soluk (behaviour) and worship in Nahj al-Balaghah (1), the meaning and level of worship

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Worship in IsIam
Ibadah, or service, of the one God and negation of everything else an object of service and worship, is one of the essential teachings of God –sent apostles –a feature never a absent from the teachings of any prophet. As we know, in the sacred religion of IsIam, too, worship occupies a preeminent position, with the only difference the worship in IsIam is not regarded as a series of devotional solely to another world. Worship in IsIam is located in the context of life and is an unalienable part of the IsIamic philosophy of life.

Aside from the fact that some of the IsIamic acts of Worship are performed collectively, IsIam has structured them in such a fashion that their performance automatically ensures the performance of other duties of life. for instance, salat is complete expression of man’s servitude and surrender to God. It has been specified in such a manner that even a man who desires to pray in a lonely corner is forced to observe certain things of moral and social relevance, such as cleanliness, respect for rights of others, observance of punctuality, possession of a sense of direction, control over one’s emotions, and expression of good –will and benevolence towards other righteous servants of God.

From the point of view of IsIam, every good and beneficial action if performed with a pure God- seeking intention, is viewed as worship, therefore, learning, acquisition of knowledge and livelihood and social service, if performed for God’s sake, are acts of worship, Nevertheless, IsIam also specifies a system of rituals and formal acts of worship such as salat, sawm ( fasting) etc…which have a specific philosophy for performing them

Levels of worship:
Men have varying attitudes towards worship not all of them view it in the same light. For some, worship is a kind of deal, a barter and an exchange of labour performed for wages. Like an ordinary worker who spends his time and labour for the benefit of an employer and expects a daily wage in return, the devotee also endeavours for the sake of Divine reward, which however, he would receive in the next would. Like the labourer, for whom his labour bears fruit in the form of his wages and who would not work except for a wages, the benefit of the devotee’s worship, according to the outlook of this particular group of devotees, lies in the wages and would not work except for a wage, the benefit of the devotee’s worship, according to the outlook of this particular group of devotees, lies in the wages and reward which shall be granted to the devotees in the shape of the goods and comforts in the other world.

However, every employer pays wages in return for the benefit he derives from his workers, but what benefit can the Lord of the heavens derive from the labours of a weak and feeble servant? Moreover if we assume that the Great Employer does remunerate his servants in his from of the blessings and rewards of the hereafter, then why does he not reward them without any effort and consumption of labour and energy? These are questions which never occur to this class of pious. From their viewpoint, the essence of worship lies in certain visible bodily movements and oscillations of the tongue. This is one attitude toward worship. Unrefined and vulgar it be, it is, in the words of Ibn sina, as he puts it in the ninth chapter of his al- ‘Isharat, the attitude of the unenlightened and God-ignorant, acceptable only to the plebeians.

Another approach towards is that of the enlightened. Here the aforementioned problems of worker and employer, labour and wage, have no relevance. How can they be relevant when worship is viewed by them as the ladder to attain nearness to God, as the means of human sublimity, edification and upliftment of the soul and its flight to the invisible sphere of spiritual greatness, as an invigorating exercise of this spiritual faculties, and as a triumph of the spirit over the corporeal? It is the highest expression of the gratitude and love of the human being towards his Creator and his declaration of love for the Most perfect and the Absolutely Beautiful, and finally his wayfaring towards Allah!

According to this approach, worship has a form and a soul, an appearance and an inner meaning. That which is expressed by the tongue and the movements of other members of the body, is the form, the outer mould, and the appearance of worship. Its soul and meaning is something else. The soul of worship is inextricably connected with the significance attached to worship by the devotee, his attitude towards it, his inner motive that drive him to it, the ultimate satisfaction and benefit he derives from it, and the extent to which he covers the Divine path in his journey towards God

what approach and attitude is adopted by the Nahj al- balaghah towards worship? The Nahj al- balaghah takes an enlightened view of worship, or rather, it is, after the holy Qur’an and the sunnah of the holy prophet (s),the main source of inspiration towards the enlightened approach to worship in the IsIamic tradition.

As we know, of the most sublime and imaginative themes of IsIamic literature, both Arabic and Persian, is relationship between the ardent love of the devotee for the Divine Essence expressed in delicate and elegant passages in the from of sermons, prayers, allegories, parables, both in prose and verse. When we compare them with the pre- IsIamic notions prevalent in the regions which subsequently constituted the domains of IsIam, it is surprising to observe the gigantic leap that was taken by IsIam in bestowing depth, scope, sweetness, and delicacy to human thought. IsIam transformed a people who worshipped idols, images, fire, or degraded the Eternal God to the level of a human “Father”, and whose flight of imagination prompted them to identify the “Father” with the “Son”, or who officially considered the Ahura Mazda to be a material from, whose statues they erected in every place, into a people whose intellect could grasp and evolve the most abstract of concepts, the most sophisticated ideas, the most elegant thoughts and most sublime notions.

How was human intellect so radically transformed? what revolutionized their logic, elevated their thoughts, refined their emotions and sublimated their values? How did it happen? The al- Mu’allaqat al- sab’ah and the Nahj al- balaghah stand only one generation apart. Both of those generations of Arabs were proverbial in eloquence and literary genius. But as to the content, they stand as for apart as the earth and the sky. The former sign of the beauty of the beloved, the pleasures of love, of gallantry, horses, spears, nightly assaults, and compose eulogy and lampoon, the latter contains the sublimest ideas of man.

In order to elucidate the approach of Ali (a) towarda worship. Now we shall proceed to cite few examples from the Nahj al- balaghah, beginning with a statement about the differences in various approaches of people towards worship.

The worship of Freemen:
A group of people worshipped God out of desire for reward, this is the worship of traders, Another group worshipped God out of fear, this is the worship of slaves. Yet another group worshipped God out of gratitude, this is the worship of Freemen.

Even if God had not warned those disobedient to him of chastisement, it was obligatory by way of gratefulness for his favours that he should not be disobeyed.

My God, I have not worshipped thee out of fear of Thy Hell and out of greed for thy paradise, but I found thee worthy of worship, and so I worshipped Thee.

God’s Remembrance as the source of moral and social spiritual effects
the roots of all spiritual, moral, and social aspects of worship lie in one thing: the remembrance of God and obliviousness towards everything else, in one of its verses, the holy Qur’an refers to the educative and invigorating effect of worship, and says: ….the salat proects from unseemly acts…(29:45).

In another place it says: …Adhere to salat in order that you remain in my remembrance. (20:14).

This is a reminder of the fact that the person who prays remembers God and lives by the knowledge that he is always observing and watching him, and does not forget that he himself is his servant.

The remembrance of God, which is the aim of worship, is burnishing of the heart and agency of all its purification, it prepares the heart for the reflection of Divine Light in it. speaking of the remembrance of God and the meaning of worship, Ali (a) says: Certainly God, the glorified, has made his remembrance burnishing of the hearts, which makes them hear after deafness, see after blindness, and makes them submissive after unruliness. In all periods and times when there were no prophets, there were individuals to whom he spoke in whispers through their conscience and intellects.

These sentences speak of the wonderful effect of Divine remembrance on the heart, to the extent of making it capable of receiving Divine inspiration and bringing it in intimate communion with God.

Levels of Devotion of worshippers
In the same sermon are explained the various spiritual states and levels attained by the worshippers in the course of their devotional search, Ali(a) describes such men in these words:

The angels have surrounded them and peace is showered upon them. The doors of heavens are opened for them and abodes of blessedness, of which he had informed them, have been prepared for them. He is pleased with their struggle and admires their station. When they call him, they breathe the scent of his forgiveness and mercy.

Nights of the Devout:
From the point of view of the Nahj al- balaghah, the world of worship is another world altogether. Its delights are not comparable with any pleasures of the three – dimensional corporeal world. The world of worship effuses movement, progress, and journey, but a journey which is quite unlike physical travel to new lands, it is spiritual journey to the “nameless city” it does not know night from the day, because it is always drenched in light. In it there is so trace of darkness and pain, for it is throughout purity, sincerity, and delight. Happy is the man, in the view of the Nahj al- balaghah, who sets his foot into this world and is refreshed by its invigorating breeze. Such a man then no longer cares whether he lays his head on silken pillow or on a stone:

Blessed is who discharges his duties towards his Lord, and endures the hardships, they entail. He allows himself no sleep at nights until it overwhelms him. Then lies down with the palm of his hand under head as his pillow. He is among those whom the thought of the Day of Judgement keeps wakeful at nights, whose beds remain vacant, whose lips hum in God’s remembrance and whose sins have been erased by their prolonged earnest supplication for forgiveness, they are the “Party of God” surely God’s party –they are the prosperers!

The nights of the men of God are like shiny days,
The gloomy nights do not exist for the enlightened.


Glimpses of the Nahj al-Balagheh - pages: 103 to 111


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