Ali (as), the First Imam
1. The Transcendent Lord
It was related by Ali ibn Musa al-Rida (the eighth Imam) from the earlier Imams in succession that al-Husayn ibn Ali (the third Imam) spoke as follows: The Commander of the Faithful [upon whom be peace] addressed the people in the mosque at Kufa and said:
"Praise belongs to God, who did not originate from anything, nor did He bring what exists into being from anything. His beginning less ness is attested to by the temporality (huduth) of things, His power by the impotence with which He has branded them, and His everlastingness (dawam) by the annihilation (fana) which He has forced upon them. No place is empty of Him that He might be perceived through localization (ayniyyah), no object (shabah) is like Him that He might be described by quality (kayfiyyah), nor is He absent from anything that He might be known through situation (haythiyyah)."
"He is distinct (muba'in) in attributes from all that He has originated, inaccessible to perception because of the changing essences He has created (in things), and outside of all domination (tasarruf) by changing states (halat) because of grandeur and tremendousness. Forbidden is His delimitation (tahdid) to the penetrating acumen of saga cities, His description (takyif) to the piercing profundities of thought and His representation (taswir) to the searching probes of insight."
"Because of His tremendousness places encompass Him not, because of His majesty measures gauge Him not, and because of His grandeur standards judge Him not. Impossible is it for imaginations (awham) to fathom Him, understandings (afham) to comprehend Him or minds (adhhan) to imagine Him. Powers of reason (uqul) with lofty aspiration despair of contriving to comprehend Him, oceans of knowledge run dry without alluding to Him in depth, and the subtleties of disputants fall from loftiness to pettiness in describing His power."
"He is One (wahid), not in terms of number (adad); Everlasting (da'im), without duration (amad); Standing (qa'im), without supports (umud). He is not of a kind (jins) that (other) kinds should be on a par with Him, nor an object that objects should be similar to Him, nor like things that attributes should apply to Him. Powers of reason go astray in the waves of the current of perceiving Him, imaginations are bewildered at encompassing the mention of His beginning less ness, understandings are held back from becoming conscious of the description of His power, and minds are drowned in the depths of the heavens of His kingdom (malakut)."
"He is Master over (giving) bounties, Inaccessible through Grandeur, and Sovereign over all things. Time (al-dahr) makes Him not old, nor does description encompass Him. Humbled before Him are the firmest of obduracy's in the limits of their constancy, and submitted to Him are the most unshakeable of the cords in the extremity of their towering regions."
"Witness to His Lordship (rububiyyah) is the totality of kinds (al-ajnas, i.e. kinds of creatures), to His Power their incapacity, to His eternity (qidmah) their createdness (futur), and to His permanence (baqa) their passing into extinction (zawal). So they possess no place of refuge from His grasp (idrak) of them, no exit from His encompassing (ihatah) them, no way of veiling them selves from His enumeration (ihsa) of them and no way of avoiding His power over them. Sufficient is the perfection of His making them as a sign (ayah), His compounding of their (natural) constitutions as a proof, the temporal origin (huduth) of their natures as (a reason for His) eternity, and the creation's laws governing them as a lesson. No limit is attributed to Him, no similitude struck for Him and nothing veiled from Him. High indeed is He exalted above the striking of similitude's and above created attributes!"
"And I testify that there is no God but He, having faith in His lordship and opposing whoso denies Him; and I testify that Muhammad is His servant and messenger, residing in the best lodging-place, having passed from the noblest of loins and immaculate wombs, extracted in lineage from the noblest of mines and in origin from the most excellent of plantations, and (derived) from the most inaccessible of summits and the most glorious roots, from the tree from which God fashioned His prophets and chose His trusted ones: (a tree) of excellent wood, harmonious stature, lofty branches, flourishing limbs, ripened fruit, (and) noble interior, implanted in generosity and cultivated in a sacred precinct. There it put forth branches and fruit, became strong and unassailable, and then made him (the prophet Muhammad) tall and eminent, until God, the Mighty and Majestic, honored him with the Faithful Spirit, the Illuminating Light, and the Manifest Book. He subjected to him Buraq and the angels greeted him. By means of him He terrified the devils, overthrew the idols and the Gods (who were) worshipped apart from Him. His prophet's Wont (sunnah) is integrity (rushd), his conduct (sirah) is justice and his decision is truth. He proclaimed that which was commanded by his Lord, and he delivered that with which he was charged until he made plain his mission through the profession of Unity and made manifest among the creatures that there is no god but God alone and that He has no associate; until His Oneness became pure and His lordship unmixed. God made manifest his argument through the profession of His Unity and He raised his degree with submission (al-Islam). And God, the Mighty and Majestic, chose for His prophet what was with Him of repose, degree and means-upon him and upon his pure household be God's peace."
2. Via negative
Ali said, "Praise belongs to God, whose laudation is not rendered by speakers, whose bounties are not counted by reckoners, and whose rightfully due (haqq) is not discharged by those who strive. Grand aspirations perceive Him not and deep-diving perspicacity's reached Him not. His attributes (sifah) possess no determined limits (hadd mahdud), no existing description (na't mawjud), no fixed time (waqt madud) and no extended term (ajal mamdud). He originates the creatures by His power, looses the winds by His mercy, and fastens the shaking of His earth with boulders."
"The first step in religion is knowledge (marifah) of Him. The perfection of knowledge of Him is to confirm Him (tasdiq). The perfection of confirming Him is to profess His unity (tawhid). The perfection of professing His Unity is sincerity (ikhlas) towards Him. And the perfection of sincerity towards Him is to negate attributes (nafy al-sifat) from Him, because of the testimony of every attribute that it is not that which possesses the attribute (al-mawsuf) and the testimony of every thing that possesses attributes that it is not the attribute."
So whoso describes God [glory be to Him] has given Him a comrade (i.e. the description). Whoso gives Him a comrade has declared Him to be two (tathniyah). Whoso declares Him to be two has divided Him. Whoso divides Him is ignorant of Him. (Whoso is ignorant of Him points to Him). Whoso points to Him has delimited Him. Whoso delimits Him has numbered Him. Whoso says, In what is He? Has enclosed Him. Whoso says, 'On what is He?' has excluded Him (from certain things)."
"He is a being (ka'in) not as the result of temporal origin (hadath), an existent (mawjud) not (having come) from nonexistence (adam). He is with everything, not through association (muqaranah); and He is other than everything, not through separation (muzayalah). He is active (fa'il), not in the sense of possessing movement and instruments. He was seeing when there was none of His creatures to be observed by Him. He was 'alone' (mutawahhid) when there was none with whom to be intimate and at whose loss to feel lonely."
"He originated creation and gave to it its beginning without employing deliberation, profiting from experience, occasioning movement (harakah, i.e. in Himself), or being disrupted by the cares of the soul (hamamah nafs). He delays things to their times, mends their discrepancies, implants (in them) their natural dispositions, and makes these (dispositions) adhere to their objects. He has knowledge of them before their beginning, encompasses their limits (hudud) and their end (intiha') and knows their relationships (qara'in) and aspects (ahna').
3. Firm Rooting in Knowledge (Rasiquna fil’ilm)
It was related from Abu Abdallah that when the Commander of the Faithful was speaking from the pulpit at Kufa a man stood up and said, "O Commander of the Faithful! Describe for us thy Lord (blessed and transcendent is He) that our love (Hubb) for Him and knowledge (Marifah) of Him may increase."
The Commander of the Faithful became angry and cried out, "Assemble for prayer!" The people gathered together until the mosque was choked with them. Then he stood, his color changing, and he said, "Praise belongs to God, who does not gain in plenty by withholding nor become poor through giving, while every other giver than He diminishes. (He is) full of the benefits of blessings and the advantages of superabundance. Through His generosity He ensures the provision of creatures. So He smooths the path of aspiration (Talab) for those who make Him their Quest. Nor is He more generous with what is asked of Him than with what is not asked. Time in its march varies not for Him that (His) state should change accordingly. If He should give to some of His servants (all of) the silver metal, ingots of pure gold and sacks of pearls that the mountains mines breathe and the seas shells smile, His generosity would in nowise be affected, nor would the expanse of that which is with Him dwindle. With Him are treasuries of bounteous bestowal which are not exhausted by objects of request and which come not to His attention in spite of their abundance, for He is the Generous who is not diminished by gifts nor made niggardly by the importunity of the importune. And His command, when He desires a thing, is to say to it "Be", and it is (XXXVI: 81)."
"The angels, despite their proximity to the throne of His liberality, the great extent of their burning love (walah) for Him, (their) glorification of the majesty of His might, and their proximity to the unseen of His kingdom (ghayb malakutih), are capable of knowing only what He has taught them of His affair, although they are of the Sacred Kingdom in terms of rank. It is because they possess knowledge of Him only as He created them that they say, 'Glory be to Thee! We know not save what Thou hast taught us' (II: 32)."
"So what is thy opinion, O questioner, of Him who is thus? Glory be to Him, and praise belongs to Him! He has not come into being that change or removal should be possible in Him. He is not affected in His Essence by recurrence of states, and an eon of nights and days differ not for Him. (It is He) who originated creation with no model (mithal) to copy or measure (migdar) to imitate from a deity (mabud) who should have existed before Him. Attributes encompass Him not, lest He be defined by limits (hudud) (resulting) from their having attained Him. He - like Him there is naught' (XLII II)-never ceases to transcend the attributes of creatures."
"Eyes are prevented from reaching Him, lest He be described through being plainly seen (bi-l-iyan) and lest He be known among His creatures in the Essence that none knows but He. Through His exaltation (uluww) over things He eludes that upon which fall the conjectures of imaginers (mutawahhimin). The inmost center (kunh) of His tremendousness transcends the embrace of the impotent deliberation of those who meditate. He has no similitude that what is created should resemble Him. For those who have knowledge of Him He is forever above likenesses and opposites."
"Those who ascribe rivals to God (al-adilun billah) cry lies when they make Him similar to the like of their categories, adorn Him in their imaginations with the adornment of creatures, divide Him with a measure resulting from the notions of their concerns, and measure Him by the talents of their reason's powers in terms of the creatures with their multiple faculties. For how should the deliberations of imaginations assess Him whose measure cannot be determined, when surely the notions of understanding have erred in conceiving of His inmost center? For He is greater than that the minds of men should delimit Him through thought (tafkir) or angels should encompass Him through estimation, despite their proximity to the kingdom of His might."
"High be He exalted above having an equal (kufw) with which to be compared, for He is the Subtle: when imaginations desire to encroach upon Him in the depths of the unseen regions of His dominion, (when) thoughts (fikar) free from insinuating intrusions seek to grasp knowledge of His Essence, (when) hearts are thrown into mad confusion over Him in trying to embrace Him through conforming to His attributes, (when) the ways of approach of reason's powers become obscured since no attributes attain to Him by which they might gain the knowledge of His divinity, (then) they (imaginations, thoughts, hearts and ways of approach) are checked in disgrace while traversing the chasms of the dark reaches of the unseen worlds, rid (of all things) for Him-glory be to Him! They return having been thrown back, admitting that the inmost center of His knowledge is not reached through the deviation of straying (from the path) and that no notion of the measure of His might's majesty occurs to the mind of meditators, by reason of His distance from being (encompassed) within the faculties of limited beings. For He is counter to (khilaf) His creation, and there is nothing like Him among creatures. Now a thing is only compared with its like (adil). As for what has no like, how should it be compared with what is other than its like (mithal)? And He is the Beginning (al-badi) before whom was naught, and the Last (al-akhir) after whom will be naught."
"Eyes reach Him not in the splendor of His Power (jabarut). When He obscures them with veils, eyes do not penetrate the density of the veils thickness, nor do they pierce the firmness pertaining to His coverings to (reach) the 'Possessor of the Throne', in whose will affairs originate and before the majesty of whose tremendousness the grandeur of the arrogant cringes. Necks are bowed before Him and faces humbled in fear of Him. In the marvels (bada'i) which He creates appear the traces (athar) of His wisdom (hikmah), and all that is created becomes an argument (hujjah) for Him and attributed to Him. Were it a silent creation His argument would be speaking through it in His directing (of its affairs, tadbir)."
"He determines what He creates and makes firm His determining (taqdir), places everything in its place through the subtlety of His directing, and turns it in a direction. Then nothing of it reaches the environs of His station. It falls not short before carrying out His will and refrains not when ordered to execute His desire. He suffers not from weariness that might touch Him, nor is He deceived by one who would transgress His command."
"So His creation is complete and it yields to Him in obedience. It complies with the (appointed) time at which He brings it forth, a response resisted by neither the dawdler's hesitation nor the lingerer's tardiness. He straightened the crookedness of things, delineated the way-marks of their limits, reconciled their contradictions through His power, joined the means of their conjunctions (asbab qara'iniha), caused their various sorts to be disparate in size, and divided them into different kinds, natural dispositions, and appearances-marvels of creation, whose fashioning He made firm. He made them according to His desire and brought them into existence. His knowledge put in order the kinds of their creation and His directing achieved their fairest determination."
"O questioner! Know that whoso compares our majestic Lord to the mutual dissimilarity of the parts of His creation and to the interconnection of their joints, hidden by the directing of His wisdom, surely he has not fixed his inmost consciousness (ghayb damirih) upon knowledge of Him, and his heart has not witnessed (mushahadah) the certainty that He has no compeer. It is as if he had not heard of the followers disclaiming the followed, saying, 'By God, we were certainly in manifest error when we made you equal to the Lord of all beings' (XXVI: 97-8)"
"Whoso sets our Lord equal to something has ascribed rivals to Him, and he who ascribes rivals to Him is a disbeliever in what His clear verses have revealed and in what the witnesses of His clear signs arguments have spoken. For He is God, who does not become defined within the powers of reason that He should be qualified within the range of their thought or be limited and turned about within the craws of the reflection of aspiring souls. He is the Producer of the kinds of things without having been in need of reflection, or of acting according to an innate disposition, or of experience gained through the passing of Time's events, or of an associate to help Him in bringing into existence the wonders of affairs. When those who ascribe rivals to Him compare Him to creation, whose attributes are divided and limited and whose levels possess various zones and regions-and He, the Mighty and Majestic, is the existent through Himself, not through His instruments (adah) - they can not have measured Him with His true measure. Thus He said, declaring Himself incomparable with the association of compeers and rising above the estimate of those of His disbelieving servants who measure Him within limits, 'They measure not God with His true measure. The earth altogether shall be His handful on the Day of Resurrection, and the heavens shall be rolled up in His right hand. Glory be to Him! High be He exalted above that they associate' (XXXIX: 67)."
"So as for that to which the Quran directs thee concerning His attributes, follow it, so that a link may be established between thee and knowledge (ma'rifah) of Him. Take it as an example, and seek illumination by the light of its guidance; surely it is a blessing and a wisdom given to thee, so take what has been given thee an be among the thankful. But as for that to which Satan directs thee, that which is not made incumbent upon thee in the Quran and no trace (athar) concerning which exists in the Wont of the Prophet and the Imams of guidance, leave its knowledge to God, the Mighty and Majestic. Surely that is the limit of God's claim (haqq) against thee."
"Know that 'those firmly rooted in knowledge' are they whom God has freed from the need to assault the closed doors beyond which are the unseen things (al-ghuyub), so they cling to the acknowledgement (iqrar) of all of the veiled unseen of which they know not the interpretation, and they say, 'We have faith in it; all is from our Lord.' (III: 7). So God praised their avowal of incapacity to grasp what they comprehend not in knowledge, and He called their abandonment of the desire to penetrate into that whose examination is not required of them 'firm-rooted ness'. So limit thyself to that (same attitude) and measure not the Mightiness of God-Glory be to Him-according to the measure of thy reason's power, thus becoming of those who perish."