Thursday, November 22, 2007


One of the well-known sacred traditions (hadith qudsi) that Imam al-Ridha (‘a) communicated to a great crowd in Nishapur who had asked him to narrate a hadith before his departure is ‘La ilaha illa Allah hisni wa man dakhala fi hisni amina min adhaabi' (La ilaha illa Allah is my fortress, and whosoever enters in it is safe from My punishment). Thereafter as the Imam (‘a)’s horse left, he called saying bi shurutiha, wa ana min shurutiha” (on [some] conditions and I am one of them). Exegetes of the tradition say that the Imam (‘a) here meant that his wilaya (guardianship) was an essential condition for La ilaha illa Allah to serve as a fortress. In simpler words, the true meaning of La ilaha illa Allah is not detached from the wilaya of the Imam (‘a). The latter rather is a part of the former. La ilaha illa Allah, is not merely a clause to be uttered but a program to be understood and adhered. If we look at it painstakingly we find that it is summed up in ‘tawalla’ and ‘tabarra’; in simple words, “La ilaha” alludes to seeking remoteness from all false gods, which include false beliefs and ideologies, false cultures, etc. and Illa Allah refers to affirming the source of all the attributes of perfection, and adhering to whatever He and His Messengers say. If one would like to expound the practicalization of this clause, he would say “fleeing from imperfection and running towards perfection” is what La ilaha illa Allah is all about. And in doing so, we need guidance. We cannot just seek the means of perfection from anyone chosen by the public or selected by someone who himself has to refer to those well-grounded in knowledge. The Holy Prophet (s) before departing this world clearly said that he leaves behind two weighty sources of guidance: The Book of Allah and the Ahl al-Bayt (‘a), the latter being the epitomes of the former. They are the sources to tell us what would make us perfect and what would distance us from perfection. Obeying them therefore is in reality fulfilling a fundamental condition of the statement La ilaha illa Allah. Here I am transported to the beautiful poetry of the well-known saint Mu’in al-Din Chishti who says “Haqqa ke binaye la ilah ast Husayn” (Indeed Husayn is the edifice of “La ilaha”). In other words Imam al-Husayn (‘a) practically opposed and deserted all kind of deities other than Allah. And scholars of insight consider the ego and nafs to be umm al-asnaam (mother of all idols). Rumi in his Mathnawi alludes to this reality when he says, “Maadare buthaa bute nafse shumast” (the mother of idols is the idol of your nafs). In conclusion, we should try to realize that even the literalists vocally express the kalima. The challenge however is to understand its profound and accurate meaning, implication, and practical connotation, where they falter and make others follow suit. In several traditions, we are told, whosoever adheres to the Ahl al-Bayt (‘a) , who are the ships of salvation would always be protected from different kinds of dangers. May the Almighty enable us to persist in their ships so that we may finally reach the destination of the Only Beloved.

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