The Spiritual Sovereignty of the Perfect Man
Dr. Sayyid Mustafa Muhaqqiq Damad
The Spiritual Sovereignty of the Perfect Man According to Imam Khumayni's Perspectives
Although the late Imam Khumayni revived the concept of Wilayat al-Faqih or Authority of the Supreme Jurisprudent, his statements and the documents pertaining to him, show that he believed in the sovereignty of the 'Perfect Man'.
The idea of the 'Perfect Man' was propounded by the Spanish Muslim Gnostic Muhyi al-Din Ibn al-'Arabi (560-638 AH/1165-1240 CE) in the 13th century CE, and did not exist before him. The existence of the term 'Perfect Man' in European literature at present has its roots in Islamic views. The most prominent commentator of Ibn al-'Arabi is Sadr al-Din Qunawi who has tried to conform the former's Gnostic principles with those of the Sunnite schools although he has not had a considerable success in this respect. Among the Shi'ite commentators, Sayyid Haydar Amuli and Mulla Sadra and his followers hold that Ibn al- Arabi's Gnostic principles, including his view of 'Perfect Man' conform only with Shi'ite teachings. Imam Khumayni emphasizes this point in his commentary on Qunawi's Sharh Fusus al-Hikam
and makes extensive comments on Qunawi's attempts to interpret Ibn al-'Arabi's Fusus.
In this school the 'Perfect Man' has four spiritual journeys. The title of Sadr al-Muta'allihin's great work, al-Asfar al-Arba'ah (The Four Journeys) has been derived from the same viewpoint. The reason for so naming the book has been explained in its introductory part.
The sages and Gnostics who came after Sadra, and who may be referred to as Sadra's commentators or neo-Sadrean sages, have written elaborate commentaries on al-Asfar. Mulla 'Ali Nuri, Aqa 'Ali Mudarris Zunnuzi, and above all, Aqa Muhammad Reza Qumshih'i, who was a great Gnostic, are among these commentators. The late scholar, Ayatullah Murtada Mutahhari, quotes his master, the late Imam Khumayni, as saying that no Gnostic better than Muhammad Rida Qumshih'i has ever come after Muhyi al-Din. He has written a relatively long commentary on the introductory part of Sadra al-Muta'allihin's al-Asfar in which one can find the relation between Gnosticism and governmental authority with its right of legislation and leadership.
Imam Khumayni considered himself one of Qumshihi's disciples twice removed, because he was the late Shahabadi's disciple who in turn was the late Ishkiwari's disciple, and the latter was one of the prominent disciples of Qumshih'i.
In brief Qumshih'i believes that a Gnostic has four journeys:
1) From mankind to God;
2) With God within the realm of Divine Attributes and Names;
3) From God to mankind with God;
4) From mankind among mankind with God.
During his first journey the spiritual wayfarer completely absorbs himself in God by losing his own identity. With the Divine favours that he acquires as a result, he begins his second journey by contemplating and witnessing one by one the power and majesty of each of God's Attributes and Names to the extent that he is endowed with Wilayat or spiritual authority. The third journey is towards mankind with the spiritual awakening which has been acquired by the stages of progress through the divine and contemplative worlds which now enable him to observe people's actions in the light of Divine Attributes and to interpret them accordingly.
The fourth journey, which is among mankind with total remembrance of God, has some features which I wish to emphasize and use as evidence. It will be noticed that the spiritual traveller generally deals with mankind and the mundane world while engrossed in the remembrance of God. Here this points of origin and destination are mankind itself but he is blessed with spiritual insight. Qumshih'i holds that the spiritual traveller is an observer again. But this time, he observes man and his works and means rather than his worlds. As a result of such observance, the spiritual traveller realizes the worldly and other worldly achievements and faults of man and comprehends how man approaches God; what urges him to do so; what leads him; and what humiliates and deprives him of salvation. Because of this knowledge, the spiritual traveller invites man, and in case he is entrusted with Divine Trust, he is formally recognized as Prophet. Now he receives and conveys divine messages. But this time his message is not solely about the Divine Essence, Attributes and Will, but rather about the state of affairs of mankind. That is, the Prophet ensures the survival and progress of human societies and informs people about the causes of their success, their faults, and their moments of happiness and misfortune. At the same time, the spiritual wayfarer remains completely absorbed in God, since his existence is righteous and the care and concern for the affairs of mankind does not prevent him from the remembrance of God.
It is on these bases that in Gnosticism the divine call implies governance of human societies; or rather the latter becomes an inseparable element of the former. The late Imam Khumayni states:
"that the true spiritual traveller after completing his journey towards God and for the sake of God, tries to prefect the servants of God and embarks on reforms and development of the society." Then he establishes a government in order to guide the people and lead them towards God".
Before Mulla Sadra, the spiritual journey of the Gnostic towards the divine realm and his return to the mundane world after acquiring the ultimate truth, was propounded in verse by the 8th century AH Persian mystic Shaykh Mahmud Shabistari in answer to some questions that he was posed. Asked, who is a spiritual traveller and how does he become a perfect man, Shabistari says:
"The wayfarer on the path of God is the one who dispenses with his ego which is nothing more than smoke over a fire, thereby making the fire bright and smoke-free so as to give both warmth and light."
He continues in beautiful Persian verses:
"After completing his journey towards God and absorbing himself in God, he starts the next journey towards mankind equipped with the divine trust (Khilafat-i Ilahi) in order to serve them, and in the state of stewardship or sovereignty, he feels ready to serve the people like a slave."
A hadith from Holy Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.) says: 'The chief of a community is the one who serves it. The prophet himself was a perfect example of this leadership and service. Shabistari further
"When he serves the people the perfect man is implementing the Shariah among them although at heart he is journeying on the spiritual path. The heart of the Gnostic is all truth, and concerning people's affairs he displays reciprocal kindness, welcoming both the believers and the unbelievers. The door of his house is open to both the groups."
Thus, such a traveller is not satisfied with his own salvation when he reaches the apex of spirituality, but rather due to his kindness he strives to save others and returns towards mankind after having acquired wide knowledge during his journey. He helps fellow humans to accompany him to the world of light.
As long as man is with God, every thing else seems meaningless. When man knows and remembers God, when man finds himself close to God, when man feels that God is with him, then he returns to the people. To be with God means to be a godly man, that is, a man who never forgets God even for an instance. Such a person moves among people for their salvation and tries to encourage them to approach God.
If we argue that man's journey is from mankind towards God and that he intends to stay there, then we do not know man. And on the contrary, as it is preached and practiced in today's material schools, if we say that man should absorb himself in the affairs of mankind without moving towards God, we are actually unable to do anything for the salvation of human beings.
This should not be taken as a service to people; rather it is treachery to mankind. His actions are not reforms but corruption. It is stated in the holy Qur'an:
"And -when it is said to them, do not make mischief in the land, they say: we are but reformers. Beware! They themselves are indeed the mischief-makers, but they do not realize it."' (2:11-12)
Only those who have been able to save themselves first can save human beings. What to save oneself from? It is not the matter of saving oneself from nature nor from other human beings, rather it is the matter of saving man from himself and his seducing soul. As far as man is unable to save himself from his own constraints, never will he be able to rescue himself from the bondage of nature and of other people.
In the view of Islamic Gnostics, serving the people does not mean to cater to their material needs only, like providing them with food and clothing, because in such a case the belief in higher values will be negated both in ourselves and in our view, in others, and it would mean the mere serving of an animal. Although it is a good deed to feed the animal, it does not mean real service for the human being.
As Imam Khumayni wrote in his last will:
"I am leaving for the other world with a calm, composed and tranquil heart.))2
This sentence points to the state of tranquility which is one of the states of the Gnostics, and in brief it means that according to Islamic Gnosticism, a human being is he who suffers from God's separation and longs for proximity. He suffers from these pangs and considers any satisfaction in life as only a temporary measure because he has the enthusiasm to reach God. It is stated in the Qur'an:
"Certainly, by God's remembrance (only) are hearts set at rest: (13:28)
It is the firm belief of Islamic Gnostics that a real human being is the one who longs for God, and since such a person is conscious of the Creator, he is conscious of fellow humans and their sufferings. As God addresses Holy Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.) in the holy Qur'an:
"So maybe you will worry yourself with grief for them, if they believe not in this revelation (the Qur'an).) (18:6)
It means that the Prophet has such a concern for the guidance, prosperity and salvation of mankind that he tends to sacrifice himself for that purpose. In another verse of the holy Qur'an God describes the condition of Holy Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.) as follows:
"Indeed, has come unto you a Prophet from among your selves; grievous to him is your falling into distress, (he is) solicitous regarding your welfare, towards the faithful (he is) compassionate (and) merciful." (9:128)
It means the suffering of mankind is unpleasant to the Prophet who feels their pain. A perfect man is he who is eager to save fellow humans. Thus the state of tranquility or salvation is to attain the truth. It is the way to get to Allah, or in other words to reach the real beloved, Ibn al-'Arabi says: "Nobody loves other than Allah but may be (this love) is concealed in the names Zaynab, Su'ad, Hind and so forth". In Ibn al-'Arabi's view, Majnun thinks that he loves Layla, but the fact is that, he is ignorant of the depth of his real being, since he is actually in love with the absolute beauty, i.e. Allah, Ibn al-'Arabi argues that Prophets have not been sent only to teach mankind the love of God and devotion, but to make them aware that in reality they are in love with God's perfection, and by getting near Him they will find spiritual peace. It is in the inherent nature of mankind to long for proximity with God, and if constraints of ambiguity are removed from their sight, then by finding the real beloved, they achieve real peace of mind. In the Qur'anic verse "Certainly, by God's remembrance (only) are hearts set at rest." (13:28), the remembrance of Allah has received priority. It means exclusiveness, and it also means that any time the heart of man is restive, it can be in peace only through one cause, that is the remembrance and love of God. In Arabic the heart is called qalb, a word also implying uneasiness, worry and a restive feeling which contrary to surmise, is not soothed or satisfied by material prosperity.
Imam Khumayni in his Book Sharh Hadith Junud 'Aql wa
It should be known that the love for absolute perfection could be sub-divided into the love for absolute knowledge, authority, life, will-power and other attributes of beauty and glory, which are all in the true nature of man, and no class or group is different from each other in this respect though they may be different in ranks and degrees. But because of clouded nature, the paucity and plurality of veils, the increase and decline in the state of being pre- occupied, the absorption in the world and its numerous aspects, people have become distinct and different in determining Absolute Perfection.
Man's innate nature has not changed, although the difference in the environment, customs, religions, believes and the like, has influenced him, has effected his determination concerning natural disposition and its levels, and has created wide-scale differences. For example, a great philosopher who loves the different aspects of philosophy and spends all his life in learning those aspects, is not different from a king who tries to augment his power, tolerates anguish of mind to achieve it, and loves authority and power. Similar is the case with the businessman who only likes to accumulate wealth and money. These do not differ with each other in the love for perfection although each one imagines that perfection is exactly the specific objective he is trying to achieve.
Thus it is clear that love and longing is not limited to power and domination, but the love for absolute dominion is part of the nature of man who dislikes the limitations, although he does not know what he is really after. It is also obvious that absolute authority is not limited to the roots of worldly and metaphoric dominions or even the dominion of the Hereafter. In fact, absolute authority means divine authority, and man in his quest to acquire divine authority, knowledge and power, would like nothing better than to control the very phenomenon that brought him into existence.
Therefore, in view of this urge, all evil done by the unfortunate man in this world is the result of natural blindness, or more properly, his veiled nature. His nature in itself, because of adopting veils and being clouded, has acquired manifest wickedness and become evil, when originally it was benign and good.
If these veils of darkness or even of light are removed from the face of nature, and nature in its pristine purity as it was created by Allah, is set free along with its spirituality, then love will appear with absolute perfection without covers and in full identity to break into pieces all superficial or metaphoric lovers and the idols of the heart. It will trample the ego, egoism and the like, and will become a heart-captivating element towards which all hearts, either willingly or unwillingly, are attracted; and all natures, whether knowingly or unknowingly, long for it. Whatever the possessor of such a disposition does, is for God and truth alone, since in such a case all ways and principles lead towards absolute good and absolute beauty. And this nature in itself becomes the originator and source of munificence and felicities, and is not only benign but is goodness personified. Glory be to God the Most High.3
The perfect man after achieving peace of mind, tries to make fellow human beings perfect and embarks on building and developing the society. God has sent such a person for the guidance of others as the holy Qur'an says:
"Is then he who guides unto truth more worthy to be followed or he who himself goes not aright unless he is guided..." (10:35)
The relation of such a man with the people is indeed public acceptance of his authority or even higher. The will of the people will be absorbed by him and they will be dependent on him. So what he desires is the same the people long for.
The inner dimensions of Islam became less visible soon after the passing away of the Holy Prophet and the caliphate devoted its efforts to the expansion of its territorial rule by preserving only the outward appearance of Islam. In recent centuries too the Ottoman Turkish Empire followed this practice and increased the territorial domain of Islam at the expense of the aspects of educational training and the perfection of human dignity which was the original aim of the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) when he declared his mission and which the Muslim rulers failed to realize. The Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) said: "I have been sent to perfect the moral dignity (of mankind)." But unfortunately we see that throughout history Muslim societies have not fully equipped themselves with Islamic morality, though they have observed the rites and outward appearances of Islam. What is the real and basic cause of this problem?
In my view the basic cause seems to be that the Islamic plan for running the society was that a righteous and perfect man should be entrusted with authority, and other officials in each divisions of the social institutions, should be selected from among the people who do not regard their personal interests and are only obedient to God. Such persons, no doubt, consider their positions only as a trust and responsibility for serving the people and not as a means of dominating the creatures of God. This concept is completely in accordance with the Shi'ite theory of government which Imam Khumayni intended to revive. In Imam Khumayni's view Wilayah or supreme authority belongs to the jurisprudent, not simply because he is a jurisprudent and has knowledge of Islamic law, but also by reason of his moral qualities, piety and justice, as is clear from the following hadith from Imam Hasan al-Askari (A.S.), the 11th infallible successor of the Holy Prophet:
"From among the jurisprudents, the one who safeguards his soul and religion, controls his personal desires and is obedient to his Lord (God) should be followed by the general public."
As could be discerned from the wording of the above hadith, although jurisprudence is considered one of the essential factors for people's following, the four more important qualities that a leader should have are: spiritual perseverance, safeguarding of religion, control of personal whims and desires, and absolute obedience to the commandments of God. The leader who possesses these four qualities can undeniably play a direct role in guiding the masses and building the society. On the other hand, lack of these qualities in a leader although he might have attained high levels of jurisprudential knowledge, will not only not create the right atmosphere for guiding the people but will have adverse effects on the society.
Imam Khumayni writes in the same book Sharh Hadith Junud 'Aql wa Jahl):
The saying that 'the most suitable persons to serve the people are the 'ulama ', ' means that modesty is the fruit of knowledge acquired for the sake of God and for the self, and this characteristic is essential for the 'ulama'. The 'alim who does not personify modesty and humbleness of character but pretends to be such in front of the people, is actually not an 'alim and is the epitome of devilish designs. If these concepts could bring prosperity and peace then Ibl'is (Satan) should also be described as blessed. Thus the knowledge which loses its quality and essence is nothing but a cloud of pollution from which it is rather difficult to get free.
The saying that 'wisdom grows with modesty', means that the heart which does not acquire modesty cannot be a suitable ground for seeds of wisdom to sprout and grow, in the same manner that only a fertile soil has green and lush vegetation. In other words it means that if the 'ulama' lack modesty they cannot sow and cultivate the seeds of wisdom among the people. Therefore, hearts should be softened with modesty so as to sow the seeds and reap the results. In this way not only the self will be reformed but others will be reformed as well.
Therefore, those who have the reins of guidance in their hands and who claim to lead the way towards prosperity, should invite mankind with these sublime qualities, and should be conscious of the conduct of the prophets and saints (peace be upon them), who being blessed with such lofty stations behaved humbly with the people and moulded the people's hearts with lofty and benign morals.
In short, so long as the heart of the 'alim or the guide is not filled with light, purity of purpose, love and modesty, he cannot rise to guide mankind and educate the masses, and neither can he sow the people's hearts with the seeds of knowledge and wisdom. In the book al-Kafi, a hadith from Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq (A.S.) says:
"Seek knowledge and embellish it with forbearance and dignity, behave with modesty towards the one to whom knowledge is taught and humbly towards the one from whom knowledge is sought. Do not be arrogant scholars, so that your falsity negates your righteousness' 4
It is thus obvious that rude and ill manners will undermine truth and righteousness, since a haughty 'alim makes the quality of his own knowledge null and void. To deprive people from truth and realities is a great treason, and if an 'alim does not observe sublime morals which is the essence of knowledge, the people will begin to lose faith in both religion and pursuit of knowledge resulting in infirm beliefs and disenchantment with even the upright and genuine ulama. This is one of the greatest blows to religion and realities from ulama' who are unmindful of their duties.
1. Imam Khumayni, Adab al–Salat , Markaz–e Nashr-e Raja , pp.348-9.
2. Imam Khumayni, Political & Divine Will.
3. Imam Khumayni, Sharh Hadith Junud 'Aql wa jahl, pp 80-82