Thursday, September 10, 2015

Angels, Your Body, and the Earth Can Testify Against You

Here’s an authentic tradition regarding God’s mercy.

Arabic Text:

مُحَمَّدُ بْنُ يَحْيَى عَنْ أَحْمَدَ بْنِ مُحَمَّدِ بْنِ عِيسَى عَنِ الْحَسَنِ بْنِ مَحْبُوبٍ عَنْ مُعَاوِيَةَ بْنِ وَهْبٍ قَالَ سَمِعْتُ أَبَا عَبْدِ اللَّهِ ع يَقُولُ‏ إِذَا تَابَ الْعَبْدُ تَوْبَةً نَصُوحاً أَحَبَّهُ اللَّه‏ فَسَتَرَ عَلَيْهِ فِي الدُّنْيَا وَ الْآخِرَةِ فَقُلْتُ وَ كَيْفَ يَسْتُرُ عَلَيْهِ قَالَ يُنْسِي مَلَكَيْهِ مَا كَتَبَا عَلَيْهِ مِنَ الذُّنُوبِ وَ يُوحِي إِلَى جَوَارِحِهِ اكْتُمِي عَلَيْهِ ذُنُوبَهُ وَ يُوحِي إِلَى بِقَاعِ الْأَرْضِ اكْتُمِي مَا كَانَ يَعْمَلُ عَلَيْكِ مِنَ الذُّنُوبِ فَيَلْقَى اللَّهَ حِينَ يَلْقَاهُ وَ لَيْسَ شَيْ‏ءٌ يَشْهَدُ عَلَيْهِ بِشَيْ‏ءٍ مِنَ الذُّنُوبِ.

English Translation:

Moa'wiyah ibn Wahb said, I heard Abu Abdullah, peace be upon him, saying,

“If a servant repents sincerely, Allah loves him, so [He] covers his sins in this life and the next.”

I said, “And how does He cover him?”

He, peace be upon him, said, “He makes his two angels forget the sins that they had written upon him, and He reveals/signals to his body organs to hide his sins, and reveals/signals to the places on Earth, where he had committed sinful deeds, to hide them. Thus, when Allah meets him, and he meets Him, nothing will testify against him from [his] sins.”

Al-Kafi, Volume 2, Page 430, Tradition #1

Explicit teachings:

  •        God is merciful.
  •        Sincere repentance results in your protection from your sins.
  •        God commands angels, body parts, and Earth to conceal the sins of a sincere repentant.  

Implicit teachings:

  •        Imam’s companion asked the Imam, peace be upon him, how God completes an affair. Neither the Imam nor the companion were hesitant to discuss the mechanics behind God’s order.
  •        Our actions affect 3 things: angels, Earth, and our body parts. Sinful actions will leave negative effects on our body parts and Earth, which must be covered or concealed to not count against us.
  •        Conceptually, what angels remember, is not the same as what is written down. Angels can forget what they have written down, and subsequently, what they have written down becomes inconsequential for us. Thus, it is my opinion, we ought not to picture a book of any sort; rather we must consider established effects that are linked to angels’ memories. In simpler words, what angels perceive, they remember, and what they remember has effects. Without the proximate cause of angels remembering, there won’t be any consequences for our actions. What memory implies in this case, I do not know. Here’s the given causal chain that links our action to their consequences:
o   Our actions -> angels’ memory -> established effects -> consequences of our actions
  •        Imam’s companion asked the Imam, peace be upon him, how God completes an affair. Neither the Imam nor the companion was hesitant to discuss the mechanics behind God’s will. Thus, it is permitted, at least on some occasions, to ask how God achieves with His will.
  •        God regularly sends revelations to our body parts and Earth, but not angels. How angels communicate with God is different than how Earth and our body parts communicate with God.
  •        Earth and our body parts are commanded to hide, angels are commanded to forget. All three entities are portrayed to have consciousness, or a means to take in information and act upon it.  
  •        It is a common Islamic knowledge that our body parts testify against us in the hereafter; however, this tradition makes it clear that Earth or the land that you walk on can also testify against you.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Two Types of Knowledge

Here’s an important tradition that reminds us that Ahlul Bayt (as) know whatever that can possibly be known. It also points to the notion that there is a type of knowledge that neither the angels nor the messengers nor the Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them all) can know. Only God is aware of all that is in the Mother Book and He is the only one that can carry out this hidden knowledge that everyone is blind to. 

            Here are a few interesting philosophical questions that are worth pondering upon:  There exists a type of knowledge that cannot be known by us. Can we consider this type of knowledge, knowledge to begin with? Knowledge by definition is something that can be known. How does this hidden type of knowledge fit in our definition and understanding of knowledge in general?  Perhaps knowledge shouldn’t be considered as something that is necessarily knowable?

The following tradition is authentic in its chain of narrators.

Arabic Text:
أَبُو عَلِيٍّ الْأَشْعَرِيُّ عَنْ مُحَمَّدِ بْنِ عَبْدِ الْجَبَّارِ عَنْ مُحَمَّدِ بْنِ إِسْمَاعِيلَ عَنْ عَلِيِّ بْنِ النُّعْمَانِ عَنْ سُوَيْدٍ الْقَلَّاءِ عَنْ أَبِي أَيُّوبَ عَنْ أَبِي بَصِيرٍ عَنْ أَبِي جَعْفَرٍ ع قَالَ:
إِنَّ لِلَّهِ عَزَّ وَ جَلَّ عِلْمَيْنِ عِلْمٌ لَا يَعْلَمُهُ إِلَّا هُوَ وَ عِلْمٌ عَلَّمَهُ مَلَائِكَتَهُ وَ رُسُلَهُ فَمَا عَلَّمَهُ مَلَائِكَتَهُ وَ رُسُلَهُ ع فَنَحْنُ نَعْلَمُهُ.
English Translation:
Abi Ja’far (peace be upon him) said:
Verily, for Allah, The Almighty, there are two [types of] knowledge: The knowledge that no one knows but He, and the knowledge that He has taught to the angels and messengers. So, what is taught to the angels and messengers (peace be upon them), we know, [too].

Al-Kafi, Volume 1, Page 256, Tradition #4

Here’s another similar tradition for which the chain of narrators is not evidently authentic. However, if we put this tradition side by side with two other almost identical traditions in the book بصائر الدرجات  (Basair Al-Darajat), and consider that its content is in harmony with the previous authentic tradition, we may come to view it as an acceptable tradition.

Arabic Text:
عَلِيُّ بْنُ إِبْرَاهِيمَ عَنْ صَالِحِ بْنِ السِّنْدِيِّ عَنْ جَعْفَرِ بْنِ بَشِيرٍ عَنْ ضُرَيْسٍ قَالَ سَمِعْتُ أَبَا جَعْفَرٍ ع يَقُولُ:
إِنَّ لِلَّهِ عَزَّ وَ جَلَّ عِلْمَيْنِ عِلْمٌ مَبْذُولٌ‏ وَ عِلْمٌ‏ مَكْفُوفٌ فَأَمَّا الْمَبْذُولُ فَإِنَّهُ لَيْسَ مِنْ شَيْ‏ءٍ تَعْلَمُهُ الْمَلَائِكَةُ وَ الرُّسُلُ إِلَّا نَحْنُ نَعْلَمُهُ وَ أَمَّا الْمَكْفُوفُ فَهُوَ الَّذِي عِنْدَ اللَّهِ عَزَّ وَ جَلَّ فِي أُمِّ الْكِتَابِ إِذَا خَرَجَ نَفَذَ.

English Translation:
Aba Ja’far (peace be upon him) is heard to have said:
For Allah the Most Exalted there are two [kinds of] knowledge: Knowledge that is transferred and knowledge that is blind [or that we are blind to it]. The transferred knowledge is nothing from things known by angels and messengers except we know it. [All that the angels and messengers know, we know, too]. The knowledge that is blind [that we are blind to] is that which is with God, the Most Exalted, in the Mother Book, to be carried out.

Al-Kafi, Volume 1, Page 253, Tradition #3

In Basair Al-Darajat we can find the following:

حَدَّثَنَا مُحَمَّدُ بْنُ إِسْمَاعِيلَ عَنْ عَلِيِّ بْنِ الْحَكَمِ عَنْ ضُرَيْسٍ عَنْ أَبِي جَعْفَرٍ ع قَالَ سَمِعْتُهُ يَقُول:
إِنَّ لِلَّهِ عِلْمَيْنِ‏ عِلْمٌ‏ مَبْذُولٌ‏ وَ عِلْمٌ مَكْفُوفٌ فَأَمَّا الْمَبْذُولُ فَإِنَّهُ لَيْسَ مِنْ شَيْ‏ءٍ يَعْلَمُهُ الْمَلَائِكَةُ وَ الرُّسُلُ إِلَّا وَ نَحْنُ نَعْلَمُهُ وَ أَمَّا الْمَكْفُوفُ فَهُوَ الَّذِي عِنْدَهُ فِي أُمِّ الْكِتَابِ‏  إِذَا خَرَجَ نَفَذ.
Basair Al-Darajat, Volume 1, Page 109, Tradition #3

حَدَّثَنَا أَحْمَدُ بْنُ مُحَمَّدٍ عَنِ الْبَرْقِيِّ عَنِ الرَّبِيعِ الْكَاتِبِ عَنْ جَعْفَرِ بْنِ بَشِيرٍ قَالَ قَالَ سَمِعْتُ أَبَا جَعْفَرٍ ع يَقُول:
إِنَّ لِلَّهِ عِلْمَيْنِ‏ عِلْمٌ‏ مَبْذُولٌ‏ وَ عِلْمٌ مَكْنُونٌ فَأَمَّا الْمَبْذُولُ فَإِنَّهُ لَيْسَ مِنْ شَيْ‏ءٍ تَعْلَمُهُ الْمَلَائِكَةُ وَ الرُّسُلُ إِلَّا نَحْنُ نَعْلَمُهُ وَ أَمَّا الْمَكْنُونُ فَهُوَ الَّذِي عِنْدَ اللَّهِ تَبَارَكَ وَ تَعَالَى فِي أُمِّ الْكِتَابِ إِذَا خَرَجَ نَفَذ
Basair Al-Darajat, Volume 1, Page 112, Tradition #18

Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Deserted Well and the Lofty Castle

There is a very well-known tradition in our books that most, if not all, faithfuls are familiar with. It is referred to as the tradition of al-thaqalayn or two weighty things. In it we are clearly and indubitably commanded to, simultaneously, follow the Ahlul Bayt (as) and the Holy Qur’an. The key point in this famous tradition and its many variations is that these two weighty things must be followed concurrently. In other words, we ought not to follow only one until we need the help of the other one. Each of these two weighty things complements the other, and to understand either one of them, we need to study both of them. In simpler words, to understand the teachings of the Ahlul Bayt (as) we need to study to the Qur’an, and to understand the teachings of the Qur’an, we need to study the traditions of the Ahlul Bayt (as). If we study one without the other, we fail to understand both of them.

This important theme and lesson has been argued and emphasized regularly in the teachings of the Ahlul Bayt (as). Nevertheless, unfortunately, nowadays, many people view the traditions of the Ahlul Bayt (as) as secondary and inferior to the teachings of the Qur’an. It has become a habit of many people to try to guess what certain verses of the Qur’an are supposed to imply, instead of referring to see how our Imams (as) have explicated them. There are even certain Islamic speakers and scholars, who, in their speeches and lectures, rarely mention the viewpoint of the Ahlul Bayt (as). 

The purpose of this post is to stimulate some thoughts on this issue. I will present an authentic tradition, in which our Imam (as) interprets a section of a verse. Without having any knowledge of this tradition, it would be difficult for us to see how this section of this verse could imply what the Imam (as) is referring to. 

Arabic Text:
مُحَمَّدُ بْنُ يَحْيَى عَنِ الْعَمْرَكِيِّ عَنْ عَلِيِّ بْنِ جَعْفَرٍ عَنْ أَبِي الْحَسَنِ ع‏
فِي قَوْلِهِ تَعَالَى وَ بِئْرٍ مُعَطَّلَةٍ وَ قَصْرٍ مَشِيدٍ (الحج:45) قَال‏:
الْبِئْرُ الْمُعَطَّلَةُ الْإِمَامُ الصَّامِتُ وَ الْقَصْرُ الْمَشِيدُ الْإِمَامُ النَّاطِقُ.
English Translation:
Narrated by Mohammad Ibn Yahya from Al-Amraki from Ali Ibn Ja’far from Abul Hassan (peace be upon him), regarding the words of Allah the Most Exalted,
“Deserted well and lofty castle” (Al-Hajj:45)

He (peace be upon him) said: 

“The deserted well is the silent Imam and the lofty castle is the Imam who speaks.”

Al-Kafi, Volume 1, Page 427, Tradition #75

In my opinion, it is fair to state that not many people would interpret these words as our Imam (As) has.

I recommend that when and if we can, we look into how the Ahlul Bayt (as) have interpreted specific verses or sections and phrases within verses. It may be the case that their interpretations may surprise us, and challenge our common views and analyses. 

Lastly, it is important to note that via this tradition our Imam (as) is indicating to us that through proper interpretation of the Qur'an, we can see that the issue of Imamate is found within our Holy Book.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

To Be Intelligent, Work Hard to be Virtuous

In this post I would like to remind us all of an important issue regarding intelligence (عقل) and virtue (ادب). Both of these terms are loaded with meanings and history. Many books and articles have been written to clarify what these two terms are supposed to denote and connote. When we examine the nature of intelligence, we learn that it is much more than “reason” and it is directly linked to our contemplative and intuitive capacities. It should not be confused with “mind” or “brain.” Similarly, the term “virtue” has been the subject of many studies. “Virtue” does not necessarily imply “moral excellence.” 

Nevertheless, this post is not about describing the true nature and meaning of these terms. This post is meant to serve two purposes. First, it is intended to encourage you, the reader, to study these terms further and realize their depth. Second, it is aimed to present to you the proper way to gain intelligence.

The following tradition is graded good like authentic.

Arabic Text:
عَلِيٌّ عَنْ أَبِيهِ عَنْ أَبِي هَاشِمٍ الْجَعْفَرِيِّ قَالَ:
كُنَّا عِنْدَ الرِّضَا ع‏ فَتَذَاكَرْنَا الْعَقْلَ وَ الْأَدَبَ فَقَال‏:
يَا أَبَا هَاشِمٍ الْعَقْلُ حِبَاءٌ مِنَ اللَّهِ وَ الْأَدَبُ كُلْفَةٌ فَمَنْ تَكَلَّفَ الْأَدَبَ قَدَرَ عَلَيْهِ وَ مَنْ تَكَلَّفَ الْعَقْلَ لَمْ يَزْدَدْ بِذَلِكَ إِلَّا جَهْلًا.

Farsi Translation:
ابو هاشم گويد: خدمت حضرت رضا عليه السّلام بودم و از عقل و ادب گفتگو ميكرديم حضرت فرمود:
اى ابو هاشم عقل موهبت خدا است و ادب با رنج سختى بدست آيد پس كسى كه در كسب ادب زحمت كشد آن را بدست آرد و كسى كه در كسب عقل رنج برد بر نادانى خويش افزايد.

English Translation:
Ali has narrated from his father from abu Hashim al-Ja‘fari who has said the following:
We were in the presence of Imam al-Rida (pbuh) that a discussion about intelligence and virtue took place and the Imam said:
"O abu Hashim, intelligence is a gift from Allah and virtue has a cost [and must be worked for]. So, whoever works hard to [achieve] virtue, it is decreed upon him, and whoever works hard to [achieve] intelligence will not gain anything except ignorance.”

Al-Kafi, Volume 1, Page 23, Tradition #18

Here are a few important points to take from this tradition:
Many of us, due to misunderstanding the nature of intelligence, confuse it with reasoning ability, thinking or being knowledgeable or smart. However, these qualities and abilities are different from intelligence in the following way: we can work and practice to strengthen and improve them. For example, reading books, watching documentaries, listening to informative lectures and participating in constructive discussions, help us bolster our reasoning and thinking abilities and increase our knowledge. Nonetheless, none of the aforementioned activities can help us to directly attain intelligence. We may read numerous books yet remain unintelligent.  
Unlike intelligence, we have the opportunity to increase our virtue. What is virtue? Typically, “virtue” is defined as “goodness” or “righteousness” or “moral excellence.” However, a better way to understand “virtue” is by seeing it as a “capacity”: an ability to receive or contain, being susceptible to a given treatment or action, or having the power to receive impressions.
In the context of the above tradition, we can better understand the relationship between virtue and intelligence. In order to receive the gift of intelligence, we must first have the capacity for it. The larger the cup, the more water it can contain. Similarly, the larger our “virtue container”, the more intelligence we are able to receive as a gift from God. God is The Most Merciful, The Most Generous. If we have the capacity for it, we will receive the gift. Likewise, if we work hard to increase our virtue, our virtue will be increased; it will be decreed upon us.
This tradition ends with a warning for the one who does not take heed. The one who pursues intelligence over virtue, will gain only ignorance.  In other words, ironically, striving to be intelligent, makes one ignorant. How must we understand this?
One way to understand it is the following:
If we do not strive for virtue, if we are apathetic and negligent towards virtue, instead of increasing our capacity, we decrease it. We become less virtuous As a result, in the absence of intelligence, ignorance prevails.
Another way to understand the paradox is the following:
If we understand virtue as a capacity to obtain intelligence, vileness can be understood as a capacity to obtain ignorance. There is an inverse relationship between the two containers. As the former decreases in size, the latter increases in size. As we lose the opportunity to gain intelligence, we increase our capacity for ignorance.
There are perhaps other ways to understand the paradox. If you can think of more and better ways to understand it, then please leave a comment and do let me know. I look forward to reading your comments and feedback.
In a nutshell: strive hard to do good deeds, and you’ll be rewarded with intelligence.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Proceed With What is Willed

Here’s a short post on changing the will of another individual. I will follow this good tradition, with what I think is important to keep in mind.

Arabic Text:
عَلِيُّ بْنُ إِبْرَاهِيمَ عَنْ أَبِيهِ عَنِ الرَّيَّانِ بْنِ شَبِيبٍ قَالَ:
أَوْصَتْ مَارِدَةُ لِقَوْمٍ نَصَارَى فَرَّاشِينَ بِوَصِيَّةٍ فَقَالَ أَصْحَابُنَا اقْسِمْ هَذَا فِي فُقَرَاءِ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ‏ مِنْ أَصْحَابِكَ فَسَأَلْتُ الرِّضَا ع فَقُلْتُ إِنَّ أُخْتِي أَوْصَتْ بِوَصِيَّةٍ لِقَوْمٍ نَصَارَى وَ أَرَدْتُ أَنْ أَصْرِفَ ذَلِكَ إِلَى قَوْمٍ مِنْ أَصْحَابِنَا مُسْلِمِينَ فَقَالَ أَمْضِ الْوَصِيَّةَ عَلَى مَا أَوْصَتْ بِهِ قَالَ اللَّهُ تَبَارَكَ وَ تَعَالَى‏ فَإِنَّما إِثْمُهُ عَلَى الَّذِينَ يُبَدِّلُونَهُ‏. (2:181)

English Translation:
Ali ibn Ibrahim has narrated from his father from Al Rayyan ibn Shabeeb who said:

[My sister] Maredah has willed [to give] to some poor Christians. Our companions said: I [should] divide it [what is willed] between the poor faithfuls from your companions.
So I asked Al Redha (as) and said [to him]: my sister has willed [to give] to Christians and I was willing to spend it on some Muslims from our companions.
He (as) said: Proceed with what is willed as Allah the Almighty said:  "The sin shall be on those who make the change." (2:181).

Al-Kafi, Volume 7, Page 16, Traditions #2

To make a few points, I need to state the very next verse after 2:181.

So, whoever fears from the bequeather [some] error or sin and corrects that which is between them, there is no sin upon him. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful. (2:182)

Imam Redha (as) recited verse 2:181 to prevent the changing of the will of Maredah. Verse 2:182 states that if a mistake is made by the testator/bequeather, there is not any sin to correct it, by changing it.
The bequeather in this case had decided to give from her properties to poor Christians, not the faithfuls and not Muslims. The faithful men, including her brother, had the opinion that it would be better to give her properties to the faithfuls in contrast to her wishes. However, if what she had wished was a mistake or sinful, then the Imam (as) would not prevent the changing of the will. The very next verse (2:182) permits correcting the will, if a mistake is made.
What we can infer, and what is clear, is that it is not a mistake or sinful to will to give to poor Christians, instead of Muslims, after one’s death.
In addition, what is evident is that if there is no mistake or sin in the will of an individual, be it a woman or a man, another individual, even an individual as close as one’s brother, does not have the right to change the will. To do so would be sinful.
In a nutshell, respect the will of other individuals and do not give in to the pressure of your peers and colleagues. After one’s parents and the near kin, a person can give his/ her properties to whoever he/she desires in his/her will.