Question: The volunteers, who scatter to different corners of the world, carrying thoughts of love and dialogue, meet very diverse cultural environments. What are the points of consideration in this respect?
Answer: The ones who dedicated themselves to the peace of humanity and who pursue this goal should first gain correct insight into the places they go. They should learn about the local people and cultural environment, so that they can express their feelings and thoughts comfortably. This is an important duty—one whose importance is in direct proportion with the sacredness of the feeling and thoughts represented. However well an idealist knows the environment he lives in, it will be that much easier for him to transfer the inspirations of his spirit to the people around him.
Unfortunately, although some people in our time express and claim that they follow the way of the Qur’an and the Prophet’s Tradition, and that they take as example the eminent and exalted inheritors of the cause of the Prophets, they cause different negative reactions owing to some mistakes of style. It is a reality that wrong manners might turn people’s stomach, even if they have been presented with the most delicious meals. Surely, truths of faith and religion have no ugly side whatsoever—God forbid—and there cannot be the slightest sickening factor in them. On the contrary, every principle of the Qur’an is Divine. No side of this Divine quality has any aspect to mislead people or raise any suspicions.
In the same way, the Prince of the Prophets’ sayings, which are but explanations of these essentials, along with the attitude and behaviors presented by the righteous Muslims of the classic period, are also so perfect. However, if you do not know well the people you are in dialogue with, or do not properly understand their feelings and cannot empathize with them, your presentation of these principles, which are perfect in every way, might cause serious reactions. The correctness of these principles is apodictic, and there is no doubt that they are a Divine message that came from the heavens. However, one must discern whether his dialogue partners—including their state, behavior, and cultural environment—are suitable for them to hear, understand, and accept these heavenly truths. It should not be forgotten that medicine is given according to the patient.
Depending on the environment and culture they were raised, the people of a certain region may misperceive the lofty truths you voice and represent, and have a sense that these are being slammed upon them like a sledgehammer. In the words of Bediüzzaman, “Whatever you say should be true, but it is not proper to say (carelessly and on every occasion) whatever is true.”
Actually, this situation is not only true for the people of other lands, but also for people in Turkey. I am of the opinion that those who meet on this reasonable line of shared principles and values are not well recognized, even in their original countries, with the exception of those who are not in a position to recognize, or those who do not want to recognize. These latter people already struggle to see and are, in a way, suffering from short-sightedness. However, I hold the opinion that those who stand side by side with them in prayer do not know them well enough either. They sometimes behave as if they have never seen any good works of the volunteers, never read anything about them, never heard their stories, and not reached a conclusion about them. In a period when the good works done have become a hot topic throughout the world and have begun to gather different nations and peoples together, the people of Turkey need to be sufficiently informed of these good works, too. It is necessary to take into consideration only points of agreement and to share mutually good things, just like we do in the place of worship; this needs to be done without hurting their feelings or making them runaway from us, and without boasting about our affiliation to a certain movement. Note that people from every understanding and thought come to the mosque with great enthusiasm, stand behind the imam, and offer worship for God in devotional obedience.
Some Criteria for Getting to Know Others
One may wonder about the criteria for knowing others, which is a necessary part of letting truths meet hearts. The following case narrated about Umar ibn al-Khattab, may Allah be pleased with him, can give us a perspective for getting to know people.
One day, caliph Umar ibn al-Khattab said in address to a witness, “I do not know you. But my not knowing you does not discredit you. Therefore, find me someone who knows you.”
One of those present said, “I know this man, O ruler of believers.”
“With what quality of his do you know this man,” Umar asked.
And the other man replied, “I know him with his justice and virtue.”
Upon hearing this, Umar ibn al-Khattab asked three more questions to the man: “Is this witness a close neighbor of yours, whose day and night you have knowledge of? Is he a person with whom you exchange money in practical trade, which reveals a person’s true piety? Is he a person whom you know by being travel companions together, which reveals whether a person has a good character or not?”
Upon hearing the answer “no” to all of his questions, caliph Umar said, “You do not know him,” and then he turned to the witness, saying, “Go find someone who knows you.”
As we can understand from this case, to be able to say that we “know” a person, we first need to know how he spends his days; whether he observes devotions at night; whether he feels troubled by self-criticism in consideration of the deeds he does every day; or whether he asks forgiveness from God imploringly, even when things he considers as “negative”—in spite of their not being so—pass from his imagination.
Secondly, it is necessary to be travel companions with that person, and put up with the difficulties of travel together. Traveling to different corners of the world for the sake of an ideal and enduring the difficulties of Hajj together can be evaluated within this frame. Only such travels can reveal how normally mild people can behave or feel enraged under difficulty; we can then see whether they lose their balance and enter some depression, or if they maintain self-control. Otherwise, without undergoing such difficulties together, it is not possible to say that we know such people sufficiently.
The third thing is engaging in trade. People can demonstrate their positive or negative thoughts about scrupulously giving everybody their due rights only in trade. Therefore, without engaging in such trade, it means that we do not know much about their scrupulousness in this respect.
Other than what we counted here, it is possible to mention points like sharing life in enclosed areas, such a prison. A prison environment is one of the places where it is possible to clearly see how people argue with one another, even over trivial matters, and how even the most sensible and sober people can become depressed or become virtually paralyzed by the treatments they receive. Those who have experienced this kind of environment know this well. Thus, it is not possible to know people well without sharing such an environment.
Without adhering to the criteria mentioned, remarks such as, “We know them; they are good people,” are patently untrue statements, to put it in mildest words. Knowing someone and reaching a judgment about them will only be possible within the frame of the essentials we mentioned above. When these principles are observed, it will be possible to know hot to treat people, how to pick the right words and understand whether these will cause them to react or not, and knowing which attitudes and behaviors appeal to their feelings. Otherwise, there is the risk of evoking hatred and reaction, even while laying heavenly tables before people.
Maximum Effort and Steps of the Stairway
While making the essentials of religion into the predominant spirit in one’s life, it is necessary to exert oneself night and day, like the Prince of the Prophets, peace and blessings be upon him, did in compliance with the command: “Proclaim what you are commanded to convey openly and in an emphatic manner, and do not care (whatever) those who associate partners with God (say and do)” (al-Hijr 15:94).
However, while telling these truths to others, it is necessary to do so in accordance with the principle of gradualness in Qur’anic revelation. Therefore it is necessary to develop certain habits of constant reflection, deliberation, and discussion. Only after this should one determine well what is to be told, and to whom, where, and how much. One should only act after thorough planning and preparation.
In this respect, I would like to point out once more that knowing the environment and the people we engage in dialogue with is a sacred duty, perhaps equal to the degree of sacredness of the message. Pouring the inspirations of our soul to other hearts will be easier if we know them. Otherwise, it must never be forgotten that people may be hurt, and a reaction may be evoked in them toward heavenly truths and exalted values.
While telling about God and His Messenger, and with the intention of making the audience love them, it is bitter to upset people on account of not having the proper style. It is a pitiable situation to inflict irreparable wounds in the minds of people who are newly learning about religion by telling them how terrible Hell is, and thus to make them run away from religion and make it impossible to ever gain their hearts again! May God Almighty not punish us because of the people we accidentally offended and alienated owing to our wrong manners and style!
 Nursi, Bediüzzaman Said, The Letters, “Twenty-second Letter,” New Jersey: The Light , 2007, p. 284.
 Al-Mawardi, Al-Hawi al-Kabir, 16:180.
This text is the translation of “Gönül Kapılarının Sırlı Anahtarı: Muhatabı Tanıma.”