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Last Updated: 2012/04/14
Summary of question
What is the meaning of the tradition attributed to Abu Basīr which mentions seeing God before the Day of Judgment?
question
A tradition on page 117 of Saduq’s Tawhid finds Abu Basīr asking Imam Sadiq (a) the following question: “Please tell me, can the believers see Allah on the Day of Judgment?”. Imam Sadiq (a) gave a positive response and said the following in explanation: “Do you not see God right now?” What is the meaning of this last part of the tradition? Does this tradition mean that Imam Sadiq (a) enabled Abu Basīr to somehow see God or was he able to see God from before?
Concise answer

There is no way to see God for He is all encompassing and cannot be encompassed. Nonetheless, in a manifestational sense, He can be seen in every single being, as the Quran has mentioned the following in this regard: “To whichever direction you turn, there is the face of Allah”. Therefore, seeing Him and His cognition is possible in such sense. As a matter of fact, all people possess this comprehension of Him, but it is only the elite who know what they are comprehending and seeing, unlike the rest. Based on this, in regard to this hadith, what took place for Abu Basir was that he was given attention to what he was seeing but not comprehending, and from then on, he gained cognition of it.

Detailed Answer

The discussion on the possibility of seeing God is one of the most important topics in Islam (particularly Shia Islam). It is additionally dealt with from many various angles and philosophers, mystics, and theologians have all given their own explanations. The aforementioned tradition pertains more to the mystical seeing of God and we will begin our explanation by fully narrating the tradition in Saduq’s Tawhid.

Abu Basir has mentioned: I asked Imam Sadiq (a) to inform me whether the pious believers would see God on the Day of Judgment? He said: Indeed, and they have even seen him before the Day of Judgment. I asked him: During what time? He said: During the time when he said to them: ‘أَ لَسْتُ بِرَبِّكُمْ’, which means: Am I not your Lord? They said: قالُوا بَلى: Indeed, you are our Lord. After this, the Imam (a) remained quiet for a period of time and then he said: And the pious believers will see him before the Day of Judgment in this world. Do you not see him right now?

Abu Basir then says that he said to Imam Sadiq (a): May I be sacrificed for you, should I narrate these words from you? He said: No, for if you were to narrate these words, an individual who is ignorant of its meaning will reject it and think that this is comparison (Tashbih) and disbelief (Kufr). Undoubtedly, seeing with the heart is not the same as seeing with the eyes and God is greater than what the Mushabbih sect and the atheists have ascribed to Him.[1]

What can be said in regards to this tradition, in light of the Quran and the Sunnah, is that on the one hand, knowledge of the essence of God is something impossible. On the other hand, there do exist a number of traditions which speak of seeing God, such as the following tradition ascribed to Imam Ali (a), which says: ‘ما کنت أعبد رباً لم أره[2]: I would never worship a God that I could not see. Similarly, Imam Ḥusayn (a) has addressed God in the Day of ʿArafah supplication with the following words: May the eyes of he who doesn’t see you be blinded.[3]

Philosophers, mystics, and theologians all have their own different explanations for these words. Some have out essentially rejected any possibility of seeing God and have said that seeing God is absolutely impossible; they have explained such traditions by saying that they are in regards to seeing the blessings of God rather than seeing Him Himself. They have furthermore classified talk of seeing God as being polytheism, disbelief, corporealism (Tajsim) and comparison (Tashbih). This group is the same group which Imam Ṣādiq (a) spoke to Abū Baṣīr about and it was due to them that he asked him not to narrate the tradition: “…if you were to narrate these words, an individual who is ignorant to its meaning will reject it and think that this is comparison (Tashbih) and disbelief (Kufr).” On the other hand, there is another group which puts forth the mystical subject of “Manifestation” (Tajalli) and believes that while knowledge of the essence of God is impossible, seeing and cognition of the manifestation of God is possible and true believers have had such experiences in this world.

According to this viewpoint, the manifestations of God have varying degrees and the highest of these degrees was that which the Prophet (s) saw during his Miʿrāj journey; this was such a high manifestation that even the Angel Gabriel, one of the nearest of angels to God, did not have the capacity to see what the Prophet (s) saw. A much weaker form of this manifestation has been seen by the rest of the Prophets (a), the friends of God (Awlīyā), and the pious believers (Muʾminīn); in the aforementioned tradition, even Abū Baṣīr is expected by the imam to have seen this manifestation. Naturally, one of the prerequisites of seeing this manifestation is a pure love of God and the purity of one’s heart.

It is worthwhile to mention some passages from Fayḍ Kāshānī’s book Kalimāt Maknūnah, under the section of ‘The Reconciliation between the Repudiation of Knowledge and Seeing, and their Possibilities’. He has considered the aforementioned tradition of Abū Baṣīr to be related to this same discussion:

“Although those close to Allah have admitted that cognition of Allah is impossible, one of them being the Angel Gabriel who said to the prophet on the night of the Mi’raj: If I go any closer I will burn, and another being the prophet himself who said: “O Allah, we have not recognized you the way You deserve to be recognized.” Even Allah says in the Quran: “The sights do not apprehend Him, yet He apprehends the sights”, However, the greats of the garden of Wilayat have claimed to not worship a lord they don’t see, one of them being Imam Ali (as) who has been narrated to say that he won't worship a lord he does not see. He has also said, if the curtains are removed, my certainty will not grow one bit (meaning that he is already at the highest level of certainty).

To reconcile between these two, one must say that although there is no way to reach the whole essence of God, because it is all-encompassing and cannot be encompassed, but in the sense of manifestation, His ‘face’ is present in every being, as the Quran testifies: “To whichever direction you turn, there is the face of Allah!”[4] and in another hadith it reads: “Even if you descend to the lowest level of the earth, you have descended to Allah.” Therefore, in this sense, it is possible to see Allah. As a matter of fact, this form of manifestation applies to all, but it is only the elite who know and are aware of what they are seeing, and that is why they say: “To everything which I looked, I saw Allah before, after and along with it.”, but the normal people do not know what they see, as the Quran says: “Look! They are indeed in doubt about the encounter with their Lord! Look! He indeed comprehends all things!”[5]

Through means of this explanation, it appears that the meaning of Imam Ṣādiq’s (a) words, saying: “Do you not see God right now?”, refers to seeing the manifestation of God and thus, seeing such a manifestation does not necessarily require any miraculous interference by the Imam (a) over Abū Baṣīr’s vision. While this vision did not necessarily have to arise from the Imam’s (a) interference, in the case of Abū Baṣīr, it did come from the Imam (a). In addition, it is not clear to us what station of manifestation was opened to Abū Baṣīr.

It is worth mentioning that Abū Baṣīr was one of the select companions of Imam Bāqir (a) and Imam Ṣādiq (a) and there are numerous traditions mentioning the intensity of his knowledge and awareness in regards to the aforementioned topic. A question which is sometimes posed is why Abū Baṣīr asked such a question if he himself was capable of seeing such a manifestation; in addition, why did the Imam (a) respond by asking ‘do you not see him right now’? The answer to this question has been articulated by Fayḍ Kāshānī when he says: “Everyone sees the manifestations of God, but the select few understand what they see, while the masses do not’, and as the late leader of the Islamic revolution would say: “They seek the truth, yet don’t even know what it is; they are in the water, and yet they look for the Euphrates.”

Thus, with this statement of the imam and his words of wisdom and truth regarding faith, Abu Basir was awakened and reached cognition of what he was witnessing all along but was unaware of. It is clear that such an awareness was achieved by Abu Basir, a sign of this being that he got the answer to his question and didn’t continue asking the imam anything else; instead he asked if he could narrate this for others, and was given a negative reply.

For further research on the subjects of Tajjalli, Wahdat al-Wujud, and recognition of the Imam (a), please refer to the following links:

Wahdat al-Wujud, 4639 (Site: 5148).

The Complete Human Being, 3146 (Site: 4812).

The Meaning of Imam Ali (a) Being the ‘Face of God’, 15991 (Site: 15727).

 


[1] Saduq, Al-Tawhid, p. 117, chapter on what has been said in respect to seeing God, hadith 20, Jame’eye Modarresin Press, Qum, 1979.

[2] Kulaynī, Al-Kāfī, vol. 1, p. 98, Bāb Fī Ibṭāl al-Ruʾyat, vol. 20, Jamiʿah Mudarisīn Publications, Qum, 1979.

[3]عمیت عین لا تراک”, Imam Husayn, Arafah Supplication.

[4] Surah Baqarah, Verse 115.

[5] Surah Fusilat, Verse 54.

 

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