In the Name of Allah, the All-Beneficent, the All-Merciful
Insightful exegetes of the Qur’an have explained the story of Goliath and David both exoterically as well as esoterically. Whereas the exoteric exegesis refers to the outer war of a Godly army of human beings against a demonic army, the esoteric exegesis alludes to the inner war in the human being between the forces of evil and the forces of virtue. Ruzbihan al-Baqli (d. 1209) of Shiraz, one of the authoritative mystics of his time, in his esoteric commentary of the Qur’an called ‘Ara’is al-Bayan fi Haqa’iq al-Qur’an (the Brides of Expression on the Realities of Qur’an) while commenting on the phrase ‘Indeed Allah will test you with a stream’ of verse 2:249 says ‘He tested them with battle against their souls before battling against their enemy to see how they would be over with the greater battle (al-jihad al-akbar) before beginning their lesser battle (al-jihad al-asghar), for whosoever is unable to fight against his self is not worthy of battling against others…’ Thereafter, explaining the phrase ‘and David killed Goliath’ (wa qatala Dawudu Jaaluta) of verse 2:251, he says that it means ‘the intellect slew Satan’. [Ruzbihan Baqli, ‘Ara’is al-Bayan fi Haqa’iq al-Qur’an, v.1, p.98]. In other words, David was the example of intellect and Goliath the example of Satan. Hence both David and Goliath exist in our souls. We must always empower our Davids to destroy our Goliaths.
In a lengthy and meaningful narration reported in the Usul al-Kafi, Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) enumerates seventy-five soldiers of intellect and seventy-five soldiers of ignorance in every human being. This lengthy and inspirational hadith actually informs us that the human being is a battle field in himself. He is always at war with forces of evil and ignorance, until he gains victory over them. Our great scholars have written useful commentaries on this hadith, one of the well-known of which is Sharh Hadith Junud al-‘Aql wa al-Jahl (An Exegesis of the Narration of the Soldiers of Intellect and Ignorance) of the late Imam Khumayni (may his noble spirit be sanctified), which actually is a transcript of his lectures on the profound meanings of the hadith.
Interestingly, the praying one (al-musalli) is always a warrior, because prayer is war against Satan and his forces. The reason why the prayer niche is called mihrab is that ‘it is a place of war against Satan and one’s mundane desires’ (mawqi‘u muharabat al-Shaytan wa al-hawa). [al-Raghib al-Isfahani, Tafsir al-Raghib al-Isfahani, v.1, p. 537; Mufradat, p.225]. Interestingly, In some Jewish religious texts such as the Zohar, the human being is reckoned to be at war during the time of prayer: ‘The time of prayer is a time of war’. [Zohar III 241:1).
The battle of Imam al-Husayn (‘a) against Yazid and his forces has an exoteric facet which we always narrate in our commemorative sessions and try to assimilate in our socio-political lives against the oppressors of our time, and an inner kernel which we must try to comprehend and apply in our spiritual lives. In fact, the inner battle is a beginning for the outer war. If one gains victory in the inner battle, he would definitely be victorious in the outer war.
Our texts of hadith have ample emphasis on al-jihad al-akbar (the greater war against evil forces), without which the external war would have so many deficiencies such as uncertainty, insincerity, oppressive domination, selfish interests, etc. If the origin of the outer war is vice and evil, it cannot be known as jihad at all. The jihad taught in the Qur’an is a war that is totally for the exterior and interior betterment of mankind. Therefore, one must not be entrapped by the insinuations of those who would like to distort the teachings of Islam. The atrocious actions of a misled group in the name of jihad likewise should not misguide those who are in search for the truth.
A number of our esteemed scholars, realizing the esoteric dimension of Karbala have noteworthy directions. One such direction is given by Ayatullah Sanad, who in volume 2 of his al-Sha‘a’ir al-Husayniyyah, says: “The Leader of Martyrs sought cavaliers in the battleground of the soul. It is as though I can behold Husayn (‘a) examining his extreme lovers and friends every Muharram. He tests and addresses them as follows: Are you truthful in your love and affection for me? Truthfulness in the love and affection for al-Husayn (‘a) is embodied in the war of the self, before any other ground. This is because the human being cannot be genuine in fighting against other army camps before being genuine in his war and battle against his self.” [Ayatullah Sanad, al-Sha‘a’ir al-Husayniyyah, v.2, p. 308]
Therefore, whilst we commemorate the tragedy of Karbala and engage in ‘abarat (transformative and elevating tears), let us resolve to vanquish the inner forces of evil within us, so that we can genuinely join the timeless army of Imam al-Husayn (‘a). When Jabir ibn ‘Abdullah al-Ansari addressing Imam al-Husayn on the 40th day after his martyrdom said ‘I swear by the One who sent Muhammad as a Prophet with truth, surely we participated with you in what you encountered’, ‘Atiyyah al-‘Awfi his companion, asked in wonder how can that be when Jabir was not present in Karbala nor did he face the difficulties of their journey, nor did he fight with the sword or suffer the calamities that came after martyrdom. Jabir, in response, said ‘O ‘Atiyyah, I heard my beloved the Messenger of Allah (s) say, ‘Whosoever loves a nation, will be resurrected with them, and whosoever loves the deed of a nation, will be considered as one who participated in their deed. I swear by the One who sent Muhammad as a Prophet in truth, surely my intention and the intention of my companions corresponds to the intention of al-Husayn (‘a) and his companions’. This actually is a key for us to realize the importance of unity with the spirit of Imam al-Husayn (‘a) without the limitations of time. And such unity is only possible when we have vanquished the inner forces and gained victory in the microcosmic battle of the human kingdom, and attained the ‘soul at peace’ (al-nafs al-mutma’innah).
The Holy Qur’an says: ‘O soul at peace! Return to your Lord, pleased and pleasing! Then enter among My servants, (29) and enter My paradise!’ (89:27-30)