Sahifah Al Sajjadiyah (Psalms of Islam): A Guide for a Spiritual Life

Sahifah Al Sajjadiyah or as it is known to the English speaking world, the Psalms of Islam, is a collection of prayers written by the great grandson of the Prophet Muhammad(s), Imam Ali ibn Husayn(a) popularly known as Imam As-Sajjad(a), considered the fourth Imam of Shi’a Muslims. The book, which was written about 1300 years ago, has influenced many Muslim scholars and left its impact on Islamic civilisation in many different ways. The Islamic Centre of England in London organised and hosted the first scholarly conference on Sahifah Al Sajjadiyah on the 13th of February 2016. In this programme scholars and speakers presented their thoughts and ideas on the theological, mystical and historical aspects of this important Islamic text. In the morning session, which was held in Arabic, the first speaker, Sayyid Abd al-Mun’im al-Hassan, a consultant and lawyer from Sudan, gave an account of Imam Sajjad’s(a) life and his struggle during the difficult early Umayyad period . He spoke about the deviation from the Prophet’s path that occurred in the Islamic community of that time and of the several uprisings against the rulers that took place. In this period, Imam As-Sajjad(a) had the duty of leading the Ummah in Islamic knowledge as well as transmitting the message of Karbala (Imam Hussain’s(a) martyrdom). Thus, in this volatile period, he chose to accomplish these duties by means of prayers. Mr al-Hassan explained that Sahifa Al Sajjadiyah is not just a simple book of prayers, but a collection of ethical, philosophical and theological lessons. He also said that As-Sajjad(a) used prayers as a means of political resistance, similar to the method of Prophets for whom, according to the Scripture, prayer (dua) was a mighty weapon. He mentioned that political responsibility was a very important issue in the Imam’s view and this shows in his Sahifah Al Sajjadiyah. Next speaker was Dr Imad Hamroun, a scholar and university professor from France. He also touched upon Imam As-Sajjad’s(a) difficult time under the Umayyads and said that today we must read the Sahifah Al Sajjadiyah in a way more appropriate to our times. He argued that the political identity of the Shi’a first took its form in Imam Sajjad’s time and became more distinct during the time of next two Imams, Imam Baqir(a) and Imam Sadiq(a). In the English session, the first speaker Professor Dickson, talked about the place of Sahifah Al Sajjadiyah in everyday spiritual life. She said that Imam Sajjad(a), despite his infallibility, was aware of all human sins and temptations, thus used this awareness to teach us how to fight those temptations by praying. She also said that any human suffering could potentially be a sign of God’s grace and a window to redemption. Dr Rebecca Masterton argued that Sunni Sufism is heavily influenced by the Imamiyah school of thought, and its school of mysticism (Irfan). She showed that many of the classical concepts of Sunni Sufism were borrowed from Shi’a texts. In other word, Shi’a Imams were the first teachers of Irfan. She explained that the concept of love between the Creator and the created first became popular after the event of Ashura and the martyrdom of Imam Husayn(a). She mentioned that Junaid al-Baghdadi and many other Sunni Sufi mystics learned these concepts from Shi’a texts and specifically from Sahifa Al Sajjadiyah. Dr Ghulam Abbas Lakha focused on the history of the commentaries of the Sahifah Al Sajjadiyah. The first commentary that was written on the margins of the Sahifah Al Sajjadiyah, according to him, was by Muhammad Ibn Idris al-Hilli. This was to be followed by another commentary by al-Kaf’ami. He said that it took about 500 years for Sahifa Al Sajjadiyah to become popular in the Islamic world, mainly thanks to the conversion of Iranians to Shi’ism. According to Dr Lakha, after that, at around the beginning of the 18th century we began to witness an eruption of commentaries on Sahifa Al Sajjadiyah by several scholars. This tradition continued, and is still thriving today, especially in Iran. Hujjatul-Islam Dr Muhammad Ali Shomali, the director of the Islamic Centre of England, provided the closing remarks. He emphasised the importance of opening a scholarly debate about Sahifah Al Sajjadiyah and thanked the speakers for their contribution in this debate. He mentioned that the relation between the Creator and the created and the qualities of this relationship has always been one the most debated and challenging concepts in philosophy. It is the question of how a unique and single God interacts with a diverse creation. He said that Imam Sajjad(a) in the Sahifah, more than anything teaches us about this relationship. Through Sahifah Al Sajjadiyah we learn how to interact and talk to God, something that would have been impossible without the presence of divine revelations. Dr Shomali said that among twelve possible relations between God and humanity all are one directional except love. Love is the only truly mutual relation that we have with God. We love him and he loves us. This cannot be said about other relations such as that between Creator and created. He talked about the importance of the concept of love in Sahifah Al Sajjadiyah, and by reciting selected passages of this book explained how it teaches us that in the realm of spirituality we must be ambitious and humble at the same time.

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