Dimensions of wisdom and advices of Nahj al- Balaghah -1

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Moral and spiritual teachings constitute the greater part of the Nahj al- balaghah making up almost half of the book. More than any thing else the fame of the Nahj al- balaghah is due to the sermons, exhortations, and aphorisms on ethical and moral subjects.

Aside from the moral teachings of the moral of the Qur’an and a number of the sermons and sayings of the holy prophet (s) which are to be considered the source and antecedent of the Nahj al- balaghah, the teachings of the Nahj al- balaghah are without a match in the Arabic and Persian languages. for more than a thousand years these sermons, have played an influential role serving as a matchless source of inspiration, and yet retained their original power to quicken the heart, to sublimate emotions and to bring tears to the eyes, it seems that as long as there remains any trace of humanity in the world, these sermons shall continue to exercise their original power and influence.

A comparison:
The literature of Arabic and Persian is replete with works containing spiritual and moral teachings of highest sublimity and elegance though mainly in the form of poetry. There is, for, example, the famous qasidah by Abu al- Fath al- Busti ( 360- 400/971-1010),which begins with the verse:

Worldly profit and achievement is loss, And the gain unmarked by the seal of pure goodness.

There is also the elegiacal qasidah of Abu al- Hasan al- Tihami, which he wrote on the early death of his youthful son, it begins with these lines:

The law of fare governs the destiny of creation, And this world is not a place to settle in.

Also well known is the first qasidah of sharaf al – Din al- Busayri, called al- Burdah, from the point where he says,

فان امارتی بالسوء ماتعضت*** من جهلها بنذ یر الشیب و الهرم

Up to the point where he starts the praise of the holy prophet (s) –which is the main subject of the qasidah the
beginning being only a prelude to it- where he says,

ظلمت سنة من أحیی الظلام الی *** أن اشتکت قد ماه الضرمن ورم

Every one of these words is an everlasting masterpiece of its kind and shines like a star on the horizons of the Arabic literature of IsIamic era, never to lose its freshness and charm.

In Persian, the Gulistan and the Bustan of Sa’di and hid qasa’id serve as an unusually attractive and effective means of moral advice and are masterpieces of their own kind. To give some examples there are those famous verses of Gulistan which start which the verse:

Every breath is a fraction of life gone And when I see, not much has remained of it.

Or in his qasa’id where he says:

O people, the world is not a place for leisurs and
To the wise man, the world is not world the effort of acquiring it.

Or at another place where he says:

The world on water and life on wind do rest; Salutes to the brave who do not tie their hearts to them.

And where he says:

Time and fortune are subject to endless change; The wise man doesn’t attach his heart to the world.

Sa’dis Bustan is full of profound and glowing spiritual advices, and perhaps, is its best in the ninth chapter on “penitence and the Right Way” the same is true of some portions of the Mathnawi of Rumi and works of all other Persian poets, from whom we shall not further quote any examples.

In IsIamic literature the Arabic and the Persian there exist excellent examples of spiritual counsels and aphorisms. This IsIamic literary genre is not confined to these two languages, but is also found in Turkish Urdu, and other languages, and a characteristic spirit pervades all of them. Any one familiar with the holy Qur’an, the saying of the holy prophet (s) Amir al- Mu’minin Ali (a) the other Imams (a) and Muslim saints of the first rank ,can observe a characteristic spirit pervading all Persian literature containing spiritual counsel which represents the spirit of IsIam embodied in the Persian language and embellished with its charm and sweetness.

If an expert or group of experts in Arabic and Persian literature acquainted with the works in all other languages that reflect the spirit of IsIam were to collect the masterpieces in the field of spiritual counsel, the extraordinary richness and maturity of the IsIamic culture in the field will be revealed.

It is strange that so far as the works on spiritual counsel are concerned the Persian genius has mostly expressed itself in poetry, there is no such work of eminence in prose. All that exists of it in prose in the from of short sayings, like the prose writings of the Gulistan-a part of which consists of spiritual counsels and is in itself a masterpiece –or the sayings ascribed to khwajah Abd Allah al- Ansari.

Of course, my own knowledge is inadequate, but as for as I know there does not exist in Persian prose any remarkable work, except for short saying –not even a passage which is long enough to be counted as a short discourse, especially a discourse which was originally delivered extempore and later collected and recorded in writing.

There are discourse which have been related from Rumi or sa’di meant as oral moral advice to their followers they also by no means possess the brilliance and charm of poetic works of those masters, and definitely are not worth considering for a comparison with the discourses of the Nahj al- balaghah.

The same can be said about the writings which have reached us in the from of a treatise or letter, such as the Nahj al- balaghah al- muluk by Abu Hamid Muhammd al-Ghazali, the Taziyaneh – ye suluk by Ahmad al-Ghazali the letter being an elaborate epistle addressed to his follower and puplil Ayn al- Qudat al-Hamadani.

Spiritual counsel and wisdom
Moral counsel, according to the Qur’an, is one of the three ways of invitation towards God ( hikmah), maw’izah, al- jidal al- hasan, i.e. wisdom, good admonition, and honourable debate as, mentioned in 16:125.

The difference between hikmah (wisdom, philosophy) and maw’izah (spiritual and moral advice and admonition) lies in this that hikmah is for instruction and imparting knowledge, while maw’izah is meant for reminding. Hikmah is struggle against ignorance and maw’izah is struggle negligence and indifference Hikmah deals with the intellect and maw’izah appeals to the heart, Hikmah educates, while maw’izah prepares the intellect for employment of its reserves, Hikmah is a lamp and maw’izah is an eye- opener, Hikmah is for ratiocination, while maw’izah is for self – awakening. Hikmah is the language of the intellect while maw’izah is the message for the spirit. Accordingly, the personality of the speaker plays an essential role in maw’izah, which is not the case with Hikmah. In Hikmah, two minds communicate in an impersonal manner. Both in maw’izah the situation is like the passage of an electric charge that flows from the speaker, who is at a higher poterntial, to the listener.

For this reason, it has been said of maw’izah that:

If it comes forth the soul them it necessarily alights upon the heart.

Otherwise it does not go beyond the listener’s ears. It is about the quality of maw’izah that it is said:

The speech which originates from the heart enters another heart, and the words which originate from the tongue do not go beyond the ears.

It is true that the words that come from the heart, being the message of the soul, invade other hearts, but if they do not convey the message of the soul, are no more than empty literary devices, which do not go beyond the listener’s ear-drum.

Maw’izah and khitabah ( Exhortation and Oratory):
Maw’izah also differs from khitabah (oratory rhetoric) Although oratory also deals with emotions, but it seeks to stir and agitate them Maw’izah on the other hand is intended to pacify emotions and it seeks to bring them under control. Oratory is effective when emotions are inert and stagnant, Maw’izah is required when lusts and passions become unmanageable, Oratory stirs the passion for power and glory, the feeling of honour, heroism, chivalry manliness, patriotism, nobility righteousness, virtue, and service, it followed by movement and excitement. But Maw’izah checks inappropriate passion and excitement Rhetoric and oratory snatch control from the hand of calculating reason, handing it over to tempestuous passions, but Maw’izah appeases the tempests of passion sand prepares the ground for calculation and foresight. oratory draws one to the outside and Maw’izah makes him turn to his inner self:

Importance of the right time in Rhetoric and counsel
Rhetoric and counsel are both necessary and essential, and the Nahj al- balaghah makes use of both of them. The main thing is to judge the right time for the use of each of them. The impassioned speeches of Amir al- Mu’minin (a)were delivered at a time when it was necessary to stir up passions and to build up a tempest to destroy an unjust and oppressive structure, such as at the time of the Battle of Siffin when Ali (a) delivered a fiery speech before the engagement with Mu’awiyah’s forces. Mu’awiyah’s forces arriving ahead of Ali ‘s army, had taken control of the river bank and stopped the supply of water to Ali (a) strived to abstain from resorting to forces, desiring the problem to be solved through negotiation. But Mu’awiyah’s who had some other designs, considering occupation of the rive bank a victory for himself, refused every offer of negotiation. when things became difficult for Ali’s men, it was time when he should stir the emotions of soldiers through a fiery speech, creating a tempest that would rout the enemy. This is how Ali(a) addressed his companions:

They are eager that you should make them taste the flavour of battle. So you have two alternatives before you: either submit to disgrace and ignominy or quench your swords in their blood and appease your thirst with water, it is death to survive through defeat and true life is to die for the sake of victory, Mu’awiyah’s is leading a handful of deluded insurgents and has deceived them by keeping them in the dark about the truth, with the result that their throats are the targets of your deadly arrows.

These words flared their emotions, provoked their sense of honour, and made the blood surge in their veins, it was not yet sunset when Ali’s companions seized the river bank and threw back Mu’awiyah’s forces.

However, Ali’s mawatiz were delivered in different conditions, During the days of the first three caliphs, and particularly during “Uthman’s rule. Immeasurable amounts of wealth and booty won through consecutive victories flowed into Muslim hands. Due to the absence of any careful programmes for correct utilization of that wealth, particularly due to the aristocratic, or rather tribal, rule during the reign of Uthman, moral corruption, worldiness, and love of comfort and luxury found their way into the Muslim society, Tribal rivalries were revived and racial prejudice between Arabs and non- Arabs was added to it in that clamour for worldliness and mounting prejudices, rivalries, and greed for greater share of the war booty, the only cry of protest charged with spiritual exhortation was that of Ali (a).

God willing, we shall discuss in coming chapters the various themes dealt with in Ali mawaiz, such as taqwa (God – fearing) worldliness, zuhd ( abstinence) desires, the dread of death, the dreads of the Day of Judgement, the need to take lesson from the history of past nations and peoples, etc.


Glimpses of the Nahj al-Balagheh- 159 to 168


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