Desirable contemplation on Divine essence

Desirable contemplation on Divine essence

According to Imam Khomeini, it should be known that what we said about the possibility of contemplation on the Essence, the Names and the Attributes may lead the ignorant to imagine that it is forbidden in accordance with certain riwayat, knowing not that that which is forbidden is to attempt to fathom the quality and depths of the Essence, as is clear from the traditions.’

Imam Khomeini has undertaken very useful discussions in his famous work of "An exposition on Forty Hadith" as following:

Sometimes those who are not capable of such (otherwise desirable) contemplation are also forbidden from reflecting on certain kinds of ma’arif which require initiation into certain subtleties.

The hukama’ confirm both of these points. The impossibility of fathoming the Essence is demonstrated in their writings, and the prohibition on contemplation on it is acknowledged by all of them.

Also the conditions of entry into these sciences and the prohibition of the unworthy from learning them is also mentioned in their books; it is a customary advice which is mentioned by them either in the beginning or at the end of their works. For instance, the two great philosophers of Islam and authorities in this field, Shaykh Bu ‘Ali Sina and Sadr al-Muta’allihin  have stated this at the end of al-’Isharat and at the beginning of al-’Asfar.

They have given eloquent counsels in this regard. But to contemplate the Essence for positing the principle of al-tawhid and affirming Its transcendence (al-tanzih) and sanctity was the ultimate goal and purpose of the sending of the prophets and the cherished end of the urafa.

The Holy Quran and the sacred ahadith are loaded with the knowledge of the Essence, Its Perfections and the Divine Names.

Reliable books of traditions, like Usul al-Kafi and al-Tawhid of al Shaykh al-Saduq, also do not forbid contemplation for the purpose of affirmation of the Essence, the Names and the Attributes.

The difference between the scriptures and traditions of the prophets and the writings of the philosophers is regarding their terminology and their synoptic or elaborate treatment of the subject, as is the case with the difference between fiqh and traditions.

But the calamity is that certain ignorant persons have appeared in the garb of scholars during the last few centuries, who, being bereft of the knowledge of the Quran and the Sunnah, consider their sheer ignorance as the sole proof of the vanity of the knowledge of al-mabda’ and al-ma’ad. Such a man for the sake of promoting his trade, labels these ma’arif, which were the ultimate goal of the apostles and the Awliya’ (A) of God and with whose description the entire Book of God and the traditions of the Imams of the Ahl al-Bayt (A) are replete, as haram.

Not sparing any charge and calumny against those who pursue these ma’arif, he diverts the hearts of the creatures of God from the knowledge of al-mabda’ and al-ma’ad, in addition to sowing the seeds of discord and disharmony in the community of Muslims. When asked about the reason for all this takfir (calling someone kafir) and tafsiq, (calling someone fasiq ), he immediately clings to the tradition:

The ignorance and the error of this wretch is for two reasons: Firstly, he believes that the hukama’ contemplate on the Essence, whereas they consider its intellection as impossible and probing deep into its mysteries as forbidden, and this itself is one of the established issues of their discipline. Secondly, having misunderstood the meaning of the tradition, he believes that not a single word be uttered regarding the Sacred Essence.

Here we shall cite some of the related traditions and, in our humble capacity, try to reconcile them, leaving the Judgment to the (reader’s sense of) justice. Though this makes us digress from the proposed exposition of the hadith - our original goal -it is essential for eliminating doubts and refuting misconceptions. The following tradition is mentioned in al-Kafi:

Abu Basir reports Abu Ja’far (A) as having said: Speak (takallamu) about the creation of God, and do not speak about God (fi Allah), for discourse about God will bring nothing but confusion (tahayyur) to the discourser.

This tradition itself indicates that the purpose of the prohibition is to discourage discourse aimed at fathoming the depths (iktinah) of the Essence and Its kayfiyyah (quality) with a view to discovering its cause. Otherwise, discoursing about the Essence with a view to affirming It, Its Perfections, Its Unity and Transcendence does not cause confusion.

It is also possible that the prohibition here relates to such persons in whom discourse about these matters will cause perplexity and confusion. The late muhaddith al-Majlisi (R) has allowed both of these possibilities without elaborating them, but he gives more weight to the first one. Another tradition of al-Kafi states:.

From Hariz, from Abu ‘Abd Allah (A) that he said, “Discuss everything, but do not discuss the Essence of the Almighty.”

There are other traditions which are identical or close in import to this riwayah, and to cite them all is not essential. Another tradition of al-Kafi states:عَنْ 

Abu Ja’far (A) said, “Beware of tafakkur in God. But if you wish to view His grandeur, observe the great of His creations.”

Apparently, this riwayah also seems to forbid probing into the reality of the Essence, for the tradition adds that if someone wants to perceive the glory of the Almighty he should infer it from the grandeur of His creation. This kind of parabolic approach is intended for various types of persons whose knowledge of God is derived through the means of the creation.

This and other such traditions which appear to forbid discourse and contemplation on God by themselves support our claim, which is expressly confirmed by the following tradition of al-Kafi on contemplation:

The best form of worship is to contemplate about God and His Power.

Accordingly, contemplation on God for positing His Essence and contemplating His Power, His Names and Attributes is not only not prohibited, but is the most superior kind of worship. Another tradition of al-Kafi states:

‘Ali (A) ibn al-Husayn (A) was questioned about tawhid; he answered “Verily, God Almighty knew that during the Last Age there would be a people of profound thinking. Hence the Almighty revealed Surat al-Tawhid and the verses of the Surat al-Hadid up to ‘And God is the Knower of all that is in the hearts.’ So whosoever goes beyond that will perish.”

This shows that these verses about tawhid and tanzih, the verses about the emergence and the return of the creation mentioned therein, are for those who contemplate profoundly. Can then anyone still claim that contemplating on God Almighty is prohibited? What ‘arif and Hakim has brought anything that goes beyond the commencing verses of the Surat al-Hadid? The ultimate of their achievement is that:

All that is in the heavens and the earth glorifieth Allah.

Is there any better way of describing God Almighty and the aspects of His Sacred Essence than the verse:

He is the First and the Last, and the Outward and the Inward, and He is the Knower of all things. (57:3)

By the Life of the Beloved, had there been nothing besides this verse in the Glorious Book of God, it would have been sufficient for the men of heart!

If one were to consider the Book of God and the sermons and the traditions of the Holy Prophet (S) and his infallible vicegerents (A), one shall notice that no ‘arif or Hakim has said anything on any of the conceivable sub-issues of the Divine teachings that goes beyond these; all their statements are replete with the description (tawsif) of the Almighty and full of arguments about His sacred Essence and Attributes, so that every class of scholars benefits from them according to the capacity of its comprehension.

Then all of these traditions show that contemplating and meditating on the Essence is forbidden on a certain level, which is to probe into the inmost mysteries (kunh) of the Essence and Its Quality (kayfiyyah)as stated in this tradition of al-Kafi:

Whosoever contemplates in God to see how He is, perishes.

Moreover, the traditions forbidding contemplation and those enjoining it, when reconciled, give the conclusion that a group of people who do not possess the strength of giving ear to philosophical arguments (burhan)having no capacity of entering into such discussions, are forbidden from doing so, and there are indications in the riwayat which testify to this. But as for those who have an aptitude for it, it is not only proper but is the highest form of worship.

In any case, we have digressed completely from our proposed theme, but there was no way we could avoid examining those degenerate views and the kind of calumnies, displeasing to God, which have acquired circulation during recent times on tongues, with the hope that it will make some effect on some hearts, and if one person were to accept this it would be sufficient for me. And praise is God’s and to Him do we complain.

Read more: 

Islamic laws are progressive and advanced, Imam Khomeini explained

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