Sunday, August 22, 2010

Hazrat Ali (A.S.):Pursuit of Knowledge Better Than Pursuit of Riches

Professor Masud ul Hasan

The knowledge of the Holy Prophet was thus both book knowledge (Ilm-i-Safina) and heart knowledge (Ilm-e-Sina). Hadrat Ali received his heart knowledge from the Holy ProphetIt is related that after the Ascension, the Holy Prophet awarded a mantle to Hadrat Ali which led to the illumination of his heart.

His Concept of Knowledge
Hadrat Ali held that the principal aim of knowledge was the inculcation of virtue, promotion of faith, and understanding of God. He held that knowledge enlivens the soul, for it kills ignorance. He defined knowledge as the sum total of excellence. He held that the pursuit of knowledge is better than the pursuit of riches, that knowledge is the ornament of the rich and the riches of the poor and that knowledge is better than riches. 
He held that the learned live even after their death. 
He maintained that the learned were the living ones in the dead mass of ignorance. 

He observed that to respect the learned was to respect God. With regards to the respect of the teacher, he held that one who teaches you a letter binds you with the fetter of gratitude. He maintained that the talk of the learned man carried within it the fragrance of the garden of Paradise.

Superiority of knowledge over wealth
It is related that once ten learned men approached Hadrat Ali. They wanted to know how knowledge was better than wealth and they requested that each one of them be given a separate answer. 

Hadrat Ali answered them as follows:
(1) Knowledge is the legacy of the Prophet, whereas wealth is the inheritance of the Pharaohs. As the prophets are superior to the Pharaohs, so knowledge is better than wealth. 
(2) You have to guard your wealth, but knowledge will guard you. Therefore, knowledge is better than wealth. 
(3) When knowledge is distributed it increases. When wealth is distributed it decreases. As such knowledge is better than wealth. 
(4) A man of wealth has many enemies, while a man of knowledge has many friends. Therefore knowledge is better than wealth. 
(5) A learned man because of his wider outlook is apt to be generous, while a rich man because of his love for money is apt to be miserly. As such knowledge is better than wealth. 
(6) Knowledge cannot be stolen, but wealth is constantly exposed to the danger of being stolen. Accordingly, knowledge is better than wealth. 
(7) With the lapse of time, knowledge gains in depth and dimension. Hoarded coins get rusty or cease to be legal tender. Therefore knowledge is better than wealth. 
(8) You can keep account of wealth because it is limited, but you cannot keep account of knowledge because it is boundless. That is why knowledge is better than wealth. 
(9) Knowledge illuminates the mind, while wealth is apt to darken it. Therefore knowledge is better than wealth. 
(10) Knowledge is better than wealth, because knowledge induced the Holy Prophet to say to God "We worship Thee as we are Thy servants," while wealth engendered and Pharaoh and Nimrod caused the vanity that made them claim godhead.

Gnosis of God
According to Hadrat Ali the base of religion is the gnosis of God. He held: "The height of gnosis is His confirmation. The height of confirmation is tawhid. The height of tawhid is the acknowledgement of the supremacy of God in all matters. He is beyond all attributes. No particular attribute can give an idea of His exact nature. He is not bound by anything; all things are bound by Him. He is Infinite, limitless, boundless, beyond time, beyond space, beyond imagination. Time does not affect Him. He existed when there was nothing. He will exist forever. His existence is not subject to the law of birth or death. He is manifest in everything, yet He is distinct from everything. He is not the cause of anything, yet everything is because of Him. He is unique and He has no partner. He is the Creator. He creates as well as destroys. All things are subject to His command. He orders something to be and it is."
Hadrat Ali enjoined the severance of the heart from all things save God. 
Hadrat Ali was asked what was the purest thing that could be acquired, and he said, "It is that which belongs to a heart made rich by God." When Hadrat Ali was asked about gnosis, he said, "I know God by God, and I know that which is not by God by the light of God." When asked whether he had seen God, he said that verily he had seen God for he could not worship Him unless the knew Him.

Prayers to God
When Hadrat Ali used to pray, his hair would stand on end. He would tremble and say, "The hour has come to fulfill a trust which the heavens and the earth were unable to bear." Abu Darda an eminent Companion of the holy Prophet said, "None in this world has excelled Ali in prayer." While praying, so great was the intensity of his emotions that he would fall into a swoon. 

It is related that on one occasion, Abu Darda found Hadrat Ali lying rigid on the prayer mat, and touching his cold body thought that Ali had breathed his last. When he broke this news to Hadrat Fatima, she said that Hadrat Ali often became unconscious while praying. Abu Darda wept profusely, and then sprinkled some water on Hadrat Ali's face and he regained consciousness. Seeing tears in the eyes of Abu Darda, Hadrat Ali said: "Why are you crying? You shed tears when you see me in this state. Imagine what will happen to me when the Angels dragged me into the presence of God, and I am forced to render an account of my deeds. They will blind me with fetters of iron, and present me before God, and those of my friends who will happen to be witnesses will be powerless to help me. They will lament my unhappy plight, but none save God will be able to help me on that day."

According to Hadrat Ali, fasting was not a mere formality or a ritual; it was an exercise for the purification of the soul. 
Because of his constant fasting, Hadrat Ali earned the epithets of "Qa'im-ul-Lait" (praying most of the night without sleep); and "Sa'im-ul-Nahar" (fasting mostly during the day). 
Hadrat Ali held that hunger sharpens the intelligence and improves both the mind and health. 
Hunger involves some affliction for the body, but it illumines the heart, purifies the soul, and leads the spirit to the presence of God. One who cultivates his spiritual nature by means of hunger in order to devote himself entirely to God and detach himself from worldly ties, is at a much higher level than the person who cultivates his body by means of gluttony and lust. Hadrat Ali acted on the advice of the holy Prophet, "Fast so that perchance your hearts may seek God in this world." And indeed, because of his fasting and other spiritual exercises, Hadrat Ali did see God in this world. 
The holy Prophet had enjoined, "When you fast, let your ear, your eye, your tongue, your hand, and your every limb fast." 
Hadrat Ali followed this advice to the letter as well in spirit. Through the discipline of fasting, Hadrat Ali was able to subordinate the physical senses to spiritual requirements in such a way that they could respond only to what was pure and became dead to what was impure. Hadrat Ali thus led a purified life.

Excerpts from the book Hadrat Ali R.A. by Prof. Masud-ul-Hasan, Published by Islamic Publications (Pvt) Limited, 13-E Shah Alam Market, LahorePakistan ©1988 

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