upon those who were unjust a pestilence from heaven, because thy transgressed. (The Holy Qurâ€™an; 2: 58-9)â€
The unyielding tribe of the Israelis, due to the dignity of Prophet Moses (as) was entitled to Godâ€™s grace. So, they had the impression that they became really honorable in the sight of God and became Godâ€™s favorites and the most devoted servants. To test them and to make them subject to curse and punishment, God appointed certain duties for them.
The prosperous land of Damascus was envisaged for their settlement provided that they, first, would enter the city through a specific gate, they, second, would enter the city while bowing as sign of humbleness to God, and, third, they would say, â€˜forgive us,â€™ so that God would pardon their wrongdoings. But they said to themselves, â€˜why should we enter the city through a narrow gate while there were wider ones?â€™ They entered the city not only without bowing but also with their backs forward; and instead of saying, â€˜forgive us,â€™ they said indecent words. The result was a pestilence from heaven.
â€œAnd when he attained to working with him, he said: O my son, surely I have seen in a dream that I should sacrifice you; consider then what you see. He said: O my father, do what you are commanded; if Allah please, you will find me of the patient ones. So when they both submitted and he threw him down upon his forehead, and We called out to him, saying: O Ibrahim, you have indeed shown the truth of the vision; surely thus do We reward the doers of good. Most surely, this is a manifestation trial. (The Holy Qurâ€™an; 37:102-6)â€
This is a strange scene and a strange duty! A handsome youth, much loved by an elder father has to be sacrificed for God. What a strange order and what a difficult duty! How can a kind father throw down his son and put a sharp knife on his throat with his own hands? This act is approved neither by temperament nor common sense. But here neither manâ€™s intellect nor does his common sense have any saying, for it is the realm of love of God Who is the Only Beloved in the world. The love for others is subject to His permission and pleasure.
Prophet Ibrahim (as) then prepared himself for carrying out Godâ€™s order without any delay. He told the story to his son to know both his duty and to test the devotion of his son. The son, too, asked his father to do what he had been commanded and asked God to make him patient. What devotion it is! May God bless this stage of submission forever. Both father and son submitted. The father threw him down ready to cut his throat. A shocking scene amazed the whole world against the power of faith and love for God. Therefore, God praised the devotion of these two devoted monotheists. This is sufficient to indicate their greatness:
â€œPeace be upon Ibrahim. Surely, he was one of Our believing servants. (The Holy Qurâ€™an; 37:109, 111)
To sum it up, if we look at the acts commanded in Godâ€™s trial, we will not see any benefit or advisability. In certain cases, there is harm, too, like the ban on catching fish on the Sabbath, which entailed economic loss, or the ban on drinking water from the river in the story of Talut, Ibrahimâ€™s dream to sacrifice his son, and the Israelisâ€™ entering into Damascus. In none of these cases, logical and tangible benefits could be seen.
The best advantage of the said acts lies in Godâ€™s commandments and the inhibitions themselves to be followed by obedience and submission, the result of which is affinity with God and attaining His pleasure.
Since certain religious duties are based on devotion to God without having social, economic, political, or hygienic benefits, certain acts related to the Hajj rites are aimed for revealing manâ€™s devotion and submission to God.
One of the advantages of Hajj is that its aspect of devotion is more evident than other religious duties. Throwing pebbles at Satan is extremely effective, for he is attempting to prevent man from obeying God by skepticism and raising questions in manâ€™s mind. For example, Satan through temptations makes man ask himself if Prophet Ibrahimâ€™s wife; Hagar, shuttled seven times between Mount Safa and Mount Marwa in search for water, why should be do the same and in search of water?
Or when Prophet Ibrahim (as) was in Mina for completing his mission and Satan appeared on his way trying to prevent him from obeying Godâ€™s order, Prophet Ibrahim (as) drove him away by throwing stones at him, what is he doing in Mina now? Has he, too, seen Satan on his way to throw stones at him? A devoted servant of God finds out that Satan is always on the way to steal faith. Hence, he gets ready to expel the satanic temptations from his heart. The Holy Qurâ€™an says:
â€œ Surely, those who guard against evil, when a visitation from the Satan afflicts them, they become mindful, then lo! They see. (7:201)â€
I, too, as I have learnt lessons of devotion in the school of the prophets, take God as my Guardian and consider myself devoted servant of Him. I do not care whether certain act is beneficial or not. What I do is for obtaining Godâ€™s pleasure. If I am told to shuttle between Safa and Marwa all my life for the pleasure of God, I will do it whole-heartedly.
The Hajj rites, consisting of apparently unjustifiable acts, are means of trial of menâ€™s devotion to God. Hajj makes those who follow â€˜selfâ€™ and superficial intellect distinct from those following God.
Perhaps it would not be out of place to discuss the practical laws of Islam here, for questions have been raised in this relation. For example, it is asked why Sura of al-Fatihah and Sura of at-Tawhid must be recited in undertone in the Dhuhr (Noon) and Asr (Afternoon) â€“obligatory- Prayers and recited aloud in the Maghrib (Evening) and Eshaa (Night) Prayers. Why are men banned to wear gold rings?
Why is it banned to use golden and silver vessels? Why is it religiously unlawful to have the meat of pork? What is the philosophy of Hajj? When does it become necessary to perform the Tayammum (Dry Ablution)? Why is it forbidden for a Muslim to marry two sisters at the same time?
Many whys and for what reasons are answered correctly or incorrectly and on many occasions the answers increase the askerâ€™s amazement.
The first and most important requirement of one who asks such questions is his belief in the acknowledged principles of Islam, that is, belief in One God, prophethood, Godâ€™s justice, Day of Judgment, and Imamate. In the meantime, the degree of his belief in the aforesaid principles has to be taken into consideration so as to discuss with him the ideology of Islam in case of his imperfect knowledge about it.
Evidently, it is waste of time to discuss the secondary precepts of Islam with an unbeliever or someone whose belief is imperfect. How absurd it is to speak about the Ascension of the Holy Prophet (saw) and the moonâ€™s split for him or the life span and occultation of Imam Mahdi (as) with a materialist who does not believe in the absolute power of God. To debate with a TwelverÂ who does not firmly believe in the sinlessness of the prophets and Imams is also useless, for he needs to perfect his ideology first. Incidentally, most of the individuals who are skeptic of the practical laws of Islam are those who are weak in their beliefs.
Generally speaking, questions about the philosophy of the practical laws of Islam are raised for two reasons:
To understand the philosophy of the divine laws, and to get more interested in doing religious duties, this is the result of getting to know the philosophy of the divine laws.
As for someone who wishes to understand the logic of the divine laws, we should say that he is in error. Such a person needs to perfect his knowledge of the religion, get to know the prophet and the revelation as well as come to realize that the position of a prophet is above that of ordinary human beings.
He should, also, realize that what the prophets say do not come from themselves, but they are inspired by the Creator of the heavens and the earth. So, we come to the conclusion that the Holy Book and the religious laws are of the same Source. In other words, it is the All-knowing and All-wise God Who has prescribed what is lawful and what is unlawful and revealed it to the heart of His Messenger.
Since we, human beings, do not have comprehensive knowledge about life and the Afterlife, and since the only One being aware of all the details of the universe is God, we are in need for guidance and religious laws, which is the same as revelation received by the prophets.
We have no option but to submit to the religious instructions. To practice the religious duties is to practice what the prophets and God have said. That is to say that I, considering myself as Muslim, obey God and His Messenger not because I have come to know about the philosophy of the religious laws, but I obey Him and His Messenger regardless of the harms and benefits that accompany certain religious acts.
Muhammad ibn Sinan wrote a letter to Imam Ridhaâ€™ (as) saying, â€˜Some Muslims have the impression that the dos and donâ€™ts in Islam are not based on peopleâ€™s interest or disadvantages and that there is no reason for them save obedience and devotion to God.â€™ Responding to this letter, Imam Ridhaâ€™ (as) wrote:
â€œWhoever has such impression of the religious precepts is in gross error, for we realize that what Allah has forbidden is not only unnecessary for human life but also it is a source of corruption pushing man to perdition.â€
Sheikh Saduq, may his soul rest in peace, relates that a person went to Imam Baqir (as) asking, â€˜Why has God forbidden drinking wine and eating carrion and pork as well as blood?â€™ The Imam (as) answered:
â€œAllah has not made certain things lawful or unlawful because He Himself likes or dislikes them, for neither the lawful nor do the unlawful benefit or harm Him. Since Allah has created man and known what is good or bad for him, He has enjoined or forbidden certain things.â€
From these sayings of the Imams (as) it is inferred that devotion is not strict adherence like an inferiorâ€™s obedience to the orders of a superior. Obedience in religion is that when a human being realizes that his intellectual power is limited and that the religious precepts with all their benefits have their source in Godâ€™s infinite knowledge, he will naturally feel duty-bound to submit to Godâ€™s commandments.
â€œO servants of Allah, you are like patients and the Lord of the worlds being like a physician. Therefore, the interest of the patient is in what the physician prescribes for him, not in what he â€“the patient- likes. Therefore, submit to Allah so as to be delivered.”
It is true that the prophets are like us, human being, but they receive divine revelation. Addressing the Holy Prophet (saw), God says:
â€œSay: I am only a mortal like you; it is revealed to me. (The Holy Qurâ€™an; 18:110)â€
To sum it up, religious obedience is not a blind following devoid of logic, rather it is submission of a human being with limited knowledge to the All-encompassing Authority.
As for the second question about the philosophy of the practical laws of Islam, if it is aimed at getting more familiarity with the benefits of Godâ€™s commandments, to purify oneâ€™s self and society, to ensure a sound economy, to see their compatibility with the scientific researches, to highlight the value of the religious precepts, the sayings of the Imams, the scientific miracles of the Holy Prophet (saw) and the Holy Qurâ€™an, to add to oneâ€™s tranquility and peace of mind, it is welcome! In the Holy Qurâ€™an, most of the verses express the philosophy of the commandments:
â€œAnd proclaim among men the pilgrimageâ€¦ that they may witness advantages for them. (22:28)â€
To sum it up, the necessity to act according to the religious precepts is to follow the divine revelation and not necessarily to understand their philosophy. The value of the acts of worship lies in devotion and man can have devotion when he has no motivation other than pleasing God. Then, he will become a true servant of God:
â€œMen whom neither merchandise nor selling diverts from the remembrance of Allahâ€¦ (The Holy Qurâ€™an; 24:37)â€
The aim of the religion is to make the earthly man ascend to heaven. Being the most perfect religion, Islam has a double vision, that is, it sees both this world and the Hereafter; it cares for the welfare of man and his moral education as well as spiritual perfection.
â€œAs for those who believe and do good, a good final state shall be theirs and a goodly return. (The Holy Qurâ€™an; 13:29)â€
Now, instead of this discussion and instead of trying to justify all the heavenly laws with scientific theories, we should consolidate the spirit of getting to know God, the prophet, and the Imams in the hearts of the youths. It is only then that the young generation will naturally feel duty-bound to follow the Messenger of God and to obey Him with contentment and will never look for benefits in serving God.
â€œSurely, the religion of Allah cannot be comprehended with imperfect intellects, wrong opinions, or immoral criteria. Hence, there is no way to get to know the truth of the religion other than submission. Whoever submits to us will be safe from deviation, and whoever is guided in our path will be truly guided. Whoever makes religion with his own conjecture will find perdition and one who is heavy-hearted with our orders has disbelieved in the One Who revealed the Holy Qurâ€™an.â€
It is worth mentioning that obedience to Godâ€™s commandments and performance of the divine laws do not add to Godâ€™s glory and greatness, and manâ€™s disobedience to God does not reduce from His authority. In this relation, Imam â€˜Ali (as) says:
â€œNow then, Allah, the Glorified the Sublime, created (the things of) the creation; He created them without any need for their obedience or being safe from their sinning, because the sin of anyone who sins does not harm him nor does the obedience of anyone who obeys Him benefit Him.â€
The fate of those who disobeyed God is mentioned in the Holy Qurâ€™an:
â€œHave they not traveled in the earth and seen how was the end of those who were before them? Mightier than these were they in strength and in fortifications in the land, but Allah destroyed them for their sins; and there was not for them any defender against Allah. That was because they came to them their apostles with clear arguments, but they rejected them; therefore, Allah destroyed them; Surely He is Strong, Severe in retribution. (40:21-2)â€
â€œDo you not know that anyone who raises his head so high that it touches the ceiling, the ceiling will break his head? But one who lowers his head, the same ceiling will serve as a canopy to give him shelter and comfort under its shade. Likewise, one who is not humble before Allah will be degraded, whereas one who is humble before Allah will be promoted.â€
As long as the human society obeys the divine laws under the heavenly canopy, it will enjoy welfare and receive Godâ€™s mercy, but if it disobeys God and becomes arrogant, God will say:
â€œIn the Name of Allah the Most Compassionate the Most Merciful. Have you not considered how your Lord dealt with the possessors of the elephant? Did He not cause their war to end in confusion, and send down to prey upon them birds in flocks casting against them stones of baked clay; so, He rendered them like straw eaten up? (The Holy Qurâ€™an; 105:1-5)â€
â€œHave you not considered how your Lord dealt with Ad; the people of Ihram and the possessors of lofty buildings, the like of which were not created in the other cities; and with (the people of) Thamud who hewed out the rocks in the valley, and with Pharaoh, the lord of hosts; who committed inordinacy in the cities; so, they made great mischief therein? Therefore, your Lord let down upon them a portion of the chastisement. Most surely, your Lord is watching. (The Holy Qurâ€™an; 89:7-15)â€
In the Holy Qurâ€™an; Sura of al-Ankabut â€“the spider-, after speaking about the painful fate of the former nations afflicted with heavenly and earthly tribulations, God says:
â€œSo, each We punished for his sin; of them was he on whom We went down a violent storm, and of them was he whom the rumbling overtook, and of them was he who We made to be swallowed up by the earth, and of them was he who We drowned; and it did not beseem Allah that he should be unjust to them, but they were unjust to their own souls. (29:40)â€
For thousands of years, those who disobeyed God have tried to transgress the bounds of decency with their lusts and arrogance but they have been defeated with humiliation. Nevertheless, the prophetsâ€™ laws have survived and the pleasant call of â€˜I bear witness that there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah,â€™ is heard at dawn, noon, and in the evening forever:
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â€œAnd We exalted for you (Prophet Muhammad) your esteem. (The Holy Qurâ€™an; 94:4)â€
Speaking about what earns people and what is worthless, God says:
â€œThen as for the scum, it passes away as a worthless thing; and as for that which profits people, it tarries in the earth. (The Holy Qurâ€™an; 13:17)â€
In the same way that the sun shines upon the decayed bodies of the unjust tribes of Ad and Thamud whom were chastised by God, it will shine upon our dead bodies. The earth keeps on going round the sun forever.
â€œSay: O Allah; Master of the Kingdom, Thou givest the kingdom to whomsoever Thou pleasest and take away the kingdom from whomsoever Thou pleasest and Thou exaltest whom Thou pleasest and abasest whom Thou pleasest; in Thine hand is the good. Surely, Thou hast power over all things. Thou makest the night pass into the day and Thou makest the day pass into the night, and Thou bringest forth the living from the dead and Thou bringest forth the dead from the living. (The Holy Qurâ€™an; 3:26-7)â€
To sum it up, the divine laws are invincible and unchangeable:
â€œâ€¦ Whoever goes beyond the limits of Allah indeed does injustice to his own soul. (The Holy Qurâ€™an; 65:1)â€
For what we have said we come to the conclusion that God neither needs our obedience to Him nor does He fear our disobedience to Him, and that neither our obedience to Him benefit Him nor does our disobedience to Him harm Him.
Rather it is we, human beings, who are strongly in need for God. We, human beings, are obliged to be humble for Him. If God has accepted our servitude and submission, it is a favor on His part, for if we thank Him all the time, we have done little of what we should do.