Author: Ahmed G. Chagla 

February 2, 1941 (Bombay)


on The Ultimate Reality

Ali, the son of Abi Talib, was not only the cousin of the Prophet Mohammad, but his son-in-law as well. He was married to the Prophet's daughter Fatima, from which union the Syeds of today are descended. In fact the orphan-boy Mohammad was reared by Ali's father and Ali was the first person to believe in the Unity of God taught by the Arabian Prophet.

Mohammad often used to say : "If I am the City of Knowledge, Ali is its Gate". That shows the high esteem with which Mohammad regarded the intellectual and spiritual perception of Ali. The Iranians and many other (Shiah) Muslims believe Ali to be the only rightful heir to the spiritual and temporal heritage of Mohammad. In the domain of spiritual authority an important section of sufis, the mystics of Islam, trace their spiritual descent from Ali, who is said to have received instruction in the deeper aspects of religious thought from the Prophet himself.

There were many sides to the character of this versatile man and erudite scholar, probably the first true scholar of Islam. He was variously called the "Friend of God", the "Lion of God", and by other appellations. The great Maulana Rumi, the author of the famous Mathnavi, waxes eloquent when speaking of the qualities of Ali. It is significant that the very first compilation of the Quran, the inspired sayings of the Prophet, was done by Ali.

After the demise of the Prophet, Ali chose to retire from active political life, giving his entire time to study. It was near the end of his days that Ali was once again forced into active political life by popular clamour, only to die by the sword of the assassin in the mosque at Kufa (Iraq) while prostrated in prayer.

His many and varied Discourses have been collected and published under the general title Nahjul Balagha, a work which has appeared several times in the original and in translations, with and with and without commentaries. In recent times, among others. Sheikh Muhammad Abdu, the last Grand Mufti and Rector of the great Azhar University, is an outstanding figure among the editors and commentators on the works of Ali. This is all the more remarkable since Sheikh Abdu was not a spiritual follower of Ali.

The extremely short discourse of Ali on the Unity and the Unique-ness of God, given here, might well be regarded as a brief though fruitful, portentous and significant commentary on the shortest chapter (sura) in the Quran, which the Muslim repeats five times daily in his prayers. This chapter is entitled Al-Ikhlas and reads:

"In the name of God, the Beneficient, the Merciful

SAY: He, God, in One. God is He on whom all depend;

He begets not, nor is he begotten; and none is like Him"

It would be interesting and thought provoking to compare the ultra-modern "scientific" and metaphysical conceptions of the Ultimate Reality with this eloquent, though terse, sura of the Quran and also with the Discourse on the same subject by one was called, thirteen centuries ago, the "Gateway of the City of Knowledge". For an instance, Professor Whitehead's view, as expressed in his lecture on "God", published in his famous book "Science and the Modern World", is worthy of being considered in the light of Ali's short discourse given here.

It is significant that ultra-modern scientific and metaphysical thought is now breaking through its centuries old shackles and, by its own methods, is tending to arrive at conclusions which greater and purer minds have already arrived at by a different and more vital mode of cognition. It seems well within the region of possibility that the Truth discerned by the super-sensory mode of consciousness, that which is commonly called prophetic inspiration, corroborated by true mystic thought the world over and throughout the centuries, should now come to be upheld by "scientific" thought, operating on the plane of discursive reason and intellectual apprehension of the spatio-temporal continuum.

Only when science and scientific thought are able to perceive and to comprehend Truth as a whole, undivided because indivisible and unique, will religion and science, ethics and aesthetics, be fully reconciled and the true and the "straight path" be found. Then, indeed, the prophecy of the Quran for the "high ends" of man would be nearer to fulfillment.

The following paraphrase of the discourse of Ali is based on various translations by acknowledged scholars. Among these may be mentioned the literal, and therefore necessarily unidiomatic translation by Rashid Turabi. The presentation is entirely my own. The words in parentheses are merely explanatory and have been inserted to amplify in English the sense and the significance of the of the original of Arabic.

Students of various Hindu systems of philosophical thought, especially the votaries of Advita, will find much in this short discourse which is thought-provoking and, more or less, in consonance with their own thought.

Hazrat Ali's Discourse on The Ultimate Reality

He who considers (and comes to the erroneous conclusion that) the qualities and attributes of God (are something apart (seperable) from His (unique) existence (and Being), (such a man) is not (truly) a Unitarian (and believer in the undoubted Unity of God).

He who tries to understand Him through examples and analogies misses (the right conception of Him, and so misses) Him (entirely).

One who attributes corporeality to Him, and (therefore) points towards (Him), or (even) imagines Him, (such a one virtually) denies His Divine (and unique) Unity.

Every known (cognizable and conceivable) thing is, in its own self (and by its very inherent nature) a creation, (something which has been created by a Creator); and all existing (things and all those things that have an actual or a potential being) are dependent (for their being) on a cause other than (and beyond) their (own) selves.

God, the Self-Existing, does not depend for his Being on any external cause; He is (by Himself) an Artificer (but) without (any dependence on) implements; (he is) the Ordainer of predestination (in a unique and inimitable manner without (first necessarily engaging in careful consideration of all the pros and cons, because for Him, the UNIQUE Being that He is, there is no need to first engage in any) deliberation.

(He is) ever rich, but not through gain; (He does not become "more" or "less") - Transcending time, space and instrumentality (of cause and effect), He (eternally) existed before existence (itself was created), and - (He) was present (everywhere and at all times) before the (very) beginning of (spatio-temporal) beginnings (of things that have a being).

He (it is Who) created (the various senses and) organs of perception which (is a definite proof and clearly) shows that His (Divine) perception (is unique and) is independent of all such (sensory) requirements.

(The existence of the quality of) Contrast in (created) things shows that He (the Uncreated, the One above and beyond creation) has no contrast (inherent in his nature; nor does He need any).

Also, (the quality of) similarity (is to be found only) in (created) things; (which clearly) shows (that) He (with Whom none can be compared) has no similar (nor an need of similarity).

(I was by Him that) Light was made the opposite of darkness, Heat of cold, Clarity of ambiguity, Inertia of motion. (It is He, Allah, Who is) the Attractor of the Unlike; Repulser of the Like; Uniter of the distant-placed (and) Seperator of the near-placed (things in creation).

He is not limited (or limitable) by (any) limit (whatsoever - whether the limit be towards "near-ness" or "far-ness", "more-ness" or "less-ness", for, He transcends all limitations, nor (is He therefore) countable by a unit!

All publication rights reserved by Abdul Khaliq Chagla