On the blessed anniversary of the birth of Imam Ali al-Naqi (‘a), the tenth of the Shia Imams, we find it more necessary than ever to research the teachings of this great leader. It is necessary to mention that Imam al-Hadi (‘a) lived in a time period which was beset with various types of pressure and an utter lack of freedom. Due to this atmosphere, the Imam (‘a) did not have as much of an opportunity to teach the people and spread the true message of Islam. In spite of this unsuitable atmosphere, he still had many students who were trained under his guidance and he would constantly answer the religious questions of the people. He would also narrate traditions and deal with various jurisprudential issues which would arise. All of these things showed the people how deeply his knowledge ran and how much he had to offer to the Muslim community.
Some of the prominent students of the Imam (‘a) included Ayyūb ibn Nūḥ, ʿUthmān ibn Saʿīd al-Ahwāzī, and ʿAbd al-ʿAẓīm al-Ḥasanī (who is buried in Rey, which is nowadays included in the city of Tehran, Iran). Some of these students authored very valuable religious or jurisprudential works. In light of this reality, we wish to delve in to the key teachings of Imam al-Hadi (‘a), particularly those which we can directly apply in to our own lives. Let us look at what Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi has said in regards to this issue.
A Reflection on the Essential Nature of this World from the Viewpoint of Imam al-Hadi (‘a)
The World as a Place of Business for the Hereafter
One of the teachings of Imam al-Hadi (‘a) relates to the concept of the role which the world plays in the felicity (or lack thereof) of human beings, as well as its role in the attainment of human perfection. Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi has explained a tradition narrated from Imam al-Hadi (‘a) in regards to how human beings should deal with the material world: ‘Imam al-Hadi (‘a) has been quoted as saying: “this world is a marketplace in which some people profit, while others lose.[2,3]
Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi has explained that this tradition from Imam al-Hadi (‘a) shows that we shouldn’t look at this world as a final destination; it is rather a tool and a means of gaining various valuable things (such as pious deeds and knowledge of Allah) for the next world, which is the final destination. Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi has continued this explanation and he has emphasized the necessity of making full use of this world as a marketplace for the hereafter. He has said: This world is not our true home, nor is a place where we can live forever. It is rather a grand marketplace where human beings need to ‘purchase’ their felicity in the eternal otherworldly life, using various valuable bounties given to them, including every moment of every hour of their lives, as well as their physical and intellectual powers.
Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi has then stated: Those who work hard and strive in this grand marketplace, and who are aware of the reality of what this world is, will always be in a state of struggle and they will not rest easy until they have attained a more valuable thing, i.e. an eternal life of felicity in the hereafter, in exchange for these valuable possessions. This is the complete opposite to the path of corruption and waste where people give up their valuable time and energy for things which only bring them loss. In the end, these types of people leave this world with nothing to show for their efforts.
The World and the Difference between the Materialist Worldview of the West and the Monotheistic Ideology of Islam
Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi has continued his discussion of this tradition from Imam al-Hadi (‘a) by delving in to the differences between the West and the Islamic world when it comes to the concept of this material world. The Western world looks at death as the end of everything; it is for this reason that morality is something subjective and without any definitive meaning. On the other hand, the religion of Islam looks at this world as a place of opportunity to prepare for the next world.
Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi has made the following remarks in this regard: The world is a place of difficulties and examinations, while the hereafter is the everlasting abode. If we consider the world to be a marketplace for the hereafter, where one attains various types of knowledge and performs various good deeds, then it is natural that we will work harder and with a more refined purpose. If it were not so, and we were to live with the beliefs of the materialists, then the world would become a very dull and worthless place indeed. Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi has distinguished the differences between the materialistic and the monotheistic worldviews. He has said: In order to live a pure life, it is necessary that we exert ourselves and it is not possible to reach our goals without this exertion and effort.
Allah Theocentrism as the Only Way of Preventing Loss in this World
Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi has continued his explanation of the various facets of the tradition from Imam al-Hadi (‘a) and he has detailed how Surah al-‘Aṣr in the Quran is a warning call for all human beings. He has mentioned in this regard that: One of the notables has mentioned that he learned the meaning of this Surah (al-‘Aṣr) from an ice seller. In olden times people would bring blocks of ice and sell pieces of them to their customers (since there were no refrigerators at that time). This ice seller was standing by his block of ice and yelling: ‘Have mercy on the one whose investment is melting’. When the other man heard this statement of the ice seller, he thought to himself that this is the meaning of Surah al-‘Aṣr which states: ‘Verily man is in loss’. This means that as time passes on and one’s life is cut short, if one does not attain any good deeds, then verily such an individual is in a state of loss.
From this perspective, there is only one way to prevent this type of loss and that can be found in the following verse of Surah al-‘Aṣr which states: ‘Except those who have faith and do righteous deeds, and enj o i n one another to [follow] the truth, and enj o i n one another to patience.’ In other words, the one thing which can prevent this loss from taking place is by ‘spending’ one’s time gaining things which are even more valuable than what is being lost. This is the only way one can prevent this loss from taking place and in reality, what one gains in this transaction is infinitely more valuable than the time lost gaining it.
Without any doubt, every breath we take is a breath which brings us closer to death. Every heartbeat draws us closer to death. In light of this reality, we must take steps to ensure that we are gaining something which can make up for this loss. Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi has, then, described the various groups of people which exist in this world and how they live their lives:
1. There is one group which gives up their valuable time in gaining wealth. They either gain a large amount of wealth or they gain a little; in either case, they spend their lives chasing after material things which they can only enjoy for a relatively short period of time.
2. Another group exchange their time on this earth for reaching social rank and position.
3. Another group pursues various means of pleasure seeking and they give up their time in lieu of worldly pleasure
4. Naturally, all of these groups are giving up their valuable lives in lieu of things which do not even come close to what they are losing. The only ones who are winning are those who seek the pleasure of Allah and seek greater proximity to Him.
It is not by accident that one of the names of the Day of Judgment is the ‘Yawm al-Taghābun’ which means ‘The Day of Loss’ because it is a day when many people will learn that they attained very little in return for the valuable life that they squandered on earth. There is another verse in the Quran which states: ‘Indeed Allah has bought from the faithful their souls and their possessions for paradise to be theirs …’ . This verse indicates that the true buyer of the invaluable possessions of man (the most valuable of which is his life) is Allah (swt). Moreover, based on, yet, another verse Allah the Almighty is also ready to buy from man even the smallest of his possessions, in return for which, to grant him a life in Paradise: “Then shall anyone who has done an atom’s weight of good, see it” When someone decides to sell something at this ‘marketplace’, they don’t simply receive an equal exchange; they end up receiving ten times as much or even seven hundred times as much as what they have given.[4,5] Even though everything that human beings have belongs to Allah and it was given to them by Him, He is still so generous that he purchases these insignificant deeds and gives the individual many times over what he had initially offered!
Rationality: A Key Precept in Attaining Felicity in this World, As Well As in the Next
Ayatollah Makarim Shirazi, in light of the aforementioned tradition from Imam al-Hadi (‘a), has mentioned that rationality is one of the key elements in minimizing our losses in this world and exchanging our time for provisions for the next world. He has stated: Thinking about the end of our lives and the necessity of gaining provisions for the next world is the way of the rational people. If one uses their intellect and adopts a rational way of life, then it will prevent many an act of oppression and sin from ever taking place.
Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi further explained: In a world which is filled with various events and incidents, if one does not forget the hereafter, they will always be careful of how they are acting. The criminals and oppressors are those who do not think about the hereafter; if they did, they would not ever approach such actions. From this perspective, it must be said that the world is a place of examinations and difficulties, while the hereafter is a place of eternal life. If we consider the world to be a type of marketplace for the hereafter, then we will naturally work harder and with more specific purpose towards our goals.
Self-knowledge: An Essential Element in Self-purification and Moral Training
Self -knowledge in regards to one’s capabilities and worth in the journey towards Allah is one of the key teachings of Imam al-Hadi (‘a). Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi has explained this issue in greater detail and he has said: ‘Self-knowledge is one of the essential foundations of training oneself towards greater growth and perfection. A lack of knowledge in regards to oneself will cause one to be a stranger to all things and it is a cause of becoming distanced from Allah. In a tradition from Imam al-Hadi (‘a), we read that: You are not safe from the evil of a person who does not regard themselves with any value.’[7,8]
Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi has thus considered knowledge of oneself as an essential element in reaching lofty spiritual ranks. He has stated in this regard that: We can clearly understand from this tradition of Imam al-Hadi (‘a) that one of the essential foundations of developing moral virtues and reaching spiritual perfection is attaining knowledge of one’s self. Until an individual has passed this difficult stage of development, they cannot reach any of the higher spiritual positions. It is for this reason that the great scholars of ethics and morality have emphasized that a person who wishes to tread the path of spiritual perfection must first gain knowledge of themselves and they should never be negligent towards this reality.
In reality, one of the important elements which prevents corruption and evil is the existence of self-esteem and self-worth in an individual. People who have such characteristics and feel that they have value will safeguard themselves from sins and other negative actions in order to preserve that value from being destroyed. Those who don’t have this sense of self-worth, or self-esteem, will not care what effect the various sins will have on them. A person who feels they have no value has, in effect, nothing to lose and it is for this reason that Imam al-Hadi (‘a) has told us to be wary of such people.
Self-edification: An Essential Foundation for the Realization of the Greater Struggle
Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi has explained the tradition of Imam al-Hadi (‘a) in relation to the concept of the greater Jihād as a key element of the religion. He has stated in this regard: We know that fighting against our carnal desires, which are the primary root of various sins, has been named as the greater Jihād in Islam. This is a Jihād which is considered to be more difficult and more important than fighting the enemies of Islam.
The reason behind this is that until one has tamed his carnal desires, there can be no real victory over one’s external enemies. Therefore, defeating this internal enemy is the true key to victory, both in regards to oneself, as well as in regards to one’s external enemies. When we examine how various people were defeated in battle, we find that they were almost always defeated due to their own internal weaknesses, and not due to the strength of their enemies. This kind of greater Jihād is even more valuable in places which are filled with corruption and sin.
The Incomparable Value of Self Worth: The Crystallization and Manifestation of Man’s True Essence
Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi has explained the various facets of the above-mentioned tradition from Imam al-Hadi (‘a) in regards to the necessity of character and self-value. The Ayatollah has stated in this regard: One of the important issues within the divine religions and in regards to human societies is the value system. For example, when we look at the material world and the spiritual world, we find that everything has a specific value. Some things are less in value, while some other things are more.
It is natural that if an individual determines that something is lesser in value, they will be more apt to give that up. If they consider something to be more valuable, then they will safeguard it more closely. If we take the example of a valuable gem, we also find that sometimes people do not recognize the true value of things. For example, this gem in the hands of a child is a simple toy which is of little value to them, and they would not be too upset if they lost it.
The character of human beings is the same way and if they consider themselves to be valuable, they will not do anything to tarnish or destroy that value. The Quran has stated that after Allah, there is nothing as valuable in this world as the human being. The reason behind this is that everything in this world has been created for the human being: ‘I have created all the things for you, while I have created you for myself’. In fact, the loftiest beings created by Allah, i.e. the angels, prostrated themselves before Adam (‘a): ‘So all the angels prostrated before Adam’. This shows us how valuable human beings are in the hierarchy of Allah’s creation.
In addition to this, Allah has made all things subservient to man in the sense that Allah has allowed man to control and utilize these things in his own favor. So if we are to realize the true value of human beings, we will easily understand that the carnal desires are nothing at all and it would be a true pity if people pursued these things in lieu of their own growth and perfection. If we understand our true value, then we will not sell ourselves except for the loftiest of goals, which is the goal of the hereafter. However, we should all be wary of those who have no self-worth, because such individuals can even kill another person for a petty amount of money.
The Reality of Being Thankful for Our Blessings as Reflected in the Teachings of Imam al-Hadi (‘a)
Being thankful for one’s blessings is amongst the things which are sometimes passed over by people and forgotten. Referring to a tradition from Imam al-Hadi (‘a) in relation to the importance of being thankful for what Allah has given, Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi stated: Imam al-Hadi (‘a) is narrated to have said: ‘The one who gives thanks for his blessings gains much more from having given thanks than he does from having that blessing. This is because the blessings are a means of life in this world, while giving thanks is an investment for the hereafter.’
Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi has explained the reality of being thankful according to the teachings of Imam al-Hadi (‘a) and he has said: Being thankful is not something which is only done through words. It is rather something which comes about from one’s deeds. When one utilizes a given blessing in the proper way, then this is a means of showing thankfulness for it. Being thankful for the blessings which Allah has given us brings about even greater blessings which make the initial blessing seem insignificant. A given blessing can be something very simple or something which is material, but being thankful for it transforms it in to an even greater blessing which is an investment for the hereafter.
Therefore, thankfulness can take place in the heart, through words, and through one’s deeds. If an individual is thankful for their blessings, they will be given something which is greater than that initial blessing. This is unfortunately something which is not often thought about. Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi has mentioned that an unshakable faith in Allah, forbearance, and true knowledge come about from being thankful for one’s blessings. Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi has further stated the following in this regard: It is essential for us to understand that if we are thankful for our blessings, then we are only helping ourselves, since Allah is needless of the thanks of his creation.
Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi has mentioned that this issue is proven through the life of Imam al-Hadi (‘a). He has stated that: According to history texts, one of Imam al-Hadi (‘a)’s companions was a man by the name of Abū Hāshim al-Jaʿfarī. Abū Hāshim al-Jaʿfarī has narrated that he was faced with a very difficult financial situation and so he went to see the Imam (‘a), in order to complain to him of what was happening. He narrates: “before I could say anything, he said to me: Oh Abū Hāshim, which of the divine blessings do you wish to thank Allah for? Abū Hāshim replied: I became upset at this and I remained silent, not knowing what I should say.
The Imam (‘a) then continued and said that Allah has given you faith and He has made it forbidden for the fire of Hell to burn your body due to it. Allah gave you a healthy body and he helped you in obeying Him. Allah has given you contentment so that you do not lose your value in front of the people. Oh Abū Hāshim, I initiated this discussion because I thought that you wished to complain to me about the One who has given you all of these blessings. I have given the order that you be given one hundred Dinars; take it and resolve your problems with it. This entire encounter caused Abū Hāshim al-Jaʿfarī to become happy and satisfied, without having complained about the difficulties of his life.
Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi has then explained how the lack of thankfulness has brought about various social problems and difficulties during our own era. For example, imagine that Allah gives a couple a child but this couple fail to raise that child properly due to negligence. In essence, this is an example of a lack of thankfulness because they have neglected to properly take care of what Allah has given them. In turn, this blessing will soon be transformed in to a plight and it will entail a thousand difficulties for both the parents, as well as the society in general. This will have effects not only in the material world of today, but it will also have effects in the hereafter as well.
Another example can be found in an individual who becomes ill with a sickness; this person practices patience in the face of their troubles and they are thankful to Allah for what He has given them. Such a person then becomes better over time until they are cured completely from their illness. Later on, they realize that if they had been healthy during that time period, they would have participated in something which would have destroyed them completely.
They then realize that this illness was actually a blessing in disguise. Due to this reality, a pious believer must utilize the divine blessings which Allah has given to them properly. This is a type of practical thankfulness which is shown through one’s deeds. Contrary to this, the hypocrites may claim verbally that they are thankful but on a practical level, they are not being thankful at all.
A Final Word
Without any doubt, the words of Imam al-Hadi (‘a) are a source of great wisdom and guidance both in this world, as well as in the next. There is no doubt that it is obligatory upon us to respect all of the Imams (‘a) and one way to implement this respect is by implementing their teachings in our day to day lives. The scholars and lecturers have an important role to play in this regard. Through utilizing the teachings of Imam al-Hadi (‘a), who has unfortunately not been focused upon as is his due, we can better confront the enemies of Islam and strengthen the ideological foundations of our faith.