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“Do you enjoin upon people godliness and virtue but forget your own selves...” (Al-Baqarah 2:44)

by Fethullah Gülen on . Posted in Sūratu’l-Baqarah (The Cow)

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أَتَأْمُرُونَ النَّاسَ بِالْبِرِّ وَتَنسَوْنَ أَنفُسَكُمْ وَأَنتُمْ تَتْلُونَ الْكِتَابَ ۚ أَفَلَا تَعْقِلُونَ

Do you enjoin upon people godliness and virtue but forget your own selves, (even) while you recite the Book (Torah) (and see therein the orders, prohibitions, exhortations, and warnings)? Will you not understand and come to your senses? (Al-Baqarah 2:44)

Even if this verse addresses some among the Children of Israel, it contains an indirect warning to Muslims as well. The main emphasis here is on the agreement between one’s words and actions. It is what the verse: “Why do you say what you do not and will not do?” (As-Saff 61:2) states in a different style.

Words and actions are an important, two-dimensional tool in the conveying and exalting of what is right and just. When these two dimen-sions are combined in proclaiming and supporting the truth, the result becomes fabulous. A person must personally practice what he advises others lest he contradicts himself. God Almighty commanded Prophet Jesus, peace be upon him: “O Jesus, preach to yourself first. If your self or soul accepts what you preach, then preach to others! Otherwise, be ashamed in front of Me about counseling others what your soul cannot accept!”[1] Therefore, a person, first of all, should put what he or she believes into practice and vocalize his or her own assimilated feelings, practices, and concerns. For example, if a person does not perform tahajjud (the supererogatory late-night Prayer), he should feel shame when he encourages it to others and tells about its benefits. Likewise, if a person does not perform his prescribed Prayers in full awe of God, he should not talk about the perfect Prayer. In the same way, if a person cannot do an unconditional favor, or cannot become self-sacrificing, he or she should never mention living for others.

Out of His wisdom, God Almighty has made the influence of the ad-vice dependent on its sincere practice by the advisor. For instance, the activities of some to guide others in the name of Islam or to defend Islam and refute allegations against it are of no use due to their lack of sincerity. These people may even abandon their former opinions and positions and show inclinations toward the views of the opposite side. Islamic scholar Mustafa Sabri Efendi (1869–1954) explains this situation as follows: “These people are not sincere in what they narrate to others, what they write in their books, and in their apologetics about Islam. If they were sincere, they would be living in accordance with what they tell others, and not frequently change their views, acts, and position.” They have not lived in accordance with what they preach; they have suffered hesitations. Hence, they have rendered their followers hesitant.

Consequently, even though the books and apologetics have been written to serve Islam, they have thrown minds into confusion and given rise to different irrepressible chaos in the places they have been published. Because of this, one should explore the ways of becoming sincere and influ-ential in serving Islam. Actually, these ways are sound knowledge, sincere practice, employing efficient methods, recognition of the addressee, and determination of what things need to be told, where they need to be stated, and how they need to be expressed. Each step is significant on its own. In order for all these acts to be effective, one must have utmost sincerity; whatever one does, it must be done purely for God’s sake and to serve Islam.

Another issue that needs to be taken into consideration is the pos-sibility of misunderstanding the verse, “Why do you say what you do not and will not do?” (As-Saff 61:2). While this verse includes a condemning ques-tioning, it never bans preaching what is not practiced. For just like practic-ing, preaching or giving guidance is a form of worship. One who neglects both commits two sins; therefore, we should both practice and preach. And in order to be effective in preaching, we should sincerely practice what we preach to others.

While trying to encourage people to good and prevent them from evil, one’s neglect of oneself is an obvious contradiction. This kind of contra-diction devaluates the truths preached as well as the ability of expression, eloquence, and knowledge. Thus, the conclusion of the verse reminds us that a wise person is not expected to fall into such error. The verse warns, “Believe, think, practice, and preach! Acting otherwise is an idle talk which depreciates the esteem and credibility of the speaker. This means the speaker has forgotten him/herself.” Therefore, preachers, counselors, advisors, guides, authors, and broadcasters have to be careful about their work so that people take them seriously and so that the subjects they relate remain valuable as well. Moreover, we should not act wrongly and inconsistently for the purpose of guidance and thus be defeated by those who speak and act consistently on the way of misguiding.

[1] Al-Munāwī, Faydu’l-Qadīr, 1/78; Abū Nu‘aym, Hilyatu’l-Awliyā’, 2/382.