Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Spiritual Aroma Yet to Be Discovered

One of the thought provoking dictums of Imam ‘Ali (‘a) is al-mar’atu rayhana wa laysat bi qahramana (a woman is an aromatic plant and not a dominator). A comprehensive and detailed exposition of this brilliant hadith is beyond the scope of the present writeup. However, it would be worth appreciating the tip of the iceberg: obviously this dictum does not imply that a woman is physically fashioned in such a way that she always emanates aroma. One’s physical aromatic condition depends on how one physically conditions oneself. In Islam, however, there are occasions when a woman is not allowed to condition herself with perfume. This however does not imply that she should not keep herself tidy and clean. Applying perfume that would attract the opposite sex who may not be a lawful partner in one’s life is one thing and observing cleanliness to avoid any kind of unpleasant smell in one’s body is another. What actually does the expression ‘aromatic plant’ then denote in the abovementioned dictum? Scholars of insight opine that the way there is a physical aroma that attracts those whose olfactory senses are sound, there is a metaphysical fragrance that only attracts those who can appreciate the scent of spiritual realities. Let us deliberate on the following noteworthy traditions to appreciate this truth: The Holy Prophet (s) is reported to have said: (1) There is nothing more pleasant than the scent of a believer (al-mu’min); and indeed his fragrance can be felt in the horizons…” (Al-Muttaqi, Kanz al-‘Ummaal, v.1, p. 165) (2) There is nothing that stinks more than the stench of the disbeliever (al-kafir), and surely his [unpleasant] odor can be felt in the horizons…’ (al-‘Uqayli, Dhu‘afa al-‘Uqayli, v.4, p.289). (3) Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) reports from his forefathers, who report from Imam ‘Ali (‘a) who said: Inna al-‘Aalim al-kaatim ‘ilmuhu yub‘athu antanu ahl al-qiyama rihan, yal‘anuhu kullu daabba, hatta dawaab al-ard al-sighaar (A scholar who hides his knowledge would be resurrected as the most foul smelling among the people of resurrection, and every beast including the small beasts of the earth would curse him. (Al-Barqi, Al-Mahasin, v.1, p. 231). (4) The Holy Prophet (s) is reported to have said: Inna al-walad al-saalih rayhaanatun min rayaahin al-janna (Surely a virtuous and good offspring is an aromatic plant among the aromatic plants of the Paradise) (Al-Kulayni, Al-Kafi, v.6, p.3) (5) Imam al-Baqir (‘a) is reported to have narrated a part of what was revealed to one of the Prophets of Allah. In it some of the evil characteristics of a certain creation who are attached to the world is described. One of their description is, ‘…alsinatuhum ahla min al-‘asal wa a’maaluhum al-baatina antanu mina al-jiyaf…' (“Their tongues are sweeter than honey, whereas their inner actions stink worse than corpses) (Al-Himyari al-Qummi, Qurb al-Isnaad, pp. 28-29) (6) The Holy Prophet (s) is reported to have said: I swear by the one in whose hand is the soul of Muhammad the smell that comes out from the mouth of the fasting one near Allah is more pleasant than Musk. (Al-‘Amili, Wasa’il al-Shi’a, v.10, p.400) (7) Imam al-Baqir (‘a) is reported to have said to one of his companions called Maysar: Do you gather in private, and discuss and speak what you want [of the truth]? Maysar says: Yes Indeed, by Allah, we do gather in private and discuss and say what we want. Thereupon Imam al-Baqir (‘a) said: I swear by Allah, I love to be with you in some of these places. [And] I swear by Allah, I love your scent and your spirits…’ (Al-Mazandarani, Sharh Usul al-Kafi, v.9, p. 69). (8) The Holy Prophet (s) is reported to have said: “Whosoever backbites a Muslim, his fast is invalidated and his minor ablution (wudhu) is void, and he would come on the Resurrection Day, while a stench more foul than that of a corpse would come out from his mouth, which would disturb the people of Resurrection . (Shaykh al-Saduq, Al-Faqih, v.4, pp. 14-15). All the aforesaid traditions clearly depict that beyond the physical aroma there is a spiritual fragrance that only those endowed with inner apprehension can comprehend and appreciate. They also enlighten us about the path of attaining a pleasant spiritual aroma in oneself. Perhaps Imam ‘Ali (‘a) by stating that a woman is an aromatic plant wanted to teach us that if she really assumes the role of a woman as guided by the Divine law and the path, her entire being would constantly emanate sweet fragrance and she would actually be a Rayhana (an aromatic plant). If the woman prepares herself before, while, and after she practically serves as the manifestation of Allah’s Khaliqiyya (power of creation), if she embellishes her inner being with the beautiful traits of Allah and manifests the Divine Attributes of Jamal (Divine Beauty), if she starts feeding the child, in the Name of Allah and entirely for His pleasure and manifests the Divine Attribute of Raziqiyya (Nourisher), and if she rears the fundamental faculties of intellect, passion and anger in her offspring and moderates them and brings them into the state of their equilibrium, and hence manifests the Divine Attribute of Rububiyya (Trainer) why can’t she really be a Rayhana? Small wonder it is that the Holy Prophet (s) is reported to have said: I have been made to love three things from your world: women, perfume, and the apple of my eyes is in prayer. Love for women, contrary to how the materialists conjecture does not mean physical intimacy between man and woman. It is the Divine role that a woman plays on this earth: she can potentially manifest attributes of perfection in herself and thus emanate the Divine aroma which only the insightful can comprehend.

Friday, July 11, 2008


On Wednesday night, the 9th of July, the holy city of Qum, rather the entire Shi‘a world, lost one of its powerful scholars, who practically lived a life of knowledge and action. Ayatullah ‘Ali Panah Ishtihardi (may Allah elevate his spirit) left this mortal world at the age of 87 after having developed himself spiritually and journeyed through the realms of perfection. He was well-known for his utter humility and excellent morals. Some years ago, I had the privilege of studying a section of Shahid al-Thani’s excellent commentary on the brilliant text of Islamic jurisprudence called al-Lum‘a al-Dimishqiyya with this great sage. Despite his old age, his encounter was like a youth who was extremely astute and full of vigor. Seminarians would gather around him due to his approachable demeanor. Ayatullah ‘Ali Panah Ishtihardi would lead Maghrib and ‘Isha prayer in the well-known Seminary in Qum called Faydhiyya. After having led Maghrib prayer, the Only Beloved invited this great lover to meet Him. He encountered a heart attack, and despite being taken to the Kamkar hospital, he never resisted in responding to the call of the Only Beloved. When one would look at this sage, he would conclude: despite his earthly presence, he was a sage of the realm beyond. We express our heartfelt condolences to our twelfth holy Imam (‘a) on the loss of this fundamental pillar.


According to Islamic cosmology, the universe is not reduced to corporeal and material existence but rather consists of different levels of existence. These levels are closely interrelated and mutually united. Any phenomenon that transpires in the lower realm of existence has a repercussion in the higher level of existence. The lowest level of existence is called al-dunya (fem. gender of al-adna which literally means ‘the lowest’). According to a tradition narrated from Amir al-mu’minin ‘Ali bin Abi Talib (‘a), the dunya was known as al-dunya “li annahaa adnaa min kulli shay” (because it is lower than every thing) (Shaykh al-Saduq, ‘Ilal al-Sharayi’, v.1, pp. 1-2). The intermediate level of existence which in reality also encompasses the lowest level, is known in Qur’anic terminology (23:100) as barzakh (barrier), for it serves as a barrier between the lowest of the realms of existence (al-dunya) and the level beyond which the Holy Qur’an terms as al-qiyama (the realm of resurrection). Qiyama therefore is a much higher reality of the dunya than barzakh. It is not a separate parallel realm of existence however, that comes after the end of this world in terms of time as the common man conjectures. Human beings endowed with sharp insight, depending on their level of self-purification and self-development, not only comprehend this material world, but can pierce the veils and vision the levels of barzakh or even beyond. The Holy Prophet (s) and his infallible progeny would tangibly see the reality of sin as fire, and thus would naturally refrain from the same. Although many of us cannot vision our higher states of barzakh and qiyama, if the curtains of material existence are unveiled, we would behold our awful state. No wonder, we clearly seek release from Hell Fire in so many supplications that we recite. We do not seek protection of Hell Fire on the Judgment Day but emancipation from Hell Fire now and here. In the well-known supplication of Jawshan al-Kabir, for example, we employ the phrase ‘khallisna min al-naari yaa Rabb’ (release me from Hell Fire, O Lord’. With this integral principle in mind, let us struggle to release ourselves from the trouble of barzakh and beyond and extinguish the fire we have ignited, through the water of tawba and istighfar (seeking forgiveness).

Friday, July 4, 2008

Months of Spiritual Upliftment

As we embrace the holy month of Rajab al-Murajjab, a group of concerned Muslims throughout the world begin their program of self-purification and self-development. If one tries to study the supplications that the Holy Prophet (s) and his infallible progeny (‘a) would constantly recite in the months of Rajab and Sha’ban, one would realize the fundamental importance of these months: these two months actually serve as preparatory months for the actual Divine feast of the Holy Month of Ramadhan. The Holy Month of Ramadhan thereafter naturally becomes ‘eid (lit. from ‘awd which means “to return” to one’s innate God-seeking nature) for those who were successful in preparing themselves. Imam Zayn al-‘Abidin (‘a) in his brilliant prayer manual al-Sahifat al-Sajjadiyya, while bidding farewell to the Holy Month of Ramadhan, addresses the month of Ramadhan as Eid of the Friends of Allah. He says: “Assalamu ‘alayka ya shahra Allahi al-akbar wa ya ida awliyaa’ihi” (Peace be unto you O the greatest Month of Allah and the eid of His close servants). The majority however start their program of self-purification in the Holy Month of Ramadhan. Due to their unprepared state, they cannot enjoy the true spiritual repast that Almighty Allah has prepared for the believers. As a result, the day of eid only serves a day of material enjoyment. They do not comprehend the spiritual state of Return which eid actually manifests. We must therefore ask ourselves whether we would like to be among the minority who can really enjoy the actual spiritual Divine banquet that Allah has prepared for those who have struggled to make themselves spiritually receptive, or the majority, who gain very less due to their laxity and unreceptive nature? The days of this transient life are unpredictable for so many of us. The best resolution therefore would be to start “now”.