The greatest damage of our time is speaking of freedom and confining it to social freedom. Spiritual freedom is never spoken of and, in consequence, social freedom is not secured. A great crime is committed in our time in the form of philosophy and philosophical schools totally ignoring the human being, its personality, spiritual honor and God’s revelation, “I breathed into him of My Spirit,” is quite forgotten. They deny that the human being has two aspects an animal side and a human one. They claim that this human being is no different from animals and is subject to the survival of the fittest. This means that each individual’s effort is for his or her own interests. Can you imagine how much damage this attitude has done to humanity?
Say, oh people of the Book! Come now to a word common between us and you that
we worship none but God and that we associate not aught with Him and do not some
of us take others as Lord, apart from God. (3:64)
The subject of our discussion is spiritual freedom. The points that I wish to
submit to this gathering tonight are as follows: Firstly, the nature of freedom;
secondly, how many kinds of freedom there are though I confine myself to two
types here, namely, spiritual freedom and social freedom and thirdly, the
relationship between these two types of freedom and the extent to which
spiritual freedom is possible without social freedom and vice versa. The
discussion will mainly be centered round the last point, namely, the connection
between the two types of freedom.
I begin my discourse with a point which is relevant to this occasion, the
birthday anniversary of Hadrat Ali, the Master (mawla) of the virtuous, peace be
upon him. One of the words we often use in connection with his personality is
the word master and master of the virtuous and master of the masters. When we
quote his sayings we add one of the above epithets instead of his name.
This epithet was first used by the Holy Prophet about him in his famous remark,
"Ali is a master for him who accepts me as his master (when he lifted him up to
present him to his followers), an uttering unanimously affirmed by both the
Shi’ites and the Sunnis.
The word has also appeared in the Holy Quran, "If you both turn to God then
indeed your hearts are already inclined (to this); and if you hack up each other
against him, then surely God is Who is his Master and Gabriel and the believers
that do good, and the angels after that are the aiders. " (66:4)
What does the word master mean? I do not wish to go into great lengths about it
tonight but to be brief. The original meaning of it is ‘proximity’ of two things
which are close to one another. Therefore it is sometimes used with two opposite
meanings. For example, God is said to be the Master of His servants. It is also
used to mean a master or even a slave. Another meaning of it is both liberator
In which sense, then, did the Prophet use the word ‘mawla’ in his utterance
meaning, "As I am a master and friend to a person, then Ali is his master and
friend." I have no intention of saying which meaning was, in my opinion,
expressed here. But in connection with my discourse I may mention that the poet
Jalalul-din Rumi has tastefully used the word in his Mathnavi and taken it to
The word occurs in chapter six of his work in a well-known story of the woman
and the treacherous judge. In this story the judge wants to hide in a chest. He
is hidden there and the chest is given to a porter to carry. The judge begs the
porter with the promise of a fine reward to go and find the judge’s assistant to
come and buy the chest. The assistant comes and buys the chest. Here the poet
makes a digression to say, "All of us are confined in the chest of the lustful
body without being aware of it and we need liberating prophets and apostles to
deliver and save us."
Then he goes on to say;
It was for this reason that the assiduous Prophet Applied the word Master to
himself and Ali
Saying whoever has me as his master and friend
Must have Ali, my cousin, as his master too.
Who is a master? He is one who liberates you.
And removes the fetters from your legs.
This is really true whether the Prophet’s remark, "Whoever has me as his master
has Ali as his master," would have the same meaning or not, that is, whether he
used the word master to mean that he and Ali were liberators or not. The fact
remains that every rightful Prophet is sent to liberate people and every
rightful Imam possesses the same quality.
Now let us see what is the meaning of freedom and liberty. Freedom is a
requisite of life and evolution and one of the greatest needs of living
creatures, whether they are plants, animals or human beings. The difference in
their freedom lies in their differences of structure. The human being needs a
freedom beyond that of plants and animals. Every living thing must grow and find
perfection. It cannot remain stationary. Solids do not grow so they have no need
of freedom. But living creatures need three things for their growth and
evolution: nurturing, security and freedom.
Nurturing consists of a number of factors required by living creatures for their
growth . For example, a plant needs soil and water as well as light and heat in
order to grow. An animal needs food and other things. A human being’s needs are
the same as those of plants and animals plus a series of other needs which would
come under the heading of nurturing, all of which are like food for it. How can
one live without food? The faculty of nourishment is a necessary asset to a
The next requisite of a living being is security. What does security mean? It
means being able to keep the means and equipment necessary for living. It should
not be withheld from them by an enemy or a foreign power. Next to this nurturing
it needs security in order to keep its life and wealth and health and belongings
safe against aggression.
The third need is freedom. What does freedom mean? It means the absence of
obstacles in the way of growth. For example, in growing a plant, in addition to
other requisites, you must provide a suitable environment for it and remove all
obstacles. If you plant a tree under a roof, you are depriving it of free space
above to attain its full growth. Thus every living being needs freedom for its
growth and evolution. What is this freedom? It is the absence of barriers. Free
persons are those who fight against all obstacles set in their way of growth and
perfection. They do not submit to obstacles.
Now we must see what types of freedom there are. The human being is a peculiar
being and his or her life is a social one, in addition to being a complex
creature in his or her individual life. Human beings are quite different from
plants and animals; they have certain other needs which may be divided into two
kinds. One of them is social freedom. What does social freedom mean? It means
having freedom in connection with other individuals in society, so that they do
not hinder their growth, do not imprison them to check their activities, do not
exploit or enslave them, do not exploit all their physical and mental powers in
their own interests. This is called social freedom which may in its turn be of
One of the greatest problems of human beings throughout history has been this
same abuse of power by powerful elements in subjugating others and enslaving
them so as to enjoy the whole fruits of their lives and labor.
Do you know what exploitation means? It means picking someone else’s fruits. For
each person his or her essence is a fruitful tree and his or her labor and
thoughts are the product of that tree. This crop must be his or hers. But when
others seize these fruits by one means or another, we say a person is exploited
by another or others. Throughout history one person has been exploited by
another person or a people by another people or enslaved by them. Or at least
they have been deprived of the opportunity to give the exploiter a greater
chance to secure maximum benefits. For example, suppose a piece of land belongs
to two men but one of them who is stronger takes possession of the whole land
and expels the other or employs him as a laborer; that will be a form of
In the Holy Quran, one of the explicit purposes of the prophets has been to
offer mankind social liberty and deliver them from their mutual enslavement. The
Quran is a wonderful Book. Some ideas flourish in a particular period while they
lose their brilliance at other times. But the case is different with the Quran
for its ideas and words possess a permanent lustre and this is something of an
epic and miracle.
One example of which is this idea of social liberty. I do not believe that you
can find a sentence elsewhere or at any time about this matter more lively and
surging than what you meet in the Quran. It has been unrivaled in all the last
three centuries when the motto of philosophers has constantly been liberty. This
is the sentence, "Oh Prophet tell all those who claim to follow a divine book of
the past (to the Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians or perhaps even the Sabeans
whose name occurs in the Quran and to all people who follow a previous divine
book) to come and assemble around one tenet and under one banner." (3:64)
What is this banner? The banner consists of two sentences: The first one is that
nothing must be worshipped but the unique God, neither Christ nor any other nor
the devil should be worshipped. Only God. The second one is that ‘none of us
must consider another as his slave or master.’ This means the abolition of the
order of servitude, the system of exploitation, of the exploiter and exploited,
getting rid of inequality and doing away with the right of enslavement. This is
not the only verse about this matter in the Holy Quran. There are many of them
but as I wish to be brief, I will mention a few of them. The Quran, quoting
Moses in his argument with the Pharaoh, quotes the latter’s remarks: "And you
did (that) deed of yours which you did; you are one of the ungrateful." (26:19)
Moses answers, "And is it a favor of which you remind me that you have enslaved
the children of Israel?" (26:22)
The Pharaoh had said to Moses, "You are the man who grew up in our house and at
our table and when you grew up you committed the crime of killing a man." (All
this was meant to make Moses feel lowly and under obligation.) But Moses
answered, "Should I remain silent at your enslavement of my people solely
because I have grown up in your house? I have come to save these slaves."
The late Ayatullah Nai’ni says in his book Tanzih ul-ummah, "Everyone knows that
the tribe of Moses never worshipped the Pharaoh as the Egyptians did but as the
Pharaoh used them as his slaves, the Quran employs the word enslavement as
uttered by Moses." We definitely know that one of the aims of the Prophets is to
establish social freedom and fight against every form of enslavement and social
The world of today, too, considers social freedom as being sacred and if you
have read the universal declaration of human rights, you will see that the major
cause of all wars, bloodshed and misfortunes in the world is that individuals do
not respect the freedom of others. Is the logic of a Prophet so far in accord
with modern logic? Is liberty sacred? Yes, it is sacred and very much so.
The Prophet always feared the Umayyids and was worried about their future in
connection with the Islamic ummah. So he (according to a successive narration)
said, "If the offspring of Ibn Aas reach thirty in number, they will consider
God’s property as their own and God’s servant as their own servants and will
introduce their own innovations in God’s religion."
It is true then that social liberty is sacred. Another kind of liberty is
spiritual freedom. The difference between the Prophets’ school and other human
schools is that the Prophets have come to offer spiritual freedom to mankind as
well as social freedom, the former having a greater value than anything else.
Both social liberty and spiritual freedom are sacred and the former liberty is
not possible without the latter. The trouble with modern human society is that
it tries to safeguard social liberty without seeking spiritual freedom. In fact
it has not the ability to do so, since spiritual freedom is obtainable only
through prophethood and Prophets, and through faith and divine books.
Now let us see what spiritual freedom is. The human being is a complex being
with various powers and instincts, with strength, appetites, anger, greed,
ambition and love of excess. On the other hand, it has been granted reason,
mental and moral conscience. Internally and spiritually the human being may feel
the self free or enslaved. It may be a slave of its greed, lust, anger and love
of excess or it may be free of all these vices. As the poet says,
I tell the truth and feel thereby happy
I am a slave to love and free in both worlds.
A person may be so human that that person is socially free and rejects
abjectness and servitude and preserves social liberty so ethically; that person
also keeps his or her conscience, spirit and intelligence free. This kind of
freedom is called ‘self-purification’ or ‘virtue’ in religion.
Can human beings have social freedom without spiritual freedom? That is, can
they be slaves to their own lust, anger and greed and at the same time respect
the freedom of others? Today they say yes and they practically expect each
person to be a slave to his or her greed, anger and lust and at the same time to
respect social liberty. This is one of the many examples of contradictory ideas
from which human society suffers.
Human beings in ancient times had no respect for freedom and trampled upon it.
Why? Was it because they were ignorant and so they deprived others of their
freedom? Can we say that when they gained wisdom, they found it necessary to
respect the freedom of others? Is this similar to the question of illness? Faced
with sickness, they could rarely find their accidentally-found drugs effective
but now with their increase of knowledge they can afford to discard old
treatments and resort to new and efficacious ones.
We wish to know whether the action of ancient people in depriving others of
their freedom was solely due to ignorance? No. It had nothing to do with
ignorance or knowledge. Human beings were fully aware of their actions which
served their interests.
Was their lack of respect for the rights of others and liberty due to the forms
the law took? If so, could a change of law bring about a change of behavior? For
example, did the abolition of slavery in America really put an end to slavery?
Or did it only change the form of slavery without changing the context? Was this
disregard of the freedom of others due to their way of thinking and their
It was none of these; it was nothing but self-interest. As an individual, the
human being sought only to secure maximum profit for himself and get benefit
from every possible means. Other human beings were one such means for him and he
used them in the same way that he used wood, stone, iron and domestic animals.
When he planted a tree or cut it down, the last thing that he cared about was
the tree itself. He thought only of the way that the tree benefitted him. When
he fattened a sheep and then slaughtered it, what was his purpose but
self-interest? When he enslaved other human beings and deprived them of their
rights, it was to benefit himself. Thus all his actions including trampling on
other people’s liberty were based on self-interests. Is he the same today? Yes.
He is and he has not changed at all. On the contrary, it should be said that his
mouth is even opened wider to swallow more.
Neither science nor law has been able to check greed. The only thing they have
done is to change the form of it. The content is the same with a new cover.
Ancient man was an outspoken being and had not yet reached the state of
hypocrisy. When the Pharaoh enslaved people, he frankly declared to Moses, "What
is your answer, Moses? These are my servants and slaves." (23:48)
The Pharaoh did not hide his deeds of exploitation and enslavement. But today
human beings deprive others of all their rights and freedom in the name of a
free world and under the pretext of defending peace and liberty. Why is it so?
Because human beings lack spiritual freedom and are not virtuous and free in
their souls. Hadrat Ali has an utterance about virtue which, like his other
sayings, is highly worthy, even though to some people it seems old fashioned. He
says, "Divine virtue is the key to every truth, provisions for the resurrection
day, factor of release from any sort of slavery and deliverance from any cause
The phrase shows that virtue delivers the human being from every kind of
servitude and frees him or her spiritually to enable him or her to give freedom
to others. Who, then, is a true liberal in the world? It is men like Ali ibn Abi
Talib, peace be upon him, who stand in the same rank as he or are trained in his
school. For they are, in the first place, liberated from the bonds of self. Ali,
peace be upon him, says, "Shall I content myself with being entitled ‘Amir
ul-muminin’ (the master of the faithful) and how can I oppress anybody for my
Only a person who resembles Ali can truly be free and generous at all times or
is at least his follower and calls his mind and spirit to account. When Ali was
at the altar of prayer, stroking his beard, he said, "Oh worldly things. Oh gold
and silver. Go away and deceive others but Ali, for he has divorced you
forever." Only a person in whose heart and conscience there is a heavenly call
can truly have a respect for people’s rights and liberty without feeling the
slightest hypocrisy. When such a man who possesses such chastity and
spirituality and fears God is in a position of governor, he never feels that he
is a man of power and other men are subjugated by him. Although custom makes
people keep their distance from him, he persuades them not to do so and to come
close to him.
When Ali started his campaign for the battle of Siffin, he reached the town of
Anbar which is now a part of Iraq but was then an old Iranian town. A number of
the great citizens such as the mayor and aldermen had come forth to welcome the
Caliph in a fitting manner, for they imagined Ali to be a royal successor to the
Sassanid Kings. The moment he arrived on horseback, they started running towards
him. Ali called them and asked what they meant by such behavior. They answered
that it was their way of showing respect to their kings and great men. The Imam
told them not to act thus for it meant abasing themselves before their Caliph.
He said, "I am one of you and you are treating me badly by such behavior for you
may (God forbid) fill me with pride and cause me to consider myself superior to
This is what is meant by a generous person who possesses spiritual freedom and
has welcomed the call of the Quran, "To worship nothing other than God " . No
man or stone or heaven or earth or any human attribute is worthy of worship but
God. I will read you a sermon of Ali, peace be upon him, so that you may have an
idea of his generosity and spirituality.
The sermon is rather long and is related to the mutual rights of the governor
and the governed towards one another. Ali as a ruler advises his people to feel
free with him and not to consider their governors as being superior to
themselves. He says, "Do not use for him the expressions they use for tyrants by
which they might abase themselves and elevate them." He wants them to speak with
him as they do with ordinary people.
He says, "If by chance they found him angry and hot-tempered, they should not
lose courage, but should freely state their objections." He continues that they
should not confirm and express agreement with every word and action of his . He
says that they should not suppose their true words to seem to him too heavy to
bear. On the contrary, he would be well pleased to hear truth and proper
criticism. He goes on to say that even though he is their ruler and Caliph and
they are his subjects, they should not praise and flatter him. Then he lays down
a general principle by saying that a man who cannot bear hearing truth will find
it even more difficult to act truly.
Christensen writes that Anushiravan, the Sassanian King, had assembled a number
of people to discuss a matter. He stated his own opinion and everyone agreed
with it. A secretary present, supposing this gathering to be a truly group
discussion was duped into asking permission to express his own view. He did so
and criticized the King’s opinion. The King angrily called him insolent and at
once ordered him to be punished. They knocked him so much on the head with his
own pen box that he died.
In conclusion, Ali makes a request . He begs them never to withhold their true
words and objections and counsels from him.
This is an example of a perfect man who is spiritually free while he enjoys the
rank of a ruler and in this way he grants social liberty to others. I pray God
to make us a follower of Ali, peace be upon him.
And removes from them their burden and the shackles which were upon them.
Last week I mentioned that our discussion consists of three parts: The meaning
of freedom, the two kinds of freedom, namely social and spiritual freedom and
the dependence of these two types of freedom upon one another, especially the
dependence of social freedom on spiritual freedom.
Tonight, I wish to devote myself to the subject of spiritual freedom, its
meaning and its necessity for mankind. This is particularly urgent since today
little attention seems to be paid to spiritual freedom by human societies, which
is the cause of many present troubles. This is so evident that many people
consider spiritual freedom as something abolished, even though the need for it
is much greater than in the past. What does spiritual freedom mean? Freedom
requires two sides so that one side becomes free of the bond of the other. In
spiritual freedom what must the human be free of? Spiritual freedom is freedom
from one’s self as against social freedom which is freedom from the bonds of
others. One may be asked whether the human being can be enslaved by the self.
Can a person be both a slave and a slave owner? The answer is in the
affirmative. In the case of animals this may not be true but what about this
strange being called the human being? How is it possible for it to be at the
same time a slave and master? The reason is that the human being is a complex
creature and that is a fact which has been confirmed by religion and philosophy
by scientists and psychologists and about which no doubt exists.
Let me begin by an interpretation of the Quran on Creation which says, "So when
I have shaped him and breathed into him of My spirit, fall you down, bowing
before him." (15:29) It is not necessary to know what this divine spirit means,
but it is enough to know that this earthly being is granted something else which
is unearthly. According to a Tradition, the Prophet says that God created angels
and granted them only intelligence. He created animals and gave them only
appetites and He created man and granted him both intelligence and appetite; an
utterance of the Prophet that has been used in a poem by Rumi.
Now, besides these verses of the Quran and Traditions and what has been affirmed
by philosophers and psychologists, what does spiritual freedom consist of in
simple language. We will begin with something which everyone would understand.
Undoubtedly we need food to live and the more of it the better, and we need
clothing and the finer the better and we require a dwelling and the more
magnificent the better.
We desire wives and children, luxury, money and material things. But at one
point we may reach a cross-road where we should keep our honor and nobility and
at the same time put up with poverty, eat dry bread, wear shabby clothes, live
in a poor hut and have no money and be distressed. If we ignore our honor and
nobility and submit to abjection, then all material benefits will be provided
for us. We see that many people are not willing to suffer abasement for the sake
of material things while others readily accept this exchange, even though they
and their consciences are ashamed of themselves.
In the Gulistan, Saidi describes two brothers, one of whom was rich and the
other poor. The former was in the service of the government and the latter was
an ordinary worker who secured a livelihood by manial labor. One day the rich
brother said to his poor brother, "Why don’t you accept government service, to
be delivered from hardship and distress?" The poor brother answered, "Why don’t
you work to be delivered from abjection?"
That kind of service with all its accompanying wealth means lack of freedom,
for, it involves bowing to others and being humbled. Sa’di goes on to say that
according to the wise, sitting down to eat your own bread is far better than
wearing a golden belt and standing to serve others.
You may be well-versed about this subject but I wish you to analyze it from a
psychological point of view. What feeling makes the human being prefer pain and
hardship, labor and poverty to humbling himself or herself before others? He
calls it captivity to serve others though it is not of the type of material
slavery. It is not his or her strength that is enslaved but the spirit. There is
a quatrain attributed to Ali, peace be upon him, saying, "If you desire to live
freely, labor like a slave, work and suffer pain and shut your eyes from Adam’s
offspring whoever they may be, even from Hatam Ta’i (a heroic figure famous for
his generosity in pre-Islamic Arabia). So have no expectation not only from mean
people but also from the generous."
He goes on to say that when a job is offered to someone, that person considers
it below his or her dignity to accept it. He or she thinks every kind of manual
labor as mean. But Ali, peace be upon him, believes that every kind of work and
labor is better than extending your hand before others begging for something. He
says, "Nothing is worse than going to others to beg for something."
Having no need of others means being superior to them. Once I came across a
remark of the poet Hafiz who was an extraordinarily eloquent man and had a deep
respect for Ali, peace be upon him. He quotes nine sayings of his which are
relevant to our discussion, one of which is, "You may be in need but remember
that if you have need of someone, you still turn yourself into his slave. But if
you do away with that need, you will be his equal and if you show benevolence to
someone, you will be his master."
So you see that your need makes you someone’s slave. What kind of slavery?
Slavery of spirit. These sayings are fine but today they are disregarded since
mankind prefers to discuss other problems and pays little attention to ethical
Again Ali, peace be upon him, says, "Greed means perpetual slavery." Thus he
considers greed worse than slavery. Here then, spiritual slavery is mentioned as
something worse than physical slavery. There is also slavery to wealth against
which all moralists have warned mankind.
Another saying of Ali is, "The world is a passage not a residence." Again he
says, "There are two groups of people in the world." He continues, "One of these
two groups come and sell and enslave themselves and go and the others come and
buy their freedom and go." These two attitudes can also be applied to wealth,
either to be a slave of wealth or free from it. A person should say that as he
or she must not be a slave to riches, he or she should say, "I am a human being.
Why should I make myself a slave of inanimate things like gold and silver, land
and other things?"
But the truth is that when a person thinks the self to be a slave of wealth,
that person is in fact a slave to his or her mental characteristics, a slave to
greed and one’s animal nature. For inanimate things like money, land, machine
and even animals have no power to enslave that person. When one ponders deeply
over this matter, one finds the source of slavery to lie in one’s own
peculiarities such as greed, lust, anger and carnal desires.
The Quran says, "Have you noticed someone who has made his carnal desires his
god?" Wealth itself is not to blame when a person is warned against his or her
own desires. Thus if one liberates oneself from the bond of one’s wicked
desires, one will realize that one is not at the service of wealth.
It is then that one finds one’s own true worth and understands the significance
of this verse of the Quran, "All We have created on the earth is for you." Thus
riches are at the service of the human being and not vice versa. If so, then,
envy and avarice have no meaning and if one engages in them, one is enslaving
oneself. There are two stages for the human being: A lower, animal stage and a
higher, human one.
The Prophets are sent to preserve the spiritual freedom of humanity. What does
that mean? It means preventing human honor, humanity, intelligence and
conscience from being subjugated to its own lust, passion and love of profits.
If you overcome your passion, you are free. If you conquer your lust and not
vice versa, you are free. If you are in a position to gain an illegitimate
profit, but your faith and conscience and intelligence forbid you to do so, you
have overcome your desire and then you can say that you are really spiritually
If you see a woman, but you check your lustful desires and obey your conscience,
then you are a free human being. But if your eyes, ears, and stomach incite you
to satisfy them by whatever means, then you are their slave. The human being is
ruled by two types of ego: An animal ego and a human one. This fact and this
contrast are well illustrated by Rumi in a story of Majnun (in eastern
literature, Majnun is the equivalent of Romeo and Laila is the equivalent of
Juliet) and the camel.
The story goes that Majnun was riding a camel intending to visit Laila’s home.
The camel happened to have a baby camel and Majnun, in order to ride faster to
his destination, confined the baby camel to the house. He was deep in thought
about his Beloved while the camel was worried about its young. Every moment
Majnun absentmindedly let the reins loose, the camel turned back towards home.
This was repeated several times until the camel collapsed. The poet digresses to
say that the human being has two kinds of inclinations: that of the spirit and
that of the body.
If you wish to be free in spirit, you cannot be a glutton, a woman-worshipper, a
money-lover, a lustful person of passion. I have come across a narrative in the
Nahjul Balagha which says that one day the Prophet went among the Companions
(the ansar who were the poor followers of the Prophet in Medina who had migrated
there. The Prophet first let them stay in a mosque, but a divine command was
issued to him to find another home for them since a mosque was not a proper
place to live in and they obeyed the order. Subsequently, they lived in a large
shelter near the mosque). One of them said to the Prophet, "I feel as if the
whole world is worthless in my eyes." He did not mean that he made a similar use
of stones and gold but that neither of them had the power to attract him. The
Prophet looked at him and said, "Now I can say that you are free." Thus we can
say that spiritual freedom is in itself something real.
We can give other reasons to show that the human being’s personality is complex
and that one can either be spiritually free or a slave. God Almighty has granted
this power to a person to be one’s own judge. In society, a judge stands apart
from the plaintiff and defendant. Have you ever heard a person to be his own
plaintiff and defendant and judge, all at the same time?
A person is called just. What is a just human being? Does it not mean that a
person can judge impartially about one’s own problems and issue a verdict
against one when guilty? Does this not show the complex nature the human being?
Many a time you have seen people who judge fairly about themselves and prefer
the rights of others to their own. The late Sayyid Husain Kuh Kamari who was a
great religious authority with a following and an uncle of the late Ayatullah
Hujjat Kuh Kamari who was our teacher was such a man. It is narrated about him
that he had theological class in Najaf which had not yet won the reputation it
had later on, especially as his stay in Najaf had not been long for he had been
in the habit of travelling here and there to benefit from the teachings of the
great masters in various towns such as Mashhad, Isfahan and Kashan.
The late Shaykh Ansari who was dressed poorly and whose eyes suffered from
trachoma happened to teach in the same mosque as Sayyid Husain, each in turn,
the Shaykh first and Sayyid Husain next, without meeting each other. One day the
latter happened to arrive an hour earlier than usual. As there was no time to go
home and come back, he thought he would wait there for his pupils to arrive. He
noticed a peculiar looking Shaykh sitting there teaching two or three fellows.
He sat in a corner and could hear the Shaykh’s words. He found them to be
profound and wise. It was a strange experience for a great scholar like him to
meet an unknown but erudite teacher.
He decided to go earlier to the mosque once more to see how things went. The
second visit proved to be as beneficial as the first and he found the Shaykh
very learned and in fact more of a scholar than himself. On repeating the
experience for the third time, he was fully convinced of the man’s profound
knowledge. So he decided to join the small class and when his own pupils
arrived, he said to them,"I have news for you. That Shaykh is much more learned
than I am as I have discovered and I advise you to accompany me to join his
class." They arose together and attended the Shaykh’s class.
What is the implication of such fairness? Sayyid Husain turned himself into a
pupil of Ansari and gave up his claim to being an authority. He must have felt,
as we do, what respect and mastership are and must have been pleased at being an
authority. And yet his noble and free spirit allowed him to judge fairly between
himself and that man, and issue a verdict against himself. This is proof of the
human being’s complex personality. A person commits a sin and then blames the
self. What is this prick of conscience?
Exploiting governments train individuals in such a way as to kill their
conscience . And yet when that conscience is supposed to be dead, a small light
is noticed to scatter its beams at its proper time. The pilot of the plane who
bombed Hiroshima was actually trained for such a crime but when he dropped his
bomb and saw the city burning and the innocent men and women and children who
had no connection with war, being annihilated, he felt spiritually sick. In
America they gave him a fine welcome but they could not check that torture of
conscience which led him eventually to a lunatic asylum.
The Quran says, "Nay, I swear by the Self-reproaching soul … " (75:2).
Ali, peace be upon him, says, "He who is not granted a preacher within himself
by God, will not be affected by other’s preaching." Do not deceive yourself into
thinking that you will be influenced by others if you are not influenced by your
own conscience. One of our religious injunctions is to judge ourselves and issue
a verdict against ourselves when necessary. "Call yourself to account before you
are called to account." "Weigh yourself before you are weighed for your deeds on
the Day of Resurrection."
All these show the human being’s complex personality which has a lower animal
side and higher human side. Spiritual freedom means that the higher side is free
from the lower one.
In connection with self-punishment, I remember a case related to Hadrat Ali. A
man came to him to repent, supposing that by saying the sentence of repentance,
everything would be all right. Ali reprimanded him sharply by saying, "May your
mother mourn for you. Do you know what repentance means? It is very much higher
than saying a sentence." Then he told the man that repentance is based on
several things: Two principles, two conditions of acceptance and two conditions
of completion. That is, a total of six points.
He then explained this by saying, "The first principle is that one should be
truly penitent of one’s past wicked deeds. The second is to decide never to
commit that sin in the future. The third is to grant people their right if one
owes it to them. The fourth is to perform the obligatory devotions which one may
have forsaken." The last two points, Ali, peace be upon him, mentioned are most
relevant to my discourse. They are: Fifthly, to melt down the flesh that is
grown on you by lustfulness through sorrow and constant grief; and lastly, to
give this body which has in the past been addicted to the pleasure of sin, the
pain of worship and devotion.
Have there been people in the past who have reached this stage? Yes. There have.
Today we may forget that repentance exists. But we can cite a fine example of it
by mentioning Mulla Husain Quli Hamadani who was a great moralist of modern
times and a pupil of the great religious scholars, the later Mirza Shirazi and
Shaykh Ansari. A sinful man goes to him to be guided. When the man came back
after a few days, he could hardly be recognized due to his extraordinary
leanness. The Mulla used neither a whip nor a weapon nor a threat. But he could
offer true spiritual guidance. He managed to awaken that man’s conscience to
fight his lust and passion.
The most significant program of the prophets is to provide spiritual freedom.
Self-purification is in fact spiritual freedom. The Quran says, "Prosperous is
he who purifies it and failed has he who seduces it." (91:9-10)
The greatest damage of our time is speaking of freedom and confining it to
social freedom. Spiritual freedom is never spoken of and, in consequence, social
freedom is not secured. A great crime is committed in our time in the form of
philosophy and philosophical schools totally ignoring the human being, its
personality, spiritual honor and God’s revelation, "I breathed into him of My
Spirit," is quite forgotten. They deny that the human being has two aspects an
animal side and a human one. They claim that this human being is no different
from animals and is subject to the survival of the fittest.
This means that each individual’s effort is for his or her own interests. Can
you imagine how much damage this attitude has done to humanity? They say that
life is a battle and the world a battlefield. They also say that a right is what
one seizes, not what one grants. But the truth is that a right must both be
taken and given and not only something which is snatched by force.
The prophets did not come to make such a statement that a right must be seized
by force. They came to persuade the oppressed to secure their rights. They also
compelled the oppressor to rise against their evil deeds and grant others their
In conclusion I pray God to liberate us all from our carnal desires as he has
done for truly generous beings; and to grant us social freedom and blessings in
this and the next world; to acquaint us with the facts of Islam; to meet our
legitimate needs and to grant salvation to our deceased ones.
Source: Selected chapter from
Spiritual Discourses by Shaheed Murtadha Mutahhari