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Heroes of the heart and spirit

by Fethullah Gülen on . Posted in Endeavor for Renewal

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Heroes of the heart and spirit

Question: You mentioned in different talks that those who practiced Islam in the best way were Sufis. Could you please elucidate this further and tell about the general characteristics of those heroes of the heart and spirit?

Answer: Before answering this question, it will be useful to remind of one important fact. Whoever they are, nobody’s practicing of Islam should be slighted. From the base to the top, everybody’s good deeds can gain acceptance in the sight of God. The proclamation of faith above all is like a mysterious key to the gate of Paradise. The Messenger of God heralded the fact that everybody who sincerely says “La ilaha illa’llah” (There is no deity but God) will enter Paradise.[1] When this was mentioned during an earlier talk, one of the attendants asked, “What if there are no good deeds?” Since we cannot tell what is in someone’s heart or tell that person’s real intention and inner considerations, it is not appropriate for us to make a definite remark about that issue. We make our judgment by the apparent reality[2] and have a good opinion of a person who makes the proclamation of faith.

During a battle, Usama ibn Zayd was about to kill an enemy soldier but the man declared faith at the last moment. Taking it as a desperate trick to survive, he still killed the man. It is out of the question for a great Companion like Usama ibn Zayd to kill someone out of personal feelings he cannot control. It seems that he had not grasped the gist of the issue. In those times, the Companions learned everything as a fresh principle and put to practice right away. How could they know without the Messenger of God telling them? When the blessed Prophet was informed about the situation, he reprimanded Usama ibn Zayd by repeatedly asking whether he had cleft the man’s heart open to see his faith. This brave commander, who was the son of Zayd ibn Haritha, wished that he had become a Muslim after that event so that he had not faced that severe reprimand.[3]

Thinking positively about others

Evaluating the issue according to these criteria, we can say that those who somehow observe their responsibility of worship, God willing, will be saved. The Messenger of God stated that “Whoever prays like us and faces our Qibla and eats our slaughtered animals is a Muslim and is under God’s and His Messenger’s protection. So do not betray God by betraying those who are in His protection.”[4] One who fulfills the deeds mentioned is never a person to be dismissed. On the other hand, some scholars deliberated the question whether faith by imitation is acceptable or not.[5] According to them, a true believer, whose faith is based on verification, approaches matters under the guidance of the conscience, relies on substantial proofs, and—as Bediüzzaman puts it—sees, hears, and feels everything with perspicacious wisdom and is able to consider matters of faith within that horizon. An imitator however, remains superficial. For this reason, they may have been referred to as people who are Muslims in theory rather than practice. Still, we had better prefer to think positively about them. For example, we see that some man scratched his head during Prayer or did something more complicated that will invalidate his Prayer. We should say, “Maybe I misperceived it.” God might be testing us to reveal us the level of our positive thinking. We do not know whether we are being tested with some man’s pulling up his trousers, moving the cap on his head or some other deed to invalidate the Prayer. For this reason, we should always try to take positive thinking as basis and should not hold negative thoughts about others.

Different lines on the spiritual path

Getting back to our main topic, Sufism has different ways and lines; it has different spiritual stations and levels to pass. For example, a Sufi initiate may reach a certain point through spiritual journeying. Sometimes, people such as Imam Rabbani, Muhyiddin ibn Arabi, and Sheikh al-Jilani become aware of who they are and what their position is. For this reason, along with being very stern about making self-criticisms, they may say, “My feet are on the shoulders of other saints.”[6] Such expressions indicate their being aware of their spiritual rank. This can even be observed in ordinary people like us. However, if one does not keep up a sound relationship with God, such awareness can—may God protect—lead one to egotism or egocentricity. Those who rise to the peak of spiritual perfection and are aware of their rank can maintain their position if they do not hold any ill opinions about others and not make a mistake such as disdaining others.

Nobody is under guarantee

Even if they reach spiritual peaks, nobody has a guarantee like “You do not need to fear anymore.” When this is the case, how is it possible for a believer not to fear? As related to us by the beloved Prophet, God Almighty does not let his servants have one of the two feelings of security or fear in both worlds.[7] Therefore, it should not be forgotten that a person who feels secure in terms of faith in this world, is likely to face a fearful end.

The attitude of the Pride of Humanity, millions of peace and blessings be upon him, is an example to us. He was sent as a means of deliverance and rebirth for humanity. Thanks to his coming and the message he brought, humanity came to existence once more and broadened its horizons. He is the spiritual father of humanity. Who knows, maybe this is the meaning of the hadith that he was a Prophet even while Adam was in a state between (being) spirit and body.[8] That is, he was beyond Adam in spite of being one of the children of Adam. On the other hand, when we study his supplications, we can see how the noble Prophet feared God. In spite of being under guarantee[9] he sought refuge in God from so many things.[10] We can see it as a part of his duty to be our guide, and respectfully remark that he did it in order to teach us how to pray. Together with that, we need to see that those words were not merely uttered for the sake of others but he had a considerable share in them.

An ordinary person among others in spite of being a paramount figure

Concerning the type of sainthood where the person is aware of the spiritual level attained, it is a very important essential and principle to see oneself as an ordinary person among others. Such people do not disdain anyone. Let alone disdaining others, they constantly face themselves and practice severe self-criticism. In this respect, this type of sainthood is more valuable than the other. Umar ibn al-Khattab told believers to constantly bring themselves to account before the Day of Reckoning comes.[11] Actually, everyone needs to confront one’s shortcomings and weaknesses. One should recollect unpleasant considerations that passed their mind, polluted their dreams, and pierced their imagination like a spear, and say: “My God, how lowly a person I am.

Why did those ugly considerations visit my mind, which is supposed to be a pure place?” Everybody should watch oneself and see others as worthier. They should never say, “Such and such person remained at a superficial level, unable to go beyond the rudimentary knowledge.” As Bediüzzaman expressed, “The carnal soul is lower than all, but the duty is higher than all.”[12] Another saintly figure voiced the same truth as: “Everybody is good, but I’m rough; everybody is wheat, but I’m chaff.”

Individuals who are occupied with their own mistakes will not disdain others and not develop ill thoughts based on suspicion. While looking at others, they will not be occupied with thoughts like “Why does he become concentrated in Prayer to the degree of forgetting to rise from prostration? On the other hand, he never forgets the fast breaking meal when it comes to eating.” Those who try to practice their faith meticulously should say, “Actually, it was necessary for a person in my case to find what I found. But such and such person did not have the same means. He did not become soundly acquainted with the Qur’an, he did not reach the fount of spirituality, or own the effulgent books in my hands; they did not recognize great personalities like Abdulqadr al-Jilani, Sheikh Shadhili, and Mustapha al-Bakri. Therefore, given that God Almighty showered His blessings on me although I was not eligible for them, I must offer due servitude to Him. If I behave otherwise, it will be my ruin!” If God Almighty let one advance up until the door of a private chamber for His special servants, then that person is supposed to observe subjective responsibilities by being more sensitive to servitude. In the chapter “On Sincerity” (Ikhlas), Bediüzzaman says “One who destroys this sincerity falls from the pinnacle of friendship. They may possibly fall to the bottom of a very deep pit. They cannot find anything in between to cling on to.”[13] That is, responsibilities are proportional to a person’s spiritual rank. One who steps to that private chamber and is blessed with certain spiritual experiences is not the same as others in the corridor or in the waiting lounge. If such a person does not give his or her position its due, they might be kicked out to the street. Therefore, sometimes God Almighty rebukes His Messengers, who are protected from sin, for the blessings they are bestowed are really great.

Willingness for worship

Considering what we have told, the Sufi path is an important one. Those people feel the issue by practice. What we mean by practice is carrying out good deeds together with the spiritual dimension and feeling them in one’s heart. For example, if devotions become a part of your character, you feel a desire toward them, as you desire to eat and drink. What we call “deepening in faith” can only then be realized. If matters of faith become a depth of your nature, then you feel them with due appetite, which is the truth of the matter. Bediüzzaman says, “…be freed from animality, restrict your carnal appetites, and enter the level of the life of the heart and spirit! You will find a broader sphere of life than your imagined world and a realm of light”[14] Then the heart and spirit will have a level of life superior to physicality and a body-oriented life. If such a superior life level is to be gained through reflection, deliberation, and practical deeds, it should not be neglected. So far, millions of saints made serious efforts for this sake with a Prophetic resolution, made due progress, and came to a certain level through spiritual journeying. By God’s permission and grace, they reached the level of the most unshakable certainty (haqq al-yaqin)—if we except a different consideration by Imam Rabbani.[15] By putting the theory in practice, they did not only hear about the name of honey but tasted it and understood it. No matter how much they tell you what a wonderful delight it is to eat honey and milk cream, you can never know it for real without savoring it in your own mouth. For example, even if they make dizzying descriptions of Paradise to you and then say, “Beholding the Beauty of God for a minute is worth thousands of years in Paradise,”[16] how much can it really be understood without experiencing that for real? This is the case with matters related to the way of the heart and spirit. They can only be understood by experience. There is an Arabic proverb meaning, “One who has not tasted does not know.”[17] For a real understanding, a person needs to orient his or her life to the heart and spirit. For this reason, heroes of the heart and spirit have been the ones who believed in the real sense. Let us state once more that what we have told so far does not express a disdain for other believers. No believer should doubt about his or her own faith. What we have told here aims to point out the depth and immensity of faith on the horizons of heroes of the heart and spirit.

[1] Sunan at-Tirmidhi, Iman, 17; Abu Ya’la, Al-Musnad, 7/9, 34; Ibn Huzayma, As-Sahih, 3/304
[2] Ar-Razi, Al-Mahsul, 5/538; Al-Amidi, Al-Ihkam, 1/343; Ibn Kathir, Tuhfatu’t-Talib, 1/174
[3] Sahih Muslim, Iman, 158; Sunan Abu Dawud, Jihad, 95; Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Al-Mu­nad, 5/207
[4] Sahih al-Bukhari, Salah, 28; Adahi, 14; Sunan at-Tirmidhi, Iman, 2; Sunan an-Nasa’i, Iman, 9
[5] At-Taftazani, Sharhu’l-Maqasid, 2/265-271
[6] Al-Munawi, Fayzu’l-Qadir, 6/16; Ibnu’l-Imad, Shazaratu’z-Zahab, 4/200
[7] Ibn Hibban, As-Sahih, 2/406; Al-Bayhaqi, Shuabu’l-Iman, 1/483
[8] Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Al-Musnad, 5/59; Ibn Abi Shayba, Al-Musannaf, 7/329; At-Tab­rani, Al-Mu’jamu’l-Kabir, 20/353
[9] See Al-Fath 48:2.
[10] Sahih Muslim, Qadar, 17; Abd ibn Humayd, Al-Musnad, p. 137
[11] Sunan at-Tirmidhi, Qiyamah, 25; Ibnu’l-Mubarak, Az-Zuhd, 1/103; Ibn Abi Shayba, Al-Musannaf, 7/96
[12] Nursi, Şuâlar, p. 424
[13] Nursi, Bediüzzaman Said, The Gleams, New Jersey: Tughra Books, 2008, p. 229
[14] Ibid., p. 189
[15] Imam Rabbani, Al-Maktubat, 2/141 (Letter 100).
[16] Sahih Muslim, Iman, 297; Sunan at-Tirmidhi, Jannah, 16; Tafsir as-Surah (10), 1; Sunan ibn Majah, Muqaddima, 13
[17] Al-Ghazali, Ihya Ulum ad-Din, 4/101