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Vicious Circles in Human Life

God does not change the condition of a people until they change their own condition.

In sermon 17 in Nahj al-Balagha, Imam Ali (peace be upon him) describes the condition of the people who are ignorant and have shunned true knowledge and do not seek remedy: “Among all the people the most detested before Allah are two persons. One is he who is devoted to his self. So he is deviated from the true path and loves speaking about (foul) innovations and inviting towards wrong path. He is therefore a nuisance for those who are enamored of him, is himself misled from the guidance of those preceding him, misleads those who follow him in his life or after his death, carries the weight of others’ sins and is entangled in his own misdeeds.

God does not change the condition of a people until they change their own condition.

There are many conditions which are abominable and must be avoided, but sometimes they get an independent existence of their own and feed on themselves. Under such conditions, a circle is formed which takes its victims down further into the deeper levels of that condition, day by day. There are so many examples of such vicious circles: ignorance feeds on ignorance, poverty is the cause of poverty, ill health leads to ill health, hatred increases hatred and so on.

A vicious circle is a closed loop. When used in the context of human conditions, it depicts a loop in which cause and effect continuously interchange their positions, resulting in more negative and unfavorable results. The World Bank, for instance, explains the vicious circle of poverty as low productivity leading to low income, which leads to low savings, which leads to low investment, which leads back to low productivity. In this way, the cycle of poverty goes on until broken by a force.

Here, we will mostly talk about the vicious circle of misguidance, though the nature of the basic problem and solution is generally the same for all others as well.

The Holy Qur’an talks of issues of guidance and misguidance among the different communities. We are told that because of some communities’ aversion for guidance, they were led to misguidance and left in their state of inordinacy for further deviation. This is a situation in which man rejects the guidance of Allah and because of this rejection he is left with Accursed Satan as his companion, and the Accursed Satan leads him to further misguidance: “O children of Adam! let not the Shaitan cause you to fall into affliction as he expelled your parents from the garden, pulling off from them both their clothing that he might show them their evil inclinations, he surely sees you, he as well as his host, from whence you cannot see them; surely We have made the Shaitans to be the guardians of those who do not believe.” (Holy Qur’an,7:27)

“Allah is the guardian of those who believe. He brings them out of the darkness into the light; and (as to) those who disbelieve, their guardians are Shaitans who take them out of the light into the darkness; they are the inmates of the fire, in it they shall abide.” (2:257)

“A part has He guided aright and (as for another) part, error is justly their due, surely they took the Shaitans for guardians beside Allah, and they think that they are followers of the right.” (7:30)

When guidance is rejected, the Accursed Satan becomes the guardian who misleads to more misdeeds and deviation. Because the misled ones remain in illusion that they are on the right path, they do not seek true guidance and thus move further on the path of misguidance.

In sermon 17 in Nahj al-Balagha, Imam Ali (peace be upon him) describes the condition of the people who are ignorant and have shunned true knowledge and do not seek remedy: “Among all the people the most detested before Allah are two persons. One is he who is devoted to his self. So he is deviated from the true path and loves speaking about (foul) innovations and inviting towards wrong path. He is therefore a nuisance for those who are enamored of him, is himself misled from the guidance of those preceding him, misleads those who follow him in his life or after his death, carries the weight of others’ sins and is entangled in his own misdeeds.

“The other man is he who has picked up ignorance. He moves among the ignorant, is senseless in the thick of mischief and is blind to the advantages of peace. Those resembling like men have named him scholar but he is not so. He goes out early morning to collect things whose deficiency is better than plenty, till when he has quenched his thirst from polluted water and acquired meaningless things.

“He is ignorant, wandering astray in ignorance and riding on carriages aimlessly moving in darkness. He did not try to find reality of knowledge. He scatters the traditions as the wind scatters the dry leaves.”

The Way Out from Vicious Circles

The vicious circles can be broken by two kinds of forces: internal and external ones.

The internal factors lie within man himself. Misguidance, or any evil for that matter, is like a blind alley. After a certain level, one either perishes or returns back to the truth. The internal revolution is bound to happen. When one realizes his ailment and seeks medicine for it, the circle is broken. The change will happen only when man takes the initiative himself and seeks redressal for the evils he is suffering from: “…surely Allah does not change the condition of a people until they change their own condition…” (13:11)

In sermon 86, Imam Ali says: “O’ creatures of Allah! the most beloved of Allah is he whom Allah has given power (to act) against his passions, so that his inner side is (submerged in) grief and the outer side is covered with fear. The lamp of guidance is burning in his heart.” This requires a revolution of thoughts, a revolution of conscious, and a revolution of purity.

The external factors include the chain of Prophets (peace be upon them) and Imams (peace be upon them), and the prominent role of scholars. Allah established a system of guidance in addition to the internal one. This system is that of the Prophets and Imams: “He it is Who raised among the inhabitants of Mecca an Messenger from among themselves, who recites to them His communications and purifies them, and teaches them the Book and the Wisdom, although they were before certainly in clear error.” (62:2)

“And certainly We raised in every nation a messenger saying: Serve Allah and shun the Shaitan. So there were some of them whom Allah guided and there were others against whom error was due; therefore travel in the land, then see what was the end of the rejecters.” (16:36)

The guides sent by Allah break the circles of evil in a nation afflicted with various evils, and they lead the people on the path of salvation. Keeping this in mind, the role of righteous scholars and leaders becomes very significant too. During the occultation of Imam Muhammad al-Mahdi (may Allah hasten his reappearance), the leadership of the Ummah is supposed to be in the hands of scholars. At all levels, the righteous scholars work as caring and cautious parents for the community. They monitor the conditions of people carefully and take redressal actions wherever required. They help to break vicious circles.

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