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The most exalted purpose and the feeling of curiosity

by Fethullah Gülen on . Posted in Endeavor for Renewal

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The most exalted purpose and the feeling of curiosity

Question: In our time, the feeling of curiosity is often directed toward daily news, political polemics, or the lives of celebrities. What is the Divine wisdom behind equipping humanity with this feeling?

Answer: The feeling of curiosity is an important factor that triggers a thirst for knowledge and a zeal for exploring other lives. One should use such an important dynamic for the sake of an exalted and noble ideal. What can be the most exalted ideal for a person? I think the most important ideal is to recognize and know the Almighty One, Who brought us into existence from nothing, Who rendered us the most honorable one among all of creation, Who laid this world before us as a corridor to Paradise, Who beautified the universe with manifestations of the Divine Names as an arable field for the Hereafter, Who sent us perfectly dependable guides to let us see beyond the veil and the truth of everything. For this reason, one must prepare for a lifetime of curiosity, using it to seek to know the Divine Essence as best as one can, beyond all forms and measures.

The divine essence is absolutely beyond comprehension

At this point, one statement of God’s Messenger is an important criterion for us: “Reflect on God Almighty’s works of blessings and power! But do not ever attempt to reflect on the Divine Essence, for that issue transcends human conception.”[1] Some people may have sensed and felt certain things related to the Divine Essence, in accordance with the immensity of their conscience and depth of their feelings and senses. However, these truths cannot be generalized for everyone. For this reason, what befalls on believers is to comply with the limit set by the Pride of Humanity, peace and blessings be upon him, and circulate within the sphere of Divine Names and Attributes. The Qur’an also points out this fact: “Eyes comprehend Him not, but He comprehends all eyes” (al-An’am 6:103). The Divine Essence transcends everything and it cannot be comprehended; something that absolutely encompasses everything cannot at the same time be encompassed by cognition. Given that He is the One that encompasses everything; the ones encompassed cannot encompass the One that encompasses. For this reason, people need to be aware of what they can know, to what extent, and how they should know, and then try to learn what they can within the allowed fields.

Gaining knowledge leads to loving Him, and the more seekers love Him, the more they wish to know about Him. Bediüzzaman also draws attention to this lofty truth, which is the real purpose of human existence, through the following words: “Belief in God is creation’s highest aim and most sublime result, and humanity’s most exalted rank is knowledge of Him. The most radiant happiness and sweetest bounty for jinn and humanity is love of God contained within knowledge of God. The human spirit’s purest joy and the human heart’s sheerest delight is spiritual ecstasy contained within love of God”[2] Here, in addition to asking for knowledge and love of God, Bediüzzaman refers to spiritual ecstasy or delight as an objective. But if you wish, you can ask for it to be spared for the afterlife, as well. However, it should be known that spiritual delight is not something to be dismissed. Who knows, when spiritual delight is manifested within, you will perhaps ask for more and feel eager to make deeper quests.

If we can know God Almighty in such an immensity of knowledge, I think we will plan our lives accordingly, always try to walk in that direction, and will hardly be able to contain ourselves with the enthusiasm of making others feel what we experienced. I guess a similar immensity and depth of knowing God lay behind the relevant zeal and enthusiasm of the Companions of the noble Prophet and the Apostles of Jesus. They knew God so well, felt and sensed Him very well in their consciences, and thus their faith continued to deepen. As a consequence, this provoked such an enthusiasm in them that they maintained a spiritual vigilance with the consideration of “We should mention about the All-Holy Who manifests Himself all the time.” In addition to faith in God, as believers get to gain insight into other articles of faith and essentials of religion with their true nature, they will begin to feel a deep interest in them. For example, when one feels curious about the worth of the Prince of both worlds in the sight of God, and what the message he brought stands for within humanity, then that person sets about to know the noble Prophet in the way he should be known. Thus knowing more about him evokes further love and respect for him. In time, the journeyer virtually witnesses the blessed Prophet as a guide who shows the way regarding everything. Deepening the essentials of faith and religion helps us better know their beauties, and allows our nature to conform to them. A person who feels all of these in their conscience will not be able to help but say, “My God, we are infinitely indebted to You! It is so glad that You enabled us—in spite of our own narrowness—to recognize and know You and Your Messenger. You have bestowed us the blessing of Islam, which is so crucial for our lives, and which helps us gain proximity to You. My God, thousands of praises and glory be to You! Then like Bediüzzaman’s journeyer through the universe in “The Supreme Sign,”[3] he or she will ask for more and try to dig a bit further into the ground of knowledge of God. If you stand beside a well and set about drawing up water from it, I think the water will come out more as you draw more. As the water of the well gushes forth, it will spur up your enthusiasm to draw more. So you feel excited every time, with an insatiable zeal, and become an “asker for more.”

Curiosity is the teacher of knowledge

Curiosity is a very important factor in terms of reading this universe like a book of wisdom. In the words of Bediüzzaman, “Curiosity about something leads one to learn about it.”[4] Knowledge (ilm) mentioned here does not refer to the narrow sense of knowledge, as in scientific knowledge. It refers to outward knowing, through theory, and inward knowing, through spiritual experience, which leads to knowing God through heartfelt love, and then to experiencing fervent love and enthusiasm for Him. Therefore, the knowledge referred to in the Divine command, “Say: ‘My Lord, increase me in knowledge’” (Ta-Ha 20:114) is not an abstract knowing of phenomena; it is a knowing that yields spiritual insight, that leads to a “culture of the conscience,” results in love of God, and extends to the depths of fervent love and enthusiasm for Him. So curiosity’s being the teacher of knowledge needs to be taken in this sense.

In fact, some worldly people are curious, to a certain extent, about reading the universe like a book. Their curiosity is creditable. However, they view the issue with a materialistic perspective and from the limited frame of the laws of physics. Therefore, they find no prospect for metaphysical considerations. Some of those people may also have a potential for matters of spirituality. Moreover, some of them may have delved deep into immensities of parapsychology. For example, even while materialism was at its peak, communication with spirits and jinn was quite common. Even the famous Victor Hugo presented such weakness. When you study Les Misérables carefully, you can sense this sort of inclination in between the lines. It was not only Victor Hugo; many more who held materialist views sought consolation in such activities. However, most of those people who were engaged in secular sciences took a limited distance because of lacking a spiritual guide or the inefficiency of the religious teaching they followed; they were unable to go further beyond.

In spite of everything, their meticulous study and exploration of phenomena deserves appreciation. As I mentioned at an earlier talk, there are so many people among them who dedicated their lives to studying the life of a single animal species. For example, one of them states that he devoted an entirety of twenty years to studying the life of scorpions. Another one did that for a cobra. All of these are consequences of curiosity. However, as we have mentioned above, they were never able to go beyond the physical reality and open their thoughts to metaphysical considerations. Never able to reach into the realm of the heart and spirit, they failed to wonder at the splendid workings within and be curious about their true Doer and Causer. In addition, it is not possible to witness anything in the physical realm that corresponds to our inherent yearning for eternity or other human immensities. Then all of such human yearnings have their source in another realm, and they serve to orient the individual to another realm. So the scientists and researchers unreceptive to metaphysics were deaf and blind to all such messages. Even though they condemned themselves to a barren path devoid of wisdom and reflection, a believer should avoid it. Thanks to the facts revealed to them about truths of faith, it is always possible for believers to deepen their considerations on humanity, the universe, and phenomena; then they soar toward different horizons of thought by reflection, rumination, and pondering. Naturally, everybody has his or her own capacity of comprehension and knowing. Actually, the three levels of certainty in Sufism—based on knowing, seeing, or direct experience—points to this difference between people. On the other hand, as a believer might read the creational commands by means of science, they must constantly refer to the Qur’an, which is the everlasting translator, lucid interpreter, and articulate proof of the universe;[5] this will enable them to correctly interpret the seemingly vague points in the creational commands, as a requisite to save them from wrong interpretations while studying natural sciences. Thus they will not only understand what the creation tells correctly, but also have deeper knowledge and love for the Unique One all those sciences point to.

[1] At-Tabarani, Al-Mu’jamu’l-Awsat, 6/250; Al-Bayhaqi, Shuabu’l-Iman, 1/136; Abu’sh-Shayh, Al-Azama, 1/220
[2] Nursi, The Letters, pp. 239–240
[3] For Ayatu’l Kubra (the Supreme Sign), see “The Seventh Ray” in The Rays, Bediüzz­man Said Nursi, New Jersey: Tughra Books, 2010.
[4] Nursi, The Letters, p. 456
[5] Nursi, The Words, p. 388