HAZRAT ALI’s Philosophy of Religions
(Extracts from Introductory Notes to Nahjul Balagha by Sayed Mohamed Askari Jafery)
For Hazrat Ali and the Imams of his descent, religion is a vital and positive force of life. Their philosophy does not relate to war of words without life and earnestness which is the main feature of the Ptolemy’s schools of thought or those of the Western and Eastern philosophers. Their ardent love of knowledge, their devotion in evolution of human mind, their sincere faith in God, and in His Mercy, Love and Kindness, and their looking for above the literalness of common interpretation of the law, show the spirituality and expansiveness of their philosophy of religion. Hazrat Imam Jafer-e-Sadiq defines knowledge as: Enlightenment of heart is its essence, Truth is its principal object, Inspiration is its guide, Reason is its acceptor, God is its Inspirer, and the words of man are its utterers. To them evolution of mind is the essence of life and religion is the essence of the evolution of mind.
How correctly Hazrat Ali taught that a man without mind is not a man, and a mind without religion is worse than the instinct of a beast; more harmful, more dangerous and more carnivorous. Devotion without understanding will not bring Blessing of God, it is useless. He attaches so much value to mind and its correct ways of grasping truth that he says first leader and guide is your mind. At another place, he says that nothing is more useful to man than his intelligence, or there is nothing wealthier than wisdom, or there is no greater bounty of the Lord than the intellect granted to man. One can dispense with everything but one’s mind and intelligence; there is no better guide towards truth than wisdom. One hour of deep and sober meditation is better than a life of prayers without understanding.
Next to intelligence Hazrat Ali attaches importance to sincerity of purpose of life. He believed, if one sincerely and intelligently goes in search of truth or religion and if one wanders sincerely out of the right path even then there is a reward. There is a sermon in Nahjul Balagha in which he says, “Do not kill Kharijites after me because to go in search of truth and to lose the true path is better than to spend the entire span of one’s life in pursuit of vicious pleasure and wickedness.”
The natural and logical sequence of the above two attributes is to take count of oneself, one’s knowledge, thoughts, intentions, desires and deeds. He therefore, advises, “Weigh your own souls before the time of weighing of your actions arrives. Take count with yourself before you are called upon to account for your conduct in this existence.” To obtain favorable results of such weighing and taking count of oneself one must have done good deeds. And so far as actions and reactions are concerned he wants us to understand, that human conduct is not fortuitous, one act is the result of another; life, destiny and character mean connected series of incidents. Events and actions which are related to each other, as cause and effect by an Ordained Law. Apply yourself to good and pure actions, adhere to truth, follow the true path to salvation, before death makes you leave this abode. If you do not warn yourself and do not guide yourself none other can direct you. Abstain from foulness though it may be fair seeming to your sight. Avoid evil, however pleasant, for you know not how far it takes you away from Him.
Next to sincere faith in the unity of God, he lays great stress on piety. He wants us to realize that piety is not a juicy morsel to be swallowed easily not it is a dip in river to clean all dirt and filth from the body. Piety means actions and those actions in beginning may be sour, harsh, and painful to perform. Piety means to free oneself from vicious desires and wicked deeds. This freedom cannot be obtained but by constant efforts and endeavors.
With Hazrat Ali, fanatic asceticism is a sin against the self. History cites many instances where he admonished those who had given up their homes and families, had severed every connection with society, had taken to a mosque, and had been praying, fasting and reciting the Holy Book morning, noon and night. For him it is not piety, but fanatic asceticism which is not allowed in Islam. He says that one who acts with piety gives rests to his soul; one who takes warning, understands the truth and one who understands it attains perfect knowledge.
His teachings do not convey any impression of predestination. On the contrary they portray a soul animated with living faith in God and yet full of trust in human development, founded on individual exertion springing from human volition. According to him, Quaza means obedience to commandments of God and avoidance of sin. Qader means the ability to live a pious and Holy life, and to do that which brings one nearer to God and to shun that which throws one away from Perfection. He taught, “Say not that man is compelled, for that attribution is tyranny to God.” In a sermon in Nahjul Balagha he says, “The theory of compulsion, predestination or predetermination of fate is a satanic insinuation and a doctrine of faith amongst the enemies of God. On the contrary, God has ordained man to obey His Commands and has given him freedom of will and action, he is at full liberty to obey His Commands or disobey. There is no compulsion in accepting the religions preached by His apostles and no compulsion to obey His Commands. Even His Commands (like daily prayers, fasting, zakat etc.,) are not hard, harsh and unbearable and every leniency and case on account of age and health is granted to man.”
Hazrat Ali’s teachings are gospel of work. He wants man to work, and to work honestly, sincerely and diligently. He emphasizes, work, work, and do good work while you still have life, health and opportunities. A life without work, is a life without worth. A mind without sober thoughts and a life without program of honest work is the most fertile soil for seeds of vice and wickedness. Work with nobility of purpose, is one of the form of prayers.
As far as the question of man and God is concerned, Hazrat Ali teaches us to believe in a God Who has created us, who loves us, nourishes us, helps us and is our well-wisher. He should be loved, adored and venerated. He says, “God is not like any object that the human mind can conceive. No attribute can be ascribed to Him which bore the least resemblance to any quality of which human beings have perception from their knowledge of material objects. The perfection of piety consists in knowing God; the perfection of knowledge is the affirmation of His Verity; and the perfection of verity is the acknowledgment of His Unity in all sincerity; and the perfection of sincerity is to deny all attribute to the Deity. He, who refers an attribute to God believes the attribute to be God, and he who so believes an attribute to be God, regards God as two or part of one. He who asks where God is, assimilates Him with some object. God is the Creator, not because He Himself is created. God is Existent not because he was non-existent. He is with every object, not from resemblance or nearness. He is outside everything not from separation or indifference towards His creatures. He works and creates not in the meaning of motions or actions. He sees and hears but not with the help of bodily organs or outside agencies. He was seeing when there was nothing created to see. He has no relation to matter, time and space. God is Omniscient because knowledge is His essence; Loving because love is His Essence; Mighty, because Power is His Essence; Forgiving, because Forgiveness is His Essence; and not because these are attributes apart from His Essence.”
IMPORTANT NOTE: These are some main points which I am presenting as it is there in the book referred on top of this article, without my own remark or addition.