The Means of Perfection and God’s Nearness


The Means of Perfection and God’s Nearness

In order to attain self‑perfection and God’s Nearness, one may resort to various means some of which to be pointed out hereinafter:

1‑ God’s Remembrance.­

2‑ Nourishment of Moral Virtues.

3‑ Righteous Deeds.

4‑ Martyrdom and Struggle.

5‑ Benevolence and Service to Mankind.

6‑ Supplication and Prayer.

7‑ Fasting.

All the aforementioned means shall be discussed in details in separate chapters in this book.


First Means: God’s Remembrance (Dhikr)

God’s remembrance or invocation (dhikr) can be regarded as the starting point for the esoteric movement or spiritual migration, of a wayfarer towards the Nearness of the Lord of the Universe. A wayfarer through invocation gradually lifts himself above the horizons of material world stepping inside the Celestial World of beauty and illumination and becomes complete and perfect by attaining the highest exalted position of God’s Nearness. God’s invocation is the soul behind all the acts of worship as well the greatest aim behind their explanation because the merit of each act of worship depends upon the degree of attention paid by the worshipper towards that particular act. The Qur’anic verses and traditions have made plenty of recommendations about the importance of invocation. For example, the Holy Qur’an says:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اذْكُرُوا اللَّهَ ذِكْرًا كَثِيرًا.

“O ye who believe! Remember Allah with much remembrance. 33:41”

الَّذِينَ يَذْكُرُونَ اللَّهَ قِيَامًا وَقُعُودًا وَعَلَى جُنُوبِهِمْ وَيَتَفَكَّرُونَ فِي خَلْقِ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ وَيَتَفَكَّرُونَ فِي خَلْقِ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ رَبَّنَا مَا خَلَقْتَ هَذَا بَاطِلًا سُبْحَانَكَ فَقِنَا عَذَابَ النَّارِ.

“Such as remember Allah, standing, sitting, and reclining, and consider the creation of the heavens and the earth, (and say): Our Lord! Thou createdst not this in vain. Glory be to Thee! Preserve us from the doom of Fire. 3:91”

قَدْ أَفْلَحَ مَنْ تَزَكَّى. وَذَكَرَ اسْمَ رَبِّهِ فَصَلَّى.

“He is successful who groweth And remembereth the name of his Lord, so prayeth. 87:15”

وَاذْكُرْ اسْمَ رَبِّكَ بُكْرَةً وَأَصِيلًا.

“Remember the name of thy Lord at morn and evening. 76:25”

وَاذْكُرْ رَبَّكَ كَثِيرًا وَسَبِّحْ بِالْعَشِيِّ وَالْإِبْكَارِ.

“Remember thy Lord much, and praise (Him) in the early hours of night and morning. 3:41”

فَإِذَا قَضَيْتُمْ الصَّلَاةَ فَاذْكُرُوا اللَّهَ قِيَامًا وَقُعُودًا وَعَلَى جُنُوبِكُمْ.

“When ye have performed the act of worship, remember Allah, standing, sitting and reclining. 4:403”

Imam al‑Sadiq (a.s) said:

مَنْ أكْثَرَ ذِكْرَ اللهِ تَعالى أظَلَّهُ اللهُ في جَنَّتِهِ.

“Whoever offers a lot of invocation, Almighty God will reward him Paradise where he will live under the shadow of His grace.” (Wasa’il al-Shi`ah, vol. 4, pp. 1182)

وأكْثِروا ذِكْرَ اللهِ ما اسْتَطَعْتُم في كُلِّ ساعَةٍ مِن ساعاتِ اللّيلِ وَالنَّهارِ، فإنَّ اللهَ أمَرَ بِكَثْرَةِ الذِّكْرِ وَاللهُ ذاكِرٌ مِن المُؤمِنين، واعْلَموا أنّ اللهَ لَم يَذكُرْهُ أحَدٌ مِن عِبادِه المُؤمِنينَ إلاّ ذَكَرَهُ بِخَيْرٍ.

“As much as it is possible do remember Almighty God at every hour during day and night, because He has ordered His servants to offer a lot of invocation. Whoever remembers Almighty God is reciprocated by Him. Know that Almighty God will remember with goodness the believer who remembers Him.” (Wasa’il al-Shi`ah, vol. 4, pp. 1183)

قالَ اللهُ لِموسى: أكْثِرْ ذِكْري بِاللّيلِ وَالنَّهارِ وَكُنْ عِندَ ذِكْري خاشِعاً وَعِندَ بَلائي صابِراً واطْمَئِنَّ عِندَ ذِكْري ولا تُشْرِكْ بي شَيئاً. يا مُوسى! اجْعَلنِي ذُخْرَكَ وَضَعْ عِندي كَنْزَكَ مِن الباقِياتِ الصّالِحاتِ.

“Almighty God said to Moses (a.s): Remember Me a lot throughout day and night. During invocation be humble; during calamity be patient; and during My Remembrance be calm and relaxed. Worship Me alone and do not associate any partner with Me. Every body shall have to return to Me. O Moses! Regard me as your provision of the Hereafter and deposit the treasurers of your righteous deeds near Me.” (Wasa’il al-Shi`ah vol. 4, pp. 1182)

ما مِنْ شَيءٍ إلاّ وَلَهُ حَدٌّ يَنتَهِي إلَيهِ إلاّ الذِّكْرُ، فَلَيسَ له حَدٌّ يَنتَهي إلَيه. فَرضَ اللهُ عَزَّ وَجَلّ الفَرائِضَ، فَمَنْ أدّاهُنَّ فَهوَ حَدُّهُنَّ، وَشَهْرَ رَمَضانَ فَمَن صامَهُ فَهوَ حَدُّهُ، وَالحَجَّ فَمَن حَجَّ فَهوَ حَدُّهُ إلاّ الذّكْر فإنّ اللهَ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ لَمْ يَرضَ مِنهُ بِالقَليلِ وَلَم يَجْعلْ لهُ حَدّاً يَنتَهِي إلَيهِ. ﴿يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اذْكُرُوا اللَّهَ ذِكْرًا كَثِيرًا. وَسَبِّحُوهُ بُكْرَةً وَأَصِيلًا.﴾ لَم يَجْعَلِ اللهُ عَزَّ وَجَلّ لهُ حَدّاً يَنتَهي إلَيهِ.

“There is a limit for every thing except God’s Remembrance, which is infinite and beyond limits. There are religious mandatory obligations which are performed according to prescribed limits. For instance, fasting during the month of Ramadan is limited to thirty days and the Hajj is limited to performance of certain prescribed rituals. Yet, God’s Remembrance does not has any limit for God has not limited it to a prescribed or minimum amount of invocation. ‘O ye who believe! Remember Almighty God with much remembrance and glorify Him early and late. 33:41-42’ In the above verse, Almighty God has not fixed a limit for His Remembrance.

وَكانَ أبي عَلَيهِ السّلامُ كَثيرَ الذِّكْرِ. لقَدْ كُنتُ أمْشي معَهُ وإنَّهُ لَيَذكُرُ اللهَ وآكُلُ معهُ الطَّعامَ وإنّهُ لَيَذكُرُ اللهَ. وَلَقَد كانَ يُحَدّثُ القَومَ وما يُشغِلُهُ ذلِكَ عَن ذِكْرِ اللهِ. وَكُنتُ أرى لِسانَهُ لازِقاً بِحَنَكِهِ يقولُ: لا إلهَ إلاّ اللهُ. وَكانَ يَجمَعُنا فَيأمُرُنا بِالذِّكْرِ حَتىّ تَطلُعَ الشَّمسُ وَيَأمُرُ بِالقِراءَةِ مَن كان يَقْرأُ مِنّا وَمَن كانَ لا يَقْرأُ مِنّا أمَرَهُ بِالذّكْرِ. وَالبَيتُ الّذي يُقرَأ فِيهِ القُرآنُ وَيُذكَرُ اللهُ عَزَّ وَجَلّ فيهِ تَكثُرُ بَرَكَتُه وَتَحضُرُه المَلائِكَةُ وَتَهجُرُهُ الشّياطِينُ وَيُضيءُ لأهْلِ السَّماءِ كَما يُضِيءُ الكَوكَبُ الدُّرِّيُّ لأهْلِ الأرضِ. وَالبَيتُ الّذي لا يُقرأُ فيهِ القُرآنُ وَلا يُذكَرُ اللهُ فيهِ تَقِلُّ بَركَتُهُ وَتَهجُرُهُ المَلائِكَةُ وَتَحضُرُهُ الشَّياطِينُ.

My father used to offer lots of invocation. While walking with him, I found him remembering God; when we used to sit together for eating, he was still busy with invocation and even while talking to the people, he was not neglecting invocation. I could see his tongue almost attached to his throat while chanting, there is no god but Allah (la ilaha illa allah). After the morning prayer, he used to assemble all of us together and order to say invocation until sunrise.  A house in which the Holy Qur'an is frequently recited and Almighty God is frequently mentioend will have its blessings increased, angels will be its frequent visitors, devils will have to leave it and it will shine for the inhabitants of the heavens in the same way as a twinkling star shines for the inhabitants of the earth. In the same manner, a house in which there is neither recital of the holy Qur'an nor mention of Almighty God will have its blessings decreased, angels will not visit it and devils will present themselves therein.

وَقَد قالَ رَسُولُ اللهِ صَلّى اللهُ عَلَيهِ وَآلِهِ: ألا أخْبِرُكُم بِخَيرِ أعمالِكُم لَكُم وأرْفَعُها في دَرَجاتِكُم وَأزْكاها عِندَ مَلِيكِكُم وَخَيرٌ لَكُم مِن الدّينارِ والدّرهَمِ وَخَيرٌ لكُمْ مِن أنْ تَلقَوا عَدُوَّكُم فَتَقتلوهم وَيَقتلوكُم؟ قالوا: بَلى. فَقالَ: ذِكْرُ اللهِ عَزَّ وَجَلّ كَثيراً. (ثُمَّ قالَ) جاءَ رَجُلٌ إلى النّبِيِّ صَلّى اللهُ عَلَيهِ وَآلِهِ فَقالَ: مَن خَيرُ أهْلِ المَسْجِدِ؟ فقَالَ: أكْثَرُهُم للهِ ذِكْراً. وقالَ رَسُولُ اللهِ صَلّى اللهُ عَلَيهِ وَآلِهِ: مَن أُعْطِيَ لِساناً ذاكِراً فَقَدْ أُعطِيَ خَيرَ الدُّنْيا وَالآخِرَةِ.

The Holy Prophet (a.s) said, ‘May I tell you about your best deeds which will bring for you more distinctions as compared to any other deed and which is purest and most desirable before Almighty God and which is much better for you as compared to silver and gold and even is preferred to jihad for sake of Almighty God?’ People said, ‘Oh Prophet of God! Please tell us.’ ‘Do lots of God’s Remembrance,’ replied the Holy Prophet (a.s). A man once asked the Holy Prophet (a.s), ‘Who is the best among the believers?’ ‘He is one who offers a lot of invocation,’ replied the Holy Prophet (a.s), ‘Whoever possesses an invocating tongue has indeed been blessed with the goodness of this world and the Hereafter.’ (Wasa’il al-Shi`ah vol. 4, pp. 1181)

The Holy Prophet (a.s) said to Abu-Dharr:

عَلَيكَ بِتلاوَةِ القُرآنِ وَذِكْرِ اللهِ كَثيراً فإنّهُ ذِكرٌ لكَ في السَّماءِ وَنُورٌ لكَ في الأرْضِ.

“Recite the Holy Qur’an too much and do lots of invocation, which will be a means for your remembrance in the Heavens and will produce illumination for you upon the earth.” (Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 93, pp. 154)

Imam al‑Hasan quoted the Holy Prophet (a.s) as saying:

بادِروا إلى رِياضِ الجَنَّةِ... حَلَقُ الذِّكْرِ.

“Take lead towards the Gardens of Paradise—the rings of invocation.” (Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 93, pp. 156)

Imam al‑Sadiq (a.s) quoted the Holy Prophet (a.s) as saying:

ذاكِرُ اللهِ في الغافِلِينَ كالمُقاتِلِ في الفَارّينَ. لهُ الجَنَّةُ.

“One who is a reciter of God’s Invocation among the negligent is like him who fights for God’s sake along when others abscond. Paradise will be his reward.” (Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 93, pp. 163)

The Holy Prophet (a.s) said to his companions:

إرْتَعوا في رِياضِ الجَنَّةِ... مَجالِسُ الذِّكْرِ؛ إغْدوا وَروحوا وَاذكُروا. وَمَنْ كانَ يُحِبُّ أنْ يَعلَمَ مَنْزِلَتَهُ عِندَ اللهِ فَليَنظُرْ كَيفَ مَنْزِلَةُ اللهِ عِندَهُ. يَنْزِلُ العَبدُ حَيثُ أنْزَلَ اللهَ مِن نَفْسِهِ. واعْلَموا أنَّ خَيرَ أعْمالِكُم عِندَ مِليكِكُم وأزْكاها وَأرفَعَها في دَرَجاتِكُم وَخَيرَ ما طَلعَتْ عَليهِ الشَّمسُ ذِكْرُ اللهِ تعَالى. أخْبَرَ عَنْ نَفْسِه فَقالَ: أنا جَليِسُ مَن ذَكَرَني.

"Enjoy the gardens of Paradise… The assemblies of invocation; come and go and remember Almighty God. Whoever wants to know his actual position with Almighty God must regard Almighty God’s position in his own self, for a servant enjoys the same position that He chooses for Almighty God in his own self. Know that your best and the purest deeds which will elevate your ranks with the Lord and which is better than anything else on this earth is God’s Remembrance, because Almighiy God has said, ‘I am the companion of him whoever remembers me.’” (Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 93, pp. 163)


The Aim of Invocation

It has been clearly demonstrated that God’s Remembrance is a great act of worship and one of the best methods of self‑building, self-perfection and spiritual migration towards Almighty God. Let us now examine what is really meant by invocation whose importance has been so much emphasized in traditions and Qur’anic verses. Does it mean simply the recital of sentences like Glory be to God (Subhanallah), All praise be to God (Alhamdulillah) and there is no god but Allah (la ilaha illa (a)llah) or is there any other aim behind this? Do these sentences without paying any inner attention towards their esoteric meanings provide such important effect? Invocation is defined in the sense of simply recital as well as in the sense of recital with heart presence.[59] Traditions, also, have supported this meaning. It has been narrated that Prophet Moses (a.s), while reciting hymns, asked Almighty God, “What is the reward for him who remembers you by tongue and heart?’ Almighty God answered:

أُظِلُّهُ يَومَ القِيامَةِ بِظِلِّ عَرشِي وَأجْعَلُهُ فِي كَنَفِي.

“I will place him under the shadow of My Thrown and My Protection on the Day of Resurrection.” (Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 93, pp. 156)

Invocation has been used in both senses—by means of tongue and means of heart. According to other traditions, invocation is used in both meanings, but mostly it has been used in the sense of heart presence with esoteric attention which is indeed true and perfect.

God’s Remembrance may be defined as a state of spirituality and discerning the truth with esoteric attention towards the Lord of the Universe and knowing that He is the Overseer and Supervisor of all our actions at all times. One who remembers Almighty God in such a manner has in fact acted according to His commands, performed the obligations and sustained himself from forbidden acts. Therefore, from the point of view of these considerations, we may conclude that invocation is not an easy thing. The Holy Prophet (a.s) said to Imam `Ali (a.s):

يا عَليُّ! ثَلاثٌ لا تُطيقُها هذِهِ الأُمَّةُ: المُواساةُ لِلأخِ في مالِهِ، وإنْصافُ النّاسِ مِن نَفْسِهِ، وَذِكْرُ اللهِ عَلى كُلِّ حالٍ. وَلَيسَ هُوَ ”سُبحانَ اللهِ وَالحَمْدُ للهِ وَلا إلَهَ إلاّ اللهُ وَاللهُ أكْبَرُ“ وَلكِنْ إذا وَرَدَ عَلى ما يُحَرَّمُ عَلَيهِ خافَ اللهَ عِندَهُ وَتَرَكَهُ.

“`Ali: three things cannot be endured by my ummah: first, equality with a faithful brother in wealth; second, treating others with justice against oneself; and third, God’s Remembrance under all circumstances. To remember God does not mean saying, ‘Glory be to God (Subhanallah), All praise be to God (Alhamdulillah) and there is no god but Allah (la ilaha illa (a)llah);’ rather it is to refrain from practicing a forbidden act when faced.” (Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 93, pp. 151)

Amir al-Mu’minin Imam `Ali (a.s) said:

لا تَذكُرِ اللهَ سُبحانَهُ ساهِياً وَلا تَنْسَهُ لاهِياً وَاذْكُرْهُ ذِكْراً كامِلاً يُوافِقُ فيهِ قَلبُكَ لِسانَكَ وَيُطابِقُ إضْمارُكَ إعْلانَكَ. وَلَنْ تَذكُرَهُ حَقيقَةَ الذِّكْرِ حَتىّ تَنْسى نَفْسَكَ فِي ذِكْرِكَ وَتَفْقِدُها في أمْرِكَ.

“Do not engage yourself in invocation in the state of negligence and never forget Almighty God. Remember Him with perfection so that your tongue and heart become synchronized and your esoteric and exoteric affairs are in conformity with each other. One cannot engaged himself in real invocation but to forget his self completely and while performing deeds, he should think of only Almighty God and should not notice his own existence.” (Ghurar al-Hikam, pp. 81 7)

Imam al‑Sadiq (a.s) said:

مَن كانَ ذاكِراً للهِ عَلى الحَقِيقَةِ فَهوَ مُطيعٌ، ومَنْ كانَ غافِلاً عَنهُ فهُوَ عاصٍ، وَالطّاعَةُ عَلامَةُ الهِدايَةِ، وَالمَعصِيَةُ عَلامَةُ الضَّلالِ، وَأصْلُهُما مِن الذِّكْرِ وَالغَفْلَةِ، فَاجْعَلْ قَلبَكَ قِبْلَةً لِلِسانِكَ؛ لا تُحَرِّكْهُ إلاّ بإشارَةِ القَلْبِ وَمُوافَقَةِ العَقْلِ وَرِضا الإيمانِ، فإنَّ اللهَ عالِمٌ بِسِرِّكَ وَجَهْرِكَ.

“Whoever remembers Almighty God truly will become obedient; whoever is negligent of Him will certainly indulge into sins; the obedience to Him means guidance, and sinning indicates deviation. The invocation and negligence are the roots of obedience and transgression respectively. Therefore, consider your heart as the worshipping point (Qibla), and keep your tongue still without motion except by permission of heart, by approval of wisdom and with the consent of belief because Almighty God is aware of your apparent and hidden affairs.

وَكُن كَالنّازِعِ روحَهُ أوْ كالوَاقِفِ في العَرْضِ الأكْبَرِ غَيرَ شاغِلٍ نَفْسَكَ عَمّا عَناكَ مِمّا كَلَّفَكَ بهِ رَبُّكَ في أمْرِهِ وَنَهْيِهِ وَوعْدِهِ وَوَعِيدِهِ، وَلا تُشْغِلْها بِدونِ ما كَلَّفَكَ. واغْسِلْ قَلبَكَ بِماءِ الحُزْنِ، واجْعَلْ ذِكْرَ اللهِ مِن أجْلِ ذِكْرِهِ لكَ وَهوَ غَنِيٌّ عَنكَ، فَذِكْرُهُ لكَ أجَلُّ وَأشْهَى وَأَتَمُّ مِن ذِكْرِكَ لهُ وَأسْبَقُ، وَمَعْرِفَتُكَ بِذكْرِهِ لكَ يُوَرِّثُكَ الخُضوعَ وَالاسْتِحياءَ وَالإنْكِسارَ وَيَتولَّدُ مِن ذلِكَ رُؤيَةُ كَرَمهِ وَفَضلِهِ السّابِقِ، وَتَصغُرُ عِندَ ذلِكَ طاعاتُكَ وإنْ كَثُرتْ في جَنْبِ مِنَنِهِ فَتَخْلُصُ لِوَجْهِهِ.

Be like him whose soul is being confiscated from his body or like him who is standing before the Lord to be questioned about his deeds. Do not let the self engage into anything except the dischargement of Divine obligations which are important for you. With the tears of shame and grief, cleanse and purify the contamination of your heart. Know that Almighty God has remembered you; therefore, you should too engage yourself in invocation, because He remembered you while being absolutely needless of you. Therefore, your being remembered by Almighty God will make you more perfect, exalted, acquainted and delightful as compared to God’s remembering you. Acquaintance with God’s Remembrance will increase your humility, courtesy and decency in front of Him, resulting in your being able to witness His past benevolence and blessings bestowed upon you. At this stage, your obedience may appear to you as more but in front of God’s favors to you, it will be something very small. Therefore, do perform your deeds strictly for the sake of Almighty God only.

وَرُؤيَتُكَ ذِكْرَكَ لهُ تُوَرّثُكَ الرّياءُ وَالعُجْبُ وَالسَّفَهُ وَالغِلْظَةُ في خَلْقِهِ وَاسْتِكْثارُ الطّاعَةِ وَنِسْيانُ فَضْلِهِ وَكَرَمِهِ. وما يَزدادُ بِذلِكَ مِن اللهِ إلاّ بُعداً وَلا تَستَجلِبُ بهِ على مُضِيِّ الأيّامِ إلاّ وَحضَة. والذِّكْرُ ذِكْرانِ: ذِكْرٌ خالِصٌ يُوافِقُهُ القَلبُ وَذِكْرٌ صارِفٌ لكَ يَنفِي ذِكْرَ غَيرهِ، كما قالَ رَسولُ اللهِ صَلّى اللهُ عَليهِ وَآلِه: إنّي لا أُحْصي ثَناءً عَلَيكَ، أنْتَ كَما أثْنَيتَ عَلى نَفسِكَ. فَرَسولُ اللهِ صَلّى اللهُ عَلَيهِ وآلِهِ لَمْ يَجْعَلْ لِذِكْرِه للهِ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ مِقداراً عِندَ عِلمِهِ بِحَقِيقَةِ سابِقَةِ ذِكْرِ اللهِ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ لهُ مِن قَبلِ ذِكْرِه لهُ، فمن دونه أولى. فَمَن أرادَ أنْ يَذكُرَ اللهَ تَعالى فَليَعلَمْ أنّه عالِمٌ يَذْكُرُ اللهُ العَبدَ بِالتّوفيقِ لِذِكْرِه لا يَقدِرُ العَبدُ عَلى ذِكرِه.

If you perceive your invocation as big, it will result in hypocrisy, egotism, ignorance, harshness and negligence in appreciation of Divine blessings and favors. Such invocation will not bear any fruits except innovator’s becoming farther away from Almighty God and with the passage of time will not produce any positive effect except fear and sorrow. As the Holy Prophet (a.s) said, ‘I am helpless to hymn your praise (the way you truly desemes). Your essence is such the manner You praised Yourself.’ Therefore, the Prophet (a.s) did not attach any worth to his invocations because he was aware of the fact that His servants’ being remembered by Almighty God is far superior than God’s Remembrance by His servants. Therefore, those whose rank is much lower than the Holy Prophet (a.s) better consider their invocation as insignificant. Because of these considerations, one who really wants to recite God’s Invocation must understand that unless Almighty God remembers him and bestows upon him His special grace, he will not be in a position to offer God’s Invocation.” (Bihar al-Anwar vol. 93, pp. 158)

Heart’s attention and esoteric presence have thus been defined as the real meanings of invocation. Further simply heart’s attention and esoteric presence but ineffective is not enough; rather what is required is effective esoteric presence whose indications have been identified as obedience of obligations and avoidance of forbidden things. But it does not mean that only oral recital of sentences like, ‘There is no god but Allah,’ ‘Glory to Allah’ and ‘All praise be to Allah’ is not the evidence of true invocation because these sentences in themselves reflect degrees of God’s invocation.

Apart from that, even this invocation by tongue flows from the heart’s fountainhead. One who recites these invocations by tongue is certainly having some attention by heart towards Almighty God however small it may be, and because of this, he is reciting these sentences by his tongue. From the point of view of Islam, simply recital of these sentences and other invocations is desirable and it carries spiritual reward subjected to its being performed with the intention of God’s Nearness. Incidentally, we may mention that in case of daily prayers we are strictly obliged to recite similar sentences by tongue and to perform other related rituals outwardly while we know that the heart presence and esoteric attention is the real spirit behind the daily prayers.

 


Degrees of Invocation

Invocation consists of various degrees or ranks the first and lowest of which begins with the recital of invocation by tongue and continues up to the degree of absolute perfection, which terminates into attaining the stage of feeling being ceased to exist, witnessing the supreme reality and becoming annihilated into His Essence. At the very first stage, since the invocator pays heart’s attention towards Almighty God, he starts reciting special invocation by tongue with the intention of God’s Nearness, without paying any attention to their meanings. At the second stage, although he recites invocation by tongue with the intention of God’s Nearness, he conveys their meanings to his mind. At the third stage, the tongue follows the heart, since the heart pays attention towards Almighty God and in its esoteric essence believes in the meanings and contents of invocations, it orders the tongue to recite. At the fourth stage, the wayfarer attains esoteric presence and perfect heart presence with respect to Almighty God and considers Him as an overseer of his actions and witnesses his own existence under God’s exalted presence. At this stage, the experiences of wayfarers differ widely according to the degree of perfection achieved by them. As much as they become detached from other than God, they in the same proportion become attached to Almighty God ultimately achieving the highest and most exalted positions of being ceased to exist (inqi§a`), countenance (liqa’) and annihilation (fana’).

The wayfarer at this stage, which is the most exalted position, rears off all the veils of ignorance and falseness and attaches himself to the Supreme Source of all Blessings and Perfection. He removes himself from every thing including his self and returns towards Almighty God by cutting all his ties with other than God and reserving his pure love and affection for Almighty God. He does not see any perfection except Almighty God so that he becomes attached to him and does not find any companion to become intimate with.

These pure servants of God have made their access into the supreme Infinite Source of Grandeur, Majesty, Perfection, Blessings and Illumination and are able to witness the Beauty and Illumination of God’s Essence with their esoteric eyes. They are not ready to attach their heart and pay attention to the metaphorical phenomenon of this world even for an instant, because they have reached the Fountainhead of Absolute Beauty and Perfection and, therefore, the metaphorical perfection does not have any worth in their eyes. They burnt in the love, affection and countenance of their beloved and are not ready to exchange this pleasure even if they are offered both the worlds; and if they encounter world’s phenomenon, they will regard them as reflections of the Divine Illumination and signs of God’s Perfect Existence. Amir al-Mu’minin Imam `Ali (a.s) was asked, “Have you seen the God you worship?” He answered:

ما كُنْتُ لأعْبُدَ رَبّاً لَم أرَهُ. لا تُدرِكُهُ العُيونُ في مُشاهَدَةِ الأبْصارِ وَلكِنْ رَأتْهُ القُلوبُ بِحَقائقِ الإيمانِ.

“I do not worship a god I cannot see. Esoteric eyes cannot see Him, but hearts witness His existence through the reality of their faith.” (al-Haqa’iq by Fayd, pp. 179)

Imam al‑Husayn[60] (a.s) said:

كَيفَ يُستَدَلُّ عَلَيكَ بِما هُو في وُجودِهِ مُفتَقِرٌ إلَيكَ؟ أيَكُونُ لِغَيرِكَ مِن الظُّهُورِ مَا لَيسَ لكَ حَتىّ يَكونَ هُو المَظْهَرَ لكَ؟ مَتى غِبتَ حَتىّ تَحتاجَ إلى دَليلٍ يَدِلُّ عَلَيكَ؟ ومَتىَ بَعُدْتَ حَتىّ تَكونَ الآثارُ هِيَ الَّتي تُوصِلُ إلَيكَ؟ عَمِيَتْ عَينٌ لا تَراكَ وَلا تَزالُ عَلَيها رَقيباً، وَخَسِرَتْ صَفقَةُ عَبدٍ لَم تَجْعلْ لهُ مِن حُبِّكَ نَصيباً.

“How is it possible that a thing that is in its existence dependent upon You be the proof of Your Existence? Can anything other than You have Your Manifestation so that that thing will be Your manifestation? At which time are You absent so that You require a proof evidencing You Existence? When were You away so that the indications and circumstances of Your reappearance will be needed? Blind be the eye which does not see You as an Overseer upon its deeds. And how unfortunate looser your servant who has been deprived of Your Love is!” (Iqbal al-Amal, Prayer of Imam al-Husayn in Arafah.)

Amir al-Mu’minin Imam `Ali (a.s) in his hymns for the Holy Month of Sha`ban said:

إلَهي هَبْ لِي كَمالَ الإنْقِطاعِ إلَيكَ وَأَنِرْ أبْصارَ قُلوبِنا بِضِياءِ نَظَرِها إلَيكَ حَتىّ تَخْرِقَ أبْصارُ القُلوبِ حُجُبَ النّورِ فَتَصِلَ إلَى مَعْدِنِ العَظَمَةِ وَتَصيرَ أرْواحُنا مُعَلَّقَةُ بِعِزِّ قُدْسِكَ.

“O God! Bestow upon me absolute separation from every thing except You, enlighten the esoteric eyes of our hearts with Your Beauty and Grandeur so that they can tear off the veils of light and become attached to the Supreme Source of the Absolute Perfection so that our souls may become united with Your Holy Essence.” (Iqbal al-Amal, al-Munajat al-Sha`baniyyah.)

Imam al‑Sajjad (a.s) describes God’s righteous servants as follows:

إلَهي، قَصُرَتِ الألسُنُ عَن بُلوغِ ثَنائِكَ كَما يَليقُ بِجَلالِكَ. وَعَجزَتِ العُقولُ عَن إدْراكِ كُنْهِ جَمالِكَ. وَانْحَسَرَتِ الأبصارُ دونَ النَّظَرِ إلى سَبَحاتِ وَجْهِكَ. وَلَم تَجْعَلْ لِلخَلْقِ طَريقاً إلى مَعرِفَتِكَ إلاّ بِالعَجْزِ عَن مَعرِفَتِكَ.

“Oh Lord! The tongues are helpless to offer Your Praise and Adoration as suitabl to Your Majesty and Splendor; the faculties of wisdom cannot comprehend Your Beauty and Glory; the eyes are powerless to witness the manifestation of Your Beauty. For your servants, in their search to attain the exalted position of Your Enlightenment, You have closed all the avenues except to admit their impotence and helplessness.

إلَهي فاجْعَلْنا مِن الّذينَ تَرَسَّخَتْ أشْجارُ الشّوقِ إلَيكَ فِي حَدائقِ صُدورِهِمْ وَأخَذَتْ لَوعَةُ مَحَبَّتِكَ بِمَجامِعِ قُلوبِهِمْ فَهُمْ إلى أفْكارِ الأفْكارِ يَأوونَ وَفِي رِياضِ القُرْبِ وَالمُكاشَفَةِ يَرتَعونَ وَمِنْ حِياضِ المَحَبَّةِ لِكأسِ المُلاطَفَةِ يَكرَعونَ وَشَرائعِ المُصافاتِ يَرِدونَ.

O Lord! Please consider us among Your servants in whose hearts the sapling of Your Countenance has been planted and whose hearts are saturated with the grief and sorrow of Your Love. Thus, they are moving towards the nest of most tender and sublime thoughts with the hope of living in pleasure forever in the most magnanimous and splendid garden of manifestation and nearness of their God. They drink the cups of Your Grace from the Fountainhead of Your Love and entering the wide free ways of fraternity and pleasure.

قَد كُشِفَ الغِطاءُ عَن أبْصارِهِم، وَانْجَلَتْ ظُلمَةُ الرَّيْبِ عَن عَقائِدِهِم وَضَمائِرِهِمْ، وانْتَفَتْ مُخالَجَةُ الشَّكِّ عَنْ قُلُوبِهِمْ وَسَرائِرِهِم، وانْشَرَحَتْ بِتَحْقِيقِ المَعْرِفَةِ صُدُورُهُم، وَعَلَتْ لِسِبْقِ السَّعادَةِ فِي الزَّهادَةِ هِمَمُهُمْ، وَعَذبَ فِي مَعِينِ المُعامَلَةِ شرْبُهُم، وَطابَ في مَجْلِسِ الأنْسِ سِرُّهُمْ، وَأمِنَ في مَوطِنِ المَخافَةِ سِرْبُهُم، واطْمَأنَّتْ بِالرُّجُوعِ إلى رَبِّ الأربابِ أنْفُسُهُم، وَتَيَقَّنَتْ بِالفَوزِ وَالفَلاحِ أرْواحُهُمْ، وَقَرَّتْ بِالنَّظَرِ إلى مَحبُوبِهِمْ أعيُنُهُم، وَاسْتَقَرَّ بإدْراكِ السُّؤلِ وَنَيلِ المَأمُولِ قَرارُهُم، وَرَبِحَتْ في بَيْعِ الدُّنيا بِالآخِرَةِ تِجارَتُهُمْ.

The curtains have been rolled up from their esoteric eyes; the darkness of doubt has been removed from their beliefs and the puplitations of contradiction have been calmed down in their hearts. Certainty of Your Knowledge has made them as large hearted; strive to surpass others in the race of piety; in their trade with Almighty God, they have been rewarded with the most delicious and pleasurable drinks. In their union with their beloved, they possess a clean and pure inner self; while encountering fearful situation, they are assured with the Divine guidance towards safety. In their return to Almighty God, they have attained the most tranquil stare. In their journeying towards eternal prosperity and salvation, they have attained the stage of certainty. In witnessing the glory of their beloved, their eyes shine with joy because of accomplishing the cherished goal. They now possess a peaceful inner self and have profited themselves in their bartering this world with the Hereafter.

إلَهي، ما ألَذَّ خَواطِرَ الإلهامِ بِذِكْرِكَ عَلى القُلوبِ! وما أحْلى المَسير إلَيكَ بِالأوْهامِ فِي مَسالِكِ الغُيوب! وما أطْيَبَ طَعْمَ حُبِّكَ وَما أعْذَبَ شرْبَ قُرْبِكَ! فَأعِذْنا مِن طَردِكَ وَإبْعادِكَ وَاجْعَلْنا مِن أخَصِّ عارِفِيكَ وأصْلَحِ عِبادِكَ وَأصْدَقِ طائِعِيكَ وَأخْلَصِ عِبادِكَ. يا عَظيمُ يا جَليلُ يا كَريمُ يا مُنِيلُ بِرحْمَتِكَ وَمِنْكَ يا أرْحَمَ الرّاحِمِينَ.

O God! How pleasing the memories of inspiration relevant to Your Invocation for the hearts are! How sweet the journeying towards you by means of pondering upon the unseen is! How delicious the taste of Your Love is! How pleasurable and gratifying the drinking of drinks of Your Nearness is! Therefore, we seek Your shelter against banishment or getting lost. Accept us among the most distinguished gnostics, most righteous servants, most veracious obedients and most sincere worshippers. O Lord of Majesty, Splendor, Mercy and Compassion; (respond to us) by Your Mercy; You are certainly the all-Beneficent.” (Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 93, pp. 163)

In summary, the fourth position is the most distinguished and exalted consisting of various degrees and ranks which are infinite and continuous until the very Holy Essence, Self‑Existent, the Source of Absolute Perfection and Infinite Beauty. In the language of Godly people, these stages are called the position of invocation (dhikr), the position of love (uns), the position of being ceased to exist (inqi§a`), the position of intense desire (shawq), the position of pleasure (rida), the position of fear (khawf), the position of witnessing (shuhud), the position of absolute certainty (`ayn al-yaqin), the position of assurance (haqq al‑yaqin) and the eventual position of becoming annihilated in Almighty God (al-fana’ wa’l-baqa’ billah). These interpretations most probably have been inferred from traditions and Qur’anic verses and each one of them requires a commentary.

When a worshipper pays attention to the Glory, Splendor, Majesty and Infinite Perfection of the Holy Essence of Self-Existent, he will consider His Love, Favors and Blessings, realize his own helplessness and negligence and look at the distance between himself and that Holy Exalted Essence; it causes a feeling of love, eagerness and sorrow within his existence, which is known as the position of strong desire (shawq).

When the wayfarer thinks in retrospective about his gnostic spiritual journey and discovers the spiritual stations and perfection attained by him, this revelation makes him happy and pleased, which is known as the position of affection or love (uns). When the wayfarer pays attention to the Splendor, Majesty, Glory and Absolute Perfection of God’s Essence and opposite to that realizes his own helplessness and shortness for attaining the Nearness of that Supreme Reality, his heart trembles with fear. The agony and grief overtakes his entire existence whereby he cries bitterly and sheds tears. This stage is known as the position of fear (khawf) and similar is the case with other positions.

It would be better if this God’s servant—the prisoner of self’s passions, captive of darkness of materialism, deprived of attaining higher spiritual stations—does not put his feet inside this profound and infinite ocean letting the explanation of these sublime spiritual stations be left for these who have reached there because one who has not tasted the deliciousness of God’s Love, Affection and Countenance helpless and powerless to explain them.

Let us hear the words of those who are qualified to speak in this field. The great philosopher and divine gnostic Sadruddin Shirazi writes:

If a ray of Divine illumination falls upon a servant, it rouses him from the sleep of ignorance and nature, his becoming aware of the fact that apart from this perceptible world, there also exists another world and higher than the animalistic pleasures there also exist other satisfactions. With this realization, he refrains himself from indulging into false and worthless amusements and returns towards Almighty God by offiering repentance for his past omissions. Thus, he starts pondering upon Qur’anic verses, listening Divine admonitions, deliberating upon the Prophet’s traditions and performing deeds in accordance with Divine commands.

In order to attain the eternal perfection, he restrains himself from following the worldly allurements such as wealth, power and positions. If he is lucky to receive further Divine Guidance and Blessings, he decides seriously to disassociate himsef from other than God, starts journeying towards Him and leaving the habitat of self, his whimsical attractions ascends towards Almighty God. At this stage, a ray of Divine illumination enlightens his horizons; a door from the unseen world opens for him and gradually the pages from the Holy Kingdom become apparent for him enabling him to witness the affairs of unseen.

When he tastes these special pleasures of the unseen affairs, he starts liking seclusion and engages himself in invocation continuously. His hearts becomes detached from material involvement and pays absolute attention to Almighty God with his entire existence. At this juncture, mystical knowledge is gradually bestowed upon him and spiritual illuminations become occasionally manitested for him until he attains absolute certainty in his search discovering the Supreme Reality whereby all contradictions and doubts are vanished and a special tranquillity engulfs his entire existence.

At this stage, he enters into the Celestial Kingdom and after witnessing the existence of ‘Ten‑wisdoms,’[61] becomes united with their Celestial Lights and becomes enlightened. Eventually, the Glorious Illumination of the Lord of Majesty and Splendor becomes manifested upon him making his existence and egotism shattered and he surrenders in front of the Glory and Exaltedness of the Lord of the Heavenly Kingdom. His stage is known as the position of Monotheism in which anything other than Almighty God becomes amortized in the wayfarer’s eyes and he listens to the sound of ‘Whose is the sovereignty this Day? It is God’s the One, the Almighty.’[62] (Mafatih al-Ghayb, pp. 54)

The most famous and eminent gnostic late Fayd al-Kashani writes:

The way for acquiring God’s Love and its further strengthening to be worthy of witnessing His Manifestation and Countenance is to attain enlightenment and its further strengthening. The way of acquiring enlightenment consists of purifying hearts from worldly occupations and being attached to its allurements through paying absolute attention to Almighty God by means of invocations and pondering and cleansing of heart’s dwellings from all sorts of attachment towards other than God because the heart is like a pot, which if filled with water completely will not have any space left to be filled with vinegar. In order to fill this pot with vinegar, it first must be emptied from water. Almighty God has not created any one with dual heart.

Perfection in love demands that one must love Almighty God with the entire existence of his heart because when the heart continues to pay attention to other things, at least a part of it shall remain occupied with other than Aimighiy God. Therefore, as much as one is attached to other than God, his love for Him will be decreased in the same proportion, except where this attention to other than God is related to a situation whereby an act of God and His created being are reflections of one of the manifestations of God’s sacred names and characteristics. Almighty God in the following verse of Holy Qur’an has pointed out the same meanings “Say: Allah. Then leave them 6:91” a stage which is achieved as a result of strong desire where a human being strives that whatever have been revealed for him should become further clearly manifested. While he should remain anxious towards what have not yet been accomplished, because the strong desire is related to a thing which partly have been perceived from some aspects, but from other dimensions it has not yet been comprehended, and between these two, there exists the reality, which is beyond the limits and infinite because the degree and ranks of comprehension of what have been achieved is infinite. Similarly, whatever magnification has been left from God’s Splendor and Beauty is also infinite and having attained the real union with the sweetheart, one still desires strongly that pleasurable event which is free from all sort of pains. Therefore, desire never rests at any stage especially when witnessing so many ranks and positions beyond the imagination of human intellect.

يَسْعَى نُورُهُمْ بَيْنَ أَيْدِيهِمْ وَبِأَيْمَانِهِمْ بُشْرَاكُمْ الْيَوْمَ جَنَّاتٌ تَجْرِي مِنْ تَحْتِهَا الْأَنْهَارُ خَالِدِينَ فِيهَا ذَلِكَ هُوَ الْفَوْزُ الْعَظِيمُ.

“Their light shining forth before them and on their right hands, (and wilt hear it said unto them): Glad news for you this day: Gardens underneath which rivers flow, wherein ye are immortal. That is the supreme triumph. 66:8” (Haqa’iq, pp. 181)

 

[59] In his book entitled Sirr al-¯alat (Mysteries of Prayer), Imam Khumayni describes the presence of heart as follows: “During prayers, one must try to completely cut off the heart’s preoccupation with worldly affairs. If one is submerged in love and desires of this world, his heart will naturally be busy from one involvement to another. Heart behaves like a bird jumping from one branch to another; so for we have this tree of worldly ambitions or desires in our heart, it will behave restless. If by struggle, practice, efforts and thinking about the severe consequences and losses one succeeds in cutting this tree of worldly ambitions or desires, heart will be reposed and peaceful. It will achieve spiritual perfection. At least, the more one tries to free himself from worldly charms and temptations the more he succeeds in cutting the various branches of that tree in his heart achieving heart presence in the same proportion.” Imam Khumayni further explains the term ‘love of this world’ by saying: “Although some people do not possess anything of this world, they become totally submerged in the love of this world. While on the contrary, one may be like Prophet Solomon son of Prophet David who was the king of kings and possessed all the treasurers of this universe, yet he neglects this world and avoids its allurements.

[60] Imam al‑Husayn, the younger son of Imam `Ali ibn Abi-±alib and Lady Fa§imah al-Zahra’, was born in al-Madinah on Thursday, 3rd of Sha`ban, AH 4. Like his brother (Imam al-Hasan), he lived most of his life quietly in al-Madinah under the watchful eyes of the caliph’s officials and spies. When Mu`awiyah’s son, Yazid, became caliph, he demanded allegiance from Imam al‑Husayn who refused to give it. Finally, Imam al‑Husayn felt it necessary to go into battle against Yazid to protest against the deeds of injustice which were carried out in the name of Islam. He and a small group of followers including most of his family members were cruelly massacred at Karbala’. The day of his martyrdom, the 10th of Muharram (`Ashura’), has become the most solemn day of the Islamic calendar, marked by processions and universal mourning. He was buried in Karbala’ in Iraq [Tr].
[61] Sadr al‑Muta’allihin and other Muslim philosophers, regarding the creation of the universe, have confirmed the existence of Ten Wisdoms before the creation of natural world. And the Divine blessings open the material world are bestowed through their means [Author].
[62] The Holy Qur'an, 40:16.