Dimensions of wisdom and advices of Nahj al- Balalghah (3/2), piety and monasticism

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The ascetic and the monk
IsIam encourages zuhd but condemns monasticism. Both the zuhd and the ascetic monk seek abstinence from pleasures and enjoyments, but the monk evades life in society and the responsibilities and the duties it entails, regarding them as low and mean facets of worldly existence, and takes refuge in mountains or monasteries. On the other hand, the zahid accepts society with is norms, ideals, duties, and commitments both the zahid and the monk are otherworldly, but the zahid is a social otherworldly, Also their attitudes to abstinence from pleasures are not identical, the monk disdains hygiene and cleanliness and derides married life and procreation. the zahid, on the contrary, considers hygiene and cleanliness, matrimony and parenthood to be a part of his duties, both the zahid and the monk are ascetics, but whereas the “world “ renounced by the zahid is indulgence and immersion in pleasures, luxuries, and comforts (he rejects the attitude which considers them to be life’s ultimate goal and objective), the “would” renounced by the monk includes life’s work and activity, and the duty and responsibility which social life. That is why the zahid zuhd operates in the midst of social life and is, therefore, not only compatible with social responsibility and commitment but is moreover a very effective means of discharging them.

Outlooks of the ascetic and the monk
The difference between the zahid the monk arises from two different world – outlooks. from the viewpoint of the monk, this world and next are two different spheres, separate from and unrelated to each other, to him happiness in this world is not only independent of happiness in the next but is incompatible with it. he considers the two forms of happiness as irreconcilable contradictories. Naturally, that which leads to felicity and happiness in this world is considered different from the works and deeds which leads to success in the Hereafter. In other words, the means of acquiring happiness in this world the next are regarded as being incompatible and contradictory, it is imagined that a single works and action cannot simultaneously be a means for acquiring happiness in both the worlds.

But in the worlds- view of the zahid, the world and the Hereafter are interconnected. The world is a Hereafter is the harvest. From the zahid’s, viewpoint, that which gives order, security, uprightness, prosperity, and flourish to life application of other- worldly criteria to the life of this world.

The essence of felicity and happiness in the other world lies in successful accomplishment of commitments and responsibilities of this world, performed with faith, piety, purity, and taqwa.

In truth, the zahids concept of zuhd and the monk’s rationale for his asceticism are incompatible and contradictory to each other, Basically, monasticism is deviation introduced by man into the teachings of prophets, due to ignorance or vested interests, now we shall explain the philosophy of zuhd in the light of the teachings of IsIamic texts.

One of the ingredients of zuhd is altruism. I thar (altruism) and alharah ( egoism) are derived from the same root. Alharah means giving precedence to one’s interests over those of others. In other words, it implies monopolizing every thing for oneself and depriving others, but I thar means preferring others over oneself and bearing hardship for the comfort and good of others.

The zuhd by virtue of his simple, humble, and content lining id hard upon himself so that others may live in ease. He sacrifices for the sake of the needy because with his sensitive heart which feels the pains of others he can relish the world’s bounties only when there does not exist a single man oppressed by need, he derives greater satisfaction by feeling and clothing others and working for their ease than if he did those things for himself, he endures deprivation, hunger and pain, so that others may be well fed and live without hardships.

Power of generosity (Isar) in family of the prophet
Ithar represents the most magestic and sublime manifestation of human greatness and only very great human beings climb to its noble heights.

The holy Qur’an refers to the episode of the self – sacrifice of Ali (a) and his honoured family in the glorious verses of the surat hat ata, Ali, fatimah, and their sons once gave away whatever they had – which was no more than a few loaves of bread –to the poor for the sake of God, and despite their own distress that is why this is story circulated among the angels and a verse of the Qur’an was revealed in the praise oh their act.

Once when the holy prophet (s) came to visit Hadrat al- zahra (a) observing that his daughter had put on a silver bracelet and hung a new curtain on the door, signs of unease appeared upon his face. Al- Zahra (a) was quick to discern the cause of her father’s reaction. when the prophet (s) left, without losing time, she took out her bracelet and removing the curtain from door, sent them to carried to the prophet (s) that he might give them to the needy. When al- Zahra’s messenger brought them to the prophet (s) he looked at them with amazement he was glad that his daughter had taken the hint and foregone her simplest luxuries for the benefit of others الجارثم الدار “ The neighbours first “ was the maxim in the household of Ali (a) and Fatimah (a) In khutbah 193. which describes the qualities of the pious, Ali (a) says:

[The man of taqwa] subjects his own self to hardships so that the people may live in comfort.

The holy Qur’an describes the Ansar (the Helpers) who in spite of their poverty welcomed the Muhajirun ( the Emigrants) as their own brethren, giving them preference over their selves in these words:

….they love whosoever has migrated to them, not finding in their breast any need for what they have been given, and prefer others above themselves, even though poverty be their lot ….(59:9).

Obviously, the altruistic ingredient of zuhd comes into play only under certain conditions. In an affluent society, altruism is less frequently required. But in conditions where poverty and deprivation are prevalent – as in the society of al- Madinah during the prophet ‘s time- its greater. This is one of the secrets of the apparent difference of the life – styles of Ali (a) and the holy prophet (s) with the rest of the Imams (a).

In any case, zuhd with its underlying altruistic motives has nothing in common with monasticism and escape from society, instead it is a product of man’s gregarious instincts and a manifestation of his noblest feeling, which reinforce the social bonds between fellow human beings.

Sympathy and piety -zuhd
The sympathy and the willingness to share the suffering of the needy and the deprived is another ingredient of zuhd. When the destitute witness the luxuries and comforts of the richer chasses, their anguish is multiplied. To the hardships of poverty and destitution is added the stinging feeling of deprivation and backwardness in relation to others.

Man, by nature, cannot tolerate to remain a silent spectator while others who have no merit over him eat, drink, enjoy and relish freely at the cost of his deprivation. When society is divided into haves and have-nots, the man of God considers himself responsible. In the first place, as Amir al- Mu’minin (a) says, he should strive to change the situation which permits the gluttony of the rich oppressor and the hunger of the oppressed, in accordance with the covenant of God with the learnedmen of the Ummah. In the second place, he strives to ameliorate the state of affairs through altruism and self- sacrifice, by sharing whatever he possesses with the needy the deprived. But when he sees that the situation has deteriorated beyond reparation and it is practically impossible to alleviate the misery of the poor through sympathy, he practically shares their deprivation and tries to soothe their wounded hearts by adopting a life- style similar to that of the poor.

Sympathy with others and sharing their suffering is of essential importance especially in the case of the leaders of the Ummah on whom all eves all fixed.

Ali’s Sympathy toward the contemporary people
Ali (a), more than at any other time, lived, severely ascetic life during the days of caliphate, he used to say:

Indeed God made it obligatory for just leaders that they should maintain themselves at the level of the poor class so that they do not despair of their distress.

Should I be content with being called Amir al- Mu’minin while refusing to share the adversities of the times with the people? Or Should Ibe an example to them the distress of life?

In the same letter (toUthman ibn Hunayf) he says:

It is absolutely out of question that may desires Should overpower me and my greed should lead me to relish choicest foods while in the Hjjaz and Yamamah there may be some people who despair of even a single loaf of bread and who do not get a full meal. Shall I lie with a satiated belly while around me are those whose stomachs hungry and whose lives are burning?

At the same time, Ali (a) would reproach anyone else for practicing the same kind of asceticism in life, when faced with their objection as to why he himself practiced it. he would reply, “I am not like you. The leaders have a different duty “. This approach of Ali (a) can be observed in the conversation with Asim ibn Ziyad al- Harithi.

In volume IX of the Bihar al- anwar, it has been related from al- kaft that Amir al- Mu’minin (a) said: God has appointed me the leader of the people and made it my duty to adopt a way of living, in food and clothing, on a par with the poorest classes of society, so that, on the one hand, it may soothe the distress of the poor and, on the other, restrain the rich from revolting.

An advice of great faqih wahid Behbahani
An incident is related from the life of the great fiqih wahid Behhahani, my God be pleased with him one day he observed one of his daughters –in- law wearing a garment made of a fabric usually worn by women of rich families of those days. He reproached his son (the late Aqa Muhammad Ismai’l, the lady’s husband) in the regard the son this verse of the Qur’an in reply to his father’s remarks:

Say: who has forbidden the ornament of God which he has brought forth for his servants, and the good things of his providing…(7:32).

The father said: I don’t say that putting on good dress, eating food, and making use of God’s bounties is forbidden, Not all. Such restrictions do not exist in IsIam. However, there is one thing to be remembered. We are a family charged with the duty of the religious leadership of Muslim and have special responsibilities. when the people of poor families see the rich live luxuriously, their frustration is aggravated, their only consolation is that at least the Aqa’s family lives like they do. now if we too adopt the life- styles of the rich that will deprive them of their only consolation. However, we cannot practically change the present social condition, but let us not grudge at least this much of sympathy.

As can be clearly seen, zuhd, which, derived motivation from sympathy and readiness to share the sufferings of others, has nothing common with monastic asceticism. It is not based on escapism from society. the IsIamic conception of zuhd is a means of alleviating the sufferings of society.


Glimpses of the Nahj al-Balaghah- pages: 189 to 198


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