Imām Khomeinī’s Code of Ethics

In the heart of Imām Khomeinī’s[1] way of thinking, ethics has a [special] place, and in fact, all areas of knowledge revolve around this pivot. According to his view, by citing a hadīth (Prophetic tradition) from the Messenger of God (s[2]), all kinds of knowledge can be placed in three general categories. It is because the human being possesses three existential presences and three types of world: one, external and sensory; another, the allegorical world; the third, the intellectual one.

Social science, juristic precepts and transactions are examples of the first category while rational sciences are instances of the third type. Yet, what is related and complementary to the second type is called ethics. If man wants to go beyond logic and the law of instincts, then he needs ethics in its broad sense. Ethics in this context cannot be confined to merely a number of ethical rules; instead, it is in fact a knowledge which searches for the deepest recesses of man’s existence, and which cures him.

This ethics is, indeed, a sort of theoretical and practical anthropology. It is awareness of fixed principles and their application. It is owing to this that this knowledge can be considered as the noblest one and the raison d’être of the prophets’ (‘a[3]) summons.

The Messenger of God’s (s) sayings were a manifestation of such kind of ethics which he made known as the purpose of his mission. In this sense, man can be needless of many types of knowledge; yet, he cannot consider himself needless of ethics since this knowledge is the capital asset of felicities in both worlds:

The purpose and result of the summons of the Seal of the Prophets (s) is the perfection of morality. In the noble traditions, both that are brief and those which are elaborate, moral excellences have been given more importance than anything else after doctrinal teachings [ma‘ārif]… And their importance is greater than what we are capable of explaining adequately, but that which we know for certain is that the asset of the everlasting life of the hereafter and the capital asset of the life of that abode is the acquisition of noble dispositions and the possession of moral excellences.

The paradise which is given to man for the sake of moral excellence is the paradise of Attributes, incomparable to the physical paradise of Act.[4]

Ethics, with this peculiar status, has always had Imām Khomeinī’s attention. From the very beginning when he was a regular teacher up to the time when he was in the midst of the political arena, led the people’s uprising, and established the Islamic Republic, he always paid particular attention to morality, and viewed almost all socio-political issues from the moral perspective. His recommendations and political messages to the officials and the people speak for this, and these [recommendations] can be treated, apart from the occasion of their issuance, as profound moral lessons from which we can learn.

However, from his point of view morality cannot be restricted to some recommendations and decrees. Rather, it is anchored in profound philosophical, theosophical and anthropological principles and precepts. His view on morality is a philosophical one. It is in this sense that he keenly scrutinizes moral vices and virtues, discusses them wisely, and enumerates the benefits and harms of this and that item. In fact, he has a remarkably profound belief in religious morality and uncovers vices and virtues from the heart of the narrations [ahādīth] from the Infallibles [ma‘sūmīn][5] (‘a); nevertheless, he does not content himself with the tradition of quoting, but perfectly utilizes intellect in analyzing these narrations [ahādīth] and in elucidating moral concepts.

This mode of striking a balance between the intellect [‘aql] and narration [naql], which has been acceptable to the great Shī‘ah scholars, is very manifest and conspicuous in the moral discourses of the Imām. Anyone who assiduously scrutinizes the ethical and gnostic works of the Imām can deduce his system of ethics.

The truth of the matter is that he has based his code of ethics and mystical-moral understandings on theoretical principles, which he does not specify so much. In the same manner that he juxtaposes the fragments of a riddle with one another, so also the researcher must carefully find these principles and place them together. In doing so, he could present the Imām’s code of ethics, which is rooted in a long-standing tradition and founded on the great gnostic and ethical heritage of the Muslim mystics and teachers of ethics.
The writer of these lines has tried his best to accomplish this task to the best of his ability. Thus, by pondering on the ethical writings of the Imām, particularly the Sharh-e Chehel Hadīth [Exposition of Forty Hadīths],[6] which is replete with philosophical, ethical and psychological intricacies and subtleties, he has attempted to infer and expound on the principles that he considers as being the underpinning of the Imām’s system of ethics.

The outcome of this study is the presentation and explanation of the Imām’s eight fundamental tenets and the results that emanate from them. Undoubtedly, the comprehensiveness of such kinds of studies cannot be claimed and the first person who perceives its flaws is the researcher himself. The reason for this is that if, after a few days, he reads what he has written, he feels there is something to be added and omitted from it. This, in itself, indicates that such handiworks of man are, like him, is an unfinished matter and an open question.

What must be said is that these tenets and principles are theoretical teachings on the basis of which the system of practical ethics takes form, and so one can talk about practical ethics. These discussions are mainly theoretical in form. The framework of practical discourses and the manner of ethical behaviour must be dealt with elsewhere. The teachings which will be discussed in this section and can be considered as the bedrock of the Imām’s code of ethics are as follows:

1. Indescribability of the human being;

2. Man in the state of nature;

3. Man as the arena of conflict between good and evil;

4. Regulation of instincts;

5. This world and the hereafter;

6. The philosophy behind suffering;

7. Knowledge as a mental aid, or burden; and

8. Behaviour as emanating from ethical principles.

Indescribability of the Human Being

The terrestrial world in which we live is a world full of existing activities and innumerable potentialities yet to appear. In the parlance of philosophy, this world’s phenomena possess two facets of ‘present’ (being) and ‘potential’ (becoming). If we take into account a date stone, it is a fruit stone with all its peculiarities, having a particular weight, volume and colour. But it is not merely a fruit stone. Rather, given all the necessary conditions, it can become a big date-palm, which in turn can produce thousands of other dates, date stones and date-palms. This feature can be witnessed in all phenomena of this world, whether living or non-living things. The gap between what is considered as the present state of a phenomenon and what it can become being always wide.

This movement of the phenomena from what they are toward what they can be (from being to becoming) and the realization of the potentialities, like removing an old garment and wearing a new one, or like wearing clothes over other clothes, which in the parlance of philosophy is called ‘putting off’ and ‘putting on’ [khal‘ va labs] or successive donning [labs pas az labs], respectively, has no ending at all. The appropriate divine wisdom is that every phenomenon should attain its own possible state of perfection and to reach whatever is reachable.

The human being, too, is not an exception to this transcendental and immutable law, and like other phenomena, is subject to change and transformation. He sets foot in this world with the greatest potentialities and talents and with the least activity, and in the beginning when he is born, he is more hapless compared to many of the other creatures. Yet, during the short or long span of his life he always tests himself, shows his capabilities in the sphere of good and evil, and molds and shapes himself. He then abandons his previous form, obliterates himself, and adopts another form. He is like a portraitist who often draws an object, erases it, and then draws another one.

This possibility of change exists in all stages of life. Although the changeability of man in the initial part of his life and his formative years are strong, this transformation becomes more difficult with advancing age; however, the principle of such a possibility does not disappear. Therefore, the possibility of changing oneself exists for everybody until the end of his life.

In other words, there is no certain conclusion and end of every person’s life story and his destiny cannot be considered as being predetermined. Here, we proceed to another issue and that is, the indescribability of man.

Every phenomenon, in our analytical view, possesses two facets: one is its ‘being’ (“is”) and the other, its ‘manner’ (“what is”). For instance, an apple as a concrete reality has subsistence and along with this subsistence, the essence of its nature can be included and expressed in its description.

Therefore, all terrestrial things possess subsistence and disposition, which in philosophical jargon are called ‘existence’ and ‘essence’. Now, let us see what the nature of man is. The existence of various explanations on the essence and nature of man only indicates the divergence of views on this issue. For example, after stating the manner of man’s creation, God, the Most Sublime, praised and named Himself as the most Excellent Creator.[7]

Yet, at the time of giving account to the trust, which the heavens and the mountains trembled for taking responsibility but which man shouldered, God introduces him as iniquitous and imprudent.[8]
If we pursue this trend, we will encounter other descriptions and explanations. As a result, we can say that man has various explanations, or is essentially indescribable. Man is all of these; but at the same time he is beyond all descriptions. In a sense, man is the only terrestrial creature that has neither definite essence nor a specific limit, and he has such potentialities and capabilities that one’s nature cannot be foretold before their realization.

According to the existentialists, all beings possess a definite nature that could be made known to them in advance. However, a human being is the only creature whose existence takes priority over his nature, or he ‘builds’ his own nature. John Paul Sartre,[9] the most famous expounder and exponent of existentialism, opines on this matter thus:

Man’s conception of himself is not only what he has in his mind; it is also what he wants of himself. It is the concept (of himself) that he exhibits after its manifestation in the world of existence. It is that which he seeks from himself after moving toward existence. Man is nothing but what he makes of himself. This is the foremost principle of existentialism. [10]

This point is part of the incontrovertible principles of Islamic philosophy and gnosticism which has been asserted differently, the most prominent formula of this viewpoint being thus stated by Shaykh Ishrāq—Shahāb ad-Dīn Suhrawardī:[11] “The self and the creatures superior to it are mere beings.”[12]

The Imām articulates this principle in this way:

Man cannot be confined to one of the worlds—the higher and the lower worlds. For, the people as well as the people of Yathrīb[13] has no position and from the descension point of view have hayūlā[14]rank which can manifest their God’s power, and from ascension point of view they have a high horizon and the station of annihilation at the Threshold of Unity. Thus, the chief of the Illuminationist [Ishrāqī] School[15] says that vocal self has no nature and it has the station of unity and union of all the truths of the world of creation and affair.[16]

Understanding and comprehending these explanations requires familiarity with Islamic gnosticism. Nonetheless, the end result of this discussion is that the essence of man is not determined and fixed; he can traverse all the spheres of existence.

As such, any attempt to present a specific and absolute explanation of man is an exercise in futility. It is only after the realization of all the potentialities and aptitudes of man that we can offer a perfect explanation of him. From these indisputable principles of philosophy, the Imām arrives at the following three ethical inferences:

1. The possibility of nurture and training in all conditions;

2. Coexistence of fear and hope; and

3. Suspension of judgment.

The possibility of nurture and training in all conditions

A teacher asked his student: “Who has created you?” Contrary to the expectation of the teacher, the student answered: “My creation has not yet finished.”[17]

Ethics and education holds meaning only if we admit that the ‘creation’ of man is not yet completed and that man has still a long way to go so as to consider his creation as having been completed. What is meant by ‘creation’ is not only the appearance of that earthly and ephemeral body since it is indubitable to many that such an aspect of ‘creation’ is not the termination of human perfections; it is only part of the things that should take place for man.

Thus, the ‘creation’ of man has not yet ended, and this is the starting point of any philosophy of education and system of morality. We can only talk of ethics and education when we accept that man is a changeable, imperfect and incomplete creature.

Once we deny this principle or have an iota of doubt about it, then we can no longer talk about ethics, and thereby closing the way to any sort of omission and reform concerning man’s existence. Anyone who believes that human nature is wicked and that there is no possibility for it to change, or who likens man to a bitter tree the irrigation of which with sweet and honeyed water is worthless, will not be able to derive benefit from ethics and is traversing this path to no avail. This approach which is against nature can be well seen in the following couplets of Firdawsī (Ferdowsī):[18]

درختى كه تلخ است وى را سرشت گرش برنشانى به باغ بهشت
ور از جوى خُلد ش به هنگام آب به بيخ، انگبين ريزى و شهد ناب
سر انجام گوهر به بار آورد؟ همان ميوه تلخ بار آورد

A tree which by nature bears bitter fruit,
Even if it is located in the garden of paradise,
If in the paradise when watering it instead of water
You pour grape juice and pure milk,
At the time of fruit-bearing, will it produce sweet fruit?
Nay, it will bear the same bitter fruit.

Our literature (i.e. Persian literature) is replete with such allusions and metaphors, all referring to one point which is the negation of the fundamental and undeniable essence of man’s changeability and indescribability. At times, the manifestations of this qualm on the essence of changeability are disclosed in proverbs such as, “What is bred in the bone will come out in the flesh” or “a walnut on a dome”.

And sometimes while admitting the essence of changeability, the time constraint serves as a pretext in negating it. For instance, it can be asserted that so long as the twig is wet (i.e. small and weak), its curve can still be straightened. In like manner, so long as a human being has not yet fully grown up and is still flexible, he can be moulded, but when he passes a particular age, he becomes like dry wood and no amount of nurture will work in his case.
Occasionally, this type of understanding in the sayings such as, “Our time has already passed” signifies the same approach wherein the speaker, in stating it, passes up any possibility of reform and shuts the door to any sort of growth and progress. If man is changeable and unpredictable so long as he is alive, it then follows that he can choose a path whenever he wants or he can change his past ways and set out in a new direction.

In our religious culture, repentance [tawbah] essentially implies the same thing. That is, man turns back from the path he has taken and rebels against himself. The Imām has time and again emphasized on this fact, and asserts that one can always speak of nurture and reform. Therefore,

as long as man remains in this world, which is the source of the tree of primal matter with its substantial, formal, and accidental changes and transformations, he can deliver himself from all levels of deficiency, wretchedness, polytheism [shirk],and hypocrisy and attain the higher levels of perfection and spiritual felicity.[19]

This teaching is anchored on the same definite philosophical principle of man’s changeability. More importantly, if we doubt this principle, it follows that all the missions of the prophets (‘a) and the revelation of all heavenly books would be fruitless since they only make sense if we accept the fact that man is transformable. Taking this reality into account, the Imām states:

All habits [malikāt] and psychic dispositions are capable of change. As long as the soul remains in this world of change and transition, it is subject to time and renewal; and as long as it is associated with matter [hayūlā] and potentiality [quwwah], the human being can change all his dispositions and transform them into their opposites. This claim is affirmed, besides metaphysical proof [burhān], by experience, as well as by the summons of the prophets (‘a) and the true religions to noble dispositions and their restraining people from the opposite qualities.[20]

From the Imām’s vantage point, doubt on the possibility of nurture springs from the satanic insinuations [wasāwis; sing. waswasah] and guiles of the carnal self [an-nafs al-ammārah]. These two are the brigands along the path of human perfection who, by bringing excuses such as, “Our time has already passed,” deter man from reforming the self:

Do not think that psychic, moral, and spiritual vices are not curable; this is an erroneous notion that has been inspired in you by Satan and your carnal self that want to keep you from treading the path of the Hereafter and to frustrate your efforts at rectifying your self. As long as man exists in this realm of transition and change, it is possible for him to transform all his attributes and moral characteristics.[21]

Of course, this is not to say that reforming the self and cultivating psychic perfections are always easy. We cannot deny the fact that the degrees of educability in various ages are different, and that the human being, in the initial stage of his life, is more educable and shows more flexibility. The Commander of the Faithful [amīr al-mu’minīn] ‘Alī (‘a) points out this reality, thus: “The young heart is like an unsown land which accepts whatever you plant in it.”[22]

The more a person advances in age, the less is he able to control his annoying habits and increasingly becomes a prisoner of his own unbecoming behaviour because with every day that passes, his disagreeable attributes become more deeply rooted while his power diminishes.

Mawlānā[23] has a story which conveys this reality. There was a person who planted a bramble along a public way. The thorny shrub took root, grew and became a nuisance to the wayfarers, so much so that they complained to the ruler. The ruler summoned him and asked him to uproot the bramble. The person promised to do so but kept on procrastinating. In this manner, as the days passed by, the plant became stronger while the person became weaker and older:
ﺧﺎﺮﺒُﻦﺪﺮ ﻗﻮّت ﻮﺒﺮﺧﺎﺴﺗﻦ ﺧﺎﺮﻜَﻦﺪﺮﭘﻴﺮﻯﻮﺪﺮﻜﺎﺴﺗﻦ
ﺧﺎﺮﺒُﻦﻫﺮ ﺮﻮﺰ ﻮ ﻫﺮﺪﻢ ﺴﺒﺰﻮﺗﺮ ﺧﺎﺮﻜَﻦﻫﺮ ﺮﻮﺰ ﺰﺍﺮ ﻮﺧﺷﻜﺗﺮ
ﺍﻮ ïº ï»®ïºï»§ïº—ïº®ï»£ï»° ﺷﻮﺪ، ﺗﻮﭙﻴﺮﺗﺮ ﺰﻮﺪﺒﺎﺵﻮ ﺮﻮﺰﮔﺎﺮﺧﻮﺪ ﻣﺒﺮ

The thornbrush (is) in (process of gaining) strength and (in) ascent;
Its digger (is) in (process of) aging and decline.
The thornbrush every day and every moment is green and fresh;
Its digger is every day more sickly and withered.
It is growing younger, you older:
Be quick and do not waste your time![24]

With respect to his habits and characteristics, the human being is like that thorn pricker. Thus, as time passes by, uprooting those habits becomes more difficult. According to the Imām, as long as man exists in this realm of transition and change, it is possible for him to transform all his attributes and moral characteristics. However strong his habits may be, as long as he is living in this world he can quit them. The only thing is that the effort required to throw them off varies with the degree of their strength and intensity. A bad habit in the early phase of its formation, of course, requires only a little self-discipline and effort to eradicate it.

It is like uprooting a young plant that has not run its roots deeply into the ground. But when a quality becomes firmly rooted in one’s nature, becoming a part of one’s spiritual makeup, it is not easily uprooted, but requires much effort, like the tree that becomes old in age, having sent down its roots deep into the earth; it cannot be easily extirpated. The more you delay the decision to eradicate the iniquities of the heart, the more time and effort it will require.[25]

Hence, one must guard against any misunderstanding about this, and must realize that the possibility of transformation for man is always there and that the difficulty of doing anything does not mean that it is impossible. On the other hand, it is this danger or insinuation [waswasah] that we accept unconditionally as the entire principle of changeability and deem it an excuse for procrastinating and not reforming ourselves. We are oblivious of the fact that it is itself one of the insinuations of Satan which dissuades man from acting on time, encourages him to ruin his precious opportunities, and promises him the chance of many tomorrows. So, man must always be wary and not give himself the promise of the never-to-come tomorrow:

ﻫﻴﻦﻣﮕﻮ: ﻓﺮﺪﺍﻛﻪﻓﺮﺪﺍﻫﺎﮔﺬﺷﺖ ïº—ïºŽïº’ï»›ï» ï»°ï»§ï®•ïº¬ïº®ïºª ﺍﻳﺎﻢﻛﺷﺖ

Beware! Do not say ‘Tomorrow’—for (many) tomorrows have passed
Let not the days of sowing pass away altogether.[26]

This imaginary tomorrow has no reality and it is the greatest snare laid by the brigand Satan to trap the new seeker of the way. Thus, the Imām draws attention to this issue and warns us, thus:

If the tree of sinfulness growing in the orchard of the human heart reaches maturity and fruition, its roots becoming strong, the results are calamitous, one of which is to turn away man totally from repentance. Even if once in a while it comes to his mind, he keeps on postponing it from day to day and from one month to another… Don’t imagine that man can perform tawbah [repentance] after the strengthening of the roots of sinfulness or meet its conditions. Therefore, the springtime for tawbah is the time of youth when the sins are fewer, the inner darkness of the heart incomplete, the conditions of tawbah easier, and their fulfillment less difficult… Even if it be admitted that man can succeed in performing tawbah in old age, there is no certainty of reaching old age and of not meeting one’s death in youth in the condition of habitual disobedience.[27]

In a nutshell, from the Imām’s viewpoint the possibility of moral refinement always exists and is present as long as man is alive. Although this possibility of reform diminishes gradually, it never ceases to exist. Thus, the insinuations of Satan, which at times consider reform as impossible and at the other times promise plenty of opportunities for this to be done, must be eschewed, and time (one has) must be used to full advantage.
Coexistence of fear and hope

If there are thousands of possibilities and potential ways for the human being and the realization of every possibility and traversing of every path yields specific results for him, in that case, man would be full of hope and self-confidence in relation to his future, because he can choose a path and select anew whenever he wants to do so. On the other hand, this sense of freedom entails a responsibility for him and he does not know what ensuing consequences these choices and selections would have, and what his action would lead to. This circumstance makes him abhorrent of the future and dreadful of freedom.

It is this very point which makes many people heartily abhorrent of freedom; they are always waiting for somebody else to chart their destiny. Erich Fromm[28] labels this psychic propensity as ‘escape from freedom’ and discusses its psychological causes. With regard to this issue, one of the contemporary Arab thinkers named Muhammad at*-T+ālibī says, “If I had found a flawless person, I would have followed him and relieved myself of thinking; but the flawless person does not exist.”[29]

Although all claim freedom and seek it, in reality they run away from it. It is because to be free means acceptance of responsibility for the consequences of one’s choice, and there are only a few who have attained awareness to such an extent.

The inevitable outcome of the logic of change in the terrestrial world is that nobody is able to express a definite opinion about his own future. The Glorious Qur’an unequivocally stresses this point and states: “No soul knoweth what it will earn tomorrow, and no soul knoweth in what land it will die. Lo! Allah is Knower, Aware.”[30]

Absolute knowledge and awareness of all things including the future which is yet to happen belongs to God and to Him alone. As such, to live without the certainty of the future is a reality that must be accepted; nevertheless, this state of affairs gives hope to some while making others fearful. A group regards the uncertain future as their achievement and the product of their deeds, and they move forward with high spirits and enthusiasm.

On the other hand, this sense of hope makes them inebriated and overflowing with selfishness to which they succumb after some time and roll in the pit of destruction. People become anxious and dejected by such a state of affairs; they entrust themselves to the storm of events and behave like a log which is a captive of the stormy waves of the sea of existence.

Both fear and hope are necessary in the life of man and are regarded as essential for his felicity. If fear and hope did not exist in the life of man, he would quickly claim divinity and forget his being mortal. And if it were not for hope, nobody would take a single step nor do anything even to the extent that “not a single mother would breastfeed her baby.”[31] In all spheres of man’s actions, hope—manifest and hidden—exists and without it, life would be void and meaningless.

Thus, the Glorious Qur’an, on one hand, cautions us against becoming proud of ourselves, feeling secure from God’s scheme and the deceptions of the world, regarding these as symptoms of the losers and the wretched. It states: “Are they then secure from Allah’s scheme? None deemeth himself secure from Allah’s scheme save folk that perish.”[32]

On the other hand, God Almighty warns man against despair and depression, which are the roots of unbelief [kufr] and summons him to hope, stating: “And despair not of the Spirit of Allah. Lo! None despaireth of the Spirit of Allah save disbelieving folk.”[33]
Anyhow, these two attributes are essential for living properly. But in what proportion should each of them be in man’s existence? How much of each is essential for him? This issue has been discussed in the books of ethics under the heading, “Fear and Hope” [khawf wa rajā]. By citing Qur’anic passages and Prophetic narrations, scholars of ethics are of the opinion that these two attributes must be in equal proportion in a human being so as to urge him to move, as well as to dissuade him from pride, self-conceit [‘ujb] and selfishness.

It has been recorded in the Prophetic narrations that fear and hope are two lights glowing in the heart of a believer and neither of which is more intense than the other.[34] It is only in such a case that man seeks the path of moderation in life, while refraining from going to extremes and from overindulgence or negligence. For this reason, Imām ‘Alī (‘a) states: “The best course is (to have) an equiponderance of fear and hope.”[35]

Hope and fear should be so pervasive in man as to induce him to perform every worthy and meaningful deed, however serious it is, and keep him away from every contemptible act, however trivial and small it is. It is with this in mind that the sage Luqmān used to say to his child:

“Have such a fear of God, the Sublime and Exalted, that were you to come to Him with the virtues of the two worlds [thaqalayn] He would still chastise you, and put such a hope in God that were you to come to Him with the sins of the two worlds He would still have compassion for you.”[36]

Accordingly, another consequence of the principle of man’s indescribability is his coexistence with fear and hope, in such a way that these two attributes are equiponderant in him. Imām Khomeinī has devoted a whole hadīth chapter in Sharh-e Chehel Hadīth to this issue of fear and hope, and has examined the station of these attributes from the aspect of gnosticism. According to his view, the cause of fear and anxiety of a believer is that since he evaluates the relation between himself—one that is utterly in want—and God Almighty—Who is Absolute Self-Sufficiency—and sees one side as total deficiency and shortcoming and the other side as All-Beauty and Splendour, and as he fails to acknowledge and respect the right of God as He deserves, he experiences dread and apprehension. His hope also stems from the fact that he discerns that God, the Most Sublime, has bestowed everything upon him without the least claim, and given him the promise of excessive forgiveness and clemency. In short, he is hopeful of the perpetual mercy of God.

Hence, man should always be moving back and forth between these two views: neither should he ever close his eyes to his defects and shortcomings in fulfilling the duties of creaturehood [‘ubūdiyyah], nor should he ever take his eyes off the expansive and all-encompassing mercy, love and compassion of God Almighty.[37]

But, why must these two attributes be equiponderant without either one of them prevailing over the other? The Imām’s mystical reply is thus:

The gist of the matter is that the self is in a state of utter imperfection and shortcoming, and God at the height of greatness, glory, all-embracing mercifulness and grace, and the devotee is always in a median state of fear and hope between these two views. And since the Divine attributes of glory and perfection cast their light simultaneously on the wayfarer’s heart, none of the two, fear or hope, exceeds the other.[38]

Suspension of judgment

In view of the fact that the human being has no specific nature and builds his own self, and also, that nobody has seen the future, no one can pass a definite judgment regarding himself. As a matter of fact, since no one knows what his end would be, how his life story would turn out and come to a close, he is neither able to have a correct picture nor express a proper opinion of himself.
Of course, anyone who earnestly engages in self-meditation and desists from offering lame excuses for himself will be able to perceive his existing condition and present a relatively precise account of himself. The Glorious Qur’an, therefore, states: “Oh, but man is a telling witness against himself.”[39]

But our remarks concern the judgment that is final, conclusive and all-embracing. At any given moment, nobody can accurately predict his future state as well as the consequences of his deeds, and as a result, give a verdict concerning it.

Those who are negligent of this fact, by relying on their past and present deeds, pruned themselves of their wickedness and considered their future as guaranteed. The Glorious Qur’an rejects this sort of thinking and God, the Most Exalted, concerning such people, states: “Hast thou not seen those who praise themselves for purity? Nay, Allah purifieth whom He will, and they will not be wronged even the hair upon a date-stone.”[40]

Similarly, God purges these imaginations—that every individual only through reliance on himself and his act that he can take control of the future—and says: “Had it not been for the grace of Allah and His mercy unto you, not one of you would ever have grown pure. But Allah causeth whom He will to grow. And Allah is Hearer, Knower.”[41]

History is replete with the accounts of those who thought themselves to be pure and ultimately prosperous but ended up in a ruined state. Likewise, there were many who regarded themselves as ruined but turned out to be prosperous in the end. Bal‘am son of Bā‘ūr was one of the ascetics from among the Children of Israel [Banī Isrā’īl] whose supplications were always granted.[42] Yet, he utilized this spiritual excellence against the Prophet of God, Hadrat[43] Mūsā (Moses) (‘a) and, as a result, destroyed himself. The Glorious Qur’an has made an example of the story of his life for mankind:

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To Bal‘am son of Bā‘ūr the people of the world became subject,
(For he was) like unto the Jesus of the time.
They bowed (worshipfully) to none but him:
His spell was (giving) health to the sick.
From pride and (conceit of) perfection he grappled with Moses:
His plight became such as thou hast heard.
Even so there have been in the world, manifest or hidden,
A hundred thousand like Iblīs and Bal‘am.
God cause these twain to be notorious,
That these twain might be witness against the rest.[44]

On the other hand, Fadīl ibn ‘Ayyād[45] was a bandit and chief of robbers. Yet, by hearing an āyah [verse] of the Glorious Qur’an, he was so transformed such that he became one of the celebrated mystics. The story [concerning him] runs as follows:

One night a caravan was passing. One of those in the caravan was reciting this verse, ‘Has not the time arrived for the Believers that their hearts in all humility should engage in their remembrance of Allah?’[46] As it was like an arrow shot at a virtuous heart, he said, ‘It came! And its time has already passed’.[47]

As such, no one can definitely ascertain his own future; this condition itself entails fear and hope, these being the guides of the faithful. It is the same fear and hope that restrain him from egotism or a feeling of abjectness. Now, if someone is not able to judge himself categorically, can he correctly assess others and pass judgment concerning them? Naturally, the answer is negative. If we do not know our own future, the more are we oblivious of the future of others. One of the secrets behind this is that all of those emphasized in our Prophetic narrations—that it is better to mind one’s own business and to restrain from judging others—is this very point.
The truth of the matter is that we cannot express an opinion about the fate of anyone, whether Muslim or polytheist [mushrik]. Judgment in this respect is a divine act and appropriate to God; not terrestrial creatures. As long as a person is alive his account is an open book and nobody can judge him. This principle knows no exception. Of course, taking into account his manifest actions and views, one can assess his present state of affairs; but by relying on the past nobody can ever venture a definite opinion about the future of others.

Therefore, though the past could have far-reaching influences on one’s future, the former can never prevail over, or dominate the latter. A human being can chart his own future differently, change it and lead himself in another direction. In the words of William James,[48] “Among all the creatures on the face of the earth, only is a human being able to change his moulds; only is he the architect of his own destiny.”[49]

Such extensive tendencies of man and his uncertain destiny prevent him from being narrow-minded and from making hasty judgments while affording him the possibility of finding the deeper layers of reality. Similarly, it liberates him from any kind of restriction and predestination, and gives him the opportunity to repent. It is from this aspect that passing judgment even on disbelievers, and considering them to be damned is deemed wrong so long as they are alive and their ‘book of deeds’ is open. Considering the profundity of this point, the Imām has quoted thus from his mentor:

Our great master, the accomplished gnostic [‘ārif],Shāhābādī[50]—may my soul be his ransom—used to say, ‘Do not look down on even a kāfir [non-believer] in your heart. It is possible that the divine light of his inner nature may lead him to faith and your rebuke and disdain may lead you toward a wretched life in the Hereafter. Of course to practice al-amr bi’l-ma‘rūf wan-nahy ‘an al-munkar [enjoining right conduct and forbidding bad behaviour] is something different from the inner feeling of contempt.’ He would even say, ‘Never curse the unbelievers regarding whom it is not known that they will leave the world in the state of unbelief. If they leave the world as rightly-guided servants of God, their spiritual rectitude may prove to be an obstruction in the way of your own spiritual advancement.’[51]

The Imām cautions us against hasty judgments—which are sometimes noticed among some religious people—as well as assaults on, and accusations against, the spiritual wayfarers [sālikīn] and mystics. He warns of the danger of such acts, and considers them to result from incapacity:

If we hear any of the truths from the mouth of a passionate ‘ārif or a heart-broken wayfarer, or a theosopher [hakīm-e muta’allih], immediately we make him the target of all kinds of curses and insults, calling him an apostate and a profligate, refraining not from any kind of slander and backbiting in regard to him, because our ears cannot bear to hear his words and self-love prevents us from realizing our own inadequacies. Alas, we bequeath a book as waqf, binding its user with the condition that he should curse, hundred times a day, the late Mullā Muhsin Fayd (Kāshānī)![52] We call Sadr al-Muta’allihīn (Mullā Sadrā),[53] who is the foremost of the adherents of tawhīd, a heretic [zindīq] and do not stop at any insult in regard to him.[54]

Yes, the most optimistic analysis regarding such assertions and indictments shows inadequacy and ignorance. The outcome of possessing such a mentality is that man always remains in complex ignorance and increases his burden. Instead of an accurate understanding of the law of creation and the confession of one’s own unawareness, it covers his ignorance with the cloak of piety. This is while one of the signs of piety is to be cautious about these things and not to pass judgment on others:

Our shaykh, an accomplished ‘ārif that he was (i.e. Shāhābādī), may my soul be his ransom, used to say: ‘Never call down curses [la‘n] on anybody, though he be a kāfir concerning whom you do not know how he made the transit from this world to the next, and unless an infallible walī informs you concerning his condition after death. For it is possible that he may have attained faith before the time of death. Hence let your curse be of a general character.’ Here is one who has such a sacred spirit that he would not permit anyone who has died an apparent unbeliever to be insulted, for the probability that he might have acquired faith at the time of death, and there are the like of us![55]

Surely, if we consider this point with its implications as the guide of our deeds in life, how many virtues would we acquire and how many abominations and defects would we rid ourselves of.

Man in the State of Nature

One of the questions that preoccupy the thinkers’ mind is this: In essence, what is man—angelic or devilish? Assuming that there had been no powerful institution to administer and control human beings, in such a case what would have been the people’s behaviour toward one another? Would they have mutually respected and observed their rights, or would they, like wolves, have fallen on and torn one another apart?

Any sort of answer to this question necessitates the existence of a specific political and educational system. If we say that the human being is intrinsically wicked, in that case we will inevitably need to perpetually control individuals. If we declare that man is innately angelic, it follows that we have to remove all restrictions and limitations, and set him free.

In this context, in order to comprehend the Imām’s viewpoint well, we cannot help but embark on the subject by touching on the views of other thinkers as well, and to study their historical circumstances. Hence, we will deal initially on the viewpoint of Thomas Hobbes[56] on this issue as well as his famous statement, “Man is the wolf of other man.” Subsequently, we will explore the view of Jean-Jacques Rousseau,[57] and then examine the Imām’s point of view. As such, we will approach the discussion from the following three (3) angles:

· Hobbes’ view;

· Rousseau’s view; and

· Imām Khomeinī’s view.

Hobbes’ view

Thomas Hobbes was one the greatest English political thinkers. He was a skeptic philosopher. As he failed to present exact and fixed foundations for ethics, he resorted to cynicism and accepted relativism in ethics. With the denial of the exact foundations of ethics, he had no alternative but to present a principle for it in society.

It is owing to this that he arrived at the conclusion that for the appearance of morality in society, we are in need of a centralized and resolute authority that would maintain and promote public morality. In the political realm, he was anti-democracy and a partisan of absolute monarchy. He believed that only in the presence of a centralized authority could the morals of society be preserved. His beliefs were greatly influenced by the events of those days in England as well as the civil wars there.

One of the key concepts of Hobbes is the expression, ‘man in the state of nature’. What is meant by ‘the state of nature’ is a hypothetical state wherein there is no political institution and administrative organization existing in the society, the people being left to their own business and to do whatever they like.
Since the instinct of love and defense of one’s self is very strong in everybody, the people would be at each other’s throats and would destroy one another: “In the state of nature in which everybody is his own master, one is at odds with the others concerning the nomenclature of things, and it is these differences that give rise to disputes and conflicts.”[58]

Life in such a society is very difficult, laborious and perilous; in the words of Hobbes it is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”[59] According to Hobbes, in no way is this kind of living to one’s benefit and advantage. Therefore, members of society themselves come to the conclusion that they have to choose a person or persons and give them enough and complete prerogatives to maintain security and so prevent individuals from assailing one another. ‘Civil society’, ‘commonwealth’, ‘civitas’ and ‘country’ are all born of this.

According to Hobbes’ view, civil society is the opposite of the state of nature, the latter being nothing but life in the jungle and even worse, for it is possible for the animals to have rules and regulations for themselves and to respect one another’s domain; yet human beings in the state of nature are not like that.

Such an approach to human beings draws Hobbes toward absolute monarchial rule, totally centralized authority and the creation of powerful and commanding supervisory organizations, drags him totally away from populism, and makes him conclude, thus: “It is, therefore, clear that so long as there is no government over the people to compel them to obey, they will exist in a state, which they have named ‘a state of war’, this war pitting every individual against another.”[60]

Hobbes’ views on ethics, human beings and politics are highly controversial. Many are those who have repudiated or endorsed them, have uncovered their inner contradictions and shown his contradictory statements one by one. In the words of Richard Tock,

Even during his life time Hobbes was reputed to have conflicting thoughts. He was regarded as a stubborn debater and an irascible dogmatist; yet, he would vigorously assail any kind of dogmatism. He was strongly against the notion of the authority of the Church as was, for example, exerted over the universities; yet, he wanted his philosophical works to be adopted as textbooks in them. While extolling and commending liberalism, he used to support absolute rule that exercises complete authority over intellectual activities.[61]

The most important criticism leveled against his pessimistic view on man is that if human beings, as what he says, are so bloodthirsty, how did they arrive at the conclusion that they themselves should create an establishment that would prevent them from transgressing against others? Hobbes replies that they had come to this conclusion through their sound reasoning. In that case, it is the same sound reasoning, which is superior to their instincts and directs them toward a life devoid of want and hostility; this, however, is not meant to be a critique of Hobbes’ outlook.

Rather, we are after articulating this perspective on man. It was an outlook that deeply influenced later thinkers who showed each of these influences in one way or another. The interesting point on the works of Hobbes is that he gave the title, Leviathan, to his most important political writing; what he meant by Leviathan was the same centralized ruling authority. Leviathan means a legendary sea-monster that devours everything. It is this oddity and irony that the government’s position can possibly annihilate its citizens and, at the same time, its existence is necessary.

Anyhow, Hobbes’ standpoint on the human being has its roots in the older tradition of Judeo-Christian faith. In fact, according to both the Old and the New Testaments, man is sinful and innately impure. It is this legacy that reaches Hobbes and which he theorizes, and on the basis of which he lays the foundation of his ideal political system. According to the Book of Genesis,[62] Adam and Eve ignored the commandment of God not to go near the forbidden tree, and due to the temptation of the serpent, they ate the fruit of the tree. As a consequence, they earned the wrath of God; they were expelled from heaven and were sent down to the accursed world.[63]

The sin that was committed by Adam and Eve, according to the Judeo-Christian tradition, did not embroil only them; rather, this sin passes down from generation to generation of humankind, and is deemed as being part of man’s nature. Accordingly, man is inherently sinful and, by nature, evil. This sinfulness is not only restricted to human beings for “even the heavens are not pure.”[64] According to the ancient Psalms of David, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”[65]
Paul, the greatest official exponent of the Christian Church and the promoter of Christianity, in his epistle to the Roman Christians thus claims,

“What shall we conclude then? Are we any better? Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. As it is written: ‘There is no-one righteous, not even one; there is no-one who understands, no one who seeks God’.”[66]

Elsewhere,he concludes that “the whole world is a prisoner of sin.”[67]

At any rate, sin is among the rudimentary concepts in the Judeo-Christian tradition. The human being is said to be inherently imprisoned in its clutches; he will be born with it and it has a place in his natural disposition [fit*rah]. Only through faith is it possible for him to absolve himself. Such an approach to the nature of mankind, regarding sin to be at one with man’s nature, provided fertile ground for the emergence of pessimistic and anti-democratic notions of persons such as Hobbes. As a result, we come up against a theory that reckons man as wolf unto another, regards him as innately evil, and believes that there must always be an authority to control him by forcible means.

Rousseau’s view

Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s (1712-1778) view is diametrically in opposition to that of Hobbes. His thoughts had a positive influence on the Great Revolution of France. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, on which his famous statement has left its imprint, owes him too much. In the beginning of his celebrated book, The Social Contract, Rousseau writes, “Man is born free; but he lives everywhere in slavery.”[68] Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights thus also states: “All human beings are born free and equal in…rights.”[69]

In contrast to Hobbes’ view and the traditional notion of the Church based on the sinful nature of man, Rousseau believed that man in the state of nature is decent, well-mannered, free-minded, and peace-loving, and that it is the society which corrupts him. In his opinion the debasement of man commences when he joins the civil society and relinquishes his own freedom. A human being left to himself would never resort to attacking others and waging war against anybody:

Man is by nature amiable and timid; he runs away from the least danger. He acquires a pugnacious temperament by virtue of habits and experience. Pride, interest, prejudgments, vengeance, and all yearnings that can draw man to welcome the risk of death do not exist in nature. It is only when man enters human society that the thought of assaulting others enters his mind. After becoming a citizen he changes into a soldier. Therefore, man, by nature, has no inclination to wage war against his fellow human beings.[70]

So long as man lives in the lap of nature and is not a captive of society, he is in harmony and intimacy with all the constituent parts of nature. His needs are limited and can easily be met. Neither is there any sign of avarice and covetousness, nor envy and the killing of one another:

We see him eat his fill under the oak, drink water from the first spring that is within reach and quenches his thirst. He spreads out his bedding under the same tree that provided him with food. In this manner; all his needs are satisfied. The earth is absorbed in its natural productive processes, and a substantial part of it is covered with vast expanses of forest.[71]
It is regrettable that this state of affairs does not last long. It is not clear why man abandons this comfort and serenity, and decides to establish a human society. This act is tantamount to forfeiting one’s own natural freedom and destroying one’s own pure nature and natural disposition; for “it is the society that corrupts and defiles human beings… the more human beings gather together, to the same extent will they be further corrupted.”[72]

The source of human wars and conflicts is the desire to own, which in turn is an offshoot of society. It is this longing for possession that drives human beings to kill one another, and causes so much bloodshed:

The first person who erected a wall around a plot of land and said, ‘This is mine,’ thinking the people to be so naïve as to believe him, was the actual founder of civil society. If someone had pulled out the wooden stakes around the above-mentioned land… and had shouted to his fellowmen, ‘Do not listen to this swindler; land belongs to everybody,’ the world might have possibly been safe from crimes, wars, homicide, rancor, vengeance, and suffering.[73]

In short, Rousseau’s views which are mainly found in The Social Contract and Desire and Discourse on the origin of the lack of equality, gave rise to different and conflicting reactions and his naturalist understanding became highly controversial. One of the fiercest oppositions was expressed by Voltaire,[74] another one of the enlightened philosophers. Rousseau, who had much attachment to him, sent him in 1755 a copy of the book, Discourse, on the origin of the lack of equality. While expressing gratitude to him, Voltaire replied, thus:

I have received the book that you have written against the human race, and wish to thank you for it. Such intelligence had never been applied to fool us people. By reading your book, people would like to walk on their two hands and two feet. But for me, since I abandoned such a habit sixty years ago, I feel, with all regret, that to begin it again is beyond me. To search for the savage people of Canada is also not possible. The ailments with which I am afflicted have put me in need of European surgeons. Moreover, there is a war going on in those regions, and copying our actions has also made the savages corrupt like ourselves.[75]

As such, contrary to Hobbes, Rousseau puts emphasis on the pure nature of man and regards the civil society as its demolisher. In view of the fact that there is no possibility of perpetuating the state of nature and, in effect, such a state has never existed, being more hypothetical than real, Rousseau’s solution is the acceptance of civil society provided that it is based on the social contract and guarantees individual liberties. Yet, in practice, Rousseau’s idea stems from either the negation of government and attacking society or results in a self-centered government. It is this point that thinkers have seriously dealt with but is beyond the ambit of our discussion.

However, what is interesting for us here is his outlook on the nature of man. He holds it immune from any kind of blemishes and has reckoned even training and education as corrupting this wholesome natural disposition [fit*rah]. In the book, Emile,[76] he suggests that we should completely leave the child to himself to grow in whatever way he likes as in the case of wild pennyroyal, and be one with nature.

If Hobbes used to view the nature of man so pessimistically and regarded the existence of a powerful government to be indispensable for deterring human beings from aggression against one another, Rousseau stands on the proposition that in reality it is the society and government that tarnish the clear nature of man, the best state of man being that very state of nature.

Imām Khomeinī’s view

These two traditions and perspectives have both advocates and antagonists. They have been put to the test time and again and have shown their shortcomings. Doubtlessly, each of these two outlooks possesses a part of the truth.
If human beings are left to themselves and no law or moral principle controls them, certainly egoism would sway them to compete with and, finally, obliterate one another.

Apparently, the cynical outlook of Hobbes is more in consonance with reality than the positive view of Rousseau. In Islamic anthropology, strong threads [of the reality] can be seen from Hobbes vantage point.

According to Qur’anic narration, since God announced to the angels His intention of creating man and appointing him as His vicegerent on earth, they asked all together in protest: “Wilt Thou place therein one who will do harm therein and will shed blood, while we, we hymn Thy praise and sanctify Thee?”[77]

In this objection of the angels, they indicated two points: one, this human creature would be a bloodshedding being; the other, they (the angels) were more deserving than man to be the viceregents of God. What is important for us is the first point. The angels, for certain reasons, used to point to the shedding of blood and cruelties of this creature, perceiving the big and disastrous wars written on his face.

Interestingly enough, God neither rebuffed their views, nor said to them that man will not be murderous. Instead, in various instances, including this one, He put the stamp of approval, and described man as iniquitous and imprudent.[78] God answered them with only a single sentence: “Surely I know that which ye know not.”[79]

This general statement conveyed to the angels the fact that God also knows the other side of the coin of man’s existence while they see only his murderous aspect. In such a way, He told them that though man is murderous and cruel, there is a more important feature in him that justifies his creation and appointment as God’s representative on earth. In this manner, murder and bloodshed have been moulded in the existence of man and he has an inborn inclination to transgress his bounds and perpetrate tyranny.[80]

 

Of course, this point should be mentioned that this trait has no relation whatsoever to the Christian notion of Original Sin. According to the Glorious Qur’an, both Adam and Eve, too, were recalcitrant and disobeyed God’s commandment; as a consequence, they were expelled from paradise and sent down to earth.

Nevertheless, after realizing their error, they repented and God, in turn, accepted their repentance, and the spiritual taint of that recalcitrance was wiped out. God, the Most High, states that Adam was beguiled by Satan: “And Adam disobeyed his Lord, so went astray. Then his Lord chose him, and relented toward him, and guided him.”[81]

Thus, this point has no bearing at all on the Christian belief on the original sin of man. Such is the nature of man, egoist and self-centered.
This is the truth of the matter. Man possesses a predatory and destructive makeup. This is what Freud[82] called, ‘instinct of annihilation’ and considers it one of the two fundamental instincts of man. It is the same instinct that has been the cause of the ruinous and widespread wars throughout human history, has spawned great tragedies, and been responsible for father killing son, and son killing father. Of course, this instinct is vital in the life of man. If human beings were not egoistic, they would not have been able to contend with other animals and natural disasters, and would have been exterminated.

From this perspective, man is not different from predatory animals and is subject to the law of ‘kill or be killed’. He destroys others in order to provide for himself, and gives priority to himself over others. The Imām describes this aspect of man in the following terms:

 

It is evident that at the time of his birth, after passing through certain stages, man is no better than a weak animal and has no distinction over other animals, except for his potentiality of becoming a human being. That is, his humanness is potential, not present. Therefore, man is an animal in actuality in the initial stages of his life in this world. No power but the law of animal nature, which governs through the faculties of Desire [shahwah] and Anger [ghadab], rules over him.[83]

Historical observations and reflections of thinkers corroborate and uphold this view and perspective; yet, this is not the end of the story. Man is murderous; yet, his pursuit is not only bloodshed. He is an animal; yet, he does not remain within the bounds of being animal [hayawāniyyah]. It is true that since the moment of his entering the world of existence, man is subject to the logic of animal life and in the words of the Imām:

Though it is not directly relevant to our topic, it is essential to know that the human soul is by nature and instinct inclined to believe not only in the principle of tawhīd [monotheism], but to follow all truthful doctrines also. Yet, since the moment of birth and stepping into this universe, man starts growing and developing along with his natural urges and animal desires.[84]

In spite of this, man can let his other aspect prevail over this aspect. This other aspect of man is evident to God though hidden and concealed to the angels. This aspect of man’s existence is the very fit*rah [natural disposition], which has been given remarkable emphasis in our religious texts. The key solution to this concern is the fit*rah, which have recently been given much attention by Islamic thinkers such as the late ‘Allāmah Tabāt*abā’ī[85] and Mut*ahharī,[86] and on the basis of which they have proved and established a great deal of knowledge and learning.

Fit*rah means natural disposition and origination. In reply to the question concerning the noble āyah [verse], which states: “The nature (framed) of Allah, in which He hath created man,”[87] Imām as-Sādiq (‘a) stated that it meant that God created all the people with a monotheistic instinct.[88]

According to the Imām, fit*rah does not exclusively mean tawhīd [monotheism], as “it includes all the true teachings which God Almighty has ingrained in the nature of His slaves”[89] and these have been moulded in their being and personality.

The Imām elaborates on the role and place of fit*rah in the human instinct, as well as some of its manifestations, in the exposition of the eleventh hadīth in his Sharh-e Chehel Hadīth. The most important principle of man’s fit*rah is his being monotheist; second, belief in the hereafter; and third, acceptance of the principle of prophethood [nubuwwah]. Another decree on man’s fit*rah is:
The natural inclination to seek perfection [that] is so universal [in] that if all the eras of human existence are probed and each of human individuals, no matter to what group or nation he may belong, is questioned, a love of perfection will be found to be part of his nature and his heart will be found to be pulled toward it.[90]

It is possible that owing to the influence of some circumstances or type of upbringing, individuals may have diverse opinions on the meaning and connotation of perfection. In essence, however, nobody holds a dissenting view. Everyone is looking for something which he thinks is better [and] similar is the case of men of science and craft and that of the entire human species. Whatever the activity and field of their concern, their eagerness grows with achievement and is directed toward the higher degrees of perfection. The more they progress and advance, the more their eagerness grows for the higher degrees of perfection; its fire is never extinguished and becomes more intense every day.[91]

It is the same inclination to perfection and excellence that drives forward the caravan of human civilization and learning, and turned the early humans, who were afraid of the fierce and dreadful animals, into masters and rulers of the planets. It is the same penchant for perfection that eclipses man’s murderous nature and makes him determined to overcome his defects and display the excellences in him. It is the same essence of fit*rah that renders possible the founding of communities and civil society. It is the very quintessence that brings to the fore the murderous man’s merit to be the Vicegerent of God and the epitome of divine attributes.

Had it not been for this essence, no social contract—whether in the world of imagination or in that of reality—would have been concluded; human beings would never be willing to give up some of his interests and tolerate others. So, Hobbes in saying that man is the wolf of another man and Rousseau in opining that man is, by nature, pure and peace-loving, are both right. Each of them has seen one facet of man’s being. But if man were only wolf, the establishment of a civil society would not have been possible. On the other hand, if he were only angelic and peaceful in nature, do all these crimes and murders then make sense?

Hence, man is both this and that, but at the same time, is [purely] neither this nor that. In this context, the view of the Imām is both realistic and optimistic. He propounds that when man is born, he possesses abundant potentialities for deriving excellences as well as instincts for his security and survival. In fact, since the time he sets foot on earth, man is in need of attributes that could keep him away from dangers.

In this aspect, he is not significantly different from the other animals. Self-love, the need for food and drink, and the need to ward off danger and to reproduce are all attributes common to human beings and other animals. But, man does not remain in that stage as he possesses the capability to go beyond it and attain spiritual perfections while the other animals are devoid of that potentiality and only revolve in the vicious cycle of their instincts.

In view of this, this monotheistic and perfection-seeking disposition is the demarcation line between human being and animal. Nonetheless, it does not necessarily mean that as he enjoys a truth-seeking disposition man is no longer in need of training and education, and that every human being actually possesses all excellences. Man is de facto no less than an animal. It is only through self-edification that he can elevate himself from that position, leave behind him the degrees of existential perfection, and finally reach a station that is beyond imagination.

In short, from the viewpoint of Imām Khomeinī, man in the state of nature is a ruthless and self-centered creature possessing strong egoism, and in the words of the Imām, an adherent of the logic and “law of animal nature.”[92]

However, his monotheistic and perfection-seeking disposition—provided that it constitutes the basis for growth and development—compels him to overcome his self and his animalistic logic, and to tread the path of perfection, and go beyond the stages of Divine Proximity, becoming the vicegerent of God and all-encompassing embodiment of His Attributes. But, this proximity to the Divine Presence is commensurate to the exit from the door of selfishness and self-worship as “the gnostic journey toward God and the spiritual migration does not take place without leaving the dark house of the self and the disappearance of its traces.”[93]

$$ECTION[Man as the Arena of Conflict between Good and Evil]
Once we accept the previous principle, we can then deduce that the human being has a dual personality; this is part of the well-established Islamic anthropology. According to the Qur’an, God Almighty created man out of odorous black mud, which had been transformed into dry clay, and then He breathed His Spirit upon it; thus, emerged man. In other words, man is a muddy creature, which has the Spirit of God. The Glorious Qur’an describes the creation of man, thus:

“And (remember) when thy Lord said unto the angels: Lo! I am creating a mortal out of potter’s clay of black mud altered. So, when I have made him and have breathed unto him of My spirit, do ye fall down, prostrating yourselves unto him.”[94]

This fact is repeated in the different verses of the Qur’an. The reality must be emphasized that the human being has a twofold personality: heavenly and earthly. This creature has its origin in the earth and his hands are extended toward heaven. While glancing at this transitory world, his eyes are fixed on that everlasting world. This creature is the connecting link between animal and angel. It is this point that distinguishes him from the two, and raises the question—is he superior to the two, equal to, or inferior to them?

One of the companions of Imām as-Sādiq (‘a) asked him as to who is superior, man or angel. The infallible Imām (‘a) replied that the Commander of the Faithful Imām ‘Alī (‘a) had the following answer to the same query:

God created the angels from reason without carnal desire and He created human beings from the combination of these two. Therefore, whoever uses his reason above his desire is superior to the angels and whoever uses his desire above his reason is inferior to the four-footed ones.[95]

While pointing to this hadīth Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Balkhī [ar-Rūmī], a great gnostic and expounder of the subtleties of human existence, recites thus:

ﺩﺮﺤﺩﻳﺚ ïºï»¤ïº©ï»œï»ªï»³ïº¯ïº©ïºï»¦ï»¤ïº ï»³ïº© ﺧﻟﻕﻋﺎﻟﻡ ﺮﺍ ﺴﻪﮔﻮﻧﻪ ﺁﻓﺮﻳﺪ
ﻳﮏ ﮔُﺮُﻩﺮﺍ ïºŸï»¤ï» ï»ª ï»‹ï»—ï»žï»®ï»‹ï» ï»¡ï»®ïº§ï»®ïº© ﺁﻦﻓﺮﺷﻪ ﺍﺴﺖ، ﺍﻮﻧﺩﺍﻧﺩﺟﺰﺴﺟﻮﺩ
ﻧﻴﺴﺖ ﺍﻧﺩﺮﻋﻧﺼﺮﺵﺣﺮﺹﻮﻫﻮﺍ ﻧﻮﺮ ï»£ï»ƒï» ï»•ØŒ ﺰﻧﺩﻩﺍﺰﻋﺷﻕﺨﺩﺍ
ﻴﮏ ﮔﺮﻮﻩﺩﻳﮕﺮﺍﺰﺩﺍﻧﺵﺗﻬﻰ ﻫﻣﭼﻮ ﺤﻴﻮﺍﻥﺍﺰ ï»‹ï» ï»’ ﺩﺮﻓﺮﺒﻬﻰ
ﺍﻮ ﻧﺒﻴﻧﺩﺟﺰ ï»œï»ªïºïº»ï»ƒïº’ï»ï»®ï»‹ï» ï»’ ﺍﺰ ﺸﻗﺎﻮﺖﻏﺎﻓﻞﺍﺴﺖﻮﺍﺯﺸﺮﻒ
ﺍﻴﻥﺴﻮﻢﻫﺴﺖﺁﺪﻤﻴﺯﺍﺪﻮﺒﺸﺮ ﻧﻴﻢ ﺍﻮﺯﺍﻓﺮﺸﺘﻪ ﻮﻧﻴﻤﺶ ﺧﺮ

It is related in the hadīth that the Majestic God
Created the creatures of the world (in) three kinds.
One class (He made) entirely reason and knowledge and munificence;

That is the angel: he knoweth naught but prostration in worship.

In his original nature is no concupiscence and sensuality:
He is absolute light, (he is) living through (his) love of God.
Another class is devoid of knowledge,
Like the animals (which lives) in fatness from (eating) fodder.
It sees nothing but stable and fodder:
It is heedless of (future) misery and glory (felicity).
The third (class) is Adam’s descendant and Man:
Half of him is of the angel and half of him is ass.[96]
This is the state of human existence. His worldly aspect directs him to the world while his celestial side spurs him to quest and growth.

ïº ïºŽï»¦ï®”ïº·ïºŽï»´ïºª ﺴﻮﻯﺒﺎﻻ، ﺒﺎﻟﻬﺎ ﺪﺮﺯﺪﻩ ﺘﻦ ﺪﺮﺯﻤﻴﻦﭽﻧﮕﺎﻟﻬﺎ

The spirit unfolds its wings (to) fly) upwards;
The body has stuck its claws in the earth.[97]

Of course, it is stated in the Prophetic narrations that God created man out of His own mold.

ïº§ï» ï»• ﻤﺎﺒﺮ ﺻﻮﺮﺖﺧﻮﺪﻜﺮﺪﺣﻕ ﻮﺻﻒﻤﺎﺍﺯﻮﺻﻒ ﺍﻮ ﮔﻴﺮﺪﺴﺒﻕ

God created us in His image:
Our qualities are instructed by[98] (are modeled upon) His qualities.[99]

But this is only one side of the coin. It does not mean that man, as such, is superior to the angels and the representative of God. Rather, it points to the fact that man can, and should, make apparent and nurture his divine aspect, and make himself his Lord’s worthy viceroy.

As such, man has a dual personality and each part of him drives him to its pertinent direction. As a result, an inner conflict arises in man, dichotomizing his being. There is a story about Majnūn, which illustrates well this state of humanity. One day Majnūn decided to pay a visit to Laylā who used to live with her tribe in a distant place. So, he went after a she-camel that he possessed and mounted it. The she-camel had just given birth to an offspring and so was not willing to leave the place. However, it had no choice but to take Majnūn.

But whenever Majnūn used to fall asleep due to fatigue, the halter that was in his hand naturally used to slacken and the she-camel, realizing that its master had fallen asleep, would swiftly change its direction and head hurriedly toward its foal. After a short while, Majnūn would wake up and realize that the she-camel had changed course. So, he would correct his course and, gripping the halter tightly, lead the camel toward Laylā. But after some time, Majnūn would lapse into sleep once again and the camel, with its young mind, would change its direction, so on and so forth. After going to and fro like this many times, Majnūn consequently realized that they have not even covered a half day’s distance and that his actual problem was the rider heading toward his beloved and the animal ridden heading in another direction; he would not be able to reach Laylā so long as this situation was such and the two conflicting aims persisted. Mawlānā relates the story in the following words:

ï»¤ï»´ï»žï»£ïº ï»§ï»®ï»¦ï­˜ï»´ïº¶ïºï»¦ï» ï»´ï» ï»°ïº®ï»®ïºï»¦ ﻤﻴﻞ ﻧﺎﻗﻪﭘﺲ، ﭘﻰ ﻛﺮّﻩﺩﻮﺍﻦ
ﻴﮓﺩﻢ ﺍﺮ ï»£ïº ï»§ï»®ï»¦ïº°ïº¨ï»®ïº©ï»ïºŽï»”ï»žïº’Ùïº©Ù‰ ﻧﺎﻗﻪﮔﺮﺩﻴﺩى ﻮﻮﺍﭙﺲ ﺁﻤﺩى
ﻋﺸﻖﻮ ﺳﻮﺪﺍ، ﭽﻮﻦﻜﻪﭙﺮﺒﻮﺪﺶﺒﺪﻦ ﻤﻰ ﻧﺒﻮﺪﺶ ﭽﺎﺮﻩﺍﺯﺒﻴﺧﻮﺪﺷﺪﻦ
ﺁﻧﻜﻪﺒﺎﺷﺪ ﺍﻮﻤﺮﺍﻗﺐ، ﻋﻗﻞﺒﻮﺪ ﻋﻗﻞ ﺮﺍﺴﻮﺪﻯ ï» ï»´ï» ï»°ïºªïº® ﺮﺒﻮﺪ
ï» ï»´ï®“ï»§ïºŽï»—ï»ªØŒ ﺒس ﻤﺮﺍﻗﺐ ﺒﻮﺪ ï»® ﭽُﺴﺖ ﭽﻮﻦ ﺒﺪﻴﺪﻯﺍﻮﻤﻬﺎﺮ ﺧﻮﻴﺶﺴﺴﺖ
ﻓﻬﻡﻜﺮﺪﻯ ﺯﻮ، ﻜﻪﻏﺎﻔﻞﮔﺷﺖﻮﺪﻧﮓ ﺮﻮ ﺳﭘﺲﻜﺮﺪﻯ ﺒﻪﻜﺮّﻩ ﺒﻰﺪﺮﻧﮓ
ﭽﻮﻦﺒﻪ ﺨﻮﺪﺒﺎﺯﺁﻣﺪﻯ، ﺪﻳﺪﻯ ﺯﺟﺎ ﻜﻮﺴﭘﺲﺮﻓﺗﻪﺴﺖﺒﺲﻓﺮﺴﻧﮕﻬﺎ
ﺪﺮ ﺴﻪﺮﻮﺯﻩ ﺮَﻩ، ﺒﺪﻳﻦﺍﺤﻮﺍﻟﻬﺎ ﻤﻧﺪﻤﺟﻧﻮﻦ ﺪﺮﺗﺮﺪﺪ ﺴﺎﻟﻬﺎ
Majnūn’s desire is speeding to the presence of that (beloved) Laylā;
The she-camel’s desire is running back after her foal.
If Majnūn forgot himself for one moment,
The she-camel would turn and go back.
Since his body was full of love and passion,
He had no recourse but to become beside himself.
That which is regardful was (ever) reason:
Passion for Laylā carried (his) reason away.
But the she-camel was very regardful and alert:
Whenever she saw her toggle slack
She would at once perceive that he had become heedless and dazed,
And would turn her back to the foal without delay.
When he came to himself again, he would see on the spot[100]
That she had gone back many leagues.
In these conditions Majnūn remained going to and fro
For years on a three days’ journey.[101]

Yes, this is the condition of man, possessing existential dichotomy. As a result, man is always experiencing the greatest war he can ever imagine. All the great wars in history in reality are echoes of this same inner war. The wildest animals have never been observed to kill and tear up other animals except when they have to eat and cater for their subsistence needs.

No animal ever enjoys killing just for the sake of it or for amusement. However, man is not like this. Rather, at times he sinks so low that if he gets tired of slaying others, he teaches other human beings to rip up and butcher one another in front of him. There was a time in the Roman Empire when physically powerful slaves were given training in warfare.

Then, as gladiators they were brought to the middle of the imperial coliseum and were watched while fighting each other, and then the victorious slaves had to slay those who were overwhelmed. Such is the situation of man who constantly invents new methods for killing his fellow beings. It is enough to recall that during the World War II that lasted for six years, fifty million people lost their lives, though advanced electronically-controlled weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles were not yet invented.

The root of all these crimes is that same animalistic instinct of man, by recognizing which the angels had beforehand protested to or questioned God about the selection of man for the vicegerency [khilāfah]. However, this is not the whole truth. Throughout human history, we have been witnesses to the unprecedented endeavors of some people for the salvation of their fellow beings. Gandhi who was a law graduate, materially well-off, and belonging to the elitist Brahmin caste, had discarded his material comfort, and for the sake of freeing and saving the nation of India from the clutches of colonial rule, he gave up everything he possessed, and lost his life for the sake of equality among the Hindu castes and for guaranteeing the rights of the caste known as the ‘untouchables’. Nelson Mandela, Albert Schweitzer,[102] Mother Teresa, and hundred others—all created immortal epics. In our own religious culture, the movement and uprising of Imām Husayn (‘a) notwithstanding the absence of the least hope for military victory, is a vivid manifestation of that divine quality that is moulded in the natural constitution of man. Imām Khomeinī, in his own characteristic style, portrays human nature as follows:

Let it be known that man is a marvel possessing two lives and two worlds within one existence. That is, apparent life or the outward world, which is this worldly existence, and is associated with his body, and the other is ‘inner life’, the inward world, associated with the hidden, invisible, higher other world, his soul in short, which belongs to the realms of the invisible and celestial world, and consists of several levels and grades… For each one of them is specified host of guardians.

The host related with the divine and intellectual powers attracts him toward the sublime, heavenly spheres, and summons him to the acts of virtue and goodness. The other host of guardians is the ignoble and satanic, which attracts man toward the baser realms of darkness and shame, and invites him to the acts of villainy and destruction. There is always a state of conflict and strife between these two forces, and human existence serves as the battleground of these two bands.[103]

The late Farīdūn Mashīrī [104] relates this status of man, thus:

گفت دانايى كه: گرگى خيره سر هست پنهان در نهادِ هر بشر
لا جرم جارى است پيكارى سترگ روز و شب، مابين اين انسان و گرگ
مردمان گر يكديگر را مىدرند گرگهاشان رهنما و رهبرند
اينكه انسان هست اين سان دردمند گرگها فرمانروايى مىكنند
و آن ستمكاران كه با هم محرمند گرگهاشان آشنايان همند
گرگها همراه و انسانها غريب با گه بايد گفت اين حالِ عجيب؟

A wise man said: ‘A stubborn wolf
Is hidden inside every man.
Inevitably, there is a great conflict and war
That takes place day and night between the man and the wolf.
Men are at logger head with each other
And these wolves lead and direct them.
For, this man is ill and ill-fated;
As such, the wolves rule over them.
Those tyrants are together;
Thus, their wolves are friends to one another.
The wolves are together while men are far from one another.
To whom should we share this amazing condition?[105]
From this principle, ample and valuable teachings can be derived, the most important of which are as follows:

1. Right to choose and select;

2. Necessity of self-cognition; and

3. Combat with the self as the major jihād [struggle].

Right to choose and select

Once we acknowledge that mankind is indescribable (first principle), that man is a combination of the spirit of God and putrid clay (second principle), that the human being is an arena of conflict between these two instincts, then we can proceed to the principle that man is always in the process of choosing and selecting.

Man is not a neutral spectator of his inner war; rather, he is like a commander who, by the choice he makes, acts to the benefit of one of the sides in the war. Man does not only enjoy the right to choose, but is also obliged to choose. In other words, he is compelled to choose, and in the jargon of existentialists, he is condemned to be free. Every movement of us is a form of choosing.

Even if one day we decide not to choose anymore, we have, with this decision, actually undertaken the act of choosing. That is, we have chosen not to choose or, in other words we have decided not to choose. Never for a moment can we ever imagine that we have refrained from choosing. Of course, the scope of this choosing is our conscious and voluntary actions and behaviour; not our genetic and environmental attributes.

For instance, we have not chosen our father, mother, race, or colour beforehand. Nevertheless, in our social behaviour and relations we are always in the state of choosing and selecting. It is through these assorted choices and selections that we build, demolish and rebuild ourselves.

We examine ourselves. We acquire a new description and account of ourselves. We again reject this description and adopt another one. In doing so, we construct and ‘recreate’ ourselves. For, “If indeed existence takes precedence over essence, then humanity is responsible for its own existence.”[106] So long as man is alive this choice exists. So long as man is in the terrestrial plane of existence, this successive self-building and self-demolition is inevitable:
صورتگر نقاشم، هر لحظه بتى سازم و آنگه همه بتها را در پيش تو بگدازم
صد نقش بانگيزم، با روح درآميزم چون نقش تو را بينم، در آتشش اندازم
تو ساقىِ خمارى، يا دشمن هشيارى يا آنكه كنى ويران هر خانه كه مى سازم
جان ريخته شد بر تو، آميخته شد با تو چون بوى تو دارد جان، جان را، هله بنوازم
هر خون كه ز من رويد، با خاک تو مىگويد: با مهر تو همرنگم، با عشق تو هنبازم
در خانه آب و گل بى توست خراب اين دل يا خانه درآ، جانا، يا خانه بپردازم

As a portraitist every moment I make a beautiful idol
But in the end I destroy all of them under your feet.
I make hundreds of pictures and portraits and mix them with soul
But as I see your picture and portrait, I will put all of them on fire.
You are an intoxicated cupbearer, or a wary enemy,
Or that you destroy every house I build.
My soul is filled and mixed with you;
As this soul has your fragrance, I revere and adore it.
Every blood that flows in me says to your dust:
‘I’m synchronous and share with your love and affection.
Without you this heart in this house of water and flower[107] is broken.
O heart! Either go out of this physical house, or build it.[108]

This power to choose is embedded within us, and we are inevitably responsible for ourselves and our choices. In this connection, God, the Most Sublime, says: “Lo! We have created man from a drop of thickened fluid to test him; so We make him hearing, knowing. Lo! We have shown him the way whether he be grateful or disbelieving.”[109]

Elsewhere, while pointing out to the inattentiveness of man with respect to all the things endowed on him, God Almighty states: “Did We not assign unto him two eyes and a tongue and two lips, and guided him to the parting of the mountain ways?”[110]

Accordingly, from the very beginning man is faced with a variety of choices at his disposal. But with respect to these choices, he is neither blind nor compelled to act blindly; rather, he has two eyes that see, two ears that hear, a cogent intellect, and remarkable power to enable him to choose. In this struggle and conflict, man is neither helpless nor unaided; in case he himself wants and chooses, he will be assisted by God. According to the Messenger of God (s), the heart of every human being possesses two chambers: one is the angel’s domain while the other is under the sway of Satan. God renders help and support to the faithful through this angel.[111]

From here we proceed to the next point, which is a prerequisite of choice and indispensable for it; that is, freedom.

Man can only choose if he is free. To be free is latent in the meaning of choice. Once we have the right to choose to be free, we can pick and choose whatever we like. This freedom is not political, social or cultural; rather, it is above all these, and they all emanate from it. This freedom is the natural freedom. Here we do not wish to embark on an extensive and fruitless discussion of freedom, nor of compulsion, predestination and free-will. It is a debate that has engaged philosophers for centuries and millennia.

If we reflect on ourselves we easily observe this state of freedom in us, basically without which, there is no point in talking about education and ethics. The Glorious Qur’an also highlights this innate and intuitive state of ours and on the basis of which it conveys its commendation and praise, or rebuke and chastisement to us. If man were not free, there would have been no need for the sending of prophets and revelation of divine scriptures. Hence, man is free to embrace the faith or deny it.

Even so, there are some people who regard this freedom to be an impediment to deviation and perversion, and by accepting it, have to shoulder their responsibility. They are averse to this assumption of accountability. They try to cast doubt on this principle of freedom and consider themselves compelled, helpless and vulnerable.

When the Messenger of God (s) was appointed to shoulder the mission of messengership [risālah], a group of the polytheists who considered the acceptance of the faith as taking responsibility for, and exercising control over their own carnal desires, claimed: “If God did not want it, we and our forefathers would not have become polytheists and since we have become so, it implies that God has approved it and it is God’s will.” As a result, they became fatalists, and would say that they did not have the right to select and were, perforce, polytheists. In reality, they were juxtaposing the power and will of God vis-à -vis their own power. They would claim that if they were truly free, it implied that God was powerless, and since God had power over everything, it meant that their unbelief and denial of the faith also stemmed from the will of God in the midst of which they had no option. Anticipating this type of argument and reasoning, God told His messenger: “They who are idolaters will say: Had Allah willed, we had not ascribed (unto Him) partners neither had our fathers.”[112]
God presents this attitude as an excuse for not responding to the prophet’s call and for disavowing them. In another place, He considers the same reasoning as the rationale for their freedom. Knowing that His messenger (s) was painstakingly trying and endeavoring to make the idolaters finally submissive and subservient to Islam, God Almighty restrained him from these endeavors and said to him: “If Allah willed, He could have brought them all together to the guidance.”[113] Therefore, the crux of the matter is not whether God has power or not; the point is that God wants to test human beings. For this reason, He says: “Had Allah willed He could have made you one community. But that He may try you by that which He hath given you (He hath made you as ye are).”[114]

As such, God desires everybody to embrace the faith. But He wants this acceptance of the faith to be done freely and without any compulsion. Otherwise, it would not have been difficult for Him to have created all with identical mental and emotional makeup so that they would be Muslims and faithful en masse.

Renunciation of freedom, then, is in fact the result of mere sophistry and caprice, not attention to esoteric and exoteric realities. The reason is that anyone who is keen on doing something feels a sort of freedom in relation to doing it, whereas if he is not inclined to do something, it gives him a feeling of fatalism. Most of us witness this circumstance in our daily lives. Anybody who is engaged in economic ventures and activities feels himself free and believes in the right to choose, while he or she who is only confined within the four corners of the house experiences a sense of determinism and believes that:

ما آبروى فقر و قناعت نمى بريم با پادشه بگو که روزى مقدر است

We talk not of poverty and contentment;
Tell to the king that fortune is predetermined.

The fact is that for our sustenance to be predetermined does not mean abandoning economic activities. Mawlānā describes this propensity and morale as follows:

ﺩﺭﻫﺭ ﺁﻥ ﻛﺎﻯ ﻛﻪﻣﻴﻞﺍﺳﺘﺖﺑﺪﺍﻥ ﻗﺪﺭﺕﺧﻮﺩ ﺭﺍ ﻫﻣﻰﺑﻴﻨﻰ ﻋﻴﺎﻥ
ï»­ ﻧﺩﺭ ﺁﻥﻛﺎﺭﻯ ï»›ï»ªï»£ï»´ï» ïº–ï»§ï»´ïº´ïº–ï»­ïº§ï»®ïºïº´ïº– ﺧﻮﻴﺶ ﺭﺍﺟﺒﺮﻯ ﻛﻨﻰ، ﻛﻴﻦ ﺍﺯﺧﺪﺍﺳﺖ

In every act for which you have inclination,
You are clearly conscious of your power (to perform it),
But in every act for which you have no inclination and desire,
In regard to that (act) you have become a necessitarian, saying,
‘This is from God.’[115]

An illustrating story of these fatalists is that of a man who entered a certain garden without permission, approached a tree, and began picking its fruits. When the owner of the garden reproached him for doing so, he claimed predetermination and said that he was an involuntary servant of God, i.e. without control over anything, and he was picking the fruits of a tree belonging to God. The owner of the garden tied him with a rope and beat him on his back and sides with a piece of wood, and when the man objected to him for doing so, he answered:

ﮔﻔﺖ: ״ﺍﺯﭼﻮﺏ ﺧﺪﺍﺍﻳﻦ ﺑﻨﺪﻩﺍﺵ ﻣﻰﺯﻨﺪ ﺑﺮ ﭘﺸﺖﺩﻳﮕﺮ ﺑﻨﺪﻩﺧﻮﺵ
ﭼﻮﺏ ﺣﻖ، ï»­ ﭘﺸﺖ ï»­ ï­˜ï»¬ï» ï»­ïºï»¥Ù ﺍﻭ ﻣﻦ ﻏﻼﻡ ﻭﺁﻟﺖِ ﻓﺮﻣﺎﻥِ ﺍﻭ”
ﮔﻔﺖ: “ﺗﻭﺑﻪﻛﺮﺩﻡﺍﺯﺟﺒﺮﺍﻯ ﻋﻴﺎﺭ ﺍﺧﺘﻴﺎﺭﺍﺳﺖ، ﺍﺧﺘﻴﺎﺭﺍﺳﺖ، ﺍﺧﺘﻴﺎﺭ”

He answered, ‘With God’s cudgel this servant of His
Is soundly beating the back of another servant.
’Tis God’s cudgel, and the back and sides belong to Him:
I am (only) the slave and instrument of His command.
He (the thief) said, ‘O cunning knave, I make a recantation of Necessitarianism:
There is free-will, there is free-will, (there is) free-will!’ [116]

Necessity of self-cognition

As the state within man is in reality an arena of conflict between irreconcilably competing forces, everyone should be well acquainted with this battleground, opposing camps, and the types of weapons used in this conflict. Perhaps one could lead a prosperous life even without a knowledge of mathematics. Maybe one could be felicitous in life even without being familiar with the natural history of the world and geology.

Possibly one could enjoy a blissful life even without familiarity with the history of one’s forebears or geography of the time. But no one could take a step toward perfection and bliss without knowing one’s self.

Therefore, this is the knowledge from which no one could consider himself not to need. More than two thousand years ago, it was written on the door of the Delphi temple in Athens: “Know thyself.” It seems that this saying will never fade and in no way relinquish its virtue and significance. All the efforts of Socrates were made to apply this maxim in his own case. As such, everybody throughout history has acknowledged his philosophy. Whether man regards himself as the center of the universe—as those in the past did believed—or as a speck of atom in the Milky Way—as people believe nowadays—he cannot escape from self-cognition. In no way can one ignore this cognizance. If man succeeds in drawing everything under his command but is ignorant of himself and unaware of the agitation within him, then he is still subjugated by his self and a prisoner of the forces within him.

Real freedom is not attained through dominance over nature but through recognition of one’s self. But alas! Man drifts away from the path, and as he obtained knowledge of nature as well as mastery over it, he imagines it as the very path to happiness. While the enemy is inside the house, he goes to fight the windmills and so deceive himself in the manner of Don Quixote.[117]

The intention is not to show the knowledge of nature to be unimportant; rather, the point is that if this nature which has been subjugated is placed at the disposal of man who does not yet know himself, not only does it not guarantee his felicity but even provides powerful means for the destruction and massacre of human beings as it has been hitherto. As technology advances, moral decadence and degeneration have also increased. Anyone who is not cognizant of himself but is after the understanding of nature loses the essence of his life’s period, and falling to the level of creatures subjugated by their instincts. This kind of person, according to Mawlānā, is:

ïº»ïº©ï»«ïº°ïºïº­ïºï»¥ï»“ïº¼ï»žïº©ïºï»¨ïºªïºïº¯ï»‹ï» ï»®ï»¡ ﺟﺎﻥ ﺧﻮﺩ ﺭﺍﻣﻰﻧﺪﺍﻧﺩ ïºï»¥ï»‡ï» ï»®ï»¡
ﺩﺍﻨﺩﺍﻮﺧﺎﺼﻴﺖﻫﺭﺟﻮﻫﺭﻯ ﺪﺭ ﺑﻴﺎﻥ ﺟﻮﻫﺭﺧﻮﺪ ﭽﻮﻥ ﺧﺭﻯ
ﮐﻪ: “ﻫﻤﻰﺩﺍﻨﻡﻳﺟﻮﺯﻮﻻﻴﺟﻮﺯ” ﺧﻮﺪﻨﺩﺍﻨﻰﺗﻮﻴﺟﻮﺯﻯ ﻴﺎﻋﺟﻮﺯ!
ﺍﻴﻥﺭﻮﺍ ﻮ ﺁﻥﻨﺎﺭﻮﺍ، ﺩﺍﻨﻰﻮﻟﻴﮏ ﺗﻮﺭﻮﺍﻴﺎﻨﺎﺭﻮﺍﻴﻰ؟ ﺑﻴﻥ ﺗﻮ ﻨﻴﮏ
ﻗﻴﻣﺖﻫﺭﻛﺎﻟﻪﻣﻰﺩﺍﻨﻛﻪﭼﻴﺳﺖ ﻗﻴﻣﺖ ﺨﻮﺩﺭﺍ ﻨﺎﺩﺍﻨﻰﺍﺤﻣﻘﻰ ﺍﺳﺖ
ﺳﻌﺩﻫﺎﻮﻨﺤﺳﻬﺎﺩﺍﻨﺳﻪﺍﻯ ﻨﻨﮕﺭﻯ ﺳﻌﺩﻯﺘﻮ ﻴﺎﻨﺎﺸُﺳﺘﻪﺍﻯ
ïº ïºŽï»¦ïº ï»¤ï» ï»ª ï»‹ï» ï»¤ï»¬ïºŽïºï»´ï»¦ïºïº³ïº–ïºï»´ï»¦ ﻜﻪ ﺑﺩﺍﻨﻰﻤﻦ ﻜﻰﺍﻢ ﺩﺮ ﻴﻮﻢ ﺩﻴ
آن اصول دين بدانستى تو، ليک بنگر اندر اصلخود، گر هست نيک

He knows a hundred thousand superfluous matters[118] connected with
The (various) sciences, (but) that unjust man does not know his own soul.
He knows the special properties of every substance,
(But) in elucidating his own substance(essence) he is(as ignorant) as anass,
Saying, ‘I know (what is) permissible and impermissible’[119] Thou knowest not
Whether thou thyself art permissible or (unpermissible as) an old woman.[120]
Thou knowest this licit (thing) and that illicit (thing),
But art thou licit or illicit? Consider well!
Thou knowest what is the value of every article of merchandise;
(If) thou knowest what is the value of thyself, ’tis folly.
Thou hast become acquainted with the fortunate and inauspicious stars;
Thou dost not look to see whether thou art fortunate or unwasted
(spiritually foul and ill-favoured).
This, this, is the soul of all the sciences—
That thou shouldst know who thou shall be on the Day of Judgment.
Thou art acquainted with the fundamentals [usūl] of the Religion,
But look upon thine own fundamental [asl] and see whether it is good. [121]

Well, the true essence of wisdom and foundation of true knowledge is self-cognition. This view on man and the true station of self-cognition in the West starts with Socrates and reaches its zenith in the philosophy of existentialism.[122] SÙ‘ren Kierkegaard,[123] a Christian orator and thinker of Denmark, is regarded as the father and precursor of existentialism.
Although this idea is traced from the thoughts of such personalities as Socrates, Marcus Aurelius, Apectitus, St. Augustine, and Pascal, it is through Kierkegaard that it has been presented systematically. In his short but productive life he produced valuable works, which proved very useful to those that came after him. Even though his contemporaries had not given much importance to his sayings, his thought is being increasingly recognized nowadays. The core of his thought, revolving around the human being, can be mentioned in the following five statements:

1. Be yourself. That is, behave in such a manner that your outer and inner self is in unison, and eschew any sort of pretension.

2. Mind yourself. That is, mind only your own business. Of course, it does not mean that one should be indifferent toward the affairs of others. Rather, the point is that everyone should be concerned first and foremost about himself. If everybody does so, naturally the society could have a brighter future.

3. Know yourself. That is, strive to have a correct picture of yourself which should be identical with reality as much as possible.

4. Know your ideal condition. That is, after acquiring an actual image of yourself, strive to identify the ideal image of yourself.

5. Always move from your present to your ideal condition. That is, after recognizing your real self and obtaining the correct picture of your ideal condition, set out on a perpetual journey and move toward your ideal station.[124] In the language of Mawlānā,

همچو مستسقى كز آبش سير نيست بر هر آنچه يافتى باﷲ ميست

By God, do not tarry in anything (any spiritual position) that thou hast gained,
(But crave more) like one suffering from dropsy who is never sated with water.[125]

Therefore, the core of existentialism, which is one of the most influential contemporary schools of philosophy, is nothing but self-cognition. In this case, “if the fundamental principle of existentialism, in short, is the primacy of knowledge of the soul over knowledge of the world, it appears that it can be said by implication that the proponent of this school, aside from not being an infidel, is [actually] concerned with the spirit of all knowledge and learning.”[126]

Such a judgment is natural since all religions have invited man to self-cognition and “the slogan of primacy of knowledge of the soul over knowledge of the world is a slogan, which stems from the heart of the teachings of Abrahamic faiths, and has abundant manifestations particularly in Islam.”[127]
The truth is that in our religious thought, self-cognition has been recognized as the spirit of all knowledge and learning (i.e., the most profitable of all kinds of knowledge). Imām ‘Alī (‘a) says: “Knowledge of the self is the most beneficial of all knowledge.”[128] Viewing self-cognition as the objective and apogee of knowledge, he (‘a) also says: “The highest degree of knowledge is that man would know his own self.”[129] Elsewhere he (‘a) says: “Whosoever has attained self-cognition has achieved greater victory.”[130]

All these emphases point to the significance and necessity of self-cognition in the discipline of Islamic anthropology. If knowledge of the self is equivalent to knowledge of God,[131] it follows that oblivion of the self means oblivion of God. So, if there is someone who does not know himself and claims to have knowledge of God, then according to Imām ‘Alī (‘a), there is room for distrust and amazement.[132]

It is only through self-cognition that man is able to understand the purpose of creation, know his place in this system, and

realize that the aim of imparting to us all these graces and endowments is something else, superior to and higher than what is visible. This world is a stage of action and its aim is a higher and more sublime sphere of existence. This lower and animal existence is not an end in itself.[133]

If man does not know himself and has no knowledge of the subtleties of his soul, he will then be afflicted with a multitude of destructive moral maladies such as hypocrisy, selfishness, pride, and polytheism. The first step in moral conduct [sulūk-e akhlāqī] is self-cognition. The aim of reckoning [muhāsibah], heeding [murāqibah] and other ethical precepts is this self-cognition and nothing else. To cite an example, whoever does not know himself and is unaware of the real subtleties of his own self, experiences narrow-mindedness, and this in turn, provides the ground for pride to develop in him and “being a person with a narrow mentality, as soon as he beholds any merit in himself he imagines that he has position and status. He thinks he has acquired a high station.”[134]

It can thus be deduced that it is not pride unless it is based on ignorance and feeble-mindedness. Those whose ignorance is more and whose rational faculties are more defective, are more proud of themselves; and those whose knowledge is greater, whose souls are more capacious, and whose breasts are spacious—they are humbler and more modest.[135]

It is through this approach that Imām Khomeinī, may his soul be sanctified, gives preference to reforming the self over reforming others and reckons the interior as more important than the exterior. In this perspective, the essence is the interior and not the external conditions. If man be free from all external entanglements but has a feeling of inner bondage, he is then not truly free. If man possesses the whole world but internally feels indigence, he is still destitute.

ﮔﻔﺖﭽﺷﻢﺗﻧﮓﺪﻧﻴﺎﺪﻮﺴﺖﺮﺍ ﻴﺎﻗﻧﺎﻋﺖﭘﺮﮐﻧﺪ ﻴﺎﺧﺎﮎ ﮔﻮﺮ

He said that the covetous eye of the worldly man is either satisfied
Through contentment, or will be filled with the earth of the grave.[136]

Basically, everything originates internally. So, while quoting a hadīth which expresses, “The freeman is free in all circumstances,”[137] the Imām says:
Let it be known to you that contentment comes from the heart and the absence of neediness is a spiritual state, unrelated to external matters that lie outside the human self. I have myself seen certain persons among rich and wealthy classes who say things which no honorable poor man would say.[138]

This point is not restricted to wealth alone. All other conditions are like that. For this reason, the Imām invites all, particularly the theology students, to begin with and reform themselves, saying that:

The first thing that the learned in religious sciences and the seekers of this perilous road must take into consideration is self-reform during the period of studies, counting it as far as possible to be the foremost of their duties, for this is harder and more obligatory than all the duties and obligations dictated by sharī‘ah and reason.[139]

Non-recognition of the self springs from blindness of the heart and inner loss of sight, which is considered as the origin of all adversities. Hence, “one must be very fearful of this inner blindness of vision which is the main source of all kinds of darkness and wretchedness. The blindness of the heart is the source of all misfortunes.”[140]

Thus, self-cognition is the fountainhead of all human perfection while self-ignorance is the root of all deprivation and humiliation of man. So, knowledge of the self is superior to knowledge of the world, and appears to be even more important than many religious sciences. As such, this knowledge should be accorded its own separate place and be developed and expanded. One should not be unduly confined to collecting and amassing terms of little use; rather, one should think of understanding one’s real self and the intricacies and subtleties of the soul.

Combat with the self as the major jihād {struggle}

The explication of the major jihād [struggle] and combat with the self can be traced from an event which has been narrated from the Messenger of God (s). The story runs as follows: The Messenger of God (s) dispatched a contingent of the army from among the Muslims to a battlefront.

Upon their successful return, he (s) said to them: “Blessed are those who have performed the minor jihād and have yet to perform the major jihād.” They asked, “O Messenger of God, what is the major jihād?”He (s) replied: “The jihād of the self (combat with the self).”[110]

In this manner, combat with the self and the major jihād [struggle] entered our moral culture and attained an eminent status in our religious literature. But, what is meant by this ‘combat with the self’?

We can only talk about combat with the self when the preceding principles have been well understood and accepted. Once we acknowledge that man has dual personalities and between which a constant war is taking place, we can then have a proper understanding of combat with the self. What is meant by ‘self’ [nafs] here is not the philosophical sense of the term. Rather, it means the world of carnal instincts and desires. The totality of all existential needs, motives, and sexual impulses is called ‘self’ [nafs].
As such, what is meant by combat with the self is the struggle against these instincts; though this understanding is somewhat premature and fails to convey the exact import of the hadīth. The objective of combat with the self, in a nutshell, is to place all carnal powers, desires and instincts under the dictates of reason and use them for serving God and perfecting the self.

It is from this aspect that Imām Khomeinī describes it as follows: “Thus the jihād of the self… implies overpowering one’s own powers and faculties, and placing them under God’s command, and purging the domain of our body of satanic elements and their forces.”[142]

Combat with the self, in the Imām’s code of ethics has such an esteemed position that he commences his book, Sharh-e Chehel Hadīth [Exposition of Forty Hadīths] with it and the first hadīth he expounds is this very hadīth of ‘combat with the self’, considering it loftier than attaining martyrdom in the way of God: “Thus, the jihād of the self is the jihād of greater importance. This jihād is superior to being killed in the way of God…”[143]

The reason behind the importance of combat with the self in relation to the conventional jihād is obvious.

If somebody abandons (conventional) jihād he has then committed a grave sin and caused the defeat of others while if somebody pulls out of the combat with the self, he, in fact, is vanquished and has caused his own fall. Military combat is not constant. But combat with the self is an arduous and constant activity. In military combat there are others who can help the person. Yet in the combat with the self it is the very person himself who should render the final blow to the enemy and gain victory. In military combat victory is sometimes so apparent and conspicuous that it elicits the applause and eulogy of everybody and gives a boost to one’s pride. However, in the combat with the self nobody is a witness as to what is taking place inside man and victory does not evoke praise and congratulations from anyone.

The story of a mujāhid [combatant] who had been fighting and gaining marvellous victories for years and then, in seclusion, engaged in combat with the self, and the reactions of the self, which Mawlānā has elaborately narrated, is the best example of such differences. In short, these distinctions and many others exemplify the primacy of combat with the self over combat against an adversary—(as combat with the self involves fighting with) an adversary whose killing is not easily possible and who is more powerful than any outer enemy:

ﺍﯼﺸﻬﺎﻦ! ﮐﺸﺘﻴﻢﻤﺎ ﺧﺻﻢﺒﺮﻮﻦ ﻤﺎﻨﺪﺧﺻﻤﻰ ﺯﻮ ﺒﺘﺮﺪﺮ ﺍﻨﺪﺮﻮﻦ
ﮐﺸﺘﻦﺍﻴﻦ، ﮐﺎﺮﻋﻘﻞﻮﻫﻮﺶﻨﻴﺴﺖ ﺸﻴﺮ ﺒﺎﻄﻦ ، ﺴُﺧﺮﻩﺧﺮﮔﻮﺶ ﻨﻴﺴﺖ
ﺪﻮﺰﺥﺍﺴﺖ ﺍﻴﻦﻨﻔﺲﻭﺪﻮﺰﺥﺍﮊﺪﻫﺎﺴﺖ ﻜﻮﺒﻪﺪﺮﻴﺎﻫﺎﻨﮔﺮﺪﺪ ﻜﻢﻮﻜﺎﺴﺖ
ﻫﻔﺖﺪﺮﻴﺎ ﺮﺍﺪﺮﺁﺷﺎﻤﺪ، ﻫﻨﻭﺰ ﻜﻢﻨﮔﺮﺪﺪ ﺴﻭﺰﺶﺁﻥ ïº¨ÙŽï» ï»• ﺴﻭﺰ
ﺴﻨﮔﻬﺎﻮ ﻜﺎﻓﺮﺍﻥﺴﻨﮓﺪﻞ ﺍﻨﺪﺮﺁﻳﻨﺪﺍﻨﺪﺮﺍﻭ ﺰﺍﺮ ï»® ïº¨ïº ï»ž

O kings, we have slain the outward enemy,
(But) there remains within (us) a worse enemy than he.
To slay this (enemy) is not the work of reason and intelligence:
The inward lion is not subdued by the hare.
This carnal self [nafs] is Hell, and Hell is a dragon
(The fire of) which is not diminished by oceans (of water).
It would drink up the Seven Seas, and still
The blazing of that consumer of all creatures would not become less.
Stones and stony-hearted infidels enter it,
Miserable and shame-faced.[144]

Of course, it should not be assumed that since combat with the self is superior to that against an adversary, one should abandon the latter and engage only the former. Unfortunately, this understanding had emerged among a group of people and they would replace this one with the other. They were negligent of the fact that combat against an adversary is the preliminary of combat with the self and it is only after triumphing over an outer foe and obtaining the necessary preparedness that one can engage in combat with the self.

Thus, it was only after a contingent of that army had defeated the enemies that the Messenger of God (s) apprised them of the combat with the self, and not prior to (the triumphant return of the contingent). This shows that it is only after the outer jihād has been performed that one can talk about combat with the self.
Anyhow, the quintessence of Islamic morality is this combat with the self, which the Imām also emphasizes so much and reckons it as the touchstone of man’s prosperity or adversity. He describes the arena of this conflict as follows:

The human soul inhabits another realm and another territory also, which is the world of the hidden and the sphere of the sublime world. In that world, the role of the sensual forces assumes graver dimensions. This is the place, where the struggle and conflict between the divine forces and the fiendish ones is more severe and also more significant. Everything that exists in the external or visible world drifts to this hidden world, and is manifested there. Whichever of the forces whether godly or devilish, is victorious here is essentially triumphant there also… it is possible that, God forbid, due to the defeat of heavenly forces, the self is left vacant for the unholy occupation of the vicious and unworthy satanic legions, and hence causing an eternal loss to the human being that cannot be retrieved.[145]

Nevertheless, this combat with the self sometimes brings about questions and ambiguities, which are the subject of the next discussion.

Regulation of Instincts

Really, what should be done with our wayward instincts and earthly aspect? Once we accept that man is a blend of the spirit of God and putrid clay, and that this existential contradiction is the cause of the rise and fall of man’s spiritual life, how could and should this contradiction be resolved? Since time immemorial this existential contradiction of man has been known to many thinkers and philosophers. Some of the Greek thinkers used to liken man’s soul or spirit to a bird, held within the cage of body and shackled to the physical dimension. For instance, in an ode [ghazal] they claimed to be that of Mawlānā,[146] it appears thus:

مرﻍ باﻍ ملکوتم نيم از عالم خاک چند روزى قفسى ساخته اند از بدنم

I’m a bird of the heavenly garden and not of this material world.
But for some moments they have made a cage out of my physical body.[147]

For that reason, they have considered the body and physical dimension of man as a prison and an impediment to perfection, and life in this physical world as the greatest veil in reaching God. Many a time Hāfiz Shīrāzī[148] expresses chagrin and remorse for this earthliness of man and reminds [man] that this [world] is not his [final] abode:

كه اى بلند نظر، شاهباز سدره نشين نشين تو نه اين كُنج محنت آبادست
ترا ز كنگره عرش مىزنند صفير ندانمت كه در اين دامگه چه افتادست

O ambitious and great who is in a sublime station!
Your abode is not this corner of suffering and affliction.
They call on you from heavens;
I know not what you are doing in this world of deception.[149]
Expression of distress for this bondage and adversity can be seen in numerous poems of Iranian poets. In the different religions of India, particularly Jainism,[150] this contradiction between soul and body is more evident. The most important tenets of this sect are anchored on the principle that the growth of the bodily instincts be impeded and the soul nourished as much as possible. This is the way of setting it (soul) free from the body.

So long as the body is strong and desirous of complying with the dictates of its instincts, the soul is feeble and a servant of the body. But once we burn and melt the body through contentment and refrain from obeying its whims and caprices, the soul, which is a ‘divine breath’, gains strength and becomes powerful and is able to gradually subdue the body.

For the generation of this power many ways have been proposed, the most important of which are as follows: celibacy, withdrawing from activity, seclusion, eating less and less often, and sleeping less and less often. For instance, they narrate that Mahavira,[151] the founder of Jainism, remained single all his life and would pass his days in begging. Other sects springing from Hinduism, such as Buddhism, as well as the system of Yoga more or less recommend the same.[152]

The interpretation of these people on the issue of bodily needs and their relation to spiritual ones are very simplistic. A human being wants whatever he sees; so it is better for him not to see and want anything. The following couplets that are attributed to Bābā T&āhir[153] point to this view:

ز دست ديده و دل هر دو فرياد كه هرچه ديده بيند، دل كند ياد
ببسازم خنجرى نيشش ز فولاد زنم بر ديده تا دل گردد آزاد

I complain of both my eyes and heart
For everything that the eyes see, the heart would yearn for.
I am going to make a dagger with a blade of steel
With which to stab my eyes so that my heart will be set free.

As such, the solution to this issue is that man should pay no heed to his bodily needs, withdraw from the society, be apathetic to the fate of others, close his eyes from viewing the beauties of nature, and deprive himself of all the natural endowments. Sa‘dī[154] thus narrates his dialogue with one of these kind of people as follows:

ﺒﺰﺮﮔﯽﺪﻴﺪﻢﺍﻧﺪﺮﮐﻮﻫﺳﺎﺮﯼ ﻗﻧﺎﻋﺖﮐﺮﺪﻩ ﺍﺰﺪﻧﻳﺎ ﺒﻪﻏﺎﺮﯼ
ﭽﺮﺍ، ﮔﻔﺗﻢﺒﻪﺷﻬﺮﺍﻧﺪﺮﻧﻴﺎﻴﯽ؟ ﮐﻪ ﺒﺎﺮﯼﺒﻧﺪﻯ ﺍﺯ ﺪﻞﺒﺮﮔﺷﺎﻴﯽ
ïº’ï®•ï»”ïº–ïºï»§ïº ïºŽï­™ïº®ï»´ïº®ï»®ï»´ïºŽï»¦ï»§ï»ïº°ï»§ïºª ﭼﻮ ﮔﻞﺒﺴﻴﺎﺮ ﺷﺪ، ï­™ï»´ï»¼ï»¦ïº’ï» ï»ïº°ï»§ïºª

A great man I saw in highlands
Who has contented himself in cave-dwelling.
‘Why do you not come to the city’—to him I said—
‘To relax and refresh your heart?’
He said that the city is full of glitters
Be it known that when dry clay increases, the elephants will make a slip.[155]

In this manner, asceticism and seclusion, in our culture, are considered synonymous, and khāneqāh [monastery, convent or house of dervishes] and school is juxtaposed with each other. The difference between the worshipper and ascetic on the one hand, and the scholar on the other hand, is that the former is only after his salvation while the latter is concerned with the salvation of others as well:
ïº»ïºŽïº¤ïº’ïºªï» ï»°ïº’ï»ªï»¤ïºªïº®ïº´ï»ªïºï»¤ïºªïº¯ïº¨ïºŽï»§ï»˜ïºŽï»© ﺒﺸﮑﺴﺖﻋﻬﺪِ ﺻﺤﺒﺖ اﻫﻞ ﻄﺮﻴﻖ ﺮا
ﮔﻔﺘﻡ: ﻤﻴﺎﻦ ï»‹ïºŽï» Ùï»¡ï»®ï»‹ïºŽïº’ïºªï­½ï»ªï»“ïº®ï»•ïº‘ï»®ïºª ﺗﺎ اﺧﺘﻴﺎﺮﮐﺮﺪﻯ اﺰ ﺁﻦ اﻴﻦ ﻓﺮﻴﻖ ﺮا؟
ﮔﻔﺖ: ﺁﻦ ï®”ï» ï»´ï»¢ïº§ï»®ï»´ïº¶ ﺑﺪﺮﻤﻰﺑﺮﺪﺰﻤﻮﺝ ï»®ï»´ï»¥ïº ï»¬ïºª ﻤﻰﻛﻨﺪﮔﻪ ﺮﻫﺎﻨﺪﻏﺮﻴﻖﺮﺍ

A certain holy man having quitted the monastery,
And the society of religious men, became a member of a college.
I asked what was the difference between being a learned,
Or a religious man that could induce him to change his society?
He replied, “The devotee saves his own blanket out of the waves,
And the learned man endeavors to rescue others from drowning.”[156]

Definitions such as ‘self-denial’, ‘purging of instincts’, and ‘self-restraint’ are based on this view, which arises mainly from Hindu culture and has found its way among some Muslims. Thus, in most cases when talking about combat with the self, some of them suppose it to be equal to self-denial and uprooting of instincts, and this very Hindu notion of self-denial is what is in their mind.

At times, a group of early Muslims had the same perception of combat with the self [jihād an-nafs]. One day one of the companions of the Messenger of God (s) named Uthmān ibn Maz‘ūn asked his permission for seclusion and solitude. But the Holy Prophet (s) did not consent and said: “God, the Blessed and Exalted, has not ordained that we lead a monastic life. The monasticism of my ummah [community of believers] is the struggle in the way of God [jihād fī sabīlillāh].”[157] Likewise, in interpreting on the noble āyah [Qur’anic verse], “Do you want me to inform you of the most destructive of people? It is he whose endeavor is corruption of the worldly life,” the Holy Prophet (s) said: “It refers to the monks who have confined themselves to the four corners [of the monastery].”[158]

There was also a time when one of the companions of Imām ‘Alī (‘a) named ‘Alā’ ibn Ziyād Hārithī brought a complaint to the Commander of the Faithful (‘a) that his brother, ‘Āsim, has turned his back from the world (i.e., he has renounced the world) and put on a woolen garment.[159] Imām ‘Alī (‘a) summoned him. As he came, the Imām (‘a) told him:

O’ enemy of yourself! Certainly, the evil (Satan) has misguided you. Do you feel no pity for your wife and your children? Do you believe that if you use those things which Allah has made lawful for you, He will dislike you? You are too unimportant for Allah to do so.[160]

Although our ethical and gnostic literature is replete with associating repudiation of the world with combat with the self and equating asceticism with Christian monasticism, the principal tenets of the Messenger of God (s) and the Infallibles in this regard are something else.

Combat with the self does not mean denying the reality of instincts or their suppression. Combat with the self commences with the presumption that all instincts of man are necessary and that, basically, without them spiritual perfection cannot be attained. Combat with the self is not meant to ignore, for instance, the sexual instinct, and to order its repression. Rather, it considers it vital, necessary and essential for growth, and tries to guide it.

Thus, Imām Khomeinī while expounding it (combat with the self) does not speak about suppression of instincts. It is true that in jihād we always aim for victory and that we earnestly aspire to crush our opponent. But we do not all the times yearn for the elimination of the adversary. Rather, it is likely that his existence could be useful to us! We only see to it that we are not overcome by the adversary in this arena, not that we annihilate the enemy, i.e. our self. So, the Imām adopts the term, ‘triumph’ and in no way talks about self-denial. Instead, he emphasizes that “the jihād of the self which is the jihād of greater importance implies overpowering one’s own powers and faculties, and placing them under God’s command.”[161]

Yes, it is about harnessing and regulating instincts through overpowering them; not through self-denial. Consequently, in the combat with the self, one cannot talk at all about the obliteration of instincts. Rather, the existence and indispensability of all instincts has been assumed. It is through this outlook on the issue of instincts and how to regulate them that we arrive at the following:
· Necessity of instincts for perfection;

· Insatiability of instincts; and

· Social involvement as a requisite of combat with the self.

Necessity of instincts for perfection

Curbing the instincts does not mean that their existence is not necessary. Instead, they must be endured. If it is so, there is no need then to preserve them, and the policy of eliminating them is the best one. [Yet,] in the code of ethics of the Imām the existence of all instincts is deemed necessary, and all of them have advantages and uses. In essence, from this aspect, nothing in the universe has been created inordinately and every integral part of the universe has its own particular function. So, the existence of all things—even the apparently worst instincts—is beneficial and necessary. This reasoning has roots in the Qur’anic view of the universe. God Almighty says: “We created not the heaven and the earth and all that is between them in play.”[162]

As far as creation is concerned it is the act of the All-Wise God; it has been created wisely and nothing therein is futile and vain. In the same vein, since all beings are creatures of the One and Only God, they are in a state of harmony and concordance, and all parts are related to one another. If in a certain level of existence disorder is noticeable, through a deeper analysis we would realize its intrinsic order. To cite an example, a child who has seen the kitchen utensils in the cabinet everyday and today he notices that all of them are apparently cluttered in different parts of the kitchen, he considers it as the result of his mother’s carelessness and confusion.

But once he understands that they are supposed to entertain visitors that night at home, he realizes that this apparent disarray has meaning and order. Such is the creation. If at first glance the same impression is entertained in one’s mind, this notion will dissipate after a second and profound scrutiny. That is why the Glorious Qur’an admonishes us, anytime we comprehend diversity and duality in the universe, to take a second and deeper look so as to discover our own misconception.[163]

The corollary of this precept is for us to reckon the universe as orderly and purposeful, and not to think of any phenomenon therein as useless. God Almighty considers it an attribute of the learned and sages that they hold the passing of nights and days and all the phenomena in the universe significance, and say: “Our Lord! Thou createdst not this in vain. Glory be to Thee!”[164]

This all-embracing view on the universe also includes man’s self and instincts. Since there is nothing useless in the universe, it follows that human instincts are also meaningful and purposeful. If we view instincts from this perspective, we cannot on any account, talk about eliminating and suppressing them. Instead, efforts should be made for them to act in accordance with their particular functions and not drift away from their own specific tasks; this is different from self-denial. This rule is applicable to all instincts.
The existence of even those instincts which have apparently negative functions is also essential and their absence would render man’s existence imperfect and deficient. For instance, one of the ‘negative’ instincts is anger, which is mentioned in the ahādīth [Prophetic narrations] as the key to all kinds of destruction and mischief.

Nowadays, numerous books have been written about this affliction, its negative effects, and ways of curing it. There are hardly any who are immune to the side effects of this ominous phenomenon; all of us in different places drunk its hemlock and have poisoned our palates. Many psychologists consider anger as causing high blood pressure, cholesterol, and even untimely death, and say that anger deprives man of the powers of sound reasoning and judgment, making him blind to the realities.

Once such anger and hatred arises in you, the most important part of your mind, which is the center of judgment between right and wrong, fails to function, rendering you incapable of judging the short- and long-term consequences of your conduct and behaviour. In this condition, our power of judgment completely fails to function and there is no chance of its working. This condition is exactly similar to that of a person when he becomes mad.[165]

We can thus continue to enumerate the destructive effects of anger and to cite the various opinions about it. The Imām himself has allotted a section in the Sharh-e Chehel Hadīth to this destructive instinct. He discusses it in detail, indicating the way of release from it and the method of regulating it.[166]

Well, now this question arises: Is not anger, with all these destructive effects arising from it, an example of the many instincts that must be uprooted? Is the existence of such an unpleasant instinct essential in man? Keeping in mind the Qur’anic precept that everything in the universe has a purpose and goal, the answer to the above question is positive. Yes, anger is also necessary and if it were not for this instinct, humankind would never have endured and would have become extinct. It is enough to imagine this instinct to disappear overnight from man’s existence. In that case, no danger, no matter how serious, will induce him to move, and the necessary energy to face unpleasant situations will be not available to him. We should not forget that the greatest specific function of anger is preparing us to deal with emergency situations and providing us with the power to respond quickly. Most of the writings dealing with anger have also mentioned its specific positive function. Therefore, from this perspective anger is also a vital element for the continuity of man’s life. Anger becomes bad only when it strays from its original function.

While conducting an analysis of anger, Imām Khomeinī also delves into all its dimensions and considers it in moderation to be necessary for individual and social life. Pertaining to its benefits, he says:

It should be known that the Power of Anger is one of the biggest favours of God conferred upon His creatures, which enables them to pursue activities constructive to their world and the Hereafter, assure the continuity of the species as well as the safety and survival of the individual and the family. It also plays a great role in the establishment and maintenance of social order and civic life. If this noble faculty were not ingrained in the animal’s nature, it would not have been able to defend itself against natural adversities, and would have been subjected to destruction and extinction. And if it were absent in man, then besides these, he would have failed to achieve most of his progress and perfection.

Moreover, even its deficiency and insufficient presence below the moderate level is itself considered a moral weakness and flaw which gives rise to innumerable vices and defects like fear; timidity; weakness; laxity; laziness; greed; lack of restraint, patience and tolerance; lack of constancy and perseverance when needed; love of comfort; torpor; lethargy; submissiveness to oppression and tyranny; submitting to insults and disgraces to which an individual or his family may be subjected; dastardliness; spiritlessness, etc. Describing the qualities of the believers God Almighty says:

﴿أَشِدَّاءُ عَلَى الْكُفَّارِ رُحَمَاءُ بَيْنَهُمْ.﴾

(The believers) are hard against the unbelievers and merciful among themselves.[167]
The fulfillment of the duty of al-amr bī’l-ma‘rūf wa’n-nahy ‘an al-munkar [to enjoin good conduct and forbid indecency], the implementation of hudūd [punishment prescribed by the Islamic penal law], ta‘zīrāt [punishments decreed by a judge], and the carrying out of other policies set forth by religion or guided by reason, would not have been possible without the existence of this noble Power of Anger.

On this basis, those who believe in eradicating the Power of Anger and consider its destruction as an accomplishment and mark of perfection are highly mistaken and in great error, ignorant as they are about the signs of perfection and the bounds of moderation. Poor fellows, they do not know that God Almighty has not created this noble faculty in vain in all the species belonging to the animal kingdom. To the children of Adam (‘a) He bestowed this power as the source of securing a good life in this world and the Hereafter, and a vehicle for procuring various blessings and felicities.

The holy jihād with the enemies of the Dīn [religion];the struggle for the preservation of mankind’s social order; the defense and protection of one’s own life, property and honor, as well as the Divine values and laws; and above all the combat with one’s inner self, which is the biggest enemy of man, none of these could be possible without the existence of this noble faculty.

It is under the banner of this noble faculty that aggression and encroachments upon rights are repelled, borders and frontiers are protected, and other social and individual offences, noxious practices, and harmful deeds are checked. It is for this very reason that the hukamā [men of wisdom]have recommended various remedies for treating any deficiency in this Power, and prescribed numerous practical and theoretical remedies for the purpose of its regeneration, like participation in acts of heroism and going to battlefronts on the occasion of war with the enemies of God.[168]

As such, instincts are not only to be endured but also their existence is to be considered a grace for the spiritual and social growth and perfection of man from which benefits are to be sought for the growth and development of human talents. This principle is also true for all instincts. None of the instincts should be suppressed and uprooted; instead, efforts should be made for them to perform their specific functions and not go beyond their limits.

This nourishment and training should be coordinated and concordant; all the instincts and attributes of man should be so harmonious with each other as to constitute a coherent whole. For example, instead of eliminating the sensual instinct it should be modestly moderated. Basically, moral virtues are understandable with the control of instincts, and without these instincts, they (moral virtues) would lose their meaning. Anyone who has no sexual instinct has no business talking about chastity.

How could one who does not possess at all the power of anger talk about meekness and forbearance? The understanding of Mawlānā on the Prophet’s noble hadīth, “Lā rahbāniyyah fī’l-Islām” [There is no monasticism in Islam][169] succinctly illustrates the essence of this viewpoint:

چون عدو نبْوَد، جهاد آمد محال شهوتت نبود، نباشد امتثال
صبر نبود چون نباشد ميل تو خصم چون نبود، چه حاجت خيل تو؟
هين! مكن خود را خصى، رُهبان مشو زانكه عفّت، هست شهوت را گرو
بىهوا، نهى از هوا ممكن نبود غازىاى بر مُردگان نتوان نمود

When there is no enemy, armed struggle is inconceivable;
(If) thou hast no lust, there can be no obedience (to the divine command).
There can be no self-restraint when thou hast no desire;
When there is no adversary, what need for thy strength?
Hark, do not castrate thyself, do not become a monk;
For chastity is in pawn to (depends on the existence of) lust.
Without (the existence of) sensuality ’tis impossible to forbid sensuality:
Heroism cannot be displayed against the dead.[170]

The most important distinction between Islamic ethics and those of Christianity and Buddhism is rooted in this issue. It is this approach that places Islamic ethics in the category of ‘worldliness’ and separates it from world-denunciation approaches. Yes, the existence of every instinct—however negative it may seem—serves as the basis for the appearance of positive and valuable attributes of man. It is in times of adversity and hardship that man’s power of patience and constancy is put under test and man is able to recognize his essence well:
عِرْقِ مردى آن گهى پيدا شود كه مسافر همرهِ اعدا شود

The root (innate quality) of manhood (only) becomes apparent at the time
When the traveler meets his enemies on the road.[171]

Furthermore, it is only in the presence of negative instincts that positive attributes basically find their meaning and that we can talk about nourishment and training. Thus, Mawlānā used to admonish those who were bent on uprooting their sexual instinct, telling them not to do so, for in the absence of this instinct, chastity has no meaning and value. That is why they have said that the one who can never get angry at all is an imperfect man, but the one who does not want to get angry is a wise person. The first type (of person) is fundamentally lacking an instinct while the second has the instinct to get angry, but has controlled it.

It is possible that wahm [the power of imagination and invention], ghadab [the power of passion and anger], and shahwah [the power of lust or sensuality], also possess divine aspect, and may bring about felicity and good luck to man, if these powers are subjected to the dictates of reason and good sense and the teachings of prophets of God (‘a).[172]

Insatiability of instincts

But the fact cannot be denied that once these instincts are released and set free, they would never stop anywhere, and, like hell give the cry of, “Can there be more to come?”[173]

That is, these instincts can never be satiated and no matter how man endeavors to satisfy them and to meet his instinctive needs, he becomes thirstier just as the one who drinks the salty water of the sea. This is the secret behind the tragic condition of humanity. Anyone who is a captive of the instinct of greed and avarice remains in a state of indigence and insatiability even if becomes a Qārūn.[174]

The cure for avarice and covetousness does not lie in acquiring all the things that we desire. For this ‘all’ is of an indefinite and unspecific level, and everyone has his or her own limitations. Up to now we have yet to see a rich man who is satisfied with his financial condition. [Instead,] he always experiences a sense of inner restlessness and is not satisfied with his own extant status: “Right below the layer of comfort a kind of mental uneasiness exists which leads to hopelessness, unnecessary encounters, the need for alcohol and drugs and, in the worst case, to the committing of suicide.”[175]

The limits to the acquisition of wealth and the attempts to satisfy the instinct of avarice cannot be determined at all. Once man reaches whatever optimal point that had been anticipated, he considers another optimal point for himself. So if man wants to obtain mental satisfaction through greed and covetousness, he is treading the wrong path which leads him nowhere, because:

one of the interesting features of greed is that no matter how much the covert motivation of greed to attempt attaining mental satisfaction is, the satirical point is that after you obtain the sought-after and desired thing, you will still remain unsatisfied.[176]
The true antidote of greed is not more greed; rather, it is satisfaction for what has been given, contentment and self-respect:

كوزه چشم حريصان پر نشد تا صدف قانع نشد، پر دُر نشد

The pitcher, the eye of the covetous, never becomes full:
The oyster-shell is not filled with pearls until it is contented.[177]

One day a man came to Imām ‘Alī (‘a) and said that whatever he sought and obtained did not satisfy him and that he yearned for more of it, adding that he was annoyed by this situation. He asked the Imām (‘a) to teach him something that would be beneficial to him. The Imām (‘a) said:

If that which suffices you makes you not in need (self-sufficient), the smallest of which is making you not in need, and if you look for more than that which suffices you, all the things in the world cannot make you self-sufficient.[178]

Yes, such is the nature of this instinct. The more its root is satisfied, the stronger it becomes, so much so that even if it has two valleys of gold and silver, it will crave for the third valley (of gold and silver). Nothing can please and satisfy the world-loving eyes of man except contentment or the soil of the grave.

This point is true not only for covetousness; such is also the case with the sexual instinct—which does not know what satisfaction is. Freud erroneously thought that through meeting the sexual needs this instinct can be soothed and calmed down. The point is that the more this instinct is quenched, the thirstier it becomes:

The power of sensuality and lust acts in man in such a way that if he is given one woman, he is attracted to other women. If he is given an empire, he will hanker after some other empire. Man always desires for what he does not possess. In spite of this vanity of imagination and futility of human desire, the kiln of sensuality is always hot and its heat ever increasing, and our desires are never cooled down.[179]

A glance at the lives of kings and sultans who kept thousands of women in their harems but still longed for other women bears witness to this fact and “anyone who has any doubt is advised to examine his own self and other human beings belonging to the classes of poor, rich and powerful; he will then agree with me.”[180]

This rule is applicable to all instincts and none of them can be excluded from it. No one can be found who can say, “I have fulfilled all my desires.” Even Hosang Vazīr[181] who used to claim, “I engulfed the whole world and did everything,” was also looking for deliverance and respite until his death so as to conduct again all the affairs.” In no way are these instincts satiated, and herein lies the danger. For, the bounds of every instinct should be identified, its proper specific function obtained and employed within these limits. This does not imply elimination, while at the same time, this instinct should not be released altogether:

None of the prophets of God (‘a) ever tried to eradicate the powers of passion, sensuality or imagination completely. None of the messengers of God have ever demanded to completely kill sensuality and desire or to extinguish the fire of passion or anger and ignore the inventions of imagination. But they have rather advocated for controlling and bridling them and making them function under the command of reason and Divine Laws. For each one of these powers struggles to dominate others and win its goal, whatever mischief, chaos, and confusion may be stirred up.[182]

In this case, this question can once again be posed: Since these instincts are insatiable, is it not better for us to uproot them and thus free ourselves from their bonds? The answer to this question is negative. For, aside from all these benefits that derive from their existence, we should never forget the point that basically the humanness of man is the preservation of these instincts. The best medicine has also side effects and as of the moment no medicine without side effects has ever been known. Is there anyone who, due to the fact that these medicines have side effects, refrains from taking them in case of necessity?

Water which is the source of life, can make a person sick if an excess of it enters the body. Fire, the discovery of which led to a quantum transformation in the life of man would burn us if we went very near it. The sun, with all its procreative and bountiful aspects, would destroy the earth if it comes a little nearer. As such, due to these issues, the essence of instincts cannot be uprooted; instead, they should be regulated. Now, another question arises and that is: Why have these instincts been created so as to be insatiable, and why is there no instinct with predetermined limit and threshold of satisfaction?

The answer is this: One of the innate qualities of man is that he is always aspiring for perfection and is not satisfied with anything. It is this relentless search that has transformed him from a cave-dwelling savage to an outer space-roving astronaut. If humankind were always to be content with its existing condition, no sort of change would ever occur in its life, and like that of honeybee, would not have been different from what it was thousands of years ago. It is this fit*rah [natural disposition of man] that urges him to discover the secrets of the universe and not to be content with all that he possesses:

It is obvious that man is always allured by something, which he does not own. This is the human nature as conceived by various great Islamic thinkers and holy men, especially one should refer to a great master of divinity, Mīrzā Muhammad ‘Alī Shāhābādī, may my soul be ransomed for him.[183]

So, finally, all these instincts are deeply embedded on man’s essence of seeking and devotion to perfection which, in itself, is a blessings up to this point. The problem arises when it happens that we forget the rationality behind these instincts and their creation, and imagine that we have to comply totally with their dictates, spending day and night in the acquisition of wealth and beauty-worship. It is here that we go astray from the Path, forgetting the True Object of Worship and Absolute Perfection while imagining riches, power, or sensuality as our gods and devotionally eulogizing them.[184]

It is enough that we realize our mistakes, knowing that these are not our real masters. They are servants who, if properly trained and nourished, will always be our helpers. [On the other hand,] once they are abandoned and released for sometime, they will claim divinity and make us their slaves. Accordingly, instincts should neither be killed nor released. Rather, they should be guided and regulated so that you could enjoy their benefits and remain secure from their menaces.

Sources: al-shia.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Imam Khomeini, Ethics and Politics (1)

 

Imām Khomeinī’s Code of Ethics
In the heart of Imām Khomeinī’s[1] way of thinking, ethics has a [special] place, and in fact, all areas of knowledge revolve around this pivot. According to his view, by citing a hadīth (Prophetic tradition) from the Messenger of God (s[2]), all kinds of knowledge can be placed in three general categories. It is because the human being possesses three existential presences and three types of world: one, external and sensory; another, the allegorical world; the third, the intellectual one.

Social science, juristic precepts and transactions are examples of the first category while rational sciences are instances of the third type. Yet, what is related and complementary to the second type is called ethics. If man wants to go beyond logic and the law of instincts, then he needs ethics in its broad sense. Ethics in this context cannot be confined to merely a number of ethical rules; instead, it is in fact a knowledge which searches for the deepest recesses of man’s existence, and which cures him.

This ethics is, indeed, a sort of theoretical and practical anthropology. It is awareness of fixed principles and their application. It is owing to this that this knowledge can be considered as the noblest one and the raison d’être of the prophets’ (‘a[3]) summons.

The Messenger of God’s (s) sayings were a manifestation of such kind of ethics which he made known as the purpose of his mission. In this sense, man can be needless of many types of knowledge; yet, he cannot consider himself needless of ethics since this knowledge is the capital asset of felicities in both worlds:

The purpose and result of the summons of the Seal of the Prophets (s) is the perfection of morality. In the noble traditions, both that are brief and those which are elaborate, moral excellences have been given more importance than anything else after doctrinal teachings [ma‘ārif]… And their importance is greater than what we are capable of explaining adequately, but that which we know for certain is that the asset of the everlasting life of the hereafter and the capital asset of the life of that abode is the acquisition of noble dispositions and the possession of moral excellences.

The paradise which is given to man for the sake of moral excellence is the paradise of Attributes, incomparable to the physical paradise of Act.[4]

Ethics, with this peculiar status, has always had Imām Khomeinī’s attention. From the very beginning when he was a regular teacher up to the time when he was in the midst of the political arena, led the people’s uprising, and established the Islamic Republic, he always paid particular attention to morality, and viewed almost all socio-political issues from the moral perspective. His recommendations and political messages to the officials and the people speak for this, and these [recommendations] can be treated, apart from the occasion of their issuance, as profound moral lessons from which we can learn.

However, from his point of view morality cannot be restricted to some recommendations and decrees. Rather, it is anchored in profound philosophical, theosophical and anthropological principles and precepts. His view on morality is a philosophical one. It is in this sense that he keenly scrutinizes moral vices and virtues, discusses them wisely, and enumerates the benefits and harms of this and that item. In fact, he has a remarkably profound belief in religious morality and uncovers vices and virtues from the heart of the narrations [ahādīth] from the Infallibles [ma‘sūmīn][5] (‘a); nevertheless, he does not content himself with the tradition of quoting, but perfectly utilizes intellect in analyzing these narrations [ahādīth] and in elucidating moral concepts.

This mode of striking a balance between the intellect [‘aql] and narration [naql], which has been acceptable to the great Shī‘ah scholars, is very manifest and conspicuous in the moral discourses of the Imām. Anyone who assiduously scrutinizes the ethical and gnostic works of the Imām can deduce his system of ethics.

The truth of the matter is that he has based his code of ethics and mystical-moral understandings on theoretical principles, which he does not specify so much. In the same manner that he juxtaposes the fragments of a riddle with one another, so also the researcher must carefully find these principles and place them together. In doing so, he could present the Imām’s code of ethics, which is rooted in a long-standing tradition and founded on the great gnostic and ethical heritage of the Muslim mystics and teachers of ethics.
The writer of these lines has tried his best to accomplish this task to the best of his ability. Thus, by pondering on the ethical writings of the Imām, particularly the Sharh-e Chehel Hadīth [Exposition of Forty Hadīths],[6] which is replete with philosophical, ethical and psychological intricacies and subtleties, he has attempted to infer and expound on the principles that he considers as being the underpinning of the Imām’s system of ethics.

The outcome of this study is the presentation and explanation of the Imām’s eight fundamental tenets and the results that emanate from them. Undoubtedly, the comprehensiveness of such kinds of studies cannot be claimed and the first person who perceives its flaws is the researcher himself. The reason for this is that if, after a few days, he reads what he has written, he feels there is something to be added and omitted from it. This, in itself, indicates that such handiworks of man are, like him, is an unfinished matter and an open question.

What must be said is that these tenets and principles are theoretical teachings on the basis of which the system of practical ethics takes form, and so one can talk about practical ethics. These discussions are mainly theoretical in form. The framework of practical discourses and the manner of ethical behaviour must be dealt with elsewhere. The teachings which will be discussed in this section and can be considered as the bedrock of the Imām’s code of ethics are as follows:

1. Indescribability of the human being;

2. Man in the state of nature;

3. Man as the arena of conflict between good and evil;

4. Regulation of instincts;

5. This world and the hereafter;

6. The philosophy behind suffering;

7. Knowledge as a mental aid, or burden; and

8. Behaviour as emanating from ethical principles.

Indescribability of the Human Being

The terrestrial world in which we live is a world full of existing activities and innumerable potentialities yet to appear. In the parlance of philosophy, this world’s phenomena possess two facets of ‘present’ (being) and ‘potential’ (becoming). If we take into account a date stone, it is a fruit stone with all its peculiarities, having a particular weight, volume and colour. But it is not merely a fruit stone. Rather, given all the necessary conditions, it can become a big date-palm, which in turn can produce thousands of other dates, date stones and date-palms. This feature can be witnessed in all phenomena of this world, whether living or non-living things. The gap between what is considered as the present state of a phenomenon and what it can become being always wide.

This movement of the phenomena from what they are toward what they can be (from being to becoming) and the realization of the potentialities, like removing an old garment and wearing a new one, or like wearing clothes over other clothes, which in the parlance of philosophy is called ‘putting off’ and ‘putting on’ [khal‘ va labs] or successive donning [labs pas az labs], respectively, has no ending at all. The appropriate divine wisdom is that every phenomenon should attain its own possible state of perfection and to reach whatever is reachable.

The human being, too, is not an exception to this transcendental and immutable law, and like other phenomena, is subject to change and transformation. He sets foot in this world with the greatest potentialities and talents and with the least activity, and in the beginning when he is born, he is more hapless compared to many of the other creatures. Yet, during the short or long span of his life he always tests himself, shows his capabilities in the sphere of good and evil, and molds and shapes himself. He then abandons his previous form, obliterates himself, and adopts another form. He is like a portraitist who often draws an object, erases it, and then draws another one.

This possibility of change exists in all stages of life. Although the changeability of man in the initial part of his life and his formative years are strong, this transformation becomes more difficult with advancing age; however, the principle of such a possibility does not disappear. Therefore, the possibility of changing oneself exists for everybody until the end of his life.

In other words, there is no certain conclusion and end of every person’s life story and his destiny cannot be considered as being predetermined. Here, we proceed to another issue and that is, the indescribability of man.

Every phenomenon, in our analytical view, possesses two facets: one is its ‘being’ (“is”) and the other, its ‘manner’ (“what is”). For instance, an apple as a concrete reality has subsistence and along with this subsistence, the essence of its nature can be included and expressed in its description.

Therefore, all terrestrial things possess subsistence and disposition, which in philosophical jargon are called ‘existence’ and ‘essence’. Now, let us see what the nature of man is. The existence of various explanations on the essence and nature of man only indicates the divergence of views on this issue. For example, after stating the manner of man’s creation, God, the Most Sublime, praised and named Himself as the most Excellent Creator.[7]

Yet, at the time of giving account to the trust, which the heavens and the mountains trembled for taking responsibility but which man shouldered, God introduces him as iniquitous and imprudent.[8]
If we pursue this trend, we will encounter other descriptions and explanations. As a result, we can say that man has various explanations, or is essentially indescribable. Man is all of these; but at the same time he is beyond all descriptions. In a sense, man is the only terrestrial creature that has neither definite essence nor a specific limit, and he has such potentialities and capabilities that one’s nature cannot be foretold before their realization.

According to the existentialists, all beings possess a definite nature that could be made known to them in advance. However, a human being is the only creature whose existence takes priority over his nature, or he ‘builds’ his own nature. John Paul Sartre,[9] the most famous expounder and exponent of existentialism, opines on this matter thus:

Man’s conception of himself is not only what he has in his mind; it is also what he wants of himself. It is the concept (of himself) that he exhibits after its manifestation in the world of existence. It is that which he seeks from himself after moving toward existence. Man is nothing but what he makes of himself. This is the foremost principle of existentialism. [10]

This point is part of the incontrovertible principles of Islamic philosophy and gnosticism which has been asserted differently, the most prominent formula of this viewpoint being thus stated by Shaykh Ishrāq—Shahāb ad-Dīn Suhrawardī:[11] “The self and the creatures superior to it are mere beings.”[12]

The Imām articulates this principle in this way:

Man cannot be confined to one of the worlds—the higher and the lower worlds. For, the people as well as the people of Yathrīb[13] has no position and from the descension point of view have hayūlā[14]rank which can manifest their God’s power, and from ascension point of view they have a high horizon and the station of annihilation at the Threshold of Unity. Thus, the chief of the Illuminationist [Ishrāqī] School[15] says that vocal self has no nature and it has the station of unity and union of all the truths of the world of creation and affair.[16]

Understanding and comprehending these explanations requires familiarity with Islamic gnosticism. Nonetheless, the end result of this discussion is that the essence of man is not determined and fixed; he can traverse all the spheres of existence.

As such, any attempt to present a specific and absolute explanation of man is an exercise in futility. It is only after the realization of all the potentialities and aptitudes of man that we can offer a perfect explanation of him. From these indisputable principles of philosophy, the Imām arrives at the following three ethical inferences:

1. The possibility of nurture and training in all conditions;

2. Coexistence of fear and hope; and

3. Suspension of judgment.

The possibility of nurture and training in all conditions

A teacher asked his student: “Who has created you?” Contrary to the expectation of the teacher, the student answered: “My creation has not yet finished.”[17]

Ethics and education holds meaning only if we admit that the ‘creation’ of man is not yet completed and that man has still a long way to go so as to consider his creation as having been completed. What is meant by ‘creation’ is not only the appearance of that earthly and ephemeral body since it is indubitable to many that such an aspect of ‘creation’ is not the termination of human perfections; it is only part of the things that should take place for man.

Thus, the ‘creation’ of man has not yet ended, and this is the starting point of any philosophy of education and system of morality. We can only talk of ethics and education when we accept that man is a changeable, imperfect and incomplete creature.

Once we deny this principle or have an iota of doubt about it, then we can no longer talk about ethics, and thereby closing the way to any sort of omission and reform concerning man’s existence. Anyone who believes that human nature is wicked and that there is no possibility for it to change, or who likens man to a bitter tree the irrigation of which with sweet and honeyed water is worthless, will not be able to derive benefit from ethics and is traversing this path to no avail. This approach which is against nature can be well seen in the following couplets of Firdawsī (Ferdowsī):[18]

درختى كه تلخ است وى را سرشت گرش برنشانى به باغ بهشت
ور از جوى خُلد ش به هنگام آب به بيخ، انگبين ريزى و شهد ناب
سر انجام گوهر به بار آورد؟ همان ميوه تلخ بار آورد

A tree which by nature bears bitter fruit,
Even if it is located in the garden of paradise,
If in the paradise when watering it instead of water
You pour grape juice and pure milk,
At the time of fruit-bearing, will it produce sweet fruit?
Nay, it will bear the same bitter fruit.

Our literature (i.e. Persian literature) is replete with such allusions and metaphors, all referring to one point which is the negation of the fundamental and undeniable essence of man’s changeability and indescribability. At times, the manifestations of this qualm on the essence of changeability are disclosed in proverbs such as, “What is bred in the bone will come out in the flesh” or “a walnut on a dome”.

And sometimes while admitting the essence of changeability, the time constraint serves as a pretext in negating it. For instance, it can be asserted that so long as the twig is wet (i.e. small and weak), its curve can still be straightened. In like manner, so long as a human being has not yet fully grown up and is still flexible, he can be moulded, but when he passes a particular age, he becomes like dry wood and no amount of nurture will work in his case.
Occasionally, this type of understanding in the sayings such as, “Our time has already passed” signifies the same approach wherein the speaker, in stating it, passes up any possibility of reform and shuts the door to any sort of growth and progress. If man is changeable and unpredictable so long as he is alive, it then follows that he can choose a path whenever he wants or he can change his past ways and set out in a new direction.

In our religious culture, repentance [tawbah] essentially implies the same thing. That is, man turns back from the path he has taken and rebels against himself. The Imām has time and again emphasized on this fact, and asserts that one can always speak of nurture and reform. Therefore,

as long as man remains in this world, which is the source of the tree of primal matter with its substantial, formal, and accidental changes and transformations, he can deliver himself from all levels of deficiency, wretchedness, polytheism [shirk],and hypocrisy and attain the higher levels of perfection and spiritual felicity.[19]

This teaching is anchored on the same definite philosophical principle of man’s changeability. More importantly, if we doubt this principle, it follows that all the missions of the prophets (‘a) and the revelation of all heavenly books would be fruitless since they only make sense if we accept the fact that man is transformable. Taking this reality into account, the Imām states:

All habits [malikāt] and psychic dispositions are capable of change. As long as the soul remains in this world of change and transition, it is subject to time and renewal; and as long as it is associated with matter [hayūlā] and potentiality [quwwah], the human being can change all his dispositions and transform them into their opposites. This claim is affirmed, besides metaphysical proof [burhān], by experience, as well as by the summons of the prophets (‘a) and the true religions to noble dispositions and their restraining people from the opposite qualities.[20]

From the Imām’s vantage point, doubt on the possibility of nurture springs from the satanic insinuations [wasāwis; sing. waswasah] and guiles of the carnal self [an-nafs al-ammārah]. These two are the brigands along the path of human perfection who, by bringing excuses such as, “Our time has already passed,” deter man from reforming the self:

Do not think that psychic, moral, and spiritual vices are not curable; this is an erroneous notion that has been inspired in you by Satan and your carnal self that want to keep you from treading the path of the Hereafter and to frustrate your efforts at rectifying your self. As long as man exists in this realm of transition and change, it is possible for him to transform all his attributes and moral characteristics.[21]

Of course, this is not to say that reforming the self and cultivating psychic perfections are always easy. We cannot deny the fact that the degrees of educability in various ages are different, and that the human being, in the initial stage of his life, is more educable and shows more flexibility. The Commander of the Faithful [amīr al-mu’minīn] ‘Alī (‘a) points out this reality, thus: “The young heart is like an unsown land which accepts whatever you plant in it.”[22]

The more a person advances in age, the less is he able to control his annoying habits and increasingly becomes a prisoner of his own unbecoming behaviour because with every day that passes, his disagreeable attributes become more deeply rooted while his power diminishes.

Mawlānā[23] has a story which conveys this reality. There was a person who planted a bramble along a public way. The thorny shrub took root, grew and became a nuisance to the wayfarers, so much so that they complained to the ruler. The ruler summoned him and asked him to uproot the bramble. The person promised to do so but kept on procrastinating. In this manner, as the days passed by, the plant became stronger while the person became weaker and older:
ﺧﺎﺮﺒُﻦﺪﺮ ﻗﻮّت ﻮﺒﺮﺧﺎﺴﺗﻦ ﺧﺎﺮﻜَﻦﺪﺮﭘﻴﺮﻯﻮﺪﺮﻜﺎﺴﺗﻦ
ﺧﺎﺮﺒُﻦﻫﺮ ﺮﻮﺰ ﻮ ﻫﺮﺪﻢ ﺴﺒﺰﻮﺗﺮ ﺧﺎﺮﻜَﻦﻫﺮ ﺮﻮﺰ ﺰﺍﺮ ﻮﺧﺷﻜﺗﺮ
ﺍﻮ ïº ï»®ïºï»§ïº—ïº®ï»£ï»° ﺷﻮﺪ، ﺗﻮﭙﻴﺮﺗﺮ ﺰﻮﺪﺒﺎﺵﻮ ﺮﻮﺰﮔﺎﺮﺧﻮﺪ ﻣﺒﺮ

The thornbrush (is) in (process of gaining) strength and (in) ascent;
Its digger (is) in (process of) aging and decline.
The thornbrush every day and every moment is green and fresh;
Its digger is every day more sickly and withered.
It is growing younger, you older:
Be quick and do not waste your time![24]

With respect to his habits and characteristics, the human being is like that thorn pricker. Thus, as time passes by, uprooting those habits becomes more difficult. According to the Imām, as long as man exists in this realm of transition and change, it is possible for him to transform all his attributes and moral characteristics. However strong his habits may be, as long as he is living in this world he can quit them. The only thing is that the effort required to throw them off varies with the degree of their strength and intensity. A bad habit in the early phase of its formation, of course, requires only a little self-discipline and effort to eradicate it.

It is like uprooting a young plant that has not run its roots deeply into the ground. But when a quality becomes firmly rooted in one’s nature, becoming a part of one’s spiritual makeup, it is not easily uprooted, but requires much effort, like the tree that becomes old in age, having sent down its roots deep into the earth; it cannot be easily extirpated. The more you delay the decision to eradicate the iniquities of the heart, the more time and effort it will require.[25]

Hence, one must guard against any misunderstanding about this, and must realize that the possibility of transformation for man is always there and that the difficulty of doing anything does not mean that it is impossible. On the other hand, it is this danger or insinuation [waswasah] that we accept unconditionally as the entire principle of changeability and deem it an excuse for procrastinating and not reforming ourselves. We are oblivious of the fact that it is itself one of the insinuations of Satan which dissuades man from acting on time, encourages him to ruin his precious opportunities, and promises him the chance of many tomorrows. So, man must always be wary and not give himself the promise of the never-to-come tomorrow:

ﻫﻴﻦﻣﮕﻮ: ﻓﺮﺪﺍﻛﻪﻓﺮﺪﺍﻫﺎﮔﺬﺷﺖ ïº—ïºŽïº’ï»›ï» ï»°ï»§ï®•ïº¬ïº®ïºª ﺍﻳﺎﻢﻛﺷﺖ

Beware! Do not say ‘Tomorrow’—for (many) tomorrows have passed
Let not the days of sowing pass away altogether.[26]

This imaginary tomorrow has no reality and it is the greatest snare laid by the brigand Satan to trap the new seeker of the way. Thus, the Imām draws attention to this issue and warns us, thus:

If the tree of sinfulness growing in the orchard of the human heart reaches maturity and fruition, its roots becoming strong, the results are calamitous, one of which is to turn away man totally from repentance. Even if once in a while it comes to his mind, he keeps on postponing it from day to day and from one month to another… Don’t imagine that man can perform tawbah [repentance] after the strengthening of the roots of sinfulness or meet its conditions. Therefore, the springtime for tawbah is the time of youth when the sins are fewer, the inner darkness of the heart incomplete, the conditions of tawbah easier, and their fulfillment less difficult… Even if it be admitted that man can succeed in performing tawbah in old age, there is no certainty of reaching old age and of not meeting one’s death in youth in the condition of habitual disobedience.[27]

In a nutshell, from the Imām’s viewpoint the possibility of moral refinement always exists and is present as long as man is alive. Although this possibility of reform diminishes gradually, it never ceases to exist. Thus, the insinuations of Satan, which at times consider reform as impossible and at the other times promise plenty of opportunities for this to be done, must be eschewed, and time (one has) must be used to full advantage.
Coexistence of fear and hope

If there are thousands of possibilities and potential ways for the human being and the realization of every possibility and traversing of every path yields specific results for him, in that case, man would be full of hope and self-confidence in relation to his future, because he can choose a path and select anew whenever he wants to do so. On the other hand, this sense of freedom entails a responsibility for him and he does not know what ensuing consequences these choices and selections would have, and what his action would lead to. This circumstance makes him abhorrent of the future and dreadful of freedom.

It is this very point which makes many people heartily abhorrent of freedom; they are always waiting for somebody else to chart their destiny. Erich Fromm[28] labels this psychic propensity as ‘escape from freedom’ and discusses its psychological causes. With regard to this issue, one of the contemporary Arab thinkers named Muhammad at*-T+ālibī says, “If I had found a flawless person, I would have followed him and relieved myself of thinking; but the flawless person does not exist.”[29]

Although all claim freedom and seek it, in reality they run away from it. It is because to be free means acceptance of responsibility for the consequences of one’s choice, and there are only a few who have attained awareness to such an extent.

The inevitable outcome of the logic of change in the terrestrial world is that nobody is able to express a definite opinion about his own future. The Glorious Qur’an unequivocally stresses this point and states: “No soul knoweth what it will earn tomorrow, and no soul knoweth in what land it will die. Lo! Allah is Knower, Aware.”[30]

Absolute knowledge and awareness of all things including the future which is yet to happen belongs to God and to Him alone. As such, to live without the certainty of the future is a reality that must be accepted; nevertheless, this state of affairs gives hope to some while making others fearful. A group regards the uncertain future as their achievement and the product of their deeds, and they move forward with high spirits and enthusiasm.

On the other hand, this sense of hope makes them inebriated and overflowing with selfishness to which they succumb after some time and roll in the pit of destruction. People become anxious and dejected by such a state of affairs; they entrust themselves to the storm of events and behave like a log which is a captive of the stormy waves of the sea of existence.

Both fear and hope are necessary in the life of man and are regarded as essential for his felicity. If fear and hope did not exist in the life of man, he would quickly claim divinity and forget his being mortal. And if it were not for hope, nobody would take a single step nor do anything even to the extent that “not a single mother would breastfeed her baby.”[31] In all spheres of man’s actions, hope—manifest and hidden—exists and without it, life would be void and meaningless.

Thus, the Glorious Qur’an, on one hand, cautions us against becoming proud of ourselves, feeling secure from God’s scheme and the deceptions of the world, regarding these as symptoms of the losers and the wretched. It states: “Are they then secure from Allah’s scheme? None deemeth himself secure from Allah’s scheme save folk that perish.”[32]

On the other hand, God Almighty warns man against despair and depression, which are the roots of unbelief [kufr] and summons him to hope, stating: “And despair not of the Spirit of Allah. Lo! None despaireth of the Spirit of Allah save disbelieving folk.”[33]
Anyhow, these two attributes are essential for living properly. But in what proportion should each of them be in man’s existence? How much of each is essential for him? This issue has been discussed in the books of ethics under the heading, “Fear and Hope” [khawf wa rajā]. By citing Qur’anic passages and Prophetic narrations, scholars of ethics are of the opinion that these two attributes must be in equal proportion in a human being so as to urge him to move, as well as to dissuade him from pride, self-conceit [‘ujb] and selfishness.

It has been recorded in the Prophetic narrations that fear and hope are two lights glowing in the heart of a believer and neither of which is more intense than the other.[34] It is only in such a case that man seeks the path of moderation in life, while refraining from going to extremes and from overindulgence or negligence. For this reason, Imām ‘Alī (‘a) states: “The best course is (to have) an equiponderance of fear and hope.”[35]

Hope and fear should be so pervasive in man as to induce him to perform every worthy and meaningful deed, however serious it is, and keep him away from every contemptible act, however trivial and small it is. It is with this in mind that the sage Luqmān used to say to his child:

“Have such a fear of God, the Sublime and Exalted, that were you to come to Him with the virtues of the two worlds [thaqalayn] He would still chastise you, and put such a hope in God that were you to come to Him with the sins of the two worlds He would still have compassion for you.”[36]

Accordingly, another consequence of the principle of man’s indescribability is his coexistence with fear and hope, in such a way that these two attributes are equiponderant in him. Imām Khomeinī has devoted a whole hadīth chapter in Sharh-e Chehel Hadīth to this issue of fear and hope, and has examined the station of these attributes from the aspect of gnosticism. According to his view, the cause of fear and anxiety of a believer is that since he evaluates the relation between himself—one that is utterly in want—and God Almighty—Who is Absolute Self-Sufficiency—and sees one side as total deficiency and shortcoming and the other side as All-Beauty and Splendour, and as he fails to acknowledge and respect the right of God as He deserves, he experiences dread and apprehension. His hope also stems from the fact that he discerns that God, the Most Sublime, has bestowed everything upon him without the least claim, and given him the promise of excessive forgiveness and clemency. In short, he is hopeful of the perpetual mercy of God.

Hence, man should always be moving back and forth between these two views: neither should he ever close his eyes to his defects and shortcomings in fulfilling the duties of creaturehood [‘ubūdiyyah], nor should he ever take his eyes off the expansive and all-encompassing mercy, love and compassion of God Almighty.[37]

But, why must these two attributes be equiponderant without either one of them prevailing over the other? The Imām’s mystical reply is thus:

The gist of the matter is that the self is in a state of utter imperfection and shortcoming, and God at the height of greatness, glory, all-embracing mercifulness and grace, and the devotee is always in a median state of fear and hope between these two views. And since the Divine attributes of glory and perfection cast their light simultaneously on the wayfarer’s heart, none of the two, fear or hope, exceeds the other.[38]

Suspension of judgment

In view of the fact that the human being has no specific nature and builds his own self, and also, that nobody has seen the future, no one can pass a definite judgment regarding himself. As a matter of fact, since no one knows what his end would be, how his life story would turn out and come to a close, he is neither able to have a correct picture nor express a proper opinion of himself.
Of course, anyone who earnestly engages in self-meditation and desists from offering lame excuses for himself will be able to perceive his existing condition and present a relatively precise account of himself. The Glorious Qur’an, therefore, states: “Oh, but man is a telling witness against himself.”[39]

But our remarks concern the judgment that is final, conclusive and all-embracing. At any given moment, nobody can accurately predict his future state as well as the consequences of his deeds, and as a result, give a verdict concerning it.

Those who are negligent of this fact, by relying on their past and present deeds, pruned themselves of their wickedness and considered their future as guaranteed. The Glorious Qur’an rejects this sort of thinking and God, the Most Exalted, concerning such people, states: “Hast thou not seen those who praise themselves for purity? Nay, Allah purifieth whom He will, and they will not be wronged even the hair upon a date-stone.”[40]

Similarly, God purges these imaginations—that every individual only through reliance on himself and his act that he can take control of the future—and says: “Had it not been for the grace of Allah and His mercy unto you, not one of you would ever have grown pure. But Allah causeth whom He will to grow. And Allah is Hearer, Knower.”[41]

History is replete with the accounts of those who thought themselves to be pure and ultimately prosperous but ended up in a ruined state. Likewise, there were many who regarded themselves as ruined but turned out to be prosperous in the end. Bal‘am son of Bā‘ūr was one of the ascetics from among the Children of Israel [Banī Isrā’īl] whose supplications were always granted.[42] Yet, he utilized this spiritual excellence against the Prophet of God, Hadrat[43] Mūsā (Moses) (‘a) and, as a result, destroyed himself. The Glorious Qur’an has made an example of the story of his life for mankind:

ïº’ï» ï»Œï»¢ïº’ïºŽï»‹ï»­ïº® ïº®ïºïº§ï» ï»–ïº ï»¬ïºŽï»¥ ﺴُﻐﺒﻪ ﺷﺪﻤﺎﻧﻧﺪﻋﻴﺴﺎﻯ ﺯﻤﺎﻥ
ïº´ïº ïºªï»©ï»§ïºŽï»®ïº®ïºªï»§ïºª ﻜﺲﺮﺍ ﺪﻮﻥِ ﺍﻮ ﺼﺣﺖِ ïº®ï»§ïº ï»®ïº® ﺒﻮﺪﺍﻓﺴﻮﻥ ﺍﻮ
ï­™ï»§ïº ï»ªïº°ïºª ﺒﺎ ﻤﻮﺳﻰﺍﺰﻛﺒﺮﻮﻛﻤﺎﻞ ﺁﻧﭽﻧﺎﻦﺷﺩﻛﻪﺷﻧﻳﺩﺳﺗﯽﺗﻭ ﺤﺎﻞ
ﺻﺩ ﻫﺰﺍﺭﺍﺒﻟﻳﺲ ﻭﺒﻟﻌﻢﺩﺭﺟﻬﺎﻦ ﻫﻣﭼﻧﻳﻦﺒﻭﺩﻩ ﺍﺴﺕﭙﻳﺩﺍﻭ ﻧﻬﺎﻦ
ﺍﻳﻦﺩﻭ ﺮﺍ ﻣﺷﻬﻭﺮﮔﺮﺩﺍﻧﻳﺩ Ø§Ùï» ï»ª ﺗﺎ ﻜﻪ ﺑﺎﺷﺩ اﻳﻦ ﺩﻮ ﺑﺮﺑﺎﻗﻰ ﮔﻮاﻩ

To Bal‘am son of Bā‘ūr the people of the world became subject,
(For he was) like unto the Jesus of the time.
They bowed (worshipfully) to none but him:
His spell was (giving) health to the sick.
From pride and (conceit of) perfection he grappled with Moses:
His plight became such as thou hast heard.
Even so there have been in the world, manifest or hidden,
A hundred thousand like Iblīs and Bal‘am.
God cause these twain to be notorious,
That these twain might be witness against the rest.[44]

On the other hand, Fadīl ibn ‘Ayyād[45] was a bandit and chief of robbers. Yet, by hearing an āyah [verse] of the Glorious Qur’an, he was so transformed such that he became one of the celebrated mystics. The story [concerning him] runs as follows:

One night a caravan was passing. One of those in the caravan was reciting this verse, ‘Has not the time arrived for the Believers that their hearts in all humility should engage in their remembrance of Allah?’[46] As it was like an arrow shot at a virtuous heart, he said, ‘It came! And its time has already passed’.[47]

As such, no one can definitely ascertain his own future; this condition itself entails fear and hope, these being the guides of the faithful. It is the same fear and hope that restrain him from egotism or a feeling of abjectness. Now, if someone is not able to judge himself categorically, can he correctly assess others and pass judgment concerning them? Naturally, the answer is negative. If we do not know our own future, the more are we oblivious of the future of others. One of the secrets behind this is that all of those emphasized in our Prophetic narrations—that it is better to mind one’s own business and to restrain from judging others—is this very point.
The truth of the matter is that we cannot express an opinion about the fate of anyone, whether Muslim or polytheist [mushrik]. Judgment in this respect is a divine act and appropriate to God; not terrestrial creatures. As long as a person is alive his account is an open book and nobody can judge him. This principle knows no exception. Of course, taking into account his manifest actions and views, one can assess his present state of affairs; but by relying on the past nobody can ever venture a definite opinion about the future of others.

Therefore, though the past could have far-reaching influences on one’s future, the former can never prevail over, or dominate the latter. A human being can chart his own future differently, change it and lead himself in another direction. In the words of William James,[48] “Among all the creatures on the face of the earth, only is a human being able to change his moulds; only is he the architect of his own destiny.”[49]

Such extensive tendencies of man and his uncertain destiny prevent him from being narrow-minded and from making hasty judgments while affording him the possibility of finding the deeper layers of reality. Similarly, it liberates him from any kind of restriction and predestination, and gives him the opportunity to repent. It is from this aspect that passing judgment even on disbelievers, and considering them to be damned is deemed wrong so long as they are alive and their ‘book of deeds’ is open. Considering the profundity of this point, the Imām has quoted thus from his mentor:

Our great master, the accomplished gnostic [‘ārif],Shāhābādī[50]—may my soul be his ransom—used to say, ‘Do not look down on even a kāfir [non-believer] in your heart. It is possible that the divine light of his inner nature may lead him to faith and your rebuke and disdain may lead you toward a wretched life in the Hereafter. Of course to practice al-amr bi’l-ma‘rūf wan-nahy ‘an al-munkar [enjoining right conduct and forbidding bad behaviour] is something different from the inner feeling of contempt.’ He would even say, ‘Never curse the unbelievers regarding whom it is not known that they will leave the world in the state of unbelief. If they leave the world as rightly-guided servants of God, their spiritual rectitude may prove to be an obstruction in the way of your own spiritual advancement.’[51]

The Imām cautions us against hasty judgments—which are sometimes noticed among some religious people—as well as assaults on, and accusations against, the spiritual wayfarers [sālikīn] and mystics. He warns of the danger of such acts, and considers them to result from incapacity:

If we hear any of the truths from the mouth of a passionate ‘ārif or a heart-broken wayfarer, or a theosopher [hakīm-e muta’allih], immediately we make him the target of all kinds of curses and insults, calling him an apostate and a profligate, refraining not from any kind of slander and backbiting in regard to him, because our ears cannot bear to hear his words and self-love prevents us from realizing our own inadequacies. Alas, we bequeath a book as waqf, binding its user with the condition that he should curse, hundred times a day, the late Mullā Muhsin Fayd (Kāshānī)![52] We call Sadr al-Muta’allihīn (Mullā Sadrā),[53] who is the foremost of the adherents of tawhīd, a heretic [zindīq] and do not stop at any insult in regard to him.[54]

Yes, the most optimistic analysis regarding such assertions and indictments shows inadequacy and ignorance. The outcome of possessing such a mentality is that man always remains in complex ignorance and increases his burden. Instead of an accurate understanding of the law of creation and the confession of one’s own unawareness, it covers his ignorance with the cloak of piety. This is while one of the signs of piety is to be cautious about these things and not to pass judgment on others:

Our shaykh, an accomplished ‘ārif that he was (i.e. Shāhābādī), may my soul be his ransom, used to say: ‘Never call down curses [la‘n] on anybody, though he be a kāfir concerning whom you do not know how he made the transit from this world to the next, and unless an infallible walī informs you concerning his condition after death. For it is possible that he may have attained faith before the time of death. Hence let your curse be of a general character.’ Here is one who has such a sacred spirit that he would not permit anyone who has died an apparent unbeliever to be insulted, for the probability that he might have acquired faith at the time of death, and there are the like of us![55]

Surely, if we consider this point with its implications as the guide of our deeds in life, how many virtues would we acquire and how many abominations and defects would we rid ourselves of.

Man in the State of Nature

One of the questions that preoccupy the thinkers’ mind is this: In essence, what is man—angelic or devilish? Assuming that there had been no powerful institution to administer and control human beings, in such a case what would have been the people’s behaviour toward one another? Would they have mutually respected and observed their rights, or would they, like wolves, have fallen on and torn one another apart?

Any sort of answer to this question necessitates the existence of a specific political and educational system. If we say that the human being is intrinsically wicked, in that case we will inevitably need to perpetually control individuals. If we declare that man is innately angelic, it follows that we have to remove all restrictions and limitations, and set him free.

In this context, in order to comprehend the Imām’s viewpoint well, we cannot help but embark on the subject by touching on the views of other thinkers as well, and to study their historical circumstances. Hence, we will deal initially on the viewpoint of Thomas Hobbes[56] on this issue as well as his famous statement, “Man is the wolf of other man.” Subsequently, we will explore the view of Jean-Jacques Rousseau,[57] and then examine the Imām’s point of view. As such, we will approach the discussion from the following three (3) angles:

· Hobbes’ view;

· Rousseau’s view; and

· Imām Khomeinī’s view.

Hobbes’ view

Thomas Hobbes was one the greatest English political thinkers. He was a skeptic philosopher. As he failed to present exact and fixed foundations for ethics, he resorted to cynicism and accepted relativism in ethics. With the denial of the exact foundations of ethics, he had no alternative but to present a principle for it in society.

It is owing to this that he arrived at the conclusion that for the appearance of morality in society, we are in need of a centralized and resolute authority that would maintain and promote public morality. In the political realm, he was anti-democracy and a partisan of absolute monarchy. He believed that only in the presence of a centralized authority could the morals of society be preserved. His beliefs were greatly influenced by the events of those days in England as well as the civil wars there.

One of the key concepts of Hobbes is the expression, ‘man in the state of nature’. What is meant by ‘the state of nature’ is a hypothetical state wherein there is no political institution and administrative organization existing in the society, the people being left to their own business and to do whatever they like.
Since the instinct of love and defense of one’s self is very strong in everybody, the people would be at each other’s throats and would destroy one another: “In the state of nature in which everybody is his own master, one is at odds with the others concerning the nomenclature of things, and it is these differences that give rise to disputes and conflicts.”[58]

Life in such a society is very difficult, laborious and perilous; in the words of Hobbes it is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”[59] According to Hobbes, in no way is this kind of living to one’s benefit and advantage. Therefore, members of society themselves come to the conclusion that they have to choose a person or persons and give them enough and complete prerogatives to maintain security and so prevent individuals from assailing one another. ‘Civil society’, ‘commonwealth’, ‘civitas’ and ‘country’ are all born of this.

According to Hobbes’ view, civil society is the opposite of the state of nature, the latter being nothing but life in the jungle and even worse, for it is possible for the animals to have rules and regulations for themselves and to respect one another’s domain; yet human beings in the state of nature are not like that.

Such an approach to human beings draws Hobbes toward absolute monarchial rule, totally centralized authority and the creation of powerful and commanding supervisory organizations, drags him totally away from populism, and makes him conclude, thus: “It is, therefore, clear that so long as there is no government over the people to compel them to obey, they will exist in a state, which they have named ‘a state of war’, this war pitting every individual against another.”[60]

Hobbes’ views on ethics, human beings and politics are highly controversial. Many are those who have repudiated or endorsed them, have uncovered their inner contradictions and shown his contradictory statements one by one. In the words of Richard Tock,

Even during his life time Hobbes was reputed to have conflicting thoughts. He was regarded as a stubborn debater and an irascible dogmatist; yet, he would vigorously assail any kind of dogmatism. He was strongly against the notion of the authority of the Church as was, for example, exerted over the universities; yet, he wanted his philosophical works to be adopted as textbooks in them. While extolling and commending liberalism, he used to support absolute rule that exercises complete authority over intellectual activities.[61]

The most important criticism leveled against his pessimistic view on man is that if human beings, as what he says, are so bloodthirsty, how did they arrive at the conclusion that they themselves should create an establishment that would prevent them from transgressing against others? Hobbes replies that they had come to this conclusion through their sound reasoning. In that case, it is the same sound reasoning, which is superior to their instincts and directs them toward a life devoid of want and hostility; this, however, is not meant to be a critique of Hobbes’ outlook.

Rather, we are after articulating this perspective on man. It was an outlook that deeply influenced later thinkers who showed each of these influences in one way or another. The interesting point on the works of Hobbes is that he gave the title, Leviathan, to his most important political writing; what he meant by Leviathan was the same centralized ruling authority. Leviathan means a legendary sea-monster that devours everything. It is this oddity and irony that the government’s position can possibly annihilate its citizens and, at the same time, its existence is necessary.

Anyhow, Hobbes’ standpoint on the human being has its roots in the older tradition of Judeo-Christian faith. In fact, according to both the Old and the New Testaments, man is sinful and innately impure. It is this legacy that reaches Hobbes and which he theorizes, and on the basis of which he lays the foundation of his ideal political system. According to the Book of Genesis,[62] Adam and Eve ignored the commandment of God not to go near the forbidden tree, and due to the temptation of the serpent, they ate the fruit of the tree. As a consequence, they earned the wrath of God; they were expelled from heaven and were sent down to the accursed world.[63]

The sin that was committed by Adam and Eve, according to the Judeo-Christian tradition, did not embroil only them; rather, this sin passes down from generation to generation of humankind, and is deemed as being part of man’s nature. Accordingly, man is inherently sinful and, by nature, evil. This sinfulness is not only restricted to human beings for “even the heavens are not pure.”[64] According to the ancient Psalms of David, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”[65]
Paul, the greatest official exponent of the Christian Church and the promoter of Christianity, in his epistle to the Roman Christians thus claims,

“What shall we conclude then? Are we any better? Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. As it is written: ‘There is no-one righteous, not even one; there is no-one who understands, no one who seeks God’.”[66]

Elsewhere,he concludes that “the whole world is a prisoner of sin.”[67]

At any rate, sin is among the rudimentary concepts in the Judeo-Christian tradition. The human being is said to be inherently imprisoned in its clutches; he will be born with it and it has a place in his natural disposition [fit*rah]. Only through faith is it possible for him to absolve himself. Such an approach to the nature of mankind, regarding sin to be at one with man’s nature, provided fertile ground for the emergence of pessimistic and anti-democratic notions of persons such as Hobbes. As a result, we come up against a theory that reckons man as wolf unto another, regards him as innately evil, and believes that there must always be an authority to control him by forcible means.

Rousseau’s view

Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s (1712-1778) view is diametrically in opposition to that of Hobbes. His thoughts had a positive influence on the Great Revolution of France. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, on which his famous statement has left its imprint, owes him too much. In the beginning of his celebrated book, The Social Contract, Rousseau writes, “Man is born free; but he lives everywhere in slavery.”[68] Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights thus also states: “All human beings are born free and equal in…rights.”[69]

In contrast to Hobbes’ view and the traditional notion of the Church based on the sinful nature of man, Rousseau believed that man in the state of nature is decent, well-mannered, free-minded, and peace-loving, and that it is the society which corrupts him. In his opinion the debasement of man commences when he joins the civil society and relinquishes his own freedom. A human being left to himself would never resort to attacking others and waging war against anybody:

Man is by nature amiable and timid; he runs away from the least danger. He acquires a pugnacious temperament by virtue of habits and experience. Pride, interest, prejudgments, vengeance, and all yearnings that can draw man to welcome the risk of death do not exist in nature. It is only when man enters human society that the thought of assaulting others enters his mind. After becoming a citizen he changes into a soldier. Therefore, man, by nature, has no inclination to wage war against his fellow human beings.[70]

So long as man lives in the lap of nature and is not a captive of society, he is in harmony and intimacy with all the constituent parts of nature. His needs are limited and can easily be met. Neither is there any sign of avarice and covetousness, nor envy and the killing of one another:

We see him eat his fill under the oak, drink water from the first spring that is within reach and quenches his thirst. He spreads out his bedding under the same tree that provided him with food. In this manner; all his needs are satisfied. The earth is absorbed in its natural productive processes, and a substantial part of it is covered with vast expanses of forest.[71]
It is regrettable that this state of affairs does not last long. It is not clear why man abandons this comfort and serenity, and decides to establish a human society. This act is tantamount to forfeiting one’s own natural freedom and destroying one’s own pure nature and natural disposition; for “it is the society that corrupts and defiles human beings… the more human beings gather together, to the same extent will they be further corrupted.”[72]

The source of human wars and conflicts is the desire to own, which in turn is an offshoot of society. It is this longing for possession that drives human beings to kill one another, and causes so much bloodshed:

The first person who erected a wall around a plot of land and said, ‘This is mine,’ thinking the people to be so naïve as to believe him, was the actual founder of civil society. If someone had pulled out the wooden stakes around the above-mentioned land… and had shouted to his fellowmen, ‘Do not listen to this swindler; land belongs to everybody,’ the world might have possibly been safe from crimes, wars, homicide, rancor, vengeance, and suffering.[73]

In short, Rousseau’s views which are mainly found in The Social Contract and Desire and Discourse on the origin of the lack of equality, gave rise to different and conflicting reactions and his naturalist understanding became highly controversial. One of the fiercest oppositions was expressed by Voltaire,[74] another one of the enlightened philosophers. Rousseau, who had much attachment to him, sent him in 1755 a copy of the book, Discourse, on the origin of the lack of equality. While expressing gratitude to him, Voltaire replied, thus:

I have received the book that you have written against the human race, and wish to thank you for it. Such intelligence had never been applied to fool us people. By reading your book, people would like to walk on their two hands and two feet. But for me, since I abandoned such a habit sixty years ago, I feel, with all regret, that to begin it again is beyond me. To search for the savage people of Canada is also not possible. The ailments with which I am afflicted have put me in need of European surgeons. Moreover, there is a war going on in those regions, and copying our actions has also made the savages corrupt like ourselves.[75]

As such, contrary to Hobbes, Rousseau puts emphasis on the pure nature of man and regards the civil society as its demolisher. In view of the fact that there is no possibility of perpetuating the state of nature and, in effect, such a state has never existed, being more hypothetical than real, Rousseau’s solution is the acceptance of civil society provided that it is based on the social contract and guarantees individual liberties. Yet, in practice, Rousseau’s idea stems from either the negation of government and attacking society or results in a self-centered government. It is this point that thinkers have seriously dealt with but is beyond the ambit of our discussion.

However, what is interesting for us here is his outlook on the nature of man. He holds it immune from any kind of blemishes and has reckoned even training and education as corrupting this wholesome natural disposition [fit*rah]. In the book, Emile,[76] he suggests that we should completely leave the child to himself to grow in whatever way he likes as in the case of wild pennyroyal, and be one with nature.

If Hobbes used to view the nature of man so pessimistically and regarded the existence of a powerful government to be indispensable for deterring human beings from aggression against one another, Rousseau stands on the proposition that in reality it is the society and government that tarnish the clear nature of man, the best state of man being that very state of nature.

Imām Khomeinī’s view

These two traditions and perspectives have both advocates and antagonists. They have been put to the test time and again and have shown their shortcomings. Doubtlessly, each of these two outlooks possesses a part of the truth.
If human beings are left to themselves and no law or moral principle controls them, certainly egoism would sway them to compete with and, finally, obliterate one another.

Apparently, the cynical outlook of Hobbes is more in consonance with reality than the positive view of Rousseau. In Islamic anthropology, strong threads [of the reality] can be seen from Hobbes vantage point.

According to Qur’anic narration, since God announced to the angels His intention of creating man and appointing him as His vicegerent on earth, they asked all together in protest: “Wilt Thou place therein one who will do harm therein and will shed blood, while we, we hymn Thy praise and sanctify Thee?”[77]

In this objection of the angels, they indicated two points: one, this human creature would be a bloodshedding being; the other, they (the angels) were more deserving than man to be the viceregents of God. What is important for us is the first point. The angels, for certain reasons, used to point to the shedding of blood and cruelties of this creature, perceiving the big and disastrous wars written on his face.

Interestingly enough, God neither rebuffed their views, nor said to them that man will not be murderous. Instead, in various instances, including this one, He put the stamp of approval, and described man as iniquitous and imprudent.[78] God answered them with only a single sentence: “Surely I know that which ye know not.”[79]

This general statement conveyed to the angels the fact that God also knows the other side of the coin of man’s existence while they see only his murderous aspect. In such a way, He told them that though man is murderous and cruel, there is a more important feature in him that justifies his creation and appointment as God’s representative on earth. In this manner, murder and bloodshed have been moulded in the existence of man and he has an inborn inclination to transgress his bounds and perpetrate tyranny.[80]

 

Of course, this point should be mentioned that this trait has no relation whatsoever to the Christian notion of Original Sin. According to the Glorious Qur’an, both Adam and Eve, too, were recalcitrant and disobeyed God’s commandment; as a consequence, they were expelled from paradise and sent down to earth.

Nevertheless, after realizing their error, they repented and God, in turn, accepted their repentance, and the spiritual taint of that recalcitrance was wiped out. God, the Most High, states that Adam was beguiled by Satan: “And Adam disobeyed his Lord, so went astray. Then his Lord chose him, and relented toward him, and guided him.”[81]

Thus, this point has no bearing at all on the Christian belief on the original sin of man. Such is the nature of man, egoist and self-centered.
This is the truth of the matter. Man possesses a predatory and destructive makeup. This is what Freud[82] called, ‘instinct of annihilation’ and considers it one of the two fundamental instincts of man. It is the same instinct that has been the cause of the ruinous and widespread wars throughout human history, has spawned great tragedies, and been responsible for father killing son, and son killing father. Of course, this instinct is vital in the life of man. If human beings were not egoistic, they would not have been able to contend with other animals and natural disasters, and would have been exterminated.

From this perspective, man is not different from predatory animals and is subject to the law of ‘kill or be killed’. He destroys others in order to provide for himself, and gives priority to himself over others. The Imām describes this aspect of man in the following terms:

 

It is evident that at the time of his birth, after passing through certain stages, man is no better than a weak animal and has no distinction over other animals, except for his potentiality of becoming a human being. That is, his humanness is potential, not present. Therefore, man is an animal in actuality in the initial stages of his life in this world. No power but the law of animal nature, which governs through the faculties of Desire [shahwah] and Anger [ghadab], rules over him.[83]

Historical observations and reflections of thinkers corroborate and uphold this view and perspective; yet, this is not the end of the story. Man is murderous; yet, his pursuit is not only bloodshed. He is an animal; yet, he does not remain within the bounds of being animal [hayawāniyyah]. It is true that since the moment of his entering the world of existence, man is subject to the logic of animal life and in the words of the Imām:

Though it is not directly relevant to our topic, it is essential to know that the human soul is by nature and instinct inclined to believe not only in the principle of tawhīd [monotheism], but to follow all truthful doctrines also. Yet, since the moment of birth and stepping into this universe, man starts growing and developing along with his natural urges and animal desires.[84]

In spite of this, man can let his other aspect prevail over this aspect. This other aspect of man is evident to God though hidden and concealed to the angels. This aspect of man’s existence is the very fit*rah [natural disposition], which has been given remarkable emphasis in our religious texts. The key solution to this concern is the fit*rah, which have recently been given much attention by Islamic thinkers such as the late ‘Allāmah Tabāt*abā’ī[85] and Mut*ahharī,[86] and on the basis of which they have proved and established a great deal of knowledge and learning.

Fit*rah means natural disposition and origination. In reply to the question concerning the noble āyah [verse], which states: “The nature (framed) of Allah, in which He hath created man,”[87] Imām as-Sādiq (‘a) stated that it meant that God created all the people with a monotheistic instinct.[88]

According to the Imām, fit*rah does not exclusively mean tawhīd [monotheism], as “it includes all the true teachings which God Almighty has ingrained in the nature of His slaves”[89] and these have been moulded in their being and personality.

The Imām elaborates on the role and place of fit*rah in the human instinct, as well as some of its manifestations, in the exposition of the eleventh hadīth in his Sharh-e Chehel Hadīth. The most important principle of man’s fit*rah is his being monotheist; second, belief in the hereafter; and third, acceptance of the principle of prophethood [nubuwwah]. Another decree on man’s fit*rah is:
The natural inclination to seek perfection [that] is so universal [in] that if all the eras of human existence are probed and each of human individuals, no matter to what group or nation he may belong, is questioned, a love of perfection will be found to be part of his nature and his heart will be found to be pulled toward it.[90]

It is possible that owing to the influence of some circumstances or type of upbringing, individuals may have diverse opinions on the meaning and connotation of perfection. In essence, however, nobody holds a dissenting view. Everyone is looking for something which he thinks is better [and] similar is the case of men of science and craft and that of the entire human species. Whatever the activity and field of their concern, their eagerness grows with achievement and is directed toward the higher degrees of perfection. The more they progress and advance, the more their eagerness grows for the higher degrees of perfection; its fire is never extinguished and becomes more intense every day.[91]

It is the same inclination to perfection and excellence that drives forward the caravan of human civilization and learning, and turned the early humans, who were afraid of the fierce and dreadful animals, into masters and rulers of the planets. It is the same penchant for perfection that eclipses man’s murderous nature and makes him determined to overcome his defects and display the excellences in him. It is the same essence of fit*rah that renders possible the founding of communities and civil society. It is the very quintessence that brings to the fore the murderous man’s merit to be the Vicegerent of God and the epitome of divine attributes.

Had it not been for this essence, no social contract—whether in the world of imagination or in that of reality—would have been concluded; human beings would never be willing to give up some of his interests and tolerate others. So, Hobbes in saying that man is the wolf of another man and Rousseau in opining that man is, by nature, pure and peace-loving, are both right. Each of them has seen one facet of man’s being. But if man were only wolf, the establishment of a civil society would not have been possible. On the other hand, if he were only angelic and peaceful in nature, do all these crimes and murders then make sense?

Hence, man is both this and that, but at the same time, is [purely] neither this nor that. In this context, the view of the Imām is both realistic and optimistic. He propounds that when man is born, he possesses abundant potentialities for deriving excellences as well as instincts for his security and survival. In fact, since the time he sets foot on earth, man is in need of attributes that could keep him away from dangers.

In this aspect, he is not significantly different from the other animals. Self-love, the need for food and drink, and the need to ward off danger and to reproduce are all attributes common to human beings and other animals. But, man does not remain in that stage as he possesses the capability to go beyond it and attain spiritual perfections while the other animals are devoid of that potentiality and only revolve in the vicious cycle of their instincts.

In view of this, this monotheistic and perfection-seeking disposition is the demarcation line between human being and animal. Nonetheless, it does not necessarily mean that as he enjoys a truth-seeking disposition man is no longer in need of training and education, and that every human being actually possesses all excellences. Man is de facto no less than an animal. It is only through self-edification that he can elevate himself from that position, leave behind him the degrees of existential perfection, and finally reach a station that is beyond imagination.

In short, from the viewpoint of Imām Khomeinī, man in the state of nature is a ruthless and self-centered creature possessing strong egoism, and in the words of the Imām, an adherent of the logic and “law of animal nature.”[92]

However, his monotheistic and perfection-seeking disposition—provided that it constitutes the basis for growth and development—compels him to overcome his self and his animalistic logic, and to tread the path of perfection, and go beyond the stages of Divine Proximity, becoming the vicegerent of God and all-encompassing embodiment of His Attributes. But, this proximity to the Divine Presence is commensurate to the exit from the door of selfishness and self-worship as “the gnostic journey toward God and the spiritual migration does not take place without leaving the dark house of the self and the disappearance of its traces.”[93]

$$ECTION[Man as the Arena of Conflict between Good and Evil]
Once we accept the previous principle, we can then deduce that the human being has a dual personality; this is part of the well-established Islamic anthropology. According to the Qur’an, God Almighty created man out of odorous black mud, which had been transformed into dry clay, and then He breathed His Spirit upon it; thus, emerged man. In other words, man is a muddy creature, which has the Spirit of God. The Glorious Qur’an describes the creation of man, thus:

“And (remember) when thy Lord said unto the angels: Lo! I am creating a mortal out of potter’s clay of black mud altered. So, when I have made him and have breathed unto him of My spirit, do ye fall down, prostrating yourselves unto him.”[94]

This fact is repeated in the different verses of the Qur’an. The reality must be emphasized that the human being has a twofold personality: heavenly and earthly. This creature has its origin in the earth and his hands are extended toward heaven. While glancing at this transitory world, his eyes are fixed on that everlasting world. This creature is the connecting link between animal and angel. It is this point that distinguishes him from the two, and raises the question—is he superior to the two, equal to, or inferior to them?

One of the companions of Imām as-Sādiq (‘a) asked him as to who is superior, man or angel. The infallible Imām (‘a) replied that the Commander of the Faithful Imām ‘Alī (‘a) had the following answer to the same query:

God created the angels from reason without carnal desire and He created human beings from the combination of these two. Therefore, whoever uses his reason above his desire is superior to the angels and whoever uses his desire above his reason is inferior to the four-footed ones.[95]

While pointing to this hadīth Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Balkhī [ar-Rūmī], a great gnostic and expounder of the subtleties of human existence, recites thus:

ﺩﺮﺤﺩﻳﺚ ïºï»¤ïº©ï»œï»ªï»³ïº¯ïº©ïºï»¦ï»¤ïº ï»³ïº© ﺧﻟﻕﻋﺎﻟﻡ ﺮﺍ ﺴﻪﮔﻮﻧﻪ ﺁﻓﺮﻳﺪ
ﻳﮏ ﮔُﺮُﻩﺮﺍ ïºŸï»¤ï» ï»ª ï»‹ï»—ï»žï»®ï»‹ï» ï»¡ï»®ïº§ï»®ïº© ﺁﻦﻓﺮﺷﻪ ﺍﺴﺖ، ﺍﻮﻧﺩﺍﻧﺩﺟﺰﺴﺟﻮﺩ
ﻧﻴﺴﺖ ﺍﻧﺩﺮﻋﻧﺼﺮﺵﺣﺮﺹﻮﻫﻮﺍ ﻧﻮﺮ ï»£ï»ƒï» ï»•ØŒ ﺰﻧﺩﻩﺍﺰﻋﺷﻕﺨﺩﺍ
ﻴﮏ ﮔﺮﻮﻩﺩﻳﮕﺮﺍﺰﺩﺍﻧﺵﺗﻬﻰ ﻫﻣﭼﻮ ﺤﻴﻮﺍﻥﺍﺰ ï»‹ï» ï»’ ﺩﺮﻓﺮﺒﻬﻰ
ﺍﻮ ﻧﺒﻴﻧﺩﺟﺰ ï»œï»ªïºïº»ï»ƒïº’ï»ï»®ï»‹ï» ï»’ ﺍﺰ ﺸﻗﺎﻮﺖﻏﺎﻓﻞﺍﺴﺖﻮﺍﺯﺸﺮﻒ
ﺍﻴﻥﺴﻮﻢﻫﺴﺖﺁﺪﻤﻴﺯﺍﺪﻮﺒﺸﺮ ﻧﻴﻢ ﺍﻮﺯﺍﻓﺮﺸﺘﻪ ﻮﻧﻴﻤﺶ ﺧﺮ

It is related in the hadīth that the Majestic God
Created the creatures of the world (in) three kinds.
One class (He made) entirely reason and knowledge and munificence;

That is the angel: he knoweth naught but prostration in worship.

In his original nature is no concupiscence and sensuality:
He is absolute light, (he is) living through (his) love of God.
Another class is devoid of knowledge,
Like the animals (which lives) in fatness from (eating) fodder.
It sees nothing but stable and fodder:
It is heedless of (future) misery and glory (felicity).
The third (class) is Adam’s descendant and Man:
Half of him is of the angel and half of him is ass.[96]
This is the state of human existence. His worldly aspect directs him to the world while his celestial side spurs him to quest and growth.

ïº ïºŽï»¦ï®”ïº·ïºŽï»´ïºª ﺴﻮﻯﺒﺎﻻ، ﺒﺎﻟﻬﺎ ﺪﺮﺯﺪﻩ ﺘﻦ ﺪﺮﺯﻤﻴﻦﭽﻧﮕﺎﻟﻬﺎ

The spirit unfolds its wings (to) fly) upwards;
The body has stuck its claws in the earth.[97]

Of course, it is stated in the Prophetic narrations that God created man out of His own mold.

ïº§ï» ï»• ﻤﺎﺒﺮ ﺻﻮﺮﺖﺧﻮﺪﻜﺮﺪﺣﻕ ﻮﺻﻒﻤﺎﺍﺯﻮﺻﻒ ﺍﻮ ﮔﻴﺮﺪﺴﺒﻕ

God created us in His image:
Our qualities are instructed by[98] (are modeled upon) His qualities.[99]

But this is only one side of the coin. It does not mean that man, as such, is superior to the angels and the representative of God. Rather, it points to the fact that man can, and should, make apparent and nurture his divine aspect, and make himself his Lord’s worthy viceroy.

As such, man has a dual personality and each part of him drives him to its pertinent direction. As a result, an inner conflict arises in man, dichotomizing his being. There is a story about Majnūn, which illustrates well this state of humanity. One day Majnūn decided to pay a visit to Laylā who used to live with her tribe in a distant place. So, he went after a she-camel that he possessed and mounted it. The she-camel had just given birth to an offspring and so was not willing to leave the place. However, it had no choice but to take Majnūn.

But whenever Majnūn used to fall asleep due to fatigue, the halter that was in his hand naturally used to slacken and the she-camel, realizing that its master had fallen asleep, would swiftly change its direction and head hurriedly toward its foal. After a short while, Majnūn would wake up and realize that the she-camel had changed course. So, he would correct his course and, gripping the halter tightly, lead the camel toward Laylā. But after some time, Majnūn would lapse into sleep once again and the camel, with its young mind, would change its direction, so on and so forth. After going to and fro like this many times, Majnūn consequently realized that they have not even covered a half day’s distance and that his actual problem was the rider heading toward his beloved and the animal ridden heading in another direction; he would not be able to reach Laylā so long as this situation was such and the two conflicting aims persisted. Mawlānā relates the story in the following words:

ï»¤ï»´ï»žï»£ïº ï»§ï»®ï»¦ï­˜ï»´ïº¶ïºï»¦ï» ï»´ï» ï»°ïº®ï»®ïºï»¦ ﻤﻴﻞ ﻧﺎﻗﻪﭘﺲ، ﭘﻰ ﻛﺮّﻩﺩﻮﺍﻦ
ﻴﮓﺩﻢ ﺍﺮ ï»£ïº ï»§ï»®ï»¦ïº°ïº¨ï»®ïº©ï»ïºŽï»”ï»žïº’Ùïº©Ù‰ ﻧﺎﻗﻪﮔﺮﺩﻴﺩى ﻮﻮﺍﭙﺲ ﺁﻤﺩى
ﻋﺸﻖﻮ ﺳﻮﺪﺍ، ﭽﻮﻦﻜﻪﭙﺮﺒﻮﺪﺶﺒﺪﻦ ﻤﻰ ﻧﺒﻮﺪﺶ ﭽﺎﺮﻩﺍﺯﺒﻴﺧﻮﺪﺷﺪﻦ
ﺁﻧﻜﻪﺒﺎﺷﺪ ﺍﻮﻤﺮﺍﻗﺐ، ﻋﻗﻞﺒﻮﺪ ﻋﻗﻞ ﺮﺍﺴﻮﺪﻯ ï» ï»´ï» ï»°ïºªïº® ﺮﺒﻮﺪ
ï» ï»´ï®“ï»§ïºŽï»—ï»ªØŒ ﺒس ﻤﺮﺍﻗﺐ ﺒﻮﺪ ï»® ﭽُﺴﺖ ﭽﻮﻦ ﺒﺪﻴﺪﻯﺍﻮﻤﻬﺎﺮ ﺧﻮﻴﺶﺴﺴﺖ
ﻓﻬﻡﻜﺮﺪﻯ ﺯﻮ، ﻜﻪﻏﺎﻔﻞﮔﺷﺖﻮﺪﻧﮓ ﺮﻮ ﺳﭘﺲﻜﺮﺪﻯ ﺒﻪﻜﺮّﻩ ﺒﻰﺪﺮﻧﮓ
ﭽﻮﻦﺒﻪ ﺨﻮﺪﺒﺎﺯﺁﻣﺪﻯ، ﺪﻳﺪﻯ ﺯﺟﺎ ﻜﻮﺴﭘﺲﺮﻓﺗﻪﺴﺖﺒﺲﻓﺮﺴﻧﮕﻬﺎ
ﺪﺮ ﺴﻪﺮﻮﺯﻩ ﺮَﻩ، ﺒﺪﻳﻦﺍﺤﻮﺍﻟﻬﺎ ﻤﻧﺪﻤﺟﻧﻮﻦ ﺪﺮﺗﺮﺪﺪ ﺴﺎﻟﻬﺎ
Majnūn’s desire is speeding to the presence of that (beloved) Laylā;
The she-camel’s desire is running back after her foal.
If Majnūn forgot himself for one moment,
The she-camel would turn and go back.
Since his body was full of love and passion,
He had no recourse but to become beside himself.
That which is regardful was (ever) reason:
Passion for Laylā carried (his) reason away.
But the she-camel was very regardful and alert:
Whenever she saw her toggle slack
She would at once perceive that he had become heedless and dazed,
And would turn her back to the foal without delay.
When he came to himself again, he would see on the spot[100]
That she had gone back many leagues.
In these conditions Majnūn remained going to and fro
For years on a three days’ journey.[101]

Yes, this is the condition of man, possessing existential dichotomy. As a result, man is always experiencing the greatest war he can ever imagine. All the great wars in history in reality are echoes of this same inner war. The wildest animals have never been observed to kill and tear up other animals except when they have to eat and cater for their subsistence needs.

No animal ever enjoys killing just for the sake of it or for amusement. However, man is not like this. Rather, at times he sinks so low that if he gets tired of slaying others, he teaches other human beings to rip up and butcher one another in front of him. There was a time in the Roman Empire when physically powerful slaves were given training in warfare.

Then, as gladiators they were brought to the middle of the imperial coliseum and were watched while fighting each other, and then the victorious slaves had to slay those who were overwhelmed. Such is the situation of man who constantly invents new methods for killing his fellow beings. It is enough to recall that during the World War II that lasted for six years, fifty million people lost their lives, though advanced electronically-controlled weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles were not yet invented.

The root of all these crimes is that same animalistic instinct of man, by recognizing which the angels had beforehand protested to or questioned God about the selection of man for the vicegerency [khilāfah]. However, this is not the whole truth. Throughout human history, we have been witnesses to the unprecedented endeavors of some people for the salvation of their fellow beings. Gandhi who was a law graduate, materially well-off, and belonging to the elitist Brahmin caste, had discarded his material comfort, and for the sake of freeing and saving the nation of India from the clutches of colonial rule, he gave up everything he possessed, and lost his life for the sake of equality among the Hindu castes and for guaranteeing the rights of the caste known as the ‘untouchables’. Nelson Mandela, Albert Schweitzer,[102] Mother Teresa, and hundred others—all created immortal epics. In our own religious culture, the movement and uprising of Imām Husayn (‘a) notwithstanding the absence of the least hope for military victory, is a vivid manifestation of that divine quality that is moulded in the natural constitution of man. Imām Khomeinī, in his own characteristic style, portrays human nature as follows:

Let it be known that man is a marvel possessing two lives and two worlds within one existence. That is, apparent life or the outward world, which is this worldly existence, and is associated with his body, and the other is ‘inner life’, the inward world, associated with the hidden, invisible, higher other world, his soul in short, which belongs to the realms of the invisible and celestial world, and consists of several levels and grades… For each one of them is specified host of guardians.

The host related with the divine and intellectual powers attracts him toward the sublime, heavenly spheres, and summons him to the acts of virtue and goodness. The other host of guardians is the ignoble and satanic, which attracts man toward the baser realms of darkness and shame, and invites him to the acts of villainy and destruction. There is always a state of conflict and strife between these two forces, and human existence serves as the battleground of these two bands.[103]

The late Farīdūn Mashīrī [104] relates this status of man, thus:

گفت دانايى كه: گرگى خيره سر هست پنهان در نهادِ هر بشر
لا جرم جارى است پيكارى سترگ روز و شب، مابين اين انسان و گرگ
مردمان گر يكديگر را مىدرند گرگهاشان رهنما و رهبرند
اينكه انسان هست اين سان دردمند گرگها فرمانروايى مىكنند
و آن ستمكاران كه با هم محرمند گرگهاشان آشنايان همند
گرگها همراه و انسانها غريب با گه بايد گفت اين حالِ عجيب؟

A wise man said: ‘A stubborn wolf
Is hidden inside every man.
Inevitably, there is a great conflict and war
That takes place day and night between the man and the wolf.
Men are at logger head with each other
And these wolves lead and direct them.
For, this man is ill and ill-fated;
As such, the wolves rule over them.
Those tyrants are together;
Thus, their wolves are friends to one another.
The wolves are together while men are far from one another.
To whom should we share this amazing condition?[105]
From this principle, ample and valuable teachings can be derived, the most important of which are as follows:

1. Right to choose and select;

2. Necessity of self-cognition; and

3. Combat with the self as the major jihād [struggle].

Right to choose and select

Once we acknowledge that mankind is indescribable (first principle), that man is a combination of the spirit of God and putrid clay (second principle), that the human being is an arena of conflict between these two instincts, then we can proceed to the principle that man is always in the process of choosing and selecting.

Man is not a neutral spectator of his inner war; rather, he is like a commander who, by the choice he makes, acts to the benefit of one of the sides in the war. Man does not only enjoy the right to choose, but is also obliged to choose. In other words, he is compelled to choose, and in the jargon of existentialists, he is condemned to be free. Every movement of us is a form of choosing.

Even if one day we decide not to choose anymore, we have, with this decision, actually undertaken the act of choosing. That is, we have chosen not to choose or, in other words we have decided not to choose. Never for a moment can we ever imagine that we have refrained from choosing. Of course, the scope of this choosing is our conscious and voluntary actions and behaviour; not our genetic and environmental attributes.

For instance, we have not chosen our father, mother, race, or colour beforehand. Nevertheless, in our social behaviour and relations we are always in the state of choosing and selecting. It is through these assorted choices and selections that we build, demolish and rebuild ourselves.

We examine ourselves. We acquire a new description and account of ourselves. We again reject this description and adopt another one. In doing so, we construct and ‘recreate’ ourselves. For, “If indeed existence takes precedence over essence, then humanity is responsible for its own existence.”[106] So long as man is alive this choice exists. So long as man is in the terrestrial plane of existence, this successive self-building and self-demolition is inevitable:
صورتگر نقاشم، هر لحظه بتى سازم و آنگه همه بتها را در پيش تو بگدازم
صد نقش بانگيزم، با روح درآميزم چون نقش تو را بينم، در آتشش اندازم
تو ساقىِ خمارى، يا دشمن هشيارى يا آنكه كنى ويران هر خانه كه مى سازم
جان ريخته شد بر تو، آميخته شد با تو چون بوى تو دارد جان، جان را، هله بنوازم
هر خون كه ز من رويد، با خاک تو مىگويد: با مهر تو همرنگم، با عشق تو هنبازم
در خانه آب و گل بى توست خراب اين دل يا خانه درآ، جانا، يا خانه بپردازم

As a portraitist every moment I make a beautiful idol
But in the end I destroy all of them under your feet.
I make hundreds of pictures and portraits and mix them with soul
But as I see your picture and portrait, I will put all of them on fire.
You are an intoxicated cupbearer, or a wary enemy,
Or that you destroy every house I build.
My soul is filled and mixed with you;
As this soul has your fragrance, I revere and adore it.
Every blood that flows in me says to your dust:
‘I’m synchronous and share with your love and affection.
Without you this heart in this house of water and flower[107] is broken.
O heart! Either go out of this physical house, or build it.[108]

This power to choose is embedded within us, and we are inevitably responsible for ourselves and our choices. In this connection, God, the Most Sublime, says: “Lo! We have created man from a drop of thickened fluid to test him; so We make him hearing, knowing. Lo! We have shown him the way whether he be grateful or disbelieving.”[109]

Elsewhere, while pointing out to the inattentiveness of man with respect to all the things endowed on him, God Almighty states: “Did We not assign unto him two eyes and a tongue and two lips, and guided him to the parting of the mountain ways?”[110]

Accordingly, from the very beginning man is faced with a variety of choices at his disposal. But with respect to these choices, he is neither blind nor compelled to act blindly; rather, he has two eyes that see, two ears that hear, a cogent intellect, and remarkable power to enable him to choose. In this struggle and conflict, man is neither helpless nor unaided; in case he himself wants and chooses, he will be assisted by God. According to the Messenger of God (s), the heart of every human being possesses two chambers: one is the angel’s domain while the other is under the sway of Satan. God renders help and support to the faithful through this angel.[111]

From here we proceed to the next point, which is a prerequisite of choice and indispensable for it; that is, freedom.

Man can only choose if he is free. To be free is latent in the meaning of choice. Once we have the right to choose to be free, we can pick and choose whatever we like. This freedom is not political, social or cultural; rather, it is above all these, and they all emanate from it. This freedom is the natural freedom. Here we do not wish to embark on an extensive and fruitless discussion of freedom, nor of compulsion, predestination and free-will. It is a debate that has engaged philosophers for centuries and millennia.

If we reflect on ourselves we easily observe this state of freedom in us, basically without which, there is no point in talking about education and ethics. The Glorious Qur’an also highlights this innate and intuitive state of ours and on the basis of which it conveys its commendation and praise, or rebuke and chastisement to us. If man were not free, there would have been no need for the sending of prophets and revelation of divine scriptures. Hence, man is free to embrace the faith or deny it.

Even so, there are some people who regard this freedom to be an impediment to deviation and perversion, and by accepting it, have to shoulder their responsibility. They are averse to this assumption of accountability. They try to cast doubt on this principle of freedom and consider themselves compelled, helpless and vulnerable.

When the Messenger of God (s) was appointed to shoulder the mission of messengership [risālah], a group of the polytheists who considered the acceptance of the faith as taking responsibility for, and exercising control over their own carnal desires, claimed: “If God did not want it, we and our forefathers would not have become polytheists and since we have become so, it implies that God has approved it and it is God’s will.” As a result, they became fatalists, and would say that they did not have the right to select and were, perforce, polytheists. In reality, they were juxtaposing the power and will of God vis-à -vis their own power. They would claim that if they were truly free, it implied that God was powerless, and since God had power over everything, it meant that their unbelief and denial of the faith also stemmed from the will of God in the midst of which they had no option. Anticipating this type of argument and reasoning, God told His messenger: “They who are idolaters will say: Had Allah willed, we had not ascribed (unto Him) partners neither had our fathers.”[112]
God presents this attitude as an excuse for not responding to the prophet’s call and for disavowing them. In another place, He considers the same reasoning as the rationale for their freedom. Knowing that His messenger (s) was painstakingly trying and endeavoring to make the idolaters finally submissive and subservient to Islam, God Almighty restrained him from these endeavors and said to him: “If Allah willed, He could have brought them all together to the guidance.”[113] Therefore, the crux of the matter is not whether God has power or not; the point is that God wants to test human beings. For this reason, He says: “Had Allah willed He could have made you one community. But that He may try you by that which He hath given you (He hath made you as ye are).”[114]

As such, God desires everybody to embrace the faith. But He wants this acceptance of the faith to be done freely and without any compulsion. Otherwise, it would not have been difficult for Him to have created all with identical mental and emotional makeup so that they would be Muslims and faithful en masse.

Renunciation of freedom, then, is in fact the result of mere sophistry and caprice, not attention to esoteric and exoteric realities. The reason is that anyone who is keen on doing something feels a sort of freedom in relation to doing it, whereas if he is not inclined to do something, it gives him a feeling of fatalism. Most of us witness this circumstance in our daily lives. Anybody who is engaged in economic ventures and activities feels himself free and believes in the right to choose, while he or she who is only confined within the four corners of the house experiences a sense of determinism and believes that:

ما آبروى فقر و قناعت نمى بريم با پادشه بگو که روزى مقدر است

We talk not of poverty and contentment;
Tell to the king that fortune is predetermined.

The fact is that for our sustenance to be predetermined does not mean abandoning economic activities. Mawlānā describes this propensity and morale as follows:

ﺩﺭﻫﺭ ﺁﻥ ﻛﺎﻯ ﻛﻪﻣﻴﻞﺍﺳﺘﺖﺑﺪﺍﻥ ﻗﺪﺭﺕﺧﻮﺩ ﺭﺍ ﻫﻣﻰﺑﻴﻨﻰ ﻋﻴﺎﻥ
ï»­ ﻧﺩﺭ ﺁﻥﻛﺎﺭﻯ ï»›ï»ªï»£ï»´ï» ïº–ï»§ï»´ïº´ïº–ï»­ïº§ï»®ïºïº´ïº– ﺧﻮﻴﺶ ﺭﺍﺟﺒﺮﻯ ﻛﻨﻰ، ﻛﻴﻦ ﺍﺯﺧﺪﺍﺳﺖ

In every act for which you have inclination,
You are clearly conscious of your power (to perform it),
But in every act for which you have no inclination and desire,
In regard to that (act) you have become a necessitarian, saying,
‘This is from God.’[115]

An illustrating story of these fatalists is that of a man who entered a certain garden without permission, approached a tree, and began picking its fruits. When the owner of the garden reproached him for doing so, he claimed predetermination and said that he was an involuntary servant of God, i.e. without control over anything, and he was picking the fruits of a tree belonging to God. The owner of the garden tied him with a rope and beat him on his back and sides with a piece of wood, and when the man objected to him for doing so, he answered:

ﮔﻔﺖ: ״ﺍﺯﭼﻮﺏ ﺧﺪﺍﺍﻳﻦ ﺑﻨﺪﻩﺍﺵ ﻣﻰﺯﻨﺪ ﺑﺮ ﭘﺸﺖﺩﻳﮕﺮ ﺑﻨﺪﻩﺧﻮﺵ
ﭼﻮﺏ ﺣﻖ، ï»­ ﭘﺸﺖ ï»­ ï­˜ï»¬ï» ï»­ïºï»¥Ù ﺍﻭ ﻣﻦ ﻏﻼﻡ ﻭﺁﻟﺖِ ﻓﺮﻣﺎﻥِ ﺍﻭ”
ﮔﻔﺖ: “ﺗﻭﺑﻪﻛﺮﺩﻡﺍﺯﺟﺒﺮﺍﻯ ﻋﻴﺎﺭ ﺍﺧﺘﻴﺎﺭﺍﺳﺖ، ﺍﺧﺘﻴﺎﺭﺍﺳﺖ، ﺍﺧﺘﻴﺎﺭ”

He answered, ‘With God’s cudgel this servant of His
Is soundly beating the back of another servant.
’Tis God’s cudgel, and the back and sides belong to Him:
I am (only) the slave and instrument of His command.
He (the thief) said, ‘O cunning knave, I make a recantation of Necessitarianism:
There is free-will, there is free-will, (there is) free-will!’ [116]

Necessity of self-cognition

As the state within man is in reality an arena of conflict between irreconcilably competing forces, everyone should be well acquainted with this battleground, opposing camps, and the types of weapons used in this conflict. Perhaps one could lead a prosperous life even without a knowledge of mathematics. Maybe one could be felicitous in life even without being familiar with the natural history of the world and geology.

Possibly one could enjoy a blissful life even without familiarity with the history of one’s forebears or geography of the time. But no one could take a step toward perfection and bliss without knowing one’s self.

Therefore, this is the knowledge from which no one could consider himself not to need. More than two thousand years ago, it was written on the door of the Delphi temple in Athens: “Know thyself.” It seems that this saying will never fade and in no way relinquish its virtue and significance. All the efforts of Socrates were made to apply this maxim in his own case. As such, everybody throughout history has acknowledged his philosophy. Whether man regards himself as the center of the universe—as those in the past did believed—or as a speck of atom in the Milky Way—as people believe nowadays—he cannot escape from self-cognition. In no way can one ignore this cognizance. If man succeeds in drawing everything under his command but is ignorant of himself and unaware of the agitation within him, then he is still subjugated by his self and a prisoner of the forces within him.

Real freedom is not attained through dominance over nature but through recognition of one’s self. But alas! Man drifts away from the path, and as he obtained knowledge of nature as well as mastery over it, he imagines it as the very path to happiness. While the enemy is inside the house, he goes to fight the windmills and so deceive himself in the manner of Don Quixote.[117]

The intention is not to show the knowledge of nature to be unimportant; rather, the point is that if this nature which has been subjugated is placed at the disposal of man who does not yet know himself, not only does it not guarantee his felicity but even provides powerful means for the destruction and massacre of human beings as it has been hitherto. As technology advances, moral decadence and degeneration have also increased. Anyone who is not cognizant of himself but is after the understanding of nature loses the essence of his life’s period, and falling to the level of creatures subjugated by their instincts. This kind of person, according to Mawlānā, is:

ïº»ïº©ï»«ïº°ïºïº­ïºï»¥ï»“ïº¼ï»žïº©ïºï»¨ïºªïºïº¯ï»‹ï» ï»®ï»¡ ﺟﺎﻥ ﺧﻮﺩ ﺭﺍﻣﻰﻧﺪﺍﻧﺩ ïºï»¥ï»‡ï» ï»®ï»¡
ﺩﺍﻨﺩﺍﻮﺧﺎﺼﻴﺖﻫﺭﺟﻮﻫﺭﻯ ﺪﺭ ﺑﻴﺎﻥ ﺟﻮﻫﺭﺧﻮﺪ ﭽﻮﻥ ﺧﺭﻯ
ﮐﻪ: “ﻫﻤﻰﺩﺍﻨﻡﻳﺟﻮﺯﻮﻻﻴﺟﻮﺯ” ﺧﻮﺪﻨﺩﺍﻨﻰﺗﻮﻴﺟﻮﺯﻯ ﻴﺎﻋﺟﻮﺯ!
ﺍﻴﻥﺭﻮﺍ ﻮ ﺁﻥﻨﺎﺭﻮﺍ، ﺩﺍﻨﻰﻮﻟﻴﮏ ﺗﻮﺭﻮﺍﻴﺎﻨﺎﺭﻮﺍﻴﻰ؟ ﺑﻴﻥ ﺗﻮ ﻨﻴﮏ
ﻗﻴﻣﺖﻫﺭﻛﺎﻟﻪﻣﻰﺩﺍﻨﻛﻪﭼﻴﺳﺖ ﻗﻴﻣﺖ ﺨﻮﺩﺭﺍ ﻨﺎﺩﺍﻨﻰﺍﺤﻣﻘﻰ ﺍﺳﺖ
ﺳﻌﺩﻫﺎﻮﻨﺤﺳﻬﺎﺩﺍﻨﺳﻪﺍﻯ ﻨﻨﮕﺭﻯ ﺳﻌﺩﻯﺘﻮ ﻴﺎﻨﺎﺸُﺳﺘﻪﺍﻯ
ïº ïºŽï»¦ïº ï»¤ï» ï»ª ï»‹ï» ï»¤ï»¬ïºŽïºï»´ï»¦ïºïº³ïº–ïºï»´ï»¦ ﻜﻪ ﺑﺩﺍﻨﻰﻤﻦ ﻜﻰﺍﻢ ﺩﺮ ﻴﻮﻢ ﺩﻴ
آن اصول دين بدانستى تو، ليک بنگر اندر اصلخود، گر هست نيک

He knows a hundred thousand superfluous matters[118] connected with
The (various) sciences, (but) that unjust man does not know his own soul.
He knows the special properties of every substance,
(But) in elucidating his own substance(essence) he is(as ignorant) as anass,
Saying, ‘I know (what is) permissible and impermissible’[119] Thou knowest not
Whether thou thyself art permissible or (unpermissible as) an old woman.[120]
Thou knowest this licit (thing) and that illicit (thing),
But art thou licit or illicit? Consider well!
Thou knowest what is the value of every article of merchandise;
(If) thou knowest what is the value of thyself, ’tis folly.
Thou hast become acquainted with the fortunate and inauspicious stars;
Thou dost not look to see whether thou art fortunate or unwasted
(spiritually foul and ill-favoured).
This, this, is the soul of all the sciences—
That thou shouldst know who thou shall be on the Day of Judgment.
Thou art acquainted with the fundamentals [usūl] of the Religion,
But look upon thine own fundamental [asl] and see whether it is good. [121]

Well, the true essence of wisdom and foundation of true knowledge is self-cognition. This view on man and the true station of self-cognition in the West starts with Socrates and reaches its zenith in the philosophy of existentialism.[122] SÙ‘ren Kierkegaard,[123] a Christian orator and thinker of Denmark, is regarded as the father and precursor of existentialism.
Although this idea is traced from the thoughts of such personalities as Socrates, Marcus Aurelius, Apectitus, St. Augustine, and Pascal, it is through Kierkegaard that it has been presented systematically. In his short but productive life he produced valuable works, which proved very useful to those that came after him. Even though his contemporaries had not given much importance to his sayings, his thought is being increasingly recognized nowadays. The core of his thought, revolving around the human being, can be mentioned in the following five statements:

1. Be yourself. That is, behave in such a manner that your outer and inner self is in unison, and eschew any sort of pretension.

2. Mind yourself. That is, mind only your own business. Of course, it does not mean that one should be indifferent toward the affairs of others. Rather, the point is that everyone should be concerned first and foremost about himself. If everybody does so, naturally the society could have a brighter future.

3. Know yourself. That is, strive to have a correct picture of yourself which should be identical with reality as much as possible.

4. Know your ideal condition. That is, after acquiring an actual image of yourself, strive to identify the ideal image of yourself.

5. Always move from your present to your ideal condition. That is, after recognizing your real self and obtaining the correct picture of your ideal condition, set out on a perpetual journey and move toward your ideal station.[124] In the language of Mawlānā,

همچو مستسقى كز آبش سير نيست بر هر آنچه يافتى باﷲ ميست

By God, do not tarry in anything (any spiritual position) that thou hast gained,
(But crave more) like one suffering from dropsy who is never sated with water.[125]

Therefore, the core of existentialism, which is one of the most influential contemporary schools of philosophy, is nothing but self-cognition. In this case, “if the fundamental principle of existentialism, in short, is the primacy of knowledge of the soul over knowledge of the world, it appears that it can be said by implication that the proponent of this school, aside from not being an infidel, is [actually] concerned with the spirit of all knowledge and learning.”[126]

Such a judgment is natural since all religions have invited man to self-cognition and “the slogan of primacy of knowledge of the soul over knowledge of the world is a slogan, which stems from the heart of the teachings of Abrahamic faiths, and has abundant manifestations particularly in Islam.”[127]
The truth is that in our religious thought, self-cognition has been recognized as the spirit of all knowledge and learning (i.e., the most profitable of all kinds of knowledge). Imām ‘Alī (‘a) says: “Knowledge of the self is the most beneficial of all knowledge.”[128] Viewing self-cognition as the objective and apogee of knowledge, he (‘a) also says: “The highest degree of knowledge is that man would know his own self.”[129] Elsewhere he (‘a) says: “Whosoever has attained self-cognition has achieved greater victory.”[130]

All these emphases point to the significance and necessity of self-cognition in the discipline of Islamic anthropology. If knowledge of the self is equivalent to knowledge of God,[131] it follows that oblivion of the self means oblivion of God. So, if there is someone who does not know himself and claims to have knowledge of God, then according to Imām ‘Alī (‘a), there is room for distrust and amazement.[132]

It is only through self-cognition that man is able to understand the purpose of creation, know his place in this system, and

realize that the aim of imparting to us all these graces and endowments is something else, superior to and higher than what is visible. This world is a stage of action and its aim is a higher and more sublime sphere of existence. This lower and animal existence is not an end in itself.[133]

If man does not know himself and has no knowledge of the subtleties of his soul, he will then be afflicted with a multitude of destructive moral maladies such as hypocrisy, selfishness, pride, and polytheism. The first step in moral conduct [sulūk-e akhlāqī] is self-cognition. The aim of reckoning [muhāsibah], heeding [murāqibah] and other ethical precepts is this self-cognition and nothing else. To cite an example, whoever does not know himself and is unaware of the real subtleties of his own self, experiences narrow-mindedness, and this in turn, provides the ground for pride to develop in him and “being a person with a narrow mentality, as soon as he beholds any merit in himself he imagines that he has position and status. He thinks he has acquired a high station.”[134]

It can thus be deduced that it is not pride unless it is based on ignorance and feeble-mindedness. Those whose ignorance is more and whose rational faculties are more defective, are more proud of themselves; and those whose knowledge is greater, whose souls are more capacious, and whose breasts are spacious—they are humbler and more modest.[135]

It is through this approach that Imām Khomeinī, may his soul be sanctified, gives preference to reforming the self over reforming others and reckons the interior as more important than the exterior. In this perspective, the essence is the interior and not the external conditions. If man be free from all external entanglements but has a feeling of inner bondage, he is then not truly free. If man possesses the whole world but internally feels indigence, he is still destitute.

ﮔﻔﺖﭽﺷﻢﺗﻧﮓﺪﻧﻴﺎﺪﻮﺴﺖﺮﺍ ﻴﺎﻗﻧﺎﻋﺖﭘﺮﮐﻧﺪ ﻴﺎﺧﺎﮎ ﮔﻮﺮ

He said that the covetous eye of the worldly man is either satisfied
Through contentment, or will be filled with the earth of the grave.[136]

Basically, everything originates internally. So, while quoting a hadīth which expresses, “The freeman is free in all circumstances,”[137] the Imām says:
Let it be known to you that contentment comes from the heart and the absence of neediness is a spiritual state, unrelated to external matters that lie outside the human self. I have myself seen certain persons among rich and wealthy classes who say things which no honorable poor man would say.[138]

This point is not restricted to wealth alone. All other conditions are like that. For this reason, the Imām invites all, particularly the theology students, to begin with and reform themselves, saying that:

The first thing that the learned in religious sciences and the seekers of this perilous road must take into consideration is self-reform during the period of studies, counting it as far as possible to be the foremost of their duties, for this is harder and more obligatory than all the duties and obligations dictated by sharī‘ah and reason.[139]

Non-recognition of the self springs from blindness of the heart and inner loss of sight, which is considered as the origin of all adversities. Hence, “one must be very fearful of this inner blindness of vision which is the main source of all kinds of darkness and wretchedness. The blindness of the heart is the source of all misfortunes.”[140]

Thus, self-cognition is the fountainhead of all human perfection while self-ignorance is the root of all deprivation and humiliation of man. So, knowledge of the self is superior to knowledge of the world, and appears to be even more important than many religious sciences. As such, this knowledge should be accorded its own separate place and be developed and expanded. One should not be unduly confined to collecting and amassing terms of little use; rather, one should think of understanding one’s real self and the intricacies and subtleties of the soul.

Combat with the self as the major jihād {struggle}

The explication of the major jihād [struggle] and combat with the self can be traced from an event which has been narrated from the Messenger of God (s). The story runs as follows: The Messenger of God (s) dispatched a contingent of the army from among the Muslims to a battlefront.

Upon their successful return, he (s) said to them: “Blessed are those who have performed the minor jihād and have yet to perform the major jihād.” They asked, “O Messenger of God, what is the major jihād?”He (s) replied: “The jihād of the self (combat with the self).”[110]

In this manner, combat with the self and the major jihād [struggle] entered our moral culture and attained an eminent status in our religious literature. But, what is meant by this ‘combat with the self’?

We can only talk about combat with the self when the preceding principles have been well understood and accepted. Once we acknowledge that man has dual personalities and between which a constant war is taking place, we can then have a proper understanding of combat with the self. What is meant by ‘self’ [nafs] here is not the philosophical sense of the term. Rather, it means the world of carnal instincts and desires. The totality of all existential needs, motives, and sexual impulses is called ‘self’ [nafs].
As such, what is meant by combat with the self is the struggle against these instincts; though this understanding is somewhat premature and fails to convey the exact import of the hadīth. The objective of combat with the self, in a nutshell, is to place all carnal powers, desires and instincts under the dictates of reason and use them for serving God and perfecting the self.

It is from this aspect that Imām Khomeinī describes it as follows: “Thus the jihād of the self… implies overpowering one’s own powers and faculties, and placing them under God’s command, and purging the domain of our body of satanic elements and their forces.”[142]

Combat with the self, in the Imām’s code of ethics has such an esteemed position that he commences his book, Sharh-e Chehel Hadīth [Exposition of Forty Hadīths] with it and the first hadīth he expounds is this very hadīth of ‘combat with the self’, considering it loftier than attaining martyrdom in the way of God: “Thus, the jihād of the self is the jihād of greater importance. This jihād is superior to being killed in the way of God…”[143]

The reason behind the importance of combat with the self in relation to the conventional jihād is obvious.

If somebody abandons (conventional) jihād he has then committed a grave sin and caused the defeat of others while if somebody pulls out of the combat with the self, he, in fact, is vanquished and has caused his own fall. Military combat is not constant. But combat with the self is an arduous and constant activity. In military combat there are others who can help the person. Yet in the combat with the self it is the very person himself who should render the final blow to the enemy and gain victory. In military combat victory is sometimes so apparent and conspicuous that it elicits the applause and eulogy of everybody and gives a boost to one’s pride. However, in the combat with the self nobody is a witness as to what is taking place inside man and victory does not evoke praise and congratulations from anyone.

The story of a mujāhid [combatant] who had been fighting and gaining marvellous victories for years and then, in seclusion, engaged in combat with the self, and the reactions of the self, which Mawlānā has elaborately narrated, is the best example of such differences. In short, these distinctions and many others exemplify the primacy of combat with the self over combat against an adversary—(as combat with the self involves fighting with) an adversary whose killing is not easily possible and who is more powerful than any outer enemy:

ﺍﯼﺸﻬﺎﻦ! ﮐﺸﺘﻴﻢﻤﺎ ﺧﺻﻢﺒﺮﻮﻦ ﻤﺎﻨﺪﺧﺻﻤﻰ ﺯﻮ ﺒﺘﺮﺪﺮ ﺍﻨﺪﺮﻮﻦ
ﮐﺸﺘﻦﺍﻴﻦ، ﮐﺎﺮﻋﻘﻞﻮﻫﻮﺶﻨﻴﺴﺖ ﺸﻴﺮ ﺒﺎﻄﻦ ، ﺴُﺧﺮﻩﺧﺮﮔﻮﺶ ﻨﻴﺴﺖ
ﺪﻮﺰﺥﺍﺴﺖ ﺍﻴﻦﻨﻔﺲﻭﺪﻮﺰﺥﺍﮊﺪﻫﺎﺴﺖ ﻜﻮﺒﻪﺪﺮﻴﺎﻫﺎﻨﮔﺮﺪﺪ ﻜﻢﻮﻜﺎﺴﺖ
ﻫﻔﺖﺪﺮﻴﺎ ﺮﺍﺪﺮﺁﺷﺎﻤﺪ، ﻫﻨﻭﺰ ﻜﻢﻨﮔﺮﺪﺪ ﺴﻭﺰﺶﺁﻥ ïº¨ÙŽï» ï»• ﺴﻭﺰ
ﺴﻨﮔﻬﺎﻮ ﻜﺎﻓﺮﺍﻥﺴﻨﮓﺪﻞ ﺍﻨﺪﺮﺁﻳﻨﺪﺍﻨﺪﺮﺍﻭ ﺰﺍﺮ ï»® ïº¨ïº ï»ž

O kings, we have slain the outward enemy,
(But) there remains within (us) a worse enemy than he.
To slay this (enemy) is not the work of reason and intelligence:
The inward lion is not subdued by the hare.
This carnal self [nafs] is Hell, and Hell is a dragon
(The fire of) which is not diminished by oceans (of water).
It would drink up the Seven Seas, and still
The blazing of that consumer of all creatures would not become less.
Stones and stony-hearted infidels enter it,
Miserable and shame-faced.[144]

Of course, it should not be assumed that since combat with the self is superior to that against an adversary, one should abandon the latter and engage only the former. Unfortunately, this understanding had emerged among a group of people and they would replace this one with the other. They were negligent of the fact that combat against an adversary is the preliminary of combat with the self and it is only after triumphing over an outer foe and obtaining the necessary preparedness that one can engage in combat with the self.

Thus, it was only after a contingent of that army had defeated the enemies that the Messenger of God (s) apprised them of the combat with the self, and not prior to (the triumphant return of the contingent). This shows that it is only after the outer jihād has been performed that one can talk about combat with the self.
Anyhow, the quintessence of Islamic morality is this combat with the self, which the Imām also emphasizes so much and reckons it as the touchstone of man’s prosperity or adversity. He describes the arena of this conflict as follows:

The human soul inhabits another realm and another territory also, which is the world of the hidden and the sphere of the sublime world. In that world, the role of the sensual forces assumes graver dimensions. This is the place, where the struggle and conflict between the divine forces and the fiendish ones is more severe and also more significant. Everything that exists in the external or visible world drifts to this hidden world, and is manifested there. Whichever of the forces whether godly or devilish, is victorious here is essentially triumphant there also… it is possible that, God forbid, due to the defeat of heavenly forces, the self is left vacant for the unholy occupation of the vicious and unworthy satanic legions, and hence causing an eternal loss to the human being that cannot be retrieved.[145]

Nevertheless, this combat with the self sometimes brings about questions and ambiguities, which are the subject of the next discussion.

Regulation of Instincts

Really, what should be done with our wayward instincts and earthly aspect? Once we accept that man is a blend of the spirit of God and putrid clay, and that this existential contradiction is the cause of the rise and fall of man’s spiritual life, how could and should this contradiction be resolved? Since time immemorial this existential contradiction of man has been known to many thinkers and philosophers. Some of the Greek thinkers used to liken man’s soul or spirit to a bird, held within the cage of body and shackled to the physical dimension. For instance, in an ode [ghazal] they claimed to be that of Mawlānā,[146] it appears thus:

مرﻍ باﻍ ملکوتم نيم از عالم خاک چند روزى قفسى ساخته اند از بدنم

I’m a bird of the heavenly garden and not of this material world.
But for some moments they have made a cage out of my physical body.[147]

For that reason, they have considered the body and physical dimension of man as a prison and an impediment to perfection, and life in this physical world as the greatest veil in reaching God. Many a time Hāfiz Shīrāzī[148] expresses chagrin and remorse for this earthliness of man and reminds [man] that this [world] is not his [final] abode:

كه اى بلند نظر، شاهباز سدره نشين نشين تو نه اين كُنج محنت آبادست
ترا ز كنگره عرش مىزنند صفير ندانمت كه در اين دامگه چه افتادست

O ambitious and great who is in a sublime station!
Your abode is not this corner of suffering and affliction.
They call on you from heavens;
I know not what you are doing in this world of deception.[149]
Expression of distress for this bondage and adversity can be seen in numerous poems of Iranian poets. In the different religions of India, particularly Jainism,[150] this contradiction between soul and body is more evident. The most important tenets of this sect are anchored on the principle that the growth of the bodily instincts be impeded and the soul nourished as much as possible. This is the way of setting it (soul) free from the body.

So long as the body is strong and desirous of complying with the dictates of its instincts, the soul is feeble and a servant of the body. But once we burn and melt the body through contentment and refrain from obeying its whims and caprices, the soul, which is a ‘divine breath’, gains strength and becomes powerful and is able to gradually subdue the body.

For the generation of this power many ways have been proposed, the most important of which are as follows: celibacy, withdrawing from activity, seclusion, eating less and less often, and sleeping less and less often. For instance, they narrate that Mahavira,[151] the founder of Jainism, remained single all his life and would pass his days in begging. Other sects springing from Hinduism, such as Buddhism, as well as the system of Yoga more or less recommend the same.[152]

The interpretation of these people on the issue of bodily needs and their relation to spiritual ones are very simplistic. A human being wants whatever he sees; so it is better for him not to see and want anything. The following couplets that are attributed to Bābā T&āhir[153] point to this view:

ز دست ديده و دل هر دو فرياد كه هرچه ديده بيند، دل كند ياد
ببسازم خنجرى نيشش ز فولاد زنم بر ديده تا دل گردد آزاد

I complain of both my eyes and heart
For everything that the eyes see, the heart would yearn for.
I am going to make a dagger with a blade of steel
With which to stab my eyes so that my heart will be set free.

As such, the solution to this issue is that man should pay no heed to his bodily needs, withdraw from the society, be apathetic to the fate of others, close his eyes from viewing the beauties of nature, and deprive himself of all the natural endowments. Sa‘dī[154] thus narrates his dialogue with one of these kind of people as follows:

ﺒﺰﺮﮔﯽﺪﻴﺪﻢﺍﻧﺪﺮﮐﻮﻫﺳﺎﺮﯼ ﻗﻧﺎﻋﺖﮐﺮﺪﻩ ﺍﺰﺪﻧﻳﺎ ﺒﻪﻏﺎﺮﯼ
ﭽﺮﺍ، ﮔﻔﺗﻢﺒﻪﺷﻬﺮﺍﻧﺪﺮﻧﻴﺎﻴﯽ؟ ﮐﻪ ﺒﺎﺮﯼﺒﻧﺪﻯ ﺍﺯ ﺪﻞﺒﺮﮔﺷﺎﻴﯽ
ïº’ï®•ï»”ïº–ïºï»§ïº ïºŽï­™ïº®ï»´ïº®ï»®ï»´ïºŽï»¦ï»§ï»ïº°ï»§ïºª ﭼﻮ ﮔﻞﺒﺴﻴﺎﺮ ﺷﺪ، ï­™ï»´ï»¼ï»¦ïº’ï» ï»ïº°ï»§ïºª

A great man I saw in highlands
Who has contented himself in cave-dwelling.
‘Why do you not come to the city’—to him I said—
‘To relax and refresh your heart?’
He said that the city is full of glitters
Be it known that when dry clay increases, the elephants will make a slip.[155]

In this manner, asceticism and seclusion, in our culture, are considered synonymous, and khāneqāh [monastery, convent or house of dervishes] and school is juxtaposed with each other. The difference between the worshipper and ascetic on the one hand, and the scholar on the other hand, is that the former is only after his salvation while the latter is concerned with the salvation of others as well:
ïº»ïºŽïº¤ïº’ïºªï» ï»°ïº’ï»ªï»¤ïºªïº®ïº´ï»ªïºï»¤ïºªïº¯ïº¨ïºŽï»§ï»˜ïºŽï»© ﺒﺸﮑﺴﺖﻋﻬﺪِ ﺻﺤﺒﺖ اﻫﻞ ﻄﺮﻴﻖ ﺮا
ﮔﻔﺘﻡ: ﻤﻴﺎﻦ ï»‹ïºŽï» Ùï»¡ï»®ï»‹ïºŽïº’ïºªï­½ï»ªï»“ïº®ï»•ïº‘ï»®ïºª ﺗﺎ اﺧﺘﻴﺎﺮﮐﺮﺪﻯ اﺰ ﺁﻦ اﻴﻦ ﻓﺮﻴﻖ ﺮا؟
ﮔﻔﺖ: ﺁﻦ ï®”ï» ï»´ï»¢ïº§ï»®ï»´ïº¶ ﺑﺪﺮﻤﻰﺑﺮﺪﺰﻤﻮﺝ ï»®ï»´ï»¥ïº ï»¬ïºª ﻤﻰﻛﻨﺪﮔﻪ ﺮﻫﺎﻨﺪﻏﺮﻴﻖﺮﺍ

A certain holy man having quitted the monastery,
And the society of religious men, became a member of a college.
I asked what was the difference between being a learned,
Or a religious man that could induce him to change his society?
He replied, “The devotee saves his own blanket out of the waves,
And the learned man endeavors to rescue others from drowning.”[156]

Definitions such as ‘self-denial’, ‘purging of instincts’, and ‘self-restraint’ are based on this view, which arises mainly from Hindu culture and has found its way among some Muslims. Thus, in most cases when talking about combat with the self, some of them suppose it to be equal to self-denial and uprooting of instincts, and this very Hindu notion of self-denial is what is in their mind.

At times, a group of early Muslims had the same perception of combat with the self [jihād an-nafs]. One day one of the companions of the Messenger of God (s) named Uthmān ibn Maz‘ūn asked his permission for seclusion and solitude. But the Holy Prophet (s) did not consent and said: “God, the Blessed and Exalted, has not ordained that we lead a monastic life. The monasticism of my ummah [community of believers] is the struggle in the way of God [jihād fī sabīlillāh].”[157] Likewise, in interpreting on the noble āyah [Qur’anic verse], “Do you want me to inform you of the most destructive of people? It is he whose endeavor is corruption of the worldly life,” the Holy Prophet (s) said: “It refers to the monks who have confined themselves to the four corners [of the monastery].”[158]

There was also a time when one of the companions of Imām ‘Alī (‘a) named ‘Alā’ ibn Ziyād Hārithī brought a complaint to the Commander of the Faithful (‘a) that his brother, ‘Āsim, has turned his back from the world (i.e., he has renounced the world) and put on a woolen garment.[159] Imām ‘Alī (‘a) summoned him. As he came, the Imām (‘a) told him:

O’ enemy of yourself! Certainly, the evil (Satan) has misguided you. Do you feel no pity for your wife and your children? Do you believe that if you use those things which Allah has made lawful for you, He will dislike you? You are too unimportant for Allah to do so.[160]

Although our ethical and gnostic literature is replete with associating repudiation of the world with combat with the self and equating asceticism with Christian monasticism, the principal tenets of the Messenger of God (s) and the Infallibles in this regard are something else.

Combat with the self does not mean denying the reality of instincts or their suppression. Combat with the self commences with the presumption that all instincts of man are necessary and that, basically, without them spiritual perfection cannot be attained. Combat with the self is not meant to ignore, for instance, the sexual instinct, and to order its repression. Rather, it considers it vital, necessary and essential for growth, and tries to guide it.

Thus, Imām Khomeinī while expounding it (combat with the self) does not speak about suppression of instincts. It is true that in jihād we always aim for victory and that we earnestly aspire to crush our opponent. But we do not all the times yearn for the elimination of the adversary. Rather, it is likely that his existence could be useful to us! We only see to it that we are not overcome by the adversary in this arena, not that we annihilate the enemy, i.e. our self. So, the Imām adopts the term, ‘triumph’ and in no way talks about self-denial. Instead, he emphasizes that “the jihād of the self which is the jihād of greater importance implies overpowering one’s own powers and faculties, and placing them under God’s command.”[161]

Yes, it is about harnessing and regulating instincts through overpowering them; not through self-denial. Consequently, in the combat with the self, one cannot talk at all about the obliteration of instincts. Rather, the existence and indispensability of all instincts has been assumed. It is through this outlook on the issue of instincts and how to regulate them that we arrive at the following:
· Necessity of instincts for perfection;

· Insatiability of instincts; and

· Social involvement as a requisite of combat with the self.

Necessity of instincts for perfection

Curbing the instincts does not mean that their existence is not necessary. Instead, they must be endured. If it is so, there is no need then to preserve them, and the policy of eliminating them is the best one. [Yet,] in the code of ethics of the Imām the existence of all instincts is deemed necessary, and all of them have advantages and uses. In essence, from this aspect, nothing in the universe has been created inordinately and every integral part of the universe has its own particular function. So, the existence of all things—even the apparently worst instincts—is beneficial and necessary. This reasoning has roots in the Qur’anic view of the universe. God Almighty says: “We created not the heaven and the earth and all that is between them in play.”[162]

As far as creation is concerned it is the act of the All-Wise God; it has been created wisely and nothing therein is futile and vain. In the same vein, since all beings are creatures of the One and Only God, they are in a state of harmony and concordance, and all parts are related to one another. If in a certain level of existence disorder is noticeable, through a deeper analysis we would realize its intrinsic order. To cite an example, a child who has seen the kitchen utensils in the cabinet everyday and today he notices that all of them are apparently cluttered in different parts of the kitchen, he considers it as the result of his mother’s carelessness and confusion.

But once he understands that they are supposed to entertain visitors that night at home, he realizes that this apparent disarray has meaning and order. Such is the creation. If at first glance the same impression is entertained in one’s mind, this notion will dissipate after a second and profound scrutiny. That is why the Glorious Qur’an admonishes us, anytime we comprehend diversity and duality in the universe, to take a second and deeper look so as to discover our own misconception.[163]

The corollary of this precept is for us to reckon the universe as orderly and purposeful, and not to think of any phenomenon therein as useless. God Almighty considers it an attribute of the learned and sages that they hold the passing of nights and days and all the phenomena in the universe significance, and say: “Our Lord! Thou createdst not this in vain. Glory be to Thee!”[164]

This all-embracing view on the universe also includes man’s self and instincts. Since there is nothing useless in the universe, it follows that human instincts are also meaningful and purposeful. If we view instincts from this perspective, we cannot on any account, talk about eliminating and suppressing them. Instead, efforts should be made for them to act in accordance with their particular functions and not drift away from their own specific tasks; this is different from self-denial. This rule is applicable to all instincts.
The existence of even those instincts which have apparently negative functions is also essential and their absence would render man’s existence imperfect and deficient. For instance, one of the ‘negative’ instincts is anger, which is mentioned in the ahādīth [Prophetic narrations] as the key to all kinds of destruction and mischief.

Nowadays, numerous books have been written about this affliction, its negative effects, and ways of curing it. There are hardly any who are immune to the side effects of this ominous phenomenon; all of us in different places drunk its hemlock and have poisoned our palates. Many psychologists consider anger as causing high blood pressure, cholesterol, and even untimely death, and say that anger deprives man of the powers of sound reasoning and judgment, making him blind to the realities.

Once such anger and hatred arises in you, the most important part of your mind, which is the center of judgment between right and wrong, fails to function, rendering you incapable of judging the short- and long-term consequences of your conduct and behaviour. In this condition, our power of judgment completely fails to function and there is no chance of its working. This condition is exactly similar to that of a person when he becomes mad.[165]

We can thus continue to enumerate the destructive effects of anger and to cite the various opinions about it. The Imām himself has allotted a section in the Sharh-e Chehel Hadīth to this destructive instinct. He discusses it in detail, indicating the way of release from it and the method of regulating it.[166]

Well, now this question arises: Is not anger, with all these destructive effects arising from it, an example of the many instincts that must be uprooted? Is the existence of such an unpleasant instinct essential in man? Keeping in mind the Qur’anic precept that everything in the universe has a purpose and goal, the answer to the above question is positive. Yes, anger is also necessary and if it were not for this instinct, humankind would never have endured and would have become extinct. It is enough to imagine this instinct to disappear overnight from man’s existence. In that case, no danger, no matter how serious, will induce him to move, and the necessary energy to face unpleasant situations will be not available to him. We should not forget that the greatest specific function of anger is preparing us to deal with emergency situations and providing us with the power to respond quickly. Most of the writings dealing with anger have also mentioned its specific positive function. Therefore, from this perspective anger is also a vital element for the continuity of man’s life. Anger becomes bad only when it strays from its original function.

While conducting an analysis of anger, Imām Khomeinī also delves into all its dimensions and considers it in moderation to be necessary for individual and social life. Pertaining to its benefits, he says:

It should be known that the Power of Anger is one of the biggest favours of God conferred upon His creatures, which enables them to pursue activities constructive to their world and the Hereafter, assure the continuity of the species as well as the safety and survival of the individual and the family. It also plays a great role in the establishment and maintenance of social order and civic life. If this noble faculty were not ingrained in the animal’s nature, it would not have been able to defend itself against natural adversities, and would have been subjected to destruction and extinction. And if it were absent in man, then besides these, he would have failed to achieve most of his progress and perfection.

Moreover, even its deficiency and insufficient presence below the moderate level is itself considered a moral weakness and flaw which gives rise to innumerable vices and defects like fear; timidity; weakness; laxity; laziness; greed; lack of restraint, patience and tolerance; lack of constancy and perseverance when needed; love of comfort; torpor; lethargy; submissiveness to oppression and tyranny; submitting to insults and disgraces to which an individual or his family may be subjected; dastardliness; spiritlessness, etc. Describing the qualities of the believers God Almighty says:

﴿أَشِدَّاءُ عَلَى الْكُفَّارِ رُحَمَاءُ بَيْنَهُمْ.﴾

(The believers) are hard against the unbelievers and merciful among themselves.[167]
The fulfillment of the duty of al-amr bī’l-ma‘rūf wa’n-nahy ‘an al-munkar [to enjoin good conduct and forbid indecency], the implementation of hudūd [punishment prescribed by the Islamic penal law], ta‘zīrāt [punishments decreed by a judge], and the carrying out of other policies set forth by religion or guided by reason, would not have been possible without the existence of this noble Power of Anger.

On this basis, those who believe in eradicating the Power of Anger and consider its destruction as an accomplishment and mark of perfection are highly mistaken and in great error, ignorant as they are about the signs of perfection and the bounds of moderation. Poor fellows, they do not know that God Almighty has not created this noble faculty in vain in all the species belonging to the animal kingdom. To the children of Adam (‘a) He bestowed this power as the source of securing a good life in this world and the Hereafter, and a vehicle for procuring various blessings and felicities.

The holy jihād with the enemies of the Dīn [religion];the struggle for the preservation of mankind’s social order; the defense and protection of one’s own life, property and honor, as well as the Divine values and laws; and above all the combat with one’s inner self, which is the biggest enemy of man, none of these could be possible without the existence of this noble faculty.

It is under the banner of this noble faculty that aggression and encroachments upon rights are repelled, borders and frontiers are protected, and other social and individual offences, noxious practices, and harmful deeds are checked. It is for this very reason that the hukamā [men of wisdom]have recommended various remedies for treating any deficiency in this Power, and prescribed numerous practical and theoretical remedies for the purpose of its regeneration, like participation in acts of heroism and going to battlefronts on the occasion of war with the enemies of God.[168]

As such, instincts are not only to be endured but also their existence is to be considered a grace for the spiritual and social growth and perfection of man from which benefits are to be sought for the growth and development of human talents. This principle is also true for all instincts. None of the instincts should be suppressed and uprooted; instead, efforts should be made for them to perform their specific functions and not go beyond their limits.

This nourishment and training should be coordinated and concordant; all the instincts and attributes of man should be so harmonious with each other as to constitute a coherent whole. For example, instead of eliminating the sensual instinct it should be modestly moderated. Basically, moral virtues are understandable with the control of instincts, and without these instincts, they (moral virtues) would lose their meaning. Anyone who has no sexual instinct has no business talking about chastity.

How could one who does not possess at all the power of anger talk about meekness and forbearance? The understanding of Mawlānā on the Prophet’s noble hadīth, “Lā rahbāniyyah fī’l-Islām” [There is no monasticism in Islam][169] succinctly illustrates the essence of this viewpoint:

چون عدو نبْوَد، جهاد آمد محال شهوتت نبود، نباشد امتثال
صبر نبود چون نباشد ميل تو خصم چون نبود، چه حاجت خيل تو؟
هين! مكن خود را خصى، رُهبان مشو زانكه عفّت، هست شهوت را گرو
بىهوا، نهى از هوا ممكن نبود غازىاى بر مُردگان نتوان نمود

When there is no enemy, armed struggle is inconceivable;
(If) thou hast no lust, there can be no obedience (to the divine command).
There can be no self-restraint when thou hast no desire;
When there is no adversary, what need for thy strength?
Hark, do not castrate thyself, do not become a monk;
For chastity is in pawn to (depends on the existence of) lust.
Without (the existence of) sensuality ’tis impossible to forbid sensuality:
Heroism cannot be displayed against the dead.[170]

The most important distinction between Islamic ethics and those of Christianity and Buddhism is rooted in this issue. It is this approach that places Islamic ethics in the category of ‘worldliness’ and separates it from world-denunciation approaches. Yes, the existence of every instinct—however negative it may seem—serves as the basis for the appearance of positive and valuable attributes of man. It is in times of adversity and hardship that man’s power of patience and constancy is put under test and man is able to recognize his essence well:
عِرْقِ مردى آن گهى پيدا شود كه مسافر همرهِ اعدا شود

The root (innate quality) of manhood (only) becomes apparent at the time
When the traveler meets his enemies on the road.[171]

Furthermore, it is only in the presence of negative instincts that positive attributes basically find their meaning and that we can talk about nourishment and training. Thus, Mawlānā used to admonish those who were bent on uprooting their sexual instinct, telling them not to do so, for in the absence of this instinct, chastity has no meaning and value. That is why they have said that the one who can never get angry at all is an imperfect man, but the one who does not want to get angry is a wise person. The first type (of person) is fundamentally lacking an instinct while the second has the instinct to get angry, but has controlled it.

It is possible that wahm [the power of imagination and invention], ghadab [the power of passion and anger], and shahwah [the power of lust or sensuality], also possess divine aspect, and may bring about felicity and good luck to man, if these powers are subjected to the dictates of reason and good sense and the teachings of prophets of God (‘a).[172]

Insatiability of instincts

But the fact cannot be denied that once these instincts are released and set free, they would never stop anywhere, and, like hell give the cry of, “Can there be more to come?”[173]

That is, these instincts can never be satiated and no matter how man endeavors to satisfy them and to meet his instinctive needs, he becomes thirstier just as the one who drinks the salty water of the sea. This is the secret behind the tragic condition of humanity. Anyone who is a captive of the instinct of greed and avarice remains in a state of indigence and insatiability even if becomes a Qārūn.[174]

The cure for avarice and covetousness does not lie in acquiring all the things that we desire. For this ‘all’ is of an indefinite and unspecific level, and everyone has his or her own limitations. Up to now we have yet to see a rich man who is satisfied with his financial condition. [Instead,] he always experiences a sense of inner restlessness and is not satisfied with his own extant status: “Right below the layer of comfort a kind of mental uneasiness exists which leads to hopelessness, unnecessary encounters, the need for alcohol and drugs and, in the worst case, to the committing of suicide.”[175]

The limits to the acquisition of wealth and the attempts to satisfy the instinct of avarice cannot be determined at all. Once man reaches whatever optimal point that had been anticipated, he considers another optimal point for himself. So if man wants to obtain mental satisfaction through greed and covetousness, he is treading the wrong path which leads him nowhere, because:

one of the interesting features of greed is that no matter how much the covert motivation of greed to attempt attaining mental satisfaction is, the satirical point is that after you obtain the sought-after and desired thing, you will still remain unsatisfied.[176]
The true antidote of greed is not more greed; rather, it is satisfaction for what has been given, contentment and self-respect:

كوزه چشم حريصان پر نشد تا صدف قانع نشد، پر دُر نشد

The pitcher, the eye of the covetous, never becomes full:
The oyster-shell is not filled with pearls until it is contented.[177]

One day a man came to Imām ‘Alī (‘a) and said that whatever he sought and obtained did not satisfy him and that he yearned for more of it, adding that he was annoyed by this situation. He asked the Imām (‘a) to teach him something that would be beneficial to him. The Imām (‘a) said:

If that which suffices you makes you not in need (self-sufficient), the smallest of which is making you not in need, and if you look for more than that which suffices you, all the things in the world cannot make you self-sufficient.[178]

Yes, such is the nature of this instinct. The more its root is satisfied, the stronger it becomes, so much so that even if it has two valleys of gold and silver, it will crave for the third valley (of gold and silver). Nothing can please and satisfy the world-loving eyes of man except contentment or the soil of the grave.

This point is true not only for covetousness; such is also the case with the sexual instinct—which does not know what satisfaction is. Freud erroneously thought that through meeting the sexual needs this instinct can be soothed and calmed down. The point is that the more this instinct is quenched, the thirstier it becomes:

The power of sensuality and lust acts in man in such a way that if he is given one woman, he is attracted to other women. If he is given an empire, he will hanker after some other empire. Man always desires for what he does not possess. In spite of this vanity of imagination and futility of human desire, the kiln of sensuality is always hot and its heat ever increasing, and our desires are never cooled down.[179]

A glance at the lives of kings and sultans who kept thousands of women in their harems but still longed for other women bears witness to this fact and “anyone who has any doubt is advised to examine his own self and other human beings belonging to the classes of poor, rich and powerful; he will then agree with me.”[180]

This rule is applicable to all instincts and none of them can be excluded from it. No one can be found who can say, “I have fulfilled all my desires.” Even Hosang Vazīr[181] who used to claim, “I engulfed the whole world and did everything,” was also looking for deliverance and respite until his death so as to conduct again all the affairs.” In no way are these instincts satiated, and herein lies the danger. For, the bounds of every instinct should be identified, its proper specific function obtained and employed within these limits. This does not imply elimination, while at the same time, this instinct should not be released altogether:

None of the prophets of God (‘a) ever tried to eradicate the powers of passion, sensuality or imagination completely. None of the messengers of God have ever demanded to completely kill sensuality and desire or to extinguish the fire of passion or anger and ignore the inventions of imagination. But they have rather advocated for controlling and bridling them and making them function under the command of reason and Divine Laws. For each one of these powers struggles to dominate others and win its goal, whatever mischief, chaos, and confusion may be stirred up.[182]

In this case, this question can once again be posed: Since these instincts are insatiable, is it not better for us to uproot them and thus free ourselves from their bonds? The answer to this question is negative. For, aside from all these benefits that derive from their existence, we should never forget the point that basically the humanness of man is the preservation of these instincts. The best medicine has also side effects and as of the moment no medicine without side effects has ever been known. Is there anyone who, due to the fact that these medicines have side effects, refrains from taking them in case of necessity?

Water which is the source of life, can make a person sick if an excess of it enters the body. Fire, the discovery of which led to a quantum transformation in the life of man would burn us if we went very near it. The sun, with all its procreative and bountiful aspects, would destroy the earth if it comes a little nearer. As such, due to these issues, the essence of instincts cannot be uprooted; instead, they should be regulated. Now, another question arises and that is: Why have these instincts been created so as to be insatiable, and why is there no instinct with predetermined limit and threshold of satisfaction?

The answer is this: One of the innate qualities of man is that he is always aspiring for perfection and is not satisfied with anything. It is this relentless search that has transformed him from a cave-dwelling savage to an outer space-roving astronaut. If humankind were always to be content with its existing condition, no sort of change would ever occur in its life, and like that of honeybee, would not have been different from what it was thousands of years ago. It is this fit*rah [natural disposition of man] that urges him to discover the secrets of the universe and not to be content with all that he possesses:

It is obvious that man is always allured by something, which he does not own. This is the human nature as conceived by various great Islamic thinkers and holy men, especially one should refer to a great master of divinity, Mīrzā Muhammad ‘Alī Shāhābādī, may my soul be ransomed for him.[183]

So, finally, all these instincts are deeply embedded on man’s essence of seeking and devotion to perfection which, in itself, is a blessings up to this point. The problem arises when it happens that we forget the rationality behind these instincts and their creation, and imagine that we have to comply totally with their dictates, spending day and night in the acquisition of wealth and beauty-worship. It is here that we go astray from the Path, forgetting the True Object of Worship and Absolute Perfection while imagining riches, power, or sensuality as our gods and devotionally eulogizing them.[184]

It is enough that we realize our mistakes, knowing that these are not our real masters. They are servants who, if properly trained and nourished, will always be our helpers. [On the other hand,] once they are abandoned and released for sometime, they will claim divinity and make us their slaves. Accordingly, instincts should neither be killed nor released. Rather, they should be guided and regulated so that you could enjoy their benefits and remain secure from their menaces.

Source: al-shia.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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