The sermons by Ameerul Momineen (a.s) in Nahjul Balagha are in reality the exegesis of Quran and as such Nahjul Balagha is the topical commentary and exegesis of Quran. This implies that those topics mentioned by Allah (s) in the Quran and are declared as essential for recognition (Maarifat) by human being Ameerul Momineen (a.s) has done the exegesis of the same topics in his sermons and has opened up those topics in front of people. On this basis Nahjul Balagha is considered amongst the tools for understanding Holy Quran.
The Meaning of "Al Hamd" (Praise)
Divine Praise "Hamd-e-Ilahi" is amongst the important topics of Quran. The beginning of Surah Fateha starts with "Hamd" , "Alhamdolillahe Rabbul Alameen" . In common English language it is translated as "All praise is for Allah who is the Lord of universe". There could be several inferences derived from this:
One interpretation would be that all the praises which are done in the world are all for Allah only and till date no one has praised anyone else other than Allah.
The second meaning would be that Praise is only for Allah because only He is worthy of praises and other than him no one is eligible for praises; thus anything which is expressed as praise for anything other than Allah cannot be considered as praise "Hamd".
The third interpretation is that all praises and appreciations done in this world for others are in reality for Allah only because praises and appreciation are done on the basis of some virtues and perfection; and the perfection and virtues found in creation are from Allah (s) hence all the praises for creation turns towards the creator.
The fourth meaning is that whomsoever man praises in reality it is the praise for Allah because the one sending praises does it for one worthy of being praised and the real one worthy of being praised is the essence of Allah; the mistake which the one praising does is that he considers the one who is not the real worthy as worthy and praises him.
Is it permissible to praise anyone else other than Allah?
One question which rises over here is that when all praises are for Allah and Praise (Hamd) is specific to the essence of the Allah then what is the order regarding sending praises on others? Which means is it permissible to praise anything else other than Allah?
The Monotheistic and Polytheistic Praise (Hamd)
The answer to this that under the light of the discussed meanings of Praising Allah if there are virtues, traits of perfection, beauty and charm present in creation then it can be praised but the condition is that whenever anything other than Allah is praised than those praises should be of monotheistic nature and not a Polytheistic one because every act of a monotheistic person should be of monotheism. This means he should praise in such a way that the true and real source of virtues and traits of perfection present in the creation gets known. There are many such traits found in creation on the basis of which they can be praised. Greatness, beauty, elegance, pleasantness etc are present in many; like mountains can be praised for their greatness and vastness, the stars and galaxies can be praised for their greatness and uniqueness, flowers and trees can be praised for their beauty and attractiveness, many animals can be praised for their specific habits.
Similarly it is permitted to praise human beings possessing virtues and perfection. Like a scholar or an intellectual can be praised for knowledge and intellect; a brave person can be praised for his courage and bravery, Prophets and Infallible Imams are also praised due to the infinite traits of perfection present inside them. Thus from natural things, animals, human beings to angels it is permitted to praise everyone but the fundamental point is that the praise for creation is of two types; one is a Monotheistic praise and second is a Polytheistic Praise. The Polytheistic way is that while praising the creation both the vastness, extent of the trait of perfection and its creation is associated with the creation. Like when a Scholar is praised then he is considered to have this vastness of knowledge and source of knowledge also is he himself. This means it is said that this person has so much knowledge and he has himself acquired this knowledge.
This flower is so beautiful and this beauty belongs to its self. In a Polytheistic praise all the traits counted for the creation are present in the creation but the question which comes up is from where does these attributes came? What is the actual source of origin for these attributes? Are these the creation's own personal trait or someone else has kept it inside him? In a Polytheistic praise there is no answer for this question or there is an incorrect answer. If it is not known from where these attributes have come then it becomes an Atheistic praise but if it is considered that these attributes are his own than this becomes a Polytheistic Praise.
A monotheistic praise is that when the attributes of creation are seen it is said that Allah has given this creation this beauty and delicateness. ; Allah has granted him this knowledge and these merits to this person; Allah has granted him this greatness, privilege and authority.
As per the interpretations of the recognizers (mystics) the creation is the manifestation of divine attributes which means the attributes of creator will always become manifested and evident in the creation. Thus from natural things to angels all are the stations of manifestation and presentation of the perfection of Allah. But the manifestations in all are not same in fact in this respect there is a big difference between creations and the biggest manifestation station of attributes of Allah is a perfect human being who is termed as the representative of Allah.
Thus when a creation is praised on the basis of the attributes present inside it then all these praises will be for Allah (s) because the attributes on the basis of which praise and appreciation is done is from Allah (s). The appreciation should be for the place from where the attributes have originated.
In the Polytheist type of praises since the since of attributes is considered to be the thing which is other than Allah the praises are also sent on the thing other than Allah (s).
The Hidden "Shirk" (Polytheism)
At times people praise themselves in the same way. If a scholar is asked as to how did you became Scholar and how did you acquire knowledge then the reply which comes is that this is the result of all my efforts. It was because of the efforts of my parents, due to good teachers, due a suitable teaching institute I have become a scholar. He has considered everyone to be effecting and playing a role in his knowledge except for one who is the source of knowledge; the one who is the real effective being and is the essence of knowledge.
This is hidden Polytheism and is hidden inside the thoughts and intellect of man. Allah (s) has warned the faithful about this hidden polytheism in the Holy Quran
"The majority of them have associations in their faith on Allah"
This verse is very tough on the faithful. The message in this verse sends shivers across the spines of believers. The hidden Polytheism practically comes into existence at that time when man considers his self as the one effective behind his virtues and traits of perfection or he agrees upon the complete effectiveness of others except for Allah. He associates the traits of Allah towards things other than Allah due to lack of sense. When he considers attributes, perfection, beauty and elegance as the effects of things other than Allah then praises and appreciation for things other than Allah starts to flow out of his mouth. And this is the instant where in the field of praises and appreciations he indulges into Polytheism. Thus when on one side he does Polytheistic appraisals of things other than Allah considering them as the source of beauty and perfection and also says " الْحَمْدُ للّهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ" (All Praise to the Lord of Universe) then he gets a reply from the other end " سُبْحَانَ اللَّهِ عَمَّا يَصِفُونَ " (Glory be to Allah from the things they attribute with him). This means Allah is saying that Allah is pure or in no need of such praises because at this instant when he said All Praises for Allah becomes just a lie since he is himself praising others and than saying All praise belongs to Allah. But if a person does Monotheistic praise than the praise does not gets divided between Allah and things other than Allah and under this situation all the praises sent are for Allah only. In this situation a person praises the beauty, perfection and grandeur of other things but these appraisals are for Allah.
Monotheism in Praising does not mean that when we witness perfection in the creation we should not praise it just like some people think that the creation cannot be praised in any circumstance else the danger of association (Shirk) will be present.
There are certain persons who do not praise others because they find it difficult and doubt that if they praise someone else they will become inferior; like certain other persons are there who do not respect others because they think by showing respect to others they become inferior. This is incorrect mentality. The right way is that if someone is worthy of praises then we should praise him and if someone deserves high respect then you should respect him but it should be a Monotheistic praise and Monotheistic respect. You should praise on this matter that Allah has blessed him with these traits, Allah has given him beauty and grandeur, the almighty has gifted him virtues and merits; the creator has made him deserving for respect.
The Monotheistic gratification (Shukr)
Similar to praise is also gratification whereby man should be first of all thankful and after that at the stage of thanksgiving he should be monotheistic. This means you should only thank Allah because gratification is a response against the bounties and since all the bounties are from Allah hence thanks should be only made for Allah. But this does not mean that the creation should not be gratified at all; in fact it is mentioned in tradition that; "One whose does not gratifies the creation has not gratified the creator". Thus gratification of creation is must else man would not remain thankful to the creator as well.
Here also the same question arises if we are not thankful to creation than the gratification of creator also does not happen but if we are thankful to creation and also the creator than it becomes Polytheism in gratification, hence this is a clear contradiction. The answer to this is that if a person does Monotheistic gratification than such contradiction does not rises; this means he should be thankful to the creation in a manner that the creator has given me these bounties through this creation. This means when you receive a bounty from a creation than you should express your gratification in a manner that this creation has been established as means by Allah for providing me with this bounty. Here our respected teacher Ayatullah Jawwadi Amouli (d.a) mentions a very fine and precise point that the consideration of type for the creation is important which implies that the creation is gratified considering him as a creation and not something else because considering him as a creation itself means that he has a deep association with creator. The creator and creation are one on whom dependency is there and other is dependent. Creation without the creator and creator without creation cannot be imagined. Thus if any attribute is mentioned or any act is performed for a creator considering him as a creation than the subject of creation is also preserved in this. This is the difference between serving humanity and serving creation that in the services with the subject as humanity only humanity is considered but if the consideration is creation than the creator is also involved. If the upbringing of children is done with regards to considering them only as children then the creator is not involved in this but if it is done considering them as bounty of Allah, creation of Allah and trust of Allah than the creator is also under consideration. Thus if the praise and gratification or someone considering him as a creation is done than the praise for the creation also happens simultaneously.
The method of Praising
Whether it is Praise or Gratification if sequence is maintained in them then it will be Monotheistic. The meaning of sequence is that first the name of Allah should come then the effect or bounty and then the name of creation should come because the sequence of eternal creation is the same. The essence of Allah being the creator is the foremost than the action or effect of Allah is next. Man should say as Praise be to Allah who gave knowledge to me ; Thanks to the essence who gave parents to me. The sequence of recognition of Allah (s) should also be the same but generally first the effects are recognized than through these effects the recognition of the essence of Allah (s) is acquired but in the cosmic sequence foremost is the essence of Allah after this is the grade of his effects. Thus in recognition the same should happen; the Pure holy Imams (a.s) have specified this method as true recognition.
In Philosophy and "Kalaam" the method of identifying the cause through effects is mentioned but for the mystics the path from cause to effects is more satisfactory in fact it is the only way. Thus for those who possess reasoning the external elements which makes us travel from effects to cause have no value ; trustworthy are those elements where the journey is made from cause to effects and source to destination.
بِسْمِ اللهِ"Bismillah" (In the name of Allah) is the beginning of Journey of Recognition
The Chapter of Al-Hamd in reality is the journey of recognition for man because the meaning of بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمنِ الرَّحِيمِِ "Bismillah hir Rahmanir Rahim" is that I begin in the name of Allah who is the most compassionate and merciful. This means a person starts the journey with the name of Allah. In this journey he completely travels through the system of existence, he acquires recognition of all the worlds and all creation, in this journey he witnesses certain affairs, he observes the entire universe, he observes the creation of the world and its maintenance and he witnesses the method and style of creation and maintenance of this world then he realizes that there is only one Lord for the entire universe and that is Allah; and his Lordship is in the form compassion and mercy. Thus in the beginning of the journey itself he speaks out naturally without thinking " الْحَمْدُ للّهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ" ( "All Praise to Allah the Lord of Universe")
The Difference between the Praises of Ali and us
Ameerul Momineen (a.s) says in the beginning of the sermon itself
"Praise be to that essence whose praises and appreciations cannot be approached by anyone".
This is in reality expressing the spirit of this journey. Ali (a.s) did not send these praises just as a formality or a routine repetitive hymn the way people like us generally do. Our method is that we see it written in some book, or tradition, supplication or Quran then we just recite it with our tongues . This means we consider delivery of letters, words and sentence from our tongues as Praise (Hamd) whereas neither we have seen the worlds, nor the Lord and neither have we grasped his mercy but just in the greed of rewards or to make our tongues blessed we deliver the words from our tongues. In fact many phrases are delivered by our tongues as a habit or as used to frequent phrases. There is no frame of thoughts and pondering behind the words delivered as part of habit and neither the beliefs or recognition are the inspirers behind it. We cannot call this as Praise in true sense and neither will the effects of Praise gets manifested on this. This is just like a sound coming out a dead thing or a tape recorded voice is being played.
An ineffective Praise is like an ineffective supplication. A supplication demonstrates its effect only when it gets delivered by the heart and is with recognition. The supplications should come from the heart to the lips; those supplications passed into the heart through the lips are ineffective. Similarly the Praises (Hamd) should also come on lips from the heart and its effect is also due to the same.
The heart is the container of recognition whereas the tongue is a tool of habits. When tongues moves just as a habit then only habits are fulfilled but if the recognition in heart inspires the tongue to move than the tongue becomes an interpretation of heart.
Ameerul Momineen (a.s) is expressing his recognition also along with Praise (Hamd) so that he can inform his addressees that the Praise as habits is different from Praise of recognition.