Minimum necessary knowledge about God
From: Usul al-Kafi
167 Imam Ali al-Naqi (p) was asked “What is the minimum necessary knowledge about God?”
Imam Ali al-Naqi (p): Affirmation that there is no god but God. Nothing is like Him and He is peerless and eternal, has positive existence, is not absent and verily there is nothing like Him.
168 Tahir ibne Hatim al-Qazwini was one of the companions of Imam Ali ar-Reza (p) and had gone astray by becoming a Ghali (extremist) but subsequently reformed his ideas and became firm in his belief.
Tahir asked the Imam (p) in writing: Does the recognition of the Creator remain inadequate and defective?
Imam Ali ar-Reza (p) wrote back: You must believe in the fact that He is eternally the All-Knowing, All-Hearing and All-Seeing and that He is fully capable of doing whatever He wants or intends.
Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (p) was also asked the same question by another person to whom he (p) replied: There is nothing like Him and nothing bears any resemblance to Him. He is eternally the All-Knowing.
The One who deserves to be worshipped
169 Hisham Ibn Hakam: From which word Allah (God) has been derived?
Imam Jafar as-Sadiq (p): O Hisham, the word Allah (God) is a derivative of the root word ‘aliha’ and ‘ilah’ which means ‘one who is worshipped’, and the one who is worshipped must necessarily be worthy of being worshipped and the name is different from the object itself. Thus whoever worshipped the name rather than its meaning has become a heathen and in reality has worshipped nothing. And he who has worshipped the name and the meaning together has also gone astray and has worshipped duality. And whoever worshipped the meaning (of the name of God) rather than the names, has worshipped Unity. This in fact is the Unity of God. O Hisham, have you grasped this point?
Hisham: Add more to my understanding.
Imam Jafar as-Sadiq (p): God has ninety-nine names. Had the name and the named one been the same, there would have been one God for each and every name. But God is the meaning of what these names stand for. All the names are apart from Him. O Hisham, bread is the name of what is eaten, and water is the name of what is drunk, and clothes is the name of what is worn and fire is the name of what burns.
O Hisham, have you now understood enough to enable you to debate with our opponents and also with those who join others in their worship of God, the Glorified and the Almighty?
The Imam (p): May God reward you for this and keep you steadfast in it…
The space and the universe
170 Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (p) was asked: Since when has God been in existence?
Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (p): You tell me when God did not exist, so that I may tell you since when He has been in existence. Glorified is He who has existed eternally and will continue to exist eternally, the Unique, the Independent. He has never taken for Himself either a consort or a son.
171 A person from a rather distant land came to Imam Ali ar-Reza (p) and said: I am going to ask you a question. If your answer is the same as the one in my mind, then I shall accept you as my Imam (p).
Imam Ali ar-Reza (p): Ask whatever you like.
The person: Tell me since when and how (in what state and condition) has your Lord-Sustainer been in existence and on what does He subsist?
The Imam (p): Verily, God, the Blessed, is above the limitations of the passage of time – past, present and future and has created the modality, the sense, conception and connotation of ‘how’ and is not governed by this conception and He subsists on His own power.
The person stood up as a mark of respect to the Imam (p) and declared: I bear witness that there is no god save God and verily Prophet Muhammad (p) is the Messenger of God and verily Imam Ali (p) is the vicegerent of the Prophet Muhammad (p).
172 Some Jews came to their chief, Ras al-Jalut and said: This person (Imam Ali (p)) is a great scholar. Let us go to him so that we may ask him some questions.
They came to see him and were informed that Imam Ali (p) was in the Government House. They waited till the Imam (p) came out.
Ras al-Jalut: We have come to ask you some questions.
Imam Ali (p): O Jew, ask whatever you want.
Ras al-Jalut: I ask you about your Lord. Since when has He been in existence?
The Imam (p): God has ever been (eternally) without coming into being and without being subject to any modality (can, may, might, must and should are all modalities). He is eternal beyond quantity and quality. The sense of ‘before’ does not apply to Him. He is ‘before’ every ‘before’ without being before. He is infinite and eternal. He is above all limits and ends. He Himself is the end of all ends.
On hearing this extraordinary discourse Ras al-Jalut told his followers: Let us get away from this place. This person is more learned than what they say about him.
173 A Jew came to Imam Ali (p) and said: I want to ask you a question.
Imam Ali (p): O Jew, ask whatever you want.
Jew: Since when has God been in existence?
The Imam (p): O Jew, the question ‘since when’ is only applicable to one who previously did not exist and then came into existence and only about him can it be asked as to when he came into existence. God ever exists without ever coming into being and has ever been without being in any form or state. O Jew, and I again invite your attention, O Jew, how can there be any ‘before’ Him who existed before the creation of the sense and conception of ‘before’ itself. Also, He has no end nor is there any limit or possibility to His end. The conception of ‘end’ does not apply to Him. All ends become inapplicable to Him and He Himself is the end of all ends.
The Jew was dumbfounded on hearing this sublime and dialectical philosophy of Divine existence and said: I bear witness that your religion is authentic and all others are false.
174 A believer asked Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (p): Was there any time when God was in existence and there was nothing else?
Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (p): Yes, He was in existence and nothing else existed.
The Believer: Where was God at that time?
The Imam (p) who was reclining against a pillow, sat up and said: You are questioning about a place for Him? You are limiting Him to a limited space however vast it may be while there is no particular, specified or limited place for Him and He is everywhere.
Kinship of God
175 Imam Jafar as-Sadiq (p): Some Jewish Rabbis came to the Prophet Muhammad (p) and said, “Tell us the genealogy of God.” The Prophet Muhammad (p) did not reply for three days and then the 112th chapter (al-Ikhlas) of the Noble Quran was revealed: In the Name of God, the Beneficent, the Merciful.
Say: He is God, the One and Only.
God is absolutely independent (self-existing).
He begets not, nor is He begotten.
And there is none like unto Him. (Q, 112:1-4)
176 Imam Jafar as-Sadiq (p) was requested to comment on the Divine wording: “Say: He is God, One and Only. God is absolutely independent. He begets not, nor is he begotten. And there is none like unto Him” (Q, 112:1-4).
Imam Jafar as-Sadiq (p): These verses explain the relation of God with His creations namely He is One, absolutely One to whom everyone turns for help. He is eternal and totally needless and independent. He is not under any shadow, He does not need any protection and all things are under His shadow and under His protection. He is in the know of every unknown and every unknown knows Him. He is absolutely peerless. His creation is not within Him, neither is He within His creation. He cannot be perceived by senses nor is He perceivable. Eyesight cannot take Him in its grip. He is very high and at the same time He is close. He is very near and yet He is far away. If He is disobeyed, He forgives and if He is obeyed He is Grateful (acknowledges the obedience). The earth cannot encompass Him and the heavens cannot hold Him. He sustains all things due to His power – Everlasting and Eternal. He never forgets. He does not indulge in recreations. He does not commit an error or indulge in playfulness. There is no time lapse between His intention and its fulfillment. His judgments are flawless and He was not begotten by anyone who can share His hold on the universe. And there is none comparable unto Him.
177 Imam Zainul Abideen (p) was asked about the Oneness of God.
Imam Zainul Abideen (p): Verily, God, the Mighty, the Exalted, knew that during the last days of the world, there would be groups of people penetrating the depths of knowledge and thought, so God revealed the verses: “Say, He is God, the One and Only…” (Q, 112:1-4) and also the following verses 1- 6 of the chapter 57 (al-Hadeed) of Noble Quran: In the name of God, the Beneficent, the Merciful.
1. Whatever is in the heavens and on the earth, declares the praises and Glory of God, for He is the Exalted in Might, the Wise.
2. To Him belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth. It is He who gives life and death, and He has power over all things.
3. He is the First and the Last, the Manifest and the Hidden, and He has full knowledge of all things.
4. He it is who created the heavens and the earth in six days, and is moreover firmly established on the Throne (of authority). He knows what enters within the earth and what comes out of it, what comes down from heaven and what ascends up to it. And He is with you wherever you may be. And God sees better than you do.
5. To Him belongs the Dominion of the heavens and the earth, and all affairs are referred back to God.
6. He merges night into day and He merges day into night and He is aware of whatever is in the hearts.
After quoting the above verses of the Noble Quran, the Imam said: Anyone who pursues beyond this perishes.
178 Imam Ali ar-Reza (p) was asked about the Oneness of God.
Imam Ali ar-Reza (p): One who recites the chapter: Say, He is God, One … and also believes in it, has really understood the unity of God.
The Imam (p) was then asked as to the method of reciting that chapter.
Imam (p): Recite as people do recite it and then say: Such is God, my Lord, such is God, my Lord.
Prohibition of talking about the form and shape of God
179 Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (p): Talk and discuss about the creations of God but do not talk about the Supreme Self of God, since the discussion on the entity of God increases nothing except the discusser’s own intellectual perplexity.
180 Imam Jafar as-Sadiq (p): God, the Mighty, the Great, says: “And that the final end is to your Lord” (Q, 53:42). So whenever your discussion comes to the point of the entity of God, end your talk at once.
181 Imam Jafar as-Sadiq (p) addressed Muhammad, a believer: People usually talk on every topic so much so that they even talk glibly about God Himself. When you hear them talking about God, you should tell them: There is no god but God, the One. Like Him, there is no one else.
182 Imam Jafar as-Sadiq (p): Whosoever thinks in terms of How and When about God, is destroyed.
183 Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (p): Beware of pondering over the form and shape, etc. of God. However, if you want to marvel at His greatness, then look at the greatness of His creation.
184 Imam Jafar as-Sadiq (p): A Jew came to the Prophet Muhammad (p) and said: O Messenger of God, I have come to ask you about your Lord-Sustainer. If you answer my question accurately, well and good, otherwise I shall go back.
Prophet Muhammad (p): Ask whatever you like.
The Jew: Where is your Lord?
The Prophet (p): He is everywhere and not confined within any space specified or limited.
The Jew: How is He?
The Prophet (p): How can I attribute the connotation of ‘how’ to my Lord when the sense and connotations of how or state and mood are created by Him and God cannot be defined by any quality or sense and connotation created by Him.
The Jew further inquired: Then how can it be known that you are the Messenger of God?
At this point it so happened that there remained no one around Prophet Muhammad (p) except the Jew, so the stones spoke in clear Arabic language, “O Jew, he (Prophet Muhammad (p)) is the Messenger of God.”
The Jew: I have never seen anything so clearly demonstrated as this miraculous phenomenon.
And then he declared: I bear witness that verily there is no god but God and you (O Muhammad (p)) are the Messenger of God.
Impossibility of sighting God
185 Imam al-Hasan al-Askari (p) was asked in writing: How can a worshipper worship his Lord when he does not see Him?”
Imam al-Hasan al-Askari (p) wrote back: My Lord, my Master and my Benefactor and that of my ancestors is far above the level of being visible.
The Imam (p) was then asked: Did the Prophet Muhammad (p) see Him?
The Imam (p) replied in writing: God, the Blessed, the Sublime, showed His Prophet (p) through his heart the Light of His Glory and Greatness as much as He liked.
186 A Traditionalist, Abu Qurrah, asked a devotee of Imam Ali ar-Reza (p) to take him to the Imam (p). The devotee sought the Imam’s (p) permission to bring Abu Qurrah to his audience. The Imam (p) granted the permission and so Abu Qurrah had the honour to appear before the Imam (p). The visitor asked the Imam (p) about what was lawful and what was forbidden and also inquired about some other Islamic laws. This conversation drifted towards the subject of the Unity (Oneness) of God.
The visitor told the Imam (p): The traditionalists maintain that God has directed His speech to Prophet Musa (Moses) (p) and awarded the privilege of His visibility to Prophet Muhammad (p).
Imam Ali ar-Reza (p): Then, who, from among the two weighty creations, the Jinn and the men, was sent to declare: “Vision perceives Him not, and He perceives all vision” (Q, 6:103) and “While they comprehend him not in knowledge” (Q, 20:110) “and nothing whatsoever is there like Him” (Q, 42:11)? Who was the person who brought it? Was it not Prophet Muhammad (p) himself?
The visitor had to say ‘Yes’.
The Imam (p): How is it possible that a Messenger comes to the whole of mankind informing them that he has come from God and that He invites all mankind to obey the commandments of God and then the same Messenger says: The eyes see Him not; and they cannot comprehend Him in knowledge; and Like Him there is none and in spite of all this he claims, “I have seen God with my own eyes” and “I comprehend him in my knowledge” and God has the form of a person. Do you not feel ashamed? Even an atheist would not accuse a prophet of first bringing one thing from God and then announce something contradictory.
The visitor, persisting in his arguments, said: But God Himself says so: “For indeed he saw Him at a second descent” (Q, 53:13)
The Imam (p): The subsequent verses point out what the Prophet Muhammad (p) saw. Since God says: “His heart lied not of what his eyes did see” (Q, 53:11). Then God informed us in the subsequent verse of what the Prophet Muhammad (p) actually saw: “Indeed he saw one of the greatest portents of his Lord” (Q, 53:18). And the signs of God are totally different from God Himself. He also said: “They do not comprehend Him in knowledge” (Q, 20:110). Now if the eyes could see Him then people could comprehend God in their knowledge and He could be fully understood.
Finally, the visitor put this last question to the Imam (p): Do you declare these traditions to be false?
Imam (p): When the traditions are contrary to the Noble Quran I refute them. All Muslims unanimously believe that God cannot be comprehended in knowledge, eyes cannot see Him and there is none like Him.
Translator’s note: This tradition which deals with the visual perception of God is extremely abstract and purely dialectical and is beyond the comprehension of a layman. The sum and substance of this tradition is that Imam Ali ar-Reza (p) has put forward his arguments in support of the truth that God, the Almighty, the Exalted, can never be seen through eyes. The Noble Quran and the sayings of the Imams (p) have made it clear that absolute conviction in the existence of God, the Mighty, the Majestic, cannot be attained except through intellectual perception and the evidence and signs and portents of His creation.
187 A Kharijite asked Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (p): O Abu Jafar, whom do you worship?
Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (p): God, the Almighty.
The Kharijite: Have you seen Him?
The Imam (p): Eyes cannot see Him with the faculty of sight, but the hearts see Him through the realities of faith. He cannot be known by means of analogies, nor perceived through the senses, nor is He like any person. He is referred to by His marvelous tokens and known through His signs… Such is God. There is no god except Allah.
Translator’s Note: At a critical stage of the Battle of Siffin, the opponents of Imam Ali (p) who were on the verge of defeat requested a ceasefire. Imam Ali (p) agreed but some of his people disagreed with his decision and deserted him. They formed themselves in a group and became sworn enemies of Imam Ali (p). They were called Kharijites (Khariji), which means dissenters and deserters.
188 A Jewish rabbi came to Imam Ali (p) and asked: Have you seen your Lord when you have worshipped Him?
Imam Ali (p): Woe be unto you, how could I worship a Lord whom I have not seen?
The Rabbi: How have you seen Him?
The Imam (p): The eyes do not perceive Him by the faculty of sight but the heart does see Him through the realities of faith.
189 Prophet Muhammad (p): When I ascended to the heavens, Jibrael (the Archangel Gabriel) (p) brought me to a place where he himself had not stepped before, and then the curtain was raised and God showed me the Light of His Greatness as much as He liked.
190 A person asked Imam Ali ar-Reza (p): Can God be described?
Imam Ali ar-Reza (p): Have you read the Noble Quran?
The person replied in the affirmative.
The Imam (p): Have you read the Divine words: “The eyes perceive Him not, but He perceives the eyes” (Q, 6:103)
The person again replied in the affirmative.
Imam (p): Do you know what perception is?
The person: Yes.
The Imam (p): What is it?
The person: Seeing with the eyes.
The Imam (p): The imagination of the mind is more accurate than the sight of the eye. (You may be able to visualize through your imagination the city of Sind or India or any other countries, which you have never visited and seen through your eyes.) Then how can the eye see God when your faculty of imagination itself fails to perceive Him? . . .
191 Hisham ibn Hakam: Things cannot be seen except by two means: by the senses and by the hearts (intellect). Perceptions through the senses consist of three forms. By penetration (into the things themselves), perception by touching and feeling, and perception without penetration or touching and feeling. Sounds, smells and tastes are felt due to penetration (in our body). Through the sense of touching come the knowledge of shapes (rectangular or triangular), and also the feeling of softness, hardness, heat and coolness. While perception without touch or penetration is that of sight since it is capable of seeing things without touching them or their penetration (into our bodies) directly or indirectly. For perception through sight, a medium and means are required. The medium is space and the cause or means is light. If the medium between the viewer and the object is unbroken or uninterrupted and means – light – exists, then sight can perceive colours and individuals. If the sight falls on something for which no medium exists, it reflects back what is behind the viewer like an observer looking into a mirror. Sight does not penetrate through the mirror due to lack of medium so it returns reflecting what lies behind the viewers. Similar is the case of someone looking into clear water from which the sight returns due to want of medium and reflects what is at the rear. Intellect holds sway over the space so it perceives whatever is in space and imagines as well. But if the intellect falls on something that does not exist in space, it returns reflecting what lies in the atmosphere. Therefore it is not proper for a person of understanding to concentrate his thinking on something which does not lie within the universe like the Oneness of God, the Magnificent, the All-Powerful, because if he attempts to imagine, he will not conceive anything except that which has a tangible existence in space. And we have already stated on the topic of visibility (of God). He is too far above the level of being like any of His creatures…