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Last Updated: 2012/04/10
Summary of question
Why do some Shiite mystics and scholars renounce the world and divinely gifted halāl pleasures and bounties?
question
The Holy Quran says: "قُلْ مَنْ حَرَّمَ زینَةَ اللَّهِ الَّتی‏ أَخْرَجَ لِعِبادِهِ وَ الطَّیِّباتِ مِنَ الرِّزْقِ قُلْ هِیَ لِلَّذینَ آمَنُوا فِی الْحَیاةِ الدُّنْیا خالِصَةً یَوْمَ الْقِیامَةِ كَذلِكَ نُفَصِّلُ الْآیاتِ لِقَوْمٍ یَعْلَمُون" “Say: Who has prohibited the embellishment of Allah which He has brought forth for His servants and the good provisions? Say: These are for the believers in the life of this world, purely (theirs) on the resurrection day; thus do We make the communications clear for a people who know.” The question is: Why do some Shiite mystics and scholars renounce the world and God-gifted halāl pleasures and bounties? What is their disregard for worldly affairs for? In other words, why do they suffice with the minimum from this world? On the other hand, we know that most of them were not religious authorities, nor public role models but unknown mystics and scholars. This begs the question: Why did they not benefit from the halāl bounties that God had bestowed upon them?
Concise answer

The divine bounties and pleasures are not restricted to worldly and material things; rather they also include spiritualities which for many people entail greater pleasures. The mystics and pious ones have availed themselves of spiritual pleasures rather than worldly possession and advantages. They reached high spiritual and scientific ranks by benefitting themselves from spiritualities and sufficing with the minimum from this material world. Meanwhile, it should be noted that the religious doctrines say that the worldly bounties have been created for believers. The same verse says that you should “know that that this world's life is only sport and play and gaiety and boasting among yourselves”.

The leader of the mystics, Imam Ali (A.S.) also describe the pious one as such: “Their needs are scanty.” Therefore, the more a man makes progress in knowledge and cognition, the more insignificant do the worldly pleasures seem to him. The pious scholars have inherited simplicity from the Commander of the Faithful and Leader of the Pious, Ali (A.S.), he who despite having worldly means, sufficed with a pair of clothes and two loaves of bread.

Obviously, this behavior on the part of those who, in their society or in their little community and place of residence, are known as role models, can be highly effective as it had been the case throughout the history.

Detailed Answer

In order to have a better understanding of the verse in question, we draw your attention to following few points:

1. As we know, halāl is a term designating any object or an action which is permissible to use or engage in, according to Islamic law. The term is also used to designate food or a drink seen as permissible according to Islamic law. It does not mean that something which is halāl is obligatory by extension.

2. Permissibility of using or doing something has its degrees or levels. Perhaps, sleeping at night is one of the halāl actions and a cause of tranquility of the body and soul[1] but staying awake and engaging in supplication and communication with God would cause more tranquility of the body and soul for some people.

3. As well, the spiritual bounties and pleasures are not restricted to worldly and material things; rather they also include spiritualities which for many entail greater pleasures. The mystics and pious ones have availed themselves of spiritual pleasures rather than worldly possession and advantages. They attained high spiritual and scientific ranks by benefitting themselves from spiritualities and sufficing with the minimum from this material world.

4. As we know, the teaching of the Holy Quran cannot be judged from a single angle or perspective. In fact, the Quranic topics have to be seen and studied with a view to the verses of the Quran, their occasions of revelation as well as the narrations from the Infallibles. The Quranic verses interpret one another[2] in the same way as the narrations interpret the verses.

5. If the religious doctrines say that the worldly bounties have been created for believers the same doctrines say the believers should suffice with the minimum from this material life. God, the Exalted says in the Holy Quran: “Know ye (all), that the life of this world is but play and amusement, pomp and mutual boasting and multiplying, (in rivalry) among yourselves, riches and children. Here is a similitude: How rain and the growth which it brings forth, delight (the hearts of) the tillers; soon it withers; thou wilt see it grow yellow; then it becomes dry and crumbles away. But in the Hereafter is a Penalty severe (for the devotees of wrong). And Forgiveness from Allah and (His) Good Pleasure (for the devotees of Allah). And what is the life of this world, but goods and chattels of deception?”[3]

The leader of the mystics, Imam Ali (A.S.) also describes the pious ones and God-fearing people as such: "فالمتقین ... و حاجاتهم [4]خفیفة" The God-fearing… their needs are scanty. Therefore, the more a man makes progress in knowledge and cognition, the more insignificant do the worldly pleasures seem to him.  If there had not been fixed periods (of life) ordained for each, their spirits would not have remained in their bodies even for the twinkling of an eye because of (their) eagerness for the reward and fear of chastisement. The greatness of the Creator is seated in their heart, and, so, everything else appears small in their eyes. Thus to them Paradise is as though they see it and are enjoying its favors. To them, Hell is also as if they see it and are suffering punishment in it.[5]

The pious scholars have inherited simplicity from the Commander of the Faithful and Leader of the Pious, Ali (A.S.), he who despite having worldly means sufficed with the minimum from this world:

"أَلَا وَ إِنَّ إِمَامَكُمْ قَدِ اكْتَفَى مِنْ دُنْيَاهُ بِطِمْرَيْهِ وَ مِنْ طَعْمِهِ بِقُرْصَيْهِ أَلَا وَ إِنَّكُمْ لَا تَقْدِرُونَ عَلَى ذَلِكَ وَ لَكِنْ أَعِينُونِي بِوَرَعٍ وَ اجْتِهَادٍ وَ عِفَّةٍ وَ سَدَادٍ"[6]

“Now look to your Imam (Imam Ali (a) meant himself). In this world he has satisfied himself with two old, torn and coarse garments and two pieces of bread (one in the morning and one in the evening). I know that to adopt such a hard way of life is beyond you but at least try to be pious. Try to follow me and be my companion in virtue, piety and simple living.”

The Imam also says, “Certainly, Allah, the Sublime, has made it obligatory on true leaders that they should maintain themselves at the level of low people so that the poor do not cry over their poverty.”[7]

Obviously, this behavior on the part of those who, in their society or in their little community and place of residence, are known as role models, can be highly effective as it had been the case throughout the history.

 


[1] - Al-Furqan, 47, "وَ هُوَ الَّذي جَعَلَ لَكُمُ اللَّيْلَ لِباساً وَ النَّوْمَ سُباتاً ..."  And He it is Who made the night a covering for you, and the sleep a rest…”

[2] - Majlisi, Muhammad Baqir, Behar al-Anwar, vol.29, p. 352, al-Wafa Institute, Beirut, 1409.

[3] - Al-Hadid, 20.

[4] - Nahjul Balaghah, sermon Hammam (193).

[5] - Ibid.

[6] - Nahjul Balaghah, letter 45 (Letter to Uthman bin Hunayf).

[7] - Nahjul Balaghah, 209: "إِنَّ اللَّهَ تَعَالَى فَرَضَ عَلَى أَئِمَّةِ الْعَدْلِ أَنْ يُقَدِّرُوا أَنْفُسَهُمْ بِضَعَفَةِ النَّاسِ كَيْلَا يَتَبَيَّغَ بِالْفَقِيرِ فَقْرُهُ"

 

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