Human weaknesses as a means of spiritual progress

by Fethullah Gülen on . Posted in Endeavor for Renewal

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Human weaknesses as a means of spiritual progress

Question: How can we give advice to a person who says, “I have evil characters in my nature such as greed, hostility, and obstinacy and I cannot get rid of them in any way”?

Answer: As human beings are created with comprehensive potentials, they are equipped with bodily and spiritual abilities related to both the mundane world and the heavenly one, respectively. Therefore, true human progress and deliverance depends on their using these latent potentials for the purpose they are created for. As members of humanity are honored with the “best pattern of creation” (ahsan al-taqwim), they can come into line with angels as far as they realize their otherworldly and spiritual side thoroughly, and lead their lives within the lawful sphere by giving their willpower its due, and resisting the negative feelings innately placed in human nature for different wisdoms. As Rumi also put it, humans stand at such a point that although carnal feelings and lust exist in their nature, they sometimes make angels envious by the good works they do; but sometimes they make even devils ashamed.

O human! Read yourself correctly!

For this reason, people must first gain sound insight into themselves—their merits and weaknesses—and see certain negative feelings they have as a means for spiritual progress. If they can control those evil feelings and overcome them, and orient them toward goodness, then the seeds of Paradise within will begin to germinate. That Paradisiacal life experienced in the heart will turn the world into a corridor extending into real Paradise. In every part and every moment of such a world, a person can feel Paradise and witness its eternal beauties while in this world. It is also possible to voice this truth as follows: If the positive feelings in human nature are actuated well, they directly serve spiritual progress. As for the seemingly negative seeds, if they are taken under control by vigilance, watchfulness, and conformity to Divine orders, they become a means for different graces of God. In other words, your upright stance against those innate negative feelings will be counted as worship in the sight of God. For example, as the Daily Prayers are a very important form of worship that helps one achieve human perfection, defying carnal desires is no less important a form of worship. God Almighty points out this truth by the decree, “But as for him who lived in awe of his Lord, being conscious of His seeing him, and of the standing before Him (in the Hereafter), and held back his carnal soul from lusts and fancies, surely Paradise will be his (final) refuge” (an-Naziat 79:40–41). To reiterate, seemingly negative feelings can be turned to one’s advantage if taken under control and channeled toward goodness, and become one of the most important means for entering Paradise.

People become truly human by actuating their willpower

God did not create humanity within certain limits as he did animals. In other words, man is not a slave to a set of instincts. God granted willpower to humans and—in terms of the apparent reasons—He attached His blessings on the condition of giving willpower its due. For example, He could say, “When you lift your hand, I make the stars in the sky pour on your head.” In such a case, we would seek no relation between moving of the hand and pouring down of the stars. Similarly, God Almighty grants favors and blessings in consequence of the worship people observe and the difficulties they forebear in the way of God, there is no point in seeking a relation of causality. Then God Almighty accepts the acts of individuals, which they do in compliance with the requirement of apparent causes, virtually as a seed, and He returns those acts to them as eternal blessings in Paradise.

Attacks from the right and left

We can compare the positive feelings in human nature as a person’s right side and the negative feelings as the left side. I guess this can be better understood by Satan’s threat as related in the Qur’an: “Then I will come upon them from before them and from behind them, and from their right and from their left, and You will not find most of them thankful” (al-A’raf 7:17). With his malicious joy, Satan is virtually saying: “I can come to them from in front and break down their hopes for the future and burn their bridges on the way to Paradise, and direct them to Hell instead. By coming to them from behind, I can show them the past as a dreadful grave, make them refuse to take a lesson from the example of their fathers and grandfathers… and make them fall for the delusion that life began with them. By approaching them from the right, I can deceive them even while doing acts of goodness and spoil their good deeds by showing off and taking pride in them. When they tell about God and the noble Prophet, or when they begin to write, I make them emphasize their own person and spoil even their good deeds. Finally, I approach them from the left and show forbidden acts as good, I offer them poisonous honey on golden trays and lead them astray.”

In a hadith related to the subject, the Messenger of God, peace and blessings be upon him, stated that Paradise is surrounded with things unpleasant to the carnal soul, and Hell is surrounded with lusts that are tempting to the carnal soul.[1] Accordingly, what leads one to Paradise is difficult and unpleasant to the carnal soul. Believers will make their way to Paradise by passing them one by one. As for the way to Hell, it is engulfed by carnal feelings and lusts. In this respect, it is most likely for Satan to make one fall by means of indulging in food, drink, sleep, and living to fulfill one’s carnal desires. Bediüzzaman points out the essential human weaknesses at the end of the “Twenty-ninth Letter.” He mentions six human and Satanic intrigues: “love of fame and position, fear, greed, racism, egotism, and lastly, fondness for comfort and ease.”[2] It is possible to count more. For example avarice, inability to stomach others, lascivious behavior, ostentation, and conceit are among other weak points through which Satan can find a way to defeat us.

Build up walls around you with prayers

Satan takes advantage of these weaknesses by approaching from the left. As he stated, “Then (I swear) by Your Glory, I will certainly cause them all to rebel and go astray” (as-Sad 38:82). The Pride of Humanity, peace and blessings be upon him, taught us this prayer to combat Satan: “O Allah! Conceal my imperfections and calm all my fears! O Allah! Protect me (against dangers) from in front, from behind, from my right, from my left, and from above, and I seek refuge in Your greatness from being swallowed by the earth beneath me.”[3] He invited us to seek refuge with God against Satan by reciting this prayer night and day.[4] Satan is a professional; he knows such tricks that he toppled many giants far by using them. For example, if one tries to rise up in the night for Tahajjud Prayer, Satan uses various tricks and goading to prevent it. He will not stop even if he fails, and the believer leaves the warm bed in spite of everything. He plays a different trick on the way to ablutions and a different trick during the Prayer. For example, he tries to cause the worshipper to make noise, his aim to let the neighbors hear the noise and appreciate that person, so that the deed can be corrupted when the worshipper takes arrogant pride in his act. Satan has so many different tricks that it is really hard to overcome them; it takes serious determination and willpower along with continuously taking refuge in God’s help and protection. In this respect, what becomes clear is that a single wall will not suffice against Satan’s tricks. We must continuously build new walls through more prayer. One cannot have too many walls. Before he retired to sleep, the Pride of Humanity, peace and blessings be upon him, recited the surahs Al-Mulk,[5] Ya-Sin,[6] As-Sajdah,[7] the Muawwizatayn[8] (Al-Falaq and An-Nas), and the last two verses of the chapter Al-Baqarah.[9] In addition, he sought refuge in God with prayers such as: “O Allah! Truly I have submitted myself to You, turned my face to You, entrusted my affairs to You, relied on You, there is no refuge or security except in You. O Allah! I believe in the Book that You revealed, and in the Prophet that You sent.”[10] He also warned believers by saying, “Do not ever give in to heedlessness, always seek refuge in God against Satan.”

What befalls believers is to see our weaknesses as a part of human nature and to constantly seek refuge in God against them, giving our willpower its due, and to thus make those negative factors into stepping stones for spiritual progress. At the same time, they need to make constant efforts to ascend to the life level of the heart and spirit by following true spiritual guides, and thus continue their journeying accordingly.

[1] Sahih al-Bukhari, Riqaq, 28; Sahih Muslim, Jannah, 1
[2] Nursi, The Letters, pp. 399–413
[3] Sunan Abu Dawud, Adab, 110
[4] Sunan Abu Dawud, Adab, 100; Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Al-Musnad, 2/25
[5] An-Nasa’i, As-Sunanu’l-Kubra, 6/535
[6] Darimi, Fazailu’l-Qur’an, 21; Ibn Hibban, As-Sahih, 6/312
[7] Ad-Daylami, Al-Musnad, 5/411
[8] “The two means of seeking refuge in God,” which refers to the last two surahs of the Qur’an. Sahih al-Bukhari, Fazailu’l-Qur’an, 15; Tibb, 39; Sunan at-Tirmidhi, Da’awat, 22; Sunan Abu Dawud, Adab, 108
[9] Sahih al-Bukhari, Fazailu’l-Qur’an, 10; Sahih Muslim, Salatu’l-Musafirin, 256
[10] Sahih al-Bukhari, Da’awat 6; Tawhid, 34; Sahih Muslim, Dhikr, 56–58