Saturday 2nd of March 2024
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The World is Not a Place of Reward or Punishment


...Muhammad ibn Ya'qub al-Kulayni - may God be pleased with him - from `Ali ibn Ibrahim, from his father, from Ibn Mahbub, from Abu 'Abd Allah (A) that he (A) said: "Verily, it is mentioned in the Book of 'Ali that of all mankind the prophets undergo the severest of trials, and after them the awsiya', and after them the elect to the extent of their nobility. Indeed, the believer undergoes trial in proportion to his good deeds. So one whose faith is sound and whose deeds are good, his trials are also more severe. That is indeed because God Almighty did not make this world a place for rewarding the believer and punishing the unbeliever. And one whose faith is feeble(flimsy) and whose (good) deeds are few faces fewer tribulations. Verily, tribulations hasten towards the believer with greater speed than rainwater towards the earth's depths. [1]


Some have said by nas (people, mankind) in this noble tradition and its like are meant perfect human beings (kamilun) such as the prophets and the awsiya', and that in reality it is they who are the nas, whereas other people are lil-nas (for the people), as mentioned in some traditions. However, that interpretation does not apply here and it seems proper that mankind and people in general should have been meant in this place. This is evident from the other traditions of this chapter of al-Kafi, and if it has been said in some traditions that by nas are meant the kamilun, it does not mean that the word has this meaning in every place that it occurs. Also, bala' means trial, test and examination, and it applies to the good as well as the bad among people, and the lexicographers have stated this expressly. Al-Jawhari in al-Sihah says in this regard: And God Almighty' says: (... And that He may try the believers with a fair trial) (8:17) All that with which God, to Whom belongs Glory and Majesty, tries His servants is bala' and ibtila', whether it is one of the diseases and ailments, or adversities like poverty, humiliation and loss of worldly fortunes, or a thing of an opposite kind such as acquisition of power and glory, wealth, riches, high status, honour, and the like. However, whenever bala', baliyyah or ibtila' and the like are mentioned, it is the former kind of things that are meant.

Amthal means `nobler and better: Hence, the phrase means that one who is better and nobler after the prophets and theawsiya' has to face a severer kind of bala' than the others, and those who are better and nobler than others after them have to face a severer degree of trial. The degree of the severity of bala' is in accordance with the decree of merit. This kind of expression (i.e., like ) does not exist in Persian.

`Sukhf' means `feebleness of the rational faculty' or `foolishness', as mentioned by al-Sihah, and other lexicographical works.Qarar means `resting place,' as mentioned in the dictionaries: The apology means that in the same way as the earth is the resting place where rainwater comes to rest and abide, the believer is the resting place of sufferings and tribulations, which rush toward him, come to rest in him, and do not depart from him. God willing, we will mention that which is needed for the exposition of this noble tradition in the course of a few sections.

The Meaning of Trial:

Let it be known to you that the human souls exist at a level of potentiality from the beginning of their origin, their attachment to the bodies, and their descent to the realm of corporeal existence (mulk), in respect of all things, including knowledge, good and evil traits, and all kinds of perceptive and behavioural faculties. Gradually they move from potentiality to actuality with the grace of God, the Almighty and the Sublime. At first, weak impressions related to particulars (as opposed to universals) emerge in the soul, such as impressions of touch and other outward senses, moving from the lower to the higher. Following that, the inward perceptions also arise in it. However, all its faculties exist only at a level of potentiality, and they do not grow without proper stimulation. For instance, if the base kind of faculties come to dominate it, it becomes disposed to ugliness and evil, for its inner powers, such as shahwah (lust), ghadab (anger), etc., impel it towards sin, licentiousness, aggression and tyranny. After following them for some time it grows into a strange monster and a highly grotesque devil.

However, since the grace and mercy of God Almighty have been accompanying the Children of Adam since eternity, He bestowed upon them two educators and teachers which are like two wings with which they can fly from the depths of ignorance, defectiveness, ugliness and wretchedness to the heights of knowledge, perfection; beauty and felicity, and deliver themselves from the narrow valley of nature to reach the expansive and open horizons of the realms of the spirit (malakut). The first of these is the faculty of intellect and discernment, which is the inner teacher; and the second, the outward teacher, is represented by the prophets and the divine guides who shove(jostle) the path of felicity as distinct from the ways of wretchedness. None of these two can singly achieve this end without the other. For the human intellect by itself can neither identify the paths of felicity and wretchedness nor find the way to the hidden world and the realm of Hereafterly existence. Similarly, the guidance of the prophets cannot be effective without the exercise of the discerning faculties of the intellect.

Thus God, the Beneficent and the Sublime, gave them these two educators so that through them all the potentialities and hidden faculties and capacities, latent in the human soul, should be realized and actualized. God Almighty blessed them with these two great bounties in order to try and test human beings, for it is through these bounties that individual human beings are separated into the felicitous and the wretched, the obedient and the rebellious, the perfect and the defective. And so the Great Wali of God said:

And by Him Who sent him (the Prophet (S)) with the Truth, you shall indeed be mixed and intermingled and then separated in the sieve (of Divine trial and tribulation)? [2]

In the noble al-Kafi, in the chapter relating to Divine test and trial (bab al-tamhis wa al-'imtihan), Ibn Abi Ya'fur reports al-'Imam al-Sadiq (A) as having said:

It is inevitable that mankind should be purified, separated and sieved so that a great number is excluded by the sieve. [3]

Also al-Kulayni reports with his isnad from Mansur the following tradition:

Al-'Imam al-Sadiq (A) said: "O Mansur! Indeed this affair (i.e. the appearance of al-Mahdi (A)) will not come to you except after despair and not, by God, until you have been separated, and not, by God, until you have been purified, and not, by God, until the wretched attain wretchedness and the felicitous attain felicity." [4]

In another tradition, Abu al-Hasan (A) is reported to have said:

You shall be purified in the way gold is purified. [5]

In al-Kafi, bab al-'ibtila' wa al-'ikhtibar, the following tradition is reported with isnad from al-'Imam al-Sadiq (A):

He said: "There is no qabd (extension) and bast (contraction) except that in it there is for God a purpose, a decree, and a trial.[6]

In another tradition he is (A) reported to have said:

Indeed there is no qabd and bast in that which God has commanded or forbidden except that there is in it from God a trial and a decree? [7]

Qabd means imsak (withholding), man` (obstruction, prevention) and akhdh (seizure). Bast is nashr (unfolding, spreading, resurrection) and 'ata' (gift, bestowal). Hence every gift, expansion and obstruction, and every command, prohibition and duty is for the sake of trial.

Thus we came to know that the sending of prophets and the revelation of heavenly scriptures is all for the sake of the separation of humanity, of the separation of the wretched from the happy and the felicitous, of the obedient from the sinful. And the meaning of Divine testing and examination is this very separation of men from one another, not the knowledge of their separateness, because the knowledge of God Almighty is pre-eternal; it encompasses all things prior to their creation. The hukama' have elaborately discussed the reality of trial and ibtila' and it is beyond the scope of this exposition to mention their opinions.

In any case, the result of this trial and examination is the separation of the felicitous from the wretched. In the course of it the proof (hujjah) of God is established against the creatures. Thereafter, their life, felicity and salvation, or their destruction and damnation occurs after the establishment of the proof and testimony (bayyinah), and there remains no room for objection for anyone. One who attains felicity and eternal life does so through Divine succour and guidance, for God has bestowed all the means of attaining them. Also, one who earns wretchedness and falls(drops) into destruction, following Satan and his carnal self, his wretchedness and damnation are also earned by him out of his own free will, because he does so despite the availability of all the means of guidance and felicity. The conclusive proof of God is established against him and there is no room for any pretext. Hence the Qur'an says:

For it (the soul) is what it has earned and against it is what it has merited. (2:286)

The Prophets and Divine Trial:

It was mentioned earlier that every act of the human being, or rather every event that occurs in the realm of the body and is related to the soul's perceptions, leaves a kind of impression in the self. This is true of both good and evil deeds (whose impression upon the soul is mentioned in traditions as the appearance of a `white dot' or a `black dot' respectively) as well as of pleasures and pains. For instance, every experience of pleasure, derived either from food, drink, sex or something else, leaves an impression upon the soul and creates or increases the love and attachment for that kind of, pleasure in the soul. The more that one plunges into such pleasures and lusts, the greater becomes the self's love and attachment for this world and its reliance upon it. Thus the self is nourished with the love of the world and trained in accordance with it. The greater the sensual pleasures that it derives, the stronger become the roots of this love; and the more the available means of comfort and luxury, the sturdier becomes the tree of attachment to the world. And the. more the soul's attention is directed towards the world, the greater is proportionately its negligence toward God and the world of the Hereafter. Thus when this reliance upon the world becomes complete, the soul assumes a worldly and materialistic form, and the absence of attention towards God Almighty and the 'realm of His munificence and bounty also becomes total and complete. It is about such a soul that, the Qur'an says:

...He inclined towards the earth and followed his lust. (7:176)

The inevitable result of this inner immersion in the sea of pleasure and lust is the love of the world, and the love of the world creates antipathy towards that which is unlike it; attention towards the corporeal realm (mulk) brings negligence towards the spiritual world (malakut).

On the contrary, if one has a bad and painful experience of something, the impression of that experience(advendure) creates an antipathy in the soul. The stronger that impression is, the greater is that inward antipathy. For instance, if after moving to a city one has to face there numerous torments and ailments and undergo outer and inner adversities, he will inevitably abhor that place. The greater the number of adversities that he faces therein, the more will be his abhorrence for that place. If he knows a better place, he will migrate to it, and if he is unable to make the journey, his heart will migrate and go out to the city of his liking.

Thus if a man faces adversities, pain and torments in this world and is overtaken therein by waves of calamities(failures) and tribulations, he will inevitably come to resent it. His attachment to it will diminish and he will come to distrust it. If he believed in another world, a vast world free of every kind of pain and grief, he will inevitably want to migrate to it, and if he were unable to make the journey physically, he will send his heart out to it.

Moreover, it is evident that all the spiritual, moral and behavioural evils arise from the love of the world and negligence of God Almighty and the Hereafter. The love of the world is the source of all sins, in the same way as the love of God, the aspiration for the eternal abode of His bounty, the renunciation of the world and absence of reliance upon and trust in its adornments are the source of all spiritual cures and moral and behavioural reform.

After these preliminaries we come to know that whenever God Almighty has a greater consideration and love for someone, and when someone is the object of the mercy of His Sacred Essence to a greater extent, He restrains him from this world and its charms with the waves of calamity and tribulation, so that his soul turns away in disgust from the world and its adornments and turns his face and his heart, to the extent of his faith, toward the world of the Hereafter. If there weren't any other reason except this one for endurance of severe calamities it would have been sufficient, and a noble tradition also points towards this matter.

Al-'Imam al-Baqir (A) said "Verily, God Almighty treats the believer with tribulations in the same way as a man treats his family with gifts after an absence (upon a journey), and He restrains him from the world in the same way as the physician prescribes restraints for the sick man." [8]

The same thing is said in another hadith, and one should not imagine that God's love and the great care of His Sacred Essence for some people is - God be our refuge - extravagant and pointless. Rather, with every step that a faithful servant of God takes towards Him, God's grace turns towards him and the Almighty moves closer to him. The similitude of the degrees of faith and the availability of the means of Divine succour is that of a man moving with a lamp in darkness; with every step that he takes forward(onward), some more of the path in front of him is illuminated, which allows him to take another step forward. With every step that a man takes forward on the path of the Hereafter, that path appears clearer to him and God's grace upon him increases, preparing the means of attention towards the world of Divine proximity and of antipathy towards the world of separation and distance.

The pre-eternal grace of God Almighty upon the prophets and the awliya' is on account of His pre-eternal knowledge of their obedience during their terms of duty. For instance, if you have two children about whom you have prior knowledge in their childhood that one of them will bring you satisfaction while the other will grow up to cause you displeasure and resentment, your love for the obedient child would be greater from the very beginning.

God's Remembrance:

Another point relating to the severity of the tribulations of the elect among God's servants is that they are made to remember God on account of these adversities and tribulations and to pray and lament in front of His Sacred Essence. This makes them accustomed to remember Him and keep their thoughts busy with Him. It is natural for human beings to seek and learn upon what they think is a source of support in times of 'adversity. In times of   reassurance and welfare they forget and neglect it. And since the elect know no source of support other than God, their attention turns towards Him, they putting their sole reliance in His sacred station, and God Almighty, also, with the love that He has for them, prepares the means of that undivided attention and reliance. However, this, as well as the foregoing point, is not true of the prophets and the perfectawliya', for their station is too high in sanctity and their heart too firm in faith for them to develop attachment for worldly things on account of such things (as comfort and welfare) or for them to waver(hesitate) in their sole reliance upon God. This may be so because the prophets and the perfect awliya' have, through their inward light and spiritual experience, ascertained that God Almighty has no regard for this world and its adornments and that everything therein is base and lowly in the eyes of His Sacred Essence, and for this reason they have preferred poverty to wealth, tribulation to reassurance and ease, and adversity to that which is unlike it. Several noble traditions also support this view.

It is mentioned in the hadith that Gabriel brought the key of the earth's treasures to the Seal of the Prophets (S) and said to him (S) that should he (S) accept it, nothing would diminish from his (S) Hereafterly stations. But the Prophet (S) did not accept it for the sake of humility before God Almighty and chose poverty.

In the noble al-Kafi, al-Kulayni, with a chain of transmitters reaching up to al-'Imam al-Sadiq (A), reports the Imam (A) as having said:

Indeed God has so little regard for the unbeliever that should he ask of Him the world and that which is in it, He would give that to him . [9]

And this is due to the worthlessness of the world in the eyes of the Almighty. It is mentioned in the hadith that from the time that the Almighty created the corporeal world, He did not look at it with favour.

Another point related to the severity of the believer's tribulations that has been mentioned in traditions is that there are certain stations for the believers which they cannot attain without undergoing suffering, pain and affliction. It is possible that these afflictions are the corporeal forms of the degrees of renunciation of the world and devotion to God, and it is also possible that these sufferings have celestial forms (suwar-e malakuti) which cannot be realized without their occurrence in the corporeal world and afflictions therein. Al-'Imam al-Sadiq (A), in a noble tradition of al-Kafi with a continuous(uninterrupted) chain of transmission going up to him, states:

Verily, the servant has certain stations near God that cannot be realized without one of these two attributes: either the loss of his wealth or affliction in his body. [10]

In a tradition relating to the martyrdom of the Doyen of the Martyrs (al-'Imam al-Husayn) (A) it is mentioned that he (A) saw the Prophet (S) in a dream. The Prophet (S) said to that mazlum, "There is a station for you in the Paradise which you cannot attain except through martyrdom." The celestial form of martyrdom cannot be attained without its occurrence in the corporeal realm, as has been demonstrated in the higher sciences. It is mentioned in mutawatir traditions that for every action there is a corresponding form in the other world, and al Imam al-Sadiq (A) is reported to have said in al-Kafi that:

The greatness of man's reward goes with the greatness of suffering, and God did not love a people but that He subjected them to suffering. [11]

There are many traditions containing this theme.


The Prophets' Suffering:

The great muhaddith al-Majlisi, upon whom be God's mercy, says:

These traditions relating to the tribulations of the prophets, which have been narrated both through Sunni and Shi'i chains of transmission (turuq), clearly indicate that the prophets and the awliya' differ from others in respect of ailments and bodily afflictions. Rather, they have a greater right than others to suffer on account of their great reward which is responsible for the loftiness of their stations. And this suffering is not only not contrary to their station, it even causes the confirmation of their affair. Should they not undergo afflictions, despite the manifestation of miracles and extraordinary(remarkable) things at their hands, people might say such things about them as the Christians did about their prophet. This explanation is also mentioned in traditions.

The subtle researcher and the great, sacred philosopher al Tusi, may God fill his grave with aroma, states in al-Tajrid: "Of the things that the prophets should be free from is that which is regarded as abhorrent." And the `Allamah of the `ulama' of Islam (al-`Allamah al-Hilli), may God be pleased with him, adds in Sharh al-Tajrid that the prophets should be free from such abhorrent diseases as absence of urinary control, leprosy and leukoderma, for their abhorrent character is contrary to the aim of prophecy.

This writer says: The station of prophethood is subject to spiritual levels and excellences and has no relation to corporeality. Hence physical diseases and defects do no harm to the spiritual station of the prophets and affliction with abhorrent diseases diminishes nothing from the sublimity and greatness of their station, although they may not contribute in a way of confirmation to their (already established) excellences and degrees of sublimity. But that which these two researchers have said is also not devoid of validity. This is because the common people cannot make a distinction between the two stations (of spirituality and corporeality) and imagine that physical defectiveness is related or caused by spiritual defectiveness. Hence they consider some defects as being contrary to the high and great station of the prophets. Hence Divine grace dictates that the prophets who are messengers and bringers of Divine shari'ah should not be afflicted with such diseases as are considered disgusting and abominable by the people. Therefore, the absence of this kind of affliction is not because it is harmful to the station of prophethood, but for the sake of maximizing the effectiveness of the prophetic mission of communicating the Divine teachings (tabligh). Hence there is nothing wrong if some prophets without a shari'ah, great awliya' and the faithful are afflicted with this kind of afflictions, as in the case of Hadrat Ayyub (Job) and Habib al-Najjar. There are many traditions concerning the affliction of Hadrat Ayyub (A), of which are the following two:

'Ali ibn Ibrahim in a long tradition narrates on the authority of Abu Basir that al-'Imam al-Sadiq (A) said: "...Then his whole body, excepting his, intellect and his eyes, was subjected to the disease. Then Iblis blew upon it and it became a single wound extending from his head to feet. He (Job) remained for a period in that condition, praising and thanking God, until it became infested with worms. Whenever a worm fell off from his body, he would put it back, saying to it, "Return to your place, from where God created you." And it began to stench until his townsfolk expelled him from his town and his food came from the garbage thrown outside the town."

In al-Kafi, al-Kulayni reports from Abu Basir that he asked al-'Imam al-Sadiq (A) about the verse, "When thou recitest the Qur'an, seek refuge in God. from the accursed Satan, he has no authority over those who believe and trust in their Lord; (his authority is over those who take him for their guardian and ascribe associates to God) (16:98-100)" The Imam said, "O Abu Muhammad, by God, He gives authority to him (Satan) over the believer's body but not over his faith (din). He gave him (Satan) authority over Ayyub and Satan disfigured him physically, but He did not give authority to him over his faith. And He does give him authority over the faithful's bodies but not over their faith."

Najiyah says, "I said to Abu Ja'far (A) that al-Mughirah says that a believer is never afflicted with leprosy, leukoderma and such other ailments (is that true?) The Imam replied, `Didn't he know that the Sahib Ya Sin (Habib al-Najjar, the man mentioned in Surat Ya Sin) was mutilated (mukanna')?' He (A) closed his fingers and said, `It is as if I see him go to his people in his mutilated state (takannu') to warn them and come back the next day, when they killed him.' Then he added, `Verily, the believer suffers all kinds of afflictions and dies in all manners of dying except suicide.' " [12]

`Sahib Ya Sin is Habib al-Najjar and takannu` (the word is with nun in most of the manuscripts), according to al-Majlisi, means shortening and mutilation. He adds that it was probably leprosy which had resulted in the shortening of his fingers. However, this, as well as many other ahadith, indicate that the believers and prophets are sometimes afflicted with abominable diseases on account of some higher expediency, although there are some other traditions which negate the disfigurement of Hadrat Ayyub's body and its petrifaction, and not much benefit lies in discussing them further with a view to affecting a reconciliation. On the whole, these kind of diseases do no harm to the condition of believers and do not diminish anything from the station of the prophets (A) rather, they lead to the elevation of their station, and God Almighty knows best the truth.

The World is Not a Place of Reward or Punishment:

Let it be known to you that this world, due to its defective, feeble and weak nature, is neither the abode of the reward of God Almighty nor the place of His chastisement and punishment. This is so because the abode of Divine munificence is a realm whose bounties are pure, unadulterated with torment, and its comforts are not mixed with pain and grief. Such bounties are not possible in this world, which is an abode where contradictories throng together and each of whose bounties is mixed(mixture) with numerous kinds of pains, hardships and torments. Rather, as the philosophers have said, pleasure in this world lies in avoiding pain. It may be said that even its pleasures cause pain and every one of its pleasures is followed by pain and hardship. Rather, the very material of this world lacks the capacity to accept absolute goodness and unadulterated bounty. In the same way, its pains and hardships, torments and punishments are also mixed; each of its pains and hardships carries within itself some goodness and bounty, and none of its afflictions and adversities is unmixed. The very material of this world lacks the capacity to accept pure, absolute punishment, whereas the abode of Divine chastisement is a place where punishment is pure and absolute; its pains and afflictions are not like those of this world, which while they afflict one member of the body are absent from the other members. While the healthy members are in reassurance and ease, the afflicted member suffers pain and agony. The noble tradition partly refers to what we have stated here when it says:

That is, the reason that the believer is afflicted in this world with tribulation is that God Almighty has made it neither the place of His reward for the believer nor the place of chastisement for the infidel. This world is the abode of duty and the farm of the Hereafter. It is a place of trade and earning whereas the Hearafter is the abode of reward and punishment, of bounty and damnation.

Those who expect that God Almighty would immediately get hold of one who commits some sin or indecency in this world or perpetrates some injustice or aggression against someone, and cut his hand off and expunge him from the realm of existence, are unaware that their expectation is contrary to this world's order and opposed to God's wont and sunnah. Here is the place of trial and the zone of the separation of the wretched from the felicitous and the sinful from the obedient. Here is the realm of the manifestation of deeds, not the abode of the emergence of the results of personal deeds and qualities. If occasionally God Almighty does take hold of an oppressor, it may be said that it is due to the Almighty's mercy for that oppressor (for it stops him from sinning further). For, when God Almighty leaves the sinful and the tyrants to themselves, His wrath takes the form of istidraj, the gradual seizing.

Hence God Almighty declares.

(And those who cry lies to Our signs), We will draw them on little by little whence they know not; and I respite them - assuredly My guile is firm. (7:182-183)

And He also says:

And let not the unbelievers suppose that the respite We grant them is better for them; We grant them respite only that they may increase in sin; and there awaits them a humiliating chastisement.(3:178)

In Majma` al-bayan, this tradition is cited from al-Imam al-Sadiq (A):

The Imam (A) said: "When a person commits a sin and the bounty (that he had received) is renewed for him, he leaves off asking for forgiveness (istighfar), and this is al-'istidraj (as mentioned in verse 7 :182)."

At the end of the noble tradition, the Imam (A) says:

...And one whose faith is feeble and his intellect is weak, his tribulation is also slight.

This shows that tribulations are both bodily and spiritual, for the persons of weak intellects and feeble sensibility are secure from spiritual tribulations and intellectual suffering in proportion to their intellectual weakness and the feebleness of their sensibility. On the contrary, those with more complete intellects and acuter sensibility have to undergo spiritual tribulations more intensely in proportion to the perfectness and acuteness of their intellect and sensibility. Perhaps it was for this reason that the Holy Messenger (S) said:

No prophet was tormented to the extent that I was.

This complaint of the Prophet (S) refers to this point, for whoever perceives the greatness and glory of the Lord to a greater extent and knows the sacred station of God Almighty more than others, he suffers more and is tormented to a greater extent by the sins of the creatures and their offences against the Lord's sanctity. Also, one who has a greater love and compassion for the creatures of God is tormented to a greater extent by their crooked and wretched condition and ways. And, of course, the Seal of the Prophets (S) was more perfect in all these stations and higher than all of the prophets and the awliya' in respect of his degree of excellence and perfection. Hence his torment and suffering was greater than that of any one of them. There is also another explanation of the Holy Messenger's statement, whose mention is not appropriate for this place. And God knows best and to Him belongs all the praise.

[1]. Al-Kulayni, Usul al-Kafi, vol. II, p.259, hadith No.29.

[2]. Nahj al-balaghah, Khutbah No.16.

[3]. Usul al-Kafi, vol II, p.370, hadith No.2.

[4]. Ibid., hadith No.3.

[5]. Ibid., hadith No.4:

[6]. Ibid., vol. I, p.152.

[7]. Ibid.

[8]. Ibid., vol. II, p.255, hadith No.17.






...Muhammad ibn Ya'qub al-Kulayni - may God be pleased with him - from a group of his teachers, from Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Khalid, from his father, from 'Ali ibn al-Nu'man, from 'Abd Allah ibn Muskan, from Abu Basir, who says: "I heard Abu 'Abd Allah (A) say, 'A free human being is free in all circumstances. Should a misfortune befall him he bears it with patience (sabr). If calamities(ruins) strike him, they don't shatter him. If taken captive and subdued; he turns hardship into ease, as was the case of Joseph, the truthful and trustworthy (may God's benedictions be upon him). His freedom saved him from harm, although he was enslaved, subdued, and imprisoned. The darkness of the pit, the dread and whatever befell him did him no harm, until God favoured him and made the insolent tyrant, who had been his master, his slave. Then God made him His apostle and through him was merciful to a people. In this way patience(stamina) is followed by good. So be patient and reconcile yourself to patience in order to be rewarded: " [1]


Naibah' is the singular of nawa'ib, which means `events' and `accidents' and according to al-Sihah means misfortune (musibah). Dakka is synonymous with daqqa, which means `to is conjoined to pound', crush', 'grind', and 'to knock'. Al-Sihah says: . It also remarks, . This world also gives the sense of swarming, crowding and pressing together (ijtima' and izdiham), as mentioned in al-Nihayah. In a hadith, Amir al-Muminin - may peace be upon him - is reported to have said: means . According to al-Nihayah, dakka also means casara (to break). In the present noble tradition, the former meaning is more appropriate in view of the phrase following it, although the second meaning also fits here. The preposition in signifieswusliyyah and is conjoined to it. Al Majlisi - may God's mercy be upon him - states that it is in some manuscripts, and is accordingly conjoined to , thus making it the result of sabr. The phrase is the passive participle and is the active subject of the verbal sentence. In Mir'at al Uqul it is , and appears as in Wasa'il al-Shi'ah. It seems that it is a calligraphers error in the manuscript of the Mir'at , although its meaning is not totally invalid. However, that which is in Wasa'il is more in agreement with the totality and content of the noble tradition. is conjoined to , implying that Joseph was not harmed by that which he suffered at his brothers hands, nor by grief and adversity. As to the phrase, , it appears that it involves the ellipsis of(until) and relates to in two possible yet conflicting ways. Al-Majlisi - may God be merciful to him - has mentioned several possible meanings of it whose description is not devoid of prolixity. The meaning of the master of Joseph (A) becoming his slave is that he became subservient and obedient to him (A).

Desire, the Source of All Bondage:

Let it be known to you that in a man subjugated to the domination of lust and carnal desire, his servitude, servility and indignity increase in proportion to the intensity of their domination; for servitude means complete submission and obedience. The man obedient to lusts and subjugated to the carnal self is their obedient slave. He submissively obeys whatever they command and is a humble and obedient servant and slave in front of them. This obedience reaches a limit when he prefers obedience to them to obedience to the Creator of the heavens and the earth. He prefers their service to the service of the real King of kind. In that state, honour, dignity and freedom depart from his heart on which then settle the dusts of indignity, destitution and servitude. He becomes humble before worldly people and his heart bows down in prostration before them and before the possessors of worldly power and glory. In order to achieve the objects of his carnal desires and to satisfy the craving of his belly and underneath, he submits to all kinds of disgrace and indignities. As long as he remains in the bondage of lust and the carnal self, he does not abstain from violating the demands of honour, freedom and chivalry. He readily submits to the obedience of anyone, and is willing to accept favour from any insignificant person, as soon as he sees the probability of attaining his objective through his means, even if that person is the meanest and basest of all creation and even if the probability involved is something imaginary. And it is said that mere fancy is the proof of the greedy.

The servants of lust and mundane ambition have put on the shackles of slavery to carnal desire. They are ready to be slaves of anyone whom they know or imagine to be of worldly benefit to them. If verbally they declare themselves to be chaste and honourable, such lip service to honour is mere deception, for their words and deeds contradict such a declaration. This servility and captivity(imprisonment) is a thing which always causes man to undergo suffering, pain, dishonour and distress. Hence a man with a sense of honour and dignity should seriously strive to cleanse himself of this abomination by all means and deliver himself from this bondage. Such purification and emancipation can only be attained through a fundamental treatment, which takes place through curative knowledge and action.

As to curative action, it consists of religious exercises and opposition to the carnal self. Over a period of time these free the soul from excessive love of the world and the pursuit of carnal lust and desire, until it becomes accustomed to virtues and moral excellences. As to curative knowledge, it lies in making oneself understand and causing this to enter into his heart that other creatures are as weak, needy, dependent and impoverished as himself. He should tell his heart, "Since all other creatures are, like me, dependent, in matters big and small, on Him Who is absolutely Able and Powerful, they are not capable of fulfilling anyone's needs. They are too insignificant to deserve the soul's attention or the heart's humbleness. The same Powerful Being that has bestowed honour, dignity and riches upon them is capable of bestowing these on anybody. In fact, it is a matter of shame that man should submit so much to dishonour and indignity for the sake of his belly and his lusts as to accept the favour of an insignificant, impoverished, powerless and lowly creature devoid of wisdom and vision. If at all you should seek anyone's favour, then seek the favour of the Absolutely Self-Sufficient, the Creator of the heavens and the earth, for if you pay attention to His sacred Essence and make your heart humble in His presence, that will liberate you from both the worlds and emancipate you from the servitude of creatures, as it has been said:[3]

That is, the inner, invaluable essence of servitude to God is freedom and lordship. Thus servitude to God, attention to the unique focus of all being, and subjugation of all powers and dominations to the Sovereignty of God create such a state in the devotee's heart that he comes to wield power and kingdom over all the worlds. His spirit rises to such heights of sublimity that he does not pay obeisance to anyone except the Sacred Divine Essence, and even if, accidentally, he should be under the domination and power of anyone, that does not shake(vibrate) his heart, which preserves its independence and freedom, as in the case of Joseph (A) and Luqman (A) whose apparent subservience and servitude did not harm their free and freedom-seeking character. And there may be many a powerful despot and king, who having no trace of inner freedom, dignity and honour in their character, are base servants and obedient slaves of lust and carnal desire and who obsequiously ingratiate themselves to creatures.

Al-'Imam `Ali ibn al-Husayn (A) is reported to have said in the course of a discourse:


I am ashamed to ask anything of worldly things from their Creator, so how can I seek them from creatures like myself? [4]

My dear, if you are not ashamed of seeking the world, at least don't ask for it of weak creatures like yourself. Do understand that creatures have no power to do anyone any worldly good. I admit that you might have succeeded in attracting someone's attention through a thousand indignity and cajolery, but his will has no effect in the kingdom of God and no one has any role in the dominion of the King of kings. Hence do not degrade yourself so much by flattering insignificant creatures for the sake of a passing world and for passing and paltry desires. Don't forget your Lord and preserve your freedom. Remove the shackles of servitude and captivity(custody) and never forget Him under any circumstance, for, as stated in the noble tradition:

The freeman is free in all circumstances.

Let it be known to you that contentment comes from the heart and the absence of neediness is a spiritual state, unrelated to external matters that lie outside the human self. I have myself seen certain persons amongst rich and wealthy classes who say thins which no honourable poor man would say and whose statements are shameful. The hearts of those wretches were covered by the dusts of dishonour and destitution. The Jews, who, in proportion to their number, are the richest and wealthiest of all people on the earth, have faces that manifest debasement, poverty, indigence, beggarliness, hunger and wretchedness. They spend all their lives in hardship, indignity, destitution and squalor. This is nothing but their inner poverty and spiritual abasement.

I have seen amongst pious and darvish-like persons some individuals whose hearts are so magnanimously free of want and need that they look at the entire world with indifference and consider none except the Sacred Essence of God Almighty as deserving of making a request. You too study carefully the conditions of worldly and ambitious people and you will find that their lack of self-respect and their degradation in flattering others is greater than that of others and their obsequiousness in front of people is greater. Those (pseudo mystic masters) who are in pursuit of disciples and claim to guide others, suffer indignities and put up with degrading flattery and ingratiation for some day's satisfaction of their carnal lusts. The heart of the seeker of disciples and adherents is humbler in front of the disciple than that of the latter in front of him. This is because of the difference in the character of their respect for one another. While the disciple's humbleness and affection is of a spiritual and godly character, the master's affection has a mundane and satanic character:

These that have been mentioned are the worldly forms of these evils and indignities. But were the curtains to rise, the real spiritual forms of these servitudes, bondages and chains of carnal lusts and desires will reveal themselves. Perhaps the seventy-cubit chain, of which God Almighty has informed us, a chain with which we shall be shackled and bound in that world, is the Hereafterly form of this very servitude and subjugation to the domination of Passion and Anger. And God Almighty declares:

And they shall find all they wrought present .... (18:49)

And He also says:

(God charges no soul save to its capacity;) standing to its account is what it has earned, and against its account what it has merited.(2:286)

That is, that which we obtain in the other world is a form of our own deeds.

Therefore, break away the lengthy chains of lust and desire. Remove the locks that bar the heart's entrance and set yourself free from bondage. Live like a free human being in this world so that you may be free in the other world; otherwise, you will encounter there the intolerable Hereafterly form of this bondage. The hearts of the saints of God, despite their absolute and total freedom from bondage, were so much dreadful of the final outcome and so much full of lamentations that it amazes all minds. I am aware that the matters mentioned in these pages are of a common and repetitive(monotonous) character. However, there is nothing wrong(amiss) in such repetition, for constant reminding of the self and repetition of the truth is a desirable thing. This is why repetition has been considered desirable in prayers, supplications, worship and rituals. The main purpose is to accustom the self by means of repetitive(dull) exercises.

My dear, don't be deluded; understand that as long as man remains in the bondage of the carnal self and its desires and as long as the lengthy chains of Passion and Anger are around his neck, he cannot attain to any of the spiritual stations; the inward authority of the soul and the domination of its higher will shall not manifest itself. Also, the station of spiritual independence and dignity, which is one of the highest of spiritual stations, shall not be realized. Rather, this bondage and slavery restrains man from revolting against the authority of the carnal self. And when the authority of the carnal self and Satan becomes consolidated in the inward realm and all the faculties of the self become their obedient slaves, becoming submissive(meek) and humble in front of them, they do not remain gorged with mere sins. Little by little, they draw man from minor to major sins and from there to weakening of beliefs, from there to darkening of the intellect, from there to the constricted path of denial and contestation (of the truth), and from there to the hostility and enmity of the prophets and the awliya'. Throughout these stages, the self, which is their slave and under their domination, cannot disobey them. At last this obedience and captivity becomes so severe that it may take man to the most dangerous point.

Hence, the intelligent man with sympathy for himself must try by all means to liberate himself from this slavery, and as long as there is opportunity and his powers are intact and his life, health and youth are there and his faculties have not been totally subjugated (by Satan and the carnal self), he must rise to undertake this task. For some time he must exercise vigilance over himself, study his own inner states, reflect about the conditions of those who have passed away and faced an evil fate(destiny), and make his heart understand the passing character of worldly life. He must awaken his heart and inform it of the truth narrated from the Holy Prophet (S) who said:

The world is the farm of the Hereafter. [5]

That is, if we do not sow the seeds of righteous deeds in the few days of our life here, the opportunity will be lost for ever. When we reach the threshold of the other world and death seizes us, deeds come to an end., hopes are extinguished. If, God forbid, we continue to remain in the slavery of lusts and the captivity( of various carnal desires until the Angel of Death arrives, it is possible that Satan may achieve his ultimate objective of wresting away our faith. He may treat us in such a fashion and metamorphose our hearts to such an extent that we may depart from the world as enemies of God and His prophets and awliya'. If that happens, God knows what calamities, what darkness and what terrors await us.

So, O base self! O negligent heart! Awake from thy sleep and arise to confront this enemy who for years has subdued you and made a captive of you, who drags you whenever he wants and commands you to perform every ugly and destructive deed! Arise and bust these bonds! Sever these chains! Seek thy freedom and throw away(get rid off) this disgrace and indignity. Wear the girdle of servitude to God, the Almighty and the Glorious, that you may be free from every kind of servitude and slavery, that you may attain to the absolute kingdom of God in both the worlds.

My dear, although this world - being the believer's prison - is not the abode of Divine award and the place of the manifestation of God's kingdom, but should you come out(loom) from the captivity(detention) of the carnal self and submit to the servitude of God, make your heart a true monotheist and clear the dusts of plurality from the mirror of the spirit, and turn your heart's attention to the focal point of Absolute Perfection, you will witness its effects in this world itself and your heart will attain such an expanse that it will become the realm of the manifestation of God's total sovereignty, thus becoming greater than all the worlds. Hence He has said:

My earth and My heaven do not contain Me, but I am contained in the heart of my faithful slave. [6]

Such richness and contentment will then pervade your heart that all the outward and inward realms will become worthless in your eyes and your will, will become so mighty that it shall not attach itself to the corporeal and the celestial realms; rather it will not even consider them worthy of itself.

You have watched the bird's flight;

But should you remove the shackles of lust,

You will witness the flight of man.


Sabr, the Outcome of Freedom from Lust:

One of the great results and precious fruits of this freedom and emancipation from servitude to the carnal self is patience in calamities and misfortunes. Now it remains for us to explain briefly the meaning of sabr, the kinds of its fruits and its relation to freedom.

As defined by the researcher of the righteous sect, the explorer of the subtleties of the confirmed creed, the perfect in knowledge and deed, Nasir al-Din al-Tusi - may God sanctify his holy spirit(phantom) - sabr means restraining the self from agitation when confronted with undesirables. And the famous, confirmed `arif (Khwajah `Abd Allah al-'Ansari), says in Manazil al-sa'irin:

Sabr means restraining the self from complaint about hidden anguish.

And let it be known to you that sabr has been considered as one of the stations of those in the middle group (mutawassitun), for as long as the self regards misfortunes and calamities as detestable and feels inward anguish on their account, its marifah is deficient. Thus the station of rida in regard to Divine destiny(kismet) and satisfaction at the turning up of misfortunes represents a higher station, although we consider this also to be one of the stations pertaining to the mutawassitun. So also sabr in regard to abstinence from sins and in regard to fulfilment of duties (ta'at) is also related to deficient knowledge of the secrets of ibadat and the Hereafterly forms of sin and obedience. For if one were to understand the reality ofibadah and to believe in the purgatorial forms of worships and sins, sabr in regard to these has no meaning for him. Rather, the contrary becomes true here, and if a joy or comfort causes him to neglect worship or commit a sin, they (such joys and comforts) become detestable for him and his inward anguish becomes greater than that of those who bear misfortunes and calamities patiently.

The righteous servant and the knower of the duties of servitude, the possessor of noble stations and miraculous characteristics, 'Ali ibn 'Tawus - may God sanctify his spirit - is narrated to celebrate the first day of his becoming mukallaf. He gave feasts and festivated in commemoration of that day, for God, the Blessed and the Supreme, had blessed him with the permission to perform duties on that day. Can anyone say that that sublime spirit exercised sabr in regard to worship and duties considering them as inwardly unwelcome? What a difference between us and those obedient servants of God! We think that God Almighty has burdened us with duties; we consider them troublesome and view them as a botheration. If one of us attempts to offer his prayer at the outset of its time, he says that it is better to be done with it and the sooner one relieves oneself the better! All our misfortunes are due to ignorance and foolishness and on account of the lack or absence of faith.

In any case, sabr is concealed anguish. And that which has been said about the great prophets and the Righteous Imams - who have been characterized with sabr - that could mean forbearance in regard to physical sufferings, which are painful as a matter of human nature; or it could mean sabr in regard to separation from the Beloved, which is one of the great stations of the lovers --and to this we shall return later. Otherwise,sabr in regard to obedience or misfortune or sin is not only inapplicable in regard to them but also in regard to their followers (shi'ah).

The famous `arif `Abd al-Razzaq al-Kashani, in Sharh Manazil al sa'irin, says:

The intent of the Shaykh, when he says that sabr means abstinence from complaint, is complaining to creatures. Otherwise, complaining to God Almighty and beseeching Him for relief is not opposed to sabr. Hadrat Ayyub complained to God and said:

Behold, Satan has visited me with weariness and chastisement. (38:41)

And God yet praises him, saying:

Surely We found him. a steadfast man. How excellent a servant he was! He was penitent. (38:44)

And Hadrat Ya'qub (Jacob) said:

I make complaint of my anguish and my sorrow unto God, (12:86)

although he was one of the forebearing. Rather, to quit complaining to God is a manifestation of the hardening (of the heart) and a sign of grudgefulness.

The accounts of the lives of the great prophets and the Infallible Imams - upon all of whom be God's benedictions- reveal that although their stations were over and above the stations of sabr, rida and taslim (surrender), they never stopped supplicating lamenting and confessing their impotence before the Worshipped One. They expressed their needs to God Almighty and this is not contrary to their spiritual stations. Rather, remembering God, cherishing the intimacy of solitude with the Beloved, and expression of servitude and humility in front of His absolute perfection and greatness is the ultimate end of the hopes of the mystics (`arifun) and the final destination of the journey of the wayfarers (salikun).

The Results of Sabr:

You should know that sabr produces many results, among which is the soul's training and discipline. If a human being bears patiently with misfortunes and calamities for some time, if he seriously endures the hardships entailed by worship and rites and the bitterness arising from the renunciation of carnal pleasures, and if he does all this for the sake of obedience to his Lord and Provider, his soul gradually becomes accustomed to these things. Then it becomes disciplined(tamed) and docile and relinquishes its earlier recalcitrance. To bear with hardships and difficulties becomes an easy thing for it. There develops within it an enduring luminous faculty through which he can rise over the station of sabr to reach other higher spiritual stations. Sabr in regard to sins is the source of the self's taqwa. Sabr in regard to obedience (ta'at) is the source of intimacy with God. And sabr in misfortunes is the source of rids or contentment with Divine destiny(kismet) and decrees. These are the stations of the faithful (ahl al- iman) or rather those of the gnostics (ahl al-`irfan). In the noble traditions of the Infallible Ahl al-Bayt we find forceful emphasis onsabr. The following is a tradition of al-'Imam al-Sadiq (A) from the noble al-Kafi, in which the Imam says:

Verily, sabr is to faith what the head is to the body. The body perishes without the head, and so also when sabr goes faith also disappears? [7]

In another tradition whose isnad reaches al-'Imam al-Sajjad (A), he is reported to have stated:

Verily, sabr is to faith what the head is to the body: one who has no sabr has no faith .[8]

There are many traditions relating to this topic and we will mention some of them later in relevance with the context.

Sabr is the key to the gates of felicity and the main means of deliverance from mortal perils. Sabr makes man bear calamities with ease and face difficulties with composure. It strengthens the will and the power of resolution. It brings independence to the dominion of the soul. Anguish and worry(anxiety) on the other hand, aside from their shameful character, are symptoms of the soul's weakness. They deprive one's being of its stability, weaken the determination, and enfeeble the intellect. The informed researcher Khwajah Naqir al-Din al-Tusi - may God sanctify his soul - states:

Sabr restrains the inner being from anguish, the tongue from complaint and the bodily members from untoward movements.

On the contrary, the inward being of the impatient person is full of anxiety and alarm. His heart is full of tremors and shaky, and this. is itself the greatest calamity that can befall a human being and deprive him of peace. But sabr diminishes misfortune and makes the heart overcome hardship and assists the will to overpower calamities. In the same way, the impatient person complains of his troubles to everyone, and this, aside from causing disrepute among people who look down upon him as a weakling of instable character, makes him lose his standing in the court of the Holy Lord and in front of His angels. What faith in God and what surrender to the Holy Lord has the servant who cannot bear an adversity that visits him from his Beloved, the Absolute, after having received thousands upon thousands of His bounties and while being immersed in the sea of His favour, and opens his mouth in front of people to complain as soon as an adversity strikes him? So it is right if it is said that one who has nosabr has no faith.

If you have faith in your Lord and believe all the affairs to lie in His mighty hands, if you believe none else to have any say in the matters, of course you will not complain of the hardships of life and the adversities that strike you before God Almighty. Rather you will accept them willingly and thank Him gratefully for His bounties. Hence that inner agitation, those plaintive utterances, those unbecoming bodily movements - all these bear testimony to our lack of faith. As long as we find ourselves amid favours, we are thankful, with a gratefulness that is formal and lacking inner substance, a thankfulness that is offered in greed of further favours. However, when a tragedy occurs or a pain or disease strikes us, we take our complaints against the Blessed and the Almighty Lord in front of the creatures. With a plaintive tongue and a tone brimming with taunts and cynicism, we complain about Him to all and sundry. Gradually those complaints, anxieties and misgivings sow the seeds of hostility towards God and His decrees inside the self. Slowly they sprout and grow, making the once passing feeling into an enduring trait. Thereupon, God forbid, the form of one's inward being assumes the form of enmity towards God and His ordainments. When that happens, things go out of one's control and one is no longer able to check his thoughts and feelings. His inward and outward being becomes coloured with the hostility towards God Almighty, and he departs from this world to face eternal wretchedness and gloom, with a spirit infused with the enmity and hatred of the Lord of Bounties. I seek refuge in God from the evil of a disastrous end and from a provisional faith (iman mustawda`). Hence it has been truly said that when sabrgoes faith also departs.

And so, my dear, the matter is of great importance and the road is full of perils. Muster all the strength at your command and be patient and forbearing throughout the ups and downs of life. With manly courage stand against adversities and calamities. Make your self understand that agitation and anguish, aside from involving a great shame by themselves, are futile in confrontation with sufferings and calamities. No purpose is served by complaining about the irresistible decrees and inevitable ordainments of God in front of weak and powerless creatures, as pointed out by the following noble tradition from al-Kafi:

Muhammad ibn Ya'qub al-Kulayni reports with his chain of transmitters from Sama'ah ibn Mihran from al-'Imam al-Kazim (A) that the Imam said to him, "What stopped you from going for hajj?" Sama'ah says that he replied, "May I be your ransom, a big debt has fallen upon me and I have lost my property. However, the debt that lies upon me weighed more heavily upon me than the loss of property. Had it not been for one of our companions, I could not have come out(loomed) of it." The Imam said, "If you are patient, you will be the object of envy, and if you don't God will enforce His decrees regardless of your pleasure or displeasure." [9]

Thus we know that anxiety(worry) and anguish are not only futile, they are capable of inflicting terrible(awful) injuries and are followed by fatal consequences destructive to faith. On the other hand, sabr, forbearance and restraint bring fair, plentiful rewards and have sublime and beautiful forms in the world of Barzakh. This is stated at the end of the noble tradition expounded by us:


Thus the ultimate result of qabr is good in this world - as known from the example of Hadrat Yusuf (A) - and it is the cause of reward in the Hereafter. In another noble tradition of al-Kafi, whose sanad goes up to Abu Hamzah al-Thumali - may God's mercy be upon him -al-'Imam al-Sadiq (A) is reported to have said:

Abu Hamzah says: "Abu `Abd Allah said: `Whoever of the believers that bears patiently with a tribulation that befalls him, has the reward of a thousand martyrs.' " [10]

There are many traditions relating to this subject and we will mention some of them in the following section. However, as to that which was said above that sabr has a beautiful purgatorial form, this is mentioned - apart from the demonstrative proofs confirming it - in the following tradition of the noble al-Kafi from al-'Imam al-Sadiq (A):

The Imam (A) said: "When the believer enters his grave, salat is on his right hand, zakat on his left, virtue faces him, with sabr taking him under its shelter. When the two angels encharged with questioning enter upon him, sabr says to salat, zakat and virtue, `Take care of your companion, and if you fail to assist him I will take care of him myself.' " [11]

The Degrees and Levels of Sabr:

Let it be known to you that, as indicated by the noble traditions, there are various degrees and levels of sabr, and its reward and merit vary in accordance with its degree and level. This is revealed by the following tradition of the noble al-Kafi narrated by the Master of the God-fearing, Amir al-Mu'minin 'Ali (A) from the Holy Prophet (S):

'Ali (A) said, "The Messenger of Allah said, 'Sabr Is of three kinds: sabr at the time of affliction, sabr in regard to obedience, and sabr In regard to disobedience. One who bears patiently with affliction, resisting it with a fair consolation, God writes for him three hundred degrees (of sublimity), the elevation of one degree over another being like the distance between earth and heavens. And one who is patient in regard to obedience, God writes for him six hundred degrees (of sublimity), the elevation of one degree over another being like the distance between the earth's depths and the Throne (al-'arsh). And one who is patient in regard to disobedience, God writes for him nine hundred degrees (of sublimity), the elevation of one degree over another being like the distance between the earth's depths and the furthest frontiers of the Throne: " [12]

This noble tradition reveals that sabr in regard to disobedience is superior to the other levels of sabr, for it not only possesses greater number of degrees but also the range between its degrees is greater than those of the other kinds. It also shows that the extent of Paradise is much greater than what can come into our imagination, for our vision is limited and cramped. That which has been said as a description of Paradise that:

...And a Garden the breadth whereof is as the breadth of heaven and earth .... (57:21)

perhaps refers to the Paradise of deeds. That which has been referred to here in this noble tradition is the Paradise of character and the criterion in the Paradise of character is the strength and perfection of will. Hence its extent should not be cramped within any limits. Some have stated that that which has been meant here is height. That is, it is possibly equal in breadth (to the Paradise of deeds) and different in height. But this appears to be remote, for evidently `breadth' here refers to extent not to breadth as opposed to length, for `breadth' in reference to heaven and earth also has no meaning when taken in the ordinary sense of something opposed to length, although they do have `breadth' in the sense of a `second dimension' in the terminology of natural philosophers. The Book of God, however, does not speak in accordance with any specific terminology.

The noble al-Kafi records the following tradition of the Prophet (S) with a chain of narration reaching al-'Imam al-Sadiq (A):

The Imam (A) said: "The Messenger of Allah (S) said, `A time will come upon the people wherein political authority will not be attainable without bloodshed and tyranny, nor wealth without usurpation and stinginess, nor affection without discarding religion and pursuing lust and desire. Whoever lives in such times and bears patiently with poverty despite possessing the capacity to become rich (illegitimately), and bears up with hostility despite being capable of acquiring favour and affection, and bears with humiliation despite possessing the capacity to honour, God will give him the reward of fifty truthful ones, of those who confirmed me.' " [13]

Something close to this has been said in another tradition from Amir al Mu'minin (A) and there are many traditions relating to this theme. The few which have been quoted here are sufficient for our purpose.

The `Urafa's Degrees of Sabr:

Let it be known to you that that which has been said hitherto relates to the condition of ordinary people and the mutawassitun. We stated at the beginning of this exposition that sabr has been considered as something pertaining to the stations of the mutawassitun. But Sabr hays other levels which belong to the wayfarers of the path of perfection and the awliya'. One of such levels of sabr is sabr fi Allah (Sabr in God), and it means steadfastness (thabat) in spiritual endeavour (mujahadah) and abstinence from objects of love and attraction. Rather it means the renunciation of selfhood in the path of the Beloved. This stage belongs to the wayfarers (ahl al-suluk). Another level is that of sabr ma`a Allah (sabr with God). It belongs to those blessed with the Presence and the Beatific vision, which comes at the time of exit from the garment of manhood, and freedom from the curtains of deeds and attributes, and irradiation upon the heart of the lights of the Names and Attributes, and entry into the state of intimacy and awe and safeguarding of the self against changing from colour to colour and absence from the station of intimacy and vision.

Another level is that of sabr `an Allah (sabr from God) which pertains to the stations of lovers of God and piners for Him, of those blessed with epiphany (ahl al-shuhud wa al-`ayan) at the time of returning to their own world, the world of plurality and sobriety (after intoxication with God). This is the hardest and the most difficult of the stations, and to it has referred the Master of the Wayfarers, the Commander of the Faithful, and the Leader of the Perfect (i.e. 'Ali ibn Abi Talib (A) in the noble Du`a' Kumayl:

O my God, my Master and my Lord! Even if I were able to endure Thy chastisement, how shall I bear Thy separation?!

The following is narrated about al-Shibli:

It is narrated that a youth from among the Lovers questioned al-Shibli about sabr. "Which kind of sabr is the hardest?" He asked. "The sabr for God," replied al-Shibli. "No," said the youth. "The sabr by God," answered al-Shibli. "No," said the youth. "The sabr over God," said al-Shibli. "No,"said the youth again. "The sabr in God," said al-Shibli. "No," came the answer. "The sabr with God?" said al Shibii, and the youth said "No," again. "Woe to you, which one is it?" said al-Shibli, exasperated. "The sabr from God," came the answer. Al-Shibli gave a cry and swooned. [14]

Another level is that of sabr bi Allah, which is for those blessed with stability and steadfastness, which is attained after the state of sobriety and endurance with God (baqa' bi Allah) and after moulding oneself in accordance with Divine norms (takhalluq bi akhlaq Allah). It is something attained by none except the perfect, and since we have nothing to partake of those stations, to elaborate further about these matters is not appropriate for these pages.

And Praise is God's at the beginning and the end, and may God's benedictions be upon Muhammad and, his immaculate Progeny.

[1]. Al-Kulayni, Usul al-Kafi, ii, Kitab al- iman wa al-kufr, bab al-sabr, 128. hadith No. 6.

[2]. Ibn al-'Athir, al-Nihayah, ii, 128.

[3]. Misbah al-Shariah, bab 100.

[4]. Ilal al-shari'ah, i, 165; Wasa'il al-Shi'ah, x, 29.

[5]. Ihya' al-ulum, iv, 14.

[6]. Ghwali al-lia'ili, iv, 7.

[7]. Usul al-Kafi, ii, bab al-sabr, 128, hadith No. 2.

[8]. Ibid., hadith No. 3.

[9]. Ibid., hadith No. 10.

[10]. Ibid.. hadith No. 17.

[11]. Ibid., hadith No. 8.

[12]. Ibid., hadith No. 15.

[13]. Ibid., hadith No. 12.

[14]. Sharh Manazil al-sa'irin, bab al-sabr, 88. No.28.


With a continuous chain of transmission reaching the pioneering leader(manager), a proof of the sect and a chief of the ummah, Mubammad ibn Ya'qub al-Kulayni - may God be pleased with him - from Muhammad ibn Yahya, from Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn 'Isa, from, al-Hasan ibn Mahbub, from Mu'awiyah ibn Wahab, who said: "I heard Abu 'Abd Allah (A) says: 'When a servant turns to God with sincere repentance (tawbatan nasuhan), God loves him and covers him (i.e. his sins) in the world and the Hereafter.' I said, 'And how does He cover him? 'The Imam (A) replied, "He makes the two angels (assigned to write his deeds) forget that which they have written of his sins. Then He inspires(persuaded) his bodily members (saying), "Do conceal his sins," and He inspires the earth's places (saying), "Conceal the sins that he used to commit over you." Then he meets God, at the time that he meets Him, in such a manner that there is nothing to give witness against him regarding any sin." [1]


Know that tawbah (repentance) is one of the important as well as difficult stages, which signifies the return from (physical) nature (tabi'ah) to the soul's spirituality after that the light of (primordial) human nature (fitrah) and the spirit has been blinded by the darkness of carnal nature through sins and disobedience. To explain, the soul in its initial natural state (fitrah) is devoid of any kind of excellence, beauty, light or delight, in the same way as it is free from their opposites. It is like a blank tablet absolutely without any inscription. Neither it possesses any spiritual merits nor any vices. But there has been planted in it the sparks of capacity and capability to attain any kind of station. Its nature (fitrah) is straight and its essence carries intrinsic luminosity. But commission of sins causes obscurity within the heart and this obfuscation increases with the number of sins until it becomes totally darkened. The light of intrinsic nature is extinguished and changed into abiding wretchedness. But between these two states, before the onset of total darkness over the heart's tablet, if it awakes from its slumber of negligence, this state of awakening is followed by that of repentance. The benefit arising from this state - with the conditions to be mentioned, God willing, in the following pages - becomes complete and the soul returns from the darkness and obscurity of carnal nature to the light of original nature and its essential spirituality. In other words, it becomes again like a tablet devoid of virtues and vices., as mentioned in the famous hadith:

One who repents from sin is like one who has not sinned. [2]

This shows that tawbah in reality is a return from the domain of physical nature (tabi'ah) and its laws to the domain of spirituality and primordial nature (fitrah). Similarly, the reality of inabah is return from fitrah and spirituality to God and setting out and migrating from the soul's habitat to its ultimate destination. Hence the station of tawbah is prior to that of inabah and an elaboration of this point is not proper for these pages.

Tawbah and Postponement:

An important point whose awareness is necessary for the wayfarer of the path of guidance and salvation is that success in a complete and sound repentance, meeting all its conditions (to be mentioned), is a difficult thing and rarely attainable. The indulgence in sin, especially the major and mortal ones, causes man to become totally forgetful of tawbah. If the tree of sinfulness growing in the orchard of the human heart reaches maturity and fruition, its roots becoming strong, the results are calamitous, one of which is to turn away man totally from repentance. Even if once in a while it comes to his mind, he keeps on postponing it from day to day and from one month to another, telling himself, "I will make a sound repentance at the end of my life and in old age," forgetting that this is a Divine stratagem:

... And God is the best of devisers. (3:54)

Don't imagine that man can perform tawbah after the strengthening of the roots of sinfulness or meet its conditions. Therefore, the springtime for tawbah is the time of-youth when the sins are fewer, the inner darkness of the heart incomplete, the conditions of tawbah easier, and their fulfilment less difficult.

Moreover, man's greed is greater in old age and so also are his love of wealth,. ambition and his hopes. This is proved by experience and borne out by the Prophet's noble tradition. Even if it be admitted that man can succeed in performing tawbah in old age, there is no certainty of reaching old age and-of not meeting one's death in youth in the condition of habitual(routine) disobedience. The relative fewness of old people is also an indication of the fact that death is closer to the young. In a city of fifty thousand we do not see more than fifty octogenarians.

Therefore, my dear, beware of Satan's guiles and abstain from playing tricks with your Lord by telling yourself: "I will lead a life of lust for some fifty years or more, and will make amends for the past by asking His pardon." This is wishful thinking.

If you have heard or read in a tradition that God Almighty has favoured this ummah and accepts the repentance of its members until before the appearance of death or its signs, that is true. But alas, that is the time when the opportunity oftawbah is taken away from man. Do you think that tawbah is a mere verbal exercise? No, such is not the case; the performance of-tawbah requires effort and hardship. The return, as well as the determination to return, requires practical effort as well as the exercise of knowledge. Otherwise it rarely happens for a man, either to think of tawbah or to succeed in performing it, or to fulfil the conditions of its validity and acceptance, or the conditions of its perfection. And it often happens that death grants no respite for the thought of tawbah to occur, or for tawbah to materialize, as one is transferred from this habitat with the burden of weighty sins and their endless darkness. Then, only God knows what 'misfortunes and calamities befall him.

Even if it be assumed that one is ultimately destined to salvation and felicity in the Hereafter, the atonement of sins is not an easy task in that world. It entails terrible squeezes, hardships and burnings before one becomes worthy of the intercession (of the intercessors) and the mercy of the Most Merciful.

So, my dear, make up your mind as soon as possible and make firm(taut) your resolution and will. Repent from your sins so long as you are young and alive in this world. Don't let this God-given opportunity to slip(stumbled) away. Don't pay attention to satanic enticements and the tricks of the carnal self.

An Important Point:

Here it is also necessary to pay attention to another important point. The person who repents cannot completely recover(reclaim) that inward spiritual purity and that intellectual illumination (of those who abstain from sin) even after tawbah.Because a sheet of paper does not regain its former whiteness after being blackened and then cleaned with an erasor. It is difficult for a broken pot when repaired(mended) to recover(reclaim) its former condition. Great is the difference between a lifelong faithful and sincere friend and the friend who apologizes after betraying one.

Moreover, few are they who can correctly fulfil the duties of repentance.

Hence man should try as much as possible not to enter sin and disobedience, for the correction of the soul after its corruption is a difficult task. And if, God forbid, should such an adversity occur, one should try to take a curative step as soon as possible, for a slight damage is sooner and better repaired(mended).

My dear, do not pass by this stage nonchalantly' and indifferently! Meditate and reflect over your condition and your ultimate end. Turn to the Book of God, the traditions of the Seal of Prophets and the Imams of guidance - upon all of whom be God's salutations - to the utterances of the `ulama' of the Ummah as well as to the dictates of your own intellect and conscience. Do open this door, which is the key to all other openings, and enter this house which, for us, is the main abode of humanity. Consider it important and attend to it with care. Implore God, the Exalted and the Blessed, to grant you success in finding your cherished goal. Seek help from the spiritual station of the Noble Messenger and the Imams of guidance - upon all of whom be peace - and seek refuge in the Wali al-'Amr, the Age's Honour and its Leader (the Twelfth Imam) - may God hasten his appearance. Of course, that holy personage does assist the weak and the destitute and answer the call of the helpless.

The Essentials of Tawbah:

Let it be known to you that there are certain essentials and requirements of a thorough repentance without whose materialization an authentic repentance is not attained. We shall mention the main ones of these, which are essential.

One of them, which is the most essential, is regret and remorse for one's past sins and faults. Another is resolving not to make a return to their commission ever. These two, in fact, constitute the essential reality of tawbah and comprise its essential constituents. The main thing in this respect is the attainment of this state and the realization of this reality, which should take place in such a manner that man recognizes the effect of sins on the soul and its consequences in the world of Barzakh and the Day of Resurrection, both by means of rational reflection as well as from tradition. For it is a demonstrable truth for the 'urafa', which has also been mentioned in the traditions of the Household of Inerrancy -upon whom be peace - that sins have reified forms in Barzakh and at the time of Resurrection which correspond with those sins. They are endowed with a life and will of their own in that world and torment men awaringly and willfully. In the same way, the fire of Hell also burns men awaringly and willfully. That is because that realm is the realm of total life.

Hence in that world we shall encounter forms which are the result of our evil or good deeds. This matter has been often mentioned, expressly or implicitly, in the Holy Qur'an and the noble traditions. It is also in accordance with the creed of the emanationist philosophers and the experience and discoveries of the mystics and 'urafa. Similarly, every sin has an effect upon the soul that has been called al-nuqtat al-sawda' (a black spot) in traditions. It is an obfuscation which appears in the heart and the soul and grows gradually. Ultimately it may grow(flourish) to completion and lead man to disbelief, apostasy and everlasting wretchedness, as explained earlier.

Hence the intelligent man when he becomes aware of this fact and pays as much heed to the statements of the prophets andawliya' as to the advice of a physician and doctor, he would certainly abstain from sin and distance himself from it. And if, God forbid, he commits any he would turn away loathfully in penitence and his heart would be filled with remorse. The result that this remorse produces is something great and its effects are very beneficial. The determination to quit disobedience and sin is a consequence of this remorse.

If these two essential conditions are realized, the task of the wayfarer of the Hereafter becomes easier. God's graceful succour becomes his lot, and, in accordance with the explicit meaning of the holy verse:

... Verily God loves the repentant, (2:222)

as well as the present noble tradition, he becomes the beloved of God if he is sincere in his repentance.

And man should strive in the sincerity of his repentance with practical and meditative exercises and contemplative effort, realizing that being beloved of God is something priceless, beyond all worth. Only God knows what spiritual resplendence and what flares of perfection make up the Hereafterly form of that love, and only God, the Sublime and the Blessed, knows how He shall treat His beloved ones.

O man! How sinful and foolish thou art not to know the worth of the bounties of thy Provider (wali al-ni'am). After having spent years in disobedience and after prolonged disloyalty to such a Lord, Who has provided all the means of your reassurance and ease - without that being, na`udhu bi Allah, of any imaginable benefit to Him - having violated His sanctities and taken shamelessness and recalcitrance to their extreme, now that you are remorseful, penitent and repentant, God Almighty has taken you for His loved one. What abundance of mercy and what plentitude of bounty is it!

O God! We are incapable of thanking You for Your bounties. Our tongues and those of all other beings are unable to praise You and extol You. All that we can do is to bow our heads in shame and to ask Your pardon for our shamelessness. What are we to deserve Your mercy? Yet Your mercy is more abundant(luxuriant) and Your bounties are more inclusive than can be described. Indeed.

Thou art as Thou hast praised Thyself. [3]

And man should endeavour to intensify the form of contrition and remorse in the heart so that God willing, it enters the burning chamber. That is, through meditation about the terrible(awful) consequences of sin, remorse becomes stronger in his heart, thereby voluntarily kindling the holy fire, the fire of which the Qur'an says:

The fire of God kindled (roaring over the hearts covered down upon them, in columns outstretched). (104:6)

In his heart, burning the heart in the fire of remorse to incinerate all its sins and to burn away all its rust and corrosion. He should know that were he not to kindle himself this fire in this world and were he not to open upon himself the door of this hell - which itself is the main gateway of Paradise - he would inevitably pass from this world into the other to face the terribly(painfully) cauterizing fire prepared for him there. Thereupon the doors of Hell shall be opened and the doors of Paradise closed to him.

O God! Give us a breast lit with the fire of remorse. Set our hearts aflame with the worldly fire and set it afire by throwing into it the sparks of remorse. Remove the corrosion of our hearts and take us from this world in a state of freedom from the consequences of sins. Verily Thou art the Lord of bounties and are powerful over everything.


The conditions of Tawbah:

That which was mentioned in the section above were the essential requirements of tawbah. There are certain conditions for its acceptance, as well as for its perfection, that we shall mention below.

The main conditions for the acceptance of tawbah are two. So also there are two main conditions for its perfection. In this section we shall mention the noble utterance of Hadrat Mawla al-Mawali, 'Ali ibn Abi Talib (A), for, in fact, it is the essence of wisdom, being of the order of `speech of kings and king of speech':

It is narrated by al Sayyid al Radi - may God be pleased with him - in the Nahj al balaghah that some said 'Astaghfirullah (I seek God's forgiveness) before 'Ali (A). 'Ali said to him. "May thy mother mourn for thee! Do you know what is istighfar? Verilyistighfar is a degree of the 'illiyyun and it is a word that means six things. First is remorse over the past. Second, the resolution not to return to it ever. Third, to return to the creatures their rights (usurped in the past) so that you meet God Almighty in such a state of purity that no one has a claim against you. Fourth, that you fulfil every duty that was neglected(derelict) by you, in order to satisfy your obligation in respect of it. Fifth, that you attend to the flesh of your body that had grown on unlawful nourishment so that it melts away as a result of grief and mourning and the skin adheres to the bones, after which new flesh grows there between. Sixth, that you make your body taste the pain of obedience in the same way as it tasted earlier the pleasure of sinfulness. When you have done these things then say Astaghfirullah! [4]

This noble tradition mentions firstly two essential requirements of penitence, which are remorse and the resolution not to relapse into sin. Then it mentions the two important(remarkable) condition for its acceptance, which are returning the rights of creatures and then of the Creator. Tawbah is not accepted from anyone on the mere verbal declaration, 'I repent.' The penitent man is one who returns everything illegitimately taken from others. If anyone has a claim against him, he should satisfy it if possible, or his propitiation. He should discharge whatever divine obligations and duties that have remained unfulfilled, and if all of them cannot possibly be fulfilled he should try to make amends to the extent that he can. He should know that everyone of these is a claim with a claimant that would demand it of him in the other life in the hardest of conditions, and he would be unable to satisfy it without taking up the burden of others' sins and exchanging his good deeds for the satisfaction of those claims. At that time, he will be helpless and destitute and have no way out for his relief.

My dear, let not Satan and the carnal self take hold of you and make the matter appear an unsurmountable difficulty in your eyes and thus finish you off by making you refrain from tawbah. Do know that it is better to act in this regard even if to a small extent. If the unoffered prayers, fasts and atonements are many, if God's unfulfilled duties are numerous and the people's usurped rights are innumerable, if your sins are abundant and your vices are plenty, do not despair of God's grace and' do not lose hope in His mercy. God Almighty will facilitate your passage if you act to the extent of your capacity and He will show you the path of salvation. You should know that to despair of the mercy of God is the biggest of sins and I don't think that any other sin has a more evil effect upon the soul. A person that despairs of divine mercy, his heart is so full of gloom and he becomes so unbridled that nothing can correct him. Beware, lest you despair of God's mercy and consider sins and their consequences as unsurmountable. God's mercy is greater than everything and encompasses all things, and God's justice is not bound by conditions. What were you, to begin with? In the void of nothingness, when there was no question of capacity or worthiness, God, the Supreme and the Glorious, endowed you with the bounty of being and the excellences of existence without any request or prayer or any worthiness or capacity on your part. Then He provided you with His unlimited bounties and His unending favours, subjecting all the creatures to you. Even now your condition is not worse than absolute nothingness and pure non-being. Moreover, God has promised mercy and forgiveness. Take a step forward(onward) towards His Holy threshold and He will Himself assist you by all means. If you cannot make amends for the return of His rights, He will overlook your failure. If you cannot satisfy the rights of others, He will compensate for it. And you have already heard the story of the young grave-opener during the times of the Messenger of Allah - upon whom and whose Progeny be God's benedictions.

My dear, the path of God is easy and simple. All that it requires is some attentiveness. Postponement, delay, neglect and allowing the sins to pile up day after day is what makes the matter difficult. But resolute action and decision to set aright the affairs of the soul makes the path shorter and the task easier. Make an experiment by taking some action. If you achieve results, the truth of this matter will be proved to you. Otherwise the path of perversion is open and the hands of your sinfulness are long.

The other two things mentioned by Amir al-Mu'minin (A) are the conditions for a perfect tawbah and a thorough penitence. Not that tawbah is not realized or accepted without them, rather it does not become perfect in their absence.

Let it be known to you that everyone of the stations (manazil) of the wayfarers has stages (maratib)which differ in accordance with the state of their hearts. If the penitent person wants to attain to its perfect degree, after having attended to the omissions - i.e. after having made good for the neglect of the duties-he should now attend to the accretions also. That is, he must now take up the spiritual accretion d during the days of sinfulness. That takes place by completely wiping out the physical and spiritual effects produced in the realm of the self so that the soul recovers its former refinement and its primordial, natural spirituality by a process of thorough purification. As you already know, every sin and pleasure produces an effect upon the soul in the same way as the body too derives nourishment from some of them. Hence the penitent person should with manly courage and determination exterminate all those effects and their traces through physical and spiritual austerities, as taught by Mawla 'Ali (A).

Thus through physical austerities and abstinence from pleasures and dietary luxuries, through obligatory or supererogatory fasting, he should remove the flesh that accumulated in his body through sin or during his sinful days. By means of spiritual exercises, worship and ritual devotions he must attend to the accretions of carnal nature. This is because the forms of physical pleasures still linger in the soul, and as these forms are present there the carnal self is inclined toward them and the heart is infatuated with them and it is feared that, God forbid, the self would rebel again and snatch away its reins.

Hence it is necessary for the wayfarers of the Hereafterly path and the penitent from sins to make the soul taste the pain of austerities and worship. If a night was spent in sin and licentiousness, that must be compensated with a night's watch devoted to the worship of God. If a day was spent in corporeal pleasures, that must be compensated with fasts and appropriate devotional rites. This is necessary so that the soul may be completely purged of the effects arid traces of the attachments arising from the love of the world. If this is done, tawbah, of course, becomes perfect arid the soul's primordial brilliance returns to it. Throughout the course of such exercises he must contemplate and meditate upon, the consequences of sin, the severity of God Almighty's might, the accuracy(exactness) of the Balance of deeds, and the intensity of the chastisement ofBarzakh and Resurrection. He must understand and make his self and heart understand that all these things are consequences and forms of one's vicious deeds, of opposition to the King of kings. It is hoped that after this knowledge and reflection the soul will loath sins and detest them with a complete and total hatred, thus attaining the intended result of tawbah, which now becomes perfect and complete.

Those two stages thus are what make the station of tawbah perfect and complete. Of course, when man at first wishes to enter the station of tawbah, he must not think that he is required to reach the last of stages, so that the path appears to him to be full of difficulty and hardship and he decides to leave off once for all. To whatever extent the wayfarer of the path of Hereafter is able to traverse this path, it is good and desirable to that extent. After that, when he sets out on the path, God Almighty makes the journey easy for him. Hence the difficulty of the journey must not stop one from setting out towards his destination. For the goal is very great and important, and once one understands the greatness of the goal the hardships of the path become easy and bearable. Tell me, what goal is higher than eternal salvation, joy and bless? What peril is greater than eternal wretchedness and damnation? By shunning tawbah or postponing it and delaying it one may subject oneself to eternal wretchedness, unending punishment and everlasting damnation, and by performing it one may obtain absolute felicity and become the beloved of God. Hence if the goal is so great, why should one be scared of a few days' hardship?

You should know that whatever action one can take, even if little, is gainful. Compare the matters of the Hereafter with worldly affairs, wherein the worldly wise, if they are incapable of attaining their highest objective, do not desist from reaching a lower goal. If an objective cannot be obtained in its totality, that does not prevent them from attaining it partially. You too, if you are incapable of attaining this objective to its perfect degree, should not give up the principal goal itself. Try to achieve it to the extent that is possible for you.

The Result of Istighfar:

Of the things in respect of which it is necessary for the penitent person to act is taking refuge in the forgiveness of God Almighty and attainment of the state of istighfar. Openly and secretly, mournfully and pleadingly, in solitude, with lamentation, tears and wails of woe, he should implore the forgiveness of His Sacred Essence to cover his sins and wipe out their consequences. Of course, the forgivefulness and the veiling grace of that Sacred Essence implies the coating of defects and forgiveness of the sins' consequences. And since the spiritual forms of deeds are like a man's offspring, or something even more closely linked to him, and since the reality of tawbah and the form of istighfar is tantamount to disowning and cursing (li`an), God Almighty, since He is the All-forgiving and the Veiler, dissociates those offsprings of the penitent from him on account of his li'an and separates them from him.

Thereupon He obscures that sin from the sight(prospect) to all those beings that have come to know about his sin, including the angels and the notaries of offences, the time and the place of its commission, as well his own bodily members and organs, and makes them forget it, as pointed out in the noble tradition which says:

He makes His two angels forget that which they have recorded of his sins.

And possibly God Almighty's `inspiring' the bodily members and organs, as well as the earth's locations, to conceal(bury) the sins, as mentioned in the noble tradition, is the same as the erasing of the sins from their memory. It is also possible that it means a command to abstain from giving testimony. Or perhaps that which is meant is the obliteration of the effects of sins from bodily members, whose presence amounts to their existential witness, so that if one did not perform tawbah every one of his organs, either with the tongue of statement or condition, would bear testimony to his deeds.

As it is, God's station of forgivefulness and His veiling grace have required that now that we are in this world our organs and members abstain from giving testimony about our deeds and time and space conceal our actions. In the same way, if we leave this world with genuine tawbah and sincere istaghfar, they will conceal our deeds, or our deeds will be totally obscured for them. And perhaps the second explanation is more in order in view of the God Almighty's magnanimity, so that the penitent human being is not ashamed in front of anyone. And God knows best.

On the Interpretation of Tawbah Nasuh:

You should know that there is difference of opinion regarding the interpretation of the term tawbah nasuh and a concise(brief) mention of it is suitable here. Here we will confine ourselves to translating the words of the greater researcher al-Shaykh al-Bahai - may God sanctify his soul.

The informed traditionist al-Majlisi - may God have mercy upon him - quotes al-Shaykh al-Baha'i as having said that the exegetes have given several meanings of tawbatan nasuh. According to one of them, it means a tawbah that 'advise' the people, that is invites them to simulate him on account of the good effect produced in its performer, or that it `counsels' its performer to root out sins and to never return to their commission.

Another interpretation is that tawbah nasuh is a tawbah which is done purely (khalis) for God's sake, in the same way as pure honey free from wax is called `asal nasuh. And sincerity means that the remorse should be on account of the ugliness of sins or because they are contrary to God's good pleasure, not for the fear of hellfire.

The honourable researcher al-Tusi has ruled in the Tajrid that a remorse felt for sins on account of the fear of hellfire is nottawbah at all.

According to another interpretation, nasuh is related to nasabah, which means tailoring, because tawbah sews together the body of faith torn by sin, or because it joins the penitent person to God's awliya' and His lovers in the same way as separate pieces of cloth are joined together by tailoring.

According to yet another interpretation, `nasuh' here is an attribute of the penitent and is linked to tawbah in a metaphorical manner. That is, tawbah nasuh is a tawbah whose performer counsels and advises himself to perform it as perfectly and completely as it is worthy of being performed until the effects of sins are totally purged from the heart, which is attained by making the soul melt with regret and grief and by clearing the darkness of vices by the light of virtues.

All Beings are Endowed with Life and Knowledge:

Let it be known to you that there are certain realities, mysteries and subtleties for tawbah, and there is a specific tawbahparticular to his own station for every one of the wayfarers of the path towards God. And since we do not partake of those stations, an elaboration of their details is not proper for these pages. Therefore it is better to conclude this discourse with the mention of a point inferable from the noble tradition, which is also in accordance with the literal meanings of the verses of the Noble Qur'an and a large number of traditions scattered(sprinkled) through various chapters. That point is that every one of the existents is possessed of knowledge, life and consciousness. Rather, all the existents possess the marifah (gnosis) of the station of God, the Glorious and the Sublime. The inspiration imparted to bodily organs and members and the earth's locations regarding the concealment (of sins) and their obedience to divine commands, the tasbih of all existents referred to expressly in the Glorious Qur'an and with the mention of which things the noble traditions are replete - all these are proof of their knowledge, cognition and life. Rather, they constitute the proof of a special relation between the Creator and the creation, of which none has any knowledge except the Sacred Essence of God Almighty and those who it pleases Him should know.

And this is itself one of the teachings that the Noble Qur'an and the traditions of the inerrant Imams have imparted to mankind, which is also in agreement with the views of the emanationist philosophers and the mystics, as well as the experience of the mystics. In the sublime science of metaphysics it has been proved that existence is identical with divine Excellences, Names and Attributes and at whatever level they manifest themselves and are reflected in a mirror, the manifestation is accompanied with all the aspects and excellences, including life, cognition and the rest of the seven main Attributes. And every one of the phases of manifestation of the reality of being and every level in the descendence of the light of the perfect beauty of the Deity has a special relation with the One, through which it has the secret gnosis of the Lord, as stated in the noble verse.

...There is no creature that crawls, but He takes it by the forelock. (11:56)

It is said that huwa (He) refers to the mystery of Divine Ipsiety, and `the taking by the forelock' is the same mysterious(uncannily), secret primordial existential relation the way to whose cognition is closed to all existents.

[1]. Al-Kulayni, Usul al-Kafi, kitab al-'iman wa al-kufr, bab al-tawbah, hadith No. 1.

[2]. Ibid., hadith No. 10.

[3]. Mujam al- ahadith al-Nabawiyyah, i, 304.

[4]. Nahj al-balaghah, ed. Subhi al-Salih, Beirut 1387(1967), p.549, Hikam, No. 417.


...Muhammad ibn Ya'qub al-Kulayni - may God be pleased with him -from Muhammad ibn Yahya, from Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn 'Isa, from Ibn Mahbub, from 'Abd Allah ibn Sinan, from Abu Hamzah al-Thumali, from Abu Ja'far (A) that he said: "It is written in the Torah that has not been altered that Moses (A) asked his Lord (saying): 'O Lord! (Tell me) art Thou near me, so that I should pray to Thee in whispers, or art Thou far, that I should cry out. to Thee?' Thereat God Almighty revealed to him: 'O Moses! I am the companion of one who remembers me.' Moses said: 'Who are those that shall be in Thy refuge on the day when there shall be no refuge except Thy refuge?' He replied: 'Those who remember Me, whom I do remember; those who love one another for My sake, whom I love. They are those whom I remember whenever I wish to strike the earth's people with affliction, and consequently spare them on their account.'" [1]


It is shown by this noble tradition that the Torah current amongst the Jews is a corrupted and an altered one. The knowledge of the true Torah was with the Ahl al-Bayt (A). From the contents of the current Torah and Gospels it appears that they do not meet the standard of even the speech commonly acceptable of a human being (to say nothing of the criterion of Divine speech); rather, the delusions of some followers of carnal lust and desire have been incorporated in them.

The researcher and traditionist al-Majlisi - may God's mercy be upon him - says: "It appears that the intention of Hadrat Musa by this question was to inquire about the etiquette of prayer, while he knew that God is nearer to one than his jugular vein, with an encompassing nearness based on knowledge, power and causal efficiency. He meant to say, `Do You like to be prayed to in whispers, like one speaks to someone near, or should I call You like one who calls out to someone far away(far apart)  ?' In other words, 'When 'I look at You, I find You nearer than anything that is near, and when I look at myself I find myself .at a far distance. Thus, I don't know whether I should take into consideration Your situation in my prayer or my own condition:' And it is possible that this question was made on behalf of someone else, like the question related to the possibility of Beatific vision" (mentioned in the Qur'an, 7:148).

It is possible that Moses intended to express his feeling of loss and wonder in respect of the manner of praying. He meant to say, "O Lord! You are too immaculate and above everything for nearness and farness to be attributable to You, that I may address You as one who is near or one who is far. Hence I am at a loss in this matter, for I do not consider any manner of prayer to be suitable(apt) for Your glorious station. So permit me to pray, and show me its manner. Teach me that which is appropriate for Your sacred station." The answer came from the Source of Glory and Majesty that, "I, as the Sustainer, am present in all the manifold levels and realms of existence. All the worlds constitute My presence. Yet, I am the companion of those who remember Me and am by the side of those who call Me."

Of course, proximity and distance cannot be attributed to that Sacred Essence. It possesses the encompassment of sustenance (ihateh ye qayyumi i.e. the encompassment that God Almighty possesses over all being as its sustainer) and existential all-inclusiveness (shumul-e wujudi) over all the domains of being and all the streams of reality. However, that which is mentioned in the noble verses of the Glorious Book of God regarding the attribution of nearness and proximity to God Almighty, such as the verses,

And when My servants question thee concerning Me, (tell them that) I am near to answer the call of the caller, when he calls to Me ....(2:186)

...and We know what his soul whispers within him, and We are nearer to him than the jugular vein, (50:16)

and others like them, constitute a kind of metaphor and allegory(fable). Otherwise, His sacred being is above proximity and distance, physical or immaterial; for these qualities entail limitation (tahdid) and likeness (tashb'ih, i.e. to creatures) and God Almighty is beyond them. Rather, the presence of all existents in the court of His sanctity is a relational presence, and the encompassment of that Sacred Essence over the particles of the universe and the chains of existents is the encompassment of sustenance, which is something other than sensible or spiritual presence and is different from outward and inward encompassment.

From this noble tradition, and some other traditions as well, the preference for concealed remembrance (dhikr-e khafi) and the desirability of remembrance within the heart and secretly can be inferred. This is also indicated by the noble verse:

Remember thy Lord in thy soul, humbly and fearfully, not loud of voice, at morn and eventide. (7:205)

In a noble tradition it is stated that the reward (thawab) of this remembrance, on account of its greatness, is known to none except God Almighty. In some circumstances and states the preference may lie with overt remembrance, like the remembrance done in front of the negligent for the sake of reminding them. Hence it is mentioned in a noble tradition of al-Kafi that one who recalls God Almighty amongst the negligent is like one who fights against the muharibun (i.e. those who have taken up arms against God and Islam). The following tradition is mentioned in the `Uddat al-dai of Ibn Fahd:

...The narrator says that the Prophet (S) said: "One who recalls God in the marketplace, with sincerity, in the midst of the people's obliviousness and their engagement in its affairs, God writes for him a thousand merits and forgives him on the Day of Resurrection with a forgiveness that has not occurred to any human heart." [2]

Similarly, it is mustahabb to make the dhikr aloud in the adhan, in sermons, and other things.

It is stated in this noble tradition that the remembrance of God and mutual love and friendship for His sake have certain characteristics. One of them, which is more important than the others, is that the remembrance' of God by the servant results in God's remembering him, and this matter is also mentioned in other traditions. This remembrance stands in opposition(rivalry) to the neglect (nisyan) mentioned by God Almighty in relation to one who forgets God's ayat (signs, verses):

(He shall say, `O my Lord, why hast Thou raised me blind, and I was wont to see?' God shall say,) `Even so it is. Our ayat came unto thee, and thou didst forget them; and so today thou art forgotten.' (20:126)

In the same way as the forgetting of the ayat and inward blindness to the manifestations of Divine glory and beauty result in blindness in the other world, so do the remembrance of the ayat, the Names, and the Attributes and the remembrance of God, His beauty and majesty strengthen the inward vision and remove the obscuring screens in proportion to the strength of thedhikr and its luminosity. When the remembrance of the ayat becomes a faculty (malakah), the inner vision becomes so strong that it begins to see Divine beauty in the ayat. The remembrance of the Names and the Attributes results in the vision of God in the manifestations of the Names and the Attributes (tajalliyat-e asma'iyyah wa sifatiyyah). The remembrance of the Essence without the veils of .the ayat, Names and Attributes removes all the veils and affords the unobstructed vision of the Beloved. And this is one of the interpretations of `the triple victories' (futuhat-e thalathah) which make up the highest delight of the `urafa' and alwliya`: fath-e qar'ib (the nearer victory), fath-e mubin (the manifest victory), and fath-e mutlaq (the absolute victory), which is fath al-futuh, the ultimate victory.

In the same way as the threefold remembrance removes the threefold veils, mutual love for the sake of God also leads to God's love, and the result of this love is also the removal of veils, as pointed out by the illustrious `urafa'.

Obviously, this love (God's love) has also various degrees, for the love for the sake of God has also many levels in respect of sincerity and vitiation. Complete sincerity is that which is free even from the flaw of the plurality of the Names and Attributes(kathrat-e asma i wa sifati), and it results in complete love. The absolute lover will not be deprived of communion in the code of love, and there will remain no obstruction between the lover and the Beloved. With this exposition, we may establish(build) a relation between the two questions of Moses - upon whom be peace. For after hearing God Almighty declare that He is the companion (jalis) of one who remembers Him, and after hearing from the Beloved Himself the promise which he coveted in his heart, of the union with the Beauty, he wanted to discover the identity of those who shall achieve the union, so that he may fulfil his duty in all its aspects. Hence he asked:

Who are they that shall be in Thy refuge on the day when there shall be no refuge except Thy refuge?

That is, who are they who, in Thy refuge, have attained emancipation from all attachments and freedom from obstructive barriers(hedge), attaining communion with Thy supreme beauty? He is told: `They are the two groups: those who are in My remembrance, and those who love one another mutually, who are also in My remembrance in respect of the complete manifestation of My beauty, that is man. They are in My refuge, being My companions and I theirs.' This shows that these two groups possess one great quality, which results in another great characteristic. Because God Almighty remembers them and makes them His beloved ones, the result is that they obtain His refuge on the day when there is no refuge, their companion being God in the place of absolute seclusion. The other characteristic is that God Almighty spares His creatures of chastisement for the sake of their nobility. That is, as long as they are in the midst of the creatures, He does not send chastisement and calamities upon them for the sake of them.

The Difference between Tafakkur and Tadhakkur:

Let it be known to you that tadhakkur (remembrance) is the result of tafakkur (contemplation). Hence the station of tafakkur has been considered to precede that of tadhakkur. Khwajah `Abd Allah al-'Ansari says:

Tadhakkur stands above tafakkur, for verily tafakkur is the search (of the Beloved) and tadhakkur is the attainment (of the Beloved).

As long as man is on the path of search, he is separate from the searched object. With the finding of the searched beloved, he is relieved of the labour of search. The strength and the perfection of tadhakkur is dependent on the strength and perfection of tafakkur. The tafakkur whose result is complete tadhakkur of the Worshipped One does not compare with other actions in regard to merit. Accordingly, in the noble traditions, an hour of tafakkur is considered to be better than the `ibadah (worship) of a year, or even that of sixty or seventy years. It is obvious that the ultimate goal and fruit of the `ibadat is the attainment of the knowledge and remembrance of God, and this is better attainable through valid contemplation. Perhaps, an hour's contemplation may open to the wayfarer the door to mystic knowledge, which may not be opened even by seventy years of`ibadah, or it may make a human being so mindful of the Beloved that not even the austerities of several years can be able to achieve such a result.

And my dear, let it be known to you, the remembrance of the Beloved and keeping the heart engaged in the memory of the Adored One have many results for all the classes of people. As to the perfect ones, the awliya' and the `urafa', it is the ultimate goal of their hopes, under whose shadow they receive communion with the Beloved's splendour - may it do them much good! As to the ordinary people and the mutawassitun, it is the noblest of the formative agents of morality and conduct, in outward as well as inward life.

If man remain in the remembrance of God Almighty in all conditions and states, and see himself as present in the court of that Sacred Essence, he would of course refrain from the matters which are contrary to His good pleasure, and check the self from rebelliousness. All the calamities and afflictions brought about by the carnal self and the accursed Satan are due to forgetting God and His chastisement. The forgetting of God increases the darkness of the heart and allows the carnal self and Satan to dominate the human being, thus multiplying his afflictions day by day. The remembrance of God gives polish and burnish to the heart and makes it a reflector of the Beloved's beauty. It purifies the soul and liberates the self of the human being from bondages. The love of the world, which is the source of all error and the fountainhead of all sin, is purged from the heart. All the anxieties and concerns are replaced by the sole concern of purifying the dwelling of the heart for the sake of the entry of the Dweller.

Therefore, my dear, whatever pains and hardships that you bear in. the path of the dhikr and remembrance of the Beloved are little. Accustom your heart to the remembrance of the Beloved, so that, God willing, the heart itself takes on the form of dhikr, so that the immaculate pronouncement la ilaha illa Allah becomes the ultimate form and the furthest limit of perfection of the self. There is no better provision for the wayfarer in his journey toward God, no better reformer for the defects of the soul, and no better guide to the Divine teachings.

Hence, if you are a seeker of the formal and spiritual excellences, if you are a wayfarer of the Hereafter's path, a traveller and emigrant towards Allah, habituate the heart to the Beloved's dhikr and knead it with the remembrance of God.


The Complete Dhikr:

Although the remembrance of God and the dhikr of that Sacred Essence is a quality of the heart, and if the heart is immersed in dhikr all the benefits that accrue from it are obtained by the heart, it is better that the remembrance in the heart be followed by oral dhikr. The most perfect and meritorious of the degrees of dhikr is that it should be present in all levels of a man's existence, that its domain should extend to the outward and the inward, the manifest and the concealed realms of his being.

Thereat God, the Supreme and the Glorious, becomes manifest in the core of his being. The inward form of the heart and the soul take the form of the Beloved's remembrance, and the actions of the heart and the body take on the form of remembrance. The seven realms of corporeal being, as well as the inward domains, are conquered by the Divine dhikr and made subject to the remembrance of the Absolute Beauty. Rather, if the inward form of the heart assumes the reality of dhikr,and the realm of the heart is conquered by it, its sovereignty extends to all the other domains. The movements and pauses of the eyes, the tongue, the hands and the feet, and the actions of all other members and faculties, are accompanied with the remembrance of God, making no move against their duties. Thereupon, their movements and pauses begin and end with thedhikr of God:

In the Name of Allah shall be its course and its berthing. (11:41)

Its influence penetrates into all the realms, which are moulded as a result in accordance with the reality of the Names and the Attributes. Rather, they assume the form of the Greatest of the Names of Allah (ism Allah al-'a'zam), becoming its manifestation (mazhar). And this is the ultimate limit of human perfection and the ultimate goal of the hopes of the elect of Allah (ahl Allah). To the same degree that there is an inadequacy in this regard and a shortcoming in the influence of dhikr, to the same extent does the degree of human excellence falls short of perfection, for the inadequacies of the inward and the outward interpenetrate each other. This is because the various spheres of human existence are interrelated and subject to mutual influence. It is from here that it is known that oral remembrance (dhikr-e nutqi wa zabani), which is the lowest level ofdhikr, is also beneficial. For it means, firstly, that the tongue carries out its obligation, although its movement(bustle) is only formal, devoid of spirit. Secondly, there is the possibility that persistence in this dhikr, with due regard to its conditions, may become a means of opening the tongue of the heart too.

Our shaykh, the perfect `arif Shahabadi - may my soul be his ransom - would say: "The dhakir (one who performs dhikr),during dhikr, must be like one teaching words to a little child that has not yet learnt to speak. He repeats the word until the child's tongue is opened and the latter utters the word. After that the child has articulated it, the teacher follows the child and his fatigue caused by repetition is removed, as if he has received an encouraging assistance from the child. In the same way, one who engages in dhikr must teach dhikr to his heart, which has not learnt to articulate(vociferous). The point that is concealed in the repetition of the adhkar is that thereby the tongue of the heart is opened, and its sign(beckoned) is that thereafter the tongue follows the heart and the hardship and strain(drag) of repetition is removed. First, it is the tongue which is dhakir and following it the heart also becomes dhakir with the tongue's aid and instruction. After that the heart's tongue has learnt to articulate(fluent), the tongue follows it and becomes dhakir with the aid of the heart or God's concealed assistance.

And it should be known that the outward and formal actions don't have the capacity of life in the world of the ghayb or malakutexcept when they received assistance from the inward realm of the spirit and the heart's core, which bestows on them a spiritual life (hayat-e malakuti). That spiritual breath, which is the form of the sincerity of intention and sincere intention, is like the inward soul, following which the body too is resurrected in the realm of malakut and permitted entry(arrival)  into the Divine court. Therefore, it is stated in the noble traditions that the acceptability of (physical) deeds. is in accordance with the measure of the heart's receptivity and responsiveness (iqbal-e qalb). In spite of it oral dhikr is desirable, and it ultimately leads man to reach the Truth. Accordingly, in the traditions and reports, oral dhikr has been greatly extolled and there are few topics regarding which there is as much a great number of traditions as the topic of dhikr. It has also been greatly extolled in the noble verses of the Glorious Book, although most of them pertain to inward dhikr (dhikr-e qalbi), or the dhikr possessing soul. The remembrance of God is lovable on whatever level that it takes place. At this stage we conclude this discourse by mentioning some noble traditions at the end for the sake of tabarruk and tayammun.

Some Traditions Concerning Dhikr:

In al-Kafi, it is reported with a sahih chain of transmission from al-Fudayl ibn Yasir that al-'Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq (A) said: "There is no gathering in which the virtuous and the sinful come together and thereafter stand up to leave without mentioning God Almighty except that it would be a cause of regret to them on the Day of Resurrection. " [3]

It is obvious that when man discovers the great results of the dhikr of God on the Day of Resurrection and finds himself deprived of them, he will realize the irreparable loss of the bounties and delights incurred by him. As a result he will be seized with regret and remorse. Hence, as long as there is opportunity, a human being must take advantage of his gatherings and assemblies, letting them not remain empty(unproductive) of God's remembrance.

In al-Kafi, it is reported with a muwaththaq chain of transmission from al-'Imam al-Baqir (A) that he said: "Whoever desires to receive the full measure (of God's blessing) should say while standing up after a gathering: 'Free is thy Lord, the Lord of Glory, from what they describe. And peace be upon the Messengers; and praise belongs to God, the Lord of all being.' " [4]

And it is narrated from al-'Imam al-Sadiq that Amir al-Mu'minin (A) said, "Whoever wants to receive the full measure of recompense on the Day of Resurrection should read these noble verses following every salat". [5] Also it is reported in amursal tradition from al-'Imam al-Sadiq (A) that recitation of these verses at the time of the end of a gathering is an atonement for sins. [6]

Al-Kafi, in a marfu' hadith, narrates with its chain of transmission from Ibn Faddal, from one of the Imams (A) that he said, "God Almighty said to Jesus, upon whom be peace, 'O Jesus, remember Me in thy self, so that I may remember thee within My self. Mention Me in thy assembly so that I may mention thee in an assembly better than the assembly of men. O Jesus, soften thy heart for Me and remember Me much in thy solitude. Know that My delight lies in thy doing tabasbus toward Me. And be alive. in that and don't be dead.' [7]

Tabasbus means the dog's wagging of its tail, out of fear(Desperation ) or hope, and this alludes to the intensity of eagerness and humility. By `life' in remembrance is meant the presence and attention of the heart.

Al-'Imam al-Sadiq (A) said: "Verily God Almighty has said, 'One who is kept by My remembrance from asking something of Me, I bestow upon him the best of what I have bestowed upon any petitioner that has asked anything of Me. " [8]

...Ahmad ibn Fahd narrates in 'Uddat al-dai from the Messenger of Allah (S) that he said, "The best of your acts near God and the purest and sublimest of them in degree and the best thing upon which the sun has shone is the remembrance of God Almighty. Verily He has informed you, saying, 'I am the companion of him who remembers Me.' " [9]

The traditions concerning the excellence of dhikr, its manner, etiquette and conditions are so many that to mention them is beyond the capacity of these pages.

And praise is God's at the beginning and the end, inwardly and outwardly.

[1]. Al-Kulayni, al-Kafi, ii, kitab al-du'a', bab ma yajib min dhikr Allah fi kulli majlis, hadith No.4.

[2]. Ahmad ibn Fahd. 'Uddat al-dai, 242.

[3]. Al-Kafi, ii, kitab at-du'a', bab ma yajib min dhikr Allah fi kulli majlis, hadith No. 1.

[4]. Ibid., hadith No. 3.

[5]. Jami' al-'ahadith, kitab al-salat, hadith No. 3487.

[6]. Wasa'il al-Shi'ah, xv, hadith No. 28901.

[7]. Al-Kafi, ii, kitab al-du'a', bab dhikr Allah fi al-sirr, hadith No.3.

[8]. Ibid., bab al-'ishtighal bi dhikr Allah, hadith No.l.

[9]. 'Uddat al-da'i, 238.


With my isnad going back to Thiqat al-'Islam wa al-Muslimin Muhammad ibn Ya'qub al-Kulayni -may God, the Most Sublime, be pleased with him - from 'Ali ibn Ibrahim, from his father, from al-Nawfali, from al-Sakkuni, from Abu 'Abd Allah - upon whom be peace - that he said: "The Messenger of Allah - upon whom and whose Progeny be God's benedictions - said: 'The havoc wrought by ghibah (backbiting) on the believer's faith is swifter than the one wrought by the disease of aklah in the side of his body."' The Imam (A) said: "The Messenger of Allah - upon whom and whose Progeny be God's benedictions - said: 'To sit in the mosque waiting for the (time of) prayer is worship, so long as one does not commit a misdeed.' He (S) was asked, 'O Messenger of Allah, what misdeed?' He replied, 'Backbiting.' " [1]


Ghibah is the masdar (verbal noun) of ghaba and also that of ightiyab, as mentioned in the dictionaries. Al-Jawhari says:

(It is said) "ightabahu ightiyaban" when one falls into it (i.e. backbiting). The noun is al-ghibah, and it means saying such things about an absent person as well distress him if he hears them. If it is true it is called ghibah and if false, buhtan (slander).

The researcher and traditionist al-Majlisi - may God's mercy be upon him - states that this meaning is a literal one. But, apparently, the author of al-Sihah has given the technical (istilahi) meaning, not the literal one, because this is not the literal meaning of ghaba, ightaba and other related derivatives. Rather, their meaning is of a more general character. The lexicographers occasionally give the technical or Shar'i meanings in their works. The author of al-Qamus is quoted to have taken ghaba to signify 'aba. According to al-Misbah al-munir:

Ightabahu' means making a mention of someone's actual defects that he would find detestable (to be mentioned).

In the view of this author, none of the above-mentioned quotations give the literal meaning; rather, certain conditions inherent in each of them have led to the mix-up with the technical sense. In any case, there is not much benefit in discussing the literal meaning, for the main purpose here is relevance to the Shari'ah and religious duty, and seemingly there are certain conditions implicit in the special meaning which lie outside the literal significance of the term (ghibah or ightiyab). Later on we will have occasion to discuss this special sense.

Al-Majlisi says:

Aklah corresponds (in vowelization) to farhah. It is an affliction of a bodily member that consumes it, as mentioned in al-Qamusand other dictionaries. It has also been read with a mada on the hamzah, corresponding in vowelization to fallah, which means a disease that consumes the flesh, and the first one is more in accordance with classical usage.

In any case, that which is meant is that in the same way as this disease on afflicting a bodily organ - especially the subtle ones, such as pertain to the inner self - consumes it rapidly and destroys it, so does ghibah, rather more rapidly, consume a human being's faith and destroy(fragment) it.

In the phrase 'malam yuhdith', 'yuhdith' belongs to the verbal form if'al and its concealed pronoun (damir mustatir) relates to thejalis, (i.e. the one sitting) implicit in the julus mentioned in the tradition. Ightiyab here is in the accusative form (mansub) and is the maf'ul (object) of the verb implicit in the questioner's speech. In some manuscripts, it is instead of in which case ightiyabwill be in the indicative case due to its being the predicate (khabar).

The Definition of Ghibah:

Let it be known to you that the fuqaha' - may God be pleased with all of them - have offered many definitions of ghibah,whose discussion and close scrutiny is not possible here except with brevity. The blessed martyr and researcher, the Shaykh (Zayn al-Din `Ali, known as al-Shahid al-Thani) in his kashf al-ribah `an ahkam al-ghibah says: "There are two definitions for it. The first one, which is famous among the fuqaha', is:

It is the mention of a person in his absence, ascribing to him something whose ascription he rinds detestable and which is generally considered as harmful (to one's reputation), with the intention of impairing (his reputation) and disparaging him.

The second one is:

Informing about something whose ascription to one is regarded as detestable by him.

The second definition is more general than the first one, if dhikr (in the first definition) be taken to mean oral mention, as it is generally understood to mean, for tanbih has a wider meaning and includes speech, writing, narration and other forms of communication. But if dhikr were taken to mean something wider than oral speech, as it does literally signify, the two definitions become similar. The traditions also suggest these two definitions, such as the one recorded in al-Shaykh al-Tusi'sAmali (Majalis) and narrated on the authority of Abu Basir:

...In (the tradition about) the counsel that the Messenger of Allah (may God's peace and benedictions be upon him and his Progeny) gave to Abu Dharr (may God be pleased with him), Abu Dharr is narrated to have said: "I said: 'O Messenger of Allah, what is ghibah?' He replied: '(It is) to mention of your brother that which he detests.' I said, 'O Messenger of Allah, what if that which is mentioned of him should actually be in him?' He replied, 'Know that when you mention that which is in him, you have committed his ghibah, and when you mention that which is not in him, then you have slandered him.' " [2]

In a famous tradition of the Prophet (S) it is reported:

(The Prophet [S]) asked his companions:) "Do you know what is ghibah?" They said, "God and His Messenger know best." He (S) said: "It is to mention about your brother that which he detests." [3]

These traditions correspond to the first definition if we take the generally understood meaning of dhikr and to the second one if a meaning wider than oral statement is ascribed to it. No mention was made in the traditions of absence, for it was implicit in the meaning of ghibah and so was not necessary. It is evident that 'brother' here means a brother in-faith not a brother by kinship. `Ma yakrahu' signifies the mention of things which are ordinarily regarded as damaging. As to the intention to harm and disparage, although it is not mentioned either in the noble tradition narrated by Abu Dharr or the famous prophetic tradition, it can be understood from the context. Rather, the opening of Abu Dharr's narration indicates it, and there was no need of an explicit mention. The narration opens in this manner:

(The Prophet[S] said:) "Ghibah is a graver sin than adultery." I said, "How is that, O Messenger of Allah?" "That is because a man commits adultery and repents to God and God accepts his repentance. But ghibah is not forgiven (by God) until it is forgiven by its victim." Then he (S) said, "The eating of his flesh is a sin vis-a-vis God. [4]

These two sentences reveal that the intention to injure is implicit, otherwise if someone is mentioned with kindness and compassion, it is not an offence against him so as to require his forgiveness, nor it amounts to eating his flesh.

The general character of ghibah is also understandable from the following narration of `A'ishah:

('A'ishah says:) "A woman came to visit us, and when she turned to go away I made a gesture by my hand to indicate that she is short of height. Thereupon, he - may God's peace and benedictions be upon him and his Progeny - said: 'You have committed her ghibah. ' " [5]

It may be said that the import of the traditions concerning ghibah, as understood in accordance with usage, does not limit it to linguistic expression. Rather, it extends the prohibition to apply to any such kind of communication. That is, the specific mention of linguistic expression is due to its being the ample common form in which, ghibah is committed, not because it is limited to it.

Another thing is that the general import of many traditions indicates that it is haram to reveal the secrets of the faithful(mu'minun). That is, it is forbidden to divulge and uncover their concealed defects, whether of a bodily, moral or behavioural nature, regardless of whether the person to whom they pertain is willing or not, and irrespective of whether a malicious intent is involved or not. However, an overall examination of the traditions shows that malicious intent underlies the prohibition, except when the act per se should be such that its mention and its publicity are proscribed by the Shari'ah - such as sins against God, which not even the sinner may proclaim and whose admission amounts to publication of indecency - and this does not relate to the prohibition (hurmah) on ghibah. It is not improbable that the revelation of the secrets of the faithful even in case of their willingness should be haram, even when there is no malicious motive involved. In any case, further elaboration in this aspect is outside the scope of our discussion.

You should know that there is consensus about the hurmah of ghibah. Rather, it is one of the essentials of fiqh, being a major and mortal sin. Discussion of its fiqhi aspect and the exceptions that relate to it is outside the scope of these pages. That which is necessary here is to inform about the viciousness of this fatal vice and its consequences, so that, God willing, by reflecting upon them we may abstain from it, and if, God forbid, we commit it, we may desist immediately from it and repent, purify ourselves of its abomination, and not permit ourselves to remain in this filth and the affliction of this faith-consuming mortal sin while departing from this world. This is because this major mortal sin has an ugly, deformed form in the spiritual world hidden behind the veils of the corporeal. In addition(totaling) to its evil, it is the cause of disgrace in front of the Sublime Company (al-mala' al-'ala) and in the presence of the apostles, prophets and the archangels. Its spiritual form is the same as what God, the Blessed and the Exalted, has indicated in His noble book and which has been pointed out explicitly and implicitly in the noble traditions. Allah, the Glorious and the Exalted, says:

...Neither backbite one another; would any of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother? You would abominate it. (49:12)

We are neglectful of the fact that our deeds return to us in the other world as objectified entities, with forms appropriate to their character. We do not know that this act (i.e. ghibah) has the form of cadaver eating. It will return to its perpetrator in the hell in its other-worldly (malakut) form, for he, like a ferocious dog, has torn other people's honour to shreds and devoured their (moral) flesh.

In a tradition it is narrated that once the Messenger of Allah, may God's peace and benedictions be upon him, stoned a man for commission of adultery. One of the persons present remarked to his companion: "This one was finished where he stood, like a dog." Thereafter, the Prophet, accompanied by the two men, passed by a carcass and he (S) said to them, "Now take a bite of it, you two," They said, "O Messenger of Allah, should we take a bite of a carcass?!" The Prophet replied, "That which you have taken of your brother was more putrid than this." [6]

Yes, the Noble Messenger (S) with the light of his powerful insight saw the greater putridness of their action, greater than that of a decomposed carcass, and the more abominable and repulsive character of its form. It is mentioned in another tradition that the perpetrator of ghibah would devour his own flesh on the Day of Resurrection. In a tradition of al-Wasa'il, cited from theMajalis (Amali) of al-Saduq, may God's good pleasure be with him, Amir al-Mu'minin (A) is reported to have said the following in the course of his advice to Nawf al-Bakali:


Nawf al-Bakali says: "I said, 'Tell me something more.' He (A) said: 'Abstain from ghibah, for it is the food of the dogs of hellfire.' Then he added: 'O Nawf, untrue is the one who claims to be of legitimate birth and yet devours the flesh of people through backbiting.' " [7]

There is no contradiction between these noble traditions, and all these things are possible. It is possible that the backbiter shall eat the flesh of carcasses, devour his own flesh, have the form of a carcass-eating dog, and, simultaneously, be a carcass that is devoured by the hounds of hell. There, the forms are subject to the efficient dimensions and a being may possess several outward forms - something the proof of which has been given in its appropriate place.

(Al-Saduq) in 'Iqab al-'a'mal, narrates with his isnad from the Messenger of Allah, may God's peace and benedictions be upon him and his Progeny, that he said in a tradition: "One who walks on the path of the ghibah of his brother and the divulging of his defects, the first step that he takes will be into hell and God shall divulge his defects in front of all the creatures." [8]

Such is his state on the Day of Resurrection and in hell and that is how God, the Exalted, shall disgrace him amongst the creatures and in the presence of the inhabitants of the celestial realms. In al-Wasa'il, with a chain of transmission reaching al-'Imam al-Sadiq (A), the Prophet (S) is reported to have said:

The Noble Messenger (S) said: "whoever backbites a Muslim spoils his fasts and breaks his wudu' and shall come on the Day of Resurrection with his mouth stenching more putridly than a carcass and it shall irk those who are with him in his station (mawqif). If he dies before repenting, his death is like that of one who dies while considering the things prohibited by God, the Exalted and the Glorious, as permissible." [9]


This is his state before his entry into hell, so that he is disgraced in front of the people of his mawqif and is reckoned among the kuffar, for the mustahill (one who considers haram as halal) of God's maharramat (that which has been forbidden by God) is akafir. The backbiter (mughtab) is, in effect, like him according to this noble tradition. Another tradition has been narrated from the Messenger of God (S) regarding the state of such a one in the Barzakh:

Anas ibn Malik says: "The Messenger of Allah (8) said, 'On the night of my celestial journey (mi'raj) I passed by a people scratching their faces with their finger nails. I said: "O Gabriel, who are these?" He replied: "These are those who perpetrated the people's ghibah and slandered their reputation(renown)." [10]

This shows that the backbiter suffers disgrace and infamy in the Barzakh and faces humiliation in front of the people of hismawqif. He will dwell in disgrace and dishonour in the hell too. Rather, some of its degrees will bring him disrepute in this world also, as is mentioned in the following noble tradition of al-Kafi

Ishaq ibn 'Ammir reports on the authority of al-'Imam al-Sadiq (A) that the Messenger of Allah (S)said: "O you who have embraced Islam with their tongues but faith has not entered whose hearts, don't disparage Muslims and don't be after their defects. Verily, God will be after the defects of him who is after their defects, and one who has God after his defects will be humiliated even in his own house. [11]

God, the Blessed and the Exalted, is ghayur (i.e. sensitive about His honour) and the exposing of the secrets and defects of the faithful is tantamount to violation of His honour. If a man surpasses all limits in his shamelessness and violates Divine sanctities, God, the Honourable, exposes his secrets which He had concealed before out of His concealing grace. Such a man is then disgraced in this world before the people and in that world in front of the angels, the prophets and the awliya', upon whom be peace. In a noble tradition of al-Kafi whose isnad goes back to al-'Imam al-Baqir (A) it is stated:

(Al-'Imam al-Baqir [A]) said: "During his celestial journey, the Prophet (8) said to God: 'My Lord, what is the status of the mu'min before Thee?' He replied: 'O Muhammad, whoever insults a friend(mate) of mine, has declared open war against Me, and I am the quickest of all in rallying to the aid of My friends.' " [12]

There are many traditions in this regard. In a tradition whose isnad goes back to al-'Imam al-Sadiq (A), al-Shaykh al-Saduq reports the Imam as having said:

Whoever perpetrates the ghibah of such a person (i.e. of one who conceals his defects and is just in outward conduct, though he should be a sinner in his own eyes) will go out of the wilayah of Allah, the Most Exalted, and enter the wilayah of Satan. [13]

It is obvious, that one who leaves the wilayah of God will enter the wilayah of Satan and will not be characterized with faith and salvation. As mentioned in the tradition of Ishaq ibn `Ammar, the Islam of the backbiter is merely oral, not having entered his heart. It is also obvious that one who has faith in God and believes in the Day of Judgement and in encounter with the forms of deeds and the reality of sins, such a person will not commit such a major mortal sin which brings disgrace in the apparent and the hidden worlds, in the life of this world as well as in the barzakh and the Hereafter, leads to the evil affliction of hell, and expels him from the wilayah of God and makes him enter the wilayah of Satan. If we perpetrate such a major sin, then we must know that it arises from a polluted(dirtied) source, that the reality of faith has not entered our hearts. Should faith enter the heart, things will undergo a reform and its effects will percolate to all the hidden and the manifest, the outward and the inward realms of one's being.

Hence we must cure the ills of the hearts and the inner self. The traditions reveal that in the same manner as the weakness of faith and lack of its sincerity results in moral and behavioural vices, so do these vices in their turn lead to further deterioration or rather destruction of faith. This is in accordance with rational proofs, as demonstrated in its proper place.

And let it be known to you that this sin is graver and of greater evil consequences than other sins from another aspect. It lies in this that in addition(adding up) to violating the right of God (haqq Allah) it violates the rights of people (haqq al-nas), and God does not forgive the backbiter unless the victim is propitiated by him. This theme is mentioned in the noble hadith through several chains of transmission.

It is narrated in al-Majalis wa al-'akhbar with isnad on the authority of Muhammad ibn al-Hasan from Abu Dharr from the Prophet (S) that in a counsel that he (S) gave to him he (S) said: "O Abu Dharr, beware of backbiting, for backbiting is graver than adultery." (Abu Dharr says:) "I said, 'Why is that so, O Messenger of Allah?' He replied, 'That is because when a man commits adultery and then repents to God, God accepts his repentance. But backbiting is not forgiven until forgiven by its victim.' " [14]

In the traditions narrated in `Ilal al-sharayi', al-Khisal, Majma' al-bayan and Kitab al-'ikhwan the same or a similar point has been made. If, God forbid, one were to depart from the world with people's rights on his neck, his task would be very difficult. As to the rights of God, one has to deal therein with the Noblest and the Most Merciful, Whose sacred being is free from hatred, enmity, vengefulness, and the urge to satisfy the thirst for revenge. But if one had to deal with creatures, it is quite possible that one may get entangled with someone with such traits, who will not easily forgive anyone or will not be placated at all.

Hence it is necessary for man to be careful of himself and pay due attention to these matters, for the danger of it is very great and the matter is of supreme difficulty. The traditions concerning the serious nature of ghibah are more than can be quoted here and we shall confine ourselves to a few of them.

In a sermon the Prophet (8) spoke about usury and its great evil. Then he said: "Verily, a single dirham earned by a man through usury is greater (in sinfulness) than thirty-six counts of adultery. And verily, more heinous than usury is (violating) the honour of a Muslim. [15]

The Prophet (8) said: "No fire is faster in consuming dry wood than ghibah consuming a devotee's virtues." [16]

The Prophet (S) said: "A person shall be made to halt in front of the Glorious and Exalted Lord on the Day of Resurrection and handed over his book. On not seeing his good deeds therein he shall say, 'My God, this is not my book, for I don't see my virtues in it.' He shall be told, 'Verily, your Lord neither errs nor forgets. Your deeds are gone for your backbiting of the people.' Then another person shall be brought and handed over his book. He will see in it many deeds of obedience (ta'at) and he will say: 'My God, this is not my book, for I have not performed these deeds of obedience.' He shall be told: 'So and so committed your ghibah and so his good deeds have been awarded to you.' " [17]

The Prophet (S) said: "A lower degree of kufr is for a man to hear something from his brother and to commit it to his memory intending thereby to cause him humiliation. Such persons shall have no share (in the Hereafter)". [18]

The traditions cited here relate specifically to the subject at hand. But in case the backbiter were guilty of other sins and vices besides - such as the insult, humiliation, contempt and disparaging of a believer (mu'min), the revelation and counting of his failings, and his defamation, each of which is an independent cause of one's destruction - the traditions condemning each of them are overwhelming and shattering. We abstain from citing them here for brevity's sake.

 The Social Harms of Ghibah:

This greatly heinous vice and highly fatal sin, which is a destroyer of faith and morality, of the outward and the inward, which brings man disgrace and ignominy in the world and the Hereafter as alluded to in the preceding section, has also social evils and in this respect its ugliness and evil are greater than those of many other sins.

One of the great objectives of the teachings of the great prophets, may God's peace be upon them, apart from being an independent goal in itself and a means for forwarding great goals, as well as being completely essential for the formation of a perfect society (al-madinat al fadilah) is unity of belief and creed and solidarity in regard to all important matters, and resistance to the unjust aggressions of oppressors, which cause the corruption of humanity and ruin the foundations of wholesome society. This great objective, on which the reform of individual and society depends, cannot be achieved except in the shadow of unity, solidarity, mutual love and brotherhood amongst the individuals of society and the sincerity of their hearts and their inner and outward purity, so that the human race and its members come to constitute a single person and personality with individuals as its parts and members. All their efforts and endeavours have revolved around this ogle great divine objective and this momentous rational goal, wherein lies the good of individual and society. Should such love and brotherhood be born in a race or tribe, it would dominate all other tribes and nations that do not possess this quality. The truth of this matter comes to light if we study history, especially that of the battles and great victories of Islam. At the advent of this divine faith, since there was a measure of this unity and solidarity amongst Muslims and their efforts were accompanied by sincerity of intention, they could achieve great victories in a short period. In a brief span of time they overwhelmed the great empires of that age, namely Iran and Rome. Smaller in number, they could defeat heavily armed armies with an endless number of soldiers. The Prophet of Islam established the covenant of brotherhood amongst early Muslims and the relationship of brotherhood came to prevail between all Muslims on the basis of the Qur'anic text:

Indeed, the believers are brethren. (49: 10)

The following traditions are recorded in the noble al-Kafi:

Al Aqarqufi says: "I heard Abu 'Abd Allah (A) say to his companions: 'Fear God and be righteous brethren, loving one another for the sake of God, mutually interlinked and merciful into one another. Visit one another, meet one another, remind one another about our affair (i.e. Imamate) and keep it alive.' " [19]

Abu 'Abd Allah (A) said: "It a the duty of all Muslims to strive in respect of mutual relations, cooperation, kindness and charity to the needy and mutual affection amongst themselves, until you become as God, the Almighty and the Glorious, has commanded you to be (saying): 'They are merciful unto one another.' [20]

Al-'Imam al-Sadiq (A) also said: "Cultivate mutual relations, be kind and merciful to one another and be such true brethren as God, the Almighty and the Glorious, has commanded you to be." [21]

It is evident that that which strengthens this mutual love and brotherhood is desirable, and that which severs this tie of mutual connection and brotherhood and creates disunity is regarded as detestable by the Lawgiver and is opposite to His great objectives. It is quite clear that if this great fatal sin were to become prevalent in a society, would cause enmity, envy, hatred and hostility amongst its people and the roots of corruption will spread through it. Then the tree of hypocrisy and two facedness will take roots in it, which shall grow(prospere) and shatter the unity and solidarity of society, weakening the foundations of piety, which in turn will increase its corruption and repulsive character.

Hence it is obligatory upon every pious and honourable Muslim, in order to safeguard his own person against corruption, to protect his coreligionists from hypocrisy, to preserve the Islamic society, to safeguard its unity, and to strengthen the bonds of brotherhood, to protect himself from this vice and forbid others from this repulsive act. And if, God forbid, he has been guilty of this ugly act, he must repent and - in case it is possible and there is no chance of vicious consequences - seek the propitiation of the victim and his forgiveness; otherwise, he must implore God's mercy for him. He must get rid of this vice and water the roots of sincerity, unity and solidarity in his heart, so as to be amongst one of the sound members of society and one of the vital spokes of the wheel of Islam. And God is the guide of all towards the path of righteousness.

On the Cure of this Malady:

You should know that the remedy of this great vice, like that of other vices, is possible by means of beneficial knowledge and action. As to the knowledge, it lies in this that man should reflect over the benefits resulting from this deed and compare them with its evil consequences and ugly fruits. He must weigh them in the balance of reason and seek a judgement therefrom. Of course, man is no enemy of himself. All his sins arise from ignorance, unawareness and negligence of their basic nature and consequences.

As to the imagined benefit of this vice, it amounts to a few minutes of satisfaction of one's carnal desire arising from the mention of people's defects and divulging of their secrets, or an hour spent in convivial company amid pleasantries and sly gossip inspired(pushed) by bestial or satanic nature and aimed to satisfy the thirst of vengeful hearts.

As to its ugly effects, some of them were mentioned in the earlier sections. Now listen to some more of them, place them in the balance of judgement and draw lesson from it, for, of course, this comparison and reflection shall yield fair results. As to the effects of ghibah in this world, one of these is that it lowers a man in the people's estimation and deprives him of their confidence. The people by nature are endowed with a love of perfection, virtue and goodness and a hatred of defectiveness, baseness and ugliness. Accordingly, they make a distinction between persons who avoid divulging hidden defects and refrain from tearing the veils that guard their honour and safeguard their secrets and others who are not such. Even the backbiter himself, by virtue of his reason and innate moral nature, considers one who avoids such vices as superior to himself. Moreover, should he trespass the bounds in perpetration of this vice and tear the veils that guard people's honour, God will disgrace him in this world itself, as mentioned in the narration of Ishaq ibn `Ammar cited earlier. And man must fear a humiliation brought about by God Almighty, for it will be irreparable. I take refuge in God from the wrath of the Forebearing Lord.

Moreover, it is very possible that the slandering of the reputation of believers and the divulging of their concealed defects' will result in a wretched hereafter for man. For when this act becomes a part of man's conduct it leaves certain effects on the soul, one of which is production of enmity and hatred towards the victim, which increase little by little. At the time of death, when some realities become revealed to man and he observes certain suprasensible realms, the veils of malakut having been lifted, this hatred and enmity may cause him on beholding the station of his victims and the honour and blessings granted them by God Almighty, to hate God Almighty. For it is natural for man to regard his enemy's friend as his own enemy and to rail one who loves one he hates. Thus he will leave this world with enmity of God and His angels and depart to everlasting ignominy and wretchedness.

My dear, be friendly to the servants of God who enjoy His mercy and bounty and who have been adorned with the robes of Islam and iman, and cultivate a heart-felt affection for them. Beware lest you feel enmity towards the beloved of God, for God Almighty is the enemy of the enemies(foes) of His beloved one and He will throw you out of the gardens of His mercy. The elect of God are hidden amongst His servants and who knows if this enmity on your part and your violation of the honour of this man of faith (mu'min) and your divulging of his defects will not be considered an offence against Divine honour?

The mu'minun are the awliya' (friends) of God. Their friendship is the friendship of God; their enmity is the enmity of God. Beware of the wrath of God and the enmity of the intercessors on the Day of Judgement:

Woe to him whose intercessors [i.e. those who were supposed to intercede in his favour] are his enemies.

Meditate for a while about the fruits of this sin in this world and the Hereafter. Reflect for a while about the fearsome, frightful forms that will beset you in the grave, in the Barzakh, and on the Day of Resurrection. Refer to the authentic works of Shi'i scholars, may God's good pleasure be with them, and the traditions narrated from the Immaculate Imams, may God's peace be upon them; for what they have to say in this regard is truly overwhelming. Then compare and weigh a quarter of an hour's pleasantries, idle gossip and satisfaction of the imaginative lust with thousands upon thousands of years of adversity (that, too, when you are amongst those who deserve salvation and depart from this world in a state of faith) or eternal damnation in hell and everlasting painful chastisement (and we seek refuge in God from it).

Furthermore, even if you have enmity with a person whose ghibah you commit, that enmity requires that you should not commit his ghibah if you have faith in the ahadith; for it is stated in the hadith that the good deeds of the backbiter are transferred to the book of deeds of the victim of his ghibah and his sins are transferred to the book of the backbiter. Therefore, your enmity of him boils down to an enmity of yourself. Hence you should know that you cannot fight with God. God has power to make that person endearing and respectable in the eyes of people by the very means of your ghibah of him and humiliate you in their eyes through the same means. He can deal with you in the same manner in the presence of the archangels. He can fill your book of deeds with vices and humiliate you. He can fill the book of deeds of your victim with fair deeds and grant him favour and honour.

Hence understand well the extent of the power of the Omnipotent with Whom you are at war and beware of His enmity!

As to the action, it lies in this that one should for a period muster all one's power and rid his soul of this sin at all cost. He must bring his tongue under control and be fully watchful of himself and make a covenant with himself to abstain from this sin for a certain time, being vigilant and watchful over himself and calling himself to account. God willing, it is hoped that after some time he will find himself reformed and free of its traces. Gradually the task will become easy for him and after some time he will feel that he has a natural disposition to dislike(detest) and detest it. Thereat, he will come to possess spiritual peace and delight in achieving freedom from this vice.

The Priority of Abstinence from Permissible Ghibah:

Let it be known to you that the 'ulama' and 'fuqaha', may God's good pleasure be with them, have excepted certain cases from the prohibition of ghibah, which, according to the statements of some of them, number more than ten. Here we do not intend to enumerate them, for this is not a place for legal discussions. That which is essential to be mentioned here is that man should never consider himself secure from the ruses of his carnal self. He should conduct himself with total carefulness and caution and should not be after fabricating excuses in order to plunge into pleasantries and faultfinding by taking resort in one of the permissible exceptions.

The ruses of the self are most subtle. It may seduce man by fooling him through the Shari'ah and lead him into mortal perils. For instance, it is permissible to do the ghibah of one who does not conceal his violations of Divine commands (mutajahir bi al-fisq), or rather it is even obligatory in some cases when it can help in restraining him and is considered one of the stages ofal-'amr bi al-ma`ruf wa al-nahy 'an almunkar. But one must examine whether his own personal motive by this ghibah is a godly and shari one, or if it is prompted by a satanic and selfish motive. If the motive is a godly one, his act would be reckoned among 'ibadat. Rather, the ghibah of the mutajahir and the sinner with the motive of his reform is one of the most evident cases of expression of kindness and munificence toward him, although he himself may not understand it to be so. But if it is tainted with evil and carnal desire, then one must turn to the purification of his intent and refrain from meddling with people's honour without wholesome intention and purpose. Moreover, to habituate the self to cases of permissible ghibah is also harmful for it, for the self is inclined toward mischief and indecency. It is possible that the absence of restraint in the permissible cases may gradually lead it to another stage belonging to the prohibited cases. This is similar to entry intoshubuhat (cases where doubt exists as to an act's permissibility), which is permissible but not desirable for its proximity to that which has been prohibited (maharramat). For it is possible that man may be led into maharramat through entry into them. Man must restrain his self as far as possible from these matters and refrain from everything when there is a possibility of its becoming unruly.

True, one must certainly act in cases where ghibah is obligatory, as in the aforementioned case and some other cases pointed out by the `ulama'; but one must also purge one's intention of the desire of the carnal self and the promptings of Satan. However, in cases of permissibility, it is better and preferable to abstain from it. Man must not commit everything that is permissible, especially in such matters as these where the seductions of the self and Satan are very effective.

It is narrated that Jesus, may God's peace be upon him, in the company of his disciples once passed by the carcass of a dog. The disciples said, "How badly does this carcass smell!" Jesus, upon whom be peace, declared, "What white teeth it has!" Of course, a teacher of the human species must possess such a purified self. He did not like that one of God Almighty's creations should be mentioned in a disparaging fashion. They saw its defect, and that Hadrat pointed out to them one of its excellences. I have heard that it is narrated in hadith that Jesus, upon whom be peace, said: "Don't be like a fly that sits upon filth. Don't be such that you notice only the defects of people."

It is narrated that the Noble Messenger, may God's peace be upon him and his Progeny, said:

Blessed is the man who has been detained by his own defects from noticing the defects of other people. [22]

It would be good if one were as inquisitive about one's own defects as he is about the defects of people. How ugly it is of a man with thousands of defects to neglect his own and attend to those of others adding them to the heap(mound) of his own defects! Should man explore his own states, conduct and acts and devote himself to their correction, his affairs would be reformed. But should he regard himself as free of defect, that is the height of his ignorance. For no defect is worse than this that man should be unaware and negligent of his own defects yet be attentive to the defects of others, while he himself is a mass of defects and shortcomings.

On the Prohibition on Listening to Ghibah:

In the same manner as ghibah is prohibited, so also listening to it, being its companion, is .also prohibited; rather, as some traditions show, the listener is like the backbiter in all the evil respects, even in regard to his act being a major sin and the obligation to propitiate the victim.

The Prophet (S) said: "The listener is one of the two backbiters." [23]

'Ali (A) said: "The listener is one of the two who engage in backbiting." [24]

Hence one who listens to ghibah is also a backbiter. Sami' here means mustami'. Therefore, as many traditions indicate, it is obligatory to refute ghibah.

In a tradition reported by al-Saduq with his isnad from al-'Imam al-Sadiq (A), the Noble Messenger, may God's peace and benedictions be upon him and his Progeny, is once said to have forbidden ghibah and listening to it as well. Then he (S) said: "Lo, whoever does a favour to his brother by refuting his ghibah on hearing it in a gathering, God shall save(salvage) him from a thousand kinds of evils in this world and the Hereafter. And if he doesn't do so in spite of his ability to refute it on him shall be the burden of one who commits his ghibah seventy times. [25]

In a tradition reported by al-Saduq with his isnad from al-'Imam al-Sadiq (A), the Prophet (S) is reported to have said to Amir al-Mu'minin (A) in the course of a counsel that he gave him: "O 'Ali! When someone hears the ghibah of his Muslim brother and it is committed in his presence, yet he does not rally to his assistance despite being capable of doing so, God shall humiliate him in the world and the Hereafter. [26]

In Iqab al-'a'mal, al-Saduq reports with his isnad from the Prophet (S) that he said: "Whoever refutes the ghibah of his brother that he hears in a gathering, God shall turn away from him a thousand kinds of evils in this world and the next. But if he fails to refute it and is even gratified thereat, his burden of sin is like that of the backbiter. [27]

The `Allamah of the latter-day `ulama', the great researcher and embodiment of the merits of knowledge and deed, al-Shaykh al-'Ansari, may God's good pleasure be with him, says:

It appears that by `refutation' (radd) here is meant something other than forbidding ghibah, and it implies defending and offering assistance to the absent person with something related to the ghibah. For instance, if the defect mentioned is one related to worldly affairs, he may say in his defence, "A defect is one which God Almighty has reckoned as such, such as sin, and the biggest of sins is that which you yourself are committing by doing ghibah of your brother by ascribing to him something which God has not considered a defect of his." And if it is one related to religion, he may explain it in such a way as not to be counted a sin on his part. And if it cannot be explained away, he must defend it by saying, for instance, "A believer is at times guilty of sin, and it is fitting that we pray to God to forgive him rather than expose his faults. Perhaps your exposing of his fault is a bigger sin before God Almighty than his."

At times the listener, besides abstaining from absolving the absent person from the ghibah, induces the backbiter to commitghibah, or he may encourage the backbiter by going along willingly with him by such oft-repeated interjections as "Strange!" Or if he is one of the pious ones, by uttering some sacred formula such as `Astagh firullah' or something else, acts which are in fact the Devil's artifices. It is probable that the noble tradition which mentions the burden of the listener as being seventy times that of the backbiter refers to such persons as these. And we take refuge in God from it!

Conclusion: al-Shahid al-Thani's Discourse:

The honourable shaykh, the precious researcher and the blessed martyr (al-Shahid al-Thani), may God's goad pleasure be with him, has a discourse in this regard and with this noble discourse we conclude this section. He says:

Of the filthiest kind of ghibah is that which is committed by some hypocritical persons in the garb of men of knowledge and understanding, for they carry out their (evil) intentions in the garb of righteousness and piety. They commit ghibah and yet pretend to abstain from it. Due to their ignorance and neglect, they don't know that they are guilty of two indecencies at once:riya' and ghibah. Similar to it is the case of the person who when somebody is mentioned before him says: "Al-humdulillah, that we are not afflicted with the love of office," or "...that we are not afflicted with the love of the world" or that "we do not possess such and such a quality." Or, for instance, he will say, "Na'udhubillah, from lack of shame," or "...from incapability," or he will say, "May God safeguard us" from such and such an act.

Sometimes the praise of God is by itself ghibah if the fault of someone is understandable from it. However, it is a ghibahexpressed in a pious and self-righteous form. This kind of person wanted to mention the fault of someone through an utterance that all at once carries ghibah, riya' and the claim to be free from defect, although he has these defects which are greater than the one he ascribes to another.

One of the ways of ghibah is that at times he (the backbiter) will praise the person whose ghibah he wishes to commit. For instance, he will say, "So and so enjoys elevated spiritual states. He does not fall short in his worships, but due to lack of endurance, which afflicts us all, he has become somewhat lethargic in his ritual duties." In this wary he himself pretends to be blameworthy while he intends to find fault with the other person. In fact his purpose is to extol himself by simulating to be one of the pious through his apparent self-criticism. This man has involved himself in three indecencies: ghibah, riya', and self-righteousness. He imagines himself to be one of the righteous and one who refrains from ghibah. This is how Satan plays games with the ignorant and the unaware who are outwardly involved in the pursuit of knowledge and righteous action without having attained firmness on the path. Hence Satan pursues them and brings their good deeds to nothing and laughs at them.

And to this category belongs the one who. when someone's ghibah is done in a gathering and some of those present have not heard, says "Subhan Allah, what an amazing(surprising) thing!" In order to call their attention to the ghibah. This person makes the remembrance (dhikr) of God a means to realize his corrupt vain purpose. Nevertheless, he imagines having done a service to God Almighty by this dhikr, and this is nothing but ignorance and vanity.

Also to this category belongs the one who says that such and such a thing happened to so and so, or rather, such and such a thing happened to "our friend" or "our companion" and then adds, "May God forgive him and us." This person makes a pretence of sympathy and friendliness and perpetrates ghibah under the cover of prayer. But God knows the wickedness of his heart and the viciousness of his intention. He does not know that God is more wrathful toward him than the ignorant man who commits ghibah openly.

Among the concealed kinds of ghibah is listening to it with amazement, for such a person expresses his amazement in order to make the backbiter more lively in his descriptions and his amazement encourages the latter in his act of ghibah. For instance, be will say, "This really makes me amazed(shocked)!" or "I didn't know that!" or "I didn't know he would do such a thing!" These expressions are meant to affirm the backbiter's statements and to encourage him subtley to add something more, whereas to affirm ghibah is also ghibah ; or rather to listen to it or even to keep silent(soundless) on hearing it is also ghibah.(End of his discourse, may God elevate his station).

At times other vices are also added to ghibah, adding to its perversity, ugliness and punishment, like the backbiting person who expresses friendship and intimacy in front of the victim of his ghibah and praises and extols him. This is a kind of hypocrisy (nifaq) double-facedness and double-tonguedness that have been condemned in unambiguous terms in the traditions:

In the noble al-Kafi, al-Kulayni reports with his isnad from al-'Imam al-Sadiq (A) that he said: "Whoever encounters Muslims with two faces and two tongues, he will come on the Day of Resurrection with two tongues of fire." [28]

Such is the form of this ugly act and the result of such a hypocrisy in the Hereafter. I seek refuge in God Almighty from the evil of the tongue and the carnal self. And all praise is God's, at the beginning and the end.

[1]. Al-Kulayni, al-Kafi, ii, "kitab al-'iman wa al-kufr", "bab al-ghibah wa al buht", hadith no. 1.

[2]. Al-Hurr al-'Amili, Wasai'l al-Shi'ah, viii, hadith no. 16312.

[3]. Al-Fayd al-Kashani al-Mahajjat al-bayda, v, 266.

[4]. Wasai'l al-Shi'ah, viii, hadith no. 18312.

[5]. Al-Naraqi, Jami' al-sa'adat, ii, 294.

[6]. Al-Mahajjat al-bayda', v, 263.

[7]. Wasa'il al-Shi'ah, viii, hadith no. 16319.

[8]. Al-Shaykh al-Saduq, 'Iqab al-'a'mal, 340.

[9]. Wasa'il al-Shi'ah, viii, hadith no. 16316.

[10]. Al-Mahajjat al-bayda; v, 261.

[11]. Al-Kafi, ii, "kitab al-'iman wa al-kufr", "bab man talaba 'atharat al mu'minin", hadith no. 2.

[12]. Ibid., "bab man adha al-Muslimin", hadith no. 8.

[13]. Al-Majlisi, Bihar al-'anwar, lxxv, "bab al-ghibah", hadith no. 12, from al Saduq's al-'Amali'

[14]. Wasail al-Shiah, viii, hadith no. 18312.

[15]. Al-Mahajjat al-bayda', v, 263.

[16]. Ibid., 264.

[17]. Jami' al-'akhbar, 171, with some difference of wording.

[18]. A similar tradition in al-Kafi, ii, "kitab al-'iman wa al-kufr", "bab man talaba' atharit al-mu'minin".

[19]. Al-Kafi, "kitab al-'iman wa al-kufr", "bab al-tarahum wa al-ta'atuf", hadith no. 1.

[20]. Ibid, hadith no. 4.

[21]. Ibid., hadith no. 3.

[22]. Sharh Shihab al-'akhbar, 306; al-Mahajjat al-bayda', v, 264.

[23]. Al-Mahajjat al-bayda', v, 260.

[24]. In Ghurar al-hikam, ii, 12.

[25]. Wasa'il al-Shi'ah, viii, hadith no. 16316.

[26]. Ibid., hadith no. 16336.

[27]. Ibid., hadith no. 16340.

[28]. Al-Kafi, ii, "kitab al-iman wa al-kufr", "bab dhi al-lisanayn", hadith no. 1.




source : Forty Hadith by Imam Ruhullah al-Musawi al-Khumayni
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