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Nazar and Tawajjuh (Attention and Regard)

by Fethullah Gülen on . Posted in Key Concepts in the Practice of Sufism-3

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Attention and RegardBEven though they appear to have the same meaning and, in fact, suggest certain common feelings and ideas, the concepts of nazar (attention)—which means looking (at), taking into consideration, and complimenting—and tawajjuh (regard)—used to mean turning to, feeling nearness to, and showing sympathy and regard for—are different in many respects.

Those two concepts express different meanings when they refer to the Divine Being and creatures. God Almighty's attention and regard manifest themselves as favoring, sending gifts, and having special mercy on certain things or persons, while when refer to His creation, they are the ability to receive and reflect the Almighty's special attention and regard.

God Almighty brings everything to existence and honors some of His creatures with special, extra capacities. Then, He treats them according to their extra capacities and exalts them with extra favors. In addition to His all-embracing protection, maintenance, mercy, favoring, and assistance as the universal, all-encompassing manifestation of His Names, He has special mercy, favoring, and regard for certain beings, which is known as His manifestation of Grace or the concentrated manifestation of His Names on individual creatures. At the same moment He looks, as He uninterruptedly does, at the whole of creation with His all-encompassing Sight, He also looks at each species and each individual creature according to its position, need, and capacity. He answers all their wishes, voiced verbally or in the language of disposition or necessity, and He leaves no creature deprived, except as required by His Wisdom.

The attention and regard of a Prophet manifest themselves as his turning to God Almighty with all his extraordinary capacity, pursuing His approval and good pleasure with all his strength and outer and inner senses and faculties, reading and interpreting correctly all His laws of life and commands which are included in the Religion and which concern the creation and operation of the universe, holding the rights of God above all else, educating his community in the light of the Divine Message so as to enable them to improve the world and gain eternal happiness, showing people to the horizon of true humanity, guiding his followers on the way to Paradise, and so on.

As mentioned before, God attends or shows attention for the universe and whatever is in it from the perspective of His Grace, Majesty, and Perfection, which demonstrates His absolute freedom from any defects or from having partners. This attention is called "the all-encompassing attention," and His bestowal of favors proceeding from this attention is designated as "the all-encompassing favoring." This all-encompassing attention is also described as "the manifestation of Unity"—the overall manifestation of His Names throughout the universe. God has another regard for, or view of, the realms of existence, species, things, and individual beings. This proceeds from His special mercy, wisdom, care, and justice. In addition to His universal and majestic attention and regard, manifested as preserving and maintaining everything with mercy, arranging, administering and controlling with wisdom, guarding and caring with compassion, giving everything its due and restoring rights with justice, and keeping the whole universe with all its parts down to the minutest ones in balance, and so on, He also has particular attention, regard and favoring for individuals with special capacities; this is particularly so for those who have a capacity, concern, and endeavor that enables them to represent the entire species, including primarily the Prophets and pure, saintly scholars and saints. This special consideration and favoring of His is known as "the manifestation of Oneness"—the concentrated manifestation of His Names on individual things or beings.

When the Absolute One of Favoring has such special regard for any of His servants, it is as if their corporeal existence, which is considered to be their unreal nature, completely disappears and is replaced by an ever-young, active existence, by means of which an initiate can reach in an attempt to rise to the horizon of those endowed with sincerity. This form of extra promotion is very different from the ranks and gifts that come or are conferred as the result of "the certainty of knowledge." The saintly people of God have called the special Divine regard and attention that bring this honor "the manifestation of knowledge." By means of this attention and regard that open the door to "the special knowledge from God's Presence" for an initiate, the nature of everything suddenly changes, with the result that a person becomes like an angel, the body takes on the quality of the spirit, fire changes into a cool, peaceful place, salty seas are transformed into rivers of Paradise, and poison becomes an antidote.

Initiates or travelers on the way to God who are awarded with such attention and regard reach the horizon of being heroes of the heart and spirit through the development of their inner faculties. They breathe heavenly air while on the earth and become a polished mirror where the Ultimate Truth manifests Himself with His Attributes. To express this special gift, a saintly friend of God said:

When the Light of the Ultimate Truth is reflected,
The home of the heart is filled with light;
And this nest of the body changes
Into a genuine, pure substance.

The continuity of this gift depends on constantly having one's eyes fixed on the Realm of the Divine Names and Attributes in utmost respect, and continuously turning to the Realm of Divinity with worship and devotion. Even though those who have felt love on the horizon of knowledge of God and sipped the spiritual pleasure at the peak of love and enthusiasm do not feel weariness in constantly turning to the Almighty at His door, the initiates who have not yet been able to have a share in knowledge of God to such an extent may show signs of slackening. For this reason, those who pursue God's good pleasure and love should continuously stand at His door, bent double, and never show signs of weariness or tedium. As God's noblest Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, states, "So long as you show no signs of weariness, God will not abandon His consideration or cut off His gifts";[1] thus, the continuity of God's gifts and consideration depends on one's never turning one's eyes from His door. If we do not turn our eyes from His door, we will not be deprived of His breezes of regard, and our prayers and worship will not be left unrewarded.

Those who act erroneously in turning to Him are deprived of His consideration of mercy and compassion; those who have no resolution to get near to Him through worship suffer loss and deprivation. He says, "Whoever draws near to Me by a hand-span, I will draw near to him by a yard."[2]

Divine gifts come as the Divine considerations of mercy in response to complete, continuous turning to God Almighty. If the heart is not purified of attachment to everything else other than Him, so long as God's Mercy, Which surpasses His Sacred Wrath, does not manifest Itself with special favor—then the Divine attention and regard may not continue. Turning to Him continuously and maintaining constant self-supervision are important Dynamics for reaching every destination pursued and surmounting every obstacle. Initiates or travelers on the way to God should refrain from acting erroneously by turning to God continuously and exercising self-supervision while they are trying to carry out their known religious responsibilities so that they are not left deprived of the breezes that come through faithfulness, loyalty, and steadfastness.

We are reminded above that God Almighty demonstrates both universal and particular attention and consideration or regard. However, just as He employs apparent means and causes as veils before His Dignity and Grandeur, so too He may employ either a Prophet, saint or teacher as a veil before His consideration and attention for certain servants, offering His gifts through their hands. This type of treatment may be a sign of the special honor He confers on that Prophet, saint or teacher, just as it may be a test for initiates or seekers as well. Therefore, even when His gifts come to us by means of one of His beloved servants, we must recognize that they are from Him absolutely; we must believe that it is He Who is the genuine source of all the gifts that come to us, and it is He Who sends them. If we want to kiss the hands of those whom He employs as means, we should kiss them with the conviction that they are only the means employed by the Almighty. Indeed, we should kiss those hands without being negligent of the True Source and Agent, because the respect shown for them is, in fact, respect for the knowledge, attention, and regard that come to us through them, and also, therefore, an acknowledgement of the True Origin or Source of all bounties and gifts.

There are many maxims circulating among people, such as, "Service from the initiate and breath from the guide!"; and "Please lend me a hand, O guide; render your efforts O child!"; and "Show attention so that you may be shown attention." All of these indicate the same reality that any attention or regard usually comes in return for the attention and regard that has been shown. So long as the apparent causes or means are viewed only as causes and means, and the Creator or the Original and True Cause of all causes is acknowledged as the origin and sender of all gifts, it is not harmful to feel and show respect for the Prophets, saints or teachers who are employed as causes or means. What is harmful is attributing creative effect to apparent causes or means and distributing the Divine acts— for example, creating, inventing, fashioning, giving life, causing to die, and providing—among animate or inanimate things or forces.

According to our belief in His Oneness, all changes, formations, and transformations from the microcosm (atoms) to the "normocosm," (humanity) and from there to the macrocosm (the universe) occur by His regard or turning to existence with His Attributes and Names; all instances of maintenance, sustenance, and rearing are through His all-embracing attention. All the uninterrupted and all-encompassing manifestations of His, and the continuous changes, alterations, transformations, forms, and colors that we observe in existence as a result of His manifestations are the imprints of His regard or consideration. Viewing things and events from this perspective is true guidance, while viewing them only on their own account, as being independent from Divine creation, administration, and control, is deviation from the right path. An insightful initiate whose eyes are fixed on the Almighty's works and whose heart is turned toward His acts, Names, Attributes, and even His Essence that are beyond these works—indeed, any initiate according to his or her level of knowledge and certainty—becomes occupied with praying, "O my God! I ask You to enable me to be resigned to Your judgment after whatever happens to me, and for a happy life after death, and the pleasure of observing Your Face!" They make every morning and evening of their journeying toward meeting God a moment of meeting with Him.

Whatever such initiates observe, they do not see it as something that is restricted to its corporeal existence but rather how it actually is with its nature and essence. On the contrary, those who are unable to turn to the Almighty as turning to Him requires and whose view of things is restricted to their materiality cannot view anything in its true nature or identity—for anyone deprived of a face turned toward the Almighty has no "eyes" to see with. Those who have no eyes to see with are unaware of the correct way to look or give attention, and those who are unaware of the correct way to look or give attention are not given attention or regard. It is only those who are able to look at everything, particularly at the human face, with insight who always gaze upon the Divine Names in these mirrors; it is only they who are absorbed in knowledge of the All-Holy One who is called by these Names; it is only they who advance toward the observation of His Attributes of Glory with the eyes of the spiritual intellect, entranced in astonishment; it is only they who boil up with the desire to watch the realms far beyond the horizon of observation of the secret; it is only they who travel between amazement, stupor, and passion.

There are two points to be noted concerning how the Prophets—particularly, the Prince of the Prophets—turn to God. On account of his mission and transcendent knowledge of God, the Prophet, upon him be the most perfect of blessings and peace, turns to and views God as the Lord of all time and space and the whole of creation, viewing and evaluating all things and events from this perspective. He is both a student and teacher of the book of the universe, the chief guide of the palace of the world, the exuberant herald of the exhibition of things and events, the most sincere representative of servanthood to God, and the never-deceiving leader on the way to the eternal happiness. Although these qualities are shared by all the Prophets, our master, the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, has particular wishes and demands that arise from the particularities of his mission. These particular wishes and demands of his may be regarded as, in addition to the extra attention and consideration shown to him by God in return for his perfect response to God's attention and consideration, his request for God's particular, extra help and consideration for his Community.

In addition to turning to God in perfect response to God's consideration for him, the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, demonstrates universal attention and consideration with mercy and kindness for all of creation; this is manifested as distributing what he receives and thus responding to God's treatment of him with his treatment of all creation. This kind of attention and consideration on the part of the Prophet can, by God's leave, change coal to diamonds, stones and earth to gold, and extremely hardened hearts to wax. More than this, with a few moments of his presence, the Prophet can elevate the consciences which have been blinded by arrogance, wrongdoing, erroneous and prejudiced viewpoints, and blind imitation of ancestry to the horizon of being the Companions. He can transform apparently living corpses that until this auspicious meeting have been crawling on the ground into doves that wing their way through the heaven of perfect humanity as if having experienced a rapid spiritual metamorphosis.

Since they are vicegerents of God and the successors of Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, the scholars who sincerely practice the Religion and the perfect saints are faultless and sincere in their turning to God and effective in their attention and consideration for their followers. They act as veils before the glorious actions of the Almighty in penetrating hearts, guiding spirits, and transforming some natures by God's leave. This is what is usually meant by the concept of "attention" in Sufism.

Those beloved servants of God look at the elevated realms not with their eyes but with their insight. One can see only this corporeal realm with one's eyes. But insight penetrates the corporeal realm and the immaterial one, the realms beyond, and the truth of everything. For it is the sight of the innermost heart, which is the meeting point of the outer and inner realms and the focus of God Almighty's sight, much like the spiritual intellect that is regarded as the first observatory of the inner realms of existence. A person can observe his or her own horizon only from this observatory; the showers of Divine gifts pour unto it; and the Eternal All-Observing One treats people according to its being prosperous or in ruin. For this reason, we should always have our eyes fixed on Him, keep our hearts turned to Him, and be in expectation of His gifts so that "coral" and "pearls" may pour unto that house of God from the realms beyond.

The Prophets and saints, whose attention and consideration function as explained above, are luminous means for Divine gifts to reach their communities or followers. Not only receiving their attention, but also shaking hands with them, remaining in their presence, listening to their sermons, and sharing their atmosphere are means of receiving Divine gifts. Although there is an important place given to the attention of spiritual guides in all the ways of Sufism, the Mevlevis and Malamites assign it special importance. There are some among the leaders of these two ways who regard attention as one of the essentials of spiritual journeying. According to them, an initiate or traveler can, by God's leave, rise to the horizon of feeling attraction and being attracted toward God through an instance of attention from the guide, and thus cover long distances that normally will be covered in long years of journeying in an instant. This attention is called "royal attention."

Among the Sufis are some who interpret nazar (attention) as initiates or travelers fixing their eyes on where they will step (noticing their steps) and remaining distant from anything or anyone that will separate them from the Almighty. This interpretation must be about those who have reached the horizon of nazar-qadam ("attention-step")[3] at the final point in spiritual journeying. The turning or attention to God which relates to all travelers is that they try to comprehend the Almighty's acts and practices, each according to their capacity and the horizon of their relationship with His Names and Attributes; that they perceive their innate helplessness and poverty, relying on Him and asking Him for help with an expression of looking for points of support and asking for help in their consciences; that they respond with thankfulness to the gifts coming to them in return for turning to Him, and zealously endeavor to be favored with more and more such gifts. This act of turning to God is open to everyone and safer because it is far from show and affectation.

O my God! Forgive us, have mercy on us, be pleased with us, accept our good deeds, admit us to Paradise, save us from the Fire, and improve all our acts and states. And bestow Your blessings and peace upon our Master, the Master of all the children of Adam, on his pure Family and Companions altogether.

[1]al-Bukhari, "Iman" 32; Muslim, "Musafirun" 215. (Tr.)

[2]al-Bukhari, "Tawhid" 15; Muslim, "Dhikr" 20–22. (Tr.)

[3] The horizon of nazar-qadam (attention-step) means that an initiate can place his feet where his sight reaches. It signifies the highest point from where they can see the created realms under their feet. (Tr.)