Question: What is the ideal attitude for a believer in the face of a good result or an accomplishment?
Answer: A real believer knows that all goodness, beauty, and success come from God, whereas all evils and failures stem from the carnal soul, as the Qur’an very explicitly states: “(O human being!) Whatever good happens to you, it is from God; and whatever evil befalls you, it is from yourself” (an-Nisa 4:79). So a believer should never lay any claims on any good results obtained and services carried out, even though they served as a means. Actually, every time we observe the prayers, we pronounce by glorifying God that He does not have any partners, alternatives, opposites, or comparable ones at His administrations, acts, and Lordship. As we say this truth with our tongue, if we can feel it inside with its complete profundity and manage to make it prevail in our thoughts, then by God’s grace, we do not commit a great sin as laying personal claim on good results, achievements, and the services.
How Happy Are Those Who Know Their Limits
A person with sincere belief is supposed to know one’s place, no matter how great the accomplishments he or she has made. Bediüzzaman draws attention to this truth by mentioning the fact, “Happy is the person who knows their limits and does not exceed them.”1 A person knowing his limits and not transgressing depends upon his awareness of being a creature made of flesh and bones, impotent, and poor in essence. Moreover, by deepening his considerations further, the person must acknowledge that as he appeared in a morally corrupt society, he is mostly smeared with unavoidable impurities, and sometimes even gets immersed in sins up to his throat and say, “Actually, I would make nothing good. Then God treats me with His immense mercy, from which stem the graces and bestowals I am blessed with.” If a person thinks this way and becomes oriented toward God with a sincere belief of Divine Oneness, then he will be free from such high claims. By acknowledgment of the fact that God Almighty is the real source of all beauties, He continues to send His blessings to them.
It is very important to keep one’s sins in mind in terms of understanding that it is not possible to trust the carnal soul. As long as a person is aware of his sins, he will stop making claims. Let alone making claims, such a person always sees himself as a sinful person, and in the face of activities that seem to yield success, he knows that God Almighty may sometimes make things happen through hands of sinful ones as well and says, “Normally, I would not make anything useful, but God is making manifestations of existence on non-existence.” Thus, the person constantly brings himself to account through different means.
A person, however, should not think that it is necessary to commit sins in order to avoid making claims, because even the wrongs we commit unawares, such as giving an ear to sinful words or taking a step toward a wrong, are enough capital to make us understand that it is not possible to trust our carnal soul. What really matters is being aware of these facts. Even if a person may turn to God repentantly a thousand times after a wrong, if he can keep that wrong vivid in his mind then he will not see himself as the real source of the good results God Almighty granted in return for his efforts. Rather, he will feel deep in his heart that they are actually graces of God.
The point of consideration in such a commendable self-criticism is thus: sometimes Satan makes use of a person’s sins as a pretext and says, “You cannot turn to God with this sinful state of yours,” trying to deceive him. In such situations, as a person should employ the means of purification on one hand, while thinking about God’s mercy on the other and say, “Though I have committed much transgression, You are my heart’s admiration.” The sins a person has committed must not be an obstacle to feeling admiration for God Almighty’s glorified acts, favors, graces, and bestowals, and to turning to Him wholeheartedly. Even if the sins a person has committed make him see himself as very distant from God Almighty, the person must still seek closeness to God in feelings and thoughts. Let alone being spattered with sins up to the knees, even if a person immerses in sins up to his throat, he must still turn wholeheartedly to God, the sole sovereign of the sphere of Divinity and Lordship, and to His Messenger, love them intensely, and never leave that door. This can in a way be counted as a conflict. However, a believer has to lead his life in harmony of these contrasts and conflicts.
The Sheikh Does Not Fly, but His Disciple Pushes Him down the Cliff
Returning to our main subject, one of the most critical dangers a person may experience in the face of success is his imagining himself to be deserving of the esteem and compliments he receives as a result of that success. God may grant someone bestowals far beyond one’s deserts as a means of testing. A person must not fail to give thanks to God in the face of fulfillments, but must also not lay claims to these successes. A person who is aware of being sinful will not attribute to himself what actually comes as graces from God. Such a person looks at the rose garden that appears and looks at himself; he becomes aware of his meanness, and only voices his surprise and wonder on witnessing roses shooting up in his barren field. Truly, God Almighty sometimes sends His extra graces even to the efforts of a person with much failure. Some others who see it might gather around that person and express their appreciation. One of them might even say that he is a saintly one. Another may even see it as insufficient and say, “He seems to be a Ghawth (Spiritual Helper) with the wonders he has worked.” And another can still go further to claim that he combines more of such qualities. In the face of this much compliment and esteem, that person may let his heart fall for the high spiritual levels imagined for him as a result of positive thinking and ask, “Am I a saintly person, indeed?” Sometimes such a person may find some seemingly reasonable bases for his situation. For example, he might say, “God’s greatest favor to a person is not making that person feel the favor. I have been unaware of my condition as a blessed person so far. So many people gathering around me cannot be lying!” As the phrase goes, “A sheikh does not fly, but his disciple makes him fly.”2 In the same way, even if that person does not fly, the people around him begin to make him fly. Actually, this is not a flying in the real sense, but—may God protect us—in the sense of sending that person flying off the cliff. There comes a time when the one who receives excessive esteem by others singing his praises does not suffice with seeing himself as a great saint, but begins to seek higher titles, Mahdi the Savior or the Messiah. And if those around him make some implications about his really being so, then that poor one falls for the imagined titles that result from exaggerated good opinions about him and begins to thoroughly believe fantasies. Sometimes, while revealing this thought with pretended modesty, he recites some verses about the subject and takes a share from them for himself. In spite of not even being able to walk straight with his rebellion and sins, he sees himself flying in the sky. Such a person takes a very dangerous path towards falling off the cliff. With the consideration of Bediüzzaman, however, instead of imagining very great titles for a certain person whom we love, it is necessary to be greatly faithful to the cause. One must love his fellow brothers or sisters to the degree of not exchanging them for the entire world, but must also avoid exaggerated praises that will break their necks.
Like Raw Leather in the Hands of a Craftsman
When we look at Muslim history, we see that from sultans to poets to saintly figures, so many great people vilified themselves relentlessly. In spite of the fact that every one of them was a figure of exalted standing, they never assigned any true worth to themselves. Actually, it is not possible for selfish people who make arrogant claims to become something anyway. They cannot rid themselves from their fantasies at all, as they are in continual need of expressing themselves. And in order to realize this, they produce fantasies and resort to other ways such as trying to impress others by affectation. For example, one such man begins to talk on Imam Bukhari, but sees that his words do not receive much attention, as they convey common knowledge for those familiar with the discipline of hadith. Upon this failure to receive attention, he feels a need for saying something more original. He then reveals a different consideration about the existence of the Hereafter and tries to raise attention by using statements like a classic monist. Actually, what he tells is no different than what Sheikh Badraddin Simawi tells in his Waridat (Divine Gifts). When you study the thoughts of Aristotle about the other realm and the spirit, you may come across similar misapprehensions. When that man understands that the considerations he suggested as original had already been voiced by many people before, he begins to think about what he can say the next time and begins to talk about reincarnation for the sake of a different fantasy. Unfortunately, as that person does not seek to find truths and convey them to others, the shows of originality he performs in order to satisfy his carnal soul always end in disappointment. People like that fail to recognize that God Almighty created us as His servants and there is no greater title for a person than servanthood. Why should that not suffice us? The duty that falls to us is to turn to Him wholeheartedly and respond to His Lordship and Divinity with serious servanthood. It should also be noted that with the approach of Bediüzzaman, worship is a form of gratitude for the blessings already granted; it is not an offering for the sake of blessings to be given in return: “O soul! Worship of God is not an act through which to demand a Divine reward in the future, but rather the necessary result of a past Divine favor. We have received our wages and, in return, are charged with serving and worshipping Him.”3
For this reason it is not right to be a servant of God with the intention of solely attaining certain blessings. As God may bestow unmerited favors if He wills, He may also bestow favors and blessings out of His immense mercy, in return for servanthood offered, but this should not be expected. What falls to us as servants, who already have received their reward from the very beginning, is constantly to have feelings of praise and gratitude for God.
A person who does not become a servant to God will become a servant to his carnal soul. A person who becomes a servant to his carnal soul lives solely for himself and sees himself as the center of the world. Such a person is called an egocentric one, and a person who is continually busy with himself and feels admiration for his own horizons, thoughts, considerations, and even for his own stature, manners, and appearance is called a narcissist. Such people only like what they personally do and the achievements they have made and boast about them, and it is impossible for them to like others. Such people’s satisfaction with praises and compliments is something unheard of. They continually ask for more. Naturally, such egotistical and narcissistic persons have no deeds to benefit humanity.
It is only modest people that God Almighty lets serve as a means for realizing good works. As a poet puts it, “A plant cannot receive blessings without falling down into the soil; it is the mercy of God that makes modest ones grow.” That is to say, God Almighty makes modest ones become persons of great standing with His extra graces. Abdulqadr al-Jilani, Muhammad Bahauddin an-Naqshband, Abu’l-Hasan ash-Shadhili, and Bediüzzaman Said Nursi are examples of this. Although some of these great men lived centuries ago, we still recite their habitual prayers and benefit from their works. Every one of them has become unforgettable figures, because they were heroes of humility, modesty, humbleness, and nullifying themselves. By considering themselves as non-existent, they directed all of their efforts to substantiating God’s truth. They brought His existence to attention and humbly nullified themselves. In other words, as they were dedicated to seeing themselves as shadows in the Light of the Divine Existence, God Almighty gave them such an eternal existence that they still continue to live inside us—so much so that I feel as if I will come across a person as Abu’l-Hasan ash-Shadhili or Abdulqadr al-Jilani when I enter the room. This is how vividly they live in my heart. They strived to establish God’s truth, and God established them in such a way that in spite of the passing centuries, each of them is still serving as a guide to show us the way. Even after some seven or eight centuries, we seek solutions for today’s problems by referring to their recitations. Is there a better form of establishing than that?
In conclusion, arrogance is unfortunately one of the most widespread diseases of our time. If it appears as a consequence of victory and success; it is so dangerous that it can drift a person to perdition. What falls to us then in the face of success and good results is to acknowledge them as coming from God, and constantly bowing humbly before Him with feelings of praise and exaltation.
1. Nursi, Said, The Gleams, New Jersey: Tughra, 2008, p. 182; Al-Bukhari, At-Tarikhu’l-Kabir, 3/338; At-Tabarani, Al-Mu’jamu’l-Kabir, 5/71.
2. A humorous phrase expressing that the followers of a Sufi order tend to have an exaggerated view of their sheikh as a great saint.
3. See Nursi, Said, The Words, New Jersey: The Light, 2005, p. 380.
This text is the translation of “Başarıyla Gelen İmtihan: Zafer Sarhoşluğu.”