Ethics no Kalam-i Mawla by Hazrat Ali (2023)

Editor's Note:Like all Shia Muslims across the world, Imami Shia Ismailis will observe with deep reverence the anniversary of Hazrat Ali's birth on Rajab 13, which corresponds to February 3, 2023, in Canada and many other parts of the world. The Ismailis are led by His Highness the Aga Khan, who is the 49th hereditary Imam in the succession of Imams from Ali, who was appointed by Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his family) to continue his teachings within the Muslim community. Today, the Ismailis are the only Shia Muslims to have a living Imam, namely the Aga Khan, and are therefore referred to by the Ismailis as the Hazar Imam (the Imam of the time or the current/living Imam). The Kalam-i Mawla article by Dr. Farouk Topan first appeared in print in Vol. 13, Number 1, July 1990, of Ilm, the leading Ismaili religious journal published by Ismaili Tariqah and the UK Religious Education Board, or ITREB, between 1975 and 1992. This second reproduction of the SIMERG article is in improved format to make it easier to read. Readers should note that the images presented in this publication are not part of the original article published in Ilm magazine.



The relationship between man and God is the focus of most religious literature. Of paramount importance to the relationship is man's conduct, behavior, and action during his sojourn on earth. What you say and do affects that relationship: good deeds make it stronger, bad deeds deteriorate it. Therefore, it is considered fundamental that the man is aware of what he can and cannot do, that he understands the limitations of his actions beyond which he cannot transgress without putting the health of that relationship at risk. Such awareness is made explicit not only in scriptures and sacred texts, but also in books, epistles, treatises and poems composed by men of faith and knowledge. HeKalam-i Mawlafalls into the latter category.

HeKalam-i Mawla(that's why it's calledKalam) is a poem of 327 verses, composed in Hindi, whose content is inspired by the sayings, speeches and sermons of Mawlana Ali (peace be upon him). The true composer of the verse is unknown. Contrary to the practice followed in some compositions —for example, in the Ginans— where the composer mentions his name in the body of the text, the composer ofKalamhas refrained from doing so. His action may have been dictated by modesty, or even piety, not wanting his personal attribution to influence the considered authorship of the first Imam. Thus, the authoritative status of the verses, as an expression of theus(speech/sayings) of the Lord, Mawla, has been preserved.

The predominant message conveyed inKalamit's ethical. It can be said that the text is an ethics manual for the believer, indicating the virtues to be cultivated and the vices to be avoided. The ethical emphasis is even more emphasized in the print editions ofKalam-i Mawla. A comparison, for example, between the earlier manuscript of theKalam1801, and the last printed version published in Karachi in 1984 byIsmailia Association for Pakistanshows a rearrangement of the verses in the last one to reflect an ethical direction of the message.

The Karachi edition, which is the last in a long chain of printed versions dating from 1873, divides the text into 23 chapters, each with its own title. The first chapter deals with truth, the second with fraternity, the third with the virtues of good education or discipline, the fourth with generosity, the fifth with greed, the sixth with covetousness, etc. Among the themes included are the path of the heart (ch. 7); the beauty and wonder of knowledge (ch. 10); the path of injustice (ch.11) and justice (ch.12); prayers (ch.14) patience and gratitude (ch.16); jealousy (ch. 22) and courage (ch. 23).

HeKalam-i MawlaHowever, it is not limited to simply conveying the ethical message. If so, it would have been fundamentally incomplete, since ethical injunctions derive their meaning from assumptions and presuppositions of belief. Stating what man should do and what not to do, without placing these imperatives within the parameters of belief, would be to strip them of their rationality and justification. They would lack conviction. the composer oftheKalamhe avoided this pitfall and created a vibrant text by focusing on not one but three interrelated dimensions, each supporting the others. These dimensions are (1) Doctrinal (2) Esoteric and (3) Ethics.


The Doctrinal and Esoteric Dimensions in Kalam-i Mawla

Hefirstdimension can be calleddoctrinal; its expression is interspersed throughout the poem as the basis of the man's action. Two examples may suffice for our purpose here. The opening verse ofKalam-i Mawlaestablishes a theological hierarchy. The first memory (Zikr), he says, is from Allah; the second profession (stay) is from Muhammad and the third is from Mawla who narrates "hisKalam, a treasure trove of jewels revealed to us.” So God, the Prophet and the Imam are mentioned from the beginning. In verse 5, the concepts ofTawheed,NabuwwayPriesthoodthey express themselves explicitly: “Know that Allah, the Sustainer, is One; that Muhammad is the Prophet of Allah; after the Prophet (comes) the Lord of the Imamat, Murtaza Ali; truly believe in him."

Heseconddimension inKalam-i Mawlaand theesoteric. Lines of deep mystical meaning are found in the poem which encourage the reader to aspire to a higher spiritual reality. The emphasis is again on action: through prayer.bandagiand knowledge acquisition. Prayers offered at midnight (or after) receive special mention (verse 168), as they bring "light" into one's very being, a light which is reflected in the face; then, on the Day of Judgment, one will be numbered among those whose faces are white (from Qur'an 3:105-106). A believer who is regular in his prayers andbandagihe will be graced with the vision of his Lord (verse 170). Yes sothe believeris truly beloved of the Lord, then he too will receive the spiritual bliss of themi'rajexperienced by the Prophet (verses 170/171).

But a believer who wants to attain such spiritual bliss must first have a guide, aMurshid, to open the doors of esoteric knowledge. Even a minute and a small amount of such knowledge - "mere point (to point) ofmarifá"as it says in verse 101 - it is enough, if it is given by theMurshidhimself, to lead athe believerreturn to its origin, to the essence of Truth (haqq). Only then can he transcend the state of duality ("The duality of You and I" and merge into a state of Oneness and become One with the One who is the First and the Last, the Manifest and the Hidden, the One who will continue to exist when all else perishes (verse 327).


Ethical Dimensions in Kalam-i Mawla:Theme Charity and Generosity

The third, anddominant, dimension inKalam-i Mawlait is the ethical, which is expressed in the poem in various ways. The most common way is through injunctions stated in the name of Mawlana Ali (a.s), whose status is sometimes explained in more detail through the use of specific titles such as:

Shah-e Awliya(verses 2 and 182) — the Lord of friends (of God)

Sahib-e Zulfiqar(verse 15) - Master of (sword)Dhulfiqar

wali maqbul(verse 34) — the accepted friend (of God)

Sahib-e Israr(verse 98) — Master of (spiritual) mysteries or secrets

Kawsar-e Saqi(verses 102 and 107)—the spout (of water) in the tank of waterKawthar(not paradise)

Shah-e Dul Dul Sawar(verses 113 and 130) - the rider of the (horse)sickening sickening; etc.

Such titles are almost always given on the last or penultimate line of the verse as a forceful culmination of the advice given in the preceding lines; therefore they are introduced by phrases like “and thus he spake…”. or “Then ask…”.

The (ethical) mandates themselves vary in content and even in the style in which they are expressed. In terms of content, almost every important aspect of a Muslim's way of life has been covered. The titles of some of the chapters cited in the previous reading give an indication of the variety of themes: the sub-themes are even more general.

Let us take chapter four as an example and consider its content that deals with the theme of charity and generosity (sakhawat). While each of its seventeen lines is pertinent to that theme, its exposition relates to different aspects of the theme.

The man is placed – as he certainly should be – at the center of the mandates. But around it, assumptions or arguments are built that help to see the benefits of being generous, benefits that are obtained both in this world and in the next, both material and spiritual. Thus, generosity, also expressed in acts of charity and philanthropy, becomes the cornerstone of the relationship not only between man and God, but also between men. The two are interrelated, one expressed in terms of the other, as we shall see below.

In doing so, verses (18-34) also address fundamental issues of the theme: what is charity; to whom one should be charitable; which way; and, perhaps most importantly, why.

The arguments that establish the justification of the act of charity or generosity —the “why”— can be summarized as follows:

Since God has given a person wealth through His bounty, Hisblessing, one should not hide or hoard this wealth, but spend it 'in the way of God'; because large amounts of wealth that are hidden from others or spent entirely on oneself end up turning to dust and not benefiting other human beings. If, on the other hand, one gives generously in charity or is philanthropic in action, he will be rewarded both in this world and the next. The act of giving is compared to the 'philosopher's stone' (paragraphs): just as it turns what is rubbed into gold into gold, so a person's generous character brings him the good things in life.

People come to respect and love that person and give him a high position in this world and offer prayers for his welfare. And God, like theRazaq, the Provider, grants you prosperity in wealth, family, home, and position in society. A philanthropist is the beloved (habib) of God who will grant you a position next to Him in the abode of the Hereafter and whose name will not perish in this world.

How should it be given? A short answer from the verses is that charity should be given with a smile, with a feeling of happiness. The goal is to make the recipient happy. It is repeatedly stated in these verses that a giver must not make the recipient feel indebted to the giver or hurt his feelings in any way. If these commandments are violated, your charity will be considered “lost”, that is, nullified in the eyes of God. Such giving requires a disciplined heart controlled by pride and arrogance. The feelings of kindness in the giver's heart are gradually accompanied by respect and love for the receivers.

And who are the recipients? Although the verses do not give details about their identity, two broad categories are mentioned: the orphans and the weak, whom the strong must approach to help them in whatever ails them.

The responsibility for taking the initiative rests with the strong. It is interesting to note that charity is designed not only to give material goods to the poor, but also to help redress injustices committed against the weak, to bring justice to those whose rights have been violated.

Verse 28 succinctly says, “The weapon of the weak is to wail and cry out to everyone,” but it goes on to ask: What if the afflicted one has no wealth or strength to defend himself and remains oppressed by suffering and pain? , what can you do about it? The implication is clear: the weak need people with a sense of justice to defend them. This would also be an act of charity.

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Ethics no Kalam-i Mawla by Hazrat Ali (1)


Ethics no Kalam-i Mawla by Hazrat Ali (2)


Ethics no Kalam-i Mawla by Hazrat Ali (3)


The stylistic features employed in the Kalam-i Mawla

We said before that the ethical mandates in theKalam-i MawlaThey come in many styles. Three of these stylistic features may be mentioned as illustrations. The first is definitive. A subject, or a moral premise, is defined to include the kind of action that should be performed. Here are some examples:

Chapter 1, verse 3 (1:3) -“He is a true friend who really keeps his promise”

2:9 -"He is your brother who sticks with you in times of trouble"

and on the contrary,

2:10 -"It is not a brother that you are ashamed of, even if you belong to the same descent (from the father)"

4:22 -"The best of riches is that which is spent in the name and in the way of the Lord"

The second resource uses the conditional as a literary resource in the construction of a moral premise along the lines of"if this... then this..."o“if that…then do that……”.Here are some examples on different topics.

The first represents a person who listens more to his "heart", that is, his most basic instincts, than what he was taught. Note, incidentally, the use of the word "heart" in these examples, and the variations in meaning ascribed to it, from a place of lower instincts to a noble abode of the Lord in the human body:

7:5 -"If you are blind to knowledge
and your heart becomes your guide
(then) your conduct will be dictated by his wishes
and you will be thrown into a deep pit.

Thinking about death is the subject of the second example:

17:238:“If you want advice for your heart, think about death.
the memory of death is splendid advice:
remember you will die and make the grave your own
home and none of your friends will accompany you."

On the protection generated by a person's attitude towards his friends and towards God:

8:248 —"The evil deeds of your enemies will not touch you
if you are sincere and good with your friends:
the wicked world, with its calamities, will spare you
if you let Allah, the One, reside in your heart.”

The third stylistic characteristic used in theKalamit is a common literary tool of using particular images to convey certain meanings and messages. The images themselves can be ordinary ones drawn from nature and everyday human activities, or special ones located in the poet's culture. The examples below, as well as those cited above, represent only a small portion of the spectrum available on the market.Kalam-i Mawla.

we can take the'common'first examples where the poet uses stone, grass, trees, river, boat, gold, silver, silk and dust to convey his ideas. (The translation provided here, as elsewhere in this article, is not literal):

3:15 -"Good conduct adorns a person as gold and silver adorns a woman..."

3:16 -"Gold remains in this world, but right conduct(adab)will allow you to meet your master…”

4:22 -"Wealth (wasted in this world) turns to dust..."(ver 6:40)

5:36:"A miser's wealth is like a stone..."

5:47 -"When the boat of the heart encounters a storm,
change direction and take her to the beach”

8:16 -"Be as smooth as silk..."

8:67 -"Have a tender heart,
tender as a bunch of green grass;
don't be arrogant and rigid like a tree
upright in a wood;

tree is knocked down in a storm,
but the grass bends and sways merrily in the wind.

7:234 —“The waters of a river do not flow back; not age…”

Examples of'cultural'The images need an explanation. The first is taken from 4:32 where we are advised to share our food with others. The manner in which food is served forms the theme of the poet's order in this verse, for he sees people sitting around a single large plate or vessel and eating together, as was, and in part still is, the custom in the East. We are told that custom has two advantages. People who eat together are blessed with God's bounty,blessingand secondly, the food itself may be enough for an extra person; for example, four people could happily eat the meal intended for three.

OOther examples can be taken from one verse: 12:129. The verse begins with advice on how to eat.'legal'food, lawful not only in the sense ofhalal(in the spirit of the verses ofquran2:172 and 2:173), but also in relation to income and earnings. A free translation of verse 12:129 can be translated as follows:

"Take care, brother, and make your lawful food
because the light of the heart comes through legal food

Darkness enters the heart and faith
when forbidden wealth is consumed;

The heart is the lamp in the temple of the body:
where there is darkness there is loss of faith

Neither of them is aware of the activities.
Perpetrated in a city shrouded in darkness:
five thieves together could steal it completely.

Usually, a translation is nothing more than a poor substitute for the original. This would undoubtedly be the case with the interpretation of 12:129 given above, particularly as it does not, by itself, reflect the narrow metrical boundaries and rhyme scheme within which the poet functions in the original language. And yet, however flawed the transfer of the linguistic medium may be, the poet's ability to combine different languages ​​is evident.

Three sets of ideas are employed:the notions of right and wrong, light and dark, and the gradual loss of faith.The paradigms extracted from the notions are arranged symmetrically: complacency with the forbidden leads to the darkness of the heart which, in turn, leads to the loss of faith (Magnetic): on the contrary, actions carried out within the limits of what is permitted lead to enlightenment of the heart and assurance of faith.

The paradigms are expressed in the cultural images familiar to the poet's audience. The body as temple is an example. Just like a lamp (difficult) is an important ingredient in the temple, investing it with a symbolic (and functional) light, whereby the heart symbolically performs this function in the body. But the lamp is not safe. He is threatened by the person's own actions: the more he disregards the ethical injunctions he is taught, the dimmer the light of his heart becomes.

This vulnerability is expressed in the metaphor of the body as a village where darkness allows five thieves to join in a stealthy raid to steal its goods, the most worthy of which is faith (Magnetic). The five 'thieves' are mentioned elsewhere, namely in the Ginans, as personifying five vices,panj bhu: of lust (vino); anger (krodh); ambition (lavar); temptation or stubborn attachment to the material aspects of the world (medical officer) and pride (GREAT).



The ethical dimension inKalam-i MawlaIt expresses itself on three interrelated levels. The first level situates the ethics of faith within the doctrines and beliefs of Shiite Islam. These form the foundation on which ethics rests, an embodiment of the "charter" that provides the rationale for a Shia Muslim's ethical development. And, perhaps most important, beliefs and doctrines also reveal—indeed, proclaim—the sanctions that await the violation of stated ethical injunctions and the reward for their observance.

The second level involves the pronouncement of the moral mandates themselves. In a prose work, perhaps the pronouncement could be long, with explanatory notes and cross-references to texts of greater weight, including thequranyourself. In poetry, however, the exposition of the theme is governed by literary restrictions such as the rhyme scheme and the control of the number of meters required per verse. Therefore, the poet has to be economical in his choice of words, which in turn "forces" him to make a selection of priority themes. what we have inKalam-i Mawlait is the poet's own choice of what he considers important commandments to impart to a Muslim.

The third level is the literary. Earlier we referred to the constraint - and the challenge - imposed on the poet by the prevailing prosodic tradition and convention of his culture. The poet works within the prosodic structure to convey his message and ideas. But the frame, at best, is nothing more than a skeleton that needs flesh and blood to give it shape and meaning. And the poet contributes with this design in the fads of his culture, society and everyday expressions of everyday life. The choice of vocabulary, images and metaphors, combined with the poet's ability to transform them into verses to be read and chanted, make theKalam-i Mawlaa truly delightful poem to be read for pleasure, instruction, and inspiration.

The presentation made in these readings, in relation to the ethical injunctions of the poem, represents only a small sample of a vast corpus.


A thank you note from Dr. Farouk M. Topan:

Thanks to Mr. Akbar Rupani from ITREB India, to Mr. Hoosain Khan Mohamed, formerly of Karachi, and a gentleman who wishes to remain anonymous, for kindly checking the translation of theKalam-i Mawlawhich he had started a few years ago. His help, given with boundless generosity, was most encouraging; but I can also say that I do not associate them in any way with any translation error that may arise from my choice of meaning. I am also grateful toIzzat Muneyb(d. May 20, 2017) for comments on an earlier version of this article.

Publication date:February 2, 2023.

Featured image at top of post:Panel presented to Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, by the Canadian Ismaili Muslim community on the auspicious occasions of his Golden Jubilee visit to Canada in 2008. See a brief note on panelHERE. The panel contains a Hadith Qudsi inscription, the translation of which is shown in the featured image.


Ethics no Kalam-i Mawla by Hazrat Ali (4)

doctor Farouk M. Topan is shown at left receiving an honorary fellowship in recognition of his contribution to the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London. We encourage our readers to read Dr. Topaninterview with the ismailisin which he reflects on his life in teaching, academia and service to the Jamat. We also invite readers to read Simerg's short articlearticle about dr. Topan, following UNESCO's designation of July 7 as Kiswahili Day. doctor Topan contributed significantly to the study of the Kiswahili language and its literature.

Other articles by Dr. Topan in Simerg:

  • The modern pace of life
  • A Brief Intuitive Note on Emptiness



Before leaving this site, please take a moment to reviewSimerg indexfor links to hundreds of thought-provoking pieces on a wide range of topics, including faith and culture, history and philosophy, arts and letters, to name a few. Also visit sister sites SimergBarakah, dedicated to His Highness the Aga Khan, andsimergphotos.The editor can be contacted by email

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