Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Understanding the Etiquette of Greeting

In different Muslim societies when the day of 'Ashura (10th Muharram) is commemorated, a substantial number of people are clad in black clothes, and as advised by the Imams of the Ahl al-Bayt ('a), are overcome by sorrow. We are also told by Imam al-Sadiq ('a) to meet our people with the expression "May Allah magnify our reward due to our calamity because of what happened to Imam al-Husayn ('a)…" This however does in no way absolve us to greet or respond to the greeting of those who sincerely say "Salamun 'Alaikum". According to the strict Islamic Shari'a, whosoever among the Muslims greets you with peace then respond with a better greeting of peace or repeat the same (4:86). One who does not do so is religiously reprehensible and sinful as well. Don't we realize that on the very day of 'Ashura, we employ the same greeting for Abu 'Abdillah al-Husayn ('a), saying "Assalamu 'alayka yaa Aba 'Abdillah…" An innocent and sincere brother happened to meet one of my acquaintances on the day of 'Ashura, and when the latter greeted him with "Salamun 'Alaikum", instead of responding to the greeting, he loudly said "Azzamallahu Ujurana…" Indeed his intentions were undoubtedly pure, but his response was incorrect. He would have responded with 'Wa 'alaikum Salam…" and then have expressed his condolences "Azzamallahu…." which is highly recommended. In fact this is how we express our condolences to the Ahl al-Bayt ('a) in the well-known Ziyarat of Ta'ziya that we recite on Ashura Day. We first express salam "Asslamu 'alayka Yaa Rasulallah" (Peace be unto you O Messenger of Allah) and then continue with "Ahsana Allahu laka al-'Azaa' fi waladika al-Husayn" (May Allah grant you the best of consolation on [the loss of] your son Husayn). Notice "first salam" and then "condolences". It is important for us to understand the whyness and whatness of sorrow and express the same as it must be expressed. All the ambiguities clear out when we understand who are we missing and what are we missing him for?


One of the beautiful dictums narrated from Amir al-Mu’minin (‘a), is "Irham turham" (have mercy and you shall get mercy). This informs us that if we are merciful to people, a time would come that people would be merciful to us. Other traditions also have similar demonstrations about this reality. However, most of us, due to our limited consciousness that is habituated to vision the action ('amal) and retribution (jazaa') as separate entities, always anticipate to see two different phenomena to understand this reality. For example, when we are told "have mercy, and you shall get mercy" we feel that if we show mercy, a time will come when we would be in trouble and others will show mercy on us. Obviously this is correct. However, there is another deeper and loftier understanding of this tradition, which considers the action to be the very retribution. When we say 'Irham, turham" (have mercy and you will get mercy) we are speaking of a single phenomenon that establishes both one's bestowal as well as reception of mercy at the same time. In clearer words, by having mercy on others you are actually receiving mercy yourself". And what greater mercy can one anticipate when he is able to bestow mercy on others! One needs to be loftier to be merciful than to receive mercy. Our aspirations, however, must be more exalted: we must yearn to unite with Imam al-Husayn ('a) and manifest the All-embracing mercy of Almighty Allah. This is what the Imam ('a) manifested. And that is why we address him as: Ya Rahmatallah al-Waasi'a (O the Comprehensive Mercy of Allah)…"

Saturday, February 9, 2008

The Ecstatic Dimension of Karbala [Part 2]

Have we ever wondered why we praise Allah for the calamities that befell the warriors of Karbala as we conclude the sacred ziyaara of ‘Ashura? We say: Allahumma laka al-hamdu hamda al-shaakirini laka ‘ala musaabihim; alhamdu lilLahi ‘ala ‘azeemi raziyyati… (O Allah, praise be to You, the praise of those who thank You, for the calamities that befell them (the martyrs). Praise be to Allah, for my great loss…” One of the possible interpretations of these brilliant verses is that we praise and thank Allah for having conferred Imam al-Husayn (‘a) and his companions the succor of bearing the great calamities that befell them. Another interpretation is to thank Allah for the kernel and reality of these calamities, which as the daughter of Ali al-Murtadha (‘a) explicitly said, was nothing save beauty. Consequently, it is a call for every reciter of this ziyara to spiritually prepare himself to appreciate this reality in order to be able to naturally express the same. Whereas undoubtedly Bibi Zaynab (‘a) did encounter the hardships of this material world and tangibly felt the same, her penetrating spirit, understood how victorious her brother and the valiant martyrs of Karbala were. Therefore one should not misconceive and think that there is no need for us to mourn and lament for what transpired in the plains of Karbala. Rather, as the 12th Holy Imam (‘a) is reported to have said in his well-known Ziyarat al-Naahiya: “…I will, therefore, lament you morning and evening, and will weep blood in place of tears, out of my anguish for you and my sorrow for all that befell you, until I meet death from the pain of the catastrophe and the choking grief…”. In fact there are many traditions that encourage us to weep and lament, and thus we should remove the misconception from our minds. However, what is important for us to realize is that, as expounded by the Holy Qur’an, traditions of the Ahl al-bayt (‘a), and Divine theosophy, the world of reality consists of a hierarchy of existence, and the result of what transpires in the lower realms is exhibited in the higher realms. Karbala had visionaries who could comprehend this tangibly. In one of the salutational recitations (ziyaraat) we address them saying: ‘…I bear witness that most surely Allah unveiled for you the curtain….’ And in a tradition Imam Husayn (‘a) reports that the Holy Prophet (s) said to him: “…And surely you shall be martyred there (in Karbala) together with a group among your companions who would not sense the pain of the touch of iron. Then he read the verse: ‘O Fire, be cool and peaceful for Ibrahim (21:69)’. The war [similarly] will be cool and peaceful on you and them.” Small wonder it is that some traditions clearly indicate that the martyrs of Karbala would warmly welcome the arrows that were rained at them. Again one must not misconstrue and think that the companions were death lovers per se. It was rather their unwavering stance of not submitting to Yazid and his forces that brought them to the state of confronting death, which when they encountered was “sweeter than honey”. In the well-known Ziyarat Waarith we employ expressions such as Ahibbaa’ Allah (heart lovers of Allah) and Awidda’ Allah (constant lovers of Allah) for them. They were virtually drunk and intoxicated with the wine of Divine love. It seems that the cup-bearer (saaqi) constantly availed them with sips of sharaaban tahoora (wine of purity). The Holy Qur’an speaks of the near ones that, “Wa saqaahum Rabbuhum sharaaban tahoora” (And their Lord made them drink a pure sharaab (76:21)). According to a tradition narrated from Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) this pure drink is such that “yutahhiruhum ‘an kulli shay’in ma siwa Allah” (it purifies them from everything other than Allah). If Allah himself is the intoxicator (saqaahum Rabbuhum), when would the lover ever return to the state of consciousness? Here I am transported to the brilliant poetry of Mulla Ahmad Narraqi in his poetical masterpiece Mathnawiye Taaqdees when speaking about the great spiritual state of annihilation in God (al-fana fi Allah): In fanaaye bande dar mawla buwad (this is the annihilation of the servant in his Master); In fanaa az sad baqaa awla buwad (this annihilation is better than hundred kinds of subsistence); Fahme un khwaahi boro taa Karbala (if you would like to know the reality of this then go to Karbala) [Mathnawiye Taaqdees, p.273]. Al-Naraaqi would like to tell us that the most suitable arena for this kind of exalted spiritual state of beholding the fact that only the Beloved Exists, is Karbala. In the end I would like to quote the words of Ayatullah Maliki Tabriz¢ about the bilateral experience of Sayyid al-Shuhada. He says in his Al-Muraqibat that although Imam al-Husayn (‘a) was apparently struck with such injuries that no Prophet, Divine Successor, or human being, is heard to have encountered, such as his thirst which cannot be intellectually apprehended, his spirit would experience, the delights of the manifestations of the lights of Divine Beauty and the Revelation of Divine Majesty, as well as the eagerness to meet and reach the proximity of God. All this would diminish those difficulties; rather, it would change their severity into pleasure.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

The Ecstatic Dimension of Karbala [Part 1]

One very important dimension of the Institution of Karbala overlooked by so many of us is its spiritual dimension. Scholars of gnosis (‘irfaan) however have contemplated over this dimension and narrated so much for us to learn and benefit. In order to make us closer to tangibly perceive the inner dimension of the Karbala event, perhaps the most eloquent revelation is that of Hadhrat Zaynab (‘a), the daughter of Imam ‘Ali (‘a) when asked by Ibn Ziyad how Allah dealt with her brother (Husayn ('a)) and family. It is narrated that when this was asked, she said: Maa ra’aytu illa jameela (“I did not vision save beauty”). O Zaynab (‘a), when we narrate the tragedy of Karbala nothing but sorrow develops and increases in our hearts. What other version of Karbala do you have? What beauty is this that whereas you were able to comprehend, most of the narrators of the tragic incident were in oblivion? It is here when we come to realize that beyond this material realm of plurality and conflict (tazaahum), is a realm of unity, harmony, love and beauty which can only be perceived by those who are spiritually united with that realm. Sayyid Muhammad Husayn al-Tehrani in his Spirit Immaterial (Ruhe Mujarrad) quotes his mentor in ‘irfaan (Divine gnosis), Sayyid Haddad al-Musawi to have said: “Ashura is a day of which if only a fraction were to be unveiled for the spiritual wayfarers and ardent lovers, it would keep them in a state of bewilderment out of extreme ecstasy until the end of their lives, and they would fall into the state of prostration until the judgment day, out of gratitude to Allah.” (http://www.maarefislam.com/). Here is Zaynab (‘a) with a lofty spirit, and here is Karbala with all the different calamities. Whereas others beheld what apparently transpired, her penetrating vision tore the veils of this transient realm and apprehended the kernel which according to her was nothing save beauty. She was of a personality who would tangibly understand and experience the prophetic tradition “Paradise is under the shadows of swords” (Al-jannatu tahta zilaal al-suyoof). She had complete realization of her father’s statement “calamities are bestowals of Allah” (Al-masaa’ibu minhun min Allah”)

To be continued soon Insha Allah…