The world today, and arguably always, has been shrouded in a mist of sin that prevents people from attaining a connection with Allah, and thus prevents self-purification. Therefore man needs the assistance of something that will guide him through the murky haze to Allah. The important question is what tool to use to cut through this blinding darkness so we can fulfil our thirsty souls.
Many a people have not been able to reach Allah because they lack such a guiding tool. However the Shia cannot have such an excuse. We do not have just one, but two tools.
Firstly we have what the Prophet Muhammed (s.a.w) describes as “a divine light for you on the Earth.” What is this Noor that will burn through the pollution of sin? It is the book of God, the Holy Quran.
Secondly we have what the eighth Imam; Imam Reza (a.s) describes eloquently as “the luminous full moon, the bright lamp, the rising light, the guiding star in tenebrous gloom, the guide to the right and the saviour from demise.” We ask, “O Imam! What is this powerful tool?” And the Imam replies, “This tool is us, the Ahlulbayt.”
With two such shining lights of guidance, there is no reason for the Shia to walk the wrong path, away from Allah.
Now let us see what these lights are showing us. Let us ask the eighth Imam again, “Ya Imam, how can we progress down this road towards Allah?” The Imam with a tender smile replies, “The servants of Allah will not attain the reality of faith before they enjoy three characters: knowledge of the religious affairs, moderation in livelihood and patience in misfortunes.”
The Imam has given us three gems to ponder over and implement. Let us look at them in closer detail.
Firstly, we need to have ‘knowledge of the religious affairs’. We must seek knowledge not for the sake of dispute or deception, but rather for the sake of understanding and intellection. Only this real knowledge is the guiding spiritual lamp that shows the straight path of nearness to Allah and to the abode of His bliss.
Acquiring and implementing this knowledge is not an easy path to take, but the best of deeds are those which are the most difficult. This path to knowledge will create grief, pain and dejection because of the fear of the return to God and the terror of falling short in our duties to Him. But this grief will illuminate the heart and spark an impulse of self-reform and commitment to the duties of servitude. This light of knowledge will take away the painful chaos from the heart of the devotee and reveal to him the peaceful abode of God.
This knowledge will cause man to gain great pleasure from praying to God. Imam Ali describes such a seeker of knowledge by saying, “he is grief stricken and awake at nights. Having tied his cap with loose ends of his turban, he stands up in the dark of nights. As a result God grants him forgiveness on the Day of Judgement.”
Do not delay or ever underestimate the importance and difficulty of the seeking of this knowledge as without it we will be lost in the gloom. Imam Khomeini underlines the urgency of this by saying, “O seekers of knowledge and spiritual excellences and teaching! Arise from your sleep and know that you have lesser room for excuse before God. God Almighty shall call you to a tougher account than others as the level of your knowledge and works is very different from other people. Your path is sharper and narrower and there will be a greater scrutiny of the record of your life.”
The second gem is what the eighth Imam describes as ‘moderation in livelihood’. Man can never be materialistically satisfied. He cannot resist that temptation of ‘more’. There is no limit to the desires of the one who constantly drags himself after the world. If one wish of his fulfilled the desire for fulfilment of another will crop up. As Imam Sadiq says, “The example of the world is that of sea water, the more a thirsty person drinks from it, the thirstier he become until it kills him.” This thirst keeps man from religious exercises and prayers and thus destroys man eternally. It is the main source of affliction with inward and outward evils.
That is why the Imam has encouraged moderation to strengthen faith. Note that moderation does not mean complete aloofness, but rather the ability to recognise boundaries and knowing when to stop. The world has its benefits but only if a person looks at it from the surface and does not become absorbed by its shallowness. As Imam Ali says, “If one sees through the world it would bestow him sight, but if one has his eye on it then it would blind him.”
Eradicate the roots of world in your heart and consider this short life in the world as insignificant. Do not attach any value to its pleasures as they are just painfully fleeting temptations. Instead rely on God because whatsoever lies with God is better and lasting.
The third gem of the Imam is ‘patience in misfortune’. If a person bears misfortunes patiently for the sake of obedience to Allah his soul will gradually become conditioned to the hardships. It will become disciplined and strong and lose its earlier waverings. If you have faith in Allah and believe that only He has the say in all matters, you will not complain of your silent anguishes of life. Instead you will stand with courage and know that anguish and anxiety is futile against suffering and calamities. You will not bend down in front of weak and powerless creatures but rather put your hope and affairs in His mighty power.
Imagine the man who realises the immense beauty of these three gems that Imam Reza (a.s) has given him, and does his utmost to act upon them. He stands trembling in prayer, in the dark of the nights, illuminated only by the knowledge in his heart, free from the clutches of the greed of this deceptive world and courageously unwavering against the constant calamities.
This servant of Allah has indeed attained the reality of faith and he can never be destroyed by the grimy pollution of sin.