Seeking Allah’s Guidance
Allamah Muhammad Husayn Tabatabai
The first thing that a spiritual traveller has to do is to inquire into various religions as far as possible so that he may become conversant with the unity and guidance of Allah. He should try to acquire at least as much knowledge as be enough for practical purposes. Having carried out this kind of investigation into the unity of Allah and the Prophethood of the Holy Prophet he will come out of the domain of infidelity and enter that of minor Islam and minor faith. This is the knowledge about which there is a unanimity of opinion among the jurists that its acquisition is essential for every obligated person for the purpose of acknowledging the fundamental beliefs on the basis of proofs and arguments. If a person cannot get the required degree of satisfaction despite his best efforts he should not lose heart and should pray for obtaining it with humility and submissiveness. This is the method that is reported to have been followed by the Prophet Idris and his followers.
The prayer with humility means that the spiritual traveller should admit his weakness, and earnestly seek guidance from Allah who always helps those who seek the truth earnestly. The Qur’an says’. Those who strive in Us We will surely guide them to our path. (Surah al-Ankabut, 29:69)
I remember when I was in Najaf receiving spiritual and moral training from Haji Mirza Ali Qazi, one morning I fell dozing while I was sitting on the prayer rug. All of a sudden I saw as if two persons were sitting in front of me. One of them was Prophet Idris and other was my brother, Muhammad Husayn Tabatabai. Prophet Idris began talking. He was speaking to me, but I was hearing what he said through the medium of my brother. He said: “During my life I faced many knotty problem which appeared to be too difficult to be resolved, but they were resolved automatically. It seemed that they were resolved by some supernatural hand from the unseen world. These events for the first time revealed to me the connection between this world and the metaphysical world, and established my relation to what is beyond this world.”
I felt at that time that the problems and difficulties to which Prophet Idris was referring were the events which he experienced during his childhood. What he meant was that if anybody sought guidance from Allah earnestly, Allah would surely help him. While seeking help from Allah chanting of some appropriate verses of the Qur’an repeatedly will be very useful. Allah says: “Remember that with the remembrance of Allah the hearts are satisfied.” The repeated chanting of “Ya Fattahu” “Ya dalilal Mutahayyirin” will also be found useful. Anyhow, the chanting must be with full attention and concentration.
One of my friends relates that once he was going by bus from Iran to Karbala. A sturdy young man was sitting near him. No conversation had taken place between them. Then all of a sudden the young man began to cry. My friend was astonished. He asked the young man what was the matter. He said: “I will certainly tell you my story. I am a civil engineer. Since my childhood I was so brought up that I became an atheist. I did not believe in resurrection, but I had a feeling of love for the religious people, whether they were Muslims, Christians or Jews. One night I was attending a party of my friends where some Bahais1 were also present. For some time we all took part in games, music and dance, but soon I began to feel ashamed of myself and so I went upstairs and began to weep. I said: O’ God! Help me if you really do exist! After a few moments I came downstairs. At dawn we all dispersed. In the evening while I was going on some professional duty along with my team in-charge and some officers, I suddenly saw a religious scholar with an illuminated face coming towards me. He greeted me and said that he wanted to have some talk with me. I told him that I would see him next day in the afternoon. After he had left some people objected to my giving a cold reception to quite a well known holy man. I said that I thought he was some needy person, who wanted my help. By chance it so happened that my team in-charge asked me to be present next day in the afternoon at a particular place and do a certain job. The time which he gave me was exactly which I had given to that religious scholar. I said to myself that there was no more any possibility of going to him. Next day at the appointed time I felt that I was not feeling well. In a few moments I had a high fever and it became necessary to call a doctor. Naturally I was unable to go for the job entrusted to me by my in-charge. But as soon as the representative of the in-charge went away, I felt myself relieved. My temperature had become normal. I thought over my condition and was convinced that the incident had some secret. Therefore I got up immediately and went to that scholar’s place. When I saw him, he began to talk of fundamental principles and proved each one of them to my entire satisfaction. Then he asked me to come to him next day again. For several days I went to him daily. Each day when I visited him he told me so many things in detail about my private affairs about which nobody other than me alone knew at all. A lot of time passed in this way. One day my friends pressed me to attend one of their parties. There I had to take part in gambling also. Next day when I called on that scholar he at once said: “Don’t you feel ashamed? How come that you committed such a grave sin?” Tears flowed down from my eyes. I admitted my mistake and said that I was sorry. He said: “Have a bath for repentance, and don’t do such a thing again”. Then he gave me some other instructions. Thus he changed the program of my life. All this happened in Zanjan. Later when I was going to Tehran he asked me to call upon certain scholars there. At last he asked me to go on a pilgrimage to the holy places. Now I am going on the journey which he asked me to undertake.”
My friend said: “When we approached Iraq. I saw that young man weeping again. On my inquiry he said: “It appears that we have entered the land of Iraq, for Abu Abdillah (Imam Husayn) has welcomed me.”
This story has been narrated to show that anybody seeking guidance from Allah earnestly is bound to succeed in his objective. Even if he is skeptical about Monotheism – the unity of Allah, he will receive guidance.
Having successfully completed this stage the spiritual traveller should strive for attaining to major Islam and major faith. In this connection the first thing to do is to know the rules of Islamic law. This knowledge should be acquired from some competent jurist. Next to acquiring the knowledge of law comes the turn of practicing it. It is very necessary to always act according to Islamic law, for knowledge is the best incentive to action, and action produces conviction. If a person is certain about the veracity of his knowledge, he is bound to act according to it. If he does not, that means that he is not convinced of the correctness of what he knows, and that his knowledge and belief are no more than a sort of mental impression. For example, if somebody is sure of Allah’s absolute providence, he will never desperately try to earn money at all costs. He will be satisfied with what the Islamic injunctions allow him and will try to earn with tranquil happiness what is necessary for him and his family. But if a man is always worried about his livelihood, that means that he does not believe in the absolute providence of Allah or thinks that it is conditional on his trying hard, or he believes that providence is limited to earning cash or salary. That is what is meant when it is said that knowledge is an incentive to action. The following similitude shows how action enhances knowledge. When a person says from the core of his heart: “Glory and praise be to my exalted Lord”, he acknowledges his helplessness and humbleness. Naturally, power and glory cannot be conceived without there being a conception of humbleness and helplessness.
Conversely no one can be powerless without there being a powerful. Therefore the mind of the person saying: “Glory and praise be to my exalted Lord” while prostrating himself in prayers, is naturally diverted to the absolute power and glory of Allah.2 This is what is meant by saying that action promotes knowledge. The Qur’anic verse, The good deed He promotes it (Surah al-Fatir, 35:10) also refers to this fact.
It is necessary for the spiritual traveller to do his best to abide by all that is obligatory and to refrain from all that is forbidden, for doing anything against Islamic injunctions is absolutely contrary to the spirit of his spiritual journey. It is no use to perform commendable deeds and spiritual exercises if the heart and soul are polluted, just as it serves no useful purpose to apply cosmetics if the body is dirty. Besides being very particular about performing what is obligatory and abstaining from what is forbidden, it is also imperative for the spiritual traveller to take interest in performing commendable deeds and avoiding obnoxious ones, for attaining to major Islam and major faith depends on doing that. It is to be remembered that every deed has a corresponding effect and contributes to the completion of faith. The following tradition reported by Muhammad bin Muslim refers to this point: “Faith depends on the deeds for the deeds are essential part of faith. Faith cannot be firmly established without good deeds.”
Therefore the spiritual traveller must perform every commendable act at least once so that he may attain that part of faith also which depends on the performance of that particular act. Imam Ali has said that it is deeds that produce perfect faith. Hence it is necessary for the spiritual traveller not to overlook commendable deeds while advancing towards the stage of major faith, for his faith will be incomplete in proportion to his lack of interest in the performance of good deeds. If a devotee purified his tongue and his other organs but at the time of spending money was negligent of his duty, his faith would not be perfect. Every bodily organ must get that part of faith which is related to it. The heart which is the chief of all organs should be kept busy with remembering the Names and Attributes of Allah and pondering over the Divine signs in men and the universe. That is the way how man’s heart imbibes the spirit of faith. The Qur’an says: It may be noted that with the remembrance of Allah the hearts become satisfied. (Surah ar-Ra’d, 13:28)
When every organ has obtained its due share of faith, the devotee should intensify his spiritual effort and enter the domain of certainty and conviction by completing the stages of major Islam and major faith.
Those who believe and obscure not their belief by wrong doing, theirs is safety; and they are rightly guided. (Surah al-An’am, 6:82)
As a result of doing spiritual exercises the spiritual traveller will not only be placed on the right path, but will also become safe from the assaults of Satan.
Remember that no fear shall come upon the friends of Allah, nor shall they grieve. (Surah Hud, 10:62)
Fear means apprehension of impending danger or evil that causes worry and alarm. Grief means mental distress and sorrow caused by the occurrence of something evil and unpleasant. The spiritual traveller has no apprehension nor sorrow, for he entrusts all his affairs to Allah. He has no objective other than Allah. Such people as they enter the domain of certainty have been described by Allah as His friends. Imam Ali hinted at this stage when he said: “He sees Allah’s path, walks on His way, knows His signs and crosses the obstacles. He is at such a stage of certainty that it seems as if he was seeing everything by the light of the sun”.
Imam Ali has also said: “Knowledge has given them real insight; they have imbibed the spirit of conviction; they consider easy what the people living in ease and luxury consider difficult; they are familiar with what the ignorant have aversion to; their bodies are in the world but their souls are in high heaven.”
At this stage the doors of vision and inspiration are opened before the spiritual traveller.
Evidently there is no inconsistency between passing through these stages and the spiritual traveller’s being busy with his basic necessities in the world. His inner experience has nothing to do with his external activities such as his marriage, earning his livelihood and being engaged in trade or cultivation. The spiritual traveller lives bodily in this mundane world and takes part in worldly activities, but his soul goes round the angelic world and talks with its inmates. He is like a bereaved person whose some close relative has died recently. Such a person lives among the people, talks to them, walks to various places, eats and sleeps, but his heart is always lamenting over the memory of his relative. Whoever looked at him, could understand that he was in a wretched state of mind. Similarly a spiritual traveller despite his being engaged in fulfilling his natural needs, maintains his contact with Allah. A fire of love is always burning in his heart. The pain of separation keeps him restless, but no one except Allah knows his inner condition, though the onlookers also can in general discern that love for Allah and for truth has befallen him. It is clear from this explanation that the wailing, weeping and prayer of the Imams were not fake, nor were the supplications which have come down from them purely for instructional purposes. Such a notion is based on the ignorance of facts. It is below the dignity of the Imams to say anything unrealistic or to call people to Allah by means of fake prayers. Will it be proper to say that the heart-rending wailings of Imam Ali and Imam Zaynul ‘Abidin were fake and had no reality or they were for teaching purpose only? Not at all. This group of the leaders of religion have attained to the stage of passing away from self and abiding in Allah after completing all the stages of spiritual journey and hence combine in themselves the qualities relating to the world of unity as well as the world of plurality. They receive Divine light in every walk of life and are required to maintain their attention to the higher world and not to violate any rule relating to that world even slightly.
When the spiritual traveller has traversed all the above mentioned worlds successfully and overcome Satan, he enters the world of victory and conquest. At that time he will have passed the material world and entered the world of souls. Hence forward his great journey will be through the angelic world and the spiritual world and ultimately he will succeed in reaching the world of Divinity.
2. The supplications which have come down to us from the Holy Prophet and his Household provide the best means of our moral and spiritual training. They strengthen faith; create a spirit of self- sacrifice and promote a taste for performing acts of worship and praying to Allah. The Supplication of Mujir, the Supplication of Kumayl, the Supplication of Abu Hamzah Thumali and the Supplication of ‘Arafah may be mentioned in this connection.