TEACHINGS FOR THE SHI'A FROM THE HOUSEHOLD OF THE PROPHET
The Imams of the Household knew that power would not return to them in their own lifetimes, and that the Shi'a would remain under the rule of others, and that they would be obliged to use force and violence to struggle against this rule.
At the same time, it was natural for them to conceal their religion and the way that they followed, as long as taqiyyah did not cause bloodshed and did not bring harm to others or to Islam; thus they endeavoured to stay in this sea of troubles, treachery, hatred and vengeance against the Household.
It was necessary, because of this, for the Imams to devote their time to teaching their followers the fundamentals of the Islamic shari'ah in a special way, and to guide them in correct social behaviour so that they might become examples of perfect, just Muslims.
The way of the Household as regards teaching cannot be explained in this short book, and the famous books of ahadith can be consulted for examples of their teachings on religious education. However, it is not a bad idea to indicate here some of these teachings which can be gathered together under the general heading of their doctrines concerning the teaching of their followers. These concern their moral teachings dealing with social behaviour and those things which may bring their followers closer to Allah, how to cleanse the heart from unclean things, and how to be honest. We have already mentioned, in the discussion of taqiyyah, some of the things about useful social behaviour, and in the following pages we shall mention some further important matters.
The Prophet said:
Du'a' is a weapon for the believer, a pillar of din, and a light of the heaven and the earth.
and here is truth. It became one of the peculiarities of the Shi'a by which they are distinguished. They have written many books mentioning its importance, and the correct way of performing these supplications, and from these ad'iyah (pl. of du'a') which have been transmitted from the Household, hundreds of books, large and small, have been written, wherein are stored the aims of the Prophet and his Household, urging their followers and encouraging them to recite du'a'. From them have been transmitted:
The first Imam, Amir al-Mu'minin 'Ali (A.S.), was much given to du'a', and this is clear because he was the leader in monotheism (Sayyid al-muwahhiddi) and the Chief among believers (Imam al-alihiyyin) and his ad'iyah and sermons are masterpieces of Arabic eloquence: for instance, the du'a' of Kumayl ibn Ziyad al-Mashhur. And they contain enough Divine and religious education to enable one to tread the right path to being a perfect Muslim.
In fact, the ad'iyah which are transmitted from the Prophet and his Household are the best guidance for a Muslim. When he thinks deeply about them, they will stimulate in him strength of faith and belief and the spirit of sacrifice in the path of Allah, and will reveal to him the mystery of worship, and the sweetness of praying to Allah and abandoning everything but Him. They will teach him what is incumbent on a human being to know about his religion, and what will bring him close to Allah, and take him far from corruption, his desires and false innovations. In short, in these ad'iyah have been stored the summary of education as regards morality, training of the soul and Islamic beliefs; but they are, at the same time, the most important source of philosophical ideas for investigating theology and for the study of ethics.
If people could follow the guidance contained in the elevated meanings of these ad'iyah - but, alas, they will not be able to do so - no trace of the corruption which fills the earth would be found, and those souls which are bound by their sins could go to the Heaven of Truth freely. But it is a near impossibility to pay attention to these reformers who have called humanity to the way of Truth. So the word of Allah has revealed to mankind:
Most surely (man's) soul is wont to command (him to do) evil. (11;53)
And most men will not believe though you desire it eagerly. (11;103)
The source of badness in man is self-deception and an ignorance of his faults caused by denying their existence, thus making them seem good. So he oppresses others, seizes their property, lies, flatters, obeys his own desires, and then deceives himself that he is not really obeying his desires, but that these things need to be done, so as to make his sins seem very insignificant. The following transmitted du'a', which takes its strength from Divine revelation, influences man to withdraw himself and to be alone with Allah, and shows him how to confess his sins and to understand that he is an evil-doer, and that he must devote his time to asking forgiveness from Allah, and reminding himself of his self-deception. Thus the reciter supplicates Allah from the du'a' of Kumayl ibn Ziyad:
Repeat the recitation of this passage and reflect on the delicateness of the remonstrance, its eloquence and the enchantment of its exposition.
At the same time as it inspires the soul to confess its short-comings and its servitude, it also instructs it not to despair of the Mercy and Kindness of Allah. Then it speaks to the soul in a clever and subtle manner, and instructs it in its highest duties, and makes incumbent upon it the thorough performance of these duties. It teaches the soul how man, through the performance of these duties, may deserve the granting of forgiveness by Allah, and this is what causes man to listen to his soul and to do what is necessary for him to do, when formerly he was not carrying out his obligations. Then follows another style of remonstrance from the same du'a':
Answer me, O my God, my Master and my Lord!
This is instruction for the soul in the necessity of taking pleasure in the nearness of Allah, and observing His Kindness and His Power, and loving and desiring what He possesses. Taking pleasure in nearness to Him may reach such a degree that to be without it is worse for the soul than punishment and the heat of Hell. It may be that man can endure the fire of Hell, but he cannot endure to be abandoned. As these passages lead us to understand, love and taking pleasure in closeness to Allah is the best intercession for a guilty person, that Allah may forgive and pardon him. The delicateness of this kind of wonder and adulation of Allah Who accepts repentance and forgives sin will not remain unheard.
It would not be a bad thing to end this exposition with a short du'a' which lists the highest virtues, and also tells us what is necessary in order that every part and category of humanity may be endowed with the best qualities.
I recommend you, my brothers, the readers, not to miss the opportunity of reciting these ad'iyah, paying attention to their meaning and their purpose, and through presence of mind drawing near and listening to Allah with humility, reading them as if they are speaking of oneself, and following the rites that are proscribed with them by the Household of the Prophet; because reading them mindlessly, merely mouthing the words, will not increase man's knowledge, or cause him to draw near to Allah, none of his troubles will be resolved, and his du'a' will not be accepted.
After the deplorable tragedy (of Karbala'), and after the Ummayids had taken over the leadership of the Islamic community, they committed excesses in oppression, revelled in bloodshed and made a mockery of Islamic teachings. There was no alternative for Imam Zayn al-'Abidin, Sayyid as-Sajidin (A.S.) but to remain in the seclusion of his own home, dejected and full of sorrow. No-one dared to approach him in his house, and he was forbidden to guide the people as they should have been.
He was forced to adopt the method of du'a' (as we have mentioned, this is one of the methods of nurturing purity of character) as a means of propagating the teachings of the Qur'an, the principles of Islam, and the message of the Household of the Prophet, of instilling in the minds of the people a sense of spirituality and piety, and as a means to the necessary purification of the soul and morality. This was a method of dissemination that he adopted to teach people without arousing the suspicions of the tyrannical rulers, and without giving them any evidence with which to condemn him. That is why we see that most of these eloquent ad'iyah, some of which have been collected together in as-Sahifat as-Sajjadiyyah, also known as Zabur Ali Muhammad (The Psalms of the Household of the Prophet), consist of various topics in Islamic learning. Their style and meaning count them among the greatest examples of authorship in Arabic literature; they are the embodiment of the teachings of the true religion; they contain the innermost subtleties of tawhid and nubuwwat; and they constitute the best way to propagate the ethics of Muhammad and Islamic morality. Thus they are spiritual and ethical teachings in the style of ad'iyah, or ad'iyah in accordance with spiritual teachings and ethics. Without doubt, after the Qur'an and Nahj al-Balaghah these are the greatest examples of literary style in Arabic, and the best philosophical discussions of theological matters and ethics.
From then, we understand how to praise Allah and how to sing his glories and how to thank Him and turn to Him in repentance; and it is in this way that we can understand how to establish communion with Allah and to express our secrets to Him in private, and how to become solely dependent on Him. It is by this method that we are made to understand the meaning behind invoking benedictions on the Prophet of Allah, on His Messengers and Chosen Ones from His creation, and the manner of doing this. It is thus that we can understand how we should do good towards our parents - the obligations of the father towards the son, and of the son towards the father, as well as the obligations towards one's relatives and neighbours, and the obligations of all Muslims in general obligations of the poor towards the rich, and vice versa.
We are warned about repaying our debts towards others, about how we should act in commerce and business, and about how we should cooperate with our relatives, friends and all people with their interests at heart. In this way, all the good qualities in man are brought out. These ad'iyah comprise a comprehensive system of instructions in the science of ethics.
By reciting them we can come to know how to show patience in the midst of hardships and difficulties, and how to face both sickness and health. They explain the duties of Islamic armies and their soldiers, and the duties of the people towards these soldiers, and many other things which are in accordance with the essence of Islam and the revealed shari'ah, and all this has been done only in the form of the du'a'.
The following themes are recurrent in the Sahifah, and
All praise is due to Allah, the First before Whom no being preceded, and the Last after Whom will be no other.
Whom the eyes of those who see cannot perceive, and
Whom our descriptive imagination cannot envisage.
In this passage, he has explained the exact nature of the eternity of Allah, and has set Him above the level at which sight and mind may encompass His Being and has referred to the true nature of the Creation of Allah.
In the sixth du'a' the Power of Allah and His regulation of the universe are referred to in a different manner.
All praise is due to Allah Who created day and night by His Might, and made them different from one another by His Power, confined them both to specific limits, each following on the heels of the other, so that people might obtain their sustenance and might grow;
He created night for them so that they might relax from the stress of life, and from excessive fatigue, and made it a garment of comfort and rest for people so that it might be for them a gathering of new strength, and an enjoyment of leisure and sensual delights.
He continues mentioning the wisdom of the days and the nights, and how it is a duty for man to be thankful and grateful to Allah for them.
In the seventh du'a' the fact that everything is in the hand of Allah is described in the following way:
O Allah! through Whose Will the knots of problems are
b) The second recurring theme of as-Sahifat as-Sajjadiyyah concerns the Bounties and Grace of Allah towards man, and the inability of man to pay back what is due through worship and obedience to his Lord, and through sole reliance on Him. Thus we read in the thirty-eighth du'a':
O Allah! No-one is able to complete his thanksgiving
to Thee without new bounties being bestowed upon him
which require further gratitude;
Due to the magnitude and multitude of the bounties of Allah, which never stop, even for one moment, it is impossible for man to thank Allah as he should (even if he is grateful and obedient to Him), so how could one who has committed one act of ingratitude make up for it, even if he were to do all that was in his power to make amends. This is what is suggested in the following quotation from the sixteenth du'a':
O Allah! Were I to weep until I became blind, were I
to moan until I lost my voice, were I to stand in prayer
until my feet could no longer support me, were I to bow
in ruku' until my back was paralysed, were I to
prostrate before Thee until I became a skeleton, were I
to eat clay all my life or to drink the most filthy water
until the end of my days, were I to sing Thy Glory until
my tongue dried up,
c) The third most common theme of the ad'iyah concerns Divine reward and punishment, Hell and Paradise; and it is pointed out again and again that Allah rewards his servants solely on the basis of His Grace and Mercy; for man deserves nothing but punishment even for the minutest of his sins. All the ad'iyah of as-Sahifat as-Sajjadiyyah make mention of this theme, in order to produce in man a sense of fear of the punishment of Allah and hope for His reward and Mercy. All this is conveyed to such an effective manner and style that it generates in the heart an intense fear and awe, and saves man from falling into the abyss of sin. For instance, we read in the forty -sixth du'a':
The signs are clear, and Thy Supremacy is eternal and
will not diminish,
Or as we read in the thirty-first du'a':
O Allah! Have Mercy on the one standing alone in front of Thee, my heart beating through fear of Thee, my limbs trembling in awe of Thee.
O Lord! My sins cause me to stand ashamed before Thee; if I keep silence, no-one will speak on my behalf. even if someone would intercede for me, I have no right to intercession.
We also read in the thirty-third du'a':
If Thou shouldst punish me justly, I should perish,
but if Thou shouldst pour on me Thy Mercy, I should
retain my existence. . . .
d) The fourth merit of those ad'iyah is to lift the one who recites them towards perfection, away from evil deeds and badness of character, to cleanse his conscience and purify his heart, as we read in the twentieth du'a':
O Allah! Increase the sincerity of my intentions by
Thy Kindness, and strengthen my certainty of Thee, and by
Thy Power correct my faults. . . .
e) The fifth theme is to inspire the one who recites the ad'iyah to realise the necessity for independence from others, not to demean himself in front of them, and not to rely for his needs on any but Allah. For greediness for things which belong to others is one of the worst characteristics a man can have. We read in the twentieth du'a':
Do not tempt me to beg from anyone but Thee, or to
demean myself by asking from anyone but Thee when I am in
need, or to implore anyone but Thee when I am afraid,
And in the twenty-eighth du'a':
O Allah! Verily I have sincerely devoted myself to Thee, and I have turned away from (relying on) those who (in fact) need Thy help, and I no longer beg from those who are in need of Thy Favour, for I have realised that for someone in need to beg from someone else in need shows the foolishness of one's views and the delusions of one's mind.
And again in the thirteenth du'a':
For someone who seeks gratification of his needs from
Thee and relies for the relieving of his poverty on Thee,
surely he has taken his need to the proper place, and has
approached his w ants from the right direction.
f) Sixthly, these ad'iyah teach people the necessity of considering the rights of others, of helping them, of being compassionate and kind towards each other, of making sacrifices for somebody else's sake, so as to make a reality of Islamic brotherhood. For example, we read in the thirty -eighth du'a':
O Allah I beg forgiveness from Thee for ill-treatment
meted out to someone in my presence without my coming to
his aid, and for kindness shown to me without my giving
This asking for forgiveness is a most effective way of
admonishing the soul to do those things which are
necessary for exalted, divine morality.
O Allah! Anyone who has taken from me when Thou hast
How amazing are these last phrases! and how beautifully they enter the souls of the good to warn them of the necessity for pure intentions towards all people, to make them ask for happiness for everyone even for those who have been unjust or iniquitous to them.
There are many examples of this in the ad'iyah of as-Sahifat as Sajjadiyyah, and if people would only listen to their guidance, they are full of all kinds of teachings in Divine morality.
One of the practices which distinguish the Shi'a from all other Islamic sects is the attention paid to pilgrimage to the Holy Shrines, such as those of the Prophet (S.A.) and the Imams (A.S.), and the building of magnificent domes and buildings over their tombs by good will and faith.
All of these things are done through the
recommendations of the Imams, for they were continually
persuading and encouraging their followers to make
pilgrimages, so as to derive great reward from Allah. It
is one of the best forms of worship after the obligatory
ones, and the shrines are the best places for
supplicating and approaching Allah.
For every one of the Shi'a and their followers has an understanding with them (the Imams), and pilgrimage is a way of fulfilling and being faithful to that understanding. Whosoever undertakes a pilgrimage of his own free will, believing in it, for him the Imams will intercede with Allah on the Day of Resurrection.
There are social and religious advantages in making ziyarah. Thus our Imams have stressed its performance, for it fortifies the bond between them and their followers and reminds us of their virtues and their struggle for the truth. Moreover, it gathers Muslims together in one place so that they can get to know and establish friendships with one another, in order that the condition of obedience to Allah and devotion to his commandments becomes firmly imprinted in their hearts. And it confirms in them the true meaning of pilgrimage: the truth of tawhid, the sanctity of Islam, the prophethood of Muhammad, the various Islamic duties such as the striving for an elevated. morality, bowing down and prostrating before the Commander of all creatures, and how to thank Allah for His gifts by means of those prayers which are recited during pilgrimage. And these prayers are among those with the most exalted meanings. For example, the du'a' "Amin Allah" composed by Imam Zayn al-'Abidin (A.S.) when he made a pilgrimage to the grave of his grandfather 'Ali, Amir al-Mu'minin (A.S.).
Also the recitations during the pilgrimage point out the magnificent characters of the Imams, their sacrifices in defending the truth and elevating the religion, and their perseverance in obedience to Allah. They are written in the most excellent Arabic, full of great eloquence and easily understandable phrases, and they contain the best exposition of tawhid, and supplication and prayer to Allah. Truly, among them is the greatest religious literature after the Qur'an, Nahj al-Balaghah and the other prayers of the Imams, because they have included in them summaries of their teachings on Islamic matters and morality. There are also teachings and guidance in certain pilgrimage ceremonies mentioned below for the spiritual progress of the Muslim, the cultivation of sympathy for the poor, and encouragement for fostering brotherhood, good behaviour and understanding between people.
These rites must be performed before entering the shrine and reciting the special prayer of pilgrimage, and some others must be said during or after. Here we shall indicate some of them in order to make clear what we have already said.
Firstly the pilgrim must wash himself (ghusl) as commanded in the books of Islam, and clean his body before beginning. This is so that he may rid himself of dirt, prevent disease and suffering, so that his odour does not offend others, and at the same time to cleanse his spirit from moral impurities. Traditions have been narrated instructing that after completing this washing, and in order to fix his attention on these high aims, the pilgrim should say.
O Allah! Give me light and purity, and preserve me from all disease, sickness, calamity or corruption, and also through this washing purify my heart, my body, my bones, flesh and blood, my hair and skin, my brain and nerves and every place 1 touch the earth, and provide me with a witness on the Day of my poverty, necessity and requirement.
Secondly, the pilgrim should wear the best and cleanest clothes that he has, because in such days of gathering it causes people to love and be kind to one another, increases their dignity and thus enables them to understand the importance of pilgrimage. It should be noted that the pilgrim should put on the best clothes that he can afford, not the finest that are obtainable. For not everyone can wear the best, and such a command would cause despair among the poor, and thus it would go against the favour of Allah. So it is said that there is a two-fold meaning, i.e. that people should be well-dressed and that they should pay due regard to the condition of the poor.
Thirdly, the pilgrim should wear perfume where possible, for its benefit is like that of being well-dressed.
Fourthly, he should give alms to the poor, according as he is able. The purpose Of this is, firstly, to help the poor, and then to instill in the pilgrim a sense of generosity .
Fifthly, the pilgrim should proceed towards the shrine slowly and Quietly without gazing around. This is clearly in respect for the sacred place (haram), the pilgrimage and those who are buried there, but also that the pilgrim may give his undivided attention to Allah, and avoid inconveniencing others along his way.
Sixthly, he must say "Allahu akbar" (Allah, the Supreme) and repeat it as much as he can. Some traditions instruct the pilgrim to repeat it one hundred times. By this he becomes aware of Allah's Greatness and Magnificence, and realises that nothing is greater than He. This is for the sake of Allah and His Dignity and to revive the sacred rites of Islam and to strengthen the religion.
Seventhly, after visiting the tomb of the Prophet or an Imam, the pilgrim should pray at least two rak'ah. This is in order to worship Allah and give thanks to Him, and to ask for success in one's pilgrimage', then he should ask that the spiritual reward for the prayer should go to the soul of he who is buried in that place.
The special du'a' that follows, which the pilgrim must recite after his prayer, serves to show him that prayer and worship during pilgrimage are only for Allah, that no-one deserves to be worshipped save Him. It is a means of winning Allah's favour, for the pilgrim says:
O Allah! To Thee alone do I pray, to Thee alone do I
bow down and prostrate myself.
This du'a' explains to those who want to know, the purpose of pilgrimage to the shrines as it was performed by the Imams and their followers, and it answers those who suppose that pilgrimage is a kind of idolatry and polytheism.
No doubt, the purpose of such detractors is to discourage the Shi'a from the benefits of meeting one another, and the solidarity which increases in the times of pilgrimage, because such brotherhood is like the shafts of arrows in the eyes of the enemies of Muhammad, for they cannot be unaware of the Imams' intention. It is not possible to believe that those whose every saying and doing were for the sake of Allah, and who gave their blood in the cause of the religion of Allah, should call the people to polytheism and idolatry.
Finally, one of the necessities of the pilgrimage is that "the pilgrim should behave towards and treat his fellow pilgrim with politeness, that he should say few words but ones of benefit and purpose, that he should remember Allah, be humble, worship often, ask for the Mercy of Allah on Muhammad and his Descendents, lower his eyes and not stare around,. assist his brothers when they have nothing and console them, remain far from what is unlawful, avoid quarrelling and arguing about one's beliefs."
The reality behind the pilgrimage is the salutation of Muhammad or the Imam, because, in accordance with the Qur'an:
They are alive and are provided with sustenance from their Lord. (3;168)
And they hear the words of the pilgrim and answer his salutations. It is enough to say, for example, before the tomb of the Prophet: "As-salamu 'alayka ya rasul allah" (Peace be upon thee, O Messenger of Allah), but it is much better to say the words prescribed by the Household of the Prophet, for they express the highest intentions and the greatest religious significance by their eloquence, and they are the most excellent prayers through which the pilgrim may contemplate Allah.
The Imams of the Household (A.S.) did not receive the leadership of Islam, although, however, they never had any designs towards it. So they devoted themselves to educating the Muslims, and to instructing them as Allah had ordered. They remained with those who were faithful to them, and confided in them their secrets, took great pains to teach them all the religious commandments and instill in them religious knowledge, and showed them what is of advantage to man and what is harmful. They recognised no-one as Shi'i or as one of their followers unless he obeyed the commands of Allah, kept himself apart from his desires and carried out what they taught and guided him towards. Only to love them will not suffice to save someone, it. that person also follows his desires. making excuses for his disobedience to Allah, because they have clearly said that love of them will save no-one unless it is accompanied by pure actions, truth, honesty, piety and virtue.
Imam Baqir (A.S.) said:
O Khuthayma! Say to our friends that we can be of no
help to them before Allah unless their actions are pure,
and that they cannot attain our friendship and love
except through their virtue.
The Imams desired and expected their followers to guide others and show them the correct path of goodness, and they instructed them to call the people to the truth by good actions, saying that this was more important than calling by word.
Call the people unto the truth by your behaviour, so that they can see your obedience, and know that you are truthful and obedient.
We shall give some extracts here from conversations between the Imams and their followers, so that the reader may see how they were anxious to educate the people.
1. From Imam Baqir's conversation with Jabir al-Ju'afi:
O Jabir! How can someone who claims to follow us be content with only loving us? I swear that our follower is one who carries out his duty to Allah and fears Him. Our followers are known by their humility. modesty, exceeding remembrance of Allah, fasting, prayer, being sympathetic and helpful towards the poor, their reading of the Qur'an, saying nothing about a person except concerning his good actions, and they are most trustworthy among those close to them. (O ye who follow!) Observe your duty to Allah, and perform good actions for His reward, for there is no preference by Allah towards anyone. The most beloved of His servants in the presence of Allah is the best in conduct and obedience to Him. O Jabir! Nobody can come close to Allah except through obedience. Without this nobody will be saved from Hell, nor can anybody excuse himself before Allah without it. Whosoever obeys Him, he is our friend, but whosoever disobeys Him, he is our enemy. You cannot attain to our friendship except through good actions and virtuousness.
2. From Imam Baqir's conversation with Sa'id ibn al-Hasan:
al-Imam: 'Does it happen to you that one of you
approaches his brother and puts his hand into his
brother's pocket to take some money of which he is in
need, without his brother preventing him?'
3. From Imam Ja'far's conversation with Abi as-Sabah al-Kanani:
al-Kanani: 'How much harassment we receive from people
for your sake!'
4. There are many traditions from Imam Ja'far concerning these matters. Here we have chosen some of them and written them down.
- If a man lives in a town with a hundred thousand
inhabitants or more, and there is someone in that town
whose virtue is greater then his, then that man is not
one of my followers.