It is reported that one day Imam Sajjād (a) – ʿAlī b. al-Ḥusayn (a) – passed by a man who was sitting at the doorstep of another man. He (a) said to him, “What makes you sit at the door of this self-indulgent cruel man?” He replied, “Calamity.” He (a) said, “Then I will show you a door better than his door, and a provider better for you than him.” He (a) took his hand until they arrived at the Prophet’s mosque and said:
Face the Qiblah and perform two units of prayers, then raise your hands towards Allah (azwj), praise Him and send salutations upon the Prophet and his progeny, then supplicate with the last verse of Surah al-Ḥashr, the first six verses of Surah al-Ḥadīd, two verses from Āl ʿImrān,1 then ask Allah (for your needs). You will not ask for a thing except that He will grant it.2
In this narration, the Imam (a) teaches this man a method of praying and supplicating so that he becomes independent of another person. This and the many other supplications that have been passed down to us from the Ahl al-Bayt (a) are not just a means for us to supplicate and beg to Allah (swt) for our well-being, but they are an important means for us to build a relationship with Him (swt). Subsequently, if these supplications help us build a genuine connection with the Absolute, then they should also have an impact on our relationship with the rest of His (swt) creation. Someone who engages in supplicating to Allah (swt) on a constant basis should see a significant change in the way they behave and live their lives.
One of the themes the aforementioned tradition and other supplications of Imam Sajjad (a) highlight is our neediness towards Allah (swt) and asking Him (swt) to keep us away from becoming dependent on others. One finds that this notion is emphasized in numerous supplications such that it can be considered an important marker of Muslim identity. In duʿā’ of Abū Ḥamza al-Thumālī he (a) says:
وَالْحَمْدُ لِلّهِ الَّذِي وَكَلَنِي إلَيْهِ فَأَكْرَمَنِي
All praise be to Allah alone Who has accepted me to depend upon Him and, thus, bestowed favors upon me
وَلَمْ يَكِلْنِي إلَى النَّاسِ فَيُهِينُونِي
He has not left me to the people who will thus definitely humiliate me
The concept of being “dependent on others” is closely linked to the concept of humiliation. Someone who is dependent on others is in a state of humiliation, they are not living as dignified beings and neither can they live up to the expectations of a noble lifestyle. In his supplication for the day of ʿArafāt he (a) says:
وَصُنْ وَجْهِي عَنِ الطَّلَبِ إلَى أَحَد مِنَ الْعَالَمِينَ،
Safeguard my face from asking from anyone in the world,
وَذُبَّنِي عَنِ التِماسِ مَا عِنْدَ الفَاسِقِينَ،
and drive me far from begging for that which is with the ungodly!
While the tradition we cited at the beginning spoke about a circumstance where someone was at the door of a cruel person, and there are many other supplications where we ask Allah (swt) to make us needless of oppressors, in the statements above we ask Allah (swt) to make us independent and needless of essentially everyone in this world. It is not an appropriate condition for a believer to be in where they have to resort to asking and begging others to help them with their needs.
Although at times the obvious must be pointed out: these specific supplications are not condemning natural needs humans have, needs that will remain as long as we live, or needs that are a conventional by-product of society, such as a buyer who is need of a seller and a seller who is need of a buyer. Not only are these needs a natural product of human life, but rather it is impossible to become heedless of these needs and negligence towards them is condemned.
Needs that are condemned and what these supplications are speaking of are one-way needs, where one becomes completely dependent and at the mercy of another creation, be it due to poverty, due to corruption, due to political circumstances etc. These states are in conflict with human nobility and dignity since one has to seek their fulfilment by becoming dependent on others. In duʿā’ 28 the Imam (a) says:
اللَهُمَّ إنِّي أَخْلَصْتُ بِانْقِطَاعِي إلَيْكَ،
I showed sincerity by cutting myself off from everything but Thee
وَقَلَبْتُ مَسْأَلَتِي عَمَّنْ لَمْ يَسْتَغْنِ عَنْ فَضْلِكَ،
I ceased to ask from any who cannot do without Thy bounty
وَرَأَيْتُ أَنَّ طَلَبَ الْمُحْتَاجِ إلَى الْمُحْتَاجِ
I saw that the needy who seeks from the needy
سَفَهٌ مِنْ رَأيِهِ وَضَلَّةٌ مِنْ عَقْلِهِ،
is foolish in his opinion and misguided in his intellect
For a needy individual to become dependent on another person, who themselves are needy, is nothing but foolishness. One must go to the door of One who is needless – [35:15] O men, you are the ones who need Allah, and Allah is Free-of-All-Needs, the Ever-Praised.
This is a very recurrent theme in the supplications of Imam Sajjad (a). What are the repercussions of becoming dependent on others in this world? Some of the supplications point us towards these repercussions. One of the consequences is a loss of tranquility and peace of mind from our lives. Someone may be supporting and fulfilling the needs of another today, but this needy individual will always remain worried and stressed since there is no guarantee for what tomorrow will bring. The person you are dependent on today may become even more dependent than you tomorrow. In duʿā’ 5, the Imam (a) says:
اللَّهُمَّ أَغْنِنَا عَنْ هِبَةِ الْوَهّابِيْنَ بِهِبَتِكَ،
O God, remove our need for the gifts of the givers through Thy gift,
وَاكْفِنَا وَحْشَةَ الْقَاطِعِين بِصِلَتِكَ ،
spare us the loneliness of those who break off through Thy joining,
حَتّى لا نَرْغَبَ إلَى أحَد مَعَ بَذْلِكَ،
that we may beseech no one along with Thy free giving,
وَلاَ نَسْتَوْحِشَ مِنْ أحَد مَعَ فَضْلِكَ
that we may feel lonely at no one’s absence along with Thy bounty!
These supplications educate us about the type of life we should be striving to live. We do not want to become dependent on others such that we wait and look forward to them bestowing their favours upon us or fear the day they decide to abandon us. In duʿā’ 22 he (a) goes on to say:
وَلاَ تَكِلْنِيْ إلَى خَلْقِكَ بَلْ تَفَرَّدْ بِحَاجَتِي، وَتَولَّ كِفَايَتِي،
and entrust me not to Thy creatures, but take care of my need alone and Thyself attend to sufficing me!
وَانْظُرْ إلَيَّ وَانْظُرْ لِي فِي جَمِيْعِ اُمُورِي،
Look upon me and look after me in all my affairs,
فَإنَّكَ إنْ وَكَلْتَنِي إلَى نَفْسِي عَجَزْتُ عَنْهَا،
for if Thou entrustest me to myself, I will be incapable before myself
وَلَمْ اُقِمْ مَا فِيهِ مَصْلَحَتُهَا،
and fail to undertake that in which my best interest lies
وَإنْ وَكَلْتَنِي إلَى خَلْقِكَ تَجَهَّمُونِي،
If Thou entrustest me to Thy creatures, they will frown upon me,
وَإنْ أَلْجَأتَنِيْ إلَى قَرَابَتِي حَرَمُونِي،
and if Thou makest me resort to my kinsfolk, they will refuse to give to me;
وَإنْ أَعْطَوْا أَعْطَوْا قَلِيْلاً نَكِداً،
if they give, they will give little and in bad temper,
وَمَنُّوا عَلَيَّ طَوِيلاً وَذَمُّوا كَثِيراً.
making me feel long obliged and blaming me much.
فَبِفَضْلِكَ أللَّهُمَّ فَأَغْنِنِي، وَبِعَظَمَتِكَ فَانْعَشنِي،
So through Thy bounty, O God, free me from need, through Thy mightiness, lift me up
Volume 2 of Uṣūl al-Kāfī has a chapter titled Bāb al-Istighnā’ ‘an al-Nās (Independence from People). This chapter contains a number of traditions on this concept and the fact that Shaykh Kulaynī dedicates a section for it shows the importance of cultivating this type of independence as a marker for our identities. One of the traditions in the chapter also happens to be from Imam Sajjād (a) where he says:
I saw all good gathered together in cutting off of yearning for what belongs to people and in not having any hope in people in anything and in leaving his affairs in the hands of Allah, the Most Majestic, the Most Holy, in all matters. Allah, the Most Majestic, the Most Holy, will answer him in all things.
In duʿā’ 14 he (a) also announces his needlessness from those who generally hold some sort of authority in society – the ḥākim – and says that he (a) seeks help from no one other than Allah (swt):
أللَّهُمَّ لاَ أَشْكُو إلَى أَحَد سِوَاكَ،
O God, I complain to no one but Thee,
وَلاَ أَسْتَعِينُ بِحَاكِم غَيْرِكَ حَاشَاكَ
and I seek help from no ruler other than Thee – how could I?
Another consequence of being dependent on others is a loss of one’s own morals and utter confusion on how to react to people’s behaviour with us. In Du’ā Makārim al-Akhlāq he (a) says:
أللَّهُمَّ صَلِّ عَلَى مُحَمَّد وَآلِهِ وَصُنْ وَجْهِي بِالْيَسَارِ،
O God, bless Muhammad and his Household, save my face through ease,
وَلاَ تَبْتَذِلْ جَاهِي بِالإقْتارِ فَأَسْتَرْزِقَ أَهْلَ رِزْقِكَ،
and demean not my dignity through neediness, lest I seek provision from those whom Thou hast provided
وَأَسْتَعْطِيَ شِرَارَ خَلْقِكَ، فَأفْتَتِنَ بِحَمْدِ مَنْ أَعْطَانِي،
and asks for bestowal from the worst of Thy creatures! Then I would be tried by praising him who gave to me
وَاُبْتَلَى بِـذَمِّ مَنْ مَنَعَنِي وَأَنْتَ مِنْ دُونِهِمْ وَلِيُّ الإعْطَاءِ وَالْمَنْعِ
and afflicted with blaming him who held back from me, while Thou – not they – art patron of giving and holding back
The Imam (a) through his supplication is informing us of the negative consequences of becoming needy and dependent on someone who themselves are needy. Firstly, if someone does you a favour while you are dependent on them, you would have to thank and appreciate them for their action, while this is being done from a position where your dignity has been jeopardized. Secondly, if they do not fulfil your needs, especially if they themselves had nothing to give, then you will develop a bad opinion regarding them – which is also unwarranted. Either way, you are stuck, since if you do not thank them – even if it means to jeopardize your self-respect and dignity – they may not help you in the future, and if they decide not to help you, you will hold malice and grudge against them. Both are ethically immoral consequences for merely being dependent on another human.
The third consequence of a lifestyle built upon dependency on others is polytheism. This is an expected consequence, since the more you become dependent on others, the more you become distant from Allah (swt). You begin to look at people as your only hope, and in fact, they become like gods for you since they are the ones managing your affairs. God-centricity from your life ultimately diminishes. This is usually why in societies where there is severe poverty or corruption, where people are needy and dependent on others for every step of the way, you will not only find a complete absence and lack of respect for human dignity, but even a complete absence of God-centricity from people’s lives. None of these can be reconciled with what Islam expects and that is for us to be independent of people.
The Imam (a) says:
أللَّهُمَّ اجْعَلْنِي أصُوْلُ بِكَ عِنْدَ الضَّرُورَةِ وَأَسْأَلُكَ عِنْدَ الْحَاجَةِ،
O God, make me leap to Thee in times of distress, ask from Thee in needs,
وَأَتَضَرَّعُ إلَيْكَ عِنْدَ الْمَسْكَنَةِ ،
and plead to Thee in misery!
وَلا تَفْتِنّي بِالاسْتِعَانَةِ بِغَيْرِكَ إذَا اضْطُرِرْتُ،
Tempt me not to seek help from other than Thee when I am distressed,
وَلا بِالْخُضُوعِ لِسُؤالِ غَيْرِكَ إذَا افْتَقَـرْتُ ،
to humble myself in asking from someone else when I am poor,
وَلاَ بِـالتَّضَـرُّعِ إلَى مَنْ دُونَـكَ إذَا رَهِبْتُ
or to plead with someone less than Thee when I fear,
فَأَسْتَحِقَّ بِذلِكَ خِذْلانَكَ
for then I would deserve Thy abandonment,
وَمَنْعَكَ وَإعْرَاضَكَ يَا أَرْحَمَ الرَّاحِمِينَ.
Thy withholding, and Thy turning away, O Most Merciful of the merciful!
At this stage, we are deserving of losing our nobility, and if Allah (swt) turns away from us, we were deserving of it.
A final point that that needs to be clarified: if this extent of needlessness and independence from creation is expected, will this not result in pride? If a person has a need, they may remain humble, but if they become independent, will they not become conceited? Imam ‘Alī addresses this – this narration is recorded in the same chapter of al-Kāfi referenced earlier and as well as in Nahj al-Balāgha:
Amīr al-Mu’minīn (a) would say, ‘In your heart you must have both hope in people and independence from them. Your hope and need in people must be in the form of speaking to them softly and with a delightful appearance. Your independence from them must be in the form of maintaining dignity and safety of your respect.’
If our relationship with Allah (swt) is genuine, our relationship with other humans will also be appropriate and not one of humiliation. If we become fully dependent on Allah (swt) we can never become dependent on people – we will maintain our dignity, self-respect and nobility. If we can see the greatness of Allah (swt), we can never belittle and bring ourselves down in front of others.