Supplication is the means through which human beings can connect with the Divine and express their innermost desires and complaints. It is via the process of supplication that God gives attention to His servants, as alluded to in the verse [25:77] Say, “What weight would my Lord give you, were it not for your supplication?.” In this regards a number of exegetes have explained, that were it not for the supplication and worship of an individual, there would be nothing to differentiate him from an animal and earn him the attention of God1. The method to connect with God is something which the Prophets and the Imams taught us through the form of supplications and whispered prayer (munājāt), so that man himself can take steps in his own path to God through learning how to converse with God and speak to Him.
Syed Khomeinī in this respect says: “The supplication of the Infallibles are just like the supplications found in the Qur’ān, with the only difference being that they are said in a different manner. The Qur’ān has one way of expressing itself, one way of talking, and most of it is cryptic (ramzī) which we can’t understand [the reality of]. The supplications of the Infallibles have a different purpose. In the words of my teacher, the complete gnostic [Shāh Abādi]: The supplications of the Infallible is the ascending book and the Qur’ān is the descending book. If a person wishes to understand the position of the Infallibles they only need to look at their spiritual heritage. Their supplications and sermons, such as the Munājāt of Sha’bān, Nahj al-Balāgha, the Du’ā of Arafa, and you will be left bewildered as to what to say about their position”. 2 Elsewhere, Syed Khomeini has referred to this prayer as the “pride of the Shi’ī.”3
Syed Khamenei also has some insightful words on this illustrious prayer: “The Munājāt of Sha’bān, in which it is narrated that the Ahlulbayt would recite it continuously throughout the month, is one of the supplications which has a mystical vibe to it and has been accompanied by language which is flowing in lofty and sublime content. Historically speaking it is an unparalleled prayer and one which no one will ever be able to repeat. This prayer is a perfect example of the humility and the exalted state of servitude and love that these immaculate servants of God possessed with Him. This prayer is a lesson in Islamic knowledge as well as a source of inspiration and the perfect example as to what the believer should request from God [in respect to his spiritual progression].”4
Source of Munājāt Sha’bāniyya
The supplication has been recorded in a mursal fashion from Imām Alī in the following books:
- Iqbāl al-’Amāl of Ibn Tāwūs (d. 664)
- Bihār al-Anwār of Allāmah Majlisī (d. 1110)
- Zād al-Ma’ād of Allāmah Majlisī (d. 1110)
- Al-Sahīfa al-Alawiyya of Samāhījī (d. 1135)
- Mafātih al-Jinān of Shaykh Abbās Qummī (d. 1359)
The prayer is recorded from Ali ibn Mahjūr Fārsī, who was commonly referred to as ‘Ibn Khālawayh’ (not to be confused with Hussayn ibn Khālawayh who was his contemporary). Ali ibn Mahjūr Fārsī was a well-known figure and is reported to have been a teacher of the Shi’ī scholar al-Najāshī (d. 4605. Najāshī says about him: “He is from the senior Shaykhs of our companions, trustworthy, he had heard many hadīth and more. I bought all of his books, he has a book on ‘the ‘amal of Rajab’, ‘the ‘amal of Sha’bān’ and ‘the ‘amal of Ramadhān’”.6The strengthening of ‘ibn Khalawayh by al-Najāshī has been followed by later scholars such as Ibn Dāwūd al-Hillī7, Allāmah Hilli8and Shaykh Hurr al-Amulī9.
1. Humility at the doorstep of the Almighty
From a quick glance at the blissful prayer we can see that a considerable portion of it is dedicated to expressing a person’s inability, self-abasement, and the humility of an infatuated servant in relation to the One he worships. Tadharu’ in Arabic refers to the expression of self-abnegation and utter humility. In Arabic, the phrase dhar’un ilay-him is used to describe the moment a baby seeks out milk from his/her mother. The cry of a baby for its mother’s milk is the best example of a need which makes you completely heedless of all other things. Similarly, the word tadharu’ has been used in the Qur’ān at times when difficulty and hardship have befallen a person, and that this person now sees himself as a sinner in need of God’s mercy and forgiveness [like the child in need of the milk]. God the Almighty likes to see His servants show humility and humbleness at His door, and the peak of this comes when the servant, in front of His Lord, lets tears roll from his eyes and sighs on account of this. In the Qur’ān it says: “Call upon your Lord humbly and in secret. Truly He loves not the transgressors.” 10.
Similarly, we have in a narration that when the Prophet would make supplication, he would raise his hands in a manner similar to how beggars would raise their hands when they would beg for food11. Humility and self-abnegation during the time of supplication show the recognition of the servant to his own inner poverty and his needs, and such humility would become the reason for breaking his ego and self-conceit. A person who considers himself independent and powerful would never show humility and supplicate meekly to anyone. This is in opposition to the person who kneels at the door of the Almighty while the waves of hope and honour surge inside him. In this regard, Syed Khamenei says: “Servitude of God, humility in front of God, shall become the reason that a person will never bow down submissively to anything other than Him. The heart which has comprehended Divine love shall sense such a feeling of honour and might that the strongest of forces will never be able to break his will”.12.
In that light, the following passages from the Munājāt illuminate this humility a seeker has in supplicating to His Lord:
فَقَد هَرَبتُ إلَيكَ ، ووَقَفتُ بَينَ يَدَيكُ مُستَكينا لَكَ مُتَضَرِّعا إلَيكَ
For here I am fleeing into You, standing before You, showing submission to You, imploring You,
إلهِي اعتِذاري إلَيكَ اعتِذارُ مَن لَم يَستَغنِ عَن قَبولِ عُذرِهِ، فَاقبَل عُذري يا أكرَمَ مَنِ اعتَذَرَ إلَيهِ المُسيؤونَ
O my God, I submit to You the apology of one who cannot dispense with the acceptance of his excuse; so, (please) accept my excuse, O most Magnanimous of all those before whom the guilty make an apology.
إلهي وقَد أفنَيتُ عُمُري في شِرَّةِ السَّهوِ عَنكَ ، وأبلَيتُ شَبابي في سَكرَةِ التَّباعُدِ مِنكَ . إلهي فَلَم أستَيقِظ أيّامَ اغتِراري بِكَ ، ورُكوني إلى سَبيلِ سَخَطِكَ . إلهي وأنَا عَبدُكَ وَابنُ عَبدِكَ ، قائِمٌ بَينَ يَدَيكَ
O my God, I have spent my whole lifetime with the vigor of being negligent to You, and I have spent my whole youth with the inebriety of being far away from You.O my God, I have not thus woken up to myself during the period when I seductively felt safe from Your punishment, and when I was taking the path that ends with Your ire. O my God, nevertheless, I am—Your servant and the son of Your servant—now standing before You
2. Hope in the Vast Mercy of God
Another trait that stands out in this prayer is the hope the sinful servant shows in the infinite and endless mercy of God. Having hope in God’s mercy and having a good opinion of His Divinity is one of the treasures of this invaluable prayer. By keeping this in mind, all types of despair and hopelessness are driven out from the heart of the servant and that keeps the servant allured to the bounties and graces at the disposal of the Almighty. In the Qur’ān it says: “Say, “O My servants who have been prodigal to the detriment of their own souls! Despair not of God’s Mercy. Truly God forgives all sins. Truly He is the Forgiving, the Merciful.”13. This verse is one of the most inspirational and hope-giving verses, as Imām Alī is reported to have said: “There is no verse in the Qur’ān more expansive (awsa’) than this”14.
On the opposite, despair and hopelessness in the forgiveness and mercy of God is one of the biggest sins a servant can commit. The Qur’ān says: “ truly none despairs of God’s Comfort save the disbelieving people.”15. Ayatollāḥ Dastaghaib in his magnum opus “Greater Sins” lists despair as the biggest sin a person can commit after polytheism, enumerating on over a dozen of stories and traditions to emphasise this point16. Similarly, a remarkable tradition which highlights just how far-reaching God’s mercy is has been narrated by Imām Sādiq as follows: “On the day of Judgement God shall spread His mercy to such an extent that even Satan will begin to hope to receive His mercy.”17. Similarly, when we learn from the words of this Munājāt on how a servant should always have hope in God’s mercy, it is unbecoming that a person drowns in despair when faced with the trials and tribulations of life:
إِلٰهِي جُودُكَ بَسَطَ امَلِي
O my God, it is Your magnanimity that expanded my hope,
إِلٰهِي إِنْ كَانَ صَغُرَ فِي جَنْبِ طَاعَتِكَ عَمَلِي فَقَدْ كَبُرَ فِي جَنْبِ رَجَائِكَ امَلِي
O my God, if my deed is too little when compared to the true obedience to You, then my hope for You is too big when compared to my prospect from You.
إِلٰهِي كَيْفَ انْقَلِبُ مِنْ عِنْدِكَ بِٱلْخَيْبَةِ مَحْرُوماً وَقَدْ كَانَ حُسْنُ ظَنِّي بِجُودِكَ انْ تَقْلِبَنِي بِٱلنَّجَاةِ مَرْحُوماً
O my God, how can it be that I return from You with disappointment and deprivation, while I expect, depending upon Your magnanimity, that You will endow me with safety and mercy?
3. Detaching from all other than God
Another of the lofty messages given in this prayer is the concept of cutting oneself from all other than God. Imam Alī says:
إِلٰهِي هَبْ لي كَمَالَ ٱلاِنْقِطَاعِ إِلَيْكَ
O my God, (please) grant me absolute devotion to You
Inqita’ is taken from the lexical root q–t–’ which means to cut or to severe. In the phrase inqita’ ila Allāh it is being said that all things other than God are taken out, or cut out, from the heart of the servant. From this perspective, in order for a person gain proximity to God it necessitates that he cuts himself from all other than Him and works on combating the whims of his soul. In the Qur’ān God says: “So remember the Name of thy Lord and devote thyself to Him with complete devotion”18. The word tabattal in this verse comes from the lexical root b-t-l which means to severe or to cut a thing off at its root. Here what is being said is remember God exclusively and turn away from everything other than Him, perform all your actions specifically for Him and let not your actions be polluted by the thought of other than Him. In this journey, the best possession a person can have is a sound heart free from the blemish of vice and polytheism, as the Qur’ān says: “the Day when neither wealth nor children avail, save for him who comes to God with a sound heart.” 19. When Imām Sādiq was asked about the ‘sound heart’, he responded: “The sound heart [is that heart] which meets its Lord while there is none inside it but Him, and every heart that has polytheism or doubt has no value. It is for such that abstinence in this material world has been desired so that their hearts may be pure for the Hereafter”20.
The great scholar of ethics, Mulla Mahdī Narāqi, in relation to purifying the heart from the attractions of the world says the following: “The path of loving God and purifying the self to prepare meeting Him consists of two things. Firstly the purification of the heart from all the worldly attractions, and to cut oneself off completely in His remembrance and contemplation. Then to expel the love of all other than Him from the heart, for the heart is like a vessel that cannot hold more than one thing at a time, [as alluded to in the verse] “God has not placed two hearts in the breast of any man”21, the perfection of love is that a person loves Allah with all of his heart, and to the extent that his heart is occupied by other than Allah, his attention from Allah shall be decreased in accordance. Except in the case where the person is paying attention to other than Allah for the sake that thing is the creation of Allah, or the action of Allah, or the manifestation of the names of Allah…and secondly, to gain gnosis (ma’rifat) of Allah, and to subsequently strengthen and expand it upon the heart. So the first step is like cultivating the land, and the second step is planting the seed so that the tree of love may flourish.”22
Dar Mahzar Munājāt Sha’bāniyya, Abbas Haydar Zādeh
Sharh Munājāt Sha’bāniyya, Ayatollāh Mohammadī Gīlānī
- Tafsīr Kanz al-Daqā’iq, v. 9, p. 449
- Sahīfeh yeh Nūr, v. 20, p. 157
- Wasiyat Nāmeh Siyāsī Khomeinī, p. 8
- Syed Khamenei discussion
- Tahdhīb al-Maqāl by Syed Mohammad Abtahī, v. 1, p. 40
- Rijāl al-Najāshī, p. 268
- Kitāb al-Rijāl, p. 141
- Khulāsa al-Aqwāl, p. 188
- Wasā’il al-Shī’a, v. 20, p. 270
- Qur’ān, 7:55
- Wasā’il al-Shi’a, v. 28, p. 46
- Dar Mahzar Munājāt Sha’bāniyya, Abbas Haydar Zādeh, p. 6
- Qur’ān, 39:53
- Tafsīr Nemūneh, v. 19, p. 499
- Qur’ān, 12:87
- link on al-Islam
- al-Amālī of Shaykh Sadūq, p. 274
- Qur’ān, 73:8
- Qur’ān, 26:88,89
- al-Kāfī, v.2, p.16
- Qur’ān, 33:4
- Jāmi’ al-Sa’ādāt, Mulla Mahdī Narāqī, v. 3, p. 169-170