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The Empty Vessel
Some remarks on Duʿāʾ Kumayl (part 6)
wa-bi-jabarūtika allatī ghalabat bihā kullu shayʾin
[I beseech you] by your omnipotence, by which you overpower all things
The word “jabarūt,” translated here as omnipotence, is in a grammatical form known as ṣīghat al-mubālaghah or the exaggerated form. It means majesty, grandeur, and power and conveys triumph. It is used for God in particular, in which case it constitutes praise; if it were used for a person, it would constitute censure.
It is said that jabarūt means substitution or compensation or replacement (taʿwīḍ) of everything that is deficient or incomplete or unfulfilled. It replaces or rejuvenates the power of the sun as it dissipates, the roar of the sea as it ebbs and flows, and the seeds of fruit. There is no benefit in seeds that are not planted in soil where the source of plentitude can grace their innate capacity for growth. Similarly, human beings have innate capacities, which we can think of as empty vessels and which God’s overwhelming plentitude fills (or fulfills).
In his Fāʾidah/Risālah fī bayān istijābat al-duʿāʾ, the philosopher Abū l-Ḥasan Jilveh (d. 1836–1838) categorized quiddity into three categories: a quiddity that is auspicious by nature; a quiddity that is wretched by nature; and a quiddity that has the capacity for felicity. If God were to grace the third type of quiddity and it accepted God’s grace, it would achieve felicity. For the third type of quiddity, known as aṣḥāb al-yamīn, supplication is like medicine for the sick; however, supplication does not benefit the first or second types of quiddities. Jilveh considered knowing God the most effective means for the acceptance of supplication.
While this may not be the predominant view, it resonates with the following statement attributed to Jaʿfar al-Ṣādiq: If people knew how God created the world, no one would scorn anyone.
It needs to be read against the backdrop of the stark personal agency found in the Quran, but I think such ḥadīth warrant greater compassion for others. One faqīh explained the ḥadīth as follows:
“Since God created people differently, you shouldn’t judge people according to your standards or be scandalized because someone doesn’t have the same morals or character as you. By implication, God won’t judge them the same as you either—maybe they’ll be forgiven for their zināʾ while you’ll be punished for an untoward glance… Even though the material circumstances of that person are different, they are equally recipients of God’s grace as you are and therefore equally able to attain salvation. Don’t think just because that person’s personality or environment is filled with sin and you are filled with prayer and worship that you are somehow better or closer to God’s grace. You’re equal: laysa li-l-insān illā mā saʿá.”