Question: What are the essential principles to be considered in order to constantly keep alive the spirit of devotedness in hearts?
Answer: Above all, wholeheartedly devoted ones must keep away from any kind of attitude and behaviors that might damage their credit of trust. I do not think that those who attach their hearts to an ideal with sincere feelings and without any expectations will ever do anything intentional to harm the circle they are in, or present any intentional misbehavior to upset their fellow volunteers. However, sometimes steps taken thoughtlessly or issues one engages in without careful consideration might give way to certain lapses, and thus losing credit. In such a situation, what needs to be done is an immediate compensative effort by other members of the collective, who have similar feelings and minds, in order to make up for that blunder. As acting this way will not only save the person who erred from embarrassment, but also will prevent negative thoughts from being established in the minds about the circle they are in.
My God, Do Not Let Me Be a Cause of Embarrassment for My Friends!
The scrupulousness of the saintly figure Mawlana Khalid al-Baghdadi at preserving his dignified stance of not asking anyone for anything presents a very good example for us. In order to prevent some negative considerations in his time, he made the following warnings to his students and disciples from the very beginning: “Do not ever become too close with rich people, rulers, and administrators. They might wish to offer you meals, hold you in esteem, and even to use their smiles as a means of corruption. If you come under their influence, you will be obliged to them for a lifetime. In this respect, get by with what you have and do not ask from anybody. Do not forget that rulers and administrators wish to keep you obliged to them.”
People whose philosophy of life gives priority to serving God should keep away form all doings that might cause suspicions about them, and they should never approach places that might cause suspicions about them. For example, they must not even pass in front of a bar in order not to make people think they may be coming out of there. Particularly, if there is the possibility of being slandered with vices of some others, it is necessary to act with utmost care. No matter how scrupulously we act, let us not forget that it is always possible to be the target of arrows of criticism. In spite of your constantly seeking unity, putting emphasis on love, opening your bosom to all, and not taking anybody as the opposite side, if there are people full of grudge and foaming with hatred, they will not extend their hand to you, not open their bosom to you, but respond to your smile with sour looks. In that case, you have nothing to do but petition to God and implore Him in supplication. It should not be forgotten that all of these have happened since Prophet Adam, peace be upon him, to the present, and will continue to happen. What matters here is that the devoted soul must keep away from conditions and behaviors that might bring disgrace to the movement that they are affiliated with, in terms of their familial and societal life. In addition to giving your willpower its due, you must always say when you supplicate to God, “My God, do not embarrass our friends with us, and do not embarrass us with our friends,” seeking refuge in God’s protection and asking Divine Providence for help. Otherwise, it is always possible for a person to give into the carnal soul. Indeed, there are hundreds of weaknesses and sins termed as muhlikat (things that cause people to end up in perdition), which stem from fancies and desires of the carnal soul. In addition, Satan continually embellishes them and puts them before the individual, always making sins appear tempting for humans. A person who is not vigilant against all of these dangers might give in to one of them unawares and—may God protect—can become a shame. It is for this reason that people affiliated with a movement who are held in hopeful view by millions of people must show utmost care to avoid anything that might harm their morality and innocence, stand firm against the goading of the devil and carnal soul, and never make concessions from their truthful and trustworthy quality. They must fear violating the rights of their fellow volunteers as they walk together on this path to such a degree that they must be able to raise their hands and very comfortably say, “My God, if I am to cause my friends to look down in disgrace, I wholeheartedly prefer being buried in the ground instead.” This is an expression of being faithful and loyal to the cause. In order not to let anyone make a negative remark and not allow even the slightest wrong to happen, every devoted soul must make an effort like an ambassador of trust, loyalty, and innocence. All the time, they must dignifiedly refrain from asking, not beg from anyone, not be greedy, be content with what God gives, and keep away from every matter that might harm their respectability.
Practical Representation Must Come before Verbal Messages
Those who try to become the voice of truth and righteousness should not forget that they can be convincing with their sincere attitude and behaviors rather than the words they speak; words that do not express the truth or go far beyond the intended meaning with exaggeration may possibly enchant the people addressed for a temporary while. But let alone making a lasting effect in hearts, they actually will serve as obstructions to credibility. On the other hand, constant behaviors cannot be false. They continuously flow on a straight course. A person who is always true, who acts faithfully all the time, who never makes concessions from chastity, and who continuously inspires trust in those around will be convincing. In this respect, we can comfortably say that practical representation has priority over verbal messages in Islam.
One of the Prophetic virtues of the noble Messenger of God, peace and blessings be upon him, which is so dear like a crown to us, was communicating the message he received from God. However, if it were not for a blessed representative like him, the miraculous Divine revelation would not make its blessed presence felt until our era and would not have found acceptance in hearts to this degree. For this reason, the influence of the Qur’an, which we keep hung on the wall in our homes in velvet covers out of utmost respect, has been and will be realized with those who represent it. In this respect, the Prophet’s depth of representation has precedence over his depth of communicating the message. He was invited to the heavens for the Ascension, not only because he conveyed the message of the Qur’an, but also because he practically represented it with his personal example.
Humbleness and Not Provoking Envy
The noble Prophet states, “The master of a people is one who serves them.”1 Salahuddin Ayyubi, a hero of Islam who was a prime representative of this spirit, was the first ruler who used the title, “Servant of the Two Sanctuaries,” referring to Mecca and Medina. Centuries later, Sultan Selim I, who shared the same spirit, felt disturbed to be referred to as the “Ruler of the Two Sanctuaries,” but immediately corrected it to “Servant of the Two Sanctuaries” by rising to his knees from where he sat, as a sign of respect. Those who succeeded him also adopted the title of the “Servant of the Two Sanctuaries.” In this respect, no matter what their social status is, devoted souls must regard it as the greatest honor to serve others. If necessary, they should say, “There was need for a person to bring water and serve those who gathered around a certain shared thought, ideal, and common way of thinking,” and always be among the foremost at serving others.
On the other hand, individuals’ success at certain fields may evoke envy in others. Some with weak personalities can even become so jealous as to be taken by a feeling of rivalry. In this matter as well, it is necessary to observe the Divine principles Islam teaches in terms of disciplining the carnal soul. Bediüzzaman, who established a guideline under the light of those principles, pointed out that true disciples of the Qur’an should not evoke feelings of envy in their fellows. Normally, a moderate feeling of envy (ghibta) is acceptable in Islam. However, considering the fact that moderate envy is a neighbor of the resentful feeling of jealousy (hasad), a person who holds feelings of envy might, at any moment, transgress to the other side of the fence unintentionally. It is for this reason that Bediüzzaman mentions not provoking envy in others as a responsibility for disciples of the Qur’an. And the way to realize this, one must applaud everyone who serves for the sake of God and to prefer others over oneself when necessary. In addition, people may have different weaknesses, such as a desire for receiving applause, being appreciated, and being promoted to a high position. In this respect, it is necessary to determine a different field for everyone, prepare grounds for acting in a broad sphere, to let individuals serve efficiently within those different fields, and be satisfied with the work they carry out at the same time. Additionally, it is necessary to maintain people to be equipped with faith and morality, keep their relationship with God strong, and attribute everything one possesses to God only.
The Peril of Being on the Peak
Another point of consideration is being steadfastly straightforward. God Almighty may have taken us to a righteous path; however, merely finding the right path is not enough; it is also necessary to walk straight on the path until its end with open eyes. According to a saying of the Prophet related to our subject, all people are potentially prone to perdition, except for scholars. Scholars are also prone to perdition, except for those who act upon their knowledge. Those who act upon their knowledge are also prone to perdition, except for those who act upon their knowledge purely for the sake of attaining God’s good pleasure. Those with a good intention also face a serious danger.2 It is possible to name this great danger as “the peril of the peak.” For this reason, no matter how high God allows us to ascend, we must always fear that we might topple over any time. God guided earlier communities to the right path, but as they did not abide by certain essentials at the center, they experienced great deviances at the periphery impossible to make up for. As one community strayed to misguidance, another one was condemned as those who incurred God’s wrath. Thus, even though finding the right path is a difficult and an essential task, constantly walking on that right path is even more difficult. While it is difficult to the climb to the peak, keeping up the position on the peak is further difficult. Accordingly, Bediüzzaman stated that a person who falls from the heights of sincerity (ikhlas) faces the danger of falling into a deep pit.
Division of Labor according to Abilities
Another important point of consideration for the devoted souls to serve efficiently in the long run is to recognize what exists and takes place correctly, and not contradict with natural aptitudes. God Almighty created people in different natures and endowed them with different abilities. There are some people who may not be effective with addressing people directly as their social side is weak. For example, there are such people who become the voice of truth when they put pen to paper, who make an influence on many people, and evoke a sense of resurrection in others’ hearts. When they are demanded to deliver a speech, however, they might lose all the credit that they have gained with their books, right at the first conference, because God may not have endowed someone with an ability to speak in the same degree as writing. But the same person can be so successful at voicing the truths he or she believes through books, articles, and other written sources. So the administrators who are at a position to guide and employ people must be aware of this fact and charge everybody with a task that suits his or her ability. As it is well known, upon the demand of Khalid ibn al-Walid, the noble Prophet sent him to Yemen as a religious teacher. As Abu Musa al-Ash’ari narrates, days and weeks passed, but no news of progress came. Actually, Khalid ibn al-Walid was not a good speaker. God Almighty had not endowed him with skills to be a good choice for the task of guidance but rather for commanding the army. That is, God had gifted him with superiority in another field. Divine wisdom transcends our reasoning. If Khalid ibn al-Walid had been another sultan of words rarely seen in history—similar to some other Companions—who then would led the army against the superpowers of that time? After having stayed in Yemen for a while, he returned to Medina, and the Prophet sent Ali ibn Abi Talib to Yemen instead. After Ali ibn Abi Talib, who was a good orator and preacher, whose words seriously touched souls, whose voice reached beyond ages, and whom God endowed with special ability in this respect, the number of believers began to grow in waves. He was a personage of great standing who knew very well how to reach into souls while speaking and what he should say. Thus, what falls to administrators is to consider the different talents before them and employ everybody in the right place so that everybody works efficiently. As charging an ant with the duty of an elephant will crush it under that task, employing an elephant that can carry loads of trees for a task that can be carried out by an ant will mean wasting it. As it is so important to take individuals’ ability and characters into consideration, it should never be forgotten that true influence depends on God Almighty. For example, I knew people who could not express themselves well, who had a hard time at speaking even a few sentences, but the people before them immediately began to soften after they spoke a little. You cannot explain this impact by attributing it to that person’s appearance, qualities, capacity, horizons of thought, or power of expression, as hearts are in God’s hand. He is the one who grants guidance to whom He wills. For this reason, the volunteers must not take lightly anything they will carry out for the sake of God. They should try to fulfill their responsibilities, sometimes by offering a glass of tea, offering meal, or paying a visit… in short by making use of every opportunity for conquering hearts.
Striking the Balance between the Ideal and Reality
While ideals and realities should not be confused with one another, it is necessary to keep standards high and pursue lofty targets—so much so that those who migrate for the sake of their ideals must pursue ideals so high that they want to change the face of the world straight away. If people cherish a high goal with zeal, even if they cannot attain it with their personal efforts, God Almighty will fill the gap with their intention and reward those individuals according to the ideals that they targeted. That is, a person will even be rewarded for good intentions that he or she cannot realize. In this respect, individuals must always aim for the highest standards and keep their ideals very immense. Together with these, however, matters must be realized by considering the time, place, available means, and the human factor. Plans for goodness must be considered in terms of the relevant circumstances so that the steps taken will not end up in loss and fiasco. Sometimes, people set off to change the hue of the world, but they fantasize about utopias like al-Farabi’s The Virtuous City or Campanella’s The City of the Sun. In these worlds of their imagination, they hug one another everywhere they meet. Lions and wolves come offer their good wishes to sheep. Marketplaces are so perfect that the people who trade are almost angels. In these worlds, nobody gives up decency in the least bit and people do not get corrupted. Children enter a process of development and maturing right away without any serious disciplining and education, and they become like angels when they turn fifteen. Although it is possible to have all of these in one’s thoughts and imagination, their realization is something different. One must take into consideration human nature and interpersonal relations. Such a life did not take place even in the environment of Prophets of God. Marketplaces have never become virtuous to this degree, wolves and sheep have never become so amicable, and lions never gave up eating meat to become vegetarian. In my opinion, given that this is what realities reveal, we cannot neglect considering whether the truths sought after are realizable or not. Even if we expect our collective to carry out good deeds to change the face of the world into a new one, we will experience disappointment because of building our judgments upon dreams and engaging in unrealizable pursuits, which will also shatter the hopes of those who attach hopes to us. In order not to bear the responsibility of such a sin, it is necessary to consider individuals’ potentials and talents one by one, distribute the duties accordingly, and realize our noble ideals by taking into consideration the components of time, place, means, and human sources.
1. Daylami, Musnad, II, 324
2. Al-Ajluni, Kashf al-Khafa, 2/415
This text is the translation of “Bir Ömür Boyu Adanmışlık Ruhu.”