The Psalms of Islam
The Holy Qur’an and Nahjul Balagha are two books you will find in nearly every Shia Muslim home. These represent the two weighty things that were left to us by the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny), the Holy Book of God and the members of his Household. Unfortunately, many times these books gather dust on the highest bookshelf of the house. They are not often seen or read, let alone implemented in the daily lives of Muslims. While this is a tragedy beyond all comprehension, a nearly bigger tragedy is that most households do not even have a third essential book, Sahifa Sajjadiya. Known famously as the Psalms of Islam, this book is a compilation of heart-rending supplications to God from his humble servant, Imam Ali ibn Hussain Zainul Abideen (peace be upon him). If we truly utilized this hidden treasure, we could not enumerate the wonders it would bestow upon us.
This article won’t go into detail about the life of the Fourth Imam, but some background is needed in order to somewhat understand his Sahifa. The Fourth Imam was present during the Battle of Karbala but could not participate in the battle due to illness. Consequently, he had to suffer by seeing his father, brothers, and companions all cut down before him. In the aftermath of the event of Karbala, the Imam was very much in grief and was seen crying a lot. According to a famous tradition, a person once asked the Imam why he cried so much. The Imam responded by telling him that in the Qur’an, God says that Prophet Yaqub cried until his eyes turned white because of the loss of Prophet Yusuf (peace be upon them both). “And he turned away from them, and said: ‘O my sorrow for Yusuf!’ And his eyes became white on account of the grief, and he was a repressor (of grief).” (12:84) So how is it a surprise that the Imam cried so much, when he lost so many of his own Yusufs right before his eyes? Ayatollah Mutahhari explains that another reason the Imam cried so much during the days after Karbala was not just because of his grief but also because it was the best way to keep the memory of Imam Hussain’s sacrifice alive, in a time when those in power were trying to erase it. It is with this background that one can somewhat understand the spirit behind the supplications produced by the Imam.
Sahifa Sajjadiya can be seen as a spiritual medicine cabinet. Just as one goes through their own medicine cabinet to find a cure for the specific ailment they have, this book can be used as a medicine cabinet for any spiritual state you find yourself in. If you find yourself in the midst of making some tough decisions, you can read the supplication in worrisome tasks. If you have committed a sin and feel ashamed of it, you can read the supplication in wrongdoing. Any spiritual state you find yourself in will have its corresponding supplication. There are supplications for certain holy occasions, such as the Month of Ramadan and the Day of Arafa. There are also supplications for self-improvement, the main one being Makarimul Akhlaq, the supplication for noble moral traits. There are also short supplications for each day of the week, so as to make regular recitation easy. Just looking through the table of contents of this book shows us the depth it possesses.
Finally, there are also several Munajaat at the end of the book. Munajaat can be roughly translated to “talking” or “having a conversation”. In this case, it is the intimate conversations of our Imam with his Lord. Conversing with God regularly is true spirituality, and these conversations between Imam Sajjad and God will really open our eyes. Again, there are conversations for different spiritual states, such as being fearful, hopeful and thankful. Conversing with Allah according to our current spiritual state will only serve to enhance our relationship with him. There are so many different ways to supplicate to Allah. Imam Sajjad has showed us the best ways in this book, which should be in every household in the world, not just the Shias.
Shia Muslims have access to the most sublime knowledge this world has ever seen. With the Holy Quran, Nahjul Balagha, and Sahifa Sajjadiya, we not only have access to the best knowledge, but we also have the duty to implement that knowledge in our lives to better ourselves and those around us. Regular study and implementation of the vast Islamic knowledge at our fingertips will truly solve all of this world’s problems. And the only way is through the Qur’an and following the examples of the Holy Prophet and his Household.