Nahj al-Balaghah and It's Spiritual Teachings (10)

Nahj al-Balaghah and It's Spiritual Teachings (10)

The Contradiction Between the World and the Hereafter

The problem of the conflict between the world and the Hereafter and the contradiction between them as two opposite poles, such as the north and the south, which are such that proximity to the one means remoteness from the other-is related to the world of human heart, conscience, human attachment, love and worship. God has not given two hearts to man: God has not assigned to any man two hearts within his breast. (1)
With one heart one cannot choose two beloveds. That is why once when questioned about his old and worn-out clothes, Imam Ali (a) replied: These make the heart humble, subdue the self, and induce the believers to follow it as an example.(2) That is, those who have no new clothes to wear are not ashamed to put on old and worn-out dress. They no longer feel humiliation on their account for they see that their leader himself hasn't put on any better. Then Imam Ali (a) goes on to add that the world and the Hereafter are like two irreconcilable enemies.

They are two divergent paths. Anyone who loves the world and chooses its bondage is, by nature, led to loathe the Hereafter and detest everything that is related to it. The world and the Hereafter are like the east and the west, the north and the south. Anyone who approaches the one gets farther from the other. They are like two wives. In one of his epistles, he writes: I swear by God that, God willing, I shall so discipline my own self that it would rejoice to have a single loaf of bread for eating and be content with only salt to season it. (In prayer) I shall empty my eyes of tears until they become like dried up springs.

The cattle fill their stomachs on the pasture and lie down to repose. The goats graze, devour green herbs, and enter their enclosures. Should 'Ali in a similar manner swallow whatever he lays his hands on and lie down to doze'? Congratulations! For, if he does that' after long years he has chosen to follow the wild grazing animals and the cattle led out to pasture.(3) Then he goes on to add: Happy is the man who fulfils his duties to God and overcomes hardships like a mill grinding the grain, who allows himself no sleep at nights and when it overpowers him lies down on the ground with his hand for a pillow.

He is accompanied by those who keep their eyes awake in fear of the Day of Judgment, whose bodies are ever away from their beds, whose lips constantly hum in the Lord's remembrance, whose sins have been erased by prolonged supplications for forgiveness. They are the party of Allah; why surely Allah's party-they are the prosperous.(4) The two passages quoted above completely illustrate the relation-ship between zuhd and spirituality. To sum up, one has to choose one of the two paths; either to drink, eat, browse and hanker after sensual pleasures in utter indifference to the secrets of the spirit, to avoid the agonies of love and its tears, to speak not of enlightenment and progress, not to take a step beyond the threshold of bestiality; or to resolve on a journey into the valley of authentic humanhood, towards the effulgence and-exuberance of Divine grace which descends upon chaste hearts and enlightened souls.(5)

Zuhd: Minimum of Intake for Maximum Output

Some days ago I was in Isfahan on a visit for a few days. During it, in a gathering of the learned, a discussion started about zuhd. The various aspects of it were scrutinized in the light of the multifaceted teachings of Islam. Everyone wanted to find a comprehensive and articulate definition of zuhd. Among them a learned high school teacher,(6) who (I later came to know, that he was writing a treatise on the subject, the manuscript of which he showed me later) suggested a wonderfully eloquent definition of zuhd. He said: Islamic zuhd is minimizing the intake and maximizing the output.

This definition fascinated me and I saw that it was in conformity with my own earlier understanding and the conclusions that I have drawn in the foregoing chapters. Here I, with the permission of that learned man, making a little amendment in his definition, would say: Zuhd in Islam means drawing a minimum of intake for the sake of maximizing the output. That is, there exists a relation between drawing as little as possible of material benefits of life on the one hand and aiming at maximizing one's output on the other. Human 'outputs', whether in the sphere of the actualization of one's potentialities, whether on the level of emotion and morality, or from the point of view of individuals role in social co-operation and mutual help, or from the aspect of realizing spiritual edification and refinement, all in all have a converse relationship to his intake of material benefits.

It is a human characteristic that the greater one's enjoyment of material benefits and indulgence in such things as pleasures, luxuries, and affluence, the greater is one's weakness, indignity, impotence, sterility, and impoverishment. Conversely, abstinence from indulgent and extravagant enjoyment of nature-of course, within definite limits-refines and purifies human nature and invigorates and strengthens two of the highest of all human powers: thought and will.

It is true only of animals that greater benefit from the possibilities provided by nature contributes to their animal development and perfection. Even in animals it is not applicable when we consider what is called the 'merit' desirable in a beast. For example, sheep and cattle which are reared for obtaining greater amount of meat, milk, or fleece should be given greater attention and care and fed well. However, this is not true of a racehorse. It is impossible for a common stable horse to show any good performance in a race. The horse which has to run and win races is given days or rather months of training with a controlled diet until its body becomes lean and nimble, shedding all its excessive fat so that it can acquire the desirable agility and speed or the 'excellence' of which it is capable.

Zuhd is also an exercise and discipline for man. But it is the exercise of the soul. Through zuhd the soul is disciplined; shedding all excessive appendages, and becoming, as a result, light, agile, and nimble, it takes an easy flight into the skies of spiritual merits.

Incidentally, Imam Ali (a) also describes taqwa and zuhd as 'exercise' and practice. The word riyadah originally meant exercising horses intended for racing. Physical exercise is also called riyadah. Imam Ali (a) says: Indeed, as to myself, I shall exercise it and discipline it through taqwa.(7)

What about plant life? Like animals that which may be, loosely speaking, called the merit of a tree or shrub is its capacity to thrive with a minimum amount of nourishment from nature. Imam Ali (a), also, makes an allusion to this point in one of his letters to his governors. In that letter, after describing his own ascetic life-style, characterized by a minimum of consumption, Imam Ali (a) encourages him to emulate it. He says: I can already anticipate your criticism. Someone might say that if this is what the son of Abu-Talib eats then weakness should have made him unfit for an encounter with the enemy's warriors. Remember the untended tree that thrives in the harsh conditions of the desert-its wood is firm and tough; even the fire lit from it is more enduring and fierce.

This law, which applies to all living things, is more effective in the case of man because of the various characteristics special to him which are summed up under the term 'human personality'.(8) The word 'zuhd', despite its sublime human meaning, has suffered an evil fate, and is fiercely denounced particularly in our own times. Sometimes, the term is advertently or otherwise misinterpreted; some-times it is equated with sanctimoniousness and show of piety; at other times, it is considered equivalent to monasticism and ascetic seclusion. Everybody is free to coin terms of his own with any meaning of his own choice. But no one has the right to condemn any concept or term by imparting to it a wrong and misconceived meaning and sense.

In its system of ethics and education, Islam has used a certain term, zuhd. The Nahj al-balaghah and the Islamic tradition are replete with it. Before we make any judgement about zuhd in Islam, first, before everything, we must understand its Islamic connotation. The meaning of zuhd in Islam is what we have tried to explain, and the philosophy behind it is what we have discussed in the light of Islamic texts. If anyone finds any fault with this meaning and philosophy, let him inform me so that I too might be benefited.

What school of thought and what kind of logic can justify monasticism? What school of thought can recommend and justify the worship of money, consumerism, love of goods, lust for position, or-to use an expression which includes them all-worldliness? Is it possible for man to be the slave and prisoner of material things-or in the words of Amir al-Mu'minin Imam Ali (a), 'the slave of the world and the slave of him who exercises control over it'-and yet speak of 'human personality'?

Here, it would not be out of place to cite the views of a Marxist writer about the relation between love of money and human personality. In a useful and concise book regarding capitalist and Marxist economies, he points out the moral consequences of the power of money for society. He writes: The extraordinary power of 'gold' over our contemporary society is something deeply detested by men of sensitive nature. Men in search of truth have always expressed their strong aversion towards this filthy metal, and consider it to be the main cause of corruption in contemporary society. However, those little round pieces of a shining yellow metal called 'gold' are really not to be blamed.

The power and domination of money as a general manifestation of power and authority of things over man is the essential characteristic of a disorderly economy based on barter and exchange. In the same way as the uncivilized man of ancient times adored and worshipped idols made by his own hands, the contemporary man also worships the product of his own labor, and his life is overwhelmed by the power of things he has made with his own hands. In order that the worship of consumer goods and the worship of money, which is the filthiest form evolved of idolatry, may be completely eradicated, the social causes which brought them into existence should be eliminated and the society should be so organized that the power and authority of the little coins of this yellow brilliant metal would be thoroughly obliterated. In such an organization of society, things will no more wield their present power over human beings.

On the other hand, man's power and predominance over things shall be absolute and according to a preconceived scheme. Then worship of money and things shall give their place to honor and reverence for the human personality. We agree with the author that the power of things over man, and in particular the authority of money, is opposed to the demands of human dignity and nobility, and is as condemnable as idolatry. However, we do not agree with his suggested exclusive prescription for solution of this problem. Here we are not concerned with the question whether collective ownership is preferable from a social or economic point of view. Nevertheless, morally speaking, this suggestion, instead of redeeming society's spirit of honesty, eliminates right away the very object of honesty!

Man can reclaim his identity only by liberating himself from the power of money and by bringing money under his own control. True human personality can emerge when the danger of money and goods remains possible without overcoming man, who is not ruled by them but rules them. This kind of personality is what Islam calls zuhd. In the educational system of Islam, man regains his personality without the need to obliterate the right of property. Those who are trained in the school of Islamic teachings are equipped with the power of zuhd. They strip money and goods of their power and subjugate them to their own authority.



1. (33:4)

2. Nahj al-balaghah, Hikam, No. 103

3. Ibid., Kutub, No. 45

4. (58:22)

5. Ibid., 420

6. The person referred here is Akbar Parwarish

7. Ibid., Kutub 45

8. Usul e Iqtisad e Nuhsin, "Shakl e arzish e pul".