Friday, February 22, 2008

The Face of 'Ali

‘Abdullah ibn Mas‘ud reported that the Messenger of God (God bless him and give him peace) said: Looking upon the face of ‘Ali is an act of worship. (Narrated by Hakim in al-Mustadrak)

God says: Its oil almost glows forth, though no fire hath touched it. (Qur’an 24:25)

The scholars say that one of the meanings of this phrase from the famous Verse of Light is that the physical beauty of the Messenger of God (God bless him and give him peace) was of such intensity that one could be guided to Islam simply by looking upon him, without needing to hear the message he brought.

God has placed within the universe abundant beauty. To experience this beauty is one of the greatest joys of life. This beauty affects us in different ways, depending on our own states, yet to some degree we are all aware of it.

The effect of beauty upon the soul can be very difficult to describe. All of us have experienced times when we are utterly lost for words upon beholding some natural wonder; the view from a mountain peak we struggled for hours to reach, the empty expanse of desert or ocean stretching as far as the eye can see, the tiny fingers of a newborn child curled around the tip of one of our own. We cannot find the right words to express our feelings. Yet the believer will have no trouble in arriving at the appropriate response in such occasions: ‘Subhanallah, glory be to God!’

God says: Will they not look upon camels, how they are created? And the sky, how it is raised? And the mountains, how they are established? And the earth, how it is spread? (Qur’an 88:17-20)

Beholding such wonders of creation naturally leads us to marvel at the magnificence of the Creator, whose Divine Attributes are manifested therein. One of the significant characteristics of the Islamic faith is that Muslims have never felt the need to search for a locus for God, a single embodiment of Him, as other religions such as Christianity have found it necessary to do. God has no need of an avatar in which to manifest, by which we might know Him, and direct to Him our worship. God is already manifest in creation, not in the sense that He dwells within it, but by virtue of its very existence being a manifestation of His Divine Attributes. To facilitate our recognition of this, God has placed within His creation great beauty and wonder, and has created within us the ability to perceive this beauty.

Yet in His Eternal Wisdom, God has chosen to create certain focal points where the Divine Beauty can be beheld in exquisite clarity. All creation is beautiful, yet we are not equally moved by every part of it. Certain things stand out for us, and move us in a particular way. Every stone on the earth is equal to every other in their being creations of God, yet the ruby and the emerald move us in a way that ordinary pebbles do not. God has placed throughout His creation hidden gems such as these, which are all the more precious to us for their having been hidden. The view from the mountaintop shows us nothing we could not have seen from the ground, yet the particular perspective it gives us can only be obtained through special effort.

‘Ali ibn Abi Talib (Allah be pleased with him), the subject of this Hadith, is reported to have said: ‘What a fine reminder a rosary is!’ That is, to behold a tool of the remembrance of God causes one to remember Him. It has been suggested by many that the rosary is an innovation because the Messenger of God (God bless him and give him peace) did not use one himself. Commenting on this, our Shaykh al-Buzidi al-Bujrafi (God preserve him) said: ‘Why should the Prophet have had any use for a rosary? He himself was a rosary, an instrument of God’s remembrance.’

Those who have devoted every moment of their lives to God and His remembrance become themselves instruments of remembrance for others. When we behold them, we think of nothing but God. We do not see them as ordinary human beings who eat, sleep, and breathe, but rather as beacons of Divine Beauty that God has placed in the world to guide us to His remembrance.

The Messenger of God (God bless him and give him peace) said: ‘The Friends of God are those who, when they are beheld, God is remembered.'

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