It was a book, a blue covered book inscribed with gold letters – our first gift in Iran. This book was to become one of our favorites and several of its lines found their way into my daily prayer. Our new book was The Psalms of Islam written by Ali bin al-husayn, the great grandson of the Prophet of Islam. William Chittick, the translator of this book from the Arabic, introduces it as “…the oldest prayer manual in Islamic sources and one of the most seminal works of Islamic spirituality of the early period.” It also served as one of our texts in our course on Islamic mysticism.
Following are a few lines representing some of the prayers of this book.
“Here am I, addressing myself to the breezes of Thy freshness and tenderness,
having recourse to the rain of Thy generosity and gentleness,
fleeing from Thy displeasure to Thy good pleasure
and from Thee to Thee,
hoping for the best of what is with Thee,
relying upon Thy gifts…” p.498
Appended to these prayers is The Treatise On Rights, also attributed to Ali bin al-husayn. Reference to this Treatise surfaced frequently in conversations with our Iranian scholar friends. Although they understand the individuality aspect of human rights in the modern West, they tend to see human rights in the context of community. Rights are not only seen as my right but as the right of another over me, or in other words, my duty toward another. Freedom then has value, not only as individual freedom to do what I want, but the freedom to choose to follow the way of God and the freedom to choose to serve the community. One of the greatest rights is the right of my body, mind, soul or self over me – to be treated with respect and to realize the intent of the divine.
Some examples from the Treatise are:
“The right of the tongue is that you consider it too noble for obscenity, accustom it to good, refrain from any meddling in which there is nothing to be gained, express kindness to the people, and speak well concerning them.” p.7
“The right of your neighbor is that you guard him when he is absent, honor him when he is present, and aid him when he is wronged. You do not pursue anything of his that is shameful; if you know of any evil from him, you conceal it. If you know that he will accept your counsel, you counsel him in that which is between him and you. You do not forsake him in difficulty, you release him from his stumble, you forgive his sin, and you associate with him generously. And there is no strength save in Allah.” p. 12
“The right of the adversary who has a claim against you is that, if what he claims against you is true, you give witness to it against yourself. You do not wrong him and you give him his full due. If what he claims against you is false, you act with kindness toward him and you show nothing in his affair other than kindness; you do not displease your Lord in his affair. And there is no strength save in Allah.” p. 13.
In Psalm 34 of David we read:
Keep your tongue from evil,
and your lips from speaking deceit.
Depart from evil, and do good;
seek peace, and pursue it. (NRSV)
Indeed, my tongue has a right over me.