Ahl al-Bayt (A.S.) and Devotion
Allama Husayn Ansariyan
Due to their complete knowledge of Allah, Ahl al-Bayt are in a permanent state of submission to Him. Their association with people, their silence and speaking, their eating and drinking, their marriage and business, their war and peace, their presence at home and on journey, their wearing of clothes, their listening and looking, their sleep and wakefulness, their weeping and smiling - to sum it up, all their behaviors and deeds were all filled with devotion.
The devotion of Ahl al-Bayt is based on the knowledge of Allah, His love and a sense of duty, and not because of fear of Hell or a desire for Paradise.
The opinion of Ahl al-Bayt about their own and different kinds of prayer shows that their devotion was with a pure intention, away from any doubt. Nevertheless, they considered their prayer to be unworthy before the All- magnanimity of Allah. Comparing their prayer with that of Allah’sMessenger, they start weeping.
Imam Ali (a.s) has been reported as saying: I served You (O Lord) not on account of desire for Paradise or fear of Hellfire; but I found You the worthiest of being worshipped. So, I decided to serve You.68
The Imam (a.s.) also says: Some people serve Allah out of desire for reward. This is the prayer of the merchants. Others serve Allah out of fear, which is the prayer of slaves. Still others serve Allah out of gratitude, this is the prayer of the freeborn.69
By Allah! If Allah would tell Ahl al-Bayt that I have removed Paradise and hell from the universe and there is no such a thing as reward and punishment, the quality and quantity of their prayer would not be changed a bit. Imam al-Baqir (a.s) narrated the following: One night, the Holy Prophet was in Aishah’s house, he was engaged in praying so much so that Aishah said, “O Allah’sMessenger! Why are you making yourself so tired while Allah has forgiven your faults (if at all there were any) in the past and future?” The Holy Prophet said, "Should I not be a grateful servant before Allah?"70
Imam al-Baqir (a.s.) has further said: Allah’s Messenger prayed so much so that Allah revealed the following verse, Ta-Ha! We have not revealed the Quranto you that you may be exhausted. (20:1-2)
The worship of the Commander of the Faithful (a.s.) was so wonderful that the Imams have said that no one can worship Allah as much as Imam Ali did. Like Allah’s Messenger and Imam Ali, the other members of Ahl al- Bayt were unique in worship. It is for this reason that they attained the station of wilayah (divinely commissioned leadership) and they were able to do extraordinary works in addition that they had the right of intercession and leadership over men and jinn hence obeying then was obligatory for all.
The Meaning of Devotion
Devotion is to coordinate all activities and inactivates, as well as life and death with the will of Allah based on a pure intention: Say: Surely my prayer and my sacrifice and my life and my death are (all) for Allah, the Lord of the worlds. (6:162)
Imam al-Sadiq (a.s.) has been reported as saying: Serving Allah is a noble act leading to Godliness.
Stages of Devotion
To attain devotion, one must go through certain stages as follows: Stage one is to control oneself by promoting the quality of prayer with a pure intention as required by Allah: And as for those who strive hard for us, we will most certainly guide them in Our ways… (29:69)
If you are careful of your duty to Allah, H e will grant you a distinction… (8:29)
Surely prayer keeps (one) away from indecency and evil. (29:45)
Fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may guard against evil. (2:183)
O you who believe! Seek assistance through patience and prayer. (2:153)
At this stage of submission, man overcomes his carnal desires.
Stage two is to control imaginative faculty, which is one of the wonderful faculties present in the human beings. Due to this faculty, man's mind jumps from one subject to another through association of ideas. This faculty is not under our control; rather, we are under its wonderful control. It is for this reason that it is sometimes impossible for us to concentrate on a certain subject without being distracted. The imaginative faculty pushes us this way and that way like when we try to have presence of mind in our prayer but we cannot.
The followers of spiritual path at this stage overcome their imaginative faculty making it submissive. The result is that when the soul of the worshippers desires to go up, there will be neither disturbance nor any disruption.
Based on the following holy verse, Allah does not impose upon any soul a duty but to the extent of its ability (2:286)
man should turn his mind to Allah in prayer to the extent of his ability. Islam does not approve of mortification, which is strict self-discipline as exercised by some ascetics. Heart's attention to Allah will certainly paves the way for the presence of mind and concentration.
Stage three is to promote soul in a way that it will be in no need of body while body is in full need of it. Soul and body are in need of each other. The life of body depends on soul, which is its guardian. The reason soul can be in no need of body is that in certain activities, it can do without body. This might happen for a few seconds or permanently. This is called ‘ouster of body’. The illuminist philosopher, Sohrawardi, has said: We do not recognize a theologian as a theologian unless he can ‘oust his body’.
Mirdamad says: We do not recognize a theologian as a theologian unless ouster of body is internalized for him so that he can realize it whenever he wishes.
Stage four is to bring the body under personal control in a way that man can do extraordinary deeds in relation to his body. In this connection, Imam al-Sadiq (a.s) has said: Body does not show weakness when there is strong intention.71
Stage five is the highest stage in which even the nature is brought under the influence of man's will. The miracles of the Prophets, Imams and saints are of this category. Miracles are of the type of personal initiative to do extraordinary works with the help of Allah. Extraordinary works, such as turning a rod into a serpent, healing the blind, giving life to a dead person and knowing about a hidden secret, are all examples of miracles.
Some people have the impression that the miracle worker has no part in the extraordinary work and Allah realizes it, for miracles are outside human power. This is a wrong impression, for the Holy Quran expressly considers the messengers as the miracle workers who do so with Allah's permission. This permission is to grant a kind of authority, which is the source of miracles, and if Allah does not will, he denies the authority: And it was not meet for an apostle that he should bring a sign except with Allah's permission. (40:78)
According to this Quranic verse, the miracle workers are Prophets who, with the permission of the Creator, are the executors of the Divine will and signs of Him. As for their miracles, Prophets are aided by the invisible source. In the story of Prophet Sulayman and the Queen of Sheba, we read: One who had the knowledge of the Book said: I will bring it to you in the twinkling of an eye… (27:40)
The Holy Quran says that the extraordinary work was performed as a result of a kind of knowledge, which can be acquired with a link to the protected Book and nearness to Allah. Therefore, the Holy Quran agrees that man can do extraordinary deeds and bring about changes in universe with self-purification. They are all the result of nearness to Allah and everyone can do so to the extent of his affinity with Allah.
Imam al-Sadiq (a.s) has reported Allah's Messenger as saying that Allah Almighty says: A servant cannot seek nearness to Me through any means that may be more beloved to Me than (carrying out) religious duties. He may seek My nearness through supererogatory prayers so that I may love him. If I do, I will be his hearing, his sight, his tongue, and his hand. Then, I will certainly answer him when he prays Me and I will grant him that which he asks from Me.72
The only way to be perfect is submission to Allah the result of which is godliness and doing extraordinary works.
Ahl al-Bayt, due to their devotion, have reached a station by which they are nearer to Allah than any other mortal, including angels. This is the reason why their power of working miracles is so great.
Ahl al-Bayt(A.S.) and Absorption In Allah
In a narration, we read that in the Battle of Uhud, an arrow had pierced Imam Ali’s leg. The pain was so severe that he would not allow anyone to take it out of his leg. When the Holy Prophet was informed, he said, “Postpone it to the time of prayer.” When Imam Ali (a.s) was engaged in prayer, the arrow was taken out of his leg because he was so absorbed in prayer that he did not feel the pain.
Imam al-Sadiq (a.s.) reported that when Imam Zayn al-Abidin (a.s.) was reading a part of Imam Ali's Book on prayer, he would say to himself, "Who can have such tolerance? Who can have such tolerance?"
He would then try the same prayer73.
One day, Jabir ibn Abdullah asked Imam Zayn al-Abidin (a.s.), “O Son of Allah’s Messenger! Do you not know that Allah created Paradise for you and for your friends, and created the Fire for the ill wishers and for your enemies? So, what is all this hard working for?” Imam Zayn al-Abidin said: O Companion of Allah’s Messenger! Do you not know that Allah forgave all the past and future faults for my ancestors? Nevertheless, the Holy Prophet never put aside obeisance and submission to Allah and kept on worshipping Him. May my parents be sacrificed for him! When he was asked, “Has not Allah said in His Book, ‘…that Allah may forgive your community their past faults and those to follow’?" Allah’s Messenger answered, “Should I not be a grateful servant?”74
Imam al-Sadiq (a.s.) said: My father prayed in the middle of the night. His prostration would be so long that we would think that he had gone to sleep.75
This is the Ahl al-Bayt’s station of absorption in Allah in a way that they are being separated from their bodies and this world, and “They are nearer to Allah’s spirit than the rays to the sun.”76
As for Imam Hasan’s worship, it is narrated that he was the most pious of his time. During the season of Hajj, he would walk barefoot from Medina to Mecca. Whenever he would think of death, he would start to weep. When the word ‘grave’ was mentioned to him, he would weep, for then he would think of the Judgment Day. Whenever he thought of Sirat, he would weep; and whenever he thought of Reckoning before Allah, he would cry and faint.
When he was preparing himself for prayer, he would shiver out of fear of Allah; and whenever he was speaking of heaven and hell, he would become disturbed. Then, he would pray to Allah for heaven and seek His refuge from Hellfire. Whenever he recited a verse beginning with ‘O you who believe’, he would say, “Here I am, O Allah, here I am.”77
When the Imam was performing ablution, his limbs trembled and his face got pale. When it was asked of him, “Why are you in such a state?” he would say, “O Allah! Your guest is at your threshold; O Forgiving Allah! A Sinner has come to you! O Allah! Forgive my sins by Your Greatness.”78
In a narration, we read that: One day Imam al-Baqir (a.s) went to see his father, Imam Zayn al-Abidin. Imam al-Baqir was thinking that his father had reached a stage in devotion that no one had ever reached. So, he says that as my father was thoughtful, he became aware of my presence only after sometime. When he saw me crying, he said, “Fetch me one of Imam Ali’s writings about prayer.” As I did so, he asked, “Who can pray like Ali ibn Abi-Talib?”79
As for Imam al-Kadhim (a.s.), it is related that he was the most pious, the most knowledgeable, the most generous, and the most honorable of his time. He would always perform his supererogatory prayers at nights linking them to the Morning Prayer and would be engaged in recommended acts of worship until sunrise. Then he would prolong his prostration until Noon Prayer, saying: O Allah! I am asking You to ease death and forgiveness at Reckoning.
In one of his prayers, he would say: Grave has been the sin of Your servant; so, let forgiveness from You be nice.
He would weep for fear of Allah. He cared for his own family and relatives more than others. He would go to the needy at nights with a basket full of coins, flour and dates. He was in the prison of the Abbasid tyrannical rulers for years until he was martyred. He influenced other prisoners so greatly that they all repented to Allah. It is narrated that whenever Harun al-Rashid went to the top of the prison, he would see some clothes in one of its corners. One day he asked the jailor, “What are those clothes I see everyday?” The jailor said, “These are not clothes; this is Musa ibn Ja`far who is in prostration every day from sunrise to sunset!”
About the torturers of Imam Hasan Askari (a.s), Salih ibn Wasif, the chief jailor, says, “What is to be done? I appointed two persons to torture him. After observing the Imam’s worship, they were so impressed that they themselves started worshipping Allah in such a manner that surprised everybody.” I summoned up them, asking why they had changed, why they had stopped torturing him, what they had seen. They said, “What should we say about a man who fasts the days and is engaged in prayer at nights? When he looks at us, our bodies start shivering and such awe overwhelms us that we cannot control ourselves.”80
68. Awali al-La’ali: 404/1, H. 63
69. Nahj al-Balaghah, 237
70. Al-Kafi, 95/2 H. 6
71. Al-Amali by Shaykh al-Saduq, S 53, H. 6
72. Al-Kafi: 352/2, H. 7
73. Al-Kafi: 163/8, H. 172
74. Al-Amali by Shaykh al-Tusi, H. 1314
75. Qurb al-Isnad: 415
76. Al-Kafi, 1662/2, H. 4
77. Al-Amali by Shaykh al-Saduq, 178, H. 8
78. al-Manaqib: 14/4
79. al-Manaqib: 149/4, Kashf al-Ghummah: 85/2
80. Kitab al-Irshad by Shaykh al-Mufid, 334/2