At night, their feet are arranged in ranks as they dutifully recite the Qur’an in slow measured tones. If they come upon a verse that stimulates [in them] longing [for the delightful things which God has promised] they ponder it, craving to attain them. Their souls soar due to the intensity of their longing for those delights. If they come upon a verse that frightens them [with the threat of Allah’s dreadful punishment] they hear it reverberating in the depths of their hearts. They imagine that they hear the dreadful sounds of the Hellfire in the innermost recesses of their ears. You find them kneeling down [before their Lord], begging to be liberated from the Hellfire. As for their days, they are forbearing, clement scholars. They are righteous and pious. Fear [of Allah] piercestheir hearts like arrows. One who gazes upon them thinks that they are sick. However, they are far from being sick.
They are not satisfied with a minimal amount of righteous deeds, nor do they consider excessive amounts of worship to be great. They see their faults, and they fear that their deeds will not be accepted. If someone praises one of them, he says, ‘I know myself better than others [know me], and my Lord is more knowledgeable of me than myself. O God! Do not take me to task for what they say, and make me better than what they think of me, and forgive me for those sins which they are unaware of.”
One of the signs [of such a person] is that you observe strength in his religion. His gentleness is accompanied by sobriety. His faith is coupled with certainty. He longs for knowledge. He acts with forbearance. He lives moderately, even when blessed with wealth. He is humble in his worship. He endures poverty with dignified grace. He patiently endures trying circumstances. He seeks his sustenance from the lawful. He hastens to right guidance. He is agitated if he perceives greed in himself. He works righteousness all the while trembling, [fearing that his deeds won’t be accepted]. His greatest concern is gratitude. In the morning preoccupied with the Remembrance of God. He goes to bed at night overwhelmed, apprehensive. He rises in the morning overjoyed. His apprehension arises from the awareness of his heedlessness. His joy is caused by the bounties and mercy [God has opened up for him during the coming day]. If his soul presses him with something he despises, he does not concede [to it] and withholds from it what it desires. The comfort of his eye is that which is permanent [the reward of his righteous deeds]. His abstinence from that which is temporal. He mixes clemency with knowledge, and speech with action. He expects death at any moment. His slips are few [because of his cautiousness and deliberateness in speech and actions]. His heart is content. He is easy-going. He is constantly on guard against assaults upon his religion. His lusts are dead. His anger is suppressed. People anticipate goodness from him. They are safe from any wickedness from him. If he is in the company of the heedless, he is recorded as being mindful [of his Lord].
He overlooks those who oppress him. He gives to those who deny him. He joins relations with those who cut him off. He is far removed from any indecency. His speech is gentle. You find nothing bad in him. He is always a source of good. During calamities, he is composed. In dire straights, he is patient. In times of ease, he is thankful. He does not oppress those he dislikes, nor does he sin for the sake of those he loves. He admits the truth before his witnessing is sought. He preserves all he is entrusted with. He does not hurl abusive names at people. He never harms his neighbor, nor does he find joy in afflictions that befall his enemy. If he is transgressed against, he perseveres until God takes revenge for him. He relies on himself while he himself is a source of relief for others [they can rely on him]. He tires himself for the sake of his salvation, not burdening others in any way. His distance from those he avoids is a form of abstinence, while his drawing near to people is from his gentleness and mercy. Hence, his distance from people does not arise from arrogance and haughtiness, nor is his closeness to them motivated by cunning and treachery.”
Hearing this, Humam dropped dead. Imam ‘Ali, may God be pleased with him said, “This is what I feared would happen to him. Thus is the effect of a penetrating word when it reaches a receptive heart.”
(Imam Ali, translated by Imam Zaid Shakir)
'Living and Dying with Grace: Counsels of Hadrat Ali'
By Thomas Cleary (Author)
Living and Dying with Grace is a book of aphoristic Sufi teachings on how to make one's way in the world—especially on how to bring spiritual insight to the affairs of daily life. Sufism, the mystical branch of Islam, contains a vast body of knowledge concerning the inner development of the complete human being. Among the greatest of Sufi masters, Hadrat 'Alî (598-661 CE), cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad, is regarded as a paragon of compassion and virtue and a master of both exoteric and esoteric knowledge. He was not only a great warrior, statesman, and scholar, but also a devoted husband and father.
'Ali, a great warrior and statesman of emergent Islam, was well known and well respected for his knowledge of the esoteric. His compassion, loyalty, and devotion marked his tenure as both a political and religious leader. The sayings here collected reveal penetrating and timeless insights into the world of life and death. For example, 'Ali's reflection that "the ignorant among you are promoted, while the knowledgeable are put off," could be a description of contemporary American politics. Cleary's able translation retains the liveliness of the original. Recommended for large public libraries or for libraries interested in Islamic spirituality.