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Regulation of Instincts

By: Sayyid Hasan Islami
Really, what should be done with our wayward instincts and earthly aspect? Once we accept that man is a blend of the spirit of God and putrid clay, and that this existential contradiction is the cause of the rise and fall of mans spiritual life, how could and should this contradiction be resolved? Since time immemorial this existential contradiction of man has been known to many thinkers and philosophers. Some of the Greek thinkers used to liken mans soul or spirit to a bird, held within the cage of body and shackled to the physical dimension. For instance, in an ode [ghazal] they claimed to be that of Mawlānā,[146] it appears thus:
Im a bird of the heavenly garden and not of this material world.
But for some moments they have made a cage out of my physical body.[147]
For that reason, they have considered the body and physical dimension of man as a prison and an impediment to perfection, and life in this physical world as the greatest veil in reaching God. Many a time Hāfiz Shīrāzī[148] expresses chagrin and remorse for this earthliness of man and reminds [man] that this [world] is not his [final] abode:
O ambitious and great who is in a sublime station!
Your abode is not this corner of suffering and affliction.
They call on you from heavens;
I know not what you are doing in this world of deception.[149]
Expression of distress for this bondage and adversity can be seen in numerous poems of Iranian poets. In the different religions of India, particularly Jainism,[150] this contradiction between soul and body is more evident. The most important tenets of this sect are anchored on the principle that the growth of the bodily instincts be impeded and the soul nourished as much as possible. This is the way of setting it (soul) free from the body.
So long as the body is strong and desirous of complying with the dictates of its instincts, the soul is feeble and a servant of the body. But once we burn and melt the body through contentment and refrain from obeying its whims and caprices, the soul, which is a divine breath, gains strength and becomes powerful and is able to gradually subdue the body.
For the generation of this power many ways have been proposed, the most important of which are as follows: celibacy, withdrawing from activity, seclusion, eating less and less often, and sleeping less and less often. For instance, they narrate that Mahavira,[151] the founder of Jainism, remained single all his life and would pass his days in begging. Other sects springing from Hinduism, such as Buddhism, as well as the system of Yoga more or less recommend the same.[152]
The interpretation of these people on the issue of bodily needs and their relation to spiritual ones are very simplistic. A human being wants whatever he sees; so it is better for him not to see and want anything. The following couplets that are attributed to Bābā Tāhir[153] point to this view:
I complain of both my eyes and heart For everything that the eyes see, the heart would yearn for.
I am going to make a dagger with a blade of steel With which to stab my eyes so that my heart will be set free.
As such, the solution to this issue is that man should pay no heed to his bodily needs, withdraw from the society, be apathetic to the fate of others, close his eyes from viewing the beauties of nature, and deprive himself of all the natural endowments. Sadī[154] thus narrates his dialogue with one of these kind of people as follows:
A great man I saw in highlands Who has contented himself in cave-dwelling.
Why do you not come to the cityto him I said
To relax and refresh your heart?
He said that the city is full of glitters Be it known that when dry clay increases, the elephants will make a slip.[155]
In this manner, asceticism and seclusion, in our culture, are considered synonymous, and khāneqāh [monastery, convent or house of dervishes] and school is juxtaposed with each other. The difference between the worshipper and ascetic on the one hand, and the scholar on the other hand, is that the former is only after his salvation while the latter is concerned with the salvation of others as well:
A certain holy man having quitted the monastery,
And the society of religious men, became a member of a college.
I asked what was the difference between being a learned,
Or a religious man that could induce him to change his society?
He replied, The devotee saves his own blanket out of the waves,
And the learned man endeavors to rescue others from drowning.[156]
Definitions such as self-denial, purging of instincts, and self-restraint are based on this view, which arises mainly from Hindu culture and has found its way among some Muslims. Thus, in most cases when talking about combat with the self, some of them suppose it to be equal to self-denial and uprooting of instincts, and this very Hindu notion of self-denial is what is in their mind.
At times, a group of early Muslims had the same perception of combat with the self [jihād an-nafs]. One day one of the companions of the Messenger of God (s) named Uthmān ibn Mazūn asked his permission for seclusion and solitude. But the Holy Prophet (s) did not consent and said: God, the Blessed and Exalted, has not ordained that we lead a monastic life. The monasticism of my ummah [community of believers] is the struggle in the way of God [jihād fī sabīlillāh].[157] Likewise, in interpreting on the noble āyah [Quranic verse], Do you want me to inform you of the most destructive of people? It is he whose endeavor is corruption of the worldly life, the Holy Prophet (s) said: It refers to the monks who have confined themselves to the four corners [of the monastery].[158]
There was also a time when one of the companions of Imām Alī (a) named Alā ibn Ziyād Hārithī brought a complaint to the Commander of the Faithful (a) that his brother, Āsim, has turned his back from the world (i.e., he has renounced the world) and put on a woolen garment.[159] Imām Alī (a) summoned him. As he came, the Imām (a) told him:
O enemy of yourself! Certainly, the evil (Satan) has misguided you. Do you feel no pity for your wife and your children? Do you believe that if you use those things which Allah has made lawful for you, He will dislike you? You are too unimportant for Allah to do so.[160]
Although our ethical and gnostic literature is replete with associating repudiation of the world with combat with the self and equating asceticism with Christian monasticism, the principal tenets of the Messenger of God (s) and the Infallibles in this regard are something else.
Combat with the self does not mean denying the reality of instincts or their suppression. Combat with the self commences with the presumption that all instincts of man are necessary and that, basically, without them spiritual perfection cannot be attained. Combat with the self is not meant to ignore, for instance, the sexual instinct, and to order its repression. Rather, it considers it vital, necessary and essential for growth, and tries to guide it.
Thus, Imām Khomeinī while expounding it (combat with the self) does not speak about suppression of instincts. It is true that in jihād we always aim for victory and that we earnestly aspire to crush our opponent. But we do not all the times yearn for the elimination of the adversary. Rather, it is likely that his existence could be useful to us! We only see to it that we are not overcome by the adversary in this arena, not that we annihilate the enemy, i.e. our self. So, the Imām adopts the term, triumph and in no way talks about self-denial. Instead, he emphasizes that the jihād of the self which is the jihād of greater importance implies overpowering ones own powers and faculties, and placing them under Gods command.[161]
Yes, it is about harnessing and regulating instincts through overpowering them; not through self-denial. Consequently, in the combat with the self, one cannot talk at all about the obliteration of instincts. Rather, the existence and indispensability of all instincts has been assumed. It is through this outlook on the issue of instincts and how to regulate them that we arrive at the following:
 Necessity of instincts for perfection;
 Insatiability of instincts; and
 Social involvement as a requisite of combat with the self.

Necessity of instincts for perfection
Curbing the instincts does not mean that their existence is not necessary. Instead, they must be endured. If it is so, there is no need then to preserve them, and the policy of eliminating them is the best one. [Yet,] in the code of ethics of the Imām the existence of all instincts is deemed necessary, and all of them have advantages and uses. In essence, from this aspect, nothing in the universe has been created inordinately and every integral part of the universe has its own particular function. So, the existence of all thingseven the apparently worst instinctsis beneficial and necessary. This reasoning has roots in the Quranic view of the universe. God Almighty says: We created not the heaven and the earth and all that is between them in play.[162]
As far as creation is concerned it is the act of the All-Wise God; it has been created wisely and nothing therein is futile and vain. In the same vein, since all beings are creatures of the One and Only God, they are in a state of harmony and concordance, and all parts are related to one another. If in a certain level of existence disorder is noticeable, through a deeper analysis we would realize its intrinsic order. To cite an example, a child who has seen the kitchen utensils in the cabinet everyday and today he notices that all of them are apparently cluttered in different parts of the kitchen, he considers it as the result of his mothers carelessness and confusion.
But once he understands that they are supposed to entertain visitors that night at home, he realizes that this apparent disarray has meaning and order. Such is the creation. If at first glance the same impression is entertained in ones mind, this notion will dissipate after a second and profound scrutiny. That is why the Glorious Quran admonishes us, anytime we comprehend diversity and duality in the universe, to take a second and deeper look so as to discover our own misconception.[163]
The corollary of this precept is for us to reckon the universe as orderly and purposeful, and not to think of any phenomenon therein as useless. God Almighty considers it an attribute of the learned and sages that they hold the passing of nights and days and all the phenomena in the universe significance, and say: Our Lord! Thou createdst not this in vain. Glory be to Thee![164]
This all-embracing view on the universe also includes mans self and instincts. Since there is nothing useless in the universe, it follows that human instincts are also meaningful and purposeful. If we view instincts from this perspective, we cannot on any account, talk about eliminating and suppressing them. Instead, efforts should be made for them to act in accordance with their particular functions and not drift away from their own specific tasks; this is different from self-denial. This rule is applicable to all instincts.
The existence of even those instincts which have apparently negative functions is also essential and their absence would render mans existence imperfect and deficient. For instance, one of the negative instincts is anger, which is mentioned in the ahādīth [Prophetic narrations] as the key to all kinds of destruction and mischief.
Nowadays, numerous books have been written about this affliction, its negative effects, and ways of curing it. There are hardly any who are immune to the side effects of this ominous phenomenon; all of us in different places drunk its hemlock and have poisoned our palates. Many psychologists consider anger as causing high blood pressure, cholesterol, and even untimely death, and say that anger deprives man of the powers of sound reasoning and judgment, making him blind to the realities.
Once such anger and hatred arises in you, the most important part of your mind, which is the center of judgment between right and wrong, fails to function, rendering you incapable of judging the short- and long-term consequences of your conduct and behaviour. In this condition, our power of judgment completely fails to function and there is no chance of its working. This condition is exactly similar to that of a person when he becomes mad.[165]
We can thus continue to enumerate the destructive effects of anger and to cite the various opinions about it. The Imām himself has allotted a section in the Sharh-e Chehel Hadīth to this destructive instinct. He discusses it in detail, indicating the way of release from it and the method of regulating it.[166]
Well, now this question arises: Is not anger, with all these destructive effects arising from it, an example of the many instincts that must be uprooted? Is the existence of such an unpleasant instinct essential in man? Keeping in mind the Quranic precept that everything in the universe has a purpose and goal, the answer to the above question is positive. Yes, anger is also necessary and if it were not for this instinct, humankind would never have endured and would have become extinct. It is enough to imagine this instinct to disappear overnight from mans existence. In that case, no danger, no matter how serious, will induce him to move, and the necessary energy to face unpleasant situations will be not available to him. We should not forget that the greatest specific function of anger is preparing us to deal with emergency situations and providing us with the power to respond quickly. Most of the writings dealing with anger have also mentioned its specific positive function. Therefore, from this perspective anger is also a vital element for the continuity of mans life. Anger becomes bad only when it strays from its original function.
While conducting an analysis of anger, Imām Khomeinī also delves into all its dimensions and considers it in moderation to be necessary for individual and social life. Pertaining to its benefits, he says:
It should be known that the Power of Anger is one of the biggest favours of God conferred upon His creatures, which enables them to pursue activities constructive to their world and the Hereafter, assure the continuity of the species as well as the safety and survival of the individual and the family. It also plays a great role in the establishment and maintenance of social order and civic life. If this noble faculty were not ingrained in the animals nature, it would not have been able to defend itself against natural adversities, and would have been subjected to destruction and extinction. And if it were absent in man, then besides these, he would have failed to achieve most of his progress and perfection.
Moreover, even its deficiency and insufficient presence below the moderate level is itself considered a moral weakness and flaw which gives rise to innumerable vices and defects like fear; timidity; weakness; laxity; laziness; greed; lack of restraint, patience and tolerance; lack of constancy and perseverance when needed; love of comfort; torpor; lethargy; submissiveness to oppression and tyranny; submitting to insults and disgraces to which an individual or his family may be subjected; dastardliness; spiritlessness, etc. Describing the qualities of the believers God Almighty says: (The believers) are hard against the unbelievers and merciful among themselves.[167]
The fulfillment of the duty of al-amr bīl-marūf wan-nahy an al-munkar [to enjoin good conduct and forbid indecency], the implementation of hudūd [punishment prescribed by the Islamic penal law], tazīrāt [punishments decreed by a judge], and the carrying out of other policies set forth by religion or guided by reason, would not have been possible without the existence of this noble Power of Anger.
On this basis, those who believe in eradicating the Power of Anger and consider its destruction as an accomplishment and mark of perfection are highly mistaken and in great error, ignorant as they are about the signs of perfection and the bounds of moderation. Poor fellows, they do not know that God Almighty has not created this noble faculty in vain in all the species belonging to the animal kingdom. To the children of Adam (a) He bestowed this power as the source of securing a good life in this world and the Hereafter, and a vehicle for procuring various blessings and felicities.
The holy jihād with the enemies of the Dīn [religion];the struggle for the preservation of mankinds social order; the defense and protection of ones own life, property and honor, as well as the Divine values and laws; and above all the combat with ones inner self, which is the biggest enemy of man, none of these could be possible without the existence of this noble faculty.
It is under the banner of this noble faculty that aggression and encroachments upon rights are repelled, borders and frontiers are protected, and other social and individual offences, noxious practices, and harmful deeds are checked. It is for this very reason that the hukamā [men of wisdom]have recommended various remedies for treating any deficiency in this Power, and prescribed numerous practical and theoretical remedies for the purpose of its regeneration, like participation in acts of heroism and going to battlefronts on the occasion of war with the enemies of God.[168]
As such, instincts are not only to be endured but also their existence is to be considered a grace for the spiritual and social growth and perfection of man from which benefits are to be sought for the growth and development of human talents. This principle is also true for all instincts. None of the instincts should be suppressed and uprooted; instead, efforts should be made for them to perform their specific functions and not go beyond their limits.
This nourishment and training should be coordinated and concordant; all the instincts and attributes of man should be so harmonious with each other as to constitute a coherent whole. For example, instead of eliminating the sensual instinct it should be modestly moderated. Basically, moral virtues are understandable with the control of instincts, and without these instincts, they (moral virtues) would lose their meaning. Anyone who has no sexual instinct has no business talking about chastity.
How could one who does not possess at all the power of anger talk about meekness and forbearance? The understanding of Mawlānā on the Prophets noble hadīth, Lā rahbāniyyah fīl-Islām [There is no monasticism in Islam][169] succinctly illustrates the essence of this viewpoint:
When there is no enemy, armed struggle is inconceivable;
(If) thou hast no lust, there can be no obedience (to the divine command).
There can be no self-restraint when thou hast no desire;
When there is no adversary, what need for thy strength?
Hark, do not castrate thyself, do not become a monk;
For chastity is in pawn to (depends on the existence of) lust.
Without (the existence of) sensuality tis impossible to forbid sensuality:
Heroism cannot be displayed against the dead.[170]
The most important distinction between Islamic ethics and those of Christianity and Buddhism is rooted in this issue. It is this approach that places Islamic ethics in the category of worldliness and separates it from world-denunciation approaches. Yes, the existence of every instincthowever negative it may seemserves as the basis for the appearance of positive and valuable attributes of man. It is in times of adversity and hardship that mans power of patience and constancy is put under test and man is able to recognize his essence well:

The root (innate quality) of manhood (only) becomes apparent at the time
When the traveler meets his enemies on the road.[171]
Furthermore, it is only in the presence of negative instincts that positive attributes basically find their meaning and that we can talk about nourishment and training. Thus, Mawlānā used to admonish those who were bent on uprooting their sexual instinct, telling them not to do so, for in the absence of this instinct, chastity has no meaning and value. That is why they have said that the one who can never get angry at all is an imperfect man, but the one who does not want to get angry is a wise person. The first type (of person) is fundamentally lacking an instinct while the second has the instinct to get angry, but has controlled it.
It is possible that wahm [the power of imagination and invention], ghadab [the power of passion and anger], and shahwah [the power of lust or sensuality], also possess divine aspect, and may bring about felicity and good luck to man, if these powers are subjected to the dictates of reason and good sense and the teachings of prophets of God (a).[172]

Insatiability of instincts
But the fact cannot be denied that once these instincts are released and set free, they would never stop anywhere, and, like hell give the cry of, Can there be more to come?[173]
That is, these instincts can never be satiated and no matter how man endeavors to satisfy them and to meet his instinctive needs, he becomes thirstier just as the one who drinks the salty water of the sea. This is the secret behind the tragic condition of humanity. Anyone who is a captive of the instinct of greed and avarice remains in a state of indigence and insatiability even if becomes a Qārūn.[174]
The cure for avarice and covetousness does not lie in acquiring all the things that we desire. For this all is of an indefinite and unspecific level, and everyone has his or her own limitations. Up to now we have yet to see a rich man who is satisfied with his financial condition. [Instead,] he always experiences a sense of inner restlessness and is not satisfied with his own extant status: Right below the layer of comfort a kind of mental uneasiness exists which leads to hopelessness, unnecessary encounters, the need for alcohol and drugs and, in the worst case, to the committing of suicide.[175]
The limits to the acquisition of wealth and the attempts to satisfy the instinct of avarice cannot be determined at all. Once man reaches whatever optimal point that had been anticipated, he considers another optimal point for himself. So if man wants to obtain mental satisfaction through greed and covetousness, he is treading the wrong path which leads him nowhere, because:
one of the interesting features of greed is that no matter how much the covert motivation of greed to attempt attaining mental satisfaction is, the satirical point is that after you obtain the sought-after and desired thing, you will still remain unsatisfied.[176]
The true antidote of greed is not more greed; rather, it is satisfaction for what has been given, contentment and self-respect:
The pitcher, the eye of the covetous, never becomes full:
The oyster-shell is not filled with pearls until it is contented.[177]
One day a man came to Imām Alī (a) and said that whatever he sought and obtained did not satisfy him and that he yearned for more of it, adding that he was annoyed by this situation. He asked the Imām (a) to teach him something that would be beneficial to him. The Imām (a) said:
If that which suffices you makes you not in need (self-sufficient), the smallest of which is making you not in need, and if you look for more than that which suffices you, all the things in the world cannot make you self-sufficient.[178]
Yes, such is the nature of this instinct. The more its root is satisfied, the stronger it becomes, so much so that even if it has two valleys of gold and silver, it will crave for the third valley (of gold and silver). Nothing can please and satisfy the world-loving eyes of man except contentment or the soil of the grave.
This point is true not only for covetousness; such is also the case with the sexual instinctwhich does not know what satisfaction is. Freud erroneously thought that through meeting the sexual needs this instinct can be soothed and calmed down. The point is that the more this instinct is quenched, the thirstier it becomes:
The power of sensuality and lust acts in man in such a way that if he is given one woman, he is attracted to other women. If he is given an empire, he will hanker after some other empire. Man always desires for what he does not possess. In spite of this vanity of imagination and futility of human desire, the kiln of sensuality is always hot and its heat ever increasing, and our desires are never cooled down.[179]
A glance at the lives of kings and sultans who kept thousands of women in their harems but still longed for other women bears witness to this fact and anyone who has any doubt is advised to examine his own self and other human beings belonging to the classes of poor, rich and powerful; he will then agree with me.[180]
This rule is applicable to all instincts and none of them can be excluded from it. No one can be found who can say, I have fulfilled all my desires. Even Hosang Vazīr[181] who used to claim, I engulfed the whole world and did everything, was also looking for deliverance and respite until his death so as to conduct again all the affairs. In no way are these instincts satiated, and herein lies the danger. For, the bounds of every instinct should be identified, its proper specific function obtained and employed within these limits. This does not imply elimination, while at the same time, this instinct should not be released altogether:
None of the prophets of God (a) ever tried to eradicate the powers of passion, sensuality or imagination completely. None of the messengers of God have ever demanded to completely kill sensuality and desire or to extinguish the fire of passion or anger and ignore the inventions of imagination. But they have rather advocated for controlling and bridling them and making them function under the command of reason and Divine Laws. For each one of these powers struggles to dominate others and win its goal, whatever mischief, chaos, and confusion may be stirred up.[182]
In this case, this question can once again be posed: Since these instincts are insatiable, is it not better for us to uproot them and thus free ourselves from their bonds? The answer to this question is negative. For, aside from all these benefits that derive from their existence, we should never forget the point that basically the humanness of man is the preservation of these instincts. The best medicine has also side effects and as of the moment no medicine without side effects has ever been known. Is there anyone who, due to the fact that these medicines have side effects, refrains from taking them in case of necessity?
Water which is the source of life, can make a person sick if an excess of it enters the body. Fire, the discovery of which led to a quantum transformation in the life of man would burn us if we went very near it. The sun, with all its procreative and bountiful aspects, would destroy the earth if it comes a little nearer. As such, due to these issues, the essence of instincts cannot be uprooted; instead, they should be regulated. Now, another question arises and that is: Why have these instincts been created so as to be insatiable, and why is there no instinct with predetermined limit and threshold of satisfaction?
The answer is this: One of the innate qualities of man is that he is always aspiring for perfection and is not satisfied with anything. It is this relentless search that has transformed him from a cave-dwelling savage to an outer space-roving astronaut. If humankind were always to be content with its existing condition, no sort of change would ever occur in its life, and like that of honeybee, would not have been different from what it was thousands of years ago. It is this fit*rah [natural disposition of man] that urges him to discover the secrets of the universe and not to be content with all that he possesses:
It is obvious that man is always allured by something, which he does not own. This is the human nature as conceived by various great Islamic thinkers and holy men, especially one should refer to a great master of divinity, Mīrzā Muhammad Alī Shāhābādī, may my soul be ransomed for him.[183]
So, finally, all these instincts are deeply embedded on mans essence of seeking and devotion to perfection which, in itself, is a blessings up to this point. The problem arises when it happens that we forget the rationality behind these instincts and their creation, and imagine that we have to comply totally with their dictates, spending day and night in the acquisition of wealth and beauty-worship. It is here that we go astray from the Path, forgetting the True Object of Worship and Absolute Perfection while imagining riches, power, or sensuality as our gods and devotionally eulogizing them.[184]
It is enough that we realize our mistakes, knowing that these are not our real masters. They are servants who, if properly trained and nourished, will always be our helpers. [On the other hand,] once they are abandoned and released for sometime, they will claim divinity and make us their slaves. Accordingly, instincts should neither be killed nor released. Rather, they should be guided and regulated so that you could enjoy their benefits and remain secure from their menaces.

Social participation as a requisite of combat with the self
Just as some people would imagine that combat with the self implied self-denial and uprooting of instincts, some others have supposed that the requisites of combat with the self are withdrawing from the society, seclusion, and confinement in a corner. This tenet of running away from the people in order to attain security is indeed against the teachings of our religion and against values, and has gradually assumed an aspect of value for itself, being reckoned as a manifestation of perfection.
One of the most important books on mystics [ārifīn] and Sufis ever written is the Tadhkirat ul-Awliyā[185] in which the author has given an account of the lives of more than ninety famous mystics. This book is replete with stories of the Sufis isolation and retreat from society. In this book it has been reported that they [the people around him] said to Hasan al-Basrī[186]one of the notable mystics: There is a man who for a period of twenty years has not attended a congregational prayer, has no social intercourse with anyone, and has [always] been sitting in a corner.[187] Hasan approached him and asked him the reason for his conduct. On hearing the reply, he said to him: Be as you are as you are better than me.[188]
Again, concerning the description of tasawwuf [Sufism] Sahl at-Tustarī (201-273 AH), a great Sufi, is reported to have said: Sufism is meager eating, having tranquility with God, the Sublime and Exalted, and keeping aloof from people.[189] Again, in an account on the life of Dāwūd at*-Tāī[190] it is reported: He was constantly disillusioned with the people,[191] keeping aloof from them [people],[192] and would say: Run away from the people just as they flee from the fierce lion.[193]
In his Kīmyā-ye Saādat [The Alchemy of Happiness] Al-Ghazzālī,[194] likewise, devotes a separate chapter to the etiquette of seclusion and says:
The school of thought [madhhab] of Sufyān Nūrī, Ibrāhīm Idham, Dāwūd Tāī, Fadīl Ayyād, Sulaymān Khawwās, Yūsuf Isbāt*, Hadhīfah Marashī, Bashar Hāfī, and many other God-fearing and great men (r)[195] is that seclusion and solitude is more virtuous than mingling with others.[196]
Then it quotes sayings from them such as follows: Rabī ibn Khuthaym and Ibrāhīm Najafī, may Allah be pleased with them, have said: pursue knowledge and keep away from people.[197] Fadīl said: I would receive a great favour from one who did not mind me or greet me, and when I fell ill, would not visit me.[198] In short, after discussing such quotations on the virtues of seclusion, Al-Ghazzālī has named six of its benefits, discussing each one of them in detail.
For example, the third benefit of seclusion in his view is this: No city or townis free of hostility and sedition and anyone who secluded would be free from sedition. Once he associates with the people, he would fall into sedition, destroy his religion and be in danger.[199] The fourth benefit of seclusion in the view of Al-Ghazzālī is deliverance from the mischief of the people, while the fifth one is that the people will not pin their hopes on him. The sixth [and last] benefit is being rid of meeting dear ones, the stupid, and those whom it is naturally abominable to meet.[200]
In a nutshell, seclusion means turning away from responsibility, non-acceptance of the reality of life, and shirking any form of endeavor to change the status quo in favour of the desired condition. Seclusion from this perspective is nothing but the worthlessness of man in as much as one cannot hope for any good from him. Apparently, this kind of outlook has arisen at some stage in the mystical lives of many. After passing through different stages of mystic knowledge and gnosis, our mystics resorted to nothing other than seclusion. They considered the best way to live was to go into seclusion; that is, somewhat a premeditated kind of suicide and seemingly legitimate.[201]
This approach, regardless of the intention it is based, is squarely in opposition to the teachings of the Infallibles (a) and the rudimentary precepts of the Quran. We have read a lot that monasticism and seclusion have no place in Islam and those who practice these are considered the most destructive of people. In the parlance of religion, the best of men is he who is beneficial to others and has a stronger and more profound sense of responsibility with respect to those around him and the society at large. Enjoining what is good and forbidding what is wrong, which is one of the fundamental Islamic obligations, is only comprehensible with the acceptance of collectivity and living therein, as well as accountability.[202]
Essentially, from the view of the Messenger of God (s), Muslim is he who is concerned with other Muslims and shares joys and sorrows. Hence, the Holy Prophet (s) said: He who has passed the night without concern for the affairs of Muslims is not a Muslim.[203]
Being a Muslim is not only restricted to individual acts of worship and devotion; it transcends these and embraces all levels of social life. From this perspective, being a Muslim means acceptance of responsibility and having an active presence in society:
Well, the Prophet (s) has advised us to be diligent about the affairs of Muslims. Does diligence over the affairs of Muslims lie only in saying how many rakah [cycle] the prayer is; what the doubt between so-and-so is? Is this supposed to be showing concern for the affairs of Muslims? It is an issue that does not speak of the affairs of Muslims. Affairs of Muslims refer to their political affairs, their social affairs, and their predicaments. Whoever does not give concern to these is not a Muslim [falaysa bi-muslim], according to the [above-quoted] hadīth.[204]
The distinction between human beings and animals is this sense of responsibility. Once we ignore it, we tend to promote seclusion and isolation [to prevail in the society]. It is enough to imagine that all the people want to enjoy the benefits of seclusion and to choose isolation and retreat. The endurance of such a society and to live therein is nearly impossible. The social order will soon be in shambles and everyone will retreat to the caves and jungles.
So, the point should be known that in our religious teachings seclusion has never met with approval. When one of the companions of the Messenger of God (s) asked for his approval for seclusion, the Holy Prophet (s) discouraged him from doing so and said: Once you do not mingle with the people, how you will then perform the enjoinment of what is good and the forbiddance of what is wrong?[205]
That is, social life and responsibility to others are a duty of all Muslims while seclusion means trampling upon this duty.
Even in our religious sources it has been narrated that the supplications of one who withdraws from social and economic activity and sits in a corner relying on God, will not be granted. One day Imām as-Sādiq (a) enquired about one of his companions named Umar ibn Muslim. They said, He has abandoned trade and has turned to [only] worship. He (a) said: Woe to him! Does he know not that the prayers of one who abandoned all endeavor will not be granted? Then he narrates the story of those in the time of the Messenger of God (s) who, under the pretext of trust in and reliance on God [tawakkul], withdrew from active life and went into retreat. He (a) says that the Holy Prophet (s) told them: The supplication of whoever does so will not be granted. So, exert effort.[206]
Undoubtedly, the tenet of seclusion and asceticism is in contradiction to many of the religious teachings. In his discourses on ethics the Imām has also put great emphasis on man as a social being, and does not at all name seclusion as a value. Rather, he believes that combat with the self is only possible through a responsible presence and activity in the society; not through withdrawal and isolation. He believes that the only gift of sitting secluded in a corner is wretchedness and misery. Preservation and advancement of human values lies in sustained efforts; not seclusion:
If you want to be a human being, you have to strive hard. Preserving your human values requires effort. It is not possible for ones human values to be preserved while sitting at home. One who sits in seclusion at home will suffer setbacks. However, he does not realize that he is no longer a human being.[207]
From the Imāms perspective, isolation and withdrawal from responsibility is in no way concordant with Islam and its teachings. It is an alien phenomenon which has brought malaise to the Islamic society, so much so that this anti-value has found an esteemed place among Muslims, and if one lives in isolationthat is futilityhe enjoys greater respect, esteem and worth:
Seclusion was not extant in Islam at all; it has never been so. This seclusion, I wonder whatretreat, withdrawal, and basically, aloofnesshave all been present in non-Muslim religious groups and have been introduced among the Muslims; reaching the stage of saying that Mr. so-and-so is a very good person; he does not care at all about what may happen (regarding something)! Apathy itself became part of eulogy![208]
This inversion of values would, at times, lead to those who were alert and conscious pretending to be indifference and using others as their plaything: Well, this causes even the one who distinguishes between each and everything would show himself as undiscerning.[209]
Only presence in society can polish his coarseness of personality and crudity, just as gravel is smoothened by rolling and tossing innumerable times in a rivers course, a human being is moulded and refined only in the midst of society and in the context of the challenges of life, thus causing the essence of his self to manifest itself.
Notes:
[146] For information about this claim and its spuriousness, see Guzīdeh-e Ghazaliāt-e Shams, footnote of page 578.
[147]Loc. cit.
[148] Khwājah Shams ad-Dīn Muhammad Hāfiz Shīrāzī (ca. 1325-1391) was the fourteenth century Persian lyric bard and panegyrist, and commonly considered as the preeminent master of the ghazal form. [Pub.]
[149] Sāyeh, Hāfiz (Tehran: Kārnāmeh, 1376 AHS), p. 113.
[150] Jainism: a religion and philosophy of India. Along with Hinduism and Buddhism, it is one of the three most ancient of Indias religious traditions still in existence. The name Jainism derives from the Sanskrit verb root ji, to conquer. It refers to the ascetic battle that the Jaina monks must fight against the passions and bodily senses in order to gain omniscience and the complete purity of soul that represents the highest religious goal in the Jaina system. The monk-ascetic who achieves this omniscience and purity is called a Jina (literally, Conqueror or Victor), and adherents to the tradition are called Jainas or Jains. Although Jainism has a much smaller number of adherents than do Hinduism and Sikhism, its influence on Indias culture has been considerable, including significant contribution in philosophy and logic, art and architechture, grammar, mathematics, astronomy and astrology, and literature.
For an introductory survey of Jainism, see Hermann Jacobi, Jainism, in Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics (1928) vol. 7, pp. 465-474 and Colette Caillat, Jainism, in The Encyclopedia of Religion, ed. Mircea Eliade (1987) vol. 7, pp. 507-514.[Trans.]
[151] Mahavira: literally means Great Hero is the title labeled to Vardhamana to whom the origin of Jainism in the 6th century BC is attributed. Mahavira was the 24th and last Tirthankara (literally, Ford-maker) of the current age (kalpa) of the world. (Tirthankaras, also called Jinas, are revealers of the Jaina religious path [dharma] who have crossed over lifes stream of rebirths and have set the example that all Jainas must follow.) Mahavira was a contemporary of Siddhartha Gautama (the Buddha) and was born in the same area, the lower Gangetic Plain in India. Although Mahavira was a historical figure, all of the accounts of his life are legendary and serve the ritual life of the Jaina community better than they do the historian. However, a little of the historical circumstances of Mahavira and the early Jaina community can be pieced together from a variety of sources.
Mahavira, like the Buddha, was the son of a chieftain of the Kshatriya (military or ruling) class. At age 30 he renounced his princely status to take up the ascetic life. It is likely that he pursued the discipline of a preestablished ascetic tradition and had a reforming influence on it. His acknowledged status as the 24th Tirthankara (or Jina) means that Jainas perceive him as the last revealer in this cosmic age of the Jaina dharma. Mahavira had 11 disciples (called ganadharas), all of whom were Brahman converts to Jainism; all founded monstic lineages, but only twoIndrabhuti Gautama and Sudharman, the disciples who survived Mahaviraserved as the points of origin for the historical Jaina monastic community. [Trans.]
[152] For familiarity with these sects, see Dāryūsh Shāyigān, Adyān va Maktabhā-ye Falsafeh-ye Hind [Religions and Philosophical Schools of India] (Tehran: Amīr Kabīr, 1375 AHS).
[153] Bābā T&āhir: An Iranian poet and mystic of the mid-5th century AH. [Trans.]
[154] Sadī: Shaykh Muslīh ad-Dīn Sadī (1184-1283) was one of the greatest Persian poets. Born in Shiraz, he studied Sufi mysticism at the Nizāmiyyah madrasah at Baghdad, with Shaykh Abdul-Qādir al-Jīlānī and with Shihāb ad-Dīn Suhrawardī. He made the pilgrimage to Mecca many times and traveled to Central Asia, India, the Seljuq territories in Anatolia, Syria, Egypt, Arabia, Yemen, Abyssinia, and Morocco. His best known works are Būstān [Garden] and Golestān [Rose-Garden], also known as Sadī Nāmeh. The former is a collection of poems on ethical subjects, the latter a collection of moral stories in prose. Sadī is also renowned for his lyric poetry and his panegyrics (written works of praise), composed in both Persian and Arabic. His influence on Persian, Turkish and Indian literatures has been very considerable, and his works were often translated into European languages from the 17th century onward. [Trans.]
[155]Golestān, p. 142.
Gladwin, chap. 4, On the Advantages of Taciturnity, Tale xxii, p. 197. [Trans.]
[156]Ibid., p. 104.
[157]Mīzān al-Hikmah, vol. 2, p. 1122.
[158]Loc. cit.
[159] Wearing a woolen garment signifies leading a life in seclusion usually associated with asceticism, self-mortification and the like. [Trans.]
[160]Nahj al-Balāghah, Sermon 209.
[161]Sharh-e Chehel Hadīth, p. 6.
[162]Sūrah al-Anbiyā 21:16.
[163] See Sūrah al-Mulk 67:4.
[164]Sūrah Āli-Imrān 3:191.
[165] Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler, Hunar-e Shādmāndegī [The Art of Happiness], trans. Muhammad-Alī Hamīd Rafīī (Tehran: Kitābsārā-ye Tandīs, 1379 AHS), pp. 249-250.
The book, The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living (New York: Riverhead Books, 1998), hardcover, 322 pages, is based on conversations between the Dalai Lama and Dr. Howard Cutler, a Diplomat of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, in which the latter endeavors to frame the formers teachings, stories, and meditations in such a way that makes it interesting for even non-Buddhists. Exploring topics such as intimacy, compassion, suffering, anger, kindness, hatred, and change, the Dalai Lama makes clear that real happiness depends on transforming our deepest attitudes, the very way we look at, and deal with, ourselves and others. [Trans.]
[166] See Sharh-e Chehel Hadīth, pp. 133-143.
[167]Sūrah al-Fath 48:29.
[168]Sharh-e Chehel Hadīth, pp. 134-135.
[169]Bihār al-Anwār, vol. 8, p. 170. [Pub.]
[170]Mathnawī, vol. 5 (Book Five), p. 32.
Nicholson, Book Five under No Monkery in Islam, vol. 5,p. 71. [Trans.]
[171]Ibid., vol. 6 (Book Six), p. 32.
Nicholson, Book Six under The Fowler and the Bird,vol. 6, p. 59. [Trans.]
[172]Sharh-e Chehel Hadīth, p. 16.
[173]Sūrah Qāf 50:30. [Trans.]
[174] Qārūn (Korah): one of those who had believed in the ministry of Prophet Moses (a) but when God tested him with the abundance of wealth, he was proved to be a disbeliever. See Sūrah al-Qasas 28:76, 79; Sūrah al-Ankabūt 29:39; Sūrah al-Ghāfir 40:24. [Trans.]
[175]Hunar-e Shādmāndegī [The Art of Happiness], pp. 21-22.
[176]Ibid., p. 25.
[177]Mathnawī, vol. 1 (Book One), p. 10.
Nicholson, Book One under Proem, vol. 1, p. 7. [Trans.]
[178]Mīzān al-Hikmah, vol. 3, p. 2639.
[179]Sharh-e Chehel Hadīth, p. 19.
[180] Loc. cit.
[181] Abū Alī Hasan Muhammad Mīkāl: known as Hosang, a pious and intellectual person. He was appointed as vizier by Sult*ān Mahmūd, the 3rd most powerful Ghaznavid king. [Pub.]
[182]Sharh-e Chehel Hadīth, p. 16.
[183]Sharh-e Chehel Hadīth, pp. 19-20.
[184]Hast thou seen him who chooseth for his god his own lust?Sūrah al-Furqān 25: 43.
[185]Tadhkirat ul-Awliyā: a book written in Persian by At*t*ār Neyshābūrī concerning the life story of 92 saints [awliyā] and Sufi shaykhs along with their moral excellences and wise sayings. An abridged English version of the book is translated by Arthur J. Arberry, Muslim Saints and Mystics (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd., 1966). [Trans.]
[186]Abū Saīd Hasan Yasār al-Basrī (21-110 AH): one of the notable jurists and ascetics at the time of Hajjāj ibn Yūsuf and Umar ibn Abdul-Azīz. For his life account, see Arberry, Muslims Saints and Mystics,pp. 19-25. [Trans.]
[187] Farīd ad-Dīn At*t*ār Neyshābūrī, Tadhkirat ul-Awliyā, Ed. Muhammad Istilāmī (Tehran: Zovār, 1384 AHS), p. 46.
[188]Loc. cit.
[189]Ibid., p. 317. For the life account of Sahl ibn Abdullāh at-Tustarī, see Arberry, Muslims Saints and Mystics,pp. 153-160. [Trans.]
[190] Abū Sulaymān ibn Nusayr Dāwūd at*-Tāī was a famous ascetic [zāhid], jurist [faqīh] and scholar of the sciences of hadīth [muhaddith] during the 2nd century AH. For his life account, see Arberry, Muslims Saints and Mystics,pp. 138-142. [Trans.]
[191] Tadhkirat ul-Awliyā, p. 262.
[192]Ibid., p. 264.
[193]Ibid., p. 266.
[194] Hujjat al-Islām Abū H+āmid Muh$ammad ibn Ghazzālī at-Tūsī was born in Iran in 1058 at Tūs, Khorāsān, where he died in 1111. Al-Ghazzālī is recognized by many as a great theologian of Islam and the final authority for Sunnī orthodoxy. Starting his religious life as orthodox, al- Ghazzālī soon turned to Sufism. He spent many years roaming from place to place before eventually going to Baghdad to preach and teach. It was there that he composed what many see as his masterpiece, Ih$yā Ulūm ad-Dīn [The Revivification of the Sciences of Religion]. His other well-known works include: Fātih$at al-Ulūm; Tahāfut al-Falāsifah; Al-Iqtis,ād fīl-Itiqād and Kīmyā-ye Saādat [The Alchemy of Happiness] which is Ih$yā Ulūm ad-Dīn re-presented on a smaller scale for Persian readers. Al-Ghazzālī was, however, among a number of classical Sunnī authorities who attempted to legitimize both the hereditary caliphate and the usurpation of power by military dynasties, by means of their political theories. The influence of these theories has far outlived the circumstances that produced them and it continues to affect the political attitudes of Sunnī Muslims, although it is now diminishing. [Trans.]
[195] The abbreviation, r stands for the Arabic invocative phrase, rahmatullāh alayh, rahmatullāh alayhā, rahmatullāh alayhim [may Gods mercy be upon him//her/them], which is used after the names of pious individuals. [Pub.]
[196] Abū Hāmid Muhammad al-Ghazzālī, Kīmyā-ye Saādat [The Alchemy of Happiness], ed. Husayn Khadyūjam (Tehran: Intishārāt-e Ilmī va Farhangī, 1374 AHS), vol. 1, p. 434.
[197]Ibid., p. 435.
[198]Loc. cit.
[199]Ibid., pp. 442-443.
[200]Ibid., p. 445.
[201] Abdul-Karīm Surūsh, Qisseh-ye Arbāb-e Marifat (Tehran: Intishārāt-e Sirāt*, 1373 AHS), p. 368.
[202] On the correlation between enjoining what is good [and forbidding what is wrong, on one hand,] and accountability, [on the other hand,] see Sayyid Hasan Islāmī, Amr beh Marūf va Nahy-e az Munkar (Qum: Khurram, 1375 AHS).
[203]Usūl al-Kāfī, vol. 2, p. 164.
It is to be noted that this hadīth is universally accepted by Muslims and are quoted by the followers of the different Islamic schools of thought. [Trans.]
[204]Sahīfeh-ye Imām, vol. 18, p. 40.
[205] Mīrzā Husayn Nūrī T&abarsī, Mustadrak al-Wasāil wa Mustanbit* al-Masāil (Qum: Muassasah Āli al-Bayt (a) Li-Ihyā at-Turāth, 1408 AH), vol. 12, p. 183.
[206] Concerning this hadīth and Imām Khomeinīs discussion of it, see Sharh-e Chehel Hadīth, p. 559.
[207]Sahīfeh-ye Imām, vol. 18, p. 314.
[208]Ibid., vol. 17, p. 41.
[209]Ibid., p. 42.

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