Verses 33 to 38 outlined the necessary conditions for the creation of a peaceful and stable society and the building blocks for human prosperity and development. Over the next five verses (40-44), through the prism of a khuṭbah (sermon) delivered by Amirul Mumineen, Maulana Ali bin Abi Talib AS, the author further delineates man’s relationship with the temporal world.
A distinct feature of Amirul Mumineen’s AS sermons is his reproval of the ways of this world, his belittlement and scorn for its offerings and the ill-fate of those who are enamoured by its temptations and endlessly toil for its temporal pleasures. Realising the true nature of this world as transient and ephemeral is not only essential to lead a life of contentment and fulfillment at an individual level but also necessary on a collective level so that humanity can live in peace and harmony. Failing to recognise this transience is the root cause of many of the ills that have plagued humankind over the ages. Desires to extend dominion, horde wealth and satisfy material wants, have brought great hardship and detriment to the human race.
Maulana Ali’s khuṭbah is an example of the external light – discussed in verses 6 and 7 – through which the intellect is able to accurately perceive reality. In this khuṭbah, he expounds upon the intent behind the creation of this world and hence, the perspective with which one should view it and the purposes for which he should make use of the time he has in it. In order to assimilate this viewpoint and build a firm base for contemplating its content, a reading of the khuṭbah in its entirety is warranted:
Upon hearing a person disparage the temporal world, Amirul Mumineen AS responded:
O, he who denigrates this world, yet has fallen victim to its deceptions and been enticed by its falsehoods. You let it deceive you and then you disparage it? Are you a victim of its oppression or is it a victim of yours? When has it seduced or tempted you? How was it that it managed to deceive you? [Had the temporal world not been clear in that it brought about] the fall and decline of your forefathers? [Did this world not declare it was fleeting when it laid] your mothers beneath the earth in their final resting place? How many of the ill that you tended to in person or looked after with your own two hands were cured? You sought to remedy them and explained their illnesses to many doctors yet, ultimately, your medicine was futile and the tears you shed for them were of no use. Your concern for them offered no advantage while your desire for their cure went unfulfilled. Despite all your strength and ability you could not prevent death from befalling them. Through their example the world has shown you your fate and by their demise — [it has forewarned of] yours.
This world is an abode of truth for those who are truthful; a sanctuary for those who learn from it; a place of abundance for those who seek provision from it and a land of wisdom and counsel for those who pay heed to its lessons.
This world is a masjid for Allah’s beloveds, a place of worship for His angels, a site where His revelation and waḥy (divine inspiration) descends [upon His prophets] and a trading post for those He holds dear — one in which they bartered [their deeds] for mercy and received Heaven as profit.
Who then insists on denigrating this world despite the fact that it has openly declared its transience, professed its imminent departure and announced its mortality and that of all those residing in it? Through its difficult ways it has exemplified for them the calamities and hardships temporal life presents and by means of its fleeting pleasures it has sparked their desire for the eternal pleasures of the hereafter.
Through the paradoxical duality of hopeful eves and despairing morns, this world inspires you [towards good deeds], scares you [into taking action], frightens you [about the consequences of immoral acts] and warns you [of imminent death]. Hence, on the Day of Judgment this temporal world is denigrated by those who regretted their conduct in this world, while it was praised by others. The world reminded them and they remembered; it spoke the truth to them and they believed and it counselled them and they paid heed.
Such a guided understanding of the world affords an enlightened understanding of the hereafter. In Rasāʾil Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ (Epistles of the Brethren of Purity), Imam Ahmed al-Mastur AS explains that a thorough understanding of the hereafter can only be attained through comprehending the ways of this world. This is because both the temporal world and the hereafter, dunyā and ākhira, are part of a genitive construction; a key aspect of which is that a true understanding of one leads to a fuller understanding of the other. The Arabic word dunyā is derived from dunū (proximity, closeness) whereas ākhira comes from taʾakhur (delay, deferment). Dunyā is more readily perceivable through our physical senses and as such, is closer to us. We comprehend its reality by contemplating the circumstances we find ourselves and others in. The understanding we achieve of the temporal world precedes that of the spiritual, but also leads to it. That the temporal world, dunyā, is a comparative term indicating that it is closer than something else, necessitates the presence of another realm that is relatively further away: ākhirat. Once this realisation occurs and the complementary role of the temporal world vis-a-vis the hereafter has been ascertained, the next logical step would be to identify a means of bridging the two. The pathway that connects the realm that is before us and the one that is to come is dīn.
Understanding the complementary roles of dunyā and ākhira but while remaining fully aware of the transience of one and the permanence of the other leads to the realisation that a want for materialistic desires can never coexist with a sincere pursuit of the hereafter. One who refrains from pursuing the hereafter will in turn succumb to a desire for worldly pleasures, just as the one who seeks the hereafter will naturally forsake the world and its temptations. Prophet ʿĪsā AS in one of his counsels to the Children of Israel stated, ‘Know that this world when compared with the hereafter is like the east and the west. The more one journeys towards the west the further he will move away from the east and the more he travels eastwards the further he will distance himself from the west.’
The author’s description of Amirul Mumineen AS as being ʾaʿlā (lofty) and renowned as ‘Haider’ warrants further exploration. Haider is one of the some 500 words in the Arabic language for ‘lion.’ The word ḥaider brings to mind the verses recited by Amirul Mumineen AS during the Battle of Khyber:
I am he who my mother named Haiderah (derivative of the word ḥaider)
I will measure you with my sword as would a large and accurate scale.
Like a strong and fierce lion of the jungle.
A lion’s roar can be heard far into the distance and strikes fear in those both near and afar. Similarly, the cautioning words and counsels of Amirul Mumineen AS reverberate throughout the ages providing guidance and direction to the hereafter. Equally, however, a lion’s roar is a statement of protection of its den and its pride. Amirul Mumineen’s AS everlasting counsel and wisdom embodied and personified in the Imams in his descendants protect and preserve dīn: the only means of ensuring the betterment of both the temporal and spiritual realms. Another meaning of ḥaider is ‘slayer of snakes’. In his infancy, Maulana Ali AS killed a snake while in his crib. It is also narrated that he killed a snake while wading through water during the battle of Khybar.
Similar to ḥaider, the meaning of the Arabic root ḥ-d-r is to descend from a higher realm to a lower one and its use reveals the intent behind the author’s use of the word ‘ʾaʿlā’ (lofty). Amirul Mumineen AS, one whose status is undeniably exalted, has chosen to descend to this temporal realm in order to ensure that all those who enter his pride ascend to their heavenly abode.
Imam Ahmed al-Mastur AS provides a parable that helps us understand the transitory nature of this world and how we must awaken our souls to its true purpose:
Consider a person who comes into this world and leads a long life solely engrossed in satisfying his physical wants and needs, fulfilling his desires, hoarding material wealth and possessions, building dwellings, occupying lands and seeking authority, all with the assumption of forever remaining in this world. He forgoes the pursuit of knowledge and neglects understanding the true meaning and purpose in all things around him. He ignores the betterment of his soul and lacks motivation and enthusiasm towards preparing himself for the hereafter until finally his life draws to a close and as death draws near, the inebriety of mortality renders him helpless and motionless. He departs this world in a state of ignorance, without understanding its form and purpose or having contemplated over the signs present in its skies. He dies neither having dwelt upon the functioning of all that this world encompassed nor pondering over all that he had perceived through his senses.
Such persons are like a group of people who entered a city ruled by a great, wise, just and merciful king. A city he had built with erudition and one in which he had placed such awe-inducing elements that no attempt at describing them can do justice; it can only be witnessed. The wise king placed dishes filled with food throughout his city so that they may provide nourishment for those entering and provision for those departing. He then called a number of his subjects to his presence so that he may honour them, but directed them to first pass through this new city of his so that they may behold it, contemplate its amazing features and ponder over its remarkable forms. The issuance of such directives was so that they may discipline their souls and through their discernment and understanding of the city become men of wisdom, nobility and eminence. Their passage through the city would afford them an elevated standing and thus make them worthy of reaching the king’s presence and deserving of the honours he was to bestow.
A group of travellers seeking the king’s court reached this city in the evening and frittered away their entire night in frivolous pursuits. When the day dawned they left. They were so unmindful that they knew not which door they had entered from nor from which they departed. They failed to observe the wisdom behind the city’s many marvels. The only benefit they derived was a night passed in eating and drinking — nothing more.
Such is the state of those who come to this world and remain in ignorance and in denial of the hereafter. Impervious to their wordly surroundings, they are heedless of the hereafter. They fit the description Allah Taʿālā provides in the following verse:
Those who are blind in this world will also be so in the next, and misguided as well.
Thus, the words of Amirul Mumineen AS , the king of all kings, allow us to perceive dunyā as intended by its Creator and understand ākhira, for which we are all ultimately destined. Further discussions regarding His intentions in creating this world and how man is to fulfill these intentions, follow in subsequent verses.