Every day we might find ourselves in different occupations or making different choices, but we may be unaware of whether we seek God’s pleasure in these occupations or choices. Perhaps, we unwarily let egoism slip into those errands. While assuming that we promote belief in God, we may actually be doing it in a pontificating manner; or, it may be that we attempt to credit the divine grace blessed upon harmonious collective work to our personal skills and abilities. Who knows what other errors we fall into in the hustle and bustle of our daily lives? These and many more such dangers lie in wait on the path of being true believers, dangers many are not even aware of. It is almost impossible to step away from such hazards if self-accounting and contemplation are not practiced, and if one does not humble themselves before God multiple times each and every day.
Pondering upon our existence, giving a serious thought to our position vis-à-vis God Almighty, and making these contemplative works a goal to reach may help us eliminate acts or attitudes that amount to what we may call a hidden form of associating partners with God (al-shirk al-khafī). Then we can acknowledge that “He is making me do it” instead of “I am doing it,” and we come to realize God’s blessings upon us. We will understand that our determination, endeavors, will, and efforts are nothing but the shadow of the shadow of the shadow of His will. We have to make much progress in this regard. Any effort to determine our position vis-à-vis God entails a significant amount of endeavor and effort. Otherwise, we fall into the error of attributing God’s blessings to us without even realizing it. This is a form of associating partners with God as it implies being partners of God in what belongs solely to Him.
Blessings received from God
We receive numerous and wondrous favors from God Almighty. First, He has not left us in non-existence, bringing us to the domain of existence. He has not only brought us into existence but has also turned us into living beings. Not leaving us as living beings, He has blessed us with reason, consciousness, and willpower. Furthermore, we are honored to become a servant of God and a member of the community of Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him. What’s more, we have positioned ourselves on the ranks of those engaged in restoration to set things right at a time when Islam, the religion that distinguishes right from wrong, is being corrupted. We will not be able to offer true and proper thanks to God for these blessings even if we prostrate before God in gratitude without lifting our heads for the remaining part of our lives. Nevertheless, if we fail to appreciate and acknowledge the true scale and value of these blessings, this ingratitude may make us collapse.
God Almighty may endow certain individuals with special favors and blessings, giving some worldly possessions and wealth, others position and status, favoring some with power, and others with fame and reputation. If they acknowledge the originator of these blessings and turn to Him in gratitude, they will be winners. Otherwise, they falsely attribute those favors to their skills, capabilities, intelligence, etc., paving the way for their eventual destruction, as in the case of Bal’am ibn Bā’urā’ and Barsīsā, whose lives are reported in books to teach us lessons. Who knows how many people like Bal’am and Barsisa lived in history, abusing God’s blessings and favors and causing their own ruin?
Actually, there is no need to look for them in the distant times of the past. Today, numerous people to whom God has granted power, strength, fame, and reputation are poisoning themselves just because they believe those favors are because of their own skills, labors, intelligence, etc. They are fooled by accolades and applause, moved by pride and hubris, and have turned themselves into altars. They seek to ensure that everything returns to them, every matter should be consulted to them, and every problem should be settled through them, and everyone should pay heed to them. In the end, history records them as disgraces, and they end up in a total loss, of both this world and the next.
Everyone is prone to lose if they act with heedlessness. Even those dedicated to a sacred cause are prone to similar risks and dangers. The people who have set their hearts on the cause of serving and promoting the faith and the Qur’an will, if they examine their lives, realize that God Almighty had given them countless benefactions and favors when they were least expecting them. God has endowed the people who strive to perform services to promote belief in God and the Qur’an with such blessings and favors that the service has made huge progress, to a point never imagined in the beginning. Years ago, we would be walking on air when we managed to open up one or two houses for students, and we would exaggerate our success. We found ourselves in another form of amazement when houses evolved into dormitories, and then the number of dormitories was multiplied. Then, hundreds of schools were established not only in Turkey but also in many countries around the globe. They were followed by cultural centers, dialogue centers, and many other types of institutions. It is beyond our knowledge where this leads to eventually, and, considering past blessings, how much more God may give in the future.
The services undertaken so far can hardly be attributed to our personal genius or miniscule power and strength. Otherwise, there would be immense incongruities between the causes and effects. Obviously, these blessings are from God. Therefore, our duty of servitude is to turn to God with gratitude and praise in the face of His exceptional blessings. We cannot truly fulfill the obligation to express our gratitude and thankfulness to God, regardless of whatever we do. Even if we perform prayers all through the nights, prostrate to God without ever lifting our heads, fast without interruption, or go on a pilgrimage every year, we cannot properly express our gratitude and thankfulness for God’s blessings on us. So, regardless of whatever we do in the name of God, it is our duty to treat our worship and obedience to God as insufficient and repeatedly say: “O the One who has the absolute right to be worshipped and intended!), we have been unable able to show You the servitude You deserve by Your might and grandeur. O, the One Who is more obvious than everything, we have been unable to fully know and comprehend You. O, our Lord Who deserves full gratitude, we have been unable to thank You properly. O, the One Who is invoked in every tongue, we have been unable to invoke You as You deserve. O, the Resort to all praises and laudation, we have been unable to praise or laud You as You deserve. O, the Most Glorious and Supreme Being Who is glorified and exalted by the Heavens, the Earth, and everything in them, we have been unable to glorify and exalt You properly.”
“If you are thankful (for My favors), I will most certainly give you more”
We are supposed to live all our lives with an awareness of our impotence (ajz) and poverty (faqr) and feelings of a joyful zeal of gratitude, and whenever the thought of “I have done something” occurs to us, we should turn to God, expressing our state with the foregoing supplication. If we manage to live in this manner, approaching the divine bounties with a sense of gratitude, then God will enhance His blessings upon us. Indeed, God says, “If you are thankful (for My favors), I will most certainly give you more” (Qur’an 14:7). Yet, we will be deprived of God’s glorified blessings if we tend to attribute what happens to our own devices, skills, intelligence, power, etc., and take the path of ungratefulness. If we see ourselves as the “members of a community that has established x number of schools around the world” in the same manner some would say, “We are the descendants of a race that has created so many heroes,” and if we tend to link all these good and favorable developments with our actions, intelligence, or power, then we should remember that the same verse ends with the divine admonition, “but if you are ungrateful, surely My punishment is severe.” For the continuation of God’s glorified blessings, it is essential that we realize and acknowledge the true benefactor of those blessings, and properly glorify and exalt Him, saying, “O, My Lord, everything is from You, You are the Self Sufficient, my Lord, I have turned to You!”
It is really hard for people to refrain from laying claim to God’s blessings and favors, especially when they are showered with praise and words of appreciation from other people. This is a matter that entails extreme caution and deliberation. When someone starts to praise your certain virtues and merits, this has the potential to taint your thoughts and conceptions. You may incline toward forgetting about God’s involvement, and starting to assume that those virtues and merits are attributable to your own devices, genius, skills, power, etc. I think such ideas that hint at associating partners with God should not be allowed even in one’s imagination. Let me tell you what’s harder: you should not even dream of such things in your sleep. From a Freudian perspective, certain dreams can be seen as the manifestation of the human subconscious.
These are requisites of what Bediüzzaman Said Nursi had described as the path of impotence and destitution as well as the joyful zeal of gratitude, based on the basic tenets of the Qur’an and the Prophetic tradition. As a matter of fact, it is not a virtue to see oneself as a powerless, poor being who does not own anything, but a confession of the fact and expression of their general situation. Believers who are aware of their position before God cannot think otherwise.
Anyone who can see how profusely God pours His blessings upon us will not fall in despair. Why should I lose hope as everything is in His hands and everything comes from and returns to Him? The current state of affairs may be gloomy. Yet, why should I abandon hope when it is Him who makes the way, leads us to the right pathways, and ensure secure passage by warding off fiends that may occasionally appear? Why should I let myself wallow in the quagmire of despair if I sincerely believe that it is Him who gives and takes and will give back? Rather, I should embrace resolve and take the path of joyful zeal, which is another tenet of our way.
It would not be wrong to look at what you do from this perspective: God has destined a plan and scheme. We are made to take to the stage when it is our turn as individual players and assigned the duty of restoring a destroyed building. If you adopt this perspective, this will lead you not only to gratitude and thankfulness but also to self-accounting; on the one hand, you will say, “Thousands of praises and glorifications be to God as He employs us in such propitious works,” while on the other hand you will question yourself, asking, “Am I fulfilling the duties assigned by God properly or am I making use of my position effectively?”
Laying claim to God’s blessings and favors would be a secret form of associating partners with Him or a usurpation of what is God’s, and turning a blind eye to them would be ingratitude. Both would be wrong. The best course of action is to be aware of those blessings and testify that they are from God.
Straightforwardness of thought
Nevertheless, ensuring straightforwardness in our thoughts on these matters is not easy. This can be done by first entering the right path. Still, one may not be able to walk properly on that path and might suffer from occasional deviations. There may be cases when one fails to abide by the manners and etiquette of the path or make the best of the divine blessings and favors. As a result, blows dealt by divine compassion may follow in the form of calamities designed to bring us to our senses. God may let certain oppressors pester us. Forced migrations, threats, rejections, dismissals, sufferings, oppression, convictions, detentions, and persecutions may occur. If we can perceive all of these as soft slaps of divine compassion, the difficulties we face will make us turn to God with repentance, penitence, and contrition. If there are acts and attitudes that do not please God, we will ask His forgiveness a thousand times, not just once.
If victimization or oppression is perceived from this angle, the sentiment resulting from sufferings will immediately turn from hatred and hostility or cruel principle of retaliation to compassion and pity, for oppressors can only be pitied for they will be black stains on the pages of history.
So far, God has enabled the devoted souls who promote service in the name of faith and the Qur’an to perform amazing deeds. He has allowed them to represent our values in different parts of the world, clear misconceptions about Islam—albeit only partially—change some prejudices against the religion and build bridges of peace through educational and dialogue activities. They continue to walk on this path in the same manner. By God’s grace, these services will hopefully be multiplied in the future. If you have no doubt about your path, you only pity those who try to block your path and propagandize against you. You are aware that when oppression reaches a certain threshold of God’s ghayra (discontent, protective concern, honor, and zeal) He will neutralize the oppressors, and you will feel sorry for them, knowing that those who tyrannize people will eventually be held accountable for their oppressive acts before God.