The Twelve Worlds
Allamah Muhammad Husayn Tabatabai
On the basis of what has been said above, a devotee, making a spiritual journey has to pass through 12 Worlds before reaching the world of sincerity. The names of these worlds are:
minor Islam, major Islam, greater Islam, minor faith, major faith, greater faith, minor emigration, major emigration, greater emigration, minor jihad, major jihad and greater jihad. It is necessary to know the characteristics of these worlds and to be aware of the obstacles and barriers which a devotee has to face while advancing towards them. To make our point clear we describe these worlds briefly.
Major Islam means complete submission to Allah, not to criticize any action of His and to believe with full conviction that what is happening is not without some advantage and what is not happening was not advisable. Imam Ali hints at this point when he says that ‘Islam means submission and submission signifies conviction.’ A devotee not only should have no objection against any Divine directives or decrees but also should not feel even in his heart unhappy about any of them. Allah says:
But nay, by your Lord, they will not be faithful unless they make you judge of what is in dispute between them and find within themselves no dislike of that which you decide, and submit with full submission. (Surah an-Nisa, 4:65)
This is the stage of greater Islam. At this stage Islam should infiltrate the soul of the devotee and truly overwhelm his heart and life.
When the devotee’s heart is illuminated by the light of greater Islam, not only his heart testifies that everything is from Allah, but he also physically observes this truth. In other words, he often sees with the eyes of his heart that Allah is omnipresent and omniscient. This stage is called that of vision and greater Islam. Rut as the spiritual traveller has not yet attained to perfection, he has to face many material obstacles, especially when he is busy with his natural needs, a state of unmindfulness overcomes him. Therefore it is necessary for him to use his will power so that the state of vision may become a permanent feature for him and may not be disturbed by his other activities. For this purpose it is necessary to push the state of greater Islam from the heart to the soul so that this elementary state may become a fully developed state governing all internal and external faculties. This is the stage which is called by the gnostics the station of well doing (ihsan). The Qur’an says: As for those who strive in Us, we surely guide them to Our path. Surely Allah is with those who do well. (Surah al-Ankabut, 29:69)
As such a striver in the way of Allah cannot find the way of guidance and proximity of Allah until he reaches the stages of well doing. An eminent companion of the Holy Prophet Abu Zar Ghifari once asked him what well doing signified. The Holy Prophet said: “That you worship Allah as though you see him. If you do not see Him, He surely sees you”. In other words, man should worship Allah as if he was seeing Him. If he is unable to worship Him in this way, then there is a lower grade of worship. He should worship Allah as though Allah was seeing him. So long as the devotee does not reach the stage of greater faith, he is only occasionally invested with the state of well-doing. In this state he performs the acts of worship with zeal and fervor. His soul having been imbued with faith, puts all his organs and faculties on their proper job. The organs and faculties once controlled cannot disobey the soul even for a moment. Concerning the devotees who have attained to the stage of greater faith Allah says: Successful indeed are the believers, who are humble in their prayers and who shun all that is vain. (Surah al-Mu’minun, 23:1-3)
Only that man will busy himself with trivial things who is interested in them. A spiritual traveller who has attained to the stage of greater faith and for whom well doing has become a habit, cannot be fond of anything vain, for no heart can love two contradictory things at one and the same time. Allah Himself has said: Allah has not assigned to any man two hearts within his body. (Surah al-Ahzab, 33:4)
If we find any devotee flittering away his time in amusements, we can easily conclude that he is not fully devoted to Allah and that his heart is not free from the hypocrisy which is called in this context greater hypocrisy and which is the opposite of greater faith. As a result of this hypocrisy man does not act according to his inner incitement, but is guided by reason, expediency or apprehensions. The following verse refers to this kind of hypocrisy: When they stand up to offer prayers, they perform it languidly. (Surah an-Nisa’, 4:142)
When the spiritual traveller attains to the stage of greater faith, no trace of hypocrisy is left in him. His actions and deeds are no longer guided by unreliable directives of reason nor by any apprehension, expediency or conservatism. All his actions are then motivated by inner zeal, hearty inclination and real love. Once the spiritual traveller attains to the stage of greater faith, he should be ready for greater emigration. There are two sides of this emigration: one is bodily emigration which means giving up social dealings with the wicked, and the other is emigration of heart which means not making friends with them. A spiritual traveller not only has to abandon all habits, customs and usages which prevent him from pursuing the path of Allah, but has also to dislike them from the core of his heart. Such customs and usages have been mostly imported from the countries of the infidels. A man living in a material society becomes a prisoner of many customs and habits prevalent among the worldly people forming the basis of their social dealings. For example it has become customary to regard a person keeping quiet at an academic discussion as ignorant. Many people consider it a mark of their eminence to sit at the head of a meeting or to go ahead of others while walking in company. Fine talk and flattery are called good manners, and a behaviour contrary to these customs is described as bad manner and vulgarity. The spiritual traveller should with the help of Allah ignore such odd customs and whimsical ideas. In this regard he should not fear anybody and pay no attention even to the criticism of those who call themselves great scholars. There is a report in Kulayni’s Jami’ on the authority of Imam Ja’far Sadiq that the Holy Prophet has said: “There are four pillars of infidelity: greed, fear, resentment and anger”. In this tradition fear means an apprehension that people would be angry if their wrong ideas and wrong customs were opposed.
In short the spiritual traveller should say good-bye to all those habits and traditions, customs and usages which obstruct his advancement towards Allah. The gnostics call this attitude ‘madness’, because mad people also take little interest in and pay little attention to the popular habits and traditions and do not care what the other people would say. A mad man sticks to his own ways and does not fear any opposition.
Following his success in emigration and getting rid of the prevailing customs, the spiritual traveller enters the field of major jihad, which means a fight against the devilish hordes. Even at this stage the spiritual traveller is still a captive of his lower self, overwhelmed by his passions, and low desires and perplexed by apprehensions and worries, anger and disappointments. If anything that is not to his liking happens, he is upset and feels hurt. In order to overcome all his worries, griefs and pains, the spiritual traveller should seek Divine aid and crush the forces of apprehension, anger and lust. On getting rid of worldly botherations and worries he will enter the world of greater Islam. Then he will feel as if he was prevailing over the whole world, was safe from death and effacement and was free from every kind of conflict. He will find in himself a purity and glamour not connected with this humble world. At this stage the devotee becomes totally unconcerned with this transient world, as if he was dead. Now he begins a new life. He lives in the world of humanity, but sees everything in the shape of the angelic world. Material things can no longer do him any harm. As he has reached the middle stage of self-resurrection, veil is gradually lifted from before his eyes and he can see many hidden things. This station is called that of greater Islam. The Qur’an clearly refers to it in the following words:
Is he who was dead and We have raised him to life, and set for him a light wherein he walks among men, like him who is in utter darkness whence he cannot come out? Thus is their conduct made fair-seeming for the disbelievers. (Surah al-Anfal, 6:122)
Whosoever does right, whether male or female, and is a believer, we shall surely quicken him with good life and We shall pay them a recompense in proportion to the best of what they used to do. (Surah an-NahI, 16:97)
It should be kept in mind that what the devotee views in this state may create in him a sense of false pride and as a result of that, his worst enemy, that is his lower self may begin to resist him. There is a tradition which says: “The most deadly enemy of yours is your lower self which is within you.”
In these circumstances the devotee is in danger of being involved in greater infidelity unless he is helped and protected by Allah. The following tradition refers to this kind of infidelity. “The lower self is the greatest idol”. It was this idol-worship for being protected from which the Prophet Ibrahim prayed to Allah when he said: “Save me and my sons from worshipping idol”. Evidently it is unimaginable that Prophet Ibrahim would ever worship any fabricated idols. It was this kind of idol-worship from which the Holy Prophet also sought refuge when be said: “Allah, I seek refuge in you from hidden polytheism”.
Therefore the devotee should whole-heartedly acknowledge his humbleness and completely do away with the idea of self-conceit from his heart so that he may not commit greater infidelity and may succeed in attaining to greater Islam. Some gnostics have throughout their life avoided even the use of the word ‘I’. Some others attributed all that is good to Allah and only what could not be attributed to Allah, they attributed to themselves. They used first person plural pronoun while talking of a thing that could be attributed to themselves and to Allah both. They derived this method from the story of the Prophet Musa and Khizr. Khizr said: As for the boat, it belonged to poor people working on the river, and I wished to mar it, for there was a king behind them who was taking every boat by force. (Surah al-Kahf, 18:79)
As the act of marring could not be attributed to Allah, he attributed it to himself and used a first person singular pronoun.
And as for the lad, his parents were believers and we feared lest he should oppress them by rebellion and disbelief And therefore we intended that their Lord should change him for them for one better in purity and nearer to mercy. (Surah al-Kahf, 18:80-81)
In this case as the act of slaying the lad could be attributed both to Allah and Khizr, the plural pronoun was used.
And as for the wall, it belonged to two orphan boys in the city, and there was beneath it a treasure belonging to them. Their father had been righteous, and your Lord intended that they should come to their full strength and should bring out their treasure as a mercy from their Lord. (Surah al-Kahf, 18:82)
As the intention of doing good to someone is attributable to Allah, it has been attributed to Him.
We find Prophet Ibrahim also employing this style of speech. He said: It is He Who created me and Who does guide me, and who feeds me and waters me, and who heals me when I get sick. (Surah ash-Shu’ara, 26:78-80)
Here Prophet Ibrahim attributes sickness to himself and healing to Allah.
A devotee should leave no stone unturned to attain to the stage of major Islam and to do away with self-conceit.
Haji Imam Quli Nakhjawani was the teacher in gnosis of Agha Sayyid Husayn Agha Qazi, the father of the late Agha Mirza Ali Qazi. He completed his training in morality and gnosis at the hands of Sayyid Quraysh Qazwini. He says that when he got aged, one day he saw that he and Satan were standing on the top of a hill. He passed his hand on his beard and said to Satan: “Now I am an old man please spare me if you can.” Satan said: “Look this side.” Sayyid Qazwini says that when he looked that side, he saw a ditch so deep that it sent a cold wave into his spine. Pointing to that ditch Satan said: “I have no sympathy or mercy for anybody. If I could lay my hands on you once, you would fall into the bottom of this ditch from which you would never have an escape.”
Next to greater Islam is the stage of greater faith, which means such an intense upsurge of major Islam that it may transform the knowledge of truth into a clear view of it, In the meantime the spiritual traveller moving from the angelic world (‘Alam Malakut) enters the souled world (‘Alam Jabarut). For him greater self-resurrection would have already taken place and he can now see the sights of the souled world.
Thereafter the spiritual traveller should emigrate from his own existence which is to be totally rejected by him. This journey of his will be from his own existence to the absolute existence. Some saints have expressed this idea by saying: “Leave your self and come.” The following verses of the Qur’an hint at it: 0 contented soul, return to your Lord in His good pleasure. Enter among My bondmen! Enter My Garden. (Surah al-Fajr, 89:27 – 30). In this verse the soul has been described as contented and addressed as such. It has been asked to join the ranks of the chosen people of Allah and enter the paradise.
The spiritual traveller has now completed the stage of major jihad and entered the world of victory and conquest which is the headquarters of contentment, but as some traces of his existence still remain, he has not yet completed the process of self-annihilation and hence needs embarking on greater jihad. Because of this deficiency he is not yet absolutely free. His place is still in the compound hinted at in the Qur’anic verse, “in the nice sitting place with the Powerful Potentate”. (Surah al-Qamar, 54:55) Here ‘Powerful Potentate’ refers to Allah.
After this stage the spiritual traveller should wage a war against the remaining traces of his existence and remove them completely, so that he may step forward into the field of absolute ‘unity’. This world is called the world of victory and conquest. The spiritual traveller has to pass through twelve such worlds before he succeeds in passing the stages of greater emigration and greater jihad and enters the field of sincerity. Then he will be called successful and victorious and will enter the world of sincerity and the compound of We belong to Allah and We will surely return to Him (Surah al-Baqarah, 2:l56). For him the greater self-resurrection will already have taken place. He will enter the stage of total passing away from self after crossing the curtains of bodies, souls and every thing fixed and appointed. He will have one foot in the world of divinity, and he will have passed the stage of Everybody has to taste death (Surah Ali Imran, 3:185). Such a person being at the stage of passing away from self though consciously alive, yet in one sense will be dead. That is why concerning Imam Ali the Holy Prophet said: “Whoever wants to see a dead man walking, let him see Ali ibn Abi Talib.”
Explanation: The spiritual excellences and their signs and consequences which have been briefly mentioned above, are the favors which have been bestowed by Allah exclusively on the followers of the Last Prophet, Muhammad, peace be on him. The merits and the perfections which the spiritual travellers of the previous ummahs (nations) could gain, were of limited nature. After reaching the stage of passing away from self they could view the Divine Names and Attributes, but could not advance any further. The reason was that the highest stage of their gnosis was the maxim, “There is no deity, but Allah” which meant the version of Allah’s most Beautiful Names and Attributes. On the other hand the spiritual travellers of the Islamic ummah have reached several higher stages which cannot be described in words. The reason is that the guiding light of all Islamic rules is the maxim, “Allah is far above being described’, The spiritual progress of a Muslim devotee being connected with this maxim, the stages which he can traverse, are too high to be explained. That is why even the former Prophets could think of no station higher than that of the vision of the Divine Names and Attributes, with the result that they had to face many difficulties and hardships, and were able to get rid of them only by invoking the station of the spiritual guardianship of the Holy Prophet, Imam Ali, Fatimah Zahra and their progeny. It was the spiritual guardianship of these personalities that delivered the former Prophets from their worries and grief. Although the former Prophets were to a certain extent conscious of the high position of the Imams and that is why they invoked it, but till the end of their life they did not know all its characteristics. Some Qur’anic verses show that only Prophet Ibrahim once or twice viewed these higher truths, but only momentarily. The permanent vision of them will be in the other world only.
Before quoting the Qur’anic verses in support of our point it may be mentioned that the text of the Qur’an clearly shows that the position of sincerity also has several grades, for a number of Prophets who held this position to a certain extent, could not attain to its higher grades, for which they used to pray to Allah. For example the Qur’an says about Prophet Yusuf that: Surely he was of Our single minded slaves (Surah Yusuf, 12:24). Still he prayed to Allah saying: You are my protecting friend in this world and the Hereafter. Make me to die submissive to you and join me to the righteous (Surah Yusuf, 12:101)
The prayer shows that he did not attain the position he was praying for during his life time and so he prayed that he might be granted it after his death. Whether his prayer would be fulfilled in the hereafter, the Qur’an is silent on this point. Prophet Ibrahim held a high position in the station of sincerity, yet he prays saying: My Lord, vouchsafe me wisdom and unite me to the righteous (Surah ash-Shu’ara, 26:83)
This shows that the station of the righteous is higher than that of sincerity. That is why Prophet Ibrahim wanted to be joined to those who occupied this position. Allah did not accede to his prayer in this world, but promised to grant him the position he asked for in the hereafter: Surely We chose him in this world and he will be among the righteous in the hereafter (Surah al-Baqarah, 2:130).
It may be noted that the position of righteousness for which the former Prophets craved, is different from that which was conferred on Prophet Ibrahim and his descendants according to the following verse: We bestowed upon him Ishaq and Ya’qub as a grandson. Each of them We made righteous. (Surah al-Anbiya, 21:72)
This kind of righteousness they all enjoyed including Prophet Ibrahim himself. But he was still praying to be joined to the righteous. That shows that he wished something higher than what he had already been granted.
As for the fact that the Holy Prophet and some other persons during their lifetime occupied this higher position, is clear from the following verse:
Surely my Guardian is Allah who revealed the Book. He befriends the righteous. (Surah al-A’raf, 7:196)
According to this verse, first the Holy Prophet admits that Allah is his Guardian and then declares that his guardian is He who befriends and protects the righteous. This shows that at that time there existed certain individuals occupying the position of righteousness, whom Allah befriended. This also shows why the former Prophets made their prayers through the medium of the Imams and what a high position was held by those righteous individuals whom even great Prophets like Ibrahim wished to join.
As for the fact that the great Prophets attained to the position of sincerity, it can be inferred from a number of Qur’anic verses in different ways. The Qur’an expressly says that only the people of sincerity can eulogize Allah in a befitting manner. Allah says: Glorified be Allah from what they attributed to Him, except the single minded slaves of Allah, whose case is different (Surah as Saffat, 37:160).
Ordering the Holy Prophet to eulogize Him, Allah says: Say; Praise be to Allah and peace be on His slaves whom He has chosen. Is Allah best or all that they ascribe to Him as partners? (Surah an-Naml, 27:59).
The Qur’an cites Prophet Ibrahim praising Allah in the following words: Praise be to Allah who has given me in my old age Isma’il and Ishaq. My Lord is indeed the hearer of prayer. (Surah Ibrahim, 14:39)
Prophet Nuh was ordered to glorify Allah in the following words: Then say: Praise be to Allah who has saved us from the wrong doing people. (Surah al-Mu’minun, 23:28)
Concerning certain eminent Prophets the Qur’an expressly says that they held the position of sincerity. About Prophet Yusuf the Qur’an says: Surely he is of Our single minded slaves. (Surah Yusuf, 12:24)
About Prophet Musa it says: And make mention in the Book of Musa. He was single minded, and he was a messenger of Allah, a Prophet. (Surah Maryam, 19:51)
About Prophets Ibrahim, Ishaq and Ya’qub the Qur’an says: And make mention of Our slaves, Ibrahim, Ishaq and Ya’qub, men of parts and vision. We purified them with a pure thought, remembrance of the Home of the hereafter (Surah Sad, 38:45)
According to the following verse Satan can do no harm to the men sincerily devoted to Allah: He said: Then by Your might, I surely will beguile every one of them, save Your single-minded slaves among them. (Surah Sad, 38:82)
Only those who are not thankful to Allah are seduced by Satan: I shall come upon them from before them, and from behind them and from their right hands and from their left hands, and You will not find most of them thankful to You. (Surah al-A’raf, 7:17)
Concerning several Prophets the Qur’an says that they were chosen by Allah: We bestowed upon him Ishaq and Ya’qub, each of them We guided; and Nuh We guided before. From among his descendants We guided Dawud, Sulayman, Ayyub, Yusuf, Musa and Harun. Thus do we reward the good, And We guided Zakariyah, Yahya, Isa and Ilyas. Each one of them was righteous. And We guided Isma’il, Alyasa’, Yunus and Lut. We gave each of them precedence over the rest of the people. And We guided some of their forefathers, children and brothers. We picked them and guided them to a straight path. (Surah al-An’am, 6:84-87)
From these verses it may be inferred that all the Prophets held the position of sincerity, whereas in the verses mentioned earlier only a few Prophets were mentioned. In these verses Allah has said that He ‘picked them’, that is He chose them from so many people.
Those who are beguiled and seduced by Satan are those who are not thankful to Allah. Therefore we can say that those who are thankful to Him cannot be entrapped by Satan for they are sincerely devoted to Allah. Whenever the Qur’an describes anyone as thankful, we can easily conclude that he is one of Allah’s single-minded and sincere slaves. For example, the Qur’an says about Prophet Nuh: They were the descendants of those whom We carried (in the ship) along with Nuh. Surely he was a thankful slave. (Surah Bani Isra’il, 17:3)
About Prophet Lut it says: We sent a storm of stones upon all of them, except the family of Lut whom We rescued in the last watch of the night as a grace from Us. Thus we reward him who is thankful (Surah al-Qamar, 54:34-35)
About Prophet Ibrahim it says: Surely Ibrahim was a nation, obedient to Allah, by nature upright and he was not one of the idolaters. He was thankful for Allah’s bounties. Allah chose him and guided him to a straight path. (Surah an-Nahl, 16:120)
All the other Prophets who have been described as thankful are in principle men of sincerity.
In the above verse Allah says: We picked them from amongst all men as if they were taken up carefully and put somewhere safely. On this basis the case of those who have been picked is different from all other men. They are the people who are exclusively devoted to Allah and are especially favored by Him. This picking by Allah applies to the people of sincerity only because they have attached themselves exclusively to Him and have severed their relations from everything else. Besides, picking in this verse is not related only to those mentioned in it by name, for Allah says: “We guided some of their forefathers, children and brothers. We picked them and guided them to a straight path”. Here the word brothers means moral and spiritual brothers, of these Prophets, that is those who share spiritual knowledge with them. Therefore the statement appears to be applying to all Prophets, and it may safely be argued that all Prophets are the people of sincerity.