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Self-knowledge

Self-knowledge

Author:
Publisher: www.alhassanain.org/english
English

This book is corrected and edited by Al-Hassanain (p) Institue for Islamic Heritage and Thought

Alhassanain (p) Network for Islamic Heritage and Thought

Self-knowledge

This book is an invitation to a journey, an interior journey of discovery in quest of a lost treasure containing the most precious jewels of the whole of creation. The map which shows the way is to be found in the final message of Allah for mankind, a way which is also indicated by the internal compass in every heart. We begin our journey with an inquiry into the nature of the spirit and its virtues and vices, and we are led to an understanding that man has the potential to be the representative of God on earth. If we pay heed to our origin and present conditions, and if we arrive at a sufficient understanding of our ultimate goal, the kinds of knowledge that are obtained on the journey will help us to make wise choices about the course our lives may take.

Author(s): Mohammad Ali Shomali

Publisher(s): International Publishing Co.

www.alhassanain.org/english

IN THE NAME OF ALLAH

Table of Contents

Publisher's Preface 4

Introduction 5

The Importance of Self-Knowledge 10

The Benefits of Self-knowledge 14

Fiqh, Islamic jurisprudence; Akhlaq, Ethics 17

Free Will 23

Natural determinism 23

Religious determinism 24

Our Future 27

Heaven and hell 28

Endless future 30

Infinite rewards or punishments 31

Good Attributes of Human Beings 32

How to Reach Our Goal 39

The Importance of Knowledge in Decision-making 42

Our Origin 44

Our Present 45

Complete dependence 46

Mortality of this universe 47

True nature of this life 49

The Representative of Allah on Earth 51

The Spirit 54

The Status of Human Beings in the Glorious Qur'an 61

The Vices Attributed to Human Beings 63

Man is unjust and ignorant 64

Man is ungrateful 65

Man is an inordinate being 66

Man is hasty and does not have sufficient patience 67

Man is a niggardly being 67

Man is a greedy being 67

Man is an inquisitive and curious being 67

Publisher's Preface

We live in a time when people have come to feel an urgent need to examine the spiritual dimension of their lives. The materialistic tendencies which have dominated so much of the modern age are beginning to lose their attraction. People are beginning to realize that their deepest needs cannot be satisfied by consumer products.

The turn within, however, is not without dangers of its own; sometimes the seeker becomes blinded by the brilliance of relatively superficial religious experiences, other may become victims of extreme forms of asceticism, and perhaps the greatest danger is pride. Guidance is needed for the spiritual journey. With the publication of this book, we hope to provide the seeker with a few basic ideas to guide him or her in the spiritual quest.

This work provides the reader with guidance drawn from the Glorious Qur'an and ahadith about the value of knowledge of the self, and the ways in which this knowledge can help one to achieve one's highest potential.

This book was written in English as a text for foreign students in the Islamic Republic of Iran. While it retains the style of a text of fourteen lessons, it is engaging and lively rather than pedantic. It takes the reader step by step from considerations of the value of self-knowledge to an understanding of the ultimate goal for humanity.

The author has completed advanced degrees in the Islamic seminaries of Qom and in the University of Tehran, where he earned an M.A. in Western philosophy. He has also been teaching Islamic sciences in Qom, Mashhad and Tehran for more than a decade.

International Publishing Co.

Introduction

Perhaps no school of thought has emphasized the nobility and value of humanity to the extent that Islam has. In Islam, man has the highest Possibilities for perfection and closeness to Allah. The divine spirit is breathed into him and he is the representative of Allah on earth. Man will be satisfied with nothing short of closeness to Allah and His pleasure. Nothing can calm the spirit of man but the remembrance of Allah. He can find no rest, but in meeting Allah. The value of man is due to his voluntary relationship to the absolute Truth and to the degree of his similarity that Truth.

Both rebellious humanism and despairing pessimism are distorted perspectives on this jewel of creation. The “straight path” of the Glorious Qur'an, which passes between these two extremes, is servitude and worship of Allah. According to Islam, all perfections and values may be traced back to this, for it is only by servitude and worship of Allah that man can realize his true status and move without interruption toward the Source of the Light.

The creation and strengthening of the spirit of servitude to Allah in man withers the roots of all moral vices and adorns him with all beauties. This is the quick route, the profound and miraculous way prescribed by the Glorious Qur'an for the training of man. Could anything less than this be expected of the Glorious Qur'an, the final message of Allah for mankind?

The Noble Prophet, may the Peace and blessing of Allah be with him and with his household, actually shows that a pure servant of Allah can display all conceivable human perfections. On the one hand, he invited people to tawhid saying, “Say there is no god but Allah and you will be felicitous,” and on the other hand, he said, “I have been sent to complete noble characters.”

How beautifully tawhid is interwoven with virtue, and faith with practice. What a religion this is that ties together doctrine with jurisprudence and morals, individual affairs with social affairs, piety with economic development and mysticism ('irfan) with politics! It is so amazing to find these dimensions interrelated that one wonders how is possible for a person with a bit of information about Islam, who has tasted its comprehensiveness, to seek another way of life?

In this small book, considering these points, an attempt has been made to express the intellectual and doctrinal foundations of the Islamic moral system and to show the relationship between self-knowledge and knowledge of God and between self-improvement and closeness to God. We hope that once one has realized the need for knowledge and improvement of the self, one will feel the need for spirituality in the depths of his soul and will continue his quest for an ever deeper understanding of religion.

Our book begins with a chapter on the importance of self-knowledge. After introducing the subject of self-knowledge, we explain its importance in the Glorious Qur'an and Islamic traditions (anadith).

.

The second chapter includes discussions of six benefits of self-knowledge. The first is that through knowledge of one's abilities and limitations one may avoid both egocentric arrogance and a despairing underestimation of one's self. The second is that one may come to recognize his own intrinsic worth and the unworthiness of his own base desires. Related to this point there is a discussion of nobility of spirit (karamat al-nafs).

The third benefit is an understanding that one's being is composed of two parts, body and spirit, the latter of which is the most important and most deserving of our care. Therefore, we should take heed of all our thoughts, words and deeds, knowing that they have effects on the spirit. Both ethics and jurisprudence provide guidance in this area, each in its own way.

The fourth benefit is an understanding that one is not a product of mere chance, but that each of us has been created for a purpose, and that consequently, each of us should discover his mission, and orient his life accordingly. The fifth is that self-knowledge leads to a deeper appreciation of the role of consciousness in self-improvement.

After discussing how things enter our awareness, we conclude that special care should be taken to avoid the formation of detrimental habits. The sixth benefit is that self-knowledge is a gateway to the celestial kingdom (malakut). Conscience and the ability to determine one's nature are two examples of phenomena within us that cannot be analyzed or justified according to material laws. In addition to material life, there are other forms of life, even in this world, and all of these non-material phenomena point the way to the celestial kingdom.

On the basis of the centrality of the spirit in discussions of self-knowledge (and in accordance with the third benefit mentioned in Chapter 2), the third chapter of our book examines the immateriality of the spirit and its independence from the body. Visions of the immaterial spirit by some of the great scholars of Islam of the present age are mentioned along with a discussion of the theoretical and practical dimensions of mysticism ('irfan).

The fourth chapter is about the value and nobility of human beings in Islam. The Islamic perspective on this issue is defended from criticisms by some Western intellectuals, and it is shown how the inherent nobility of man can be completed with the acquisition of virtue. Finally, the question of the comparative nobilities of God's creatures, including angels and humans, is studied.

In the fifth and sixth chapters the Qur’anic perspective on the virtues and vices of human beings is presented along with a discussion of which kinds of traits of character may be acquired voluntarily, and a description of the picture of man to be found in the Glorious Qur’an.

One of the greatest possible human attributes is to be the representative of Allah on earth (khalifat Allah). The meaning and scope of this representation, and its two varieties, generative and legislative, are discussed in the seventh chapter with reference to relevant passages from the Glorious Qur'an.

One of the conclusions to be drawn from the discussions in the previous chapters is that man’s perfection depends on the appropriate exercise of his free will. In the eighth chapter the topic of free will is investigated and the fallacy of fatalism and its destructive consequences are exposed.

After recognizing human freedom of will, we find that three factors are needed for its appropriate employment: power, desire and knowledge. The ninth chapter contains a discussion of these, with special attention given to the role of knowledge. The most important sorts of knowledge needed in this regard are five: knowledge of our origin, our present, our future, our ultimate goal and the way to reach this goal. These topics are taken up in the subsequent five chapters.

Chapter ten is about knowing God and Our relation to Him. According to the Qur'an, it is not difficult to become certain of His existence. After knowing God, His benevolence and His freedom from all need, on the one hand, and our total dependence on Him, on the other, we come to an understanding that His commands are solely for our own benefit.

In the eleventh chapter some of the features of this world are mentioned. First, that in our present worldly sojourn we are completely dependent on Allah and subsequently on various material conditions. Second, we reflect upon the ephemeral character of the cosmos, and thirdly the true nature of this life is seen to lack significance in itself, except insofar as it is the only opportunity we have to seek the countenance of Allah (wajh Allah).

The topic of the twelfth chapter is the afterlife, and it includes discussions of corporeal resurrection, the period between death and the resurrection (barzakh), heaven and hell, the relation between our deeds and divine rewards and punishments and the eternity of the afterlife.

There are two major questions which are taken up in the thirteenth chapter: What is the purpose of creation? And subsequently, what should we take to be the goal of our life?

Although the ultimate purpose of creation is not to benefit Allah, Who is completely needless, we may say that, at a certain level, the goal of creation is the perfect man or woman (insan kamil) From this it follows that we should adopt as our own goal, that of approximating this status to the extent we are able. The nearness to Allah of the perfect human being is elucidated in terms of its results: material blessings, social justice, and freedom from all obstacles in the process of self-improvement, peace and confidence, entrance into the universe of light, guardianship (wilayah), complete knowledge and eternal happiness.

The last chapter is about how to reach our goal. In short, the Islamic program for reaching the ultimate goal is service to Allah, hence, we should strive to adapt our beliefs, our deeds and our characters to that which is pleasing to Him. There follow discussions of the necessity for personal investigation about basic religious doctrines, the ways to understand our duties to Allah and the need for purification of the heart. After personal investigation into the basic doctrines, we should take care that our understanding of Islam is in accordance with the Glorious Qur'an and the tradition (sunnah) of the Prophet and his household, Peace be with them, for which purpose we should refer to the 'ulama.

There is also an appendix in which there is a discussion of philosophy of punishment according to Islam which is based on the view of man found in the Qur'an. Without going into the details of juridical reasoning, it is argued that the Islamic attitude toward punishment is more harmonious with essential human values than humanistic approaches to this topic.

More than half of the contents of this book was first taught to a group of students from Canada, the United States and the United Arab Emirates in a summer course in Jami'at al-Zahra, and the Imam Mahdi Institute, Qom and Mashhad, in 1994.

These materials were first published at the request of the Editor of Tehran Times in forty-nine installments in that newspaper the following winter and spring. In the summer of 1995, these materials with some additional supplements were taught at Zahra Academy, Qom, to a group of students from Britain, France and Kenya. Praise be to Allah, these materials have met with such a favorable response from students that the directors of the above mentioned centers proposed that they be assembled into a book. Some further materials were added, and the present work was prepared for publication.

While this work was written with the intention that it be used as a text, an attempt has been made to avoid the dun dry style typical of many textbooks, without sacrificing logical organization. The book has been prepared for English language readers, but it is recognized that for many of the readers, English may be a second language, and some readers may be teenagers, and for this reason a simple English style and vocabulary have been selected. The book has been revised several times, in order to avoid linguistic errors, and Dr. Muhammad Legenhausen has edited the whole of it, although it is possible that some mistakes remain.

The discussions contained in this book are based on the Glorious Qur'an, ahadith and clear rational arguments. The abundance of verses of the Qur'an and ahadith which arc narrated make it possible for the reader to draw his or her own conclusions about the topics discussed. The Arabic texts have been included, with vocalizations (i 'rab), to serve to strengthen the Arabic of our younger readers and to provide direct access to the original sources.

We have frequently found it necessary to use our own translation of verses from the Glorious Qur'an, although we have tended to rely on M. H. Shakir's translation. An effort has been made to provide sufficient documentation for the conclusions reached that they should be acceptable to all Muslims, and some of them for non-Muslims, as well.

We have used the expression the Glorious Qur'an because it is more faithful to the Islamic conception expressed in Arabic as al-Qur'an aI-Majid than the expression the Holy Qur'an. Likewise, we have used the expression the Noble Prophet which provides the best approximation to the Arabic al-Nabi al-Akram.

Finally, I would like to offer endless gratitude to Allah, the Almighty and Sublime, and thanks for the providence of the Imam of the Age (may Allah hasten his blessed advent). I would also like to take this opportunity to express my appreciation for all the scholars of Islam, especially to Ayatullah Shahid Mutahhari and Ayatullah Misbah Yazdi, without whose works this book could not have been written, and to extend my thanks to those who have so graciously given their help and enconragement for the writing of this book, especially to the editor, and to the administrations and students of Jiimi'at al-Zahrii and Zahra Academy.

Muhammad Ali Shomali

6 Safar 1417

23 June 1996

The Importance of Self-Knowledge

When discussing a topic such as this, it is perhaps best to begin with its definition and an assessment of its importance. Let us then begin by defining some terms. In Arabic self-knowledge is called Ma’rifatul-Nafs. What is Ma’rifatul-Nafs or self-knowledge? It is knowledge about us, but what kind of knowledge?

It is not the kind that has to do with knowing one's name, or father's name, or the place and date of one's birth. Self-knowledge deals with another aspect of our being. It is not related to our physical senses, rather it deals with the spiritual dimension of our lives.

When we speak of the different dimensions of the spirit, and of our being, we should not forget that the human being is fundamentally different from other beings. Although we are anchored to the animal world in many ways, here we wish to focus on that which separates us from animals and is not found in them.

To understand better why this topic is of such importance, perhaps it helps to quote a few verses of the Glorious Qur'an and Hadiths on the subject. There are many verses in the Glorious Qur'an which elaborate. One of these verses is found in Surah al-Hashr, where the Almighty Allah says:

وَلَا تَكُونُوا كَالَّذِينَ نَسُوا اللَّهَ فَأَنْسَاهُمْ أَنْفُسَهُمْ ۚ أُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الْفَاسِقُونَ

“And be not like those who forgot Allah, so He made them forget their own souls; these it is that are the transgressors.” (59:19)

Here the Lord is saying that forgetting Him causes us to forget ourselves in turn, and ultimately leads us to transgression. There is a tradition that makes a similar point to that of this verse, but looks at the matter from another angle. This tradition is a very famous one, and it is difficult to find a book on ethics, which has not quoted it: “He who truly knows himself has known his Lord “

This tradition implies that self-knowledge implies knowledge about the Lord as well. Awareness of oneself leads to awareness of the Lord. And likewise, one who is oblivious of the Lord is oblivious of him. If one is determined to learn about one's Lord, then the best way to accomplish the task is to learn about oneself

Another verse dealing with the topic is found in Surah al Ma'idah, where Allah says:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا عَلَيْكُمْ أَنْفُسَكُمْ ۖ لَا يَضُرُّكُمْ مَنْ ضَلَّ إِذَا اهْتَدَيْتُمْ ۚ إِلَى اللَّهِ مَرْجِعُكُمْ جَمِيعًا فَيُنَبِّئُكُمْ بِمَا كُنْتُمْ تَعْمَلُونَ

“O you who believe! Take care of yourselves; he who errs cannot hurt you when you are on the right path.” (5:105)

In this verse Allah is telling us to take care of ourselves, to pay attention to ourselves, that we must be careful about the well-being of our spirits, that we must be aware of the diseases of our souls, and how to cure them. He also tells us that we should pay attention to our duties, made obligatory on us as Muslims.

Then He tells us that if we understand the way, that if we are faithful and committed believers, those who are misled will not harm us. From this we understand that our first duty is to take care of ourselves spiritually.

Sometimes a question may arise here about the relationship between the believer and society. Does the above verse mean that we should focus on ourselves and not pay any attention to the society at large? To answer this question let us see what Allamah Tabataba'i says on this topic in his landmark work, Al-Mizan.

This great interpreter and scholar of the Glorious Qur'an explains that what is meant here is that we should take care of ourselves, and be familiar with our social and private duties, so that we can also be socially responsible. For instance, in Islam we are commanded to advise people to do good and forbid them from evil deeds. One who does not perform this duty is not considered a devout Muslim, the reason being that he is not helping the society to better itself.

So, in Islam taking care of oneself spiritually is closely interwoven with being concerned with the welfare of the society as well. Conversely, it is important to remember that the society can greatly influence a person, weakening or strengthening one's faith.

Another question that may come up is “Are we responsible for guiding non-Muslims as well?” The answer is an unequivocal yes, although the most important thing before doing that is to conduct oneself in such a pious, righteous manner that others are able to see the immense practical benefits of being a faithful Muslim.

In inviting non-Muslims to Islam, we are continuing the job entrusted to the noble Prophet (S) in his lifetime. It is also a duty demanded by our love for our fellow human beings. If we have found the way and the light, we should invite others to immerse themselves in the light and its blessings as well.

After performing our personal and social duties, those who are still disbelieving and those who still insist on erring, will not be harmful to us. Perhaps they will bother you, and at most they may kill you, but they will not be able to take your faith away from you. On the contrary, these pressures strengthen your faith.

Returning to our main theme, the third verse on the importance of self-knowledge is found in:

“We will soon show them our signs in the universe and in their own souls, until it becomes quite clear to them that ft is the Truth.” (41:53)

Allah says that very soon we will show them our signs, but what are these signs and where will they be found? Allah tells us that these signs are found in two places: meaning in the external world and in their own souls. This ayah tells us that by considering these signs which are within our own selves and which are in the universe, it will become completely clear that Allah truly exists. According to some interpretations this fact will not only be true, but will be the truth itself. It is important to understand the distinction between these two expressions; it is the same when we say that Imam ‘Ali (a.s.) is not only just but that he is just meaning that justice was embodied in Imam ‘Ali (a.s.).

Let us continue exploring the reasons the topic is so vital to our conduct in life. Once again we shall rely on the Glorious Qur'an for guidance. In everyday life when we purchase a new appliance or a gadget, we immediately turn to its manual for guidance in correctly operating it, believing that its manufacturer is the best source of guidance. So it seems quite logical for a Muslim to turn to the Glorious Qur'an for instructions on correct conduct in life, convinced that the Maker and Creator of human beings is also the best source of guidance in learning about the immensely complex nature of human beings.

Another verse pertaining to our topic is found in surah al-Dhariyat:

وَفِي الْأَرْضِ آيَاتٌ لِلْمُوقِنِينَ وَفِي أَنْفُسِكُمْ ۚ أَفَلَا تُبْصِرُونَ

“And there are signs on the earth for those who are certain. And in your own souls (too); wi11 you not then see?”(51: 20, 21)

We learned that Allah has two kinds of signs, the ones in the external, physical world, and those within ourselves. Verse 20 deals with those signs that have to do with the physical realm. In it the Almighty God tells us that there are signs on the earth for those who believe.

Immediately a question arises: why should those who already believe need the reassurances of such signs, and why should those who are not believers in God remain oblivious of them, yet more in need of them?

The answer given by great scholars of Islam is that those who do not believe in a creator as the Lord and Sovereign of the universe, also tend not to look or pay attention to that which is before them remaining for the most part oblivious of signs which are readily discernible to believers.

In the following verse, 21 of Surah al-Dhariyat, the Lord says:

وَفِي أَنْفُسِكُمْ ۚ أَفَلَا تُبْصِرُونَ

“And in your own souls (too); will you not then see?”(51:21)

This verse calls to our attention to the need to look for these signs within ourselves. We are clearly and unambiguously told that there are signs in the external world as well, and these are sources of guidance for us.

From these verses it becomes clear to us that Muslims are urged not to focus on their souls to the exclusion of the physical, material world; and conversely, not to think that material affairs are all that matter.

In India for instance, there are people who try to strengthen the power of their souls in order to enable themselves to perform certain deeds not ordinarily possible. But in so doing, they loose touch with the everyday life of the planet. That is not what faithful Muslims are commanded to do. Muslims are told the two go hand in hand and are complimentary to each other.

When a scientist is working on a project in the laboratory, or a person is performing the most menial of tasks to earn an honourable living, he or she is carrying out one of God's commandments. It is again, one of the most distinct characteristics of Islam that two worlds are never separated.

In today's world, in Western societies in particular, we see countless examples of people who are totally alienated from themselves, seeking all in the material life.

In more extreme cases, the alienation from the self has progressed to such a degree that being alone becomes painful and undesirable. Why?

Because when such a person is alone, in a way he has lost contact with the eternal world, which is all he has. So being alone with his soul and spirit, he has to face a world which has no meaning to him, and matters not to him. In trying to escape the inevitable loneliness, many resort to mind-altering drugs, such as alcohol and narcotics.

A person with a healthy spirit can be alone yet not lonely. One who has forsaken a part of himself, his spirit, his consciousness, when alone, seeks to destroy it, rather than facing that which is excruciatingly painful; thus resorting to drugs becomes an easy escape route.

This is one reason why some societies use solitary confinement as a method of punishment for hardened criminals who already are serving life sentences and have nothing to lose by further acts of violence.

But when a faithful Muslim is alone by himself, he is not lonely. As a matter of fact being alone is prized by faithful Muslims. There is a Hadith from Imam Sajjad (a.s.) in which the Imam is quoted as saying: “If all between the East and West were to die, I would not feel lonely as long as the Qur'an was with me.

Once again we shall turn to the Hadiths to further explore this topic. This invaluable heritage has been left to us by the scholars who instinctively knew the eternal value of observing the speech and deeds of the Noble Prophet and Imams, and recording for posterity this living example of the perfect Muslim and human being.

Earlier we discussed a famous Tradition, which has reached us in two similar versions: There is however, no difference in meaning: “However knows himself (his soul or spirit) knows [or has known] his Lord “(1)

Imam ‘Ali (a.s.) is also quoted on the subject, stressing the importance of knowledge: “Knowledge of oneself (self- knowledge) is the most beneficial knowledge of all “(2)

This again tells us that knowing oneself leads to knowing one's Lord and all that it entails. The second Hadith on the topic from ‘Ali (a.s.) reads: “I wonder at the person who urgently searches for that which he has lost, but he has lost his soul and is not searching for it “

The third Hadith from Imam ‘Ali (a.s.) on Self-knowledge is: 'I wonder how a person who ignores himself can know his Lord. '

The fourth Hadith from Imam ‘Ali (a.s.) is: “Whenever the knowledge of a man increases, his attention to his soul also increases and he tries his best to train, and purify' it”

Here is yet another Tradition on the subject from Imam ‘Ali (a.s.): “The ultimate knowledge of a man is to know himself”

The Benefits of Self-knowledge

One of the practical benefits of self-knowledge is to allow a person to become intimately familiar with his or her abilities and aptitudes. This is of immense help to a person in life, preventing one, for instance, from selecting a field of study or job inherently unsuitable to one's God-given abilities.

It also is of great value to a person to comprehend that he is not, theologically speaking, and self-existent. This is important, since it helps a person to understand that no matter how powerful or high one's station in life is, there are numerous events in life over which one has no control.

Of even more importance is the spiritual value of self-knowledge, in that one who has self-knowledge is much less likely to indulge in arrogance, undue pride, and other such destructive behaviours. One who is closely in touch with his own self and his Lord, is also much better equipped to improve those aspects of himself which can be improved, and do indeed need improvement. One can better appraise one's weaknesses and strengths, and be grateful for one's blessings.

Self-knowledge is a highly effective system of self-improvement; one can even say that is in some ways similar to the “bio-feedback” therapies many physicians in some Western Countries recommend to patients whose active participation in the healing process is needed, or to patients for whom modern medicine has not found a cure.

Another very important benefit of is that a faithful Muslim knows that he or she is an extremely precious creation of Allah, and does not see himself simply as yet another animal with some basic needs to satisfy and strive for. Here we are going to turn for a moment to a rather philosophical discussion to better understand this point.

Most people seem to instinctively realise that every being has a different level of perfection, closely matched to that being's inherent characteristics and purpose in the scheme of things in the universe. For instance, an ordinary shade tree which does not bear fruits compared with an apple tree which does the latter as well as the former, is considered of a lower status of perfection in the scheme of things. It is for this reason that an apple tree in an orchard, which grows enough leaves to provide ample shade but for some reason does not bear fruit, is most likely cut down and replaced with one that does. It has not lived up to its potential, its level of perfection. In other words, although the tree remains useful in many respects, it has failed in that aspect that distinguishes it from the less perfect trees which do not bear fruits.

The same analogy works when comparing humans and animals. If a human being does not exhibit characteristics which rise above those shared with animals, i.e., eating, drinking, seeking comfort, shelter, pleasure, and the continuation of the race, then that human being has not reached his or her full potential, or perfection.

To summarise this point, one can logically claim that the second most important benefit is recognition of these innate, exclusive characteristics, allowing one to see clearly what they are. Such a human being will not allow himself to be corrupted and brought down to the level of animals, having understood his status in the scheme of things, and in the eyes of his Lord. Whoever discovers his true value will not commit any sins. If we truly understand what a precious being we are, our indescribably high potential, and the heights to which we can soar, then we will not allow ourselves to be shackled by sin, and held down.

Speaking of human beings that have risen to the heights of perfection, let us now see what that man of God and His servant Imam ‘Ali (a.s.), says on the subject. The following two Hadiths are taken from Nahjul-Balghah:

“Whoever views himself with respect views his desires with disdain.”

In other words, the Imam is saying that once a person becomes aware of himself, understands how precious he or she is, and the worthy goals he can set for himself; his own desires appear light, Insignificant, and unworthy to him. Thus, fighting temptation becomes easier, and this is one of the benefits of self-knowledge.

The second Hadith is from the letter that Imam ‘Ali sent his son, Imam Hasan (a.s.), advising him on matters important to him. The words are like precious jewels, and we, the ordinary Muslims are more in need of hearing and remembering such advice than the Imam, to whom the letter was addressed:

“Keep yourself above every low thing even though ft may take you to your desires, because what you will receive in return is nowhere near worth that which you will have to give of yourself Do not let anything enslave you, for Allah created you free. “

In the Glorious Qur'an we find verses which point to the people who are totally lost: “Most assuredly man is in loss, except those who believe And do good, and enjoin each other to the truth and patience.” (103:1-3)

So, as we see in both the Glorious Qur'an and the Hadiths, great emphasis has been placed on the issue of self-knowledge and on the resultant freedom, which ensues. Since there are many good interpretations written on the Glorious Qur'an, here we will try to provide a careful examination of the words of Imam Ah (a.s.) on the subject as well.

In the second Tradition, we find the word meaning deeds that are inherently ugly and demeaning. The Imam warns us of the grave danger of such deeds to one's soul, for they enslave the spirit and corrupt the soul. He warns us to be ever-vigilant against actions which, although pleasurable, comforting, or convenient are so demeaning that one loses much, much more spiritually than one gains in momentary pleasures or comforts.

In the last sentence of the second Hadith, the Imam tells his son and us that human freedom is such a precious, prized gift of the Almighty God, that any deed, however pleasurable or convenient, which leads to enslavement, is an extremely bad deal. The momentary pleasure passes and the grievous damage persists.

Now let us continue on to another major benefit of self-knowledge. Most people instinctively realise that there are two distinct features to their being: the material, worldly aspect, and the spiritual aspect. Most however, do not understand or believe that the latter is incomparably more important. But in Islam, spiritual affairs rule supreme. One can be an enormously productive member of the society in material terms, and yet be considered unworthy to be called a Muslim if one is corrupt; while the opposite is unthinkable in Islam. So it is no wonder that being aware of and guarding against diseases of the spirit is so stressed in Islam. This extends to all actions, however seemingly insignificant.

There is a pervasive misconception that some deeds do not adversely affect one's soul because they seem unimportant. But we are taught in Islam that every deed, every word one utters, has an effect on one's soul and spirit, reinforcing the faith and purifying the spirit, or undermining the faith and harming one's soul. Words spoken to guide a lost soul are valuable both to the speaker and to the person gone stray. They each benefit in different ways. So there must not be any doubt among faithful Muslims that in Islam, we are taught that every action, every word has consequences for our spiritual well-being, and must be not dismissed as insignificant and trivial.

When The Noble Prophet (S) sent Imam ‘Ali (a.s.) to Yemen, he said: “O ‘Ali! Do not fight with anyone until you invite him [to Islam] and I swear by Him that if Allah guides one person through you, it will be more precious than all over which the sun rises and sets.”

To round up our discussion of this benefit, it may be said that we are clearly and unambiguously told that the most important dimension of our being is the soul, and our actions and thoughts directly affect this prized gift of God.

We might consider it a bit extreme when told that Islam also teaches us that thoughts also must be watched for their effect on the spirit. We are also taught that in most of the cases demeaning one's thoughts may be, so long as one does not act on them one is not severely taken to task by the Lord. But sinful deeds have roots in the spirit, Muslims are admonished against jurisprudence , and for mere thoughts or narrowly defined one is not punished .

In Islam the immensely complex nature and nurture beings is subjected to two rather distinct set of rules: