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Self Confidence and Trust in Allah and Attaining Perfection

By: Hojjat al-Islam Mahdi Hadavi Tehrani

Self-Confidence and Trust in Allah
Question: On the one hand, in the sciences of education and psychology a great deal of emphasis is placed on self-confidence, but in Islamic teachings, ethics, and gnosticism (‘irfan) on the other hand, it is stressed that one must trust only in Allah (awj) and not in oneself. Is their a contradiction between the two perspectives?

Brief Answer
To apprehend whether there is a conflict or not, one must first have a clear definition of the two terms. There are two ways of understanding self-confidence:
1. Comprehending ones’ abilities, potentials, and building on the existing capabilities in the attempt to satisfy one’s desires and attain to the true human identity. This version is in no way in conflict with the spirit of trust in Allah (awj). The advantage of this version is its compatibility with two key religious terms: self-knowledge and knowledge of Allah’s (awj) blessings and the right way of employing them.
2. Egocentrism. That is, to rely solely on one’s personal capabilities and knowledge to the extent of considering one’s ambitions and desires as the source of ultimate well-being and success. This understanding is not only in disharmony with religious teachings; it is a mirage, a mere figment of the imagination. This objectionable self-confidence is actually self-centeredness and being over-confident of oneself. It is in allusion to this type of self-confidence that the Commander of the Faithful says, “Whosoever trusts in his self will be betrayed many times.”

The Definition of Tawakkul
Tawakkul comes from the root wikalah and so by derivation means “appointing someone as one’s trustee (wakil)”. What is meant by the self-confidence that is in harmony with tawakkul is maintaining one’s composition in the face of great predicaments by relying on the endless power of Allah (awj), thereby considering oneself triumphant. It means to struggle resolutely in the face of all the troubles and tribulations that befall one, trusting in Allah (awj) where one feels powerless and not ceasing to try. Rather, even where one feels capable, one should know that the real power is Allah (awj). For, in the eyes of the true monotheist, He is the fountainhead of all existing powers, so that viewing the natural phenomena in separation from the Divine will is a kind of polytheism. All natural causes derive their potency from Him and exist due to His will.
But the second interpretation of self-confidence is in no way compatible with tawakkul, for in this sense self-confidence would be to regard one’s strengths and capabilities independent of Divine will. And self-reliance and relying on other creatures are in opposition to the spirit of trust in Allah (awj).
The Prophet (Õ) has been related as having said, “I asked Jibra`il (Ú), ‘What is tawakkul?’ He replied, ‘Recognizing the truth that a creature can neither harm nor benefit, and not to have your eyes on the wealth of others. When a servant of Allah acquires these traits, he will act only for Allah and will not have any hope in other than Him. This is the truth and boundary of tawakkul.’”

Detailed Answer
In order to properly examine the question of the contradiction of self-confidence—in the context of psychology—with the concept of trusting in God and not trusting in oneself—in the context of religious teachings—one must first analyze the meanings of the two concepts.

Analyzing the definition of self-confidence
Self-confidence is acknowledging one’s strengths and capabilities, therefore relying on what one has for achieving what one desires and for attaining to the true essence of humanity. This conception of self-confidence is not in conflict with religious teachings. Rather it is exactly in line with the will of Allah (awj) and acceptable by the godly people. We are duty bound to attempt to acquire this trait and the failure thereof might result in being deprived of many advantageous things, the least of which might be the lack of success and the inability to achieve Divine satisfaction. Hence, we refer to this conception of self-confidence as the laudable self-confidence.
There are several qualifications that contribute to the positive conception of self-confidence. The first is comprehending oneself, one’s capabilities, strengths and weaknesses, duties, and material and spiritual assets. What is the most effective plan for utilizing these assets? These are all points and questions that stem from the two key religious concepts: self-knowledge and recognizing one’s God-given blessings and appropriately exploiting them.
This conception of self-confidence is in essence to be aware of the supra-human entity and the lofty aspects of the human being by means of knowing the blessings of Allah (awj). And this is based on the fact that Allah (awj) has bestowed certain blessings on the human being and thus holds him responsible vis-à-vis those blessings and at the end will hold him accountable, asking as to how he employed those blessings. Hence, taking the responsibility of these blessings on one’s shoulders is not possible without taking advantage of one’s personal assets, without self-confidence, without benefiting from those blessings, or feeling positive. So to reward [unclear] the positive definition of self-confidence: It is the belief that “I” am one of Allah’s (awj) creatures that has been given blessings by a Being who has control over these blessings and who would not be harmed were He to deprive me of all of them. We would be ungrateful if we did not think of the scheme of our existence in this manner.
We accept the first definition of self-confidence because it reinforces our independence and self-esteem and thus prevents us from being dependent on other creatures as well as underestimating ourselves. In other words, self-confidence is the conscious and beneficial acceptance of our values, assets, and symbols, such that with this lofty human/Islamic self-confidence we can stand up against all instances of timidity, [cultural] disorientation, thereby preventing our subordination to those who only wear the disguise of humanity.
Through self-confidence we will be able to regulate our mind, thereby gaining access to all the golden keys to success. Is it not true that when imperialists decide to enslave a people, their first tactic is to convince the people that they have nothing, that their mentality is backward and that they have fallen behind from modernism and that they are too immature to stand up on their own feet? By such intimidations a nation might fall from the heights of self-confidence to the pits of self-abasement, and seeing itself as inferior it will try to emulate the predator culture. Such emulation is in itself a manifestation of the cultural deficiency of the nation in question and is the beginning of its self-alienation, both culturally and religiously.
A good number of those who get caught in psychological voids—and as a result get involved in crime—are those who underestimate themselves. The analysis provided by ‘Ali Mirzabiygee states that, “Self-esteem plays a major role in one’s logical and normal behaviour or on the other hand one’s abnormal, unfriendly, and criminal behaviour. Based on the conducted research in this field, self-esteem can prevent, ameliorate, or worsen some types of modes of human behaviour. As narrated in a tradition, “He who is self-abased will become such that there will be no security against his mischief.”[154] Therefore, the positive self-confidence results in self-esteem and is itself the fruit of self-assurance, determination, and capability. “The determination of men of eminence can uproot mountains.”[155] (The Role of Psychological Needs, pg. 33)
Another positive quality of this definition of self-confidence is its harmony with the spirit of tawakkul in Islamic culture. We will explain this point in more detail later on.
The second possible definition for self-confidence is egocentrism—i.e., the absence of any concern other than one’s desires. This could end in such extremes that one might solely depend on his faculties and knowledge, considering his needs and aspirations as the source of absolute good and ultimate success. This illusion is not only in opposition to Islamic teachings, it is also a figment of the imagination. It would be more accurate to refer to this negative definition of self-confidence as egocentrism. It is the latter psychological state that has been the cause of many failures and by which the human being has been betrayed: “Whosoever trusts his ego will be betrayed by it.”[156]
Why is this definition of self-confidence deplorable? The following factors all play a role in the negative nature of this state of mind. This conception of self-confidence creates a false self-image in the mind of the human being and thus entails disequilibrium. When one thinks, “What I want should be…Truth is that which corresponds to my opinion and so my opinion should be done…There are no obstacles in my way…I am strong enough so that others are nothing in comparison to me…”—such thoughts can only lead to “personal overestimation”. The solidification of this notion would cause “extreme conceit” which will open the way for an unrealistic overestimation of oneself. And without doubt such mental waves and whirlpools will entail “instability” and the distortion of one’s true personality.
At any rate, the limits of one’s capabilities should be recognized. One should take into consideration all the other factors and realities too. With such awkward self-confidence there will be no possibility of a realistic assessment of one’s capabilities. The Commander of the Faithful, ‘Ali b. Abi Talib (Ú) says, “If you seek Allah’s grace, determine the aspects of your capabilities and the limits of your inabilities. Otherwise you would exceed your scope thereby undermining the possibility of progress and Divine grace.”[157]
It is for this reason that Islam prohibits such overestimation of oneself and has warned that if a human being does not abandon this state of mind, he would be seized by two entailments: conceit and self-love.
In addition to the detriments you heard regarding ‘ujb—viewing oneself beyond the range of fallibility and being satisfied with one’s deeds—it is an evil tree whose fruit is a range of greater sins… The veil of ‘ujb and the heavy curtain of self-satisfaction blocks one from seeing one’s own weaknesses. And this is a great affliction that prevents the human being from all perfections… And another detriment of ‘ujb is being overconfident of oneself and one’s deeds. This causes the ignorant and unfortunate human being to consider himself free of need of the Truth, exalted is He, therefore neglecting His grace.[158]
The second feature of the negative self-confidence which renders it a deplorable trait is that it implies a notion of independence from Allah (awj), which is practically denying the principle of Divine unity in actions. In the science of theology it has been demonstrated that all existents, motions, and actions in the cosmos derive from the Pure Essence of Allah (awj). He is the cause of causes, the head of the chain of causality. Even our actions are, from one aspect, from Him. He has bestowed upon us strength, choice, and free will, but this Diving agency does not reject the role of the human being. He has bestowed strength and choice, but at the same time we are the doers of our own actions and as such are responsible for them. But this fact does not contradict the agency of Allah (awj), for all that we possess is from Him and will return to Him: “There is no active agent in existence but for Him.”[159] Attributing the main role to oneself is tantamount to assuming absolute agency for oneself in opposition to Allah’s (awj) absolute will and His boundless rule.

Analyzing the definition of Tawakkul
Tawakkul is derived from the root wikalah and means the appointment of a trustee (wakil). It should go without saying that appointing a trustee is necessary where one is incapable of personally handling the situation, in which case the strength of some one else is employed. It should also be noted that the right trustee should at least have the following four traits: well informed, trustworthy, having the power to undertake the task in question, and concerned for the welfare of the client.
The first interpretation of self-confidence—i.e., self-knowledge and self-assurance along with utilizing all personal capabilities and assets—has no contradiction with tawakkul. For, in addition to the purely religious concepts that are embedded in this interpretation of self-confidence—such as self-knowledge, knowledge, and utilizing the blessings of Allah (awj)—essentially the realistic tawakkul stems from this positive interpretation of self-confidence. For, what is intended by the concept of tawakkul is that the human being, when confronted with tribulations in life, must not feel abased or weak. Rather, relying on the limitless power of Allah (awj), he must see himself triumphant and victorious. In this light, it becomes clear that tawakkul possesses an inspiring, revitalizing, and regenerating meaning that increases one’s endurance and resilience. Hence, relying on Allah (awj) should not be construed in any other way but that the human being, when faced with the troubles and vicissitudes of life, when exposed to the animosity of enemies and the stubbornness of detractors, or in running into difficulties or seeming impasses, must endeavour to open the doors of success and when incapable, rely on Allah (awj) thereby continuing to struggle. More accurately, even where one is capable of undertaking a task, Allah (awj) should still be recognized as the principal agent in the world, for from the perspective of a monotheist, the fountainhead of power and strength is Allah (awj)
Those who assume that being cognizant of the world of causes and natural elements is in opposition to the spirit of tawakkul are in deep error. For dissociating the natural elements from the will of God is itself a type of polytheism. Is it not true that even natural elements owe their efficacy to Him and exist due to His will? Of course, if such elements and causes are considered independent entities in contrast to His will—then such a view is in opposition to the spirit of tawakkul. The main point is that self-assurance, taking advantage of Allah’s (awj) blessings, utilizing one’s capabilities, and hopefulness are not in contrast to tawakkul. The Prophet of Islam (Õ), the crown of those who rely on God, never failed to seize any opportunity, plan, or positive tactic, nor did he neglect any natural element, and he used to warn the believers, “You can… You are superior.” Why should we not consider “You are superior” as the rightful interpretation and the true scheme for the conformity of tawakkul and self-confidence.
The second interpretation of self-confidence is in contradiction with tawakkul because relying on other people is in diametrical opposition to relying on God. That is, living as a liability for others and being dependent on them means a lack of independence. For relying on God frees the human being from dependence (which is the cause of human disgrace and bondage) and bestows on him freedom and self-confidence. The Prophet of Islam (Õ) has been narrated as having said, “I inquired from the Messenger of Revelation, Jibra`il (Ú), ‘What is tawakkul?’ He said, ‘Being aware that a creature can neither harm nor provide nor block [others’ sustenance] from being provided; that you take your eyes off of the possession of other people. When a servant of Allah has thus transformed himself, he will act only for Allah and will have hope only in Him. This is the truth and definition of tawakkul.’”[160]
Notes:
[154]Tuhaf al-’Uqul, pg. 483:
[155]Musnad al-Shahab, vol. 1, pg. 378
[156]Ghurar al-Hikam, vol. 5, pg. 161
[157]Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 66, pg. 79
[158] Ayatullah Khomeini, Forty Hadith, under the explanation of the third hadith
[159] Ayatullah Nasir Makarim Shirazi, Payam Qur`an, vol. 3, pg. 274
[160]Ma’ani al-Akhbar, pg. 261:

Attaining Perfection
Question: How can perfection be attained?

Brief Answer
This topic needs to be discussed in three parts.

1. Definition of Kamal (Perfection) and How It Differs from Tamam (Completion) and Progress
Completion applies when speaking about the parts of a thing, as in the case where a thing is composed of several parts and all the parts are put together, it is said that that thing is complete. In other words, completion pertains to the parts that are necessary to bring something into existence. But perfection pertains to the levels and stages of something. When something reaches completion, there still might be more perfect states for it. Thus a thing could be complete but not perfect. Also, the term progress could apply to a movement that is merely horizontal. However, elevation is embedded in the meaning of perfection. For, perfection is meaningful only in the context of an ascending and vertical movement. Hence, it is possible to achieve progress without attaining to perfection.

2. Human Perfection from the Point of View of Islam
a. Perfection is in vision and acquisition. One must fully comprehend the Divine sciences and act accordingly.
b. Perfection is dependent on sensing, for the human being is compelled to action when feeling threatened and realizing one’s own imperfection.

3. Different Views on Perfection

a. Ideology of Power
According to this ideology, the perfect human being is synonymous with the powerful human being. The more powerful one is, the higher the level of perfection he has attained to. Even if knowledge is of value, it is due to the fact that it enables the human being to strengthen himself and to subjugate the surrounding environment.
This view has two problems. First, knowledge in this ideology has no intrinsic value and sanctity. It is power alone that is considered perfection. Second, not only is knowledge not perfection and a means to transcendence, it serves as grounds for war and the exploitation of the weak.
From the point of view of Islam, power is not intrinsically negative. There are instances where it has been promoted, but with the condition that it be employed in the way of advocating moral values and social reformation.

b. The View of the Philosophers
From the perspective of the philosophers, perfection can be sought in two things: wisdom (which is the comprehension of the universal truths of the cosmos) and justice (which is the tempering of the instincts and the human faculties by the intellect, or in other words, the intellect dominating the human faculties)
Islam also considers wisdom a virtue. The Qur`an refers to wisdom as “abundant good” (2:269) and recognizes it as a means of perfection. Justice is also emphasized by Islam. However, in Islam the intellect’s domination over the sensual and psychic faculties is considered effective only when it is reinforced by Revelation.

c. The Mystic Ideology
Mystics are of the opinion that reality is nondual. Reality is God and all else is the radiance of His existence. Thus, the human being attains to perfection when he comes to view only Him and nothing else, when he reaches annihilation in the Truth. The closer one ascends to the Truth, the more perfect he becomes. And the path of this journey is the heart, and one must combat one’s ego and overcome it and belittle it so as to erase any trace of egoism.
Although Islam approves of the path of the heart and vision, it also supports the intellect and has referred to the latter as the “inward prophet”. In contrast to mysticism, both the personal and the social aspects of life have been recognized, and so the perfect human being is he who perfects himself in both aspects. Another defect of the mystical perspective is that it undermines self-esteem and self-worth to the extent of demeaning the individual. Islam does not allow such excessive self-humiliation. From the view point of Islam, at the same time that the believer must combat his ego and tame it, he must avoid ignoble and unbecoming acts.

Detailed Answer

Definition of Perfection
First, we must define perfection. Tamam (completion) is contrasted with naqs (deficiency) and so is kamal (perfection). In the Noble Qur`an we read:
Today I have perfected your religion for you, and I have completed My blessing upon you[161].
That is, the Qur`an considers tamam and kamal different in meaning: it employs tamam in the context of deficiency in blessing and kamal in the context of deficiency in religion.
At this point it is necessary to explain how kamal (perfection) differs in meaning from tamam (completion) and pishraft (progress). If an object is composed of several parts, such as a building, until all the parts are put together, it is said that the object is deficient and incomplete and when all the parts have been assembled, it is said that the object is complete. However, perfection applies to levels and stages. For instance, a new born child, although healthy and complete with all the natural parts and organs, is in one respect deficient and must pass through the various levels of perfection by means of training and education in order to attain to perfection.
In other words, tamam is used where all the necessary parts for composing a whole are present, otherwise that whole is deficient in its essence. On the other hand, kamal is used when an object has reached completion but has the capacity to improve and acquire higher degrees. Thus, an object could be complete but not perfect.
But as to the difference of kamal (perfection) from pishraft (progress), it can be said that the idea of elevation is embedded in the meaning of perfection. Perfection is a movement but a vertical one, from lower degrees to higher and loftier degrees, unlike progress which can also apply to a horizontal movement. For instance, if an army is at war and is conquering enemy territory and moving ahead, it is said that the army is progressing, not perfecting. Therefore, social perfection denotes human elevation in the social context not merely progress, for there are many changes that might be considered as progress for the human being or the society but might not necessarily indicate perfection or elevation.

Human Perfection from the Point of View of Islam

1. Perfection Dependent on Vision and Acquisition
One must endeavour to fully understand the Divine sciences and conduct himself accordingly. That is, he must put his knowledge into action. Just as virtues are interrelated with perfect and complete acts of worship, vices are interrelated with deficient and ineffective acts of worship.

2. Perfection Contingent on Sensing Danger
He who knows that something dangerous is threatening him and might result in his being left hungry and thirsty in the middle of nowhere will embark on solving the dangerous situation. The person who constantly reminds himself of the hardships of the hereafter and the chastisement of hell, realizing the danger, will struggle to attain to perfection and avoid all deficiencies. For unless one feels the deficiency and insufficiency of his state, he will not advance toward perfection. By the same token, deficiency and backwardness are the results of ignorance and the complacent and self-deceiving notions of being perfect.
But in what does human perfection lie? What is the path to attaining to perfection? There are divergent views regarding this question. We will limit ourselves to three views in addition to Islam’s assessment of each of them.

The Ideology of Power
According to this view, the perfect human is the strong human. The stronger the human being is and the more firmly he controls his surroundings, the closer he is to perfection. Darwin’s theory of evolution—known as “competition to survive”—is based on this notion. For the exponents of this view, knowledge is valuable only in so far as it enables the human being to strengthen his grip on his environment, thus they exploit knowledge for the sake of power. In their view, truth and justice have no reality or meaning other than power.
Two criticisms come to mind regarding this viewpoint. First, knowledge enjoys no sacred place in this ideology, rather it is only a means for acquiring power, and it is power alone that can be considered perfection for the human being. Second, not only is knowledge not conducive to perfection or moral elevation, it prepares the grounds for conflict. It serves as a tool in the hands of the aggressors and oppressors. Therefore, humanity does not advance by employing knowledge as it should, for the imperialist powers utilize it to exploit the weaker nations.
Islam advocates the use of power, but the sort of power that is in harmony with lofty human values, with compassion and kindness. There are numerous verses in the Qur`an that encourage the Muslim community to strengthen itself, but the power intended in such verses is that which would be utilized in the way of fighting oppression and defending the rights of the oppressed, the sort of power that would pave the way for upholding justice and moral values.

Philosophers’ Perspective on Human Perfection.
According to philosophers, human perfection lies in two things. The first is wisdom, which is comprehending the reality of things as they are in themselves and the general order of the cosmos. To corroborate this point, they cite the following verse,
He gives wisdom to whomever He wishes, and he who is given wisdom, is certainly given an abundant good[162].
Thus they consider wisdom a Divine gift and a means to perfection.
The second truth which constitutes perfection in the view of the philosophers is justice. By that they intend moral justice, i.e., creating a balance among the human instincts and faculties, bringing them under the supervision of the intellect.
From the Islamic point of view wisdom is also seen as a means to perfection and, as was explained, more than just being beneficial to humanity, wisdom is a good in itself; meaning that it should be sought as an end in itself and not as a means for something else. Moreover, justice is also something which Islam underscores. It also stresses the importance of balancing the faculties and instincts and the intellect’s management of them. However, Islam does not consider this sufficient. According to Islam, the intellect must be complemented by faith, for reason alone is not potent enough. It is the intellect monitored by Revelation and faith that is desirable in the Islamic context.

Mystics’ Perspective on Human Perfection
Mystics are of the opinion that reality is nondual, i.e., God. All else is His radiance and a form of the reality. Whatever seems to be real as such is due to Him. The human being can reach perfection only after realizing the truth and attaining to it, to which they refer as “attaining to the Truth,” indicating annihilation in the Truth. He must be comprehended before anything else, even prior to comprehending oneself. Although the unity expounded by the ystics should not be understood as indicating incarnation or God becoming identical with the creation. Rather, what is meant is to see Him alongside everything, within everything, and prior to everything. And if the human being fails to attain to the truth, he is imperfect and veiled from the truth. The path leading to the truth is that of the heart, not reason, syllogism, nor philosophy:
Syllogists have legs of wood,
But legs of wood are dangerously unsteady.
The mount for this journey is love and intimacy. And the ego must be exterminated in this way.
In the mystical worldview, some issues have been disparaged with which Islam disagrees. Islam approves of love and spiritual wayfaring but at the same time supports the intellect, calling it the “inward prophet” and counting it as one of the Divine blessings. In mysticism esotericism has been overemphasized, thus undermining the outward aspects of spirituality and emphasizing seclusion and withdrawal from social life. Islam on the other hand, while stressing the importance of personal aspects, spiritual purification, and spiritual retreat in God, encourages the social aspects as well. Islam advocates worship but along with involvement in the society, hailing those who are worshippers by night and warriors by day.
According to Islam, the Universal Man is he who is a man of worship, of kneeling and prostration before the Lord, but also one who is dutiful vis-à-vis his social responsibilities—i.e., social reformation and enjoining good and forbidding evil.[163] In the mystical worldview, attaining to the Truth and Unveiling and liberation from egoism requires the annihilation of the ego, belittling it to the very extreme without being disturbed by such practices. Rather one should consider them as the way to perfection. Islam, however, does not approve of such measures. For, it views the believer with respect and commands him to defend his dignity. Islam encourages combating one’s ego and self-esteem concurrently. That is, it approves of combating one’s ego so long as it does not lead to being disgraced and belittled. The value of the believer is very high in the Islamic value system, so much so that it has been considered equal to that of the Kaaba.
Notes:
[161]Surat al-Ma`idah (5), Verse 3:
[162]Surat al-Baqarah (2), verse 269:
[163] These traits can be found in the Noble Qur`an: Surat al-Tawbah (9), verse 112 and Surat al-Fath (49), veresse 29 are two examples.

The Angels and free-will
Question: We know that some angels do nothing but worship Allah (awj). Is this worship of theirs performed of their own freewill? If not, does Allah (awj) have need of such worship?

Brief Answer
No benefit from any creature’s worship—whether it has freewill or not—reaches Allah (awj). Rather worship that is offered out of freewill is the cause for the spiritual advancement of the worshipper. However, for creatures that worship Allah (awj) without freewill, such as the angels, their worship is simply an intrinsic part of their existence. Their subservience to Allah (awj) stems from their perception of His greatness, and does not benefit Allah (awj) in the least.

Detailed Answer
Angels are supernatural beings. We can only know of their existence by way of revelation or through individual supernatural experience. Angels are immaterial and can therefore not be described quantitatively or qualitatively. However, they can appear in human form. The Qur`an speaks of Mariam’s I encounter with the Noble Spirit when she saw it in human form.[164] It also tells us of the angels who visited Ibrahim (Ú) and Lut (Ú) in the form of men.[165] Additionally, it is narrated that Jibra`il would appear before the Prophet Muhammad (Õ) in the form of Dahyah al-Kalbi, the Prophet’s milk-brother.
We know that angels are limited beings that vary from individual to individual. Some are consigned with the responsibility of meting out punishment in this world, some in Purgatory (al-Barzakh), and some in the Hereafter. Some are entrusted with the task of writing the deeds of men, and some write the decrees of Allah (awj). Some manage the day-to-day affairs of the cosmos, and some are messengers who carry divine revelation. Some inspire the hearts of men and some are protectors and helpers of the believers. Some have higher rank and give orders to others. Some are responsible for sustenance, some for rain, and some take the souls of people when they die. In the same vein, some angels are perpetually in a state of prostration, some continually bow, and some forever glorify Allah (awj). Some eternally circumambulate the Ka’bah and pay tribute to the graves of the Friends of Allah (awj). Some seek forgiveness and intercession for the believers. Others curse the disbelievers, pagans, hypocrites and staunch opponents of the Prophet’s household. In all cases, each angel is assigned a specific task. He neither has power to perform more than what he has been commanded nor to fall short of his task.
The essence of worship (‘ibadah) is to display servitude (‘ubudiyyah) to one’s master. One’s display of servitude is directly proportional to his perception of Allah’s (awj) greatness. Such a display, therefore, is an indication of the spiritual perfection of the creature, not a deficiency in the Creator. It is not necessary that any benefit from a creature’s worship reach Allah (awj) in order for Allah (awj) to be able to say that His purpose in creating man and jinn was that they worship him. Rather, the fact that their creation is an awesome display of Allah’s (awj) infinite power and endless beneficence is enough.
If a creature has freewill, his worship will result in a purification of his soul and his gradual advancement through the ranks of servitude. Therefore, the benefit of his worship returns to himself not to Allah (awj) in such a way that were he not to worship Allah (awj), he would not harm Allah (awj) in the least. Rather, if he fails to worship Allah (awj), it is himself will be harmed!
Apparently, some of the angels also questioned whether Allah (awj) needs worship done out of freewill. When Allah (awj) informed them that that He would create a regent on earth, they said,
“We already sing your praises. Why would you create someone on earth who will cause corruption and spill blood?” So Allah bestowed on Adam His special knowledge—a knowledge that the angels were incapable of learning. The angels proclaimed, “We possess no knowledge except that which you have taught us.” They thereby conceded their own inferiority to Adam (Ú) and fell down in prostration before him.[166]
It is obvious that the worship that issues from freewill is more valuable than worship to which one is compelled. The former is the actualization of one’s potential while the latter is simply a result of one’s stagnant and constant present state in which there is no room for future development and from which the slightest slip means a fall to perdition.
Imam ‘Ali b. Abi Talib (Ú) describes the angels in the following way: “You have created the angels and placed them in the heavens. They do not feel fatigue nor are they oblivious nor do they sin. Among all Your creatures, they know the most about You, are most fearful of You, are the nearest to You, and the most obedient … Their intellect does not err. Their bodies do not tire. Neither did they issue from loins nor were they concealed by wombs. They were not created from filthy semen. You created them in a special way and placed them in the heavens. Through their nearness to You is an honour for them. With Your revelation You entrusted them. From sickness and tribulations You protected them. From sin You purified them. If You had not empowered them, they would have no power. If You had not made them constant, they would have no constancy. If it were not for Your mercy, they would not obey You. And if it were not for You, they would not exist.
However, despite their station, obedience, nearness to You, and unwavering attention to You and Your commands, if You were to reveal a glimmer of Your reality—a reality that You have kept hidden from them, their actions would seem insignificant, they would be ashamed of themselves, and they would know that they have not worshipped You as You deserve to be worshipped. Glorified are You who are the Creator, the Object of Worship, and the One who tests his servants.”[167]
A reflection of Imam ‘Ali b. Abi Talib’s (Ú) words make three issues clear:
1. The secret behind their worship: The angels’ worship of Allah (awj) is a natural consequence of their experiential knowledge of Allah (awj). However, because their existential capacity is limited, their knowledge of Allah (awj) is also limited.
2. The secret behind the aforementioned objection of the angels when Adam (Ú) was created: The root of this objection was their limited knowledge.
3. The secret behind their admission and prostration before Adam (Ú): When it became clear to them that they were incapable of understanding the reasons behind Allah’s (awj) actions, they admitted to this shortcoming and prostrated before Adam.
To recap, because the freewill of angels is not like that of man, their worship does nothing to raise their station. However, if they were to abandon their worship, they would fall. Their worship stems from their knowledge of Allah’s (awj) greatness on one hand and their own insignificance on the other. No benefit from their worship reaches Allah (awj). Rather their worship is a manifestation of Allah’s (awj) omnipotence.
Notes:
[164] Surat Maryam (19), Verses 16-19:
[165] Surat Hud (11), Verses 69-81:
[166] Surat al-Baqarah (2), Verses 30-33:
[167]Tafsir al-Qummi, vol. 2, pg. 207:

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