Ifthe best proof of God is to be seen in the lives of saints, the most compellingevidence of God in Islamic history is in the lives of Imams. Shrouded inobscurity or buried deep in mythological or symbolic structures and oftenframed in sectarian terms is the luminous life of an Imam that is unearthed, toan extent, by painstaking efforts of likesof Prof. Qasim Khusro and presented in a compelling philosophical language bylikes of Reza Shah Kazmi.
Thereare some utterly dedicated spirits whose job is to keep different streams ofknowledge and higher pursuits alive. Intizar Hussain has remarked aboutmonumental contributions of SRS Faruqi that only a djinn could do the work hehas done. The same remark may betransposed to Prof. Khusro Qasim who has been assigned to clarify certainaspects of lives and works of Imams, the supermen of Islamic history. It isthanks to Qasim that we have now better researched and edited number ofclassical texts and clarifications of many a tradition and doubts oftenexpressed regarding this or that notion about lives and works of Imams. Inorder to better appreciate the sacred heritage bequeathed to us in numerousvolumes, let us try to note some snippets from the life of the first Imam – thefirst spiritual 'pole' (quṭb) of Sufism after the Prophet himself who is"situated at the summit of all the spiritual chains (salāsil, sing. silsila) bywhich the Sufi orders link their masters to the Prophet." – as presented in amodern classic (Justice and Remembrance: Introducing the Spirituality of Imam Ali) by Reza Shah Kazmi and thiswould help put in perspective more technical scholarly contributions of Qasimand others. Enormous importance of lives and works of Imams for the modernworld and Shia-Sunni understanding calls for attention to scholars like Qasimand Kazmi from both scholars and laity.
Sabziwārī has cited the saying of Imam ʿAlī, 'We arethe most beautiful Names', in his commentary on the divine Names: 'There is nodoubt that they [the Imams] are His most exalted indicators and His greatestsigns (ʿalāʾimihi'l-ʿuẓmā wa āyātihi'l-kubrā), as the Prophet said, God blesshim and his family, "Whoso sees me has seen the Truth (al-Ḥaqq)."' Kazmi notes equation of the spiritual stationor inner reality of the Imams with those of the divine Names and attributes."The Prophet, the Imam, the saint, the 'perfect man' manifest those aspects ofthe divine nature that can be perceived on the human plane." Lest someoneconstrue this as contradicting tawhid, Kazmi notes the expression 'I am the gnosis of the mysteries' and clarifies:"If this be understood, all the other statements fall into place naturally. Forhere, the Imam is identifying himself not with God, but with the knowledge ofGod—not with his own knowledge of God, for this would still be a relativeknowledge, belonging to or attributed to himself as a relative being. It isonly the knowledge itself—the knowledge that God has of Himself, and not theknowledge that man has of God—that can
befully identified with the object known." Deobandi –Barelvi controversy on thenotion of ilm al-gayyib/omniscience of the Prophet (SAW) may be resolved bynoting this distinction.
Veryfew Muslims are aware that paragons of intellect or the first order minds/sagesof Islamic tradition are best embodied in the lives of Imams and that Imam Ali– whose sermons have been described both as "pre-philosophical" or "supra-philosophical"– is the prince of metaphysicians in Islamic tradition.
Shiasand Sunnis are united on the summit of spiritual understanding of thecentrality of Ali (RA) and of the key role in interpreting the scripture byImam/sage. Shiism, if appreciated as embodying one essential and universal/esoteric dimension of Islam, or corresponding to Sufi Islam's esoteric-metaphysical content, isnot exclusivist sectarianism but ofuniversal spirituality. Imam Ja'far al-Ṣādiq (d.148/765) described his followersin terms of dhikr: "Our Shī'a are those who, when alone (idhākhalaū) ,invoke/remember God much" a definition that Muslims in general and Sufis inparticular would seek to live or witness to. Let us meditate, with Reza ShahKazmi, on certain sayings of Imam Ali (typed in bold here), to see how theyembody quintessence of Islamic hikmah centric approach that attracts due to itsvery nature the best of minds and noblest souls.
• Imam Ali said 'Praise be to God whois well-known (maʿrūf) without being seen.' "The paradox in this statement is sharpened by the following formulationof the same principle: 'By things their Creator manifests Himself to theintellects; and by things He is guarded from the sight of the eyes.' The veilscannot help revealing what they are supposed to veil; they are not justtransparent to the reality they cannot hide, but in and of themselves, theyreveal rather than conceal that reality. This reminds us of the famous sayingof the Imam..: 'Were the veil to be removed, I would not increase incertitude.' The veils of creation ultimately reveal what they initiallyconceal, but this revelation is perceived only by the eye of the heart that hasbeen purified by the dhikr, and which now 'sees after being blind.' God, as al-Ẓāhir,projects something of His 'hidden treasure' within, and as, the creation. Theworld manifests the 'apparent' aspect of God—that which 'appears' from Him,that which can be manifested by Him or created by Him—even while concealing themystery of God—that which remains 'hidden', al-Bāṭin, the supra-manifest sourceof being, the uncreated essence." Oneneeds to read dense pages of the history of philosophy (on Being and alethia)from pre-Socratics to Heidegger to appreciate both profundity and precision ofthe Imam's formulation.
• The true faqīh is defined by theImam as 'he who does not make people despair of the mercy of God, and does notmake them lose hope in the gracious spirit of God .' It is in this sense thatIbn Arabi who thought his mission was to declare vastness of mercy of God maybe read as true faqih. Jurists who end up sending people to hell for theirimagined or real transgressions of this or that manual and who fail to linktheir formulations or opinions to overarching mercy here and hereafter are notto be trusted.
• 'He who knows God integrateshimself (man ʿarafa'Llāh tawaḥḥad).' 'He who knows his soul disengages himself(man ʿarafa nafsahu tajarrad).' 'He who knows people isolates himself (manʿarafa'l-nās tafarrad).' 'He who knows the world withholds himself (manʿarafa'l-dunyā tazahhad).' Kazmi writes:"'Fear of God', in the spiritual and not moralistic sense of the term, does notso much terrify as beatify, it produces not simply quaking awe in the face ofthe transcendent Absolute, but also intimate absorption within the immanentdivine presence. As is oft quoted in Sufism, when one fears creatures one fleesfrom them, but when one fears God one flees to Him. 'There is no refuge fromGod except [fleeing] to Him' (9: 118), as the Qurʼān puts it.
• 'The prophet of a man is theinterpreter of his intellect (rasūl al-rajul tarjumān ʿaqlihi).' Elsewhere wefind "an explicit correspondence between the intellect and the 'inner'messenger: the intellect is 'the messenger of the Real.' The revealed text issilent and 'speaks' only through the 'interpreter', the intellect…This viewof the relationship between intellect and revelation rigorously excludes allliteralism and superficiality, all attempts to confine meaning within a flat,unilateral reading. For it is this 'inner prophet', or inmost degree ofconsciousness, which is the ultimate basis on which one is able to confirm astrue the verses of the outer revelation—to 'validate' them experientially andnot just affirm them dogmatically. It is thus that the Imam says, in the firstsermon of the Nahj, that one of the purposes of revelation, of the 'sendingforth of prophets' by God was 'to unearth for them the buried treasures of theintellects (dafāʼin al-ʿuqūl).' "Being true to one's intellect—to the treasuresburied deep within it and not just to the rational functions operative on itssurface—is tantamount to being 'spiritual'. For Imam ʿAlī, the 'trueintellectual' (al-ʿāqil) is defined as one who 'puts all things in their properplace'. This in indeed the well known definition of justice as well and "onlythe true intellectual can, therefore, be fully 'just.'" For the Imam: 'Justiceputs everything in its right place.' "One is 'just' insofar as one giveseverything its proper due, renders the ḥaqq due to each person, indeed to eachand every thing in existence; and the ability to be 'just' in this demandingand universal manner is enhanced in the measure that one is attuned to al-Ḥaqq,the Real."
Readin light of these points, the classical texts on Imam Ali's privileged statusand numerous traditions stating distinctions due to him – we find in series ofworks authored/edited/translated/compiled by Qasim including Al-Manaqib(original by Al-Mowfq Ibn Ahmed bin Muhammad Al-Makki al-Khawarzami), Seerat-eSayyidna Ali (original by Ibn Hajr al-Haytami al-Makki), Hazrat Ali ki Azeem Shaksiyyet ka ek Mukhtasar Ta'aruf,Hazrat Ali's Testament, Fazail-e Ameer al-Mumineen Ali Ibn Talib (original byImam ibn Hanbal)– could be better appreciated. Illuminating lives and sayingsof Imams constitute a life's treasure and "Door to Education" that our childrenaren't exposed to adequately and even our ulama engage only tangentially. It isthe domain of sages/urafa to best appreciate and explicate.