Friday, September 11, 2009

Imam Ali (as) The Father of Sufism

Ali is acclaimed as the "Father of Sufism". Most of the Sufi orders claim their descent from Ali. According to Ali Hajjweri, the rank of Ali is very high in the line up of Sufism. According to Junayd of Baghdad, Ali is the Shaykh as regards the principles and practices of Sufism.

The Holy Prophet and Sufism

The roots of Sufism lie embedded in Islam itself. There are numerous passages in the Holy Quran which are of a mystical character. The Holy Prophet of Islam (peace be on him) himself displayed mystical inclinations and he very often retired to the cave of Hirah for the purpose of devotions, meditation and contemplation. The Holy Prophet was recipient of two types of revelations, one embodied in the Holy Quran, and the other that illuminated his heart. The former was meant for all, the latter for a selected few whose hearts could be illuminated with the Divine Light. The knowledge of the Holy Prophet was thus book knowledge (ilm-i-Safina), and heart knowledge (ilm-i-Sina). Ali got this heart knowledge from the Holy Prophet. It is related that after the Ascension, the Holy Prophet awarded a mantle to Ali which led to the illumination of his heart.

Gnosis of God

According to Ali, the base of religion is the gnosis of God. He held: "The height of gnosis is His confirmation. The height of confirmation is Tauhid. The height of Tauhid is the acknowledgment of the supremacy of God in all matters. He is beyond all attributes. No particular of attribute can give an idea of His exact nature. He is not bound by anything; all things are bound by Him. He is Infinite, limitless, boundless, beyond time, beyond space, beyond imagination. Time does not affect Him. He existed when there was nothing. He will exist forever. His existence is not subject to the law of birth or death. He is manifest in everything, but He is distinct from everything, He is One. He is not the cause of anything, everything is because of Him. He is unique. He has no partner. He is the Creator. He creates as well as destroys. All things are subject to His command. He orders a thing to be and it is. Ali enjoined the severance of the heart from all things save God. Ali was asked what was the purest thing that could be acquired, and he said, "It is that which belongs to a heart made rich by God". When Ali was asked about gnosis, he said, "I know God by God, and I know that which is not God by the Light of God. " When asked whether he had seen God he said that verily he had seen God, for he could not worship Him unless he knew Him.

Prayers to God

When Ali used to pray, his hair would stand on end. He would tremble and say, "The hour has come to fulfil a trust which the heavens and the earth were unable to bear." Abu Darda, an eminent companion of the Holy Prophet, said, "None in this world has excelled Ali in prayer." While praying, so great was the intensity of the emotions of Ali that he would fall into a swoon. It is related that on one occasion, Abu Darda found Ali lying rigid on the prayer mat, and touching his cold body thought that Ali had breathed his last. Then he broke this news to Fatima. She said that Ali often became unconscious while praying. Abu Darda weeping profusely sprinkled some water on the face of Ali, and he regained consciousness. Seeing the tears in the eyes of Abu Darda, Ali said: "Why are you crying? You shed tears when you see me in this state. Imagine what will happen to me when the angels drag me into the presence of God, and I am forced to render an account of my deeds. They will bind me with fetters of iron, and present me before God and those of my friends who will happen to be witnesses will be powerless to help me. They will lament my unhappy plight, but none save God will be able to help me on that day. "

Communion with God

Very often, Ali would sob the whole night in prayers to God, and God would reward him with a glimpse of the Inner Vision. According to Ali, the highest purpose of knowledge is the awakening of latent spiritual faculties whereby one is enabled to discover his true and inner self. It is to this inner self that God reveals Himself when the self disappears in the vision of the "All Absorbing Reality." Ali often observed that man could have the joy and wonder of communion with God if one abandoned pride, disciplined the flesh, overcame the lust and submitted to the Will of God. He exhorted the people in his various sermons not to indulge in the gross licentiousness, which had characterized Arab society in the "Days of Ignorance." But should instead live in piety and simplicity as enjoined by Islam. Ali said, "Man is a wave in the boundless Sea of God. As long as man's vision is clouded by ignorance and sensuality he will consider himself a separate entity, different from God. But when the veil between him and God is lifted, he will then know what he really is, the wave will then merge with the ocean". Ali held that enlightenment is needed so that one can first get to know himself. Only then would he get to know God. Ali held that to this end religious exercises must be practiced. Sufism for which Ali stood derived its strength from the Shariah. Ali preached that any form of knowledge which failed to show the Infinite Reality in man was useless, because it could not fill that vacuum of which the aching soul of every individual was so pathetically conscious. Ali wanted men to be virtuous as virtues purify the soul, and it is only the purified soul that can be the recipient of spiritual enlightenment. This is the doctrine of Inner Light, which was enunciated by Ali as the core of Sufi thought. Ali is accordingly acknowledged as the "Father of Sufism" and the "Prince of Saints".

Doctrine of preference

Ali also enunciated the doctrine of preference. He stood for preferring the claims of others to one's own claims. He gave an outstanding demonstration of this doctrine when he slept on the bed of the Holy Prophet on the night of the Holy Prophet's migration from Makkah, when the infidels were seeking to slay him. Ali risked his life for the sake of the Holy Prophet, because of the preference that Ali gave to the life of the Holy Prophet as compared with his own life. After the death of the Holy Prophet, Ali considered that he was the most deserving person to be elected as the Caliph. When his claims were overlooked and other persons were elected as the Caliph, he offered them allegiance in pursuance of the doctrine of preference. It was this spirit of preference that motivated Ali to plunge on the thick of the battle to meet the challenge of the enemy regardless of his own personal safety. It is related that after the ascension, the Holy Prophet gave Ali a mantle, he asked him as to the use that he would make of the mantle. Ali said that he would use it to cover the faults of others. The true Sufi way lies in covering the faults of others.


According to Ali, fasting was not a mere formality or a ritual; it was an exercise for the purification of the soul. Because of his constant fasting, Ali earned the epithets of "Qa'im-ul-Lail" (Praying most of the night without sleep), and "Sa'im-un-Nahar", (Fasting mostly during the day). Ali held that hunger sharpens the intelligence, and improves the mind and health. Hunger involves home affliction for the body, but it illumines the heart, purifies the soul, and leads the spirit into the presence of God. One who cultivates his spiritual nature by means of hunger in order to devote himself entirely to God and detach himself from worldly ties is at a much higher level than the person who cultivates his body by means of gluttony and lust. Ali acted on the advice of the Holy Prophet, "Fast so that perchance your hearts may see God in this world". And verily, because of his fasting and other spiritual exercises, Ali did see God in this world. The Holy Prophet had enjoined, "When you fast, let your ear, your eye, your tongue, your hand, and your every limb fast." Ali followed this advice in letter as well as in spirit. By the discipline of fasting, Ali was able to subordinate the physical senses to spiritual requirements in such a way that they could respond only to what was pure and became dead to what was impure. Ali thus led a purified life.


Ali held: "Of the most meritorious acts of a believer, and one of the most acceptable things to God is Zakat. It behooves everyone to give charity, because from amongst the acts of worship this is the most pleasing to God." In his sermons, Ali exhorted the people in the following terms: "O ye people send a part of your wealth to God so that: it may stand you in good stead in the next world. Do not leave your entire wealth here so as to be a source to annoyance to you in the world to come". In the annals of the Arabs, Hatim Tai enjoys fame for his munificence and generosity. Ali outclassed Hatim in the matter of generosity. Some of the stories of his generosity which have attained the dimensions of legends are narrated in another Chapter of this book.


Ali was born in the Kaaba. He had, therefore, a strong emotional attachment for the Kaaba. Ali observed that the Holy Kaaba was sited in a territory known for its stony wastes and wilderness where no water was available. God had ordained the Muslims to bear the hardships involved in a journey through such inhospitable land cheerfully so that these very privations might ultimately become a source of salvation. The pilgrimage is symbolic of the fact that whatever hardship one bears in the trials of life and endeavors to fulfill the will of God, he acquires goodness and righteousness by them. The darkest thing in the world is the beloved's house without the beloved. What is really important for a lover is the beloved and not the house of the beloved. According to Ali the spirit of pilgrimage did not lie in a bare visit to the Kaaba, it lay in developing the inner vision whereby one could see God, the Lord of the Kaaba.


Ali held that Jihad is the gateway to Paradise. He said: "God has opened this gate for His friend. It is the mantle of piety. It is the shield of faith. He who avoids it, God subjects him to disgrace".

Ali held that Jihad did not lie in merely taking up arms in the cause of God, it comprehends incessant struggle against falsehood in all spheres of life. Jihad is the main pillar on which Islam rests.


The first stage in the path of Sufism is repentance. Repentance is described as the awakening of the soul from the slumber of heedlessness, so that the sinner becomes aware of his evil ways and feels contrition for past disobedience. Ali repeatedly prayed for the forgiveness of God. His typical prayer was: "O God, forgive me my sins of which you are more aware than me. And if I commit these sins again, even then forgive me. Whatever promises I had made with myself to follow Your commands have not been fulfilled. I seek Your forbearance if I have sought Your proximity with my tongue, but my heart did not keep pace with my tongue, overlook my lapse. O God, forgive me for my futile talk, vain desires and lapses of the tongue".


Ali exhorted that while living in the world, one should not renounce the world, yet he should not have an undue attachment for the world. Detachment from the world is the means of attaining God. It is related that some one begged Ali to give him a precept. Ali said: "Do not let your wives and children be a cause of concern for you, for if they are the friends of God, He will look after His friends, and if they are the enemies of God, why should you take care of God's enemies?"


On the mystic way, the traveler has to meet many trials and tribulations. God subjects His lovers to severe testing, and he alone can pass such tests who is patient. Ali was the personification of patience, and for his patience he won the epithet of "Job, the Second". In the Battle of Uhud Ali received as many as sixty-one wounds so that his whole body looked like one big wound which the nurses could not dress. Ali though in mortal agony said: "May God grant me patience to bear this suffering. Is it not a favor of God that He gave me the courage to stand and fight, and not to leave the field?"

About the patience of Ali, Dr. Ata Moyudin writes as follows in his Ali, the Superman, "Ali used to say that at no time in his life had he ever known peace and tranquillity. From the time he went in infancy to the home of the Holy Prophet, it was a ferment of turbulence and turmoil. The Holy Prophet was constantly persecuted by the Makkan pagans. Then from adolescence onwards, Ali was constantly fighting in Jihad, and after the death of the Holy Prophet, he was embroiled against his wish, in the political intrigues of others. Even when elected Caliph, the implacable enemies of Islam arose and rebelled against him. Yet he bore all these afflictions with patience, thanking God that he had acquitted himself well in the tests and trials to which the Almighty had thought fit to subject him."

No comments:

Post a Comment