Sahifah-e-Kamilah: Tawhid in Devotional Mode
No one with any sensitivity toward human weakness and Allah's love can fail to be moved at least by some of the supplications contained in the Sahifa-e-Kamilah or Sahifa-e-Sajjadiyah by Imam Sajjad Ali ibn Husain (A.S.), the Fourth Shia Imam. Here we have one of the greatest spiritual luminaries of Islam so overawed by the sense of God's goodness, mercy, and majesty as to express his utter nothingness before the Creator in terms that may seen surprisingly explicit for one deemed by his followers to be the possessor of such holiness.
In the Sahifa we see Islamic spirituality - or that dimension of the religion of Islam which deals with the practical and lived reality of the personal relationship between man and Allah - expressed in the most universal of languages, that of the concrete and intimate yearning of the soul for completion and perfection.
Muslim ideas and attitudes go back to tawhid or the `profession of Allah's Unity' as expressed in the first half of the shahada: `There is no god but Allah.' This is the essence of the Qur'anic message, as Muslim authorities have affirmed and reaffirmed throughout Islamic history. The Sahifa provides a particularly striking example of what this means in personal, practical terms, not in the abstract language of theology or metaphysics.
The basic theme of the Sahifa can be put into a series of formulas simply by taking every positive human attribute and placing it within the context of the shahada: `There is no goodness but in Allah', `There is no repentance but by Allah's grace', `There is no gratitude but through Allah', `There is no patience without Allah's help', `There is no knowledge but in Allah', `There is no love except through Allah's initiative'. The complement of this perspective is that every negative attribute belongs to the human self: `There is no evil but in me', `There is no pride but in myself', `There is no impatience but in my own ego', `There is none ignorant but me', `There is no hate but in myself.'
Later authorities frequently cite the first prophet and his wife, Adam and Eve, as Qur'anic examples of this attitude of self-deprecation demanded by the shahada. When Adam and Eve had disobeyed their Lord's commandment, they said: `Our Lord, we have wronged ourselves' (7:23).
In contrast, Iblis - who personifies the tendency in the human soul to pride, self-centredness, and heedlessness said to Allah:
`Now, because Thou hast led me astray...' (7:16).
The prophetic attitude is to ascribe any evil, sin, error, stumble, slip, fall, inadvertence, negligence, and so on to oneself, while the satanic attitude is to ascribe these to Allah or to others. To suggest that Allah is responsible - certainly a temptation in the Islamic context where the stress on the Divine Unity tends to negate secondary forces - is the epitome of discourtesy and ignorance, since it is to deny one's own self precisely where it has a real affect upon the nature of things: where evil enters into the cosmos.
In short, the shahada means in practice that the worshipper is nothing and Allah is all. Everything positive that the servant possesses has been given to him by Allah, while every fault and imperfection goes back to the servant's own specific attributes. If he has patience in adversity, this was given by Allah, but if he lacks it, this is his own shortcoming. If he knows anything at all, the knowledge was bestowed by Allah's guidance and mercy, but if he is ignorant, that is his own limitation. If he possesses a spark of love in his heart, Allah has granted it, but every coldness and hardness belongs to himself. Every good and praiseworthy quality - life, knowledge, will, power, hearing, sight, speech, generosity, justice, and so on - is Allah-given. Only when this fact shapes a person's imagination and awareness can he begin to see things in their right proportions and be delivered from his own self-deceptions.
From the beginning of Islam, supplication has been one of the fundamental modes through which Muslims actualized the awareness of correct proportions and trained themselves to see Allah as the source of all good. In its great examples, as typified by the Sahifa, supplication is the constant exercise of discernment by attributing what belongs Allah and what belongs to man to man. Once this discernment is made, man is left with his own sinfulness and inadequacy, so he can only abase himself before his Lord, asking for His generosity and forgiveness.
Those familiar with the writings of the later spiritual authorities may object that the perspective of supplication as just described deals with only one-half of Islamic spirituality, leaving out the theomorphic perfections which the friends of Allah ('awliya') actualize by following the spiritual path. Granted, on the one hand man is the humble and poor slave of Allah, possessing nothing of his own.
But is he not - at least in the persons of the prophets and friends - Allah's vicegerent (khalifa) and image (sura)? In fact, this second perspective is implicit in the first, since the more one negates positive attributes from the servant, the more one affirms that they belong to the Lord. By denying that the creature possesses any good of his own, we affirm that everything positive which appears within him belongs only to Allah. To the extent that the servant dwells in his own nothingness, he manifests Allah's perfections. This point of view is made rather explicit in the famous hadith qudsi in which Allah says: `My servant continues drawing near to Me through supererogatory works [such as supplication], until I love him, and when I love him, I am the hearing through which he hears, the sight through which he sees, the hand through which he grasps, and the foot through which he walks.'
But the early Islamic texts leave the mystery of `union with Allah' or `supreme identity' largely unvoiced, since it is far too subtle to be expressed in the relatively straightforward terms which characterize these texts. In any case, identity is alien to the perspective of supplication, which keeps in view the dichotomy between Lord and servant, a dichotomy which remains valid on one level at least in all circumstances and for all human beings, even in the next world.