Q: 'Ghashwah' is unconsciousness, which cannot be inflicted on an Imam. It is said that His Eminence, Amirul Momineen (a.s.) used to become unconscious during nights for fear of Allah and His Might; that he became like dried wood. It is also mentioned in
some narrations that on his deathbed, Imam Hasan (a.s.) had told his brother: There is
A: What cannot overtake an Imam is the failing of brain and consciousness, which means madness, insanity, lunacy or mania. But what happens during Ghashwah is that man becomes so deeply attentive to Almighty Allah that his mind does not get diverted to anything else as happened in case of Imam Baqir (a.s.) when he was offering ritual prayer and his child fell into a well or like the condition of Imam Sajjad (a.s.) when his house caught fire when he was in ritual prayer, and his not being aware of it. This deep engagement in ritual prayer sometimes becomes so intense that one does not feel what happens even to his own body. '
Summarily, the said conditions were the result of perfect feeling and intenseness of attention to Almighty Allah. In other words, it was a lofty manifestation of the effulgence of his mind.
It is mentioned in Jamius Sadat of Agha Naraqi that once an arrow got stuck in the leg of Imam Ali (a.s.) and nobody was able to draw it out. Then Fatima (a.s.) said: You may remove it when Ali (a.s.) is engaged in Ritual Prayer as he will then not feel any pain. So they took it out when Ali (a.s.) was in Ritual Prayer and he did not feel any pain.
Though this narration is very famous, I could not find any reliable evidence of it. Also it is rather difficult to imagine. How can an arrow pierce a man's leg and get stuck in it for long. Had the arrow with an iron head remained in the leg of Ali (a.s.)? Can such an arrow remain in such condition and man can get any rest and that the Imam may not have strength enough to fetch it out except during Ritual Prayer unless it is said that small pieces of a broken arrow had remained in the holy leg of the holy Imam as what the word Nast used in a narration indicates.
There are some who question how is it that the Imam who paid attention to a beggar who was about to go out of the Masjid and gave him his finger ring during Ritual Prayer remained unaware when an arrow was drawn out of his own leg?
Our reply is that there are degrees or levels in one's attention during Prayers. The first degree of man's attention is such in which man pays attention to his Lord Creator but he also remains aware of other things. The last degree is such in which the attention is so deep that one thinks only of God and pays no attention to any other thing. It is obvious that one does not always remain in one level at all times. Same was the case of Imam Ali (a.s.). He was fully attentive to God during his prayers but the level or degree did vary.
So we say that there is no contradiction in the aforesaid two matters. His giving a ring to someone during Ritual Prayer does not mean that he was not attentive to God because that act also was a part and a kind of worship both commanded by God. He obeyed God 's both the commands viz. of bowing before him (Rukoo) and of paying Zakat (poor due). The holy verse says: "and pay the poor-rate while they bow." In short, both the deeds of the Imam were the result of his attention to God and His worship and His obedience).
That is how the holy Imams did always have a desire to be in such condition at all times. On the contrary they considered it a defect not to be in that state and sought pardon from God. This kind of extreme and deep attention to Almighty Lord and thinking about His might and power affected their heart in way similar to unconsciousness in which people fall on account of illness or other reasons. This is why this state is named Ghashwah. Otherwise there is a wide difference between common unconsciousness and Ghashwah during prayers; because in normal Ghashwah man loses all senses whereas Ghashwah of worship keeps one totally attentive to the Lord removing his or her attention from everything else.
Sayyid Abdul Husayn Dastghaib