An Outstanding Example of Spiritual Attraction and Repulsion
By: Ayatullah Muhammad Taqi Misbah Yazdi
There is a famous story related to Sayyid Murtaza and Sayyid ar-Razi. Sayyid Murtaza and Sayyid ar-Razi are brothers. Sayyid ar-Razi is the compiler of Nahj al-Balaghah,2 while Sayyid Murtaza is one of our prominent and outstanding ‘ulama’. When these two brothers wanted to go to their teacher, Shaykh al-Mufid3 for the first time, the preceding night the late Shaykh saw in a dream that Lady Fatimah al-Zahra' (‘a) was holding the hands of Imam al-Hasan and Imam al-Husayn (‘a) who are kids, brought them to the Shaykh and said, “O Shaykh! Teach jurisprudence to these two.” The Shaykh woke up. He was astonished. What does it mean? “Who am I to teach something to Imam al-Hasan and Imam al-Husayn (‘a)?” The following morning, as he went out to teach his pupils and students, he saw a woman coming, holding the hands of her two male children and as she turned to him, she said, “O Shaykh! Teach jurisprudence to these two.” These two kids were no other than Sayyid Murtaza and Sayyid ar-Razi.
In any case, my point in narrating this story is that it is said that one day, these two brothers wanted to pray together. It is recommended [mustahabb] that the one leading the prayer is more virtuous than the one following him, and the spiritual stations of these two brothers are so exalted that not only were they observing the rules pertaining to what is obligatory and forbidden, but they also were particular of the rules pertaining to which acts are commendable and abominable.
Sayyid Murtaza wanted to observe the said recommended practice (of letting the more virtuous lead the prayer). And on the other hand, he did not want to explicitly say to his brother, “I am more virtuous than you. So, I have to lead the prayer and thus both of us will receive greater reward.” As he wanted indirectly to let his brother understand the fact, he said, “It is better that the one who will lead the prayer is he who has not committed a sin so far.” He wanted to indirectly point out that “From the day I reached puberty, I have not committed any sin. So, I am more qualified to lead the prayer.” Sayyid ar-Razi said, “It is better that the one who will lead the prayer is he who has so far never thought of committing a sin!” He indirectly wanted to say that “From the day I reached puberty, I have not even thought of committing a sin.”
At any rate, whether this story is true or not is not important. What matters is that it is a fact that the high degree of faith is that even the thought of sinning is not entertained in one’s mind: O you who have faith! Avoid much suspicion. Indeed some suspicions are sins. (49:12)
The faithful should shun even the practice of thinking of anything bad and keep aloof from it. To think of a sin and to imagine some of the scenes of sinning may insinuate a person gradually and drag him to sin. The faithful should remember God at all times: Those who remember Allah standing, sitting, and lying on their sides. (3:191)
You have lied on your sides and closed your eyes in order to sleep. In such a condition, you also remember Allah and try to sleep while remembering Him so that your soul at the time of sleep will soar toward the Divine Throne and travel to the celestial world. There are also those who at the time of sleep entertain other things in their minds and these things corrupt them, and once they fall asleep they travel to the world of evils and see bad dreams.
These are effects and outcomes existing in the realm of the spiritual life of man. Just as in the realm of his material and animalistic life, man has to eat good and wholesome food and avoid poisonous stuffs and harmful things in order to grow and remain healthy, in the realm of spiritual and humane life, he also has to take in things which are beneficial to his soul and shun those which are poisonous and harmful.
Interpretation of the Verse, “So Let Man Observe his Food”
The Holy Qur’an says: So let man observe his food. (80:24)
Of course, considering the preceding and succeeding verses, this verse is related to the material food and physical nourishment because they talk about the following: O man! Think as to where this food has come from; how We poured down water from the sky and how We let the plants grow; and how the plants sustained the sheep while the meat of these sheep is sustenance for you. This is a blessing which God has provided for you in this manner.4 In sum, that is the purport of the verses and as such, the word ta‘am in this verse apparently refers to material food, but under this noble verse there is a narrated tradition which actually serves as the esoteric interpretation and meaning of the verse, stating that the meaning of the verse in question is as follows: Let man consider his knowledge from whom it acquires.
Knowledge is the soul’s nourishment and in consuming it one must observe caution. That is, just as you sometimes want to eat your food outside, you ask and then look for the restaurant which is clean and whose foods are better and higher in quality, knowledge is also a nourishment of your soul. It cannot just be taken from everywhere and everybody. You have to consider that this professor from whom you want to acquire knowledge possesses the necessary spiritual hygiene or not. You should not trust every item of knowledge in whatever medium it is presented, be it book, speech, lecture, etc. You have to see through the channel of whom that this knowledge is transmitted because the effect of knowledge on your life and soul is not less than the effect of food on your body. Just as you see that the food you want to consume is clean, the fruits and vegetables are antisepticised, and then consume them, you should also be careful of the knowledge which is the nourishment of your soul; lest they were polluted and spoiled. Here, you should also practice attraction and repulsion.
We have to avoid things that weaken and corrupt our faith, beliefs and values, and we should not look after them except when we attained the station wherein we have immunity from them. Just as by injecting vaccine, we immunize our body from some ailments and we make sure that the microbe and virus will no longer harm our body, by strengthening the mental faculty and acquiring certain knowledge, we can also possibly immunize our soul from some corrupt ideas and misleading doubts to the extent that those doubts and wrong ideas no longer affect us. Of course, there is nothing wrong to read or listen to subjects that bring about doubts, but as long as one has not yet attained such degree of immunity and intellectual growth, he should avoid such subjects: When you hear Allah’s signs being disbelieved and derided, do not sit with them until they engage in some other discourse, or else you [too] will be like them. (4:140)
We should not say that we are faithful and we believe in God, the Prophet and the Qur’an, and these words have no effect on us. So long as we are not yet immunized, there is the possibility that participating in their meetings and listening to their statements, this mental virus will gradually affect us and rob us of our faith and beliefs: When you see those who gossip impiously about Our signs, avoid them until they engage in some other discourse. (6:68)
The order of God, Who is the Physician of your and my souls and the medicine He injects is that prior to the acquisition of immunity through the vaccination of necessary knowledge and understanding, you should not participate in any meeting where mental doubts are infused, and not read any newspaper, article or book in which religious sanctities are vilified and insulted while the fundamentals of religion are questioned. What will happen if we participate and read so? This is the reply of the Qur’an: Or else you [too] will be like them. Indeed Allah will gather the hypocrites and the faithless in hell all together. (4:140)
If you do not accept and pay attention to our admonition, and sit together and mingle with such people, you will gradually join the group of those who vilify religious sanctities and undermine the religious values and beliefs, and you will be thrown to hellfire.
Just as you keep away from a person who has a contagious disease so as for it not to transmit to you, you should also keep aloof from people, gatherings and subjects which are transmitters of mental sickness, unless you are equipped with safety and anti-microbe devises and instruments. In that case, not only should you not isolate yourself but you should also strive to cure their sickness and save them. Like physicians and nurses, by using sterilized instruments and systems of protection, they do something to save the lives of patients.
Of course, it is the duty of a physician to approach the patient and interact with him, but he does so with utmost caution and observance of necessary preventive measures. Because of lack of necessary knowledge and equipment, not only could others do nothing but rather if they approach the patient, they themselves will get sick. Thus, they are not supposed to interact with him. The soul, mind and heart of people may also be afflicted by a dangerous contagious disease and in case of absence of necessary caution, it is possible that the disease transmits to us.