Knowledge and Actions of the Holy Imams (A.S.)
By: Maulana Sayyid Zafar Hasan Amrohi
Knowledge and actions are the two arms of Islam. Just as a bird cannot fly without two wings the Messenger of Allah (S) has said: Knowledge without action is a curse and action without knowledge is deviation. Just as for knowledge it is necessary to have information about the realities of various things and the causes of all the phenomena, in the same way sincerity and purity of intention is needed for all actions. No matter how difficult and significant a deed is; if it is not accompanied by sincerity it has no value in the view of the Almighty and there is no reward for it. According to a tradition: The doer of the greatest deeds will be touching the fire of Hell. None of the deeds of Holy Imams were bereft of sincerity. They always performed the good deeds to obtain the pleasure of Allah and never allowed a personal motive to come in between. Amir'ul-Mu'minin (a.s) says: My God! Neither I worship You for the fear of Hell nor for the desire of Paradise. It is because I find You deserving of worship. The beast proof of his sincerity was that every deed of his was accepted by the Almighty and this is clearly certified in the Holy Quran. The traditions of the Messenger of Allah (S) have also testified to the purity of his actions. Now let us study the practical virtues of the Holy Imams in some detail.
Apparently there is no relationship between worship and good morals, but actually it has a very profound connection. The root of the correction of morals is itself worship. One who does not perform the religions duties could never perfect his morals. Let us just consider the relationship of Prayer to morals. The Almighty Allah says: Surely prayer keeps (one) away from indecency and evil… (Surah Ankabut 29:45)
We should know that indecencies and unlawful things are roots of all evils. When prayer has protected one from those things, the morals of that person would definitely bloom into a beautiful form. Now just make an analogy with other worship acts. Worship denotes getting oneself connected to the Almighty. The result is that divine Graces fall upon the worshipper. Now what can be said about the perfection of morals of a person who is the recipient of divine graces? One who leaves the worship acts can never put forward his good morals. Therefore it became necessary that first of all we must discuss the worship of the Holy Imams. It is our challenge that the type of sincere worship they had performed in the world was not possible by anyone else. Those who worship do so in any of the following ways (1) Merely performing worship in a mechanical way. There is no benefit in such a kind of worship (2) Worship for showoff - Leave alone benefits, it is a sin (3) Worship with sincerity - It earns rewards (4) Worship with divine realization (wijdaan) - It creates a spiritual aura. The worshipper experiences such pleasure that he cannot obtain it in anything else in the world. It causes one to become more proximate to the Almighty. The worship of the Holy Imams was of this category.
In our definition a brave is one who puts himself in some danger, then saves himself or someone else from it. We call every such person as brave, who gains victory over his enemy. We consider them valiant, all those who are successful in territorial conquests. But the fact is that being actually 'brave' and 'valiant' is something altogether different. It is a middle line, thinner than hair and sharper than the sword's edge. Even a slight deviation of man takes him away from the path of moderation, and instead of virtue, a defect is created in him. There are many qualities that resemble virtues but actually they are not included among the virtues. For example, bravery is a virtue. But above it is dare-devilry or ferocity. That is to jump into danger without any thought and consideration. As much this course of actions moves to the upper side as much it deviates from the path of virtue. The second line is on the lower side. It is termed as cowardice. As much this also increases, as much it would be distant from the virtue of bravery. Actual bravery is only that has none of the above two deviations. Whenever the Holy Imams exhibited their bravery it was always purified of both the extremes. Most of the warriors are such that the give a free rein to their ferocity and rarely keep in mind the actual aim of their fighting. Thus they become distanced from the virtue of bravery. Valour does not mean that one shows force in each and every occasion and that he should always be ready with a brandished sword. However, if one reflects on the consequences of the incidents and then to protect himself from future perils he takes up the sword, it is true valour.
Since the Holy Imams were cognizant of what valour actually means, therefore whenever they found the circumstances fit for the use of sword they resorted to force. And when conditions demanded patience and peace they put their swords away and exhibited their valour. We cannot call this cowardice because coward is one who only due to the weakness of his heart bears the oppression of his enemy and it is not the one who finds his strength ready for confrontation. But due to the exigencies of circumstances and with an eye on the consequential matters he stops from confrontation. These are such subtle differences as cannot be understood by the common people.
One who fights for territorial annexations, for gathering war-booty and wealth, killing innocent people and oppressing the masses, one who threatens those who are weaker than him and forces his obedience upon them. According to the Islamic view such a one does not deserve to be called valiant. He is actually a ferocious beast. The actual brave is one who refrains from fighting when there is risk of spread of mischief and turmoil. He avoids fighting to maintain peace in the Islamic lands, to keep the innocent people safe and for the defense of religious sanctity. One who does not use his military power and does not proceed with the violent option, in the view of Islamic morals such a one is truly brave and valiant. He is not a coward at all.
Anyway, after this brief introduction let us study about the valour of the Holy Imams (a.s).
Justice of the Holy Imams (a.s)
Justice is also included among the four greatest moral virtues. This is also a middle line. If one step even a little above it, it would constitute injustice or oppression. And if one moves even slightly to the bottom, it would be willingness to accept humiliation. Both the above positions are blameworthy. Each of the Holy Imams (a.s) was having this quality, and that too, at the most excellent level. Neither they ever committed an iota of injustice nor they bore the oppression of anyone in a humiliating way. They always followed the dictum that "death is better than a life of humiliation". Rather, justice is seen in the fulfillment of the rights of others and in judging between two parties. Every person faces many occasions in his life, when it becomes necessary for him to observe justice. But there are very few people in the world who have never abandoned justice. The rulers are often obliged to use this in deciding the cases, but the fulfillment of rights is a duty that falls on everybody in the world.
After the Holy Prophet (S), no one had a better judgment than Amir'ul-Mu'minin (a.s). None of his judgments crossed the boundaries of justice and equity. This became so famous among the Arabs that it became a saying: The case is there but no Abul Hasan to judge it. Seeing the judgments of Ali (a.s), the Messenger of Allah (S) announced to the people, "None amongst you is better than Ali in delivering verdicts." It was the habit of the three caliphs that when they encountered a difficult case, they used to refer it to Ali (a.s). The result was that Umar is reported to have said on seventy occasions, after realizing his mistake, "If Ali hadn't been there, Umar would have perished."
The period of the temporal rule of Amir'ul-Mu'minin (a.s) was the cradle of justice and equity. The Imam (a.s) had issued letters to all the governors and judges that no one should oppress anyone. No one should be favored unduly. Every judgment should be based on justice. The rich and the poor should be considered equal.
Regarding the fulfillment of the rights of others, Ali (a.s) used to be so careful that till he had not restored the right of the rightful person, he did not sit at peace. He used to be infuriated if someone usurped a right of another or obtained unlawful benefit. The main reason why Talha and Zubair broke their allegiance to him was this only. They well knew that in the rulership of Ali (a.s) they would not be able to achieve their ambitious aims of gathering wealth and power. Ali (a.s) did not allow his brother to take a few dirhams more than his rightful share from the public treasury. He did not allow his son to take a few spoonfuls of honey from the property of Muslims before all of it was equally distributed among them; how can such a person allow Talha and Zubair to fulfill their desires?
Except for Ali (a.s) from Imam Hasan onwards none of the Holy Imams (a.s) had the occasion to gain temporal rulership. Therefore the gems of their justice could not be exhibited to the world. As for the fulfillment of the rights of people, the Holy Imams (a.s) were utmost careful in this regard and no one ever had the occasion to say that the Imam has usurped their rights. The enemies of Ahl ul-Bayt tried to heap false allegations in this regard but none succeeded. Their conspiracy was soon exposed and they had to face utter humiliation.
Chastity means having control on ones sensual desires. That neither he commits excess and gives a free rein to his sensuality nor restrains it so much that he destroys his lawful desires. Both the extremes are deviations and main sources of most evils.
The Holy Imams (a.s) had such control on their sensual desires that neither they stepped towards excess nor to celibacy. The guides of humanity did not commit any sin. Not because they did not have the capacity to commit sins, or that they did not have the ability to commit sins, but it was due to the fact that their knowledge and certainty was at the level of perfection. While only two things cause sins, lack of knowledge and defect of certainty. Sins cannot be committed by the one who knows what is good and what is evil, what is the reward of a good deed and what is the punishment of an evil deed; what is the benefit of a good deed and what is the harm of an evil deed. And he is also certain that Allah is Most Powerful and capable. He is Just and He is the Punisher and He is also the Forceful One. He has the power to award punishment for an evil deed and is capable to reward a good deed. An infallible is thus only so because he or she neither has a defect in knowledge nor in certainty. All the Holy Imams (a.s) are infallible. Therefore they cannot have any connection with any sinful act. The verse of Quran (Surah Ahzab: Verse 33) is a clear proof of their purity and the cleanliness of their inner beings. They were very far from the fact that they should have any relation to either the external or internal sins. We have already explained the four most important moral virtues. Now we shall discuss about some of their kinds.
Piety of the Holy Imams (a.s)
The piety of Islam is very different from that perceived by other religions. The austerity of Jewish and Christian faiths and the asceticism of Hinduism, in the view of Islam is obvious oppression and a deadly enemy of civilization. The teachings of Islam in clear words state: There is no asceticism in Islam. Asceticism implies that man completely dissociates himself with all worldly things and recedes to the mountain caves, forests or by the seashores to meditate and practice penance. He completely cuts off himself from the world and whatever is in it. Neither he does good to his relatives, nor he listens to the pleas of those in difficulties, or helps the deprived ones. He also does not have any connection with the principles of society and civilization. No spouse or children for him; he is also unconcerned about his parents relatives. If he is able to get pieces of bread in alms, he eats them otherwise he sits putting his head upon his knees. Such a person is an enemy of civilization. If all the people were to follow this path there would be no continuation of generations. No one would care for or help others. Islam considers such a life useless and degraded. The ascetics and monks have only to suffer a shock in the beginning when they adapt this way of life. But once they enter it they have no concern remaining, there is nothing that demands their attention. So what else can they do but spend their lives in meditation and worship? Therefore in the view of Islam there is nothing worthy of praise in such a life. Imam Ja'far as-Sadiq (a.s) has mentioned in unequivocal words, "One who leaves the worlds for the sake of religion or leaves religion for the sake of the world is not from us." Only that worship is worthy that one performs being among the worldly relationships.
In Islam piety is that you remain among the people, guarding the rights of others, fulfilling your lawful desires but at the same time not become attached to the world. Break off the wings of greed and ambitions. Cool down the emotions of sensuality. Use everything in such a little quantity that were you to reduce the quantity further, your life would be in danger. The Holy Imams (a.s) traversed this path in a beautiful way. They ate but only as much to avoid death. And ate such food that there was nothing simpler. They wore such clothes, that anything cheaper did not exist, and that it should only protect the body from cold and hot seasons. They kept so few things in the house, that anything lesser would have made life difficult. They constructed such houses for themselves that even the poorest of the poor would not be awed by it. They reduced the necessities to a stage that anything lesser meant death. The fact is that the life lived by the Holy Imams (a.s) requires great determination, will power and a perfect faith.
Benevolence of the Holy Imams (a.s)
Benevolence or charity is also one of the moral excellences. The two extremes related to this middle path are, wastefulness and miserliness. In the early period of Islam, when the condition of the Muslims was very bad financially, there was greater need to practice this virtue of benevolence. Ahl ul-Bayt (a.s) realized this perfectly and they did not at all fall short in fulfilling needs of poor Muslims. They bore every type of difficulty but solved the difficulties of other people. They remained hungry themselves but fed others. Patched their own clothes but clothed the naked. If the door of Ahl ul-Bayt had not been open for the destitutes, a lot of people would have perished of hunger or had begged to other communities causing insult to Islam. This is the favor of Ahl ul-Bayt that the world of Islam can never forget.
Patience of the Holy Imams (a.s)
Patience is the best virtue of man, because Allah is with the patient ones: Surely Allah is with the patient. (Surah Baqarah 2:153)
Patience means that when calamities befall man he refers to the Almighty and he does not utter a single word of complain. Some people start complaining about the Creator of the Universe at the slightest difficulty. For example, if there is too much rain they say: Allah is causing non-stop rain! Or: This rain is a punishment! If one has many children he starts a string of complains etc. There are many things regarding which man begins to complain against the kingdom of Allah. This is opposed to patience. But the patient ones may be afflicted with the greatest calamity but they would not utter a single word of complain against the Almighty God. There is no difference in their referral to Allah. They do not even slightly let go the reins of reliance. The high level of patience found in the Holy Imams (a.s) was such that its equal is not to be found in the Muslim world. Also, it is wrong to think that weeping in a calamity is impatience. Weeping is a psychological behavior. How can Islam promulgate a law against it? One who has an aggrieved heart would definitely cry.
Humility of the Holy Imams (a.s)
Humility means to be modest and to behave in a very ordinary manner. The opposite of this is pride and arrogance. The virtue of humility was of the best kind in the manners of the Holy Imams (a.s).
Lowly before the believers, mighty against the unbelievers, (Surah Maidah 5:54)
This is in praise of them only. Like the other moral virtues, humility is also a middle line. Any sort of extremism in this regard creates defect in the character of man. The aim of these qualities is that man should not become arrogant and that he does not lose the quality of servitude to God. Along with this one should behave in such a way that one may not be degraded in the eyes of the people and act like Sufi mendicants.
Forbearance of the Holy Imams (a.s)
Forbearance is that human quality which can be described as the control of self in such a way that every disrespectful and displeasuring thing is not able to cause one consternation.
The Holy Imams’ affection for fellow creatures
The fact is that the affection the Holy Imams (a.s) showed towards the people is such that its equal is not found anywhere. This affection was only for the sake of Allah and neither any show-off nor any personal gain is present in it. Seeing the hardship of every Muslim they felt greatly hurt and tried their best to remove it. Most of the time they themselves had to suffer hardships in this regard but they bore it willingly.
Hospitality of the Holy Imams (a.s)
Hospitality is highly emphasized in Islam. The Holy Prophet (S) said, "Respect the guest even if he is a disbeliever." The most excellent display of this equality was done by the Ahl ul-Bayt (a.s).
The Holy Imams’ kindness to relatives
The traditions of the holy infallibles (a.s) greatly emphasize the important of goodness to relatives. The Messenger of Allah (S) said, "The Almighty Allah increases the life span of one who is kind to his relatives." He also said, "One who is not kind to his relatives, is not from us."
The Holy Imams’ Benevolence to Slaves
Fortunate were those slaves who lived under the care of Ahl ul-Bayt. It was much better for them than freedom. Though Islam allowed slavery, it laid down such duties on the slave owner that the rights of the slaves were protected. Along with this Islam also prescribed great rewards for emancipation of slaves. It prescribed freeing of slaves as penalties for omitting incumbent and obligatory acts. The kind behavior that the Holy Imams (a.s) accorded to their slaves is such that to find its equal is not possible. The following incidents illustrate how our Holy Imams (a.s) made the slaves and maids happy and how they were always finding excuses to free bondsmen.
Contentment of the Holy Imams (a.s)
It is mentioned in the traditions that one, who shows greed, is humiliated and one who adopts contentment gains satisfaction. Even if the whole world becomes gold for the greedy person, he is not satisfied and one, who observes contentment, is satisfied with just the bare necessities. All the mischiefs and corruption in the world are due to greed and jealousy. If all the Muslims follow the Islamic teachings and observes contentment, the civilization and society would be so reformed that this world, which is called as hell would become a part of Paradise. If we survey, in an unbiased way the lives of the Holy Imams (a.s) we would find that they had absolutely no connection to greed and avarice. Gathering and hoarding of wealth, most of the time takes man towards stone-heartedness and narrow mindedness. The hoarders gradually become more and more greedy. The Holy Imams (a.s) never allowed this contemptuous thing to approach them. The incidents mentioned below illustrate this in a beautiful way.
Contentment Of Imam Hasan Askari (a.s)
The contentment of Imam Hasan Askari (a.s) was such that his slave used to say the Imam never asked him for anything. He used to be content with whatever he got easily.
We have mentioned some incidents in brief regarding the high moral qualities of the Holy Imams (a.s). Although a much detailed account can be prepared on it to form a very lengthy book. It is a pity that people did not realize the value of such noble personalities and did not derive any lesson from their lives. The reason is that due to utter greed and avarice people were not having any criterion upon which they could have discriminated between truth and falsehood. Similar to these qualities are debased traits, which the people cannot differentiate. Thus people took as models those who were not remotely connected with the genuine moral virtues. That is the reason that people with utterly debased morals were accepted as successors of the Messenger of Allah (S). But their wealth had concealed their defects.
As we have already explained every moral quality has a medium line. To be a little more or little less renders it useless and results in something, which resembles that moral virtue but actually it is a great defect. Many people are considered as saints of Allah, like the Sufis and Dervishes but if their moral qualities were compared to those of the Holy Imams (a.s) a vast difference would be noticed. If it had not been so they would not have considered Amir'ul-Mu'minin (a.s) as their greatest guide. We could mention them by name and expose them all before the vast multitude of their followers in this country, but it is sufficient to state that it was a great misfortune for Muslims that they did not recognize the true ones from the charlatans. Even those undeserving of any merit were accorded great honor by the people and their defects were disguised as merits.
However the efforts of the Holy Prophet (S) did not go in vain. In every age there was a successor of the Prophet who acted as a model of perfection and the ideal to be emulated by all. If people did not value them they are responsible for their deficiency.
After this let us mention the bitter fact that like the enemies did not gain from the moral virtues of the Imams (a.s), their followers (Shias) similarly remained at loss in spite of knowing those merits. Their condition is that though they listen with great interest when mention is made about the Imam's high qualities but it there is no practical response to it. They do not struggle and try to emulate their guides, as they should. As if we have decided that whatever was supposed to be done is already performed by our Imams (a.s) and there is no need for us to do anything!
There had been a time for many years when our morals matched those of the Imams (a.s) to a great extent. But today our moral conditions are very low, though it is true that they are still better than those of ordinary Muslims, but day by day there is deterioration in our manners. God forbid if one day we also do not become like other people.
If we claim to be the lovers and followers of Ahl ul-Bayt our foremost duty is keep aloof from such defects as lying, back-biting, jealousy, hatred, avarice, show-off, cheating etc. We must take sufficient steps to reform our morals and ensure that we do not stray to a deviated path.
Our Imams (a.s), who are aware of all our conditions can never be happy at our present situation. Our way of life does not resemble theirs; rather it is like that of their enemies. We should remember that the world is the place of action and the farm for the Hereafter. What we sow here would be reaped by us in the Hereafter.
Till the time we do not reform our morals we cannot gain proximity to our Holy Imams (a.s).