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From Islamic Insights:
"This work explains the epitome of human perfection that is achieved by the vicegerents of Allah and how any of us can progress on the lofty stations of wayfaring. It presents the subject of Islamic mysticism, or Irfan, in its pure, fundamental form according to the teachings of Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them). Allama Tabatabai presents a well-developed explanation that the ability to witness secrets of the world is not limited to Prophets and Imams, but can be achieved by any person, albeit at a different gradation.
Vicegerency, or Risalah al-Wilayah, written by Allama Sayyid Muhammad Hussain Tabatabai, is now available in an award-winning English translation by Sheikh Zaid Alsalami. One of the most renowned students of Allama Tabatabai, Ayatollah Jawadi Amuli, called this short treatise his best work, even better than al-Mizan fi Tafseer al-Qur’an.
This work explains the epitome of human perfection that is achieved by the vicegerents of Allah and how any of us can progress on the lofty stations of wayfaring. It presents the subject of Islamic mysticism, or Irfan, in its pure, fundamental form according to the teachings of Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them). Allama Tabatabai presents a well-developed explanation that the ability to witness secrets of the world is not limited to Prophets and Imams, but can be achieved by any person, albeit at a different gradation.
This work is short, at around 100 pages, and can easily be read in one sitting. However, its contents require reflection and concentration, and thus may need to be read slowly and/or in multiple sittings. A reader who has no familiarity with the foundations of philosophy and logic in particular may struggle to digest some of its meanings – this is really to be regarded as a textbook or scholarly journal publication in its style, at an introductory university level. Just like its subject matter, this writing is at once simple and complex. It can be understood at many different levels according to the knowledge, readiness, and capabilities of the reader, and therefore can benefit a wide audience in layers of depth and insight, or may benefit the same reader at varying degrees upon repeated study.
Each of its five chapters unfolds like a peeling onion: the first presentation of the content is very general and abstract, but precise. The addendum that follows each chapter then reveals the practical meanings of the general philosophical and logical arguments presented and provides examples from Qur’an and Sunnah that make the general points increasingly clear so that by the end of the chapter, the thesis is understandable at least at a basic level and possibly a much deeper level for some readers. In a saying of Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (peace be upon him), this point is elucidated: “It is as Allah says: ‘Allah has sent down the best of discourses.’ So, the best of discourses is our discourse. It cannot be endured by any intelligent being in its completeness without that person limiting it. And the person limiting it must be greater than it [the limited].” Thus, the Qur’an and the sayings of Ahlul Bayt have different levels of meaning or intensity, and our own limitations put the limit on our understanding, while the sayings themselves are unlimited. This book of Allama Tabatabai thus is a mirror of its topic, but within the limitations of the Allama himself.
As for the secrets of the world hidden in the Shari’ah, we come to understand that the perfections of this world are limited by time, nature, perception, etc., whereas in the realms of our existence before and after this world, those limitations do not exist. The imperfections of this world are also absent from those realms. The human soul, if it detaches itself from materiality, is better able to cognize the forms of these perfections that we knew in our existence before this realm and will know again after. Those who are able to completely detach their hearts from this world can witness what is beyond the material realm and are of “those brought near” (al-muqarrabin). However, those who love the world find that this love is the origin of all sins because it blocks attachment to Allah and blocks understanding of the deeper realities of self and universe. Gaining knowledge of self is the most important knowledge and a requirement or prerequisite for meeting one’s Lord. Believers see their Lord with their hearts.
Human perfection or the reality of human essence is described by Allama Tabatabai as “what becomes absolute and free from any restrictions, and hence the human being will be annihilated and having nothing of perfection other than this.” The attainment of perfection requires annihilation of self because it requires the annihilation of qualifications, limits in essence, accidents, etc. While the self remains, worldliness remains, and our purpose, worship of Allah, is not fulfilled. The call to worship Allah is not out of any need of His, but our need – Ma’rifah (knowledge/cognizance) of Allah. As the Qur’an says, “Everything is to perish except His Face.” Love cannot be associated with anything other than Allah, and the person who annihilates his self in submission to and love of Allah is one who lives as an instrument of Allah, just as when Allah said, “It is not you who throws, but I throw.”
This English edition, published by the Islamic International Foundation of Cooperation in Qom, Iran, is on high-quality paper with beautiful formatting and print. The board cover is sturdy, and the translation and editing have no readily apparent flaws. This work is definitely worthy of the translation and publication effort and should be considered a standard required classic in the genre of Shia philosophy. It could be used as a text in an advanced high school madressa course, and in university-level Shia Islamic studies programs. But a reader needs no program or course to justify studying the Risalah al-Wilayah."