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Sunday 24th of January 2021
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THE SAHIFA AND ISLAMIC SPIRITUALITY

THE SAHIFA AND ISLAMIC SPIRITUALITY

In spite of studies that have rejected the idea, many people in the West still believe that `true Islam' lies in simplicity, austerity, legalism, formalism, and a God perceived as Just and Transcendent. Hence those elements of Islamic civilization which demonstrate complexity, subtlety, warmth, love, inwardness, spirituality, and a God of mercy, compassion, and immanence are seen as largely extraneous to or reactions against Qur'anic Islam. Scholars such as Massignon have pointed out that a person of spiritual sensitivity only needs to read the Qur'an for such ideas to be dissolved. But few people who have adopted the old stereotypes possess this sort of sensitivity or would be interested in changing their preconceived ideas, lest sympathy be stirred up in their hearts. It is not my aim here to reject, as so many have done before me, these common biases concerning the nature of `true Islam', but I would like to point out that a work like the Sahifa brings out an inward dimension of Islam which may be much more difficult to perceive in other early texts.

When scholars and other outsiders look at Islam, they naturally perceive what can be seen at first glance, that is, events, written reports and records, social relationships, and so on. It is not easy to look into people's hearts or to investigate their personal relationship with God, nor are most people interested in doing so. If there is a way into hearts, it must come by studying the most inward concerns of individuals as reflected in their outward activities and writings. But those dimensions of Islam which have caught the most attention of outside observers are external and obvious, and they also happen to be relatively devoid of the love and warmth normally associated in the West with spirituality.

Islamic civilization as a whole is much like a traditional Muslim city: The outer walls make it appear dull and sombre, and it is not easy to gain access to the world behind the walls. But if one becomes an intimate with the city's inhabitants, one is shown into delightful courtyards and gardens, full of fragrant flowers, fruit trees, and sparkling fountains. Those who write about Islamic history, political events, and institutions deal with the walls, since they have no way into the gardens. Some of the gardens are opened up through the study of Sufism, art and architecture, poetry, and music, but since all of these have appeared in specific historical forms influenced by the surrounding environment, their deep Islamic roots can easily be lost to sight. The most traditional and authentic gardens of the city, and the most difficult of access, are the hearts of the greatest representatives of the civilization. It is here that the supplications handed down from the pillars of early Islam can open up a whole new vision of Islam's animating spirit, since they provide direct access to the types of human attitudes that are the prerequisite for a full flowering of the Islamic ideal.

OTHER DIMENSIONS

This introduction may seem to be suggesting that the Sahifa deals exclusively with Islamic spirituality. But the Sahifa deals with other domains as well. As was pointed out above, the great representatives of Islam bring together all levels of Islamic teachings, just as these are brought together by the Qur'an and the hadith. If spirituality has been emphasized in discussing the Sahifa, this has to do with the fact that the work is a collection of supplications, and these presuppose certain attitudes toward the Divine Reality which cannot be understood outside spirituality's context.

But the Sahifa also provides teachings that are applicable on many different levels, from the theological (in the broadest sense of the term) to the social. A thorough analysis of these would demand a book far longer than the Sahifa itself. It is hoped that the publication of this translation will encourage scholars to study the content of the prayers contained in the Sahifa (as well as the prayers left by other pillars of early Islam, the Shi'ite Imams in particular) to bring out the whole range of teachings they contain. The most that can be done here is to allude to some of the other important topics touched upon by the Sahifa and mention a few of the significant questions which these bring up.

Islam is an organic reality possessing three basic dimensions: practice or the Shari'a (al-islam) faith (al-iman which includes doctrine and intellectual teachings), and spirituality (al-ihsan). In the lived experience of the community, these dimensions are intimately interrelated, even if various institutional forms tend to deal with them separately. The earliest sources, such as the prophetic hadith or `Ali's Nahj al-balagha deal with all three of these dimensions, though different passages can be isolated which stress one specific epic rather than another. But a work like the Nahj al-balagha converges profoundly from the Sahifa in that it brings together sayings on all sorts of matters, from metaphysics, to the nature of correct government, to the personal flaws of some of `Ali's contemporaries. There is no stress on spirituality, since this is clearly one dimension of Islam among others, though a deep spirituality and holiness underly everything that 'Ali says.

In contrast, the Sahifa by its supplicatory form and content, stresses the innermost dimension of Islam. But at the same time, it also touches upon Islam's other dimensions. For example, the traditional category of `faith' is concerned with God, the angels, the prophets, the scriptures, the Last Day, and the `measuring' (qadar) of both good and evil. These objects of faith form the basic subject matter of most of Islamic thought as developed in kalam philosophy, and theoretical Sufism. Imam Zayn al-'Abidin discusses all of these in the Sahifa sometimes briefly and sometimes in detail. Thus he often mentions the angels, while his `Blessing upon the Bearers of the Throne' (3) provides the best available summary of Muslim beliefs concerning them.

The Imam also refers frequently to the domain of Islamic practices, or the Shari'a in the wide sense. He emphasizes the absolute necessity of following God's guidelines as set down in the Qur'an and the hadith in both individual and social life. Hence the Sahifa provides many specific social teachings as well as general injunctions, such as the necessity of establishing justice in society. But since the social teachings deal with the domain of practice, the outermost dimension of Islam, they need to be viewed within the context of the Imam's doctrinal and spiritual teachings. As he makes eminently clear in his `Treatise on Rights', a hierarchy of priorities must always be observed: The individual comes before the social, the spiritual before the practical, and knowledge before action. Each human being has a long series of social duties, but these depend upon his more essential duties, which are first, faith in God, and second, placing one's own person into the proper relationship with the Divine Reality.

THE TRANSLATION

The present translation of the Sahifa follows the Arabic original with as much literal accuracy as could be contrived while maintaining a readable and understandable English text. I have kept Arberry's Koran Interpreted in view as the model of how this might be done. I have been particularly concerned with maintaining consistency in rendering terms and preserving the concreteness of the original terminology, feeling that the `meaning' of the text cannot be grasped without due regard for its form. It has already been suggested that one of the virtues of the early devotional literature is its ability to speak in a relatively concrete, pre-theological language of great universality. As a result, any move in the direction of rendering concrete terms abstractly, by paying attention to the rational meaning rather than the images conjured up by the linguistic form, will take us in the direction of kalam and away from the universe of the Qur'an, the hadith and the intimacy of the supplications themselves. This explains why I have usually preferred more literal terms such as `Garden' to relatively abstract terms such as `Paradise'.

Where difficulties arose in interpreting the meaning of the text, I have followed the commentary of Sayyid 'Alikhan Shirazi. I have also profited from the excellent Persian translation and commentary by 'Ali Naqi Fayd al-Islam and the less useful Persian translation of Mirza Abu l-Qasim Sha'rani. I have not tried to be exhaustive in the notes, aiming only to identify proper names, clarify obscurities, and point to a few of the Qur'anic references in order to suggest how thoroughly the text is grounded in the revealed book. In a few cases I have mentioned relevant hadith or discussed the different interpretations offered by the commentators.

The translation of the Sahifa is followed by a translation of Imam Zayn al-Abidin's `Treatise on Rights', which is the only work attributed to him other than supplications or relatively short sayings and letters. This treatise is especially important for the manner in which it deals with many of the same themes as the Sahifa in a different style and language.

The Arabic text printed here was copied from the Sha'rani edition by Tehzib Husayn Naqvi. It was proof-read by the dedicated and diligent efforts of S. Ata Muhammad Abidi Amrohvi. Agha Ahsan Abbas is also to be thanked for his efforts in coordinating the production of the Arabic text.

I owe a debt of gratitude to my dear friend Wing Commander (ret'd) Qasim Husain, the moving spirit behind the Muhammadi Trust. He caught me in a weak moment and pushed me into accepting a project which I never would have undertaken otherwise. His gentle but always firm and forceful pressure has made it possible for me to complete the translation practically on schedule. Without his intervention I would have been deprived of the opportunity to gain an intimate acquaintance with one of the deepest veins of Islamic spirituality. Anyone who comes to appreciate the contents of the Sahifa through the present work would do well to offer a prayer of thanks for the sake of Commander Husain. I also thank Sayyid Ali Mohammad Naqavi, who read the translation and offered a number of useful suggestions for its improvement, and Sayyid Muhammad Husain al-Husaini al-Jalali, who placed at my disposal a useful bibliography of works concerning the Sahifa.

 

Al-Sahifa al-Kamilah al-Sajjadiyya
(The Perfect Book of al-Sajjad)

In the Name of God, the All-merciful, the All-compassionate   [Preface: Concerning the Chain of Authorities of the Sahifa]

1-The greatest sayyid, Najm al-Din Baha' al-Sharaf Abu l-Hasan Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn 'Ali ibn Muhammad ibn 'Umar ibn Yahya al-'Alawi al-Hasani1 (God have mercy upon him) related to us:2

2-He said: The felicitous shaykh, Abu 'Abd Allah Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Shahriyar3, the treasurer of the treasure-house of our master, the Commander of the Faithful, 'Ali ibn Abi Talib (upon him be peace) told us in the month of Rabi' I in the year 516 [May-June 1122 CE] while [the Sahifa] was being read before him and I was listening.

3-He said: I heard it [being read] before the truthful shaykh Abu Mansur Muhammad ibn Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn 'Abd al-'Aziz al-'Ukbari the Just4 (God have mercy upon him) by Abu l-Mufaddal Muhammad ibn 'Abd Allah ibn al-Muttalib al-Shaybani.5

4-He said: Al-Sharif Abu 'Abd Allah Ja'far ibn Muhammad ibn Ja'far ibn al-Hasan ibn Ja'far ibn al-Hasan ibn al-Hasan ibn Amir al-Mu'minin 'Ali ibn Abi Talib6 (upon them be peace) related to us.

5-He said: 'Abd Allah ibn 'Umar ibn Khattab al-Zayyat7 related to us in the year 265 [878-9].

6-He said: My maternal uncle 'Ali ibn al-Nu'man al-A'lam8 related to me.

7-He said: 'Umayr ibn Mutawakkil al-Thaqafi al-Balkhi related to us from his father Mutawakkil ibn Harun.9

8-He said: I met Yahya ibn Zayd ibn 'Ali (upon him be peace) when he was going to Khurasan after his father was slain and I greeted him.10

9-He said to me: From whence are you coming? I said: From the hajj.

10-He asked me about his household and the sons of his paternal uncle in Medina and he pressed me urgently about [Imam] Ja'far ibn Muhammad (upon him be peace), so I gave him news of him and of them and of their sorrow over his father Zayd ibn 'Ali (upon him be peace).

11-He said to me: My paternal uncle [Imam] Muhammad [al-Baqir] ibn 'Ali (upon him be peace) advised my father not to revolt and he let him know what would be the outcome of his affair if he revolted and left Medina. Have you met the son of my paternal uncle, Ja'far ibn Muhammad (upon him be peace)?

I said: Yes.

12-He said: Did you hear him mention anything about my affair?

I said: Yes.

13-He said: What did he say about me? Tell me!

I said: May I be made your sacrifice! I do not want to confront you with what I heard from him.

14-So he said: Will you frighten me with death? Tell me what you heard!

I said: I heard him saying that you would be slain and crucified as your father was slain and crucified.

15-His face changed colour and he said: God erases whatsoever He will, and He establishes, and with Him is the Mother of the Book!11 O Mutawakkil! God has supported this affair through us and appointed for us knowledge and the sword. These two are combined in us, while the sons of our paternal uncle have been singled out only for knowledge.

16-I said: May I be made your sacrifice! Surely I see people inclining more to the son of your paternal uncle, Ja'far (upon him be peace) than to you and your father.

17-He said: Surely my paternal uncle Muhammad ibn 'Ali and his son Ja'far (upon them both be peace) summon people to life, but we summon them to death.

18-I said: O son of the Messenger of God! Have they more knowledge, or have you?

19-He looked toward the ground for a time. Then he lifted his head and said: All of us have knowledge, but they know everything we know, and we do not know everything they know. Then he said to me: Have you written anything from the son of my paternal uncle?

I said: Yes.

20-He said: Show it to me. So I brought out various kinds of knowledge, and I brought out for him a supplication which had been dictated to me by Abu 'Abd Allah (upon him be peace). He had related to me that his father, Muhammad ibn 'All (upon them both be peace) had dictated it to him and had told him that it was one of the supplications of his father, 'Ali ibn al-Husayn (upon them both be peace), from Al-Sahifat al-Kamila.12

21-Yahya looked at it until he came to its end. He said to me: Will you permit me to copy it?

I said: O son of the Messenger of God! Do you ask permission for that which belongs to all of you?

22-He said: Truly I will bring out for you a sahifa with the Perfect Supplications, which my father had in safekeeping from his father. My father counselled me to safeguard it and to withhold it from those unworthy of it.

23-'Umayr said: My father [Mutawakkil] said: So I stood up before him, kissed him on the head, and said to him: By God, O son of the Messenger of God! I profess the religion of God through love for you and obedience toward you! I hope that He will favour me in my life and my death with your friendship.

24-So he tossed the page of mine which I had given to him to a servant who was with him and said: Write this supplication with a beautiful, clear script, and give it to me. Perhaps I will memorize it, for I had been seeking it from Ja'far (God safeguard him) and he withheld it from me.

25-Mutawakkil said: So I regretted what I had done and did not know what I should do. Abu 'Abd Allah had not ordered me not to hand it over to anyone.

26-Then he called for a box and brought out from it a sahifa locked and sealed.13 He looked at the seal, kissed it, and wept. Then he broke it and undid the lock. He opened the sahifa, placed it upon his eyes, and passed it across his face.

27-He said: By God, O Mutawakkil, were it not for the words you mentioned from the son of my paternal uncle - that I will be slain and crucified - I would not hand this over to you and would be niggardly with it.

28-But I know that his word is the truth which he has taken from his fathers and that it will be verified. So I fear lest knowledge like this fall to the Umayyads and they hide it and store it in their treasuries for themselves.

29-So take it, guard it for me, and wait with it. Then, when God has accomplished in my affair and the affair of those people what He will accomplish, it will be a trust from me with you to be taken to the sons of my paternal uncle, Muhammad and Ibrahim,14 the two sons of 'Abd Allah ibn al-Hasan ibn al-Hasan ibn Ali (upon the [last] two of them be peace). They will undertake this affair after me.

30-Mutawakkil said: So I took the Sahifa. when Yahya ibn Zayd was slain, I went to Medina and met [Imam] Abu 'Abd Allah [Ja'far al-Sadiq] (upon him be peace). I related to him the news of Yahya. He wept and his feeling for him was intense.

31-He said: God have mercy on the son of my paternal uncle and join him to his fathers and grandfathers!

32-By God, O Mutawakkil, the only thing that prevented me from handing the supplication over to him was what he feared for the Sahifa of his father. Where is the Sahifa? I said: Here it is. He opened it and said:

This, by God, is the handwriting of my paternal uncle Zayd and the supplications of my grandfather 'Ali ibn al-Husayn (upon both of them be peace).

33-Then he said to his son: Stand up, O Isma'il,15 and bring out the supplications which I commanded you to memorize and safeguard!

34-So Isma'il stood up, and he brought out a Sahifa just like the Sahifa which Yahya ibn Zayd had handed over to me. Abu 'Abd Allah kissed it and placed it upon his eyes. He said: This is the handwriting of my father and the dictation of my grandfather (upon both of them be peace), while I was a witness.

35-I said: O son of the Messenger of God! Would it be proper for 
me to compare it to the Sahifa of Zayd and Yahya?

He gave me permission to do that and said: I consider you worthy of that.

36-I looked, and I found the two to be a single thing. I did not find a single letter to differ from what was in the other Sahifa.

37-Then I asked permission from Abu 'Abd Allah to hand over the Sahifa to the two sons of 'Abd Allah ibn al-Hasan.

He said: God commands you to deliver trusts back to their owners.16 Yes, hand it over to them.

38-When I rose to go and meet them, he said to me: Stay in your place.

39-Then he sent for Muhammad and Ibrahim, and they came. He said: This is the inheritance of the son of your paternal uncle, Yahya, from his father. He has singled you out for it instead of his own brothers. But we place upon you a condition concerning it.

40-They said: God have mercy upon you! Tell us, for your word is accepted.

41-He said: Leave not Medina with this Sahifa!

42-They said: And why is that?

43-He said: The son of your paternal uncle feared for it what I fear for you.

44-They said: He only feared for it when he came to know he would be slain.

45-Abu 'Abd Allah (upon him be peace) said: As for you - feel not secure! By God, I know that you will revolt as he revolted, and you will be slain as he was slain!

46-They arose, while they were saying: 'There is no force and no strength save in God, the All-high, the All-mighty!'17

47-When they revolted Abu 'Abd Allah (upon him be peace) said to me: O Mutawakkil! What did Yahya say to you? 'Surely my paternal uncle Muhammad ibn 'Ali and his son Ja'far summon the people to life, but we summon them to death.'

48-I said: Yes, God set you right! The son of your paternal uncle Yahya said that to me.

49-He said: God have mercy upon Yahya! My father related from his father from his grandfather from 'Ali (upon him be peace) that the Messenger of God (God bless him and his Household) was seized from his senses for an instant while he was on the pulpit.

50-He saw in a vision some men leaping upon his pulpit like monkeys and making the people retrace their steps.

51-So the Messenger of God sat down (God bless him and his Household), and sorrow was apparent on his face.

52-Then Gabriel (upon him be peace) came to him with this verse: And We made the vision that We showed thee and the tree cursed in the Qur'an, that is, the Umayyads, to be only a trial for men; and We frighten them, but it only increases them in great insolence.18

53-He said: O Gabriel! Will they be in my period and my time?

54-He said: No, but the mill of Islam will turn from your migration, and it will come to a halt ten [years] after that. Then it will begin turning exactly thirty-five years after your migration, and come to a halt five [years] after that. Then there is no avoiding a mill at whose axis stands error. Then there will be the kingdom of the pharoahs.

55-He said: God sent down concerning that: Surely We sent it down on the Night of Decree. And what will teach thee what is the Night of Decree? The Night of Decree is better than a thousand months19 in which the Umayyads rule, during which time there will be no Night of Decree.

56-He said: So God gave news to His Prophet (upon him be peace) that the Umayyads would own sovereignty over this community and that their kingdom would last this period of time.

57-Were the mountains to vie with them, they would tower over the mountains until God (exalted is He) gave permission for the disappearance of their kingdom; and during this time they have made their banner enmity and hatred for us, the Folk of the House.

58-God gave news to His Prophet concerning what the Folk of the House of Muhammad, the people of love for them, and their partisans would meet from the Umayyads during their days and their kingdom.

59-He said: God sent down concerning them: Hast thou not seen those who exchanged the favour of God for unbelief, and caused the people to dwell in the abode of ruin? Gehenna, wherein they are roasted; an evil resting place!20

60-The 'favour of God' is Muhammad and the People of his House. Love for them is a faith that takes into the Garden, and hate for them is an unbelief and a hypocrisy that takes into the Fire.

61-So the Messenger of God (God bless him and his Household) confided that to 'Ali and the Folk of his House.

62-He said: Then Abu 'Abd Allah said (upon him be peace): Before the rise of our Qa'im21 not one of us Folk of the House has revolted or will revolt to repel an injustice or to raise up a right, without affliction uprooting him and without his uprising increasing the adversity of us and our partisans.

63-Al-Mutawakkil ibn Harun said: Then Abu 'Abd Allah dictated to me the supplications, which are seventy-five chapters. Of them eleven chapters have escaped me, while I have safeguarded sixty-some.

64-Abu l-Mufaddal related to us.22 He said: Muhammad ibn al-Hasan ibn Ruzbih Abu Bakr al-Mada'ini23 the scribe, who lived in Rahba, related to us in his house.

65-He said: Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Muslim al-Mutahhari24 related to me.

66-He said: My father related to me from 'Umayr ibn Mutawakkil al-Balkhi from his father al-Mutawakkil ibn Harun.

67-He said: I met Yahya ibn Zayd ibn 'Ali (upon them both be peace). Then he mentioned the whole hadith including the vision of the Prophet (God bless him and his Household) which was mentioned by Ja'far ibn Muhammad from his fathers (God's blessings be upon them).

68-In al-Mutahhari's version, the chapter headings are mentioned. They are: 

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