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How to grow and develop, according to Imam Ali (a.s.)*

Translated by: Manal Samhat

By His Eminence, the Religious Authority, Sayyed Muhammad Hussein Fadlullah (ra)

Imam Ali (a.s.) has talked a lot about fanaticism and its destructive impacts on individuals and groups alike, and he mentioned many things that are capable of immunizing people against this repugnant immoral disease and attaching them to the human values, which, if they abide to, will make them ascend, progress, grow and open up to the positions of strength in the world.

The role of cognitive experience

As we go through this issue, we notice that Imam Ali (a.s.) calls on us to study the history of the nations in all their points of weakness and strength determined according to their negative experiences that were harmful to their situations or the positive experiences that elevated their level. The Imam (a.s.) actually wants the people to study the thought, any thought, in its theoretical and practical framework and to examine its influences on the ground, when experienced, for experience, scientifically speaking, proves what the thought truly is. A negative experience of a negative thought will prove that if such a thought is applied in reality, it will lead to negative results in man’s life, while a positive experience that is based on a positive thought will definitely prove how realistic this thought is and confirm its positive effects on man’s life.

And we know that cognition and knowledge in Islam are based on two aspects:

1- The aspect of contemplation, that is when an idea is brought up and man tries to use his mind to contemplate its elements and determine how realistic it can be, and this is the approach of the philosophers throughout history.

2- The aspect of experience, whereby Islam came to base knowledge on experience. It is narrated that Imam Ali (a.s.) said: “Experience is a created mind”.

Experience, through its dynamism and extensions, represents the mental knowledge practiced on the ground, and it is narrated in a Hadith by Imam Ali (a.s.), in which he calls on people to benefit from experience, that he said: “The best of what you experienced is what gives you advice”.

Experience extends on two lines:

The first line is the experience you acquire from your personal practices, for you go through bitterness and sweetness, repulsiveness and pleasantness and goodness and evilness to unravel from within these traits the good and bad elements they entail, which determines the nature of what you went through whether positively or negatively.

The second line is the others’ experiences, whereby history, throughout time, shows you the experiences of others in the private and public lives. On the one hand, there are those who confronted the prophets, rebelled against them, stood against their movement in society and stirred conflicts, disagreements and seditions that are based on negative values, spearheaded by fanaticism. On the other hand, there are those who sided with them and demonstrated unity, amiability, harmony, accord and integration, values that if any nation upholds will be undertaking the line that leads to goodness and peace and lays the foundation for civilization, which could lead to development in knowledge and science and progress in the movement of openness, awareness and so on.

Lessons from past experiences

We know this from the Quranic revelation that talked about stories from the past about people who opposed the prophets and persecuted them and others who believed in them and helped them, whereby Allah mentioned the bad and good results of each action. This is evident in Allah’s saying: “In their histories there is certainly a lesson for men of understanding” (12:111), and the lesson here stands for the knowledge man acquires from experience after studying its nature and results.

We notice in several Ayahs a call for man to look into the effects of the past people and study how they rebelled, how they failed and the chastisement Allah punished them with due to the rebellion they demonstrated against Allah and His messengers. Allah says: “Therefore travel in the land, then see what was the end of the rejecters” (16:36), and: “So how many a town did We destroy while it was unjust, so it was fallen down upon its roofs, and (how many a) deserted well and palace raised high. Have they not travelled in the land so that they should have hearts with which to understand…” (22:46) and: “Have they not travelled in the earth and seen how the end of those before them was? They were stronger than these in prowess, and dug up the earth, and built on it in greater abundance than these have built on it, and there came to them their messengers with clear arguments; so it was not beseeming for Allah that He should deal with them unjustly, but they dealt unjustly with their own souls” (30:09) and several other Ayahs.

Therefore, in his sermon, Imam Ali (a.s.) was urging us to comprehend history by studying its experiences, for he said: “You should also fear what calamities befell peoples before you”, and calamities here are the punishments they received as a result of their deviation from the straight path, “on account of their evil deeds and detestable actions”, which they carried out and led to bad results, “so remember”, as we recall the past and try to grasp its effects and situations, “during good or bad circumstances what happened to them”, meaning to study all the positions of goodness they had and their results and all the positions of evil they had and their results, so as not to pass as mere memories and rather have stands whereby we deduce the right thoughts that establish goodness in one’s life. In the end, he called on us to “be cautious that we do not become like them”; i.e. not to follow them and adopt their methodology and consequently be entrapped with what they were entrapped with and suffer from what they suffered from. He continued to say: “After you have thought over both the conditions of these people, attach yourself to everything with which their position became honorable”, explaining the elements of goodness and success and how they upheld honor that is based on strength, for there is no such thing as honor without strength, be it a spiritual strength, a physical strength or the strength of one’s stand that prevents others from offending or ending him.

“On account of which enemies remained away from them”, so try to understand what kept the enemies far from them when they saw them arming themselves with strength, as well as with dignity and honor, “through which safety spread over them”, meaning that safety was reached after trials and after offenses having acquired the elements of honor, “by reason of which riches bowed before them”, for when they communicate and complement and strengthen each other, it would be natural that all the riches will be provided for them, for they increase through the development and investment process and as one attains gains and profits here and there, “and as a result of which privilege connected itself with their rope”, where Allah privileged them and showered them with His mercy, thus attaching this privilege to them.

“These things were abstention from division, sticking to unity”, and all that happened because they rejected division which could have disrupted their society and ended their unity. Division leads to each party standing against the other with all the aggressiveness and negativity entailed. And once this happens, the enemies will make use of that to destroy the society. So, the people here avoided division and stuck to unity, whilst opening their hearts to one another.

Holding fast by Allah’s covenant

This is what we inspire from Allah’s saying: “And hold fast, all together, by the rope which Allah (stretches out for you), and be not divided among yourselves”, where each party attaches its rope to the rope of the others, through the unity of the rope [Allah stretches out], which signifies Islam in a Hadith and the Quran in another. Whatever it may be, it is undoubtedly the line that attaches all people to Allah: “and remember with gratitude Allah's favor on you; for ye were enemies” before you embraced Islam and before the Messenger of Allah brought you together over belief in Allah to open up to all the spiritual values and practical piety.

This Ayah was revealed about Aws and Khazraj, the two main tribes that constituted the community of Al-Ansar (the Supporters) in Medina, when some Jews tried to make them return to the history of fanaticism, so as to stir their sensitivities and drive them to engage in a conflict and perhaps even fighting: “and He joined your hearts in love” (03:103), and what is meant by hearts in the Quran is the minds, and perhaps even one’s innermost, including one’s emotions, feelings and reactions. Once the hearts are joined in love, they open up to each other and maintain unity in terms of the line followed and results achieved.

Allah has consecrated this unity between the believers through His kindness and mercy, as expressed in the Ayah: “Had you spent all that is in the earth, you could not have united their hearts, but Allah united them” (08:63). Allah also says in another Ayah: “Therefore do remind, for you are only a reminder. You are not a watcher over them” (88:21-22), for you do not own people’s hearts, rather you own the means that could open the hearts and make people come together. Money cannot bring two hearts, two minds, and two directions together; rather, it solves a certain problem, and satisfies one’s greed. It is Allah Who unites them, for He owns people’s hearts and He is the Changer of the hearts.

Call each other to unity

In his sermon, Imam Ali (a.s.) continues to say: “calling each other to it and advising each other about it”, for it is not enough just not to disperse or just to unite. Rather, each one of you should carry the message of rejecting division and calling for unity, for it is necessary to urge people to maintain unity and to call one another to adopt it. This is what Allah wanted us to do and this is what He made clear in Al-Asr Surah: “and enjoin on each other right, and enjoin on each other patience” (103:03). It is not enough to believe in the right; you should call for it too, and the right is all what elevates people’s level to bring them closer to Allah and closer to their [best] interests.

Therefore, through the significations of these connotations, you ought to open up to all the values, for it is insufficient to follow the values, and you should urge people and enjoin them to follow them too. The truth is that Islam wants every Muslim to call for piety besides adopting and following it, for Allah says: “And from among you there should be a party who invite to good and enjoin what is right and forbid the wrong” (03:104).

Then, the Imam (a.s.) moves in this sermon to highlight the negative aspects, so he says: “You avoid everything which broke their backbone”, and the backbone here signifies the pillar on the basis of which the society is founded, as compared to the backbone that once broken will make man lose his upright posture and no longer walk the way he should, “and weakened their power” and strength, “such as malice in the heart”, where each heart holds grudge against the other, and naturally, grudge entails hatred and enmity; thus, leading to the collapse of the entire society, “hatred in the chest”, whereby chests that signify one’s internal feelings and emotions would also embody grudge and act according to it with people, “turning away (from each other's help)” whereby each would turn his back to the other and go in a different direction and take an opposing stand regardless of whatever could bring them together in this respect “and withholding the hand from one another's assistance”, whereby one would not give the other a hand especially when he is offended by people.

Thinking about the past people’s conditions

After establishing the positive and negative points, the Imam (a.s.) continues to say: “Think about the condition of people from among the believers who passed before you”, for there were believing communities who lived in history, believed in the prophets and undertook the line of uprightness. Study “what distresses and trials they were in”, when they faced trouble and hardships in life as a result of life’s pressures or the others’ aggressions upon them. And we know that trial examines man, for when Allah sends a trial upon someone, He would actually be testing him to see whether he will face it with poise or he will fail. “Were they not the most over-burdened among all the people”, referring that they shouldered huge responsibilities and burdens and faced big problems in a way that made them distinguished from other people “and the ones tried the most”, meaning that in any trial they encountered, they would face fatigue and hardships in a way no other would.

Were they not “in the most straitened circumstances in the whole world?” through the financial, security or health-related distresses they faced. “The Pharaohs took them as slaves. They inflicted on them the worst punishments”, and this is the state of the believers during the time of Prophet Moses (a.s.) where the Pharaohs took them as slaves and persecuted them, killed their children and enslaved their women. This is evident in Allah’s saying: “And certainly We delivered the children of Israel from the abasing chastisement, from Firon; surely he was haughty, (and) one of the extravagant. And certainly We chose them, having knowledge, above the nations, and We gave them of the communications wherein was clear blessing” (44:30-33) and: “Surely Firon exalted himself in the land and made its people into parties, weakening one party from among them; he slaughtered their sons and let their women live; surely he was one of the mischief-makers” (28:04).

They also inflicted on them “bitter sufferings”, and bitterness here signifies hardship, adversity and trial. “They continuously remained in this state of ruinous disgrace and severe subjugation”, meaning that they faced death and perdition, as well as the subjugation of Pharaoh through his dominion. “They found no method for escape” from what is imposed on them “and no way for protection” from what they are targeted with “till when Allah, the Glorified, noticed that they were patiently and steadfastly enduring troubles in His love” so they were patient and did not fall or worry “and bearing distresses out of fear from Him”; because they feared Allah, they refused to recognize the divinity of Pharaoh and they followed Moses (a.s.). So, Allah “provided escape from the distress of trials”, for He says: “And whoever is careful of (his duty to) Allah, He will make for him an outlet” (65:02), and “He changed their disgrace into honor and fear into safety. Consequently, they became ruling kings and conspicuous leaders”, when Allah drowned Pharaoh, “and Allah’s favors over them reached limits to which their own wishes had not reached”.  

A lecture given by His Eminence, the Religious Authority, Sayyed Muhammad Hussein Fadlullah (ra) on 12/03/1428 H., 31/03/2007 A.D.

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