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A Shi'a Anthology


1. The Transcendent Lord


It was related by 'Ali ibn Musa al-Rida (the eighth Imam) from the earlier Imams in succession that al-Husayn ibn 'Ali (the third Imam) spoke as follows: The Commander of the Faithful-upon whom be peace-addressed the people in the mosque at Kufa and said: 

"Praise belongs to God, who did not originate from anything, nor did He bring what exists into being from anything.1 His beginninglessness is attested to by the temporality (huduth) ofthings, His power by the impotence with which He has branded them, and His everlastingness (dawam) by the annihilation (fana') which He has forced upon them. No place is empty of Him that He might be perceived through localization (ayniyyah), no object (shabah) is like Him that He might be described by quality (kayfiyyah), nor is He absent from anything that He might be known through situation (haythiyyah)."2 

"He is distinct (muba'in) in attributes from all that He has originated, inaccessible to perception because of the changing essences He has created (in things),3 and outside of all domination (tasarruf) by changing states (halat) because of grandeur and tremendousness. Forbidden is His delimitation (tahdid) to the penetrating acumen of sagacities, His description (takyif) to the piercing profundities of thought and His representation (taswir) to the searching probes of insight." 

"Because of His tremendousness places encompass Him not, because of His majesty measures guage Him not, and because of His grandeur standards judge Him not. 


1. As pointed out by Majlisi (pp. 223-4), this is "a rejection of the views of those who say that every temporal being (hadith) must come from a (pre- existing) matter (maddah)."


2. The words ayniyyah, kayfiyyah and haythiyyah could be translated more literally as "whereness", "howness" and "whereasness" (cf. above, p.26, and bdow, p. 49). Majlisi explains the meaning as follows: "In other words, He is not localized in any one place that He should be in that place without being in another, as is the case with things qualified by localization (mutamakkinat). So He cannot be perceived like something possessing location and place. The relation of a disengaged reality (mudarrad) to all places is equal. No place is empty of Him in respect of the fact He encompasses them in knowledge, in terms of causality, and because He preserves and sustains them

"There is no object like Him existing either externally (fi'-l-kharij) or mentally (fi'-l-adhhan), that He might be described as possessing any of the various qualities relating to corporeality and possibility. It is also possible that by 'quality is meant 'cognitive form' (al-surat al-ilmiyyah).

"And He is not absent from anything, that is, . . . in respect of knowledge, that one might thus conclude that He possesses aspect (hayth) and place (makan). As for things qualified by place, it is in their nature to be absent from (other) things and not to encompass them in knowledge. This sentence is as if to emphasize the former statement. It is also possible that 'aspect' here refers to time ..." (p. 224).


3. "The changing essences of things make Him inaccessible to minds ... either because, if the mind could perceive Him, He would be-like possible beings-a locus for changing attributes, and thus He would be in need of a maker; or because reason tells us that the Maker must be different in attribute from the made, so He cannot be perceived as are created things ..." (Majlisi, p. 225). 


Impossible is it for imaginations (awham) to fathom Him, understandings (afham) to comprehend Him or minds (adhhan) to imagine Him. Powers of reason (uqul) with lofty aspiration despair of contriving to comprehend Him, oceans of knowledge run dry without alluding to Him in depth,1 and the subtleties of disputants fall from loftiness to pettiness in describing His power." 

"He is One (wahid), not in terms of number (adad); Everlasting (da'im), without duration (amad); Standing (qa'im), without supports (umud). He is not of a kind (jins) that (other) kinds should be on a par with Him, nor an object that objects should be similar to Him, nor like things that attributes should apply to Him. Powers of reason go astray in the waves of the current of perceiving Him, imaginations are bewildered at encompassing the mention of His beginninglessness, understandings are held back from becoming conscious of the description of His power, and minds are drowned in the depths of the heavens of His kingdom (malakut)."2 

"He is Master over (giving) bounties, Inaccessible through Grandeur, and Sovereign over all things. Time (al-dahr) makes Him not old, nor does description encompass Him. Humbled before Him are the firmest of obduracies in the limits of their constancy, and submitted to Him are the most unshakeable of the cords in the extremity of their towering regions."3 

"Witness to His Lordship (rububiyyah) is the totality of kinds (al-ajnas, i.e. kinds of creatures), to His Power their incapacity, to His eternity (qidmah) their createdness (futur), and to His permanence (baqa') their passing into extinction (zawal). So they possess no place of refuge from His grasp (idrak) of them, no exit from His encompassing (ihatah) them, no way of veiling them selves from 


1. Cf. Quran XVIII, II0: "Say, 'If the sea were ink for the Words of my Lord, the sea would be spent before the Words of my Lord are spent, though We brought replenishment the like of it."


2. It will not have passed unnoticed that the transcendence of the divine Essence is emphasized here by the fact that man is dumbfounded even by the lower reaches of God's theophanies. The powers of man's reason are stopped by the waves, they do not reach the current itself. The mere mention of God's eternity bewilders the imagination, etc.


3. According to Majlisi the reference is to the "cords" (asbab) or degrees of "Pharoah said, 'Haman, build for me a tower, that haply so I may reach the cords, the cords of the heavens, and look upon Moses' 'God' " (XL, 361). 


His enumeration (ihsa') of them and no way of avoiding His power over them. Sufficient is the perfection of His making them1 as a sign (ayah), His compounding of their (natural) constitutions as a proof, the temporal origin (huduth) of their natures as (a reason for His) eternity, and the creation's laws governing them as a lesson.2 No limit is attributed to Him, no similitude struck for Him and nothing veiled from Him. High indeed is He exalted above the striking of similitudes and above created attributes!" 

"And I testify that there is no god but He, having faith in His lordship and opposing whoso denies Him; and I testify that Muhammad is His servant and messenger, residing in the best lodging-place, having passed from the noblest of loins and immaculate wombs, extracted in lineage from the noblest of mines and in origin from the most excellent of plantations, and (derived) from the most inaccessible of summits and the most glorious roots, from the tree from which God fashioned His prophets and chose His trusted ones :3 (a tree) of excellent wood, harmonious stature, lofty branches, flourishing limbs, ripened fruit, (and) noble interior, implanted in generosity and cultivated in a sacred precinct. There it put forth branches and fruit, became strong and unassailable, and then made him (the prophet Muhammad) tall and eminent, until God, the Mighty and Majestic, honored him with the Faithful Spirit,4 the Illuminating Light,5 and the Manifest Book.6 He subjected to him Buraq7 and the angels greeted him.8 By means of him He terrified the devils, overthrew the idols and the gods (who were) worshipped 


1. The same words, itqan al-sun', are used together once in the Quran: "God's handiwork, who has made everything perfectly" (XXVII, 88).


2. The fact that the creation displays the signs and portents of God is of course emphasized throughout the Quran and all of Islam and is the basis of all Islamic cosmology. For the Muslim, moreover, it is the very order and regularity of the universe and nature's laws which prove God. See S. H. Nasr, Science and Civilization in Islam, Cambridge (Mass.), 1968.


3. According to Majlisi by "tree" is meant first the Abrahamic line of prophecy, then the tribe and family of the Prophet-the Quraysh and Banu Hashim (p. 227). The descriptions following all refer to the tree of prophecy and the prophets who grew from it.


4. I.e., Gabriel, the angel of revelation. Cf. Quran XXVI, I92-3: "Truly it is the revelation of the Lord of all beings, brought down by the Faithful Spirit ..."


5. I.e., revelation.


6. The Quran.


7. The "steed" which carried the Prophet to Heaven on his night journey (mir'aj).


8. I.e., during the Prophets mir'aj. 


apart from Him. His prophet's Wont (sunnah) is integrity (rushd), his conduct (sirah) is justice and his decision is truth. He proclaimed that which was commanded by his Lord,1 and he delivered that with which he was charged2 until he made plain his mission through the profession of Unity and made manifest among the creatures that there is no god but God alone and that He has no associate; until His Oneness became pure and His lordship unmixed. God made manifest his argument through the profession of His Unity and He raised his degree with submission (al-islam). And God, the Mighty and Majestic, chose for His prophet what was with Him of repose, degree and means-upon him and upon his pure household be God's peace."

2. Via negativa


'Ali said, "Praise belongs to God, whose laudation is not rendered by speakers,3 whose bounties are not counted by reckoners,4 and whose rightfully due (haqq) is not discharged by those who strive. Grand aspirations perceive Him not and deep-diving perspicacities reach Him not. His attributes (sifah) possess no determined limits (hadd mahdud), no existing description (na't mawjud), no fixed time (waqt madud) and no extended term (ajal mamdud). He originates the creatures by His power,5 looses the winds by His mercy,6 and fastens the shaking of His earth with boulders."7 


1. Cf. Quran XV, 94: "So proclaim that which thou art commanded, and withdraw from the idolators."


2. Cf. Quran V, 67: "0 Messenger, deliver what which has been sent down to thee from thy Lord ..."


3. According to a hadith of the Prophet, "I cannot enumerate all of Thy praises: Thou art as Thou hast praised Thyself".


4. Cf. Quran XIV, 34 and XVI, I8.


5. Cf. Quran XVII, 5I: "Then they will say, 'Who will bring us back?' Say: 'He who originated you the first time'."


6. Cf. Quran XXX, 46: "And of His signs is that He looses the winds, bearing good tidings and that He may let you taste of His mercy", and other similar verses.


7. Cf Quran XVI, I5: "And He cast on the earth firm mountains, lest it shake with you"; also XXI, 3I and XXXI, I0 


"The first step in religion is knowledge (marifah) of Him. The perfection of knowledge of Him is to confirm Him (tasdiq). The perfection of confirming Him is to profess His unity (tawhid). The perfection of professing His Unity is sincerity (ikhlas) towards Him.1 And the perfection of sincerity towards Him is to negate attributes (nafy al-sifat) from Him, because of the testimony of every attribute that it is not that which possesses the attribute (al-mawsuf) and the testimony of every thing that possesses attributes that it is not the attribute." 

So whoso describes God-glory be to Him-has given Him a comrade (i.e. the description). Whoso gives Him a comrade has declared Him to be two (tathniyah). Whoso declares Him to be two has divided Him. Whoso divides Him is ignorant of Him. (Whoso is ignorant of Him points to Him).2 Whoso points to Him has delimited Him. Whoso delimits Him has numbered Him. Whoso says, 'In what is He?', has enclosed Him. Whoso says, 'On what is He ?', has excluded Him (from certain things)." 

"He is a being (ka'in) not as the result of temporal origin (hadath), an existent (mawjud) not (having come) from nonexistence (adam). He is with everything, not through association (muqaranah); and He is other than everything, not through separation (muzayalah). He is active (fa'il), not in the sense of possessing movement and instruments. He was seeing when there was none of His creatures to be observed by Him. He was 'alone' (mutawahhid) when there was none with whom to be intimate and at whose loss to feel lonely." 

"He originated creation and gave to it its beginning without employing deliberation, profiting from experience, occasioning movement (harakah, i.e. in Himself), or being disrupted by the cares of the soul (hamamah nafs). He delays things to their times,3 mends their discrepancies, 


1. The editor comments as follows in a footnote: "The perfection of professing His Unity is to maintain that He is not forced to act as He does and is devoid of all faults, to declare Him to be above the blemishes of incapacity and imperfection, and to profess that He is pure of what pertains to and impinges upon possible beings, such as corporeality, composition, and other negative (salh) attributes" (p. 25I). Sincerity is to profess the Unity of God in a perfect manner, so that eventually at the end of the path of spiritual realization and perfection (al-tariqah), all stains of contingency are removed both from the knowledge and the being of the believer.


2. This sentence does not occur in the Bihar al-anwar, but it does occur in the same passage in the Nahj al-balaghah and seems necessary from the context.


3. I.e., to their "appointed terms" to we Quranic language (III, I45, etc.). The text of the Nahj al-balaghah reads "ahal" for "ajjal', which would change the translation to the following: "He transforms things at their (proper) times." 


implants (in them) their natural dispositions, and makes these (dispositions) adhere to their objects. He has knowledge of them before their beginning, encompasses their limits (hudud) and their end (intiha') and knows their relationships (qara'in) and aspects (ahna').

3. Firm Rooting in Knowledge


It was related from Abu Abdallah that when the Commander of the Faithful was speaking from the pulpit at Kufa a man stood up and said, "O Commander of the Faithful! Describe for us thy Lord-blessed and transcendent is He-that our love (hubb) for Him and knowledge (marifah) of Him may increase." 

The Commander of the Faithful became angry and cried out, "Assemble for prayer!" The people gathered together until the mosque was choked with them. Then he stood, his color changing, and he said, "Praise belongs to God, who does not gain in plenty by withholding nor become poor through giving, while every other giver than He diminishes. (He is) full of the benefits of blessings and the advantages of superabundance. Through His generosity He ensures the provision of creatures. So He smooths the path of aspiration (talab) for those who make Him their Quest. Nor is He more generous with what is asked of Him than with what is not asked. Time in its march varies not for Him that (His) state should change accordingly. If He should give to some of His servants (all of) the silver metal, ingots of pure gold and sacks of pearls that the mountains' mines breathe1 and the seas' shells smile, His generosity would in nowise be affected, nor would the expanse of that which is with Him dwindle. With Him are treasuries of bounteous bestowal which are not exhausted by objects of request and which come not to His attention in spite of their abundance, for He is the Generous who is not diminished by gifts nor made niggardly by the importunity of the importune. And 'His command, when He desires a thing, is to say to it "Be", and it is' (XXXVI 8I)." 


1. "The relation (of this image) to the saying that minerals are generated from the vapors of the earth is obvious" (Majlisi, p. 278). 


"The angels, despite their proximity to the throne of His liberality, the great extent of their burning love (walah) for Him, (their) glorification of the majesty of His might, and their proximity to the unseen of His kingdom (ghayb malakutih), are capable of knowing only what He has taught them of His affair, although they are of the Sacred Kingdom in terms of rank. It is because they possess knowledge of Him only as He created them that they say, 'Glory be to Thee! We know not save what Thou hast taught us' (II 32)."1 

"So what is thy opinion, O questioner, of Him who is thus ? Glory be to Him, and praise belongs to Him! He has not come into being that change or removal should be possible in Him. He is not affected in His Essence by recurrence of states, and aeons of nights and days differ not for Him. (It is He) who originated creation with no model (mithal) to copy or measure (migdar) to imitate from a deity (mabud) who should have existed before Him. Attributes encompass Him not, lest He be defined by limits (hudud) (resulting) from their having attained Him. He - like Him there is naught' (XLII II)-never ceases to transcend the attributes of creatures." 

"Eyes are prevented from reaching Him, lest He be described through being plainly seen (bi-l-iyan) and lest He be known among His creatures in the Essence that none knows but He. Through His exaltation (uluww) over things He eludes that upon which falls the conjectures of imaginers (mutawahhimin). The inmost center (kunh) of His tremendousness transcends the embrace of the impotent deliberation of those who meditate. He has no similitude that what is created should resemble Him. For those who have knowledge of Him He is forever above likenesses and opposites." 

"Those who ascribe rivals to God (al-adilun billah) cry lies when they make Him similar to the like of their categories, adorn Him in their imaginations with the adornment of creatures, divide Him with a measure resulting 


1. On the Islamic teaching that the angels, though of luminous substance, are "peripheral" beings since they know only some of God's Names, while man is "central" since he knows all of His Names, see F. Schuon, The Transcendent Unity of Religions, London, I953, pp.70-72. 


from the notions of their concerns, and measure Him by the talents of their reason's powers1 in terms of the creatures with their multiple faculties. For how should the deliberations of imaginations assess Him whose measure cannot be determined, when surely the notions of understanding have erred in conceiving of His inmost center ? For He is greater than that the minds of men should delimit Him through thought (tafkir) or angels should encompass Him through estimation, despite their proximity to the kingdom of His might." 

"High be He exalted above having an equal (kufw) with which to be compared, for He is the Subtle: when imaginations desire to encroach upon Him in the depths of the unseen regions of His dominion, (when) thoughts (fikar) free from insinuating intrusions seek to grasp knowledge of His Essence, (when) hearts are thrown into mad confusion over Him in trying to embrace Him through conforming to His attributes, (when) the ways of approach of reason's powers become obscured since no attributes attain to Him by which they might gain the knowledge of His divinity, (then) they (imaginations, thoughts, hearts and ways of approach) are checked in disgrace while traversing the chasms of the dark reaches of the unseen worlds, rid (of all things) for Him-glory be to Him! They return having been thrown back, admitting that the inmost center of His knowledge is not reached through the deviation of straying (from the path)2 and that no notion of the measure of His might's majesty occurs to the mind of meditators, by reason of His distance from being (encompassed) within the faculties of limited beings. For He is counter to (khilaf) His creation, and there is nothing like Him among creatures. Now a thing is only compared with its like (adil). As for what has no like, how should it be compared with what is other than its like (mithal) ? And He is the Beginning (al-badi) before whom was naught, and the Last (al-akhir) after whom will be naught." 

"Eyes reach Him not in the splendor of His Power (jabarut). When He obscures them with veils, eyes do not penetrate the density of the veils' thickness, nor do they pierce the firmness pertaining to His coverings to (reach) the 


1. "Reason's powers" is a translation of 'uqul, plural of 'aql. A more awkward but perhaps more exact translation would be "reasons". Many scholars translate the word 'aql as "intellect" or "intelligence". Certainly all of these translations are possible, since the various meanings are all contained in the one Arabic word-if indeed the reader will concede that there is more than one basic meaning, for in modern thought the distinction between the reason (ratio) and the intellect (intellectus) has largely been ignored.

However that may be, the Arabic word 'aql may be said to possess at least two significations according to various contexts. It may signify the Universal Intellect, which is equivalent to the Greatest Spirit and the Muhammadan Light. It is God's first creation and possesses true and detailed knowledge of all things, including God Himself. It may also signify the "reason", which is the reflection of the Universal Intellect upon the human plane. But in ordinary men the reason is cut off from the Intellect. Only the prophets and saints may be said to have actualized their "intellects" to various degrees. In other words, they F.ave realized an inward identity with the Universal Intellect.

But in these texts, the Imams usually speak of 'aql as cut off from its luminous and spiritual source. It limits and constricts the infinite Truth in keeping with its root meaning ('aqala = to tie, to bind). Hence I translate the word as "reason" or "power of reason". When the Imams speak of the actualization of the intellect within man, they refer to the "heart' (qalb). The reason cannot understand God, but, as we shall see below, the heart may see Him. Most Sufis follow this terminology, such as the members of Ibn al-'Arabi's school (see my forthcoming study of Sadr al-Din al-Qunawi). But all are aware of the 'aql's dual nature. Thus Rumi: "The particular intellect ('aql-i juzwi-reason) has disgraced the Intellect" (Mathnawi, V, 463).

Nevertheless, the Imams do not ignore the positive role that 'aql-and here perhaps "intelligence" would be the best translation-can and does play in religion, in keeping with Islam's fundamental emphasis upon knowledge (see F. Rosenthal, Knowledge Triumphant, Leiden, I970). The first book of the section on usul from al-Kulayni's al-Kafi is entitled the "Book of 'Aql." It contains Such hadiths as the following: "The intelligence is that through which man worships the All-Merciful and gains Paradise" (Imam Ja'far). "The sincere friend of every man is his intelligence, while his enemy is his ignorance" (Imam 'Ali al-Rida). "He who possesses intelligence possesses religion, and he who possesses religion enters the Garden" (Imam Ja'far). "In the reckoning on the Day of Resurrection God will only scrutinize His servants to the extent He has given them intelligence in the world" (Imam Musa). The first selection from Imam 'Ali Rida below (pp. 44-48) refers in several places to the positive function of the 'aql.

The two roles of the 'aql to which the Imams allude, positive and negative, derive from the principle enunciated by the Prophet in the hadith: "Meditate upon God's bounties, but not upon His Essence." The 'aql must be able to see that the world by its very nature manifests a Reality beyond it. A healthy intelligence, one which on the human plane reflects the First Intellect directly, will naturally see the signs of God in all things. But as soon as the 'aql tries to understand the very Essence of God, it oversteps its boundaries and goes astray.


2. Majlisi interprets the "deviation of straying" to mean the "reason, whose nature is deviation and straying" (p. 28I). 


'Possessor of the Throne',1 in whose will affairs originate and before the majesty of whose tremendousness the grandeur of the arrogant cringes. Necks are bowed before Him and faces humbled in fear of Him. In the marvels (bada'i) which He creates appear the traces (athar) of His wisdom (hikmah), and all that is created becomes an argument (hujjah) for Him and attributed to Him. Were it a silent creation His argument would be speaking through it in His directing (of its affairs, tadbir)."2 

"He determines what He creates and makes firm His determining (taqdir), places everything in its place through the subtlety of His directing, and turns it in a direction.3 Then nothing of it reaches the environs of His station.4 It falls not short before carrying out His will and refrains not when ordered to execute His desire. He suffers not from weariness that might touch Him,5 nor is He deceived by one who would transgress His command."6 

"So His creation is complete and it yields to Him in obedience. It complies with the (appointed) time at which He brings it forth, a response resisted by neither the dawdler's hesitation nor the lingerer's tardiness. He straightened the crookedness of things, delineated the way-marks of their limits, reconciled their contradictions through His power, joined the means of their conjunctions (asbab qara'iniha), caused their various sorts to be disparate in size, and divided them into different kinds, natural dispositions, and appearances-marvels of creation, whose fashioning He made firm. He made them according to His desire and7 brought them into existence. His knowledge put in 


1. This divine Name occurs several times in the Quran, such as XL, I5.


2. As the Quran often affirms, both explicitly and implicitly, "He directs the affair" (XIII, 2, etc.).


3. Cf. Quran II, I48: "Every man has his direction to which he turns." Majlisi cites the ,hadith, "All are eased to what has been created for them", which in turn recalls Quran LXXX, I9-2I: "He created him (man), and determined him, then the way eased for him ...".


4. Both the editor in a footnote, pointing to the printed edition of al-Tawhid, and Majlisi in his commentary, basing himself on a similar passage in the Nahj al-balaghah, suggest that the correct reading is hudud for mahdud. The translation has been made accordingly.


5. Cf. Quran L, 38: "We created the heavens and the earth, and what between them is, in six days, and no weariness touched us."


6. The commentator points out that mukabadah occurs in place of mukayadah in some manuscripts, which would change the translation of the last clause to the following: "or from hardship from one who would transgress His command" (p.280).


7. According to a footnote to the text another manuscript reads "when He" for "and". 


order the kinds of their creation and His directing achieved their fairest determination." 

"O questioner! Know that whoso compares our majestic Lord to the mutual dissimilarity of the parts of His creation and to the interconnection of their joints, hidden by the directing of His wisdom, surely he has not fixed his inmost consciousness (ghayb damirih) upon knowledge of Him, and his heart has not witnessed (mushahadah) the certainty that He has no compeer. It is as if he had not heard of the followers disclaiming the followed, saying, 'By God, we were certainly in manifest error when we made you equal to the Lord of all beings' (XXVI, 97-8)"1 

"Whoso sets our Lord equal to something has ascribed rivals to Him, and he who ascribes rivals to Him is a disbeliever in what His clear verses2 have revealed and in what the witnesses of His clear signs' arguments have spoken. For He is God, who does not become defined within the powers of reason that He should be qualified within the range of their thought or be limited and turned about within the craws of the reflection of aspiring souls.3 He is the Producer of the kinds of things without having been in need of reflection, or of acting according to an innate disposition, or of experience gained through the passing of Time's events, or of an associate to help Him in bringing into existence the wonders of affairs. When those who ascribe rivals to Him compare Him to creation, whose attributes are divided and limited and whose levels possess various zones and regions-and He, the Mighty and Majestic, is the existent through Himself, not through His instruments (adah) - they can not have measured Him with His true measure. Thus He said, declaring Himself incomparable with the association of compeers and rising above the estimate of those of His disbelieving servants who measure Him within limits, 'They measure not God with His true measure. The earth altogether shall be His handful on the Day of Resurrection, and 


1. These are the words of the people who were led astray by the followers of Iblis disputing with them in hell. The verse continues: "It was naught but the sinners that led us astray; so we have no intercessors, no loyal friend. O that we might return again, and be among the believers!"


2. Passages of the Quran known as "clear" (muhkam) are those about whose meaning there can be no question. They are contrasted with other passages known as "ambiguous" (mutashabih), which are open to various interpretations, even in the outward and literal meaning of the text.


3. The commentator remarks: "The subtlety of the comparison of reflection, or the mind, where reflection takes place, to a bird's craw will not be lost on the reader" (p. 284). 


the heavens shall be rolled up in His right hand. Glory be to Him! High be He exalted above that they associate' (XXXIX, 67)." 

"So as for that to which the Quran directs thee concerning His attributes, follow it, so that a link may be established between thee and knowledge (ma'rifah) of Him. Take it as an example, and seek illumination by the light of its guidance; surely it is a blessing and a wisdom given to thee, so take what has been given thee an be among the thankful.1 But as for that to which Satan directs thee, that which is not made encumbent upon thee in the Quran and no trace (athar) concerning which exists in the Wont of the Prophet and the Imams of guidance, leave its knowledge to God, the Mighty and Majestic. Surely that is the limit of God's claim (haqq) against thee." 

"Know that 'those firmly rooted in knowledge'2 are they whom God has freed from the need to assault the closed doors beyond which are the unseen things (al-ghuyub), so they cling to the acknowledgement (iqrar) of all of the veiled unseen of which they know not the interpretation, and they say, 'We have faith in it; all is from our Lord.' (III 7). So God praised their avowal of incapacity to grasp what they comprehend not in knowledge, and He called their abandonment of the desire to penetrate into that whose examination is not required of them 'firm-rootedness'. So limit thyself to that (same attitude) and measure not the Mightiness of God-Glory be to Him-according to the measure of thy reason's power, thus becoming of those who perish." 


1. Cf. Q= II, 23: "And remember God's blessing upon you, and the Book and the Wisdom He has sent down on you . . ."; and II, 269: "Whoso is given the Wisdom, has been given much good."


2. A term appearing twice in the Q= (III, 7 and IV, I62). In Sufism and Shi'ism it is usually taken to refer to those who, due to their elevated spiritual station, are qualified to speak of the divine mysteries.

4. The Fairest of Creators


It has been related that Ali-upon whom be peace-delivered the following sermon at Kufa. He was standing on a stone that had been set up for him by Ja'dah ibn Hubayrah al-Makhzumi.1 He wore an outer garment of wool. His sword belt and his shoes were made of fiber. His forehead was like the knee of a camel. He said, "Praise belongs to God, unto whom are the homecomings of creation and the issues of the affair.3 We praise Him for His mighty goodness, His radiant proof (burhan) and the profusion of His bounty and gracious giving; a praise which might render Him His rightfully due, accomplish His thanks, bring (us) near to His reward and cause the fairest of His increase.4 We pray to Him for succour,5 the prayer of one hoping for His bounty, anticipating His benefit, having confidence in Him to avert (evil), acknowledging His blessings and submitting to Him in deed and word. We believe in Him with the faith (iman) of one who hopes for Him with certainty, turns to Him as a believer, humbles himself before Him in submission, sincerely professes His Unity (akhlas muwahhidan), magnifies Him in glorification and seeks refuge in Him, desiring and striving (raghiban mujtahidan)." 

"'He has not been begotten' (CXII 3) - glory be to Him that He should share in Might, and 'He has not begotten' (CXII 3) that He should bequeath and perish. Time (waqt) precedes Him not, nor duration, and increase and decrease seize Him not by turns." 

"Nay, He appears to the powers of reason by the marks He has shown us of (His) perfect directing and certain decree. So of the witnesses of His creation is the creation of the heavens without pillars,6 standing without 


1. The son of 'Ali's sister, Umm Hani bint Abi Talib. For the scant bibliographical references see Bihar al-anwar, vol. 4, p.3I3 and the Lughat-namah of Dihkhuda (Tehran, 1325/1946 onward).


2. A reference to much prostration in prayer. Cf. Q= XLVIII, 29: "Their mark is on their face, the trace of prostration."


3. The Quran emphasises that "To God is the homecoming" (XXXV, I8; cf. also II, 285; III, 28, etc). Likewise, "Unto God belongs the issue of all affairs" is a Quranic expression (XXII, 4I; XXXI, 22).


4. Cf. Quran XLII, 26: "And He answers those who believe and do righteous deeds, and gives them increase of His bounty."


5. Reference to Quran I, 4: "To Thee alone we pray for succour."


6. "God is He who raised up the heavens without pillars you can see ..." (Quran XIII, 2; cf. XXXI, I0). 


supports. He called them and they answered, obeying, submissive, without hesitation or delay.1 Had it not been for their acknowledging (iqrar) Him in lordship and their willing submission (to Him), He would not have appointed them the locus of His Throne, nor the dwelling place for His angels, nor the place of ascent of good words and the righteous deed of His creation.2 He appointed their stars waymarks by which the bewildered traveler is guided in the divergent paths of the lands. The thickness of the dark night's curtain prevents not the shining of their light, and the garments of the black night's blackness cannot push back the brilliance of the light of the moon that spreads in the heavens." 

"So glory be to Him, from whom is not hidden the blackness of a gloomy dusk or still night in the hollows of lands low, nor in the peaks of neighboring mountains;3 (nor) that with which the thunder reverberates in the horizon of heaven; (nor) that from which the lightning of the clouds vanishes;4 (nor) the leaf which falls, removed from its place of falling by the gales caused by the stars (al-anwa')5 and the pouring down of the rain. He knows the place where the raindrop falls and where it takes its rest, the route by which the tiny ant draws and drags (on the ground), what is sufficient food for a gnat6 and what the female bears within her womb."7 

"Praise belongs to God, the Existent (al-ka'in) before there was a Pedestal (kursi), or Throne (arsh), or heaven, or earth, or jinn, or man. He is not perceived by imagination (wahm) or 


1. A reference to their creation: "The only words We say to a thing, when We desire it, is that We say to it 'Be', and it is" (Q= XVI, 40).


2. A reference to Q= XXXV, I0: "To Him good words go up, and the righteous deed-He uplifts it."


3. Literally, "the neighboring dark-reds", i.e., as explained by Muhammad 'Abduh in his commentary on the Nahj al-balaghah (vol. II, p. I26), a reference to the mountains in terms of their color from afar.


4. Majlisi remarks, "If you say, 'He-glory be to Him - knows what the lighting illumines and what it does not illumine, so why should the Imam specify what the lighting vanishes from?' I would answer, 'Because His knowledge of what is not illumined is stranger and more wonderful. Since, as for what is illumined by the lighting, it is possible that anyone of correct vision would also know it" (p. 3I6).


5. A reference to ancient Arabian beliefs concerning the influence of the moon in its various mansions on the weather. See the article "Anwa' " in the Encyclopaedia of Islam (new edition), vol.I, pp.523-4.


6. Cf. Q= II, 26: "God is not ashamed to strike a similitude even of a gnat".


7. "God knows what every female bears" (Quran XIII, 8). 


measured by understanding (fahm). Petitioners busy Him not and giving diminishes Him not. He is not observed by eyes, nor delimited by location ("where", ayn), nor described by pairs.1 He creates not through application'2 is perceived not by the senses and is compared not with man." 

"He it is who spoke to Moses directly3 and showed him one of His mighty signs'4 without members (jawarih), instruments (adawat), speech or throat.5 Nay, if thou speakest truly, O thou who affectest to describe thy Lord, then describe Gabriel, Michael and the hosts of the angels brought nigh, bowing in the sacred chambers (hujarat al-quds), their intellects in adoring perplexity to delimit the 'Fairest of Creators'.6 Surely only those are perceived through attributes who possess forms and instruments and who end in annihilation when they reach the limit of their term. There is no god but He. He illumines with His Light every darkness and He darkens with His Darkness every light." 

5. Oneness


It has been related that on the day of the Battle of the Camel7 a bedouin came before the Commander of the Faithful and said, "O Commander of the Faithful! Sayest thou that God is one?" The people attacked him and said, "O bedouin! Doest thou not see how the Commander of the Faithful's heart is divided (with cares)?" 

The Commander of the Faithful said, "Leave him, for surely what the bedouin wishes (i.e., knowledge of God) is what 


1. Since He already knows their needs, or since He is the "All-Hearing" in His Essence.


2. Majlisi comments: He is not described by pairs, "i.e. by likes, or by opposites; or by the attributes of pairs; or there is no composition in Him as the result of the marriage of any two things ..." (p. 3I6).


3. 'Ilaj. If He did, it would suggest that there is something upon which He works or to which He applies Himself. Rather, "He but says to it 'Be', and it is" (Quran II, II7; III, 47, etc.).


4. See Quran IV, I64.


5. Cf. Quran XX, 23.


6. Literally, "uvulae", lahawat.


7. The famous Battle of the Camel occurred in the year 36/656 between the followers of 'Ali and those of Talhah and Zubayr. See the Encyclopaedia of Islam (new edition), "Djamal", vol. II, pp. 4I4-I6. 


we wish for the people." Then he said, "O bedouin! To say that God is one (wahid) has four (possible) meanings, two of which are not permissible concerning God, the Mighty and Majestic, and two of which are established concerning Him." 

"As for the two which are not permissible concerning Him, (the first is) the saying of him who says 'one' and has in mind the category of numbers. Now this is not permissible, for that which has no second does not enter into the category of numbers. Hast thou not seen that he who says that He is 'the third of three'1 is of the unbelievers? And (the second is like) the saying of him who says (concerning a man), 'He is one of mankind', meaning that he is one kind within the species.2 This is not permissible because it is a comparison, and our Lord is greater than that and high above it." 

"As for the two meanings which are established concerning Him, (the first is) the saying of him who says, 'He is one, there is no likeness (shabah) unto Him among things.' Such is our Lord. And (the second is) the saying of him who says, 'Surely He, the Mighty and Majestic, is single in meaning (ahadi al-mana), intending by that that He is not divided by existence, the power of reason, or imagination.3 Such is our Lord, the Mighty and Majestic."4

6. Discernment


In another sermon Ali'-upon whom be peace-said, "What points to Him (daliluh) is His signs (ayat);5 to perceive Him (wujuduh) is to affirm Him (ithbatuh);6 to know Him is to profess His unity; and professing His Unity is to distinguish Him (tamyiz) from His creation. The standard (hukm) for distinguishing is separation (baynunah) in attribute, not separation in terms of distance (uzlah). Surely He is a creating Lord (rabb khaliq), neither possessing a Lord nor created. Whatever can be conceived of 


1. This is a reference to the Quranic verse, "They are unbelievers who say, 'God is the Third of Three' " (V, 73). Concerning the providential Quranic "misunderstanding" of the Christian Trinity, see F. Schuon, The Transcendent Unity of Religions, pp. 40 ff.


2. The first kind of "unity" that is rejected is numerical unity, or the idea that when we say "He is one God", we mean something similar to what we mean when we say, 'This is one walnut", i.e., that there may also be two Gods, three Gods, etc. The second "unity" refers to similarity in kind or species, as when we say, "this is one cat", meaning that there are also other kinds of cats. In the words of Majlisi, "When it is said in this sense of a Byzantine that he is one of mankind, it is meant that his kind is one of the kinds of men or is a kind among other kinds" (p. 207). This is tashbih because we are comparing God to whatever we say He is one of. Since He is one of that kind, He has to be similar to others of that kind.


3. As Majlisi points out, the first of the acceptable meanings of divine Unity is that He is one in the sense that He has no second, associate or partner. Only He truly is. And the second is that He has no parts in any sense whatsoever (p.207).


4. The discrepancies between the present translation of this passage and that found in Shi'ite Islam, p. 127, are due to the fact that in Shi'ite Islam the passage has been translated from 'Allamah Tabataba'i's Persian translation, which includes his commentary.


5. God's signs are displayed through the whole of creation, as indicated in many passages of the Quran, as for example, in the verse "In the alternation of night and day, and what God has created in the heavens and the earth-surely there are signs for a godfearing people" (X,6).


6. The translation of this sentence follows the first interpretation offered by the commentator. According to the second, which seems less likely in the context, wujud would mean "existence" as it usually does in current usage, and the meaning would be: "His existence (being manifestly evident) necessitates affirming Him (i.e. attesting to Him)". 


is different from Him." 

"Then after that he said, "Whoso is known in himself (bi-nafsihi) is not a god: this is the guide to that which points to Him (al-dalil alayh) and this it is which leads to knowledge of Him."

7. The Vision of the Heart


Abu Abdallah related as follows: the Commander of the Faithful was speaking from the pulpit at Kufa when a man called Dhi'lib stood up before him. He was sharp-tongued, eloquent and courageous. He said, "O Commander of the Faithful! Hast thou seen thy Lord?" 

He said, "Woe unto thee, O Dhi'lib! I would not be worshipping a lord whom I have not seen." 

He said, "O Commander of the Faithful! How didst thou see Him?" 

He answered, "O Dhilib! Eyes see Him not through sight's observation, but hearts see Him through the verities of faith (haqaiq al-iman). Woe to thee, O Dhilib! Verily, my Lord is subtle in subtlety (latif al-latafah), but He is not described by subtleness (lutf); tremendous in tremendousness (azim al-azamah), but not described by tremendousness (izam); grand in grandeur (kabir al-kibriya'), but not described by grandness (kibr); and majestic in majesty (jalil al-jalalah), but not described by greatness (ghilaz). Before all things He was; it is not said that anything was before Him. After all things He will be; it is not said that He possesses an 'after'. He willed (all) things, not through resolution (himmah). He is all-perceiving (darrak), not through any artifice (khadiah). He is in all things, but not mixed (muta-mazij) with them, nor separate (ba'in) from them. He is Outward (zahir), not according to the explanation of being immediate (to the senses: mubasharah); Manifest (mutajallin), not through the appearance of a vision (of Him: istihlal ru'yah); Separate, not through distance (masafah); Near (qarib), not through approach (mudanah); Subtle, not through corporealization (tajassum); Existent (mawfud), not after 


nonexistence (adam); Active (fa'il) not through coercion (idtirar); Determining (muqaddir), not through movement (harakah); Desiring (murid), not through resolution (hamamah); Hearing (sami), not through means (alah); and Seeing (basir), not through organs (adah).1 

Spaces (amakin) encompass Him not, times (awqat) accompany Him not, attributes (sifat) delimit Him not and slumbers (sinat) seize Him not.2 

By His giving sense (tashir) to sense organs (mashair) it is known that He has no sense organs.3 By His giving substance (tajhir) to substances (jawahir) it is known that He has no substance.4 By His causing opposition (mudaddah) among things it is known that He has no opposite (didd).5 By His causing affiliation (muqaranah) among affairs it is known that He has no affiliate (qarin). He opposed darkness to light, obscurity to clarity, moisture to solidity,6 and heat to cold. He joins together those things which are hostile to one another, and separates those which are near. They prove (the existence of) their Separator (mufarriq) by their separation and their Joiner (mu'allif ) by their junction. This is (the meaning of) His words-He is the Mighty and Majestic- 'And of everything created We two kinds; haply you will remember' (LI 49)." 

"So through them He separated 'before' and 'after' that it might be known that He has no before and after. They testify with their temperaments (ghara'iz) that He who gave them temperaments has no temperament. They announce through their subjection to time (tawqit) that He who has subjected them to time is not subject to it Himself." 


1. As in many similar sayings of the Imams, the purpose of this passage is to affirm both God's "similarity" to creatures and His "incomparability" with them by stating that His attributes must not be understood in the usual sense of the words. Normally if we say "outward", we mean that which is immediately perceptible to the senses, but God's "outwardness" is of a different kind. Majlisi comments in detail upon this passage. Here we can quote his remarks on some of the less obvious clauses: "Inward, i.e. not in terms of spatial distance, in the sense that He would move from one place to another in order to become hidden, or that He would enter into creatures' inner parts in order to know them.

Rather, in His inmost center He is hidden from the powers of man's reason, and He knows his inner parts and his secrets.... His nearness is not the spatial nearness acquired by approaching things, but derives from knowledge, His causal relationship to the creatures, His originating growth and development within them, and His mercy (which encompasses them). He is Subtle not by being a body with a delicate constitution, small volume, strange and wondrous structure, or in that He is colorless, but by creating subtle things and knowing them; or by His incorporeality and 'disengagement (tajarrud). 'Not through coercion', that is, He is free and not forced in His activity .... 'Not through the activity of thought': in other words, when He determines things He does not need the flow or activity of thought' (pp. 236-7).


2. Reference to Quran II, 255.


3. Majlisi comments: "When He creates sense organs and bestows them upon the creatures, it is known that He has no sense organs. This is either because of what has already been said about the fact that He does not possess the attributes of creatures; or because, when we see that He has bestowed sense organs, we become aware that we need them in order to perceive. Then we conclude that He transcends them, since it is impossible for Him to be in need of anything. It may also be because the reason judges that He differs from His creatures in attributes" (pp. 237-8). Majlisi also quotes (pp. 238-g) a long philosophical and metaphysical discussion of this sentence by Ibn Maytham, one of the commentators of the Nahj al-balaghah.


4. "In other words, since their realities have become actualized and their quiddities have been brought into existence, it is known that they are possible beings. Now every possible being needs an origin. The Origin of origins will not be one of these realities (which have become externally actualized)" (Majlisi, p.239).


5. "When we see that He created opposites and that they need a particular situation or position to manifest themselves, we realize that He is not opposite to anything, for to need something contradicts the Necessity (wujub) of Being. Or the meaning is that when we see that earth one of two opposite things prevents, repels and negates the existence of the other, we realize that He transcends that. Or we see that opposition occurs through delimitation by certain limits which are unable to embrace other limits, as for example (in the case of) different colors or qualities, while He transcends all limits. In the same way, how should the Creator oppose His creatures, or He who causes to issue forth (al-fa'id) oppose that which is issued forth (al-mafid)? Or if we understand opposite to mean that which is equal in strength, this would necessitate another Necessary Being, the impossibility of which has already been proven" (Majlisi, p.239).


6. In a footnote the editor mentions that some copies of 'Uyun akhbar al-Rida, one of the sources of this passage, read al-jaff (dryness) for al-jasu (solidity). 


"He veiled some of them from others so that it might be known that there is no veil between Him and His creation other than His creation. He was a Lord when there was none over whom He was Lord (marbub); a God when there was none for whom to be a God (ma'luh); a Knower (alim) when there was nothing to be known (malum); and a Hearer when there was nothing to be heard (masmu)." 

Then Ali composed the following verses extemporaneously: 

"My Lord is ever known by praise, my Lord is ever described by generosity." 

"He was, when there was no light by which to seek illumination, and no darkness bent over the horizons." 

"So our Lord is counter to creatures, all of them, and to all that is described in imaginations." 

"Whoso desires Him portrayed through comparison returns beleagured, shackled by his incapacity," 

"And in the Ascending Stairways the wave of His power casts a wave which blinds the eye of the spirit."1 

"So abandon the quarreler in religion lost in the depths, for in him doubt has corrupted his view." 

"And become the companion of that reliable one who is the beloved of his Master and surrounded by the favors of his Protector: Smiling, he became in the earth the waymark of guidance (dalil al-huda) and in Heaven the adorned and acknowledged." 

After this Dhi'lib fell to the ground in a faint. When he recovered he said, "I have never heard such words. I will not return to any of that (which I believed before). 


1. The Ascending Stairways (al-ma'arij) are mentioned in the Quran, LXX, 3. The meaning would seem to be that at death, if the spirit of one who has compared things to his Lord tries to ascend towards Him, it is blinded by His power. Compare Rumi: "Make it thy habit to behold the Light without the glass, in order that when the glass is shattered there may not be blindness (in thee)" (Mathnawi, V, 99I). 

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