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Know Your Lord

Acc. to ʿAli bin Abi Tālib

كرم الله وجهه

May Allah ennoble his face!

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[On the subject of knowing the Lord of the universe], al-Nuʿmān bin Saʿad said: "I was in the city of Kufa, visiting the Prince and Commander of the Believers, ʿAli bin Abi Tālib, when Nawf bin ʿAbdullāh came to see him and said: 'O Amir al-Mu'minīn, there are forty Jews at the door requesting to see you.' 'Ali replied: 'Let them in.' When the visitors stood before him, their spokesman said: 'O ʿAli, describe to us your Lord who is in the heavens, how is that, how was He before, when was He; and what is He.

Ali immediately straightened up his sitting posture, and he replied, 'Hearken to me and do not worry! You need not to ask anyone else beside me about this subject! ʿAli then added:

'My Lord was there first, and nothing ever existed besides Him. He did not commence from what or was intermingled with what! His attributes cannot be fixed or limited. He is not an apparition that can be pursued or delimited, nor is He veiled to be contained. He did not issue from what was not, and thus He is not an occurrence.

Exalted and most glorious is the Creator and Maker of everything, Lord of the universe, Whose divine majesty is most awesome and beyond having to explicate His essence to His creation, and instead, we say (as He described Himself, Qur'an 57:3) that He was there from the beginningless beginning, and He is the eternal without end. He is not subject to changes, nor is He affected by what He causes to change.

How can He be described by an occurrence He created, and how can His divine being be limited to the best fathom of the greatest rhetoricians of all times. He did not emerge from something else that can lead one to assume His manifestation, nor did He emanate from anything else that brought Him into being. He is without how, and He is closer than one's jugular vein, and yet, He is beyond description in the widest perceivable realms.

Not a single glaring of anyone of His entire creation combined is ever hidden to Him, nor the sequence of any uttering or a sound is ever veiled to Him or is unperceived by Him, and neither is a single progression of any toddler obscure to His divine knowledge, and nor is the stretch of the tiniest step taken by any of His creation in a dark gloomy night, or at any depth or layer of this world not visible by Him. The brilliant moon in its fullness does not veil His magnificent effulgent presence, nor can the radiant sun and the full gamut of its rays brighten and make His presence more luminous. The orderly changing stretches of the nights and what they bring, and the prolongation and shortening of the daylight hours are within His knowledge, for He alone has the knowledge of what He wills to exist, and the wisdom behind their alterations.

He is the omniscient Lord Who is full of knowledge of every space, time, sequence, duration and term. The time allotted for the existence of His creation is predetermined solely by Him, and boundaries are not His attributes. He did not create things from preexisting matters nor from elements that were known before Him; rather, He created everything from inception, He made their nature perfect for their respective needs, and He fashioned everything and rendered it its best complementary form. Exalted is He in His glory, for there is nothing that can prevent or limit His reach, nor can anything interfere in His will. He does not benefit from the obedience of His creation, and He is swift in answering their prayers. The countless myriads of angels in the heavens as well as the two earths are subservient to Him.

His knowledge of the annihilated beings and past souls is as intricate as His knowledge of the ever-expanding universe and changing lives. His knowledge encompasses everything in the highest heavens and what is in the deepest layers of the earth. He knows everything. He distinguishes the multitude of sounds He created, and each of them stands distinct from the others before Him. Languages do not preoccupy Him. He is the All-Hearing Lord and without the extremities of a body, and He alone manages the entire universe, and He is the All-Seeing Lord, the Living, and the sole Sustaining power behind the entire existence. Glory be to Him, He spoke to Moses with words without the need for limbs or tools, nor lips nor through the vibration of a uvular sound. Exalted is He beyond ascription of mechanical attributes. He who alleges that our Lord is limited is indeed ignorant of the Creator who is worshipped in the heavens and on earth. The one that imagines Him contained within boundaries will live his life confused and mixed up.

Instead, it is God Almighty,   Allah , who encompasses everything. Therefore, if you are troubled, and if you have gone to the extend of asking questions to describe the Merciful Lord, seeking an explanation beyond what He already revealed about Himself, inquiring in excess of the manifest proof of His sovereignty, then describe to me the archangels Gabriel, Michael, or Isrāfīl. How can you? Thus, if you are incapable of describing the created (angels), then how can you describe the Creator? What you can understand is limited to recognizing the attributes and the essence of perceived matters, but when it comes to describing the One Whom no slumber nor sleep can seize, you will surely fail. To Him belongs what the two earths, the heavens and all what they embody, and He is the Lord of the magnificent throne." (Also narrated by al-Nu'mān and Ishāq)

 Also on this subject, Ahmad bin Abi al-Hawwāri narrated that ʿAli bin Abi Tālib, God bless his countenance, said: "I would not be happy if I had died as an infant, and if I entered paradise without experiencing this life and growing up to know my Lord."

 ʿAli bin al-Hussain narrated that his grandfather ʿAli, God be pleased with both of them, said: "Among people, the most true in their advice, and the unsurpassed in their knowledge of who is God, are those who have the most love and reverence for the people of Lā ilāha il Allah (Surely there is no god other than Allah)."

 Yahya Ibn Abi Kathār narrated that the companions once asked ʿAli, God bless his countenance: "Should we guard you?" He replied: "One is best guarded by his own destiny."

From: Hilyat-ul Awliya, Abu Naʿim al-Asfahāni
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* Living Islam – Islamic Tradition *