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A Shi'a Anthology

ALI ZAYN AL-'ABIDIN (A.S), THE FOURTH

1. In Praise of God


 

Praise belongs to God,

the First, without a first before Him,

the Last, without a last behind Him.

Beholders' eyes fall short of seeing Him,

describers' imaginations are not able to depict Him.

 

He originated the creatures through His power with an origination, He devised them in accordance with His will with a devising.

 

Then He made them walk on the path of His desire,

He sent them2 out on the way of His love.

They cannot keep back

from that to which He has sent them forward,

nor can they go forward

to that from which He has kept them back.

He assigned from His provision to each of their spirits

a nourishment known and apportioned.

No decreaser decreases those whom He increases,

no increaser increases those of them whom He decreases.

Then for each spirit He strikes a fixed term in life, 

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1. At this point the compiler remarks that some sources add another section to Imam Husayn's prayer, a section which he then relates himself. Other authorities, such as Majlisi, express their doubts as to the authenticity of this last section. In fact it is almost certainly by Ibn 'Ata'allah al-Iskandari, and therefore I have not translated it here. Readers interested will find a translation in V. Danner, Ibn 'Ata'illah's Sufi Aphorisms, Leiden, 1973, pp. 64-9. See W. Chittick, "A Shadhili Presence in Shi'ite Islam", Sophia Perennis, vol. I, no. 1, 1975, pp. 97-100.

 

2. In Talkhis al-riyad, a commentary on the ,Sahifah (Tehran, 1381/1961-2, p. 34) al-Sayyid 'Alikhan al-Shirazi (d. 1120/1708-9), mentions an objection that some people might be tempted to make here, i.e., that "the pronoun 'them' refers to all creatures, while certain of the creatures are God's enemies, so how should this statement be correct? The answer is that in its essential and primordial nature according to which it was originally created (cf. Quran XXX, 30), every soul loves and seeks the good, and all good flows from God's goodness, just as all existence flows from His Being. Therefore in reality the creatures love only Him, even if their love be in accordance with His Name 'the Outward' and in terms of external beauty and goodness, or worldly station and property, or anything else." Then al-Shirazi quotes Ibn al-'Arabi in the Futuhat al- makkiyyah: "None loves any but his Creator, but He is hidden from him under the veil of Zaynab, Su'ad, Hind and Layla (names of women), dirhams and dinars, worldly position, and all that exists in the world, for one of the causes of love is beauty-which belongs only to Him-since beauty incites love through its very nature. Now, 'God is beautiful, and He loves beauty' (a saying of the Prophet), and thus He loves Himself. Another cause of love is virtue (ihsan) and virtue is only perfect when it comes from God: None is virtuous but God (la muhsin illa-llah). So if you love beauty, you love none other than God, for He is the Beautiful; and if you love virtue, you love none other than He, for He is the Virtuous. In every case, the object of love is none other than God." This is one of the themes of the Lama'at of Fakhr al-Din 'Iraqi, translated by W. C. Chittick and P. L. Wilson, New York, forthcoming. 

 

for each He sets up a determined end;

he walks toward it through the days of his span,

he overtakes it through the years of his time.

Then, when he takes his final step

and embraces the reckoning of his span,

God seizes him to the abundant reward

or the feared punishment

to which He has called him,

That He may repay those who do evil for what they have done

and repay those who do good with goodness, (LIII, 3I)

as justice from Him

(holy are His names,

and manifest His boons).

He shall not be questioned as to what He does,

but they shall be questioned. (XXI, 23)

Praise belongs to God, for,

had He withheld from His servants the knowledge to praise Him

for the uninterrupted kindnesses

with which He has tried them

and the manifest favours1

which He has lavished upon them,

they would have moved about in His kindnesses

without praising Him,

and spread themselves out in His provision

without thanking Him.

Had such been the case,

they would have left the bounds of humanity

for that of beastliness

and become as He has described in the firm text of His Book :2

They are but as the cattle-nay, but they are further astray from the way!.(XXV,44)

Praise belongs to God, for

the true knowledge of Himself He has given to us,

the thanksgiving He has inspired us to offer Him,

the doors to knowing His Lordship He has opened for us,

the sincerity towards Him in professing His Unity

to which He has led us,

and the deviation and doubt in His Command 

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1. Cf. Quran LXXXIX, 15-16: "As for man, whenever his Lord tries him, and honours him, and blesses him, then he says, 'My Lord has honoured me'."

 

2. On the meaning of "clear text of His Book", see above, p. 56, note 48. 

 

from which He1 has turned us aside;

a praise through

which we may be given long life

among those of His creatures who praise Him,

and overtake those who have gone ahead

toward His good pleasure and pardon;

a praise through which

He will illuminate for us the shadows of the interworld,2

ease for us the path of the Resurrection,3

and raise up our stations

at the standing places of the Witnesses4

on the day when every soul will be repaid

for what it has earned -

they shall not be wronged; (XLV, 22)

the day a master shall avail nothing a client,

and they shall not be helped; (XLIV, 41)

a praise

which will rise up from us to the highest of the 'Illiyun5

in a book inscribed,

witnessed by those brought nigh, [LXXXIII, 20-21]

a praise whereby

our eyes may be at rest when sight is dazzled,6

our faces whitened when skins are blackened,7

a praise through which

we may be released from God's painful Fire

and enter God's generous neighbourhood,

a praise by which

we may jostle the angels brought nigh 

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1. Literally, "concerning His affair (amr)". Al-Shirazi explains "His affair" as meaning "either the knowledge of His nature and attributes, or of His religion and Shari'ah" (p.56).

 

2. Here the Interval or "isthmus" (barzakh) refers to the time between death and resurrection. It is referred to in Quran XXIII, 100: "And beyond them is an Interval until the day when they are raised." See Shi'ite Islam, pp. I64-5; also the Encyclopedia of Islam (new edition), vol. I, pp. 1071-2.

 

3. According to a hadith of the Prophet, "Verily the passage from the grave to the Plain of Gathering ('arsat al-mahshar) on the Day of Resurrection will be burdensome for some people and smooth for others" (quoted by al-Shirazi, p.62).

 

4. The Stations of the Witnesses (mawaqif al-ash'ad) are the stations of angels, prophets, Imams and believers who at the Resurrection act as witnesses over the deeds performed by men during their earthly lives. These Witnesses are referred to in Quran XI, 18 and XL, 51.

 

5. 'Illiyun, mentioned in Quran LXXXIII, 18 and 19, is variously interpreted. For example, it is said to be the highest level of heaven, or a place in the seventh heaven where the souls of believers are taken after their death, or the book in the seventh heaven in which are written the deeds of angels and of righteous men and jinn.

 

6. Cf. Quran LXXV, 7 ff.: "But when sight is confounded and the moon is eclipsed and sun and moon are united, on that day man will cry: Whither to flee !"

 

7. Cf. Quran III, 106: "The day when some faces are blackened, and some faces whitened. As for those whose faces are blackened-'Did you disbelieve after you had believed? Then taste the chastisement for that you disbelieved.'" 

 

and join the prophets, the envoys,

in a House of Permanence that does not remove,

the Place of His Generosity that does not change.

Praise belongs to God,

who chose for us the good qualities of creation,

granted us the agreeable things of provision,1

and appointed for us excellence

through domination over all creation;

every one of His creatures submits to us

through His power

and comes to obey us

through His might.2

Praise belongs to God,

who locked for us the gate of need

except toward Him.

So how can we praise Him?

When can we thank Him?

Indeed, when?3

Praise belongs to God,

who placed within us the organs of expansion,

assigned for us the agents of contraction,4

gave us to enjoy the spirits of life,5

fixed within us the limbs of works,

nourished us with the agreeable things of provision,

freed us from need through His bounty,

and gave us possessions through His kindness.6

Then He commanded us that He might test our obedience

and prohibited us that He might try our thanksgiving.

So we turned against the path of His commandments

and mounted the backs of His warnings.7

Yet He hurried us not to His punishment,8

nor hastened us on to His vengeance.

No, He went slowly with us through His mercy,

in generosity, 

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1. Cf. Quran XL, 64: "And He shaped you, and shaped you well, and provided you with the good things".

 

2. Besides the many Quranic verses which point to man's "central" position in the Universe because of his capacity as viceregent or caliph of God, the being who partakes of all of the divine Names and Attributes, there are many other verses indicating one of the major results of his special rank: his domination over all of the Universe. For example: "And He subjected to you the night and day, and the sun and moon" (XVI); "Have you not seen how God has subjected to you whatsoever is in the heavens and the earth ?" (XXXI, 20). See also XIV, 32-33; XXII, 65, etc.

 

3. The Arabic reads "la mata", which according to al-Shirazi can be interpreted in two ways: either it means "Nay (it is impossible to thank Him), when (could it be possible?)", or "(It is) not (correct to say) when, (for that implies that it is possible to thank Him)" (p.75).

 

4. According to al-Shirazi, the reference is to the expansion and contraction of the organs of the body, such as nerves, muscles, veins, arteries, flesh, etc. (p.75)

 

5. Or "breaths of life". Al-Shirazi comments: "Arwa'h may be the plural of ruh, meaning spirit, in which case the meaning is explained by the tradition transmitted from Imams 'Ali, al-Baqir and al-Sadiq: 'There are five (spirits) possessed by Those Brought Nigh (cf. Quran LVI, II): the spirit of sanctity, through which they know all things; the spirit of faith, through which they worship God; the spirit of power, through which they wage holy war against enemies and attend to their livelihood; the spirit of passion, through which they partake in the joy of food and marriage; and the spirit of the body, through which they move and advance. There are four spirits possessed by the Companions of the Right (Quran LVI, 8), since they lack the spirit of sanctity; and there are three possessed by the Companions of the Left (Quran LVI, 8) and beasts, since they lack (the spirit of sanctity and) the spirit of faith.

"Arwah may also be the plural of rawh, which is a 'breath of wind'. The arteries of the body possess two movements, contractive and expansive. It is their function to draw 'smoky' vapors from the heart with their contractive movement and to attract with their expansive movement fresh and pure breaths of air, through which the heart is refreshed and its natural heat is drawn from it. By means of this 'breath of wind' the animal faculty and the natural heat are diffused throughout the body. Thus this breath of wind by which the heart refreshes itself is the 'breath of life'. If it is cut off from the heart for a period of time, life also will be cut off from it" (p.75).

 

6. Cf. Quran LIII, 48: "And that He it is who enriches and contents."

 

7. Al-Shirazi explains that "path" is used in the singular and "trackless wastes" in the plural because the "straight path" is one, while the ways of going astray are many: "This is My straight path, so follow it. Follow not other ways, lest ye be parted from His way" (Quran VI, 154).

 

8. Cf. Quran X, 12: "If God should hasten unto men evil (i.e., punishment), as they would hasten good, their term would be already decided for them." 

 

and awaited our return through His clemency,

in mildness.

Praise belongs to God,

who showed us the way to repentance,

which we would not have won save through His bounty.

Had we nothing to count as His bounty but this,

His trial of us would have been good,

His beneficence1 toward us great,

His bounty upon us immense.

For such was not His wont in repentance

with those who went before us.2

He has lifted up from us

what we have not the strength to bear,3

charged us only to our capacity,4

imposed upon us nothing but ease,5

and left none of us with an argument or excuse.6

So the perisher among us is he who perishes in spite of Him7

and the felicitous among us he who beseeches Him.

And praise belongs to God

with all the praises of

His angels closest to Him,

His creatures most noble in His eyes,

and His praisers most pleasing to Him;

a praise that may surpass other praises

as our Lord surpasses all His creatures.

Then to Him belongs praise,

in place of His every favour upon us

and upon all His servants, past and still remaining,

to the number of all things His knowledge encompasses, 

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1. Bala', translated here as "benefit", usually means "test", "trial", or "misfortune", but here it is used as in Quran VIII, 17, which Arberry, following the commentators, translates, " . . . that He might confer on the believers a fair benefit." See al-Shirazi, p.81.

 

2. According to Al-Shirazi (p. 81), this is a reference to the difference between God's "wont" (sunnah) concerning repentance with the Muslims and His wont with the Jews. From the former He only asks regret (al-nadam), but from the latter in addition to regret He also asks "killing of themselves" (qatl anfusihim) as indicated in Quran II, 54: "And when Moses said unto his people: O my people! Ye have wronged yourselves by your choosing of the calf (for worship) so turn in repentance to your Creator; and kill yourselves."

 

3. Cf. Quran II, 286: "Our Lord ! Lay not on us such a burden as Thou didst lay on those before us ! Our Lord ! Impose not on us that which we have not the strength to bear!"

 

4. Cf. Quran II, 286: "God charges no soul save to its capacity." According to al-Shirazi this sentence is a reference to the obligations which-according to Muslim beliefs-God imposed upon the Jews, such as, "the performance of fifty canonical prayers per day, the payment of one-fourth of their property in alms ...". Also it is a reference to the verse, "For the evildoing of those of Jewry, We have forbidden them certain good things that were permitted to them" (Quran IV, 160). See al-Shirazi, pp.82-83.

 

5. Cf. such Quranic verses as, "He has chosen you and has not laid upon you in religion any hardship" (XXII, 78).

 

6. Cf Quran IV, 165: "Messengers of good cheer and warning, in order that mankind might have no argument against God after the messengers"; and LXVI, 7: "O ye who disbelieve! Make no excuses for yourselves this day. Ye are only being paid for what ye used to do."

 

7. "In spite of Him" ('alayh) is explained by al-Shirazi as meaning, "In spite of God's disliking (that he should perish), for He is not pleased that any of His servants should perish. Thus it is that He spreads His mercy over them and hurries them not to punishment for their sins. Rather He is patient with them in His mercy and waits for their return in His kindness. He opens for them the door of repentance, lifts from them that which they have not the strength to bear and charges them only to their capacity. So it is as if whoever perishes because of his evil deeds after all of this does so in spite of the fact that God does not want him to do so" (p.84). 

 

and in place of each of His favours,

their number doubling and redoubling always and forever,

to the Day of Resurrection;

a praise whose bound has no utmost end,

whose number has no reckoning,

whose limit cannot be reached,

whose period cannot be cut off;1

a praise which will become

a link to His obedience and pardon,

a tie to His good pleasure,

a means to His forgiveness,

a path to His Garden,

a protector against His vengeance,

a security against His wrath,

an aid to obeying Him,

a barrier against disobeying Him,

a help in fulfilling His right and His duties;

a praise that will make us felicitous

among His felicitous friends,2

and bring us into the ranks

of those martyred3 by the swords of His enemies.

He is a Friend, Praiseworthy!4

2. Prayer for the Morning and Evening


 

Praise belongs to God,

who created night and day

through His strength,

set them apart

through His power,

and appointed for each

a determined limit

and a drawn-out period.5

He makes each of the two enter into its companion,

and makes its companion enter into it,6 

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1. Al-Shirazi points out that the Imam first gives the Day of Resurrection as the outer limit of His praise, then as a sort of admonition lest he be misunderstood extends it in conformity with Him who is praised. In the same way in another prayer he says, "A praise eternal (khalid) with Thy Eternity" (p.88).

 

2. The term "friend" (wali) of God, referred to for example in the verse, "He befriends the righteous" (VIII, 190), is interpreted in many ways. According to certain theologians the wali is a person whose belief is sound, who performs his religious duties and who as a result has attained proximity to God. In Sufism the term takes on a technical meaning and is often translated as "saint". See al-Shirazi, pp.91-92.

 

3. According to a hadith of the Prophet related through the sixth Imam, "Beyond every one who possesses piety, there are other pious acts, until he is killed in the path of God: when he has been killed in the path of God, there is no further act of piety" (al-Shirazi, p. 93). See also such Quranic verses as III, 157; III, I69 and IV, 74.

 

4. Al-Shirazi remarks, "The appropriateness of terminating this prayer, which is dedicated to praise, with the name 'Praiseworthy' is obvious" (p.93).

 

5. Cf. Quran XXXVI, 39: "It is not for the sun to overtake the moon, nor does the night outstrip the day."

 

6. Cf. Quran XXXV, 13: "He makes the night enter into the day and He makes the day enter into the night." The same or similar verses occur several times in the Quran, including III, 27; XXII, 61; XXXI, 29; and LVII, 6. 

 

as an ordainment from Him for His servants

in that through which He feeds them

and with which He makes them grow.

He created for them the night,

that they might rest in it

from tiring movements

and wearisome exertions1

and He made it a garment for them

that they might be clothed

in its ease and its sleep,2

that it might be for them refreshment and strength,

that they might reach therein pleasure and passion.

He created for them the daytime, giving sight,

that they might seek within it of His bounty,3

find the means to His provision,

and roam freely in His earth,

searching for that through which

to attain the immediate in their life in this world

and to achieve the deferred in their life to come.

Through all of this He sets right their situation,

tries their records,4

and watches their state in

the times for obeying Him,

the waystations of His obligations,

and the places of His ordinances,

that He may repay those who do evil with what they have done

and repay those who do good with goodness.(LIII,31)

O God,

to Thee belongs praise

for the sky Thou hast split into dawn for us,5

giving us to enjoy thereby the brightness of daytime,

showing us sought-after nourishments,

and protecting us from the striking of blights.

In the morning we and all things, every one, rise for Thee, 

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1. Reference to Quran X, 68 and several identical or similar verses: "It is He who made for you the night to repose in it."

 

2. Cf Quran XXV, 47: "It is He who appointed the night for you to be a garment and sleep for a rest . . ." and other similar verses.

 

3. Cf. Quran XVII, 12: "We . . . made the sign of the day to see, and that you may seek bounty from your Lord" and other similar verses.

 

4. Cf. Quran XLVII, 31: "And We shall assuredly try you until We know those of you who struggle and are steadfast, and try your tidings."

 

5. Cf. Quran VI, 97: "He splits the sky into dawn ..." 

 

the heaven and the earth

and what Thou hast scattered in each,1

the still and the moving,

the resident and the journeying,

what towers up in the air and what hides under the ground.

We rise in the morning in Thy grasp:

Thy kingdom and authority contain us

and Thy will embraces us.

We move about by Thy command2

and turn this way and that through Thy governing.

We own nothing of the affair

except what Thou hast decreed

and nothing of the good

except what Thou hast given.

This is a fresh, new day,

over us a ready witness.

If we do good,

it will take leave from us with praise,

and if we do evil,

it will part from us in blame.3

O God,

bless Muhammad and his Household,

provide us with the day's good companionship

and preserve us against parting from it badly

by doing a misdeed

or committing a sin, whether small or great!4

Make our good deeds within it plentiful

empty us therein of evil deeds,

and fill what lies between its two sides for us

with praise and thanksgiving,

wages and stores,

bounty and beneficence!

O God,

ease our burden on the Noble Writers,5

fill our pages for us

with our good deeds,6 

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1. Cf. Quran XLV, 3-4: "Surely in the heavens and the earth there are signs for the believers; and in your creation, and the crawling things He scatters abroad, there are signs for a people having sure faith."

 

2. Al-Shirazi points out that "command" (amr) here means the "ontological (takwini) command" (p. 217). Philosophers and theologians distinguish this, which refers to the laws of creation and which all must obey by the very nature of things, from the "legislative (tashri'i) command", which refers to the laws set down by God in revelation and which man can obey or disobey according to his own free will. The "ontological command" is referred to in such verses as: "His command, when He desires a thing, is to say to it 'Be', and it is" (XXXVI, 81).

 

3. Al-Shirazi quotes a tradition from the sixth Imam: "No day comes upon the son of Adam without saying to him, 'O son of Adam, I am a new day and I am a witness against thee. So speak good in me and work good in me, and I shall witness for thee upon the Day of Resurrection, for after this thou shalt never see me again'" (p.218).

 

4. The distinction between minor (saghirah) and major (kabirah) sins is much discussed in Islamic theology. For a sample of Shi'ite views, see al- Shirazi, pp.219-223.

 

5. The angels who write down the deeds of men are referred to in Quran LXXXII, 10-11: "Yet there are over you watchers noble, writers who know whatever you do." In explaining what is meant by "Ease our burdens on them", al-Shirazi quotes the celebrated Safavid theologian, Shaykh-i Baha'i: "This is an allusion to seeking protection with God from excessive talk and from excessive occupation with what entails neither worldly nor other-worldly gain: then the Noble Writers will have fewer of our words and deeds to record." The Prophet said, "I am astonished at the son of Adam: his two angels are on his shoulders, his speech is their pen and his saliva their ink. How can he speak of that which does not concern him?" (p. 224).

 

6. Cf. Quran LXXXI, especially 10-14: "And when the pages are laid open, and when the sky is torn away, and when hell is ignited, and when the garden is brought nigh, (then) every soul will know what it has made ready." 

 

and degrade us not before them

with our evil works!

O God,

appoint for us in each of the day's hours

a share from Thy servants,1

a portion of giving thanks to Thee,

and a truthful witness among Thy angels!

O God,

bless Muhammad and his Household

and safeguard us from before us and behind us,

from our right hands and our left hands

and from all our directions,2

a safeguarding that will preserve from disobeying Thee,

guide to obeying Thee,

and be employed for Thy love!

O God,

bless Muhammad and his Household

and give us success in this day of ours,

this night of ours,

and in all our days,

to employ the good,

stay away from the evil,

give thanks for favours,

follow the Sunna's norms,

avoid innovations,

enjoin good behaviour,

forbid the disapproved,3

defend Islam,

diminish falsehood and abase it,

help the truth and exalt it,

guide the misguided,

assist the weak,

and reach out to the troubled!

O God,

bless Muhammad and his Household 

____________

1. According to al-Shirazi the meaning is, "Appoint for us some of Thy servants that we may seek illumination through their lights and follow in their tracks." He adds a long discussion of the elevated position of the "servant" ('abd), noting that in his highest form he is even more exalted than the messenger. This is the reason for the word order of the formula which every Muslim repeats in his canonical prayers: "Muhammad is His servant and His messenger". Al-Shirazi also points out that some manuscripts read "servanthood" ('ibadah) for "servants" ('ibad) and that this is more in keeping with the context (pp. 227-8).

 

2. This is a reference to the words of Satan in the Quran: "Then I shall come on them from before them and from behind them and from their right hands and their left hands; Thou wilt not find most of them thankful" (VII, 17).

 

3. Al-amr bi-l-ma'ruf wa-l-nahy 'an al-munkar, according to Shi'ites one of the pillars of Islam, and a command which is repeated many times in the Quran, such as VII, 157, and IX, 71. 

 

and make this

the most fortunate day we have known,

the most excellent companion we have accompanied,

and the best time in which we have lingered!

Place us among

the most satisfied of all Thy creatures

whom night and day have passed by,

the most thankful of them

for the favours Thou hast done,

the firmest of them

in the laws Thou hast set down in the Shari'a,

and the most unyielding of them

toward the prohibited acts

against which Thou hast cautioned!

O God,

I call Thee to witness

- and Thou art sufficient witness -

and I call Thy heaven and Thy earth to witness

and Thy angels and Thy other creatures who inhabit them

in this my day,

this my hour,

this my night,

and this my resting place,

that I bear witness

that Thou art God,

other than whom there is no god,

Upholding justice,2

Equitable in judgement,

Clement to the servants,

Master of the kingdom,3

Compassionate to the creatures,

and that Muhammad is Thy servant and Thy messenger,

Thy chosen from among Thy creatures.

Thou didst charge him with Thy message

and he delivered it;4 

____________

1. The verse "God is sufficient witness" occurs several times in the Quran, such as IV, 79; X, 29, etc.

 

2. These two lines are an almost word for word quotation from Quran III, 18.

 

3. A divine Name occurring in Quran III, 26.

 

4. Cf. such verses as the following: "Say: 'Obey God and obey the Messenger; then if you turn away, only upon him rests what is laid on him .... It is only for the Messenger to deliver the Message" (XXIV, 34). 

 

Thou didsst command him to counsel his community

and he counselled it.

O God,

so bless Muhammad and his Household

more than Thou hast blessed any of Thy creatures!

Give him for our sake the best Thou hast given any of Thy servants,

and repay him on our behalf better and more generously

than Thou hast repaid any of Thy prophets

on behalf of his community!

Thou art All-kind with immensity,

the Forgiver of the great,

and Thou art more merciful

than every possessor of mercy!

So bless Muhammad and his Household,

the good, the pure, the chosen, the most distinguished!

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