Dimensions of wisdom and advices of Nahj Balaghah (3/3) , piety and freedom

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Piety (zuhd) and freedom
Another ingredient of zuhd is love of freedom and independence. The union between zuhd and freedom is as primordial as it is indissoluble.

The dictates of need and exigency are the criteria of opportunists, whereas independence from want is characteristic of free men, the deepest aspiration of the free men unattached to the world is unencumbrance, buoyancy absence of hindrance, and freedom of movement. As a result they adopt zuhd and contentment so as to reduce their wants to minimum, liberating their selves from the bondage of need, of things and person.

The life of a human being, like that of any other animal, requires a series of natural and indispensable necessities, like air, shelter, bread, water, and clothing man cannot free himself entirely from attachment to such needs and other things such as light and heat so as to make himself, in philosophical terminology, “self- sustaining “( muktafi bi – dhatih).

However, there are a series of other wants which are not necessary and natural, but are imposed upon one in the course of one’s life either by oneself, or by social and historical factors beyond his control, which nevertheless set limits upon his freedom. Such constrains are not very dangerous as long as they are not transformed into inner needs. Such as certain political constrains and compulsions. The most dangerous of compulsions are those which emerge as inner needs from within one’s own self and shackle him.

The mechanism of these needs which lead to inner weakness, impotence, and defeat, operates in such a way that when one turns to luxuries and comforts in order toad charm, delight, and glamour to one’s life so as to feel more secure and strong in order derive greater gratification from life, one is impelled to possess more and more things. In the course of time one gets gradually accustomed to and to and engrossed in the means of one’s comfort, luxury, and power, there habits gradually result in deeper attachment to and love for those things, and he is bound to them with invisible bounds, thus becoming helpless and impotent in front of them. That is, the same thing which had once added charm and delight to his life later depriver his personality of its vigour, and the same things which once made him feel powerful against nature now turns into a helpless slave without a will of his own.

Love of freedom as a root of piety -zuhd
Man’s inclination towards zuhd is rooted in his love of freedom. By nature he is disposed toward possession of things and their exploitation, but when he realizes that things, to the very extent they make him outwardly powerful and successful, inwardly transform him into a weakling will –power and a slave, he rebels against this slavery. This rebellion of man is what we call zuhd.

Our poets and sages have spoken a lot about freedom and liberation. Hafiz calls himself “the slave of the magnanimity of him who is free of every thing under the blue sky that carries any taint of attachment,” Among the trees, he admires the cypress which to him seems “free of all woes”. What those great man meant by “freedom” is freedom from attachment, freedom being possessed, bewitched, and captivated by anythings.

But freedom implies something greater than being devoid of attachments. the ties which make a man weak, helpless, dependent, and impotent are not only those which originate in the heart or emotional attachments, to these must be added the various bodily, physical and psychological conditionings and artificial appendages that are first acquired for adding charm and glory to life and for satisfaction of the lust for power and strength, later growing into form of addiction or rather becoming a second nature. There, while they may not involve one’s emotional attachments, or may even be regarded by one as reprehensible, should be counted as even stronger means of human servitude and which may bring greater even degradation than emotional attachments.

Take the example of an enlightened arif with a heart free of worldly attachments, for whom, nevertheless, addiction to tea, tobacco or opium has become a second nature, or for whom abstention from food to which he is accustomed may endanger his life. Can such a man lead a free existence?

Liberty from attachments and accustoming to a minimum of the niceties as the conditions of freedom
Liberty from attachments is a necessary condition of freedom, but it is not sufficient in itself Accustoming oneself to minimum of the niceties of life and abstention from affluent living is another condition of freedom.

The first thing to strike Abu sa’id al- khudr’i one of the honoured Companions, when describing the station of the holy prophet (s), is:

The prophet of God, may peace be upon him and his Household, could manage with the minimum necessities of life.

Is it a merit to be able to be with minimum of means? If we take only the economic aspect into view, we should say that the prophet’s level of consumption was quite low, in this respect, therefore, the answer would be:” NO, not at all, it is not a significant merit”, but if viewed from a spiritual viewpoint, that is when examined by the criterion of freedom from worldly bondages, we have to admit that it is a great merit indeed, because it is only by acquisition of this merit that a human being can live with any measure of unfettered freedom and unimpeded mobility, and participate in the incessant struggle of life with agility and vigour.

This matter is not restricted to habits involving the individual, binding oneself to social and customs to manners of dealing with people, the mesh of social connections and gatherings, adherence to styles and fashion in dress and demeanour- theses and the like of these encumber like and deprive it of dynamism.

Freedom of movement in the arena of life is like swimming, lesser the interference and incumbrance for the swimmer, the greater is his ability to move around in water. too many attachments will not only deprive him. Of his mobility but bring the danger of drowning.

Athr –al- Din Akhsikati ( d. 577 or 579/ 1181 or 1183) says:
To cross the river of the, shed your robes.
Nakedness is a condition of keeping afloat.

Farrukhi Yazdi says:
Of nakedness the sage does not complain
A sword of good steel would not rust without a sheath.

Baba Tahir has a ruba’i which though intended for some other purpose is nevertheless relevant here:
O heart, thy path is better when covered with thorns,
Thy track is better when stretched on heavens high,
Nay, it thou can strip off thine flesh
Do it for the lighter thy burden the better it be.

Sa’di, too relates a relevant fable in the chapter 7 of his Gulistan, although it also aims at some other purpose:

I saw a rich man ‘ s son squatting by the side of his father ‘s grave, and bragging thus before a darwish’s son: My father ‘s tomb is constructed of rare stones Inside, it is paved with marble with enlaid turquois. And look at the one of your father ‘s! An unbaked brick or two fetched, on which handful of earth was thrown.

The sage’s son heard these remarks and replied: Yet before your father is able to budge under the pile of those stones my father would have reached the paradise itself.

These are allegories underlining the significance of lightness and freedom from bondages which is the essential condition for dynamism, mobility, and nimbleness. Leaps, movements, and struggles were practically freer of bondages and attachments, that is, some sense they were zahids, Gandhi, with his ascetic mode of life, brought the British imperialism to its knees. Ya’qub Layth Saffar, in his own words, did not set aside his diet of bread and onions until he became a terror for the caliph, in our own times, the Vietcong s were such an example. Their surprising power of resistance was drawn from what in IsIamic idiom has been called “ligheess of provisions”. A Vietcong could sustain for days in his shelter with a handful of rice and continue his battle with the enemy.

Which leader, religious or political, living in luxury and comfort has brought about drastic upheavals in world history? which monarch who founded a dynasty, having transferred power form another family to his own has been lover of luxuries and comforts?

Abandon the world as a means of liberation, according to Imam Ali -p. b. u. h
Ali ibn Abi Talib, may peace be upon him, was the freest of he world of the world’s free men. he was a free man in the complete sense of the world, because he was a zahid in the profoundest sense of the word, Ali (a), in the Nahj ah- balaghah, lays, great emphasis on renunciation of worldly pleasures and comforts as a meant of liberations, in one of the hikam( aphorisms), he says:

Greed is everlasting slavery.

In a sermon he describes the zuhd of Jesus (a) the son of Mary, in these word:

He was free of any abasing greed.

At another place he says:

The world is a place of transit, not a place to Abide, its people fall into two categories: those who sell away their souls into slavery, and those Who ransom their souls and liberate them.

In a letter to Utman ibn Hunyf, Ali (a)is more explicit than elsewhere. Towards the end of the letter, addressing the world and its pleasures, he reveals to use the philosophy of zuhd and the secrets of renunciation.

O world! Get away from me! I have thrown thy rein on thy shoulders, have freed myself from thy claws, and released myself from thy snares… Go, get thee away! By God, I shall not surrender to thee so that thou should abase me! I shall not follow thee tractably that thou may control me and lead me wherever thou willeth.

Yes, Ali’s zuhd is a rebellion against abasement and indignity on account of pleasures. It is a rebellion against human weakness and impotence before the tyranny of desires. It is a defiance of servitude to the world and obsequiousness before its charms.


Glimpses of the Nahj al-Balagheh- pages: 198 to 206


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