Self Improvement Session 2

  Following on from Session 1, we will be discussing Tauheed based on the understanding of Amir Al Mumineen Ali Ibn Abu Talib AS.   


The first part of the first sermon in Nahjul al Balagha (the Peak of Eloquence)  :


Praise is due to Allah whose worth cannot be described by speakers, whose bounties cannot be counted by calculators and whose claim (to obedience) cannot be satisfied by those who attempt to do so, whom the height of intellectual courage cannot appreciate, and the depths of understanding cannot reach; He for whose description no limit has been laid down, no eulogy exists, no time is ordained and no duration is fixed. He brought forth creation through His Omnipotence, dispersed winds through His Compassion, and made firm the shaking earth with rocks.

الحَمْدُ للهِ الَّذَي لاَ يَبْلُغُ مِدْحَتَهُ القَائِلُونَ، وَلاِ يُحْصِي نَعْمَاءَهُ العَادُّونَ، ولاَ يُؤَدِّي حَقَّهُ الُمجْتَهِدُونَ، الَّذِي لاَ يُدْركُهُ بُعْدُ الهِمَمِ، وَلاَ يَنَالُهُ غَوْصُ الفِطَنِ، الَّذِي لَيْسَ لِصِفَتِهِ حَدٌّ مَحْدُودٌ، وَلاَ نَعْتٌ مَوْجُودٌ، وَلا وَقْتٌ مَعْدُودٌ، وَلا أَجَلٌ مَمْدُودٌ. فَطَرَ الخَلائِقَ بِقُدْرَتِهَ، وَنَشَرَ الرِّيَاحَ بِرَحْمَتِهِ، وَوَتَّدَ بِالصُّخُورِ مَيَدَانَ أَرْضِهِ.


The phrase “Praise is due to Allah whose worth cannot be described by speakers” refers to our inability to describe Allah fully, there are no words that equate to the reality of Him.  

H 271, Ch. 10, h6 Sahl has narrated from Muhammad ibn ‘Isa from Ibrahim from Muhammad ibn Hakim who said the following: “Imam Abu al-Hassan Musa ibn Ja’far AS, wrote to my father, ‘Allah is most High, Glorious and Great. One can never reach the essence of His attributes. Speak of only those of His attributes of which He Himself has spoken and refrain mentioning attributes other than those ones.’”   


42|11| “…There is nothing like Him. He is the Hearing, the Seeing.”


The next phrase is “whose bounties cannot be counted by calculators”. If one considers that everything we have, even our very existence is a favor and blessing from God, then how can we possibly pay God back for all of this? Even if we acted perfectly and prayed non stop, this would still be nothing in comparison to what God has given us.


16|18|And if you tried to enumerate the favors of God, you will not be able to count them. God is Forgiving and Merciful.

16|71|God has favored some of you over others in livelihood. Those who are favored would not give their properties to their servants, to the extent of making them partners in it. Will they then renounce God’s blessings?


Consider how some people have wealth, and others do not. God gave every wealthy person the ability to obtain that wealth, and created the wealth for them to obtain. How difficult is it for people to feel grateful to Allah about all the good things they have and have achieved? The ideal human would be constantly thankful to Allah for everything that they have. This is why we see the Prophets SAW and the Imams AS constantly in prayer and offering thanks to Allah, not because they are sinners, but because they are aware of the favor that Allah has given them, and the right thing to do when you owe someone is to be thankful.

The phrase “whom the height of intellectual courage cannot appreciate and the depths of understanding cannot reach” this again refers to danger of limiting Allah, but in this particular instance, by the rationalization of Him with the mind (Aql). There were groups who said every thing is either a body or an action, and this must even be true of Allah, and therefore he is a body eg, a thing of limits. This notion of applying logic to Allah in this way is thoroughly rejected :

H 283, Ch. 11, h6

Muhammad ibn Abu ‘Abd Allah has narrated from Muhammad ibn Isma‘il from al-Husayn ibn al-Hassan from Bakr ibn Salih from al-Hassan ibn Sa‘id from ‘Abd Allah ibn al-Mughirah from Muhammad ibn Ziyad who said the following: “I heard Yunus ibn Zabyan saying, ‘Once I went to meet abu ‘Abd Allah AS and said, ‘Hisham ibn al-Hakam has uttered monstrous words. I will briefly mention a few of them. He thinks Allah has a body because things are of two types: (a) body and (b) acts. It is not possible for the Creator Himself to be just actions or functions. But it is possible to consider Him as the agent.’ Abu ‘Abd Allah, recipient of divine supreme covenant, then said, ‘That is not proper for him. Does he not know that the body has limits and the form has limits and an end? Whatever is subject to limitations is also subject to increase and reduction and such things are created. “I (Yunus) then asked, ‘What then I should say?’ He replied, ‘Allah is without body and form. He is the giver of body to all bodies and the giver of form to all forms. He cannot be divided or limited. He does not grow or decrease. If it were as they say, then there would remain no difference between the Creator and the created, the Inventor and the invented. But He is the Creator and the Inventor. He has made the distinction and differentiation between that to which He has given body, form and that which He has invented. This is because nothing is similar to Him nor does He resemble anything.’

H 246, Ch. 8, h3

Ali ibn Ibrahim has narrated from his father from ibn abu ‘Umayr from abu Ayyub from Muhammad ibn Muslim from (Imam) Abu ‘Abd Allah AS, who said the following: “O Muhammad, people rationalize everything. They even speak about Allah’s Self. When you hear such discourses, say to them, ‘No one, other than Allah, deserves to be worshipped, (Allah) the One and no one is similar to Him.’”


The phrase “He for whose description no limit has been laid down” again refers to the importance of not limiting Allah by our descriptions. One of the great scholars of the past Sheikh Suduq has said :

our belief concerning the attributes of (His) essence is this. Whenever we describe Allah by the attributes of His essence,1 we only desire by each attribute the denial of its opposite in respect of Him, the Glorious and Mighty. We say that Allah, the Glorious and Mighty, has always been the Hearing One (sami), the Seeing One (basir), the Knowing One (‘alim), the Wise (hakim), the Powerful (qadir), the Glorious (aziz), the Living (hayy), the Ever-lasting (qayyum), the One (wahid), the Prior (qadim) – for these are the attributes of His essence.

H 267, Ch. 10, h2

Muhammad ibn Isma‘il has narrated from al-Fadl ibn Shadhan from ibn abu ‘Umayr from Ibrahim ibn ‘Abd al-Hamid from abu Hamza who said the following: “Once Imam Ali ibn al-Husayn said to me, ‘O abu Hamza, Allah cannot be defined by means of the created things. Our Lord is by far above being described through the attributes. How can the infinite be defined with the finite? “No mortal eyes can see Him, but He can see all eyes. He is All-kind and All aware.”’” (6:103) 

H 273, Ch. 10, h8

Sahl has narrated from Muhammad ibn Ali al-Qasani (perhaps the right name is Ali ibn Muhammad, one of the companions of Imam Abu al-Hassan al-Hadi AS, the tenth Imam,  who said the following: “Once I wrote to the Imam explaining that people before us had differences on the issue of the Oneness of Allah. The Imam wrote, ‘Glory belongs to Allah, Who cannot be defined or described. There is nothing similar to Him. He is All-hearing, All-seeing.’” 


There are those who say how do we understand that Allah is different to everything, but at the same time we are similar, eg Allah hears, and we hear, Allah is one, and we are one eg. This criticism has led many astray and resulted in innovated ideas, such as Allah having hands, legs, a location, movement, emotions etc. The correct position is that there is nothing like Allah in reality and meaning, as explained :


H 222, Ch. 2, h6 Ali ibn Ibrahim has narrated from his father from al-‘Abbass ibn ‘Amr al- Fuqaymi from Hisham ibn al-Hakam from abu ‘Abd Allah, recipient of divine supreme covenant, who has said the following: Abu ‘Abd Allah, recipient of divine supreme covenant, said this to an atheist in answer to a question. ‘He (Allah) is a thing but different from all other things. I repeat my statement that speaks about Him as a thing. He is a thing in the sense of the reality of things except that He does not have a body and form. He cannot be felt, touched or comprehended with the five senses. Imagination cannot comprehend Him, Dahr (times) do not reduce Him and passing of time does not change Him.’ “The man asking questions then said, ‘Do you say that He hears and sees?’ The Imam said, ‘He does hear and see: He hears without a hearing organ and sees without a means. He Himself hears and He Himself sees. My saying, ‘He hears without a hearing organ and sees without a means, He Himself hears and He Himself sees,’ does not mean that He is a thing and His-Self is another thing but only that I meant to express my self thereby as I was questioned and explained to you as you had asked a question. Thus, I say that He hears with the whole of His-Self but not in the sense that His whole self has parts. I intended only to explain it to you and to express myself. All I mean thereby is that He does hear, see and He is All-knowing and is the expert in knowing without any multiplicity in His Self or meaning.’ “The man asking questions then said, ‘What then is He?’ The Imam said, ‘He is the Lord. He is the One who is worshipped and He is Allah. When I say Allah, it does not mean establishing the proof for these letters (of alphabet) like Alif, Lam, Ha’, al- Ra’ or al-Ba’ but I intend thereby the meaning of a thing and a thing that is the Creator of all things and the Designer of all things. These letters refer only to the meaning that is called Allah, al-Rahman (the Beneficent), al-Rahim (the Merciful), al- ‘Aziz (the Majestic) and so forth, and so are other such names. He is the One who is worshipped, the Majestic, the Glorious One.’ “The man asking questions then said, ‘Whatever we can think of is but a creature.’ The Imam then said, ‘Had it been as you said we would not have had any responsibility to believe in the Oneness of the Creator; we would not have any responsibility toward something of whose existence we cannot even think. In fact, whatever is thought of and our senses comprehend with clear limits and similarities such thing is a creature. However, complete negation is total nullification and nothingness. ‘The second invalid aspect (in the matter) is similarity and analogy. If similarity is a kind of attribute of the creatures that undergoes manifest composition and assemblage, it necessitates proving the existence of the Creator. This is because the existence of the creatures and their evident dependency on Him as His creatures cannot happen without their Creator. The Creator is something other than them and He is not similar to them. Had he been something similar to them, resembled them in manifest composition and assemblage, He would then be just one of the creatures. So also is the case with other conditions of the creatures such as coming into existence from nothing and the changing from a smaller size to a full grown size, from blackness to whiteness from strength to weakness and so forth, or such other existing conditions that do not need explanations. “The man asking questions then said, ‘You have already defined and limited Him in your proving His existence.’ The Imam, recipient of divine supreme covenant, then said, ‘I did not limit Him. I only presented proofs of His existence; between proving and disproving no third alternative exists.’ “The man asking questions then said, ‘Can His existence be proved through reasoning from the effect to the cause or the cause to the effect?’ “The Imam said, ‘Yes, there is nothing whose existence can be proved without adopting either of the two above processes of reasoning.’ “The man then asked, ‘Does the question how apply to Him?’ The Imam said, ‘No, this question does not apply to Him; it is the aspect of qualities and limitations. However, it is necessary to avoid abandoning or nullifying His existence (in one’s belief) and analogizing Him. Negating Him is denying His existence, refusing to accept Him as the Lord and abandoning Him (in one’s belief) altogether. Whoever analogizes Him with other things from His creatures has proved that qualities of creatures exist in Him. Creatures do not deserve to be called the Lord. It is necessary to believe, however, that the question how applies to Him only in a way that does not apply to things other than Him and things other than Him do not deserve and share Him in it. The question how cannot apply to Him if it limits Him or makes Him a subject of knowing for others.’ “The man then asked, ‘Do things make Him tired?’ The Imam then said, ‘He is by far Exalted and above experiencing such conditions. Such conditions are due to coming into physical association or dealing with the creatures. They are qualities of creatures that can only associate with others through physical contact. But He is the Most High and His will and demand are effective and He does whatever He wants.’” 

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