Ep. 16 The Forties – Showing Off: A Highwayman

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Al-Salam ‘Alaykum, this is Syed Ali Imran – and you are listening to the Forties podcast, brought to you by Mizan Institute.

This is episode 16 – Showing Off – A Highwayman

حَدَّثَنَا عَلِيُّ بْنُ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ الْوَرَّاقُ رَضِيَ اللَّهُ عَنْهُ قَالَ حَدَّثَنَا عَلِيُّ بْنُ مُحَمَّدِ بْنِ مَهْرَوَيْهِ الْقَزْوِينِيُّ قَالَ حَدَّثَنَا دَاوُدُ بْنُ سُلَيْمَانَ الْغَازِي عَنْ أَبِي الْحَسَنِ عَلِيِّ بْنِ مُوسَى الرِّضَا ع عَنْ أَبِيهِ عَنْ آبَائِهِ عَنْ أَمِيرِ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ ع أَنَّهُ قَالَ: الدُّنْيَا كُلُّهَا جَهْلٌ إِلَّا مَوَاضِعَ الْعِلْمِ وَ الْعِلْمُ كُلُّهُ‏ حُجَّةٌ إِلَّا مَا عُمِلَ‏ بِهِ‏ وَ الْعَمَلُ كُلُّهُ رِيَاءٌ إِلَّا مَا كَانَ مُخْلَصاً وَ الْإِخْلَاصُ عَلَى خَطَرٍ حَتَّى يَنْظُرَ الْعَبْدُ بِمَا يُخْتَمُ لَه‏

Hadith #15: Imam Riḍā (a) quotes Imam ‘Alī (a) who said: The world is all ignorance except the places of knowledge, and knowledge is all proof against man except that which is acted upon, and actions are all considered showing off except those which are done with sincerity, and sincerity is always in danger unless a servant ponders over what their final end will be.

Today we see that the world has apparently progressed and advanced exponentially in all types of knowledge and sciences. But the tragedy is that much of this progression is deeply rooted in a materialistic worldview – we have knowledge about the moons and stars and the skies, to the depth of the ocean and the thousands of type of fish that exist, we have knowledge of the mountains and volcanoes to the jungles and forests, despite all this knowledge, given its material nature it is limited.

This knowledge does not transcend the physical into the metaphysical, it has no knowledge of the immaterial realms, knowledge which is rooted in Divine and sacred scripture, revelation and ultimately God. It is for this reason the Imam says this world is all ignorance except the places of knowledge. The places of knowledge, the source of knowledge has to be connected to the Divine, or else it is nothing but jahl, ignorance and foolishness. It is foolish to believe technological advancements are the only criteria to measure success, at the cost of completely negating knowledge of the Divine, or at the cost of not grounding these technological and material advancements into something absolute and unlimited.

This knowledge then is also binding. It is proof against a person on the Day of Judgement if they do not act on it. Meaning, gaining all this knowledge, of the material and immaterial world, yet not acting on it, not doing anything with it is going to be used against a person.

After all this, the Imam still says that acting on this knowledge is all showing off. It is considered riyā’, except if it is done with sincerity, for the sake of Allah (swt) who is the Absolute and Infinite, from Who all true knowledge and the ability to act on it springs and emanates.

Maintaining sincerity is always at risk, because thoughts of showing off, conceit, fame, popularity – all of these are like the highwaymen, who rob and steal from people while travelling. People who are on a journey, minding their own business, going from one place to another, they are always at risk of being robbed on the way by bandits until they reach their final destination and unload their provisions. Likewise, a person who is acting on their knowledge with sincerity, this sincerity is at risk until the very end, and they need to have enough foresight to disallow the thoughts of conceit and fame from creeping in and ruining their sincerity.

There is a famous anecdote regarding a person who was at the mosque once asking people for some financial help. As people were helping him, he leaned against one of the pillars of the Masjid, took a sigh of relief and said, I wish someone could also get me some water, because I was engaged in the night tahajjud prayers for a long time and my throat is still very dry. In this way he wanted to inform others that he was performing the night prayers and garner their attention and praise – this is exactly the highway that Imam ‘Alī (a) is speaking about, that even if after performing an act with sincerity, one is still at risk of ruining it.

In the next episode, we will see how another positive consequence of maintaining sincerity is that others come to respect the believers, and the disbelievers come to fear them.

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