I was not there to ask them a question relating to jurisprudence. There are a plethora of sources to get those types of questions answered, not to mention the vast amount of archives that contain all the necessary information. What I wanted was a small jewel from these individuals who have dedicated their lives to God and in service of humanity, by taking on the responsibility of issuing edicts in line with the traditions of our Infallibles.
Religion, at its core, revolves around one vital tenet, and in it lays the understanding of God through His endless Mercy and Kindness through which His Oneness can be realized. That tenet is the “noble character traits”. This can be evidenced by the hadith of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him and his progeny): “Verily, I was sent to complete the noble character traits.” I have always pondered upon this tradition and wondered what these noble character traits resemble. How would one embody them without truly observing them in another? Since the Prophets and the Ahlul Bayt (peace and blessings be upon them all) are the perfect manifestation of these traits, what was it like interacting with them? This question lingered in my mind for years until I had the opportunity to sit with the closest followers of our Infallibles. I was recently blessed with the opportunity to sit with the top four Grand Ayatollahs (Maraja) of Najaf, where I experienced such noble character traits that I have never, and may never again, done so before.
Entering their modest homes with plain carpets and bare walls was an initial sign of their modesty. Stepping into their greeting rooms with their simple homemade floor cushions and backrests underscored their humility. The level of positive energy emanating from the corner in which they sat cannot be described with words. Their beaming smiles and soft eyes greeted me as if I were coming home after a long absence. The love they project through their language and body movements gave me the sense that they have known me my entire life. Shaking their hand I sensed a loving warmth that I only felt when holding the hand of a relative. When they spoke, their eyes looked at me with full attention and with the gentleness of a parent lovingly advising their child. I could not help but want to remain by their side, lose track of time and feel heartbroken at having to eventually depart. These gentle individuals are the embodiment of those noble character traits taught to us by the Prophets and the Ahlul Bayt, and sitting next to them gave me a slight glimpse of the world of their companions and how they must have felt by their side.
My quest to meet them was summed up in one simple request: “Please give me advice that has benefited you in your life.” I was not there to ask them a question relating to jurisprudence. There are a plethora of sources to get those types of questions answered, not to mention the vast amount of archives that contain all the necessary information. What I wanted was a small jewel from these individuals who have dedicated their lives to God and in service of humanity, by taking on the responsibility of issuing edicts in line with the traditions of our Infallibles. I wanted a lesson from the life of each of these men who have spent over half a century delving into the logic and reasoning of the Holy Qur’an and the traditions of our Prophet and his Ahlul Bayt.
The Qur’an and the traditions of the Holy Infallibles have provided us with all the advice needed for mankind. The Maraja demonstrate, through their long lives of dedication and worship, that what is contained in the holy books and traditions can truly benefit and raise one not just in the Hereafter, but in the present life as well. As simple as their advice may seem, I understood that these blessed individuals are living proof that acting upon it elevates them in the eyes of the people and the Almighty. Amazingly, I found each of their advice came from a different perspective, yet were still interrelated. The following are the pearls of wisdom each Marja gave to me (in no particular order):
Ayatollah Sayyid Mohammad Saeed Al-Hakim
- Be steadfast on the true and proper criteria (based on the divine teachings) when making decisions and judgments.
- Do not sway from your proper mindset (based on the divine criteria) because of what people say. Rely on your own judgment.
- Remain resilient in your judgment despite any negative news or information. Do not allow yourself to be tricked and trapped by the gossip of others.
Ayatollah Shaikh Mohammad Ishaq Al-Fayadh
- Do not ever lie, even if the truth is difficult, and always be trustworthy in all your affairs. One lie can bring down all your deeds whether they be social or religious and erase all trust in you completely.
- Treat people with fairness, kindness and a pleasant temperament because Islam is the religion of high moral constitution and noble traits.
- Always look for ways to help the weak, the needy and the poor in your daily actions.
Ayatollah Shaikh Bashir Hussain Al-Najafi
- Do not ever oppress or follow suspicions and remember the verse: “Those who believe and do not obscure their belief with oppression, they are those who shall have safety and they are rightly guided.” (6:82)
- Read the Qur’an with contemplation after Salat al-Fajr (dawn prayer), even if it is just two verses.
When the question was asked, how does one deal with those who don’t have knowledge in matters but act as if they are experts, and lead others or issue statements and decrees, thereby misleading people?
Ayatollah Al-Najafi answered through the following analogy:
Those people draw a line with their hand and claim that it is a straight line without curves. You must use the proper “ruler” (divine criteria, knowledge and experience) to draw a straight line next to their hand-drawn line. The presence of your straight line using the “ruler” will shout its superiority over the other line without you needing to prove or argue that their line is not straight. Therefore, do not spend your time trying to prove their lack of knowledge, concentrate on making sure you draw your line with the “ruler” (i.e. perform your actions with the proper divine criteria, knowledge and experience).
Ayatollah Sayyid Ali al-Hussaini Al-Sistani
- Do not rely on others; rely on yourself with the help of God.
- Do not fear people even if they are more knowledgeable than you or higher in status, and only remain conscious of God.
- Do not be concerned or saddened by the affairs of this life and work for the sake of God towards your religion and afterlife. Ayatollah Al-Sistani gave an example where he worked on a charity mission for ten years and someone else claimed the prestige. He was not saddened nor affected. Since he dedicated all of his work as service to God, he was easily able to continue with the same degree of ambition and energy.
Contemplating their words and how they delivered them, I am beginning to understand the noble character traits that I was striving to learn. I pray these simple pearls of advice from such blessed individuals help us all in our lives as they did in theirs, by elevating our moral characters to reach the tenet of the noble character traits.