Quranic Reflection No. 324 Āyat 52:21 – The external form of our actions
kullu-mri’im bimā kasaba rahīn
Every person is a hostage to what he has earned!
(Sūratut Tur, No.52, Āyat 21)
The actions of a human being stem from the level of his knowledge and intelligence and are a sign of the state of his soul. Actions reveal the qualities of an individual and in turn develop more qualities in him. They give fresh life to the soul, taking it in the direction of the choice made when performing the actions – either good or bad.
In the verse above the word rahīn can mean pledge, or hostage. Some translators have used that to imply that the actions of a person are the pledge he makes to God for a return – either of reward or punishment. But Tafsīr-e Namūneh maintains that the word rahīn originally meant being present continuously. The meaning of the verse would then be that whenever an action is carried out, it stays with the person forever. There is no separation from it. It becomes a part of you, shapes your personality, your interactions, your soul, and ultimately your status with the Lord.
Through our actions and attitudes we form the body with which we will travel to the other world. Sheikh Bahmanpour talks about this immaterial body in his book The Eternal Life: “…while we live in this world, we have a presence in the imaginal world about which we are unaware. At each stage of our physical life . . . our imaginal bodies are being formed (p. 23). And the soul carries an imprint of every atom’s weight of good and evil that an individual has done, and in barzakh it is embodied externally as well” (p. 30)
The embodiment of our actions in the other world has been discussed by the renowned scholar and philosopher Sadrud Dīn Shirāzī, known as Mullā Sadrā, (d. 1640 CE). Everything that people do has a form in this world and in the Hereafter. These are the forms mentioned in Hadith as companions in the grave and on the Day of Judgment. Imam al-Bāqir (a) says: The virtuous deed goes to Heaven and prepares for its doer the way a man sends his servant to lay out a carpet for him. Imam then recited the verse : Those who act righteously only prepare for their own souls (Q 30:44) ( Bihārul Anwār, v. 71, p.185)
Since actions are what will always accompany us and determine our form and status in the worlds we traverse after life on earth, it is important to spend some time thinking about our actions. We need to purify, polish, and refine our actions. Time should be spent on that imaginal body just as we spend time on the physical body.
The following are some insights about actions mentioned in Hadith:
1) Get inspired through wisdom and guidance. It is that which will water the seeds of actions you already perform and turn them into beautiful trees. Stay away from impure water that will pollute your actions. Amīrul Mu’minīn Imam Ali (a) says: You should also know that every action is like vegetation, and vegetation cannot do without water while waters are different. So where the water is good the plant is good and its fruits are sweet, whereas where the water is bad the plant will also be bad and its fruits will be bitter (Nahjul Balāgha, Sermon 154)
2) Be consistent in your actions. Don’t start one thing and then abandon it, then start something else. It is not only performing a deed that is important, but doing that which is constantly repeated. For your actions to beautify your imaginal body they must be an integral habit that has become a part of you. The Holy Prophet (s) says: Perseverance in action . . . is more pleasing to Allah and more beneficial with Him in the eventual outcome (Bihārul Anwar, v. 78, p. 216). And Imam al-Sādiq (a) says: Whoever does a good action should continue it for a year and should not stop it before that. (Mustadrakal Wasā’il, v.1, p. 15)
3) Minor actions done regularly carry great merit. Don’t dismiss them in the quest to achieve major things. Imam al-Sādiq (a) says: If you act but a little, you will enjoy many bounties (The Scale of Wisdom, H. 4613).
4) More actions and less talk. To speak (or to write) is easy and many people have lots to say. But it is few who do lots. Imam Ali (a) says: Supplementing words with action is the best virtue and the abstraction of action from words in the ugliest vice(Ghurar al-Hikam, p. 756)
Recite this verse to remind yourself of the companion you are creating through your deeds. There will be escape from that companion and you will travel with it on long journeys. Beautify your companion while you can so you can enjoy the travels.
Sources: Amīrul Mu’minīn Ali bin Abi Talib (a), Nahjul Balāgha and Ghurar al-Hikam, English translation; Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī (Ed.), Tafsīr-e Namūneh; Muhammadī Rayshahrī, Mīzānul Hikmah,