What Does Nearness To Allah Mean?

Our familiarity with the derived and colloquial meanings that we use in social life often results in error and mistake. It happens that words which are used in Islamic sciences have abandoned their real meaning, and have found a derived and commonly used meaning. Now, when we use the word `nearness' outside of its colloquial meaning, we intend it in its real meaning: that is, we may say: `there is a spring near that hill', or `I myself went near that hill'. Here we are using `near' in its real sense. That is to say that we really do conceive of distance and nearness as the intermediate space as far as the hill, and we use the word `nearness' to indicate that that distance - which is a real fact, not just something we have agreed upon - has been reduced.

But when we say that so-and-so is close or near to someone of eminence in society, or we say that so-and-so, because of some service he rendered, became close to this or that person of social standing, what do we mean? Is the meaning that the distance between the two has decreased; for example, before he was within five hundred metres and now he is within a hundred metres? Of course not; if it were so, than a servant in someone's house would auto- matically be more favoured than anyone else in nearness to him.

Our meaning is rather that the servant, as a result of his service, influences his master's state of mind, and thus the latter becomes pleased with him when before he was not pleased, or he becomes more pleased, and in the end, because of this, the master bestows more favour on him than before. So the use of nearness here is a figurative use, not a literal one; in reality, the external existence of one person is not fixed in nearness to the external existence of another. Rather, because of the special psychological relationship which exists between the master and the servant and its effects, which in this particular relationship derive from the psychological situation, the term `nearness' is defined figuratively and by comparison.

What, then, is `nearness' to the Being of al -Haqq ? is it literal nearness or figurative nearness? Are the slaves of Allah, through submission, worship, conduct and purity moving up towards Allah, and thus becoming nearer to Him? Is the distance between them becoming shorter; to that point at which distance vanishes, and, in the Qur'anic expression, "meeting with the Lord" (liqa'u'r-rabb) takes place? Or, if all these expressions are figurative expressions, then what is `approaching near to' Allah?

Of course, Allah has no nearness or distance. Nearness to Allah is exactly like closeness to someone of social eminence; that is to say, Allah acquires satisfaction from His slave, and, in the end, His grace and favour is returned and it increases. Of course, another question then arises, and that is: what is Allah's satisfaction? Allah is not a locus of events such that He could be dissatisfied with someone, and later become satisfied, or be satisfied with someone and then become dissatisfied. Inevitably the answer comes that the expressions `satisfaction' and 'dissatis- faction' are also figurative expressions, the object of works for Divine mercy and favour which come in the form of obedience and devotion and nothing else.

So what is this mercy and favour? Here there are different reasonings. Some divide mercies and favours generally into spiritual and material. Spiritual blessings, for example, wisdom and the joy acquired through it, and material blessings, for example, the Garden of Paradise, the maidens and palaces (of Paradise). Others, even though they acknowledge spiri- tual mercies, also reject them, and confine the favours and positions of men in nearness to Allah to the Garden, the physical paradises, the maidens and palaces, apples and pears." The result of the argument of the latter group is that the meaning of `the friends (wali) of Allah' becoming closer to the Being of Oneness is that he has the right to more maidens, palaces, apples, pears, garden and orchard than another person.

The meaning of what the deniers of true nearness say is that, the result of devotion and worship is not that there is a difference in the relation of Allah to His slave (as the supporters of real nearness also acknowledge in this mat - ter), and not that there is a difference in the relation of the slave to Allah. From the point of view of nearness and distance the foremost individuals of the human world, the Prophet, and the most wretched of them, such as Phar- aoh or Abu Jahl24 are equal.

The truth of the matter is that this con- fusion originates from a kind of materialistic thinking about Allah and man, especially about man. Someone who only knows man as a heap of water and clay, and does not wish to acknow- ledge the fundamental; So when I have shaped him and breathed My Spirit into him (15:29), and does not even want to consign a figurative meaning to this expression, has no remedy against the denial of real nearness to al-Haqq. But what need is there for us to . suppose that man is so lowly and mundane that we are forced to give everything an allegorical explana tion and justification? Allah is pure perfection and infiniteness, and from the point of view of reality existence is the same as perfection, and every true perfection returns back to the reality of existence which is true reality, as with know- ledge, power, life, will, mercy, goodness, and more.

Existents, in the source of their creation, in every respect in which they share in a more perfect existence, that is to say, a more powerful and stronger existence with the Divine Essence which is absolute existence and pure transcen- dence, are nearer; naturally the angels are nearer to Allah than inanimate things and plants, and similarly some angels are more in advance than others. Some have control over and are obeyed by others: and remoteness is connected with the source of creation, and, as they say, is con- nected with the arc of descent.

Existents, especially man, according to; surely we belong to Allah and to Him we shall return (2:156), return to Allah. Man, according to the degree of his existence, must make that return in the form of obedience and in acts of free-will and the accomplishment of his duty, and in the form of choice and liberty. Man truly passes through stages and degrees of nearness to his Lord by travelling the way of obedience to his Lord; in other words he journeys from the station of animality to the station above the angels. This ascension and rising is not a matter of formality and routine, it is not an arrange- ment or a construct of our minds, it is not a kind of promotion from simply belonging to some ministry to being a minister, or from simply being a party member to being a party leader, rather it is an ascendence of the ladder of existence, which is the same thing as the increasing and completion of knowledge, power, life, purpose, will, extending the bounds of penetration and possession. "Nearness to Allah" means really passing through the degrees and stations of being and becoming nearer to the infinite centre of being.

Therefore, it is impossible for man, as a result of devotion, servitude, and travelling the path of submission not to reach the station of the angel, not to go higher than the angel, or at least not to share to the same extent as the angel in the attainments of being. In order to make clear the station of man, the Qur'an has said We said to the angels: "Bow yourselves down to Adam!" So they bowed them- selves, save Iblis, who refused (2:34). Truly, it must be said, the repudiator of the station of man, whoever he may be is Iblis.

THE OUTWARD LIFE AND THE LIFE OF MEANING Man has, within his outward, animal

existence, a spiritual life. Man's spiritual life, the preparedness for which is in every individual, originates in the growth and perfection of his actions and aims. The perfection and felicity of man, and hence his descent and wickedness, are dependent on his spiritual life which is related to his actions and intentions and goals and to what aim and purpose he progresses by the vehicle of his deeds.

Our attention to the precepts of Islam is only from the direction related to individual and social mundane existence. However, there is no doubt that Islamic precepts are saturated with a philosophy of life covering all matters. Islam never despises the problems of life or deems them of no significance. From the point of view of Islam, spirituality has no separate existence from life in this world. Just as, if the spirit became separate from the body it would no longer belong to this world and another world would have to determine its destiny, spirituality separate from life also does not belong to this world, and talk of spirituality subtracted from life in this world is absurd.

But it must not be thought that the phil- osophy of Islamic precepts is confined to questions of this life; not at all. At any rate, the application of these precepts is the means of travelling the path of servitude and jour- neying on the way of nearness and of perfecting existence. Man has a movement towards inward perfection which is outside the limits of the body and matter and individual and social life, and has its source in a chain of spiritual sta- tions. Man, by his submission and sincerity, takes part in that movement. He witnesses, sometimes in this world, and, if not, in the next world where the veils have been removed, all the stations which he passes through, which are these stations and degrees of nearness, Wilayah - The Station of the Master and in the end of wilayah.

Prophethood and Wilayah:

al-`Allamah at-Tabataba'i has written: The commands and principles of the din, one section of which are these social regula- tions, form, exoterically, a series of social concepts, and the connection of these with felicity and wretchedness in the next world , or, in simple religious terminology, with the blessings of Paradise and the afflictions of Hell, depends on realities which come into existence by means of the practice of these principles and regu- lations or the non-practice of them by man, and which are stored behind the curtains of perceptions, and become mani- fest and revealed after his transition to the second coming forth (the life of the next world) and the tearing of the curtains of heedlessness and the veil of egoism. So underneath the veil, the social life which man spends in the observance of religious principles is a living event and a spiritual life, in which the blessings of the next world and its everlasting felicities originate.

Or, expressed in another way, they are its phenomenalization. This is a fact and reality which has been given the name wilayah. Nubuwwah (prophethood) is a reality which gains access to the religious commandments and Divine precepts related to life, and imparts them to people, and wilayah is a reality which comes into existence as the result of the putting into practice in man of what was caused to descend through the Prophet and the Divine precepts.

Imam - The Bearer of Wilayah:

Concerning the testimony relating to wilayah and its bearer, the Imam, and the fact that the human world is never without a man who is the bearer of wilayah (the Perfect Man), al-`Allamah at-Tabataba' i has written In proving and making certain the way of wilayah in which man travels through the degrees of inward perfection, and becomes a dweller in the station of Divine nearness, there can be no doubt, because the exoteric aspects of the din cannot be conceived of The Outward Life and the Life of Meaning without an inward reality; and the scheme of the Creator, Who provided man with the exoteric aspects of the din (practical, ethical and social precepts) and Who sum- moned him to His side, will necessarily make ready this inward reality which is the link between the exoteric aspects of the din and the station of the spirit; and the evidence which gives instruction in the human world through the witness and perpetuity of prophethood (the shari`ahs and the commandments) and establishes the regulations of the din also gives guid- ance through the evidence, perpetuity and actuality of the establishment of wilayah.

So how is it conceivable that one of the levels of tawhid, or one of the command- ments of the din actually has a living mandate as long as the inward reality which it necessitates does not exist, or as long as the link between the world of man and that level is severed. Someone who is the holder of the degrees of nearness, and is the leader of the caravan of the people of wilayah, and preserves the link between humanity and that reality is called, in the language of the Qur'an, Imam." The Imam is someone who has authority on behalf of Allah (al- Haqq), may He be praised, for leadership in the way of wilayah, and who has taken the reins of spiritual guidance into his hands Wilayah, which makes the hearts of the slaves of Allah shine, is the rays and beams of light from the centre of light which is with Him, and strewn blessings -particles from the shoreless sea which is near to Him.

In Usul al-Kafi, in the chapter, "The Imams are the Light of Allah", it is narrated from Abu Khalid al-Kabuli that he said: "I asked al-Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s.) about this ayah :.

Therefore believe in Allah and His Mess- enger and the Light which We have sent down (64:8). The Imam then expounded on the meaning of this ayah and said: `By Allah, O Abu Khalid, the Light of the Imam in the hearts of the people of iman (who are under the influence of his sovereignty) is brighter than the light of the sun during the day.' "

The Outward Life and the Life of Meaning

The meaning is that it is a great mistake to restrict the purpose, the intention, the inward and outward aspects of the precepts of the din only to the results that ensue according to the perspective of this life; and to interpret nearness to Allah, which is the direct result of the true practice of these actions, as a derived or figu- rative matter of the same kind of nearness to the "Lords of wealth and power" in this world, without there being an active design in the spiritual, real life of man, and without it raising him, in reality, up the ladder of existence.

Those who really become close to the centre of being, naturally enjoy its benefits, and these are the ones who are fully conversant with the world of man and who take within their authority the spirits and hearts of others, and are the witnesses of the deeds of others.

Fundamentally, every existent who takes a step forward on the path of the completion of his own destiny, and travels through one of the stages in the perfection of his self, walks the road of approach to al-Haqq. Man is also an existent in this world, and the way to his perfection is not only that he should progress, so to speak, in what is today called civilization - that is, a series of sciences and technical skills which are effective and useful in the amelior- ation of this life, or a series of customs and traditions which are requisites of the improved life of society. If we envisage man only on this level, then this really is what it is all about, but man has another way, another future, which is obtained through the refinement of the soul and through acquaintance with the ultimate goal, that is to say, with the Most Purified Essence of Unity.