Nahj al-Balaghah and It's Spiritual Teachings (7)

Nahj al-Balaghah and It's Spiritual Teachings (7)

Sympathy and Kindness

The sympathy and the willingness to share the suffering of the needy and the deprived is another ingredient of zuhd. When the destitute witness the luxuries and comforts of the richer classes, their anguish is multiplied. To the hardships of poverty and destitution is added the stinging feeling of deprivation and backwardness in relation to others.

Man, by nature, cannot tolerate to remain a silent spectator while others who have no merit over him eat, drink, enjoy and relish freely at the cost of his deprivation. When society is divided into haves and have-nots, the man of God considers himself responsible. In the first place, as Amir al-Mu'minin ('a) says, he should strive to change the situation which permits the gluttony of the rich oppressor and the hunger of the oppressed, in accordance with the covenant of God with the learned men of the Ummah.(1)

In the second place, he strives to ameliorate the state of affairs through altruism and self-sacrifice, by sharing whatever he possesses with the needy and the deprived. However, when he sees that the situation has deteriorated beyond reparation and it is practically impossible to alleviate the misery of the poor through sympathy, he practically shares their deprivation and tries to soothe their wounded hearts by adopting a life-style similar to that of the poor.

Sympathy with others and sharing their suffering is of essential importance especially in the case of the leaders of the Ummah on whom all eyes are fixed. Imam Ali (a), more than at any other time, lived a severely ascetic life during the days of his caliphate. He used to say: Indeed God has made it obligatory for just leaders that they should maintain themselves at the level of the poor class so that they do not despair of their distress.(2)

Should I be content with being called 'Amir al-Mu'minin' while refusing to share the adversities of the times with the people? Or should I be an example to them in the distress of life?(3)
In the same letter (to 'Uthman ibn Hunayf) he says: It is absolutely out of question that my desires should overpower me and my greed should lead me to relish choicest foods while in the Hijaz and Yamamah there may be some people who despair of even a single loaf of bread and who do not get a full meal. Shall I lie with a satiated belly while around me are those whose stomachs are hungry and whose lives are burning?(4)

At the same time, Imam Ali (a) would reproach anyone else for practicing the same kind of asceticism in life. When faced with their objection as to why he himself practised it, he would reply, "I am not like you. The leaders have a different duty." This approach of Imam Ali (a) can be observed in the conversation with 'Asim ibn Ziyad al-Harith.(5) It has been related from al-Kafi that Amir al-Mu'minin ('a) said: God has appointed me the leader of the people and made it my duty to adopt a way of living, in food and clothing, on a par with the poorest classes of society, so that, on the one hand, it may soothe the distress of the poor and, on the other, restrain the rich from revolting.(6)

An incident is related from the life of the great faqih Wahid Behbahani, may God be pleased with him. One day he observed one of his daughters-in-law wearing a garment made of a fabric usually worn by women of rich families of those days. He reproached his son (the late Aqa Muhammad Isma'il, the lady's husband) in that regard. The son recited this verse of the Quran in reply to his father's remarks: Say: 'Who has forbidden the ornament of God which He has brought forth for His servants, and the good things of His providing?(7)

The father said: "I don't say that putting on good dress, eating good food, and making use of God's bounties is forbidden. Not at all, Such restrictions do not exist in Islam. However, there is one thing to be remembered. We are a family charged with the duty of the religious leadership of Muslims and have special responsibilities. When the people of poor families see the rich live luxuriously, their frustration is aggravated. Their only consolation is that at least the 'Aqa's family' lives like they do. Now if we too adopt the life-styles of the rich, which will deprive them of their only consolation. However, we cannot practically change the present social condition, but let us not grudge at least this much of sympathy."

As can be clearly seen, zuhd, which derives motivation from sympathy and readiness to share the sufferings of others, has nothing common with monastic asceticism. It is not based on escapism from society. The Islamic conception of zuhd is a means of alleviating the sufferings of society.

Continue in the next article: ( Nahj al-Balaghah and It's Spiritual Teachings (8) )



1. This is a reference to to Khutab No. 3 p. 50

2. Ibid,. Khutab 209

3. Ibid., Khutab 45

4. Ibid.,

5. Ibid., Khutab 209

6. Bihar al-anwar (Tabriz)(Vol IX. p. 758)

7. (7:32)