Between Tears of Sorrow and Tears of Ecstasy

9th of Muharram 1439

In the Name of Allah, the All-Beneficent, the All-Merciful


Describing the state of Imam al-Husayn and his loyal companions on the day of ‘Ashura’, Imam al-Sajjad (‘a) is reported to have said:

‘The face of Husayn (‘a) and some of his special companions beamed [on that Day]. Their bodies were calm and their hearts at peace.’ [Shaykh Saduq, Ma‘ani al-Akhbar, p. 288]


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Ayatullah Maliki Tabrizi, one of the great mystics of his time, in his al-Muraqibat says: ‘Although Imam al-Husayn (‘a) would be apparently struck with such injuries that no Prophet, Divine Successor, or human being, is heard to have encountered, especially his thirst about which it is narrated that no intellect can comprehend…his spirit would experience the delights of the manifestations of the lights of Divine Beauty and the revelation of the lights Divine Majesty, as well as the eagerness to meet and reach God. All this would diminish those difficulties; rather, it would change their severity into pleasure.’ [Ayatullah Mirza Tabrizi, al-Muraqibat, v.1, pp. 23-24]



Authorities of Islamic mysticism speak of four spiritual journeys that a human being has ahead of him. The first is known as the journey “from the creation to God” (min al-khalq ila al-Haqq), which actually is the basis for the rest of the three journeys. In this journey the human being struggles to remove the veils of darkness and light that separate him from the proximity of God. The well-known al-Munajat al-Sha‘baniyyah which, according to one narration, was recited by all the Imams of the Ahl al-Bayt (‘a) alludes to these two kinds of veils. We cannot deal with the details of this journey here, but those interested can refer to works such as the Manazil al-Sa’irin of Khwajah ‘Abdullah Ansari and the Nazm al-Suluk of Sayyid Bahr al- ‘Ulum to get an idea about the kind of journey we are trying to explain. The insightful mystics also speak of two ways that enable one cover the first mystical journey: (1) the way of Divine Attraction (jadhbah), and (2) the way of spiritual wayfaring (suluk). The first way is actually a gift to the one who may or may not aspire to reach the high levels of Divine Proximity. Without having gone through the struggle, Allah attracts him and transports him to the high stations of His proximity. The second method, however, involves one to gradually travel through the different waystations of the spiritual journey. The first group are known as the majdhubin whereas the second are called the salikin.


When a person covers the first journey, he beholds the kernel and depth of the phenomena of this world. He experiences delight when he sees the beautiful inner realities of the hardships of sickness, obedience, afflictions, and the like. He tangibly visions the ample divine mercy pouring unto him due to his patience that is spoken about in verses 156-157 of Surat al-Baqarah. However, as long as he has not covered the first spiritual journey, he experiences hardships and encounters the worldly facet of the reality. Although it is not easy for him, due to his strong faith, he bears them and anticipates good from God. But once he is able to cover the first journey he beholds the beauties of the difficulties and perhaps wishes that he would have handled more of the problems to achieve even greater success.


The tragedy of Karbala has an exterior manifestation and an interior kernel. Those who have not covered the first journey, behold the exterior manifestation, and are thus naturally overcome with sorrow and led to perpetual lamentation. Many of us belong to this category. Such lamentations of sorrow, as we have learnt in our previous discussions, are highly encouraged by the authorities of Islam and have great benefits for every sincere believer. However, if through lamentation and other means taught by Islam, one is able to cover the first journey, he would be overcome with ecstasy and joy when he beholds the inner truths of what happened on the plains of Karbala. Perhaps it is this dimension that the well-known Ziyarat Ashura alludes to when it teaches us to say in the state of prostration ‘Praise be to Allah for my great calamity’ (alhamdu lillahi ‘ala ‘azimi raziyyati). In other words, we are trying to say, “O Allah we praise you for this great calamity, because its kernel is nothing save beauty and inexpressible delight.”


The late Ayatullah Muhammad Husayn Tehrani points to this inner dimension of the tragedy of Karbala in his famous work ‘The Liberated Soul’ (Ruhe Mujarrad) when he discusses about the states experienced by his spiritual mentor Sayyid Hashim Haddad who once upon a time would be extremely happy during the days of Muharram and weep tears of joy and ecstasy. Ayatullah Tehrani quotes him saying: ‘Ashura is the climax of love! It is the most splendid manifestation of God’s beauty and majesty together. It is the best reflection of the Divine Names of mercy and wrath in the same event. For the Ahl al-Bayt (‘a), it was nothing but completing the stages and degrees of their journey, reaching the pinnacle of eternity, freedom from the facades, realization of the true Source behind all these appearances, and absolute annihilation in the Essence of the One. [‘Allamah Tehrani, Liberated Soul (Tr. By T Raja), p.58]. In the same book, he also says: ‘Agha Haddad [his spiritual mentor] used to cry a lot during the first ten days of Muharram, but his cry was out of love and zeal. Sometimes he was so excited and exuberant that his tears would flow down onto his noble beard. It was as if his face was a downspout where a rain of love and mercy flowed.’ [p. 59 of the same work].


Thereafter in this work the author says that this state of Sayyid Haddad was when he had ended the first spiritual journey, which is ‘from the creation to God’ and was immersed in the second journey (which is traversing in the Attributes of God) in the state of annihilation in God. But when he had completed the fourth spiritual journey which in the jargon of the mystical scholars is called ‘subsistence in God after annihilation’ (al-baqa’ bi Allah ba‘d al-fana’), he would weep both out of sorrow and ecstasy. In such a level the mystic gives every plane of existence its due right, and acts according to the respective level.


Therefore, we must understand that both for those who have not yet journeyed through the first spiritual journey as well as those who enjoy the highest of spiritual levels, the occasion of Muharram and Ashura is a sorrowful occasion and both these groups shed tears of lamentation. However, the latter is extremely effulgent and because it can behold the realities of the atrocities of Karbala, it does not only shed tears of sorrow, but also of zeal and ecstasy. When a person beholds the higher dimension of Karbala he realizes its greatness and splendor and is overtaken by it and led to prostrate in praise and thankfulness. In the words of the mystic Sayyid Hashim Haddad: “Ashura is a day of which if only a fraction were to be unveiled for the spiritual wayfarers and ardent lovers, it would keep them in a state of bewilderment out of extreme ecstasy until the end of their lives, and they would fall into the state of prostration until the Judgment Day out of gratitude to Allah.” [‘Ayatullah Tehrani, Ruh-e-Mujarrad]


Perhaps it is this very dimension that the Noble Sayyid Ibn Tawus alludes to in the beginning of his al-Luhuf ‘ala Qatala al-Tufuf when he says: ‘Were it not for obeying the command of the Sunnah and the Book of God in wearing the slogan of anguish and affliction due to the effacement of the signposts of guidance and the establishment of the pillars of misguidance; and were it not for the expression of sadness for having missed that felicity…we would indeed have worn the clothes of happiness and glad tidings due to that great blessing!’ [Sayyid Ibn Tawus, al-Luhuf ‘ala Qatla al-Tufuf, pp. 82-83]


In light of the aforesaid, we must understand that whereas our duty is to naturally lament for Imam al-Husayn (‘a) and his companions and perpetually shed tears of sorrow, we must aspire for the highest level in which we can see the delights that Imam al-Husayn (‘a) had attained, and hence experience tears of sorrow and tears of joy as well; sorrow, due to the heart rendering events of this world, and joy, due to the delightful achievements of Imam al-Husayn (‘a) and his loyal companions.


I would like to end with the beautiful poetry of al-Narraqi when he speaks of the state of fana’ (annihilation in God): In fanaye bande dar mawla buwad (this is the annihilation of the servant in his Master); In fana az sad baqa awla buwad (this annihilation is better than hundred kinds of subsistence); Fahme un khwahi boro ta Karbala (if you would like to know the reality of this, then go to Karbala). [Naraqi, Mathnawiye Taaqdis, p.273].


Peace be upon al-Husayn and his son ‘Ali ibn al-Husayn, and upon his children, and upon his loyal companions.








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