Dimensions of wisdom and advice of Nahj al-Balaghah (2) virtue

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Out of the 241 fragments collected under the title khutab by al-Sayyid al- Radi (though not all of them are khutab or sermons) about 86 can be classed as mawa’iz or at least contain a series of spiritual advices. Some of them, however, are elaborate and lengthy, like the khutabah 179, which open with the sentence انتعوا ببیان الله (“Avail of the Divine expositions”), the khutabah named al- Qasiah (which is the longest of sermons of the Nahj al- balaghah ), and the khutabah 193 (called khutbat al- muttaqin, the sermon of the pious).

Out of some seventy –nine passages that are classed as “khutab” (letters, which not all of them are) about twenty-five, either completely or partially, consist of spiritual and moral teachings. Some of them are quite lengthy and elaborate –like letter 31, which constitutes Ali’s advice to his son al- Imam al- Hasan al- Mujtaba (a) and is the lengthiest of all, except the famous directive sent to Malik al- Ashtar, another one is letter 45, the well – known epistle of Ali (a) to Uthman ibn Hunayf, his governor in Basrah.

The Themes in spiritual Advices:
Various themes are found in the spiritual advices of the Nahj al- balaghah: taqwa ( God –fearing ), tawakkul (trust in God), sabr (patience, fortitude ), zuhd ( abstinence )the renunciation of worldly pleasures and luxuries, the renunciation of inordinate desires and far- fetched hopes, the condemnation of injustice and prejudice, emphasis on mercy, love, helping of the oppressed and sympathy toward the weak. Emphasis on the qualities of fortitude, courage, and strength, emphasis on unity and solidarity and condemnation of disunity, the invitation to take lesson from history, the invitation to thought, meditation, remembrance, and self- criticism, the reminders about the brevity of life and swiftness of its pace, the remembrance of death, the hardships of death-throes, experiences of the life after death the reminders of the dreadful events of the Day of Judgement and so on. these are some of the frequent themes of the spiritual advices of the Nahj al- balaghah

Ali’s Logic and behaviour in counsel
In order to understand this aspect of the Nahj al- balaghah,or, in other words, to understand Ali (a) when he speaks as a moral and spiritual counsellor and to understand his didactic outlook, so as to draw benefit from that ever flowing source, it is not enough to enumerate the various themes and topics dealt with by Ali (a) in his discourses. It is not sufficient merely to remark that Ali (a) has spoken about taqwa taqqkkul or zuhd rather, we must see what significance did he attribute to these words we must uncover his didactic philosophy regarding the development of the human character and his perception of the human aspiration for piety, purity, freedom, and deliverance from spiritual servitude and thraldom. As we know, these are words employed by all- in particular those who are wont to play the role of moralist – but all individuals do not mean the same kind of things by these terms, sometimes, the meanings one person attributes to these words are quite contrary to those meant by another, and naturally lead to conclusions which are quite opposite.

Consequently, it is essential to elaborate somewhat the specific meanings of these terms in Ali’s vocabulary, starting with taqwq.

Taqwa is one of the most frequent motifs of the Nahj al- balaghah. In face it would be hard to find another book which emphasizes this spiritual term to the extent of concept receives so much attention and stress as taqwa what is Taqwq?

Often it is thought that tqawa means piety and abstinence and so implies a negative attitude. In other words, it is maintained that the greater the among of abstinence, withdrawal, and self – denial the more perfect is one’s taqwa, According to this interpretation, tqawa is a concept divorced from active life, secondly it is negative attitude, thirdly, it means that the more severely this negative attitude is exercised, the greater one’s taqwa would be. Accordingly, the sanctimonious professors of taqwa, in order to avoid its being tainted and to protect it from any blemish, withdraw from the bustle of life keeping themselves away from involvement in any matter or affair of the world.

Undeniably, abstinence and caution exercised with discretion is any essential principle of wholesome living. For in order to lead a healthy life, man is forced to negate and affirm, deny and posit, renounce and accept, avoid and welcome different things, it is through denial and negation that the positive in life can be realized. It is through renunciation and avoidance that concentration is given to action.

The principle of tawhid contained in the dictum la illaha illa Allah is at same time a negation as well as an affirmation. Without negation of everything other than God it is not possible to arrive at tawhid. This is way rebellion and surrender, kufr( unbelief) and Iman (belief) go together, than is, every surrender requires a rebellion and very faith(Iman) calls for a denial and rejection ( kufr), and every affirmation implies a negation. The Qura’an says:

…..so whoever disbelieves in taghut and believes in God, has laid hold of the most firm bond….(2:256).

However, firstly every denial, negation rejection, and rebellion operates between the limits of two opposites, the negation of one thing implies movement towards its opposites, the rejection of the one marks the beginning of the acceptance of the other. Accordingly, every healthy denial and rejection has both a direction and a goal, and is confined within certain definite limits. Therefore, a blind practice and purposeless attitude, which has neither direction nor a goal nor is confined within any limits is neither defensible nor any spiritual worth.

Secondly, the meaning of taqwa inthe Nahj al- balaghah is not synonymous with that of “abstinence” even in its logically accepted sense discussed above taqwa, on the other hand, according to the Nahj al- balaghah, is a spiritual faculty which appears as a result of continued exercise and practice, the healthy and rational forms of abstinence are, firstly the preparatory cause for the emergence of that spiritual faculty, secondly, they are also its effects and outcome.

This faculty strengthens and vitalizes the soul, giving it a kind of immunity. A person who is devoid of this faculty, is he wants to keep himself free from sine, it is unavoidable for him to keep away from the cause of sin. Since society is never without these causes, inevitably he has to go into seclusion and isolate himself. It follows from this argument that one should either remain pious by isolating himself from one’s environment, or he should enter society and bid farewell to taqwa. Moreover, according to this logic, the more isolated and secluded a person’s life and the more he abstains from mixing with other people, the greater is his piety and taqwa in the eye of the common people.

However, if the faculty of taqwa is cultivated inside a person ‘s soul, it is not longer necessary for him to seclude himself from his environment. He can keep himself clean and uncorrupted without severing his relations with society.

The former kind of persons are like those who take refuge in mountains for fear of some plague or epidemic. The second kind resemble those who acquire immunity and resistance though vaccination and so do not deem it necessary to leave the city and avoid contact with their townsfolk. On the other hand, they hasten to the aid of the suffering sick in order to save them. Sa’di alluding to the first kind of pious in his Gulistan, when he says:

Saw I sage in the mountains,
Happy in a cave far from the world’s tide
Said I, “why not to the city return.
And lighten your heart of this burden?
He said, “the city abounds in tempting beauties,
And even elephants slip where mud is thick

"Piety" as a will-power and controller of self factar
The the Nahj al- balaghah speaks of taqwq as a spiritual faculty acquired though exercise and assiduity, which on its emergence produces certain characteristic effects, one of which is the ability to abstain from sins with ease.

I guarantee the truth of my words and I am responsible for what I say, if similar events and experiences of the past serve as a lesson for a person with, taqwa prevents him from plunging reckless with to doubts…

Beware that sins are like unruly horses whose reins have been taken away and which plunge with their riders into hello –fire but taqwa is like a trained steed whose reins are in the hands of its rider and enter with its rider into paradise.

In this sermon taqwa is described as spiritual condition which results in control and command over one’s self. It explains that the result of subjugation to desires and lusts and being devoid of tqawa degrades one’s personality making it. vulnerable to the craving of the carnal self. In such a state, man is like a helpless rider without any power and control, whom his mount takes wherever it desires. The essence of taqwa lies in possessing a spiritual personality endowed with will- power, and possessing mastery over the domain of one’s self. A man with taqwa is like an expert horseman riding a well-trained horse and who with complete mastery and control drives his tractable steed in the direction of his choice.

Certainly the taqwa of God assists his awliya (friends) in abstaining from unlawful deeds and instills his fear into their hearts. As a reault, their nights are passed in wakefulness and their days in thirst [ on account of fasting].

Here Ali (a) makes it clear the taqwa is something which automatically leads to abstention from unlawful action and to the fear of God, which are its necessary effects, therefore, according to this view, taqwa is neither itself abstinence nor fear of God, rather, it is a sacred spiritual faculty of which these two are only consequences:

For indeed, today taqwa is a shield and a safeguard, and tomorrow (i.e in the hereafter) it shall be the path to paradise.

In khutbah 157, taqwa is compared to an invincible fortress built on heights which the enemy has no power to infiltrate. Throughout, the emphasis of the Imam(a) lies on the spiritual and psychological aspect of taqwa and its effects upon human spirit involving the emergence of a dislike for sin and corruption and an inclination towards piety, purity, and virtue.

From the viewpoint of the Nahj al- balaghah, is a sublime spiritual faculty which is the cause of certain attractions and repulsion i. e. attraction towards edifying spiritual values repulsion towards degrading materialistic vices, the Nahj al- balaghah considers taqwa as a spiritual state that gives strength to human personality and makes man the master of his own self.

Taqwa as Immunity, not limitation
The Nahj al- balaghah stresses that taqwa is for man a shield and a shelter, not a chain or prison. There are many who do not distinguish between immunity and restraint, between security and confinement, and promptly advocate the destruction of the sanctuary of taqwa in the name of freedom and liberation from bonds and restraint.

That which is common between a sanctuary and a prison is the existence of barrier. Whereas the walls of a sanctuary avert dangers, the walls of a prison hinder the inmates from realizing their inner capacities and from benefiting from the bounties of life. Ali (a) clarifies the difference between the two, where he says:

Let it be known to you, O servants of God, that taqwa is a formidable fortress, whereas impiety and corruption is a weak and indefensible enclosure that does not safeguard its people. And does not offer any protection to those who take refuge in it, indeed, it is only with taqwa that the tentacles of sins and misdeed can be severed.

Ali (a), in this sublime advice, compares sins and evil deeds which are afflictions of the human soul to poisonous insects and reptiles, and suggests that the faculty of taqwa is an effective defence against them. In some of his discourses, he makes it clear that taqwa not only does not entail restraint and restriction or is an impediment to freedom, but on the other hand it is the source and fountainhead of all true freedom, in khutbah 230, he says: taqwa is the key to guidance, the provision for the next world, the freedom, from every kind of slavery, and the deliverance from every from of destruction.

The message is clear, taqwa gives man spiritual freedom and liberates him from the chains of slavery and servitude to lusts and passions. It releases him from the bonds of envy, lust, and this expurgates society from all kind of social bondages and servitudes. men who are not slaves of comfort, money, power, and glory, never surrender to the various forms of bondage which plague the human society.

The Nahj al- balaghah deals with the theme of taqwa and its various effects in many of its passages, but we don’t consider it necessary to discuss all of them here. Our main objective here is discover the meaning of taqwa from the point view of the Nahj al- balaghah, so as to unearth the reason for much emphasis that this book place on this concept.

Of many effects of taqwa that have been pointed out, two are more important than the rest: firstly the development of insight and clarity of vision, secondly the capacity to solve problems and to weather difficulties and crises. It will not be out of place to call attention to certain profound remarks of the Nahj al- balaghah about the reciprocal relationship between the human being and taqwa.

A Reciprocal Commitment of man and Taqwa -piety
In spite of the great emphasis laid by the Nahj al- balaghah on taqwa as a kind of guarantee and immunity against sin and temptation, it should be noticed that one must never neglect to safeguard and protect taqwa itself, taqwa guards man, must safeguard his taqwa, this, as we shall presently explain, is not a vicious circle.

This reciprocal guarding of the one by the other is comparable to the between a person and his clothes a man take care of his clothes and protects them from being spoiled or stolen, while the clothes in turn guard him against heat or cold, in fact the holy Qur’an speaks of taqwa as a garment:

….and the garment of taqwa –that is better …(7:26).

Ali (a) speaking about this relationship of mutual protection between a person and his taqwa says:

Turn your sleep into wakefulness by the means of taqwa and spend your days in its company, keep its consciousness alive in your hearts. with it wash away your sins and cure your ailments….beware, guard your taqwa and place your self under its guard.

At another place in the same sermon, Ali (a) says:

O God’s, servants, I advise you to cultivate the taqwa of God. indeed it is a right that God has over you and it and it is through it that you can have any right over God. You should beseech God’s help for guarding it and seek its aid for [ fulfilling your duty to] God.


Glimpses of the Nahj al-Balaghah-pages: 168 to 189


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