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Perfection and modesty

by Fethullah Gülen on . Posted in Endeavor for Renewal

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The devoted souls and life standards

Question: It is stated that the devoted souls who will realize a new revival are supposed be no different than ordinary people. On the other hand, they are continuously encouraged to be the cultured people who represent the best way by personal example. How can we strike the balance between these seemingly conflicting aspects?

Answer: If we evaluate the issue from the perspective of guiding others and conveying the Divine message to them, it is essential to believe that the following two qualities constitute the “must” of this path: targeting perfect standards along with adopting an understanding of nullifying oneself. For being able to convey relevant points to others and making an impact on consciences by God’s grace, it is essential to make an effort to be well-equipped with the knowledge and practices of faith, as well as possessing humility and modesty, and viewing oneself as an ordinary person among other people. Any attempt to guide that is not based on knowledge and actual spiritual depth will not evoke any trust in those being addressed. Word polluted with arrogance and pride will never diffuse into hearts; and even if they do, their effect will never be permanent. Consider the works of Bediüzzaman: He highlighted how serious a problem ignorance was.[1] On the other hand, he also emphasized that arrogance has become a widespread disease in our time.[2]

Two-winged spirit of guidance, with knowledge and humility

Let us expound on these two aspects a bit. In order to achieve a thorough representation, a Muslim, first, needs to “read” very well the contemporary age, social structure, contemporary events, and Divine principles operating in the universe, and then interpret them correctly. On the other hand, a Muslim also needs to know religious commandments and what they mean in our age, and thus become a “child of the time.” Otherwise, so many truths will be victimized by their poor representation, and their values will be condemned to seem worthless in the eyes of others. As “everything is, by its nature, essentially dependent on knowledge,”[3] it is very important for Muslims to express their own values well. What we mean by knowledge (ilm) here is not having information about a particular subject as it is commonly used in our day; it is the knowledge based on an evaluation of realities with their internal and external dimensions, which can help us draw a conclusion and deepen in knowledge of God. In fact, it is not possible for a believer to make any individual progress without such knowledge, let alone guide others. Until the moment people are equipped with knowledge, including knowledge of God, they will not be able to refuse their carnal self, and not be able to rid themselves of confusion and instability. Individuals who do not solve the problems of their own heart and mind will have real difficulty conveying the truths of faith to others; unaware, they will probably resort to demagogy and dialectics. Until the moment they overcome the doubts and suspicions in their own mind, they will not be able to avoid faltering at their statements. For this reason, we firstly need to have insight into our own matters, knowing them deeply, with their spirit, essence, background, and basis. After that, we need to feel and sense in our conscience that, with the initial theoretical knowledge we have, we can attain knowledge of God (marifah), then love of God through that knowledge, and then zeal and yearning for God through their totality. If we can truly make these ingrained in ourselves, and behold in our heart and mind a picture of what comes out of our mouth, then we can be saved from having inner conflicts and falling into contradictions. For this reason, those who wish to guide others and share the beauties of their teaching with others must definitely do everything they can to have a profound and multi-dimensional knowledge that will be pleasing to God Almighty. However, mere knowledge does not suffice for conveying the message to others. At the same time one needs to be conscious of the fact that these very important inspirations and gifts are pure blessings and bestowals of God Almighty. As Bediüzzaman points out in The Letters, all of these blessings can be compared to a fur coat presented by a king.[4] Their value should not be overlooked. On the other hand, we should never give up the consideration that they do not essentially belong to us. That is, what we need to do is to direct the appreciation to the One who truly deserves it. If we can attain this perspective, we will have started opening the doors of modesty, humbleness, and humility. Thus we will have realized the truth expressed by Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib: “Live among people as one of them.” And this means combining absolute humility and perfection. Ingraining this feeling and thought in ourselves depends on acknowledging the True Owner of everything we possess, and making our conscience accept the fact that we are nothing. I would like to reiterate one point I previously made. If we were to be asked to put aside what essentially belongs to God and stand before Him with what remains, nothing would be left, I think. For this reason, what befalls on us is constantly being oriented to him in humbleness, modesty, and humility. As a matter of fact, it can be said that these points are related to the wisdoms behind the command to pray five times a day. Standing in awe of God five times a day at Prayer is an expression of submission to Him. As bowing before God is a form of modesty, prostrating oneself before Him is an expression of humbleness; it is a person’s closest state to God Almighty, as related in a hadith.[5] Actually, the time of prostration is the moment when a person is freed from one’s own self and dyed with the hue of manifestations from Him. That is, you reach such a state of “I” during prostration that, this “I” is nothing but a work of His manifestations. Then, closeness to God depends on a person’s nullifying oneself.

The most modest person

As it is stated in the Qur’an: “Assuredly you have in God’s Messenger an excellent example to follow…” (al-Ahzab 33:21), the Messenger of God presented the best example in every respect in all of his attitudes and behaviors. The Prince of both worlds was honored with the Divine address “Had it not been for you, I would not have created the worlds.”[6] In the words of the poet Necip Fazıl: “He, for whose sake we exist.” As his blessed light was the first light that appeared in the realm of existence,[7] he is the most perfect fruit of the tree of existence. In other words, the light of Muhammad is the seed of the tree of universe and the ink of the pen of Divine Power that writes this “book of universe.” And he is the curator in this great exhibition of the universe. In the words of insightful scholars, the blessed Prophet is a person who was gifted with the beginning and end of wisdom, with respect to the knowledge of the Divine. By God’s grace, every kind of problem was solved in the hands of that blessed settler of problems. He is the teacher for everybody to learn how to evaluate the world and its contents with the eye of wisdom. In addition to being such a distinguished person, God’s Messenger, peace and blessings be upon him, is at the same time a monument of modesty and humility. When somebody addressed him as “our master,” he expressed his protest for such address—even though it was true.[8] At another case when the following Divine command was revealed, “So wait patiently for your Lord’s judgment, and do not be like the companion of the fish, when he called out choking inwardly (with distress)…” (al-Qalam 68:48), he stated, not assuming superiority, “Do not prefer me over Yunus ibn Matta.”[9] At another time, he told someone who felt overawed before him “Do not be afraid, I am the child of a woman who ate dried meat.”[10] During the construction of the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina, he carried two bricks on his back while others carried a single brick.[11] While they needed to cook during travel, as all of his Companions contributed to it, he undertook the task of collecting firewood;[12] he always made an effort to not avoid at any kind of responsibility. So the Perfect Guide, under whose blessed feet the stars were like a stairway, combined such opposite virtues in his person, and thus he reached into souls with his most perfect and trustworthy example. Then what befalls believers should be faithfully following the footsteps of that Perfect Guide.

[1] Nursi, Tarihçe-i Hayat, p. 61
[2] Nursi, The Words, p. 206
[3] Ibid., p. 332
[4] Nursi, Mektubat, pp. 416–417
[5] Sahih Muslim, Salah, 215; Sunan Abu Dawud, Salah, 148; Sunan an-Nasa’i, Tatbik, 78
[6] Aliyyulqari, Al-Masnu, 150; Al-Asraru’l-Marfua, 295; Al-Ajluni, Kashfu’l-Khafa, 2/214
[7] As-Suyuti, Al-Hawi, 1/325; Al-Halabi, As-Siratu’l-Halabiyya, 1/240
[8] Sunan Abu Dawud, Adab, 9; An-Nasa’i, As-Sunanu’l-Kubra, 6/70
[9] Sahih al-Bukhari, Anbiya, 35; Sahih Muslim, Fazail, 166–167
[10] Sunan ibn Majah, At’ima, 30; Tabarani, Al-Mu’jamu’l-Awsat, 2/64
[11] Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Al-Musnad, 2/381; Ibn Sa’d, At-Tabaqatu’l-Kubra, 2/66
[12] At-Tabari, Khulasatu Siyari Sayyidi’l-Bashar, 87; As-Safadi, Al-Wafi bi’l-Wafayat, 1/7