From Subservience to Mastership

Guardian for the Jurist

There is a hadith which says that submission to Allah is a jewel, the essence of which is mastership...

From Subservience to Mastership
Guardian for the Jurist

There is a hadith which says that submission to Allah is a jewel, the essence of which is mastership, i.e. power. Man has always been looking for a way to control himself and the universe.

At present we are not concerned with the methods he chose for this purpose and whether he succeeded in his efforts or not. We know there is a wonderful way to achieve this goal. When man chooses that, he does not aim at gaining power and dominating the world. In this case his aim is just the opposite. He aims at humility and self-annihilation. This wonderful way is that of subservience to Allah. He who submits to Allah, gets everything, though attaches no importance to anything.


Mastership or in other words the power man gains as a result of his earnestness, total submission and complete subservience to Allah has several stages:

The first stage is very inspiring. It gives him control over himself. In other words the minimum effect of the acceptance of good deeds by Allah is that they produce a penetrating and clear insight into self.

The Holy Qur'an says:

Believers, if you fear Allah, He will make for you a differentiator (between right and wrong)﴿ (al-Anfal, 8: 29).

Again it says:

Those who struggle for Our cause, We will show them Our ways﴿ (al-Ankabut 29:69)

Secondly man gains control over his passions and animal propensities and becomes master of himself. The Qur'an says regarding prayer:

Surely, prayer restrains one away from indecency and evil﴿. (al-Ankabut, 29: 45)

It says about fasting

Believers! fasting has been enjoined on you as it was enjoined on those who were before you, so that you may become pious﴿ (al-Baqarah, 2:183)

Regarding both of them it says:

Believers! Help yourselves (in your affairs) through patience (fast) and prayer﴿. (al-Baqarah, 2:153)

At this stage of submission to Allah what man gets is a special insight and power to control his passions. In other words the first outcome of submission is self-discipline and control of evil desires.

The second stage is that of the control of the faculty of imagination. It is through this faculty that our mind conceives ideas and every moment shifts our attention from one subject to another.

This faculty is not under our control. In contrast it dominates us. That is why however hard we try, we cannot keep our attention concentrated on any one particular subject for example, even with our best efforts we cannot keep our thoughts concentrated during prayers. The Holy Prophet illustrated this fact with a charming example. He compared heart which is influenced by the faculty of imagination to a feather hung to a tree in the desert and being turned every moment topsy-turvy by the wind.1

In the course of another hadith the Prophet has said that the heart of man is subject to more commotion than a boiling kettle.2

Now the question is, Has man no option but to be a subject to his thoughts willy-nilly and to be swayed away by this mysterious power which turns him into a bird ever flying from one branch of a tree to another; or is the inability to resist this power a sign of immaturity and underdevelopment, and are those whose spiritual power is adequately developed, capable of rolling over this faculty of theirs?

The second alternative is correct. It is a duty of man to keep his thoughts under control. Otherwise the diabolic power of this faculty will nullify his capabilities and will impede his advancement on the path of proximity to Allah.

The celebrated mystic poet, Mowlawi points out: "If man is all the time engrossed in the ideas of his personal comforts and discomforts and profit and loss, he is prone to lose the serenity of his soul and is not likely to soar to the higher regions of heaven".

The Holy Prophet has said: "My eyes sleep, but my heart keeps awake". Commenting on this saying of the Prophet, Mowlawi says that the heart of the Prophet was always awake because he was the master of his thoughts. He was able to control them and was never over-powered by them.

At this second stage those who choose the path of submission to Allah feel that by keeping their faculty of imagination under control their soul is free to soar higher and higher without any check or hindrance.

Imam Ali used to be so engrossed in his prayers that once an arrow which had struck him was extracted from his foot while he was offering his prayer and he did not feel it. During this operation his attention could not be diverted in the least.

Similarly a young child of Imam Zayn al-Abidin fell down from a height and had a fracture in his hand. The hue and cry that followed the accident could not disturb the Imam who was offering his prayers. A bone-setter was called. He set the bone. When after the prayers the Imam saw the bandaged hand of the child, he was surprised and inquired about the matter. All the hustle and bustle and the hue and cry had not distracted the attention of the Imam who was absorbed in his prayers.

Leaving aside the personalities of this stature, even among their followers we have seen with our own eyes persons who get so absorbed while offering their prayers that they totally become inattentive to everything around them. Their attention is only towards Allah. The late Ali Agha Shirazi, an eminent scholar, was one of such persons.

To achieve this success nothing is more useful than incessant worship, the basis of which is attention to Allah. The ascetics adopt their own methods. They renounce life, retire in solitude and subject their body to torture. But Islam ensures the desired result without resorting to such unhealthy acts. Full attention to Allah and remembering that one is standing before the Lord of lords, the Creator, paves the way for mental concentration.

It will not be out of place to quote here Abu Ali ibn Sina (Avicenna), the most outstanding philosopher of Islam. This great scholar, after dealing with popular worship which is practiced in expectation of reward only which has little value, takes up in his book, Isharat, the worship accompanied by cognition. He says: "To the Gnostics worship is an exercise of the faculties of thinking and imagination with a view to divert them from material things to Divine conceptions. With constant practice these faculties get in harmony with the real human instinct of devotion to Allah, and they do not resist when the inner soul of man wants to attain illumination".

At the third stage the soul becomes so vigorous and strong that it can do a number of things without the help of the body, though the body needs soul in all cases.

Normally the soul and body are interdependent. Body depends on the soul for its life and very existence, and without soul it is soon disintegrated. Similarly the soul depends on the body for all its activities and can do nothing without it. Only in very exceptional cases can the soul dispense with the body. Sometimes it can do so just for a few moments and sometimes recurrently or even permanently. This phenomenon is known as "disembodiment".

The famous illuminant sufi-theosophist Suhrawardi has said "We do not consider a person to be a theosophist unless he can disembody himself". Mir Damad says "We do not regard a person as a theosophist unless he has such a practice that he can disembody himself at will.

Anyhow, the experts say that the 'disembodiment' is not a proof of attaining perfection.

At the fourth stage one's body becomes absolutely at his beck and call and can perform marvelous things as and when desired by him. Anyhow, this is a point which requires lengthy discussion. Imam al-Sadiq said "Body does not show inability to do what it wants".

The fifth is the highest stage. At this stage even external nature becomes subject to the will of man and obeys him. The miracles wrought by the Prophets and saints come under this category.

Though the issue of miracles requires extensive discussion, briefly it may be said that no Muslim who believes in the Holy Qur'an can deny them. From the Islamic point of view they present no problem. At present we propose to look at the issue of miracles from the viewpoint of Wilayat of Control only. Of course our discussion is directed to those who believe in the Holy Qur'an and admit the occurrence of the miracles.

What we want to stress upon is that a miracle is nothing but a manifestation of the Wilayat of Control and supernatural power. Apart from considering the Holy Qur'an, which, besides being a miracle, is the word of Allah, not of the Prophet; and as such has an exceptional position. A miracle is wrought by a Prophet or a saint because he is granted a sort of special power. He can do with the universe what he likes, but only with the permission and consent of Allah. He can convert a rod into a serpent, can cure those who are born blind and can even bring a dead person to life. This extraordinary power he gets by treading in the path of proximity to Allah and getting closer to the center of existence and it is nothing else than the Wilayat of Control.

Some people are under the impression that a miracle is effected directly by Allah, and the Prophets and the saints have no hand in its performance, for it is beyond human power to change the laws of nature. The Prophets and the saints work only as showmen. According to this view, miracles are wrought direct by Allah without any human participation.

Anyhow, this view is not correct. Not only that Allah would not allow a natural phenomenon to take place directly outside the order set up by Him, but this conception is also contrary to the Qur'anic text. The Qur'an has expressly ascribed the working of miracles to the Prophets though, of course with the permission of Allah.

It may be remembered that permission of Allah does not mean lifting any moral or social ban by means of words or signs. In this case His permission is the bestowal of that perfection which produces a Supernatural power. He can take away that power if He does not want the miracle to be effected. The Holy Qur'an says;

A prophet is not supposed to show a miracle without the permission of Allah﴿. (al-Mo'min, 40:78).

In this verse the Prophets have been described as the actual workers of the miracles. The phrase, "Without the permission of Allah" has been added to obviate any misunderstanding that the Prophets can take any miraculous action independently. Everyone should know that, ''There is no might or power save with Allah ".

Anyhow, we admit that Allah is the ultimate source of every kind of power big or small, and every existing thing is a manifestation of His Will. The Prophets depend on Allah in all what they do; and always seek help from Him.

In the Surah al-Naml, the Holy Quran narrates the story of Prophet Sulayman and the Queen of Saba. At the invitation of Sulayman, the Queen sets out to call on him. Sulayman wishes that her throne is brought to him before she arrives. Some of his courtiers volunteer, but Sulayman does not accept their offer. At last the one having knowledge of the Book said, "I can bring it in the twinkling of an eye".

Thus he ascribed the power and ability to himself. At the same time the Holy Qur'an describes him as having knowledge of the Book. This means that he performed the supernatural task with the help of the knowledge till then unknown to the human beings which he had acquired directly from the ''Protected Tablet" (al-Lawh al-Mahfuz) because of his proximity to Allah.

Again the Holy Qur'an says in respect of the same Prophet

We made the winds subservient to him. They moved softly at his command in whichever direction he intended. We made the devils obey him. They included builders, divers and others bound in chains. (We said): This is Our gift. (Therefore you may bestow or withhold it without reckoning﴿. (Sad, 38: 36—39).

The verses describing the miracles of Prophet Isa also support this stand, but we avoid to quote them for lack of space.

What we intend to emphasize is that nobody who believes in the Holy Qur'an, can deny the Wilayat of Control. But if somebody wants to judge this issue purely on scientific or philosophical standards, it would be off the point. At present we want to look at the issue from the Qur'anic angle only.

In the end we would like to further stress upon a point to which we referred in the beginning. All the stages of mastership mentioned above are the outcome of proximity to Allah, which is a factual reality and not a figurative or allegorical expression. A well-known hadith, Hadith al-Qudsi (a saying of the Prophet reproducing what Allah said) which is reported both by the Shi'a and the Sunni sources, has expressed this fact beautifully.

Imam al-Sadiq reports that the Holy Prophet said: "Allah says The best means of seeking proximity to Me is the performance of what I have enjoined on My slaves. If somebody performs the supernumeraries also, I love him. When I love a person I become his eyes with which he sees, his ears with which he hears, his tongue with which he speaks and his hands with which he holds. If he calls Me, I respond to him. If he asks Me for a thing I give it to him''3

This hadith clearly shows that devotion brings man close to Allah. As he gets closer to Him, he is loved and favored by Him. Then he begins to see, hear and speak with Divine power. His prayer is responded to and his wishes are granted.

The fact is that the distinctive feature of Shi'ism is its special outlook on man. It believes, as we have stated earlier, that man has marvelous capabilities and that the world has never been without a perfect man whose capabilities are fully developed. It also believes that man can secure his rightful position only by treading in the path of submission and subservience to Allah under the leadership of a perfect man, a Waly and leader appointed by Him. That is why the leaders (awliya) of Shi'ism say:

The tenets which constitute the basis of Islam are five Salat (prayer), Saum (fast), Zakat (religious tax), Hajj (pilgrimage), and Wilayat and Islam has laid the greatest stress on Wilayat.4

* Book: Master and Mastership. By: Ayatullah Murtadha Mutahhari.

1. Jam'e al-Sagheer Vol. 1 p. 102.
2. Musnad Ahmad b. Hanbal Vol. 6, p. 4.
3. Al-Kafi, Vol. 1, p. 352.
4. Al-Wasail al-Shi'ah, Vol. 1, p. 4.

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