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The devoted souls with enthusiasm and commonsense

by Fethullah Gülen on . Posted in Endeavor for Renewal

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The devoted souls with enthusiasm and commonsense

Question: What are the indications of being devoted to serving humanity for the sake of God? What are your suggestions for evoking enthusiasm in new generations and making it last?

Answer: First of all, developing a spirit of devotedness depends on people’s having a sound belief in the religion they represent. A spirit of devotedness cannot be evoked without a sound faith, and the formation period for such faith can differ according to individuals. Very short rehabilitations might suffice for some people; they get what they should within forty hours. On the other hand, some others may need forty days, months, or even forty years to make the same progress. Even Junayd al-Baghdadi, a person with a good potential for spiritual progress, expressed that he began to sense and feel certain things after the age of sixty. Surely, this should not be misunderstood as he did not have any spiritual experiences until the age of sixty, which would be obviously disrespectful to that noble soul. But how are we supposed to take that statement? Junayd al-Baghdadi always targeted the horizon of being al-insan al-kamil (the universal man). Sensing certain breezes of that horizon can take time. Or maybe, he wished to draw attention to the difference in potential between people. In short, whatever he intended, we need to be cautious and avoid making off-handed remarks and having negative thoughts about those great guides. Regarding the possibility of speaking ill of them, and invoking Divine wrath, we need to seek refuge in God.

The greatest favor that can be done to today’s generations

Returning back to our essential subject, illuminating the feeling and thought of devotedness in hearts has become more difficult in our time. This is an era where the home does not offer much in terms of metaphysical immensities. Educational institutions do not offer that feeling and thought either. Our streets have become enemies of spirituality. Mosques do not inspire hearts with love and enthusiasm, and establishments to guide people to the horizons of the heart and spirit do not exist… In such a period, making hearts feel the spirit of devotedness depends on certain specific efforts. We must help people resist their body’s influence, and save them from being held captive by their carnal desires. We must orient them toward the level of the heart and spirit, and make the attainment of God’s good pleasure their ultimate purpose in life. Lastly, we must teach them to pray all the time as, “My God, I ask for forgiveness, well-being, and Your good pleasure.” Maintaining this requires very serious effort.

A desire for the world and its temptations is inherent in human nature. Particularly in our time, as worldly goals and ambitions have gained priority, people have been consumed by these worldly issues. For this reason, I think that the best kind of goodness for today’s generation is evoking in their hearts a desire and enthusiasm to live for others. Such love and enthusiasm is a very important principle that belongs to the very essence of Islam. When this feeling is reflected in Prayer, it reveals itself as consciousness of God, and awe; when it comes to glorifying the Name of God, it reveals itself as an urge to be constantly on the move with a spirit of devotedness. No matter what you teach someone whose heart is devoid of such essential love and enthusiasm, you will not see much effort in terms of selflessness and sacrifice.

Being devoid of enthusiasm means death for the heart

First of all, believers need to have a boundless enthusiasm; this makes them restless with suffering to reach this noble ideal. They must feel a throbbing in their temples from the intensity of this suffering, and be exhausted by the strain on their hearts and minds. If a person possesses such an intense enthusiasm, you can temper their feelings with reason and the sensibility of Islam. In other words, you can channel this overflowing enthusiasm toward goodness. For example, you can help them use their love and enthusiasm for maintaining steadfastness and continuity on the righteous path. This enthusiasm is essential; it is not possible to make any permanent and long-term achievement in the spirit solely with reasoning and logic. It is only with this love and enthusiasm that people will have the resolve to spend a lifetime upholding this noble ideal.

As is the case with every laudable virtue, the noble Prophet presents the best example for us, as confirmed by the Qur’an: “Yet, it may be that you (O Muhammad) will torment yourself to death with grief, following after them, if they do not believe in this Message,” (al-Kahf 18:6) and “It may be that you (O Messenger) will torment yourself to death because they refuse to believe” (ash-Shuara 26:3). The meaning of these verses show the level of enthusiasm the Messenger of God possessed. God Almighty tempered his enthusiasm with the commandment “You cannot guide to truth whomever you like, but God guides whomever He wills” (al-Qasas 28:56). Therefore, if anybody overflows with such an Islamic enthusiasm, it can be tempered with the commandments of the Qur’an. We can tell that person to appraise the possible costs of acting impulsively, and to reckon the requirements of time, conjuncture, the feelings of people they address, and how they will probably respond. But if there is no initial enthusiasm, what is there to be tempered? A fully enthusiastic mood like this is necessary in order to maintain continuity and determination. However, reason and commonsense should never be sacrificed to emotion and over-enthusiasm. These can give way to imbalance and extremism. For this reason, while hearts need enthusiasm, reason and commonsense must always supersede emotion, and passion must be channeled constructively.

Sensibility and enthusiasm should support one another

In addition, if there is a noble ideal we pursue, some obstacles on the way should not deter us from our path. As faithful servants, when we come up against an obstacle, we find an alternative way and keep walking from there. If the same thing happens with that path, then we find a new one again. If all the roads become impossible to walk, we continue striving for a lifetime without losing hope and say, “If we cannot, then the next generation will; if they cannot either, then, with the permission and help of God, the generation after them will realize this noble ideal.” If necessary, we will bring down the stars in the sky as if they were playthings. We always try to keep our standards high, with the consideration that making no efforts for progress kills a person spiritually.

On the other hand, we abide by the requirements of reason and commonsense and thus pay attention to making realizable plans. There should never be contradiction between the reason and enthusiasm of a believer. On the contrary, these two must support and feed one another. Many people, despite acting in the name of righteousness, have harmed Muslims because they were guided only by emotion. Others used straightaway logic and thought that they could give good messages through pompous talks, demagogy, and dialectics. Yet they failed to make a lasting influence on others; they just lost energy and failed to carry on.

To find proper balance, we need enthusiasm at full gallop, but also sound principles tested through the essentials of the Qur’an. In fact, all of our attitudes and behaviors must be constantly tested to see whether they are right or wrong from the perspective of the Qur’an and Sunnah. The beloved Messenger of God, peace and blessings be upon him, stated that what Muslims need is to follow his Tradition and that of the Rightly Guided Caliphs. He told his followers to keep a firm hold on these, as if with clenched teeth.[1] Accordingly, another important criterion by which to test our behaviors on a certain issue is the approach of Rightly Guided Caliphs.

As we believe in the righteousness of the cause and ideal we are totally committed to, the path we use to reach that ideal must inspire trust in others’ hearts. This can only be achieved by following the way of the Companions, particularly that of the Rightly Guided Caliphs, and the way of the Qur’an and the Sunnah.

One of the most important means of evoking such an enthusiasm is stimulating a person’s tafakkur (reflection) and deepening their system of thought. The Arabic definition of tafakkur means a person does more than just think; they make serious mental efforts. Therefore, the perspective of tafakkur is acquired when one makes reflecting deeply their habit. Tafakkur does not mean sitting there and brooding over matters, or making superficial and simple connections about things one sees or hears. On the contrary, tafakkur means taking the beginning and end into consideration together; moving one’s reason between the cause and effect like a shuttle and developing wisdom through that thinking; absorbing the consequent inspirations into one’s soul and making these inspirations into a part of their feelings; and even seeking to make more of these inspirations by examining them further. For people to learn fervor and enthusiasm, they must become habituated to serious thinking and reasoning, and they must be able to see right and wrong correctly.

One should always be spelling the name of God, living with this truth, each and every night

Continuity of the mind is very significant. It is so important that even if we think those around us are journeying down the paths pointed out by the verse, “It is in the remembrance of, and whole-hearted devotion to God, that hearts find rest and contentment,” (ar-Ra’d 13:28) one should never see his or her own spiritual level, or rather another’s level, as sufficient. Believers need to support one another in this pursuit. As the great thinker Bediüzzaman put it, like stones that make up a dome, we need to support one another in order to not fall.[2] Taking this example solely as advice about avoiding disagreements and upholding social unity is a deficient understanding. We need to tackle it from a wider perspective: We should adopt serving religion as the highest ideal of our lives and always support one another at maintaining our spirituality on the path to realizing this noble ideal. Accordingly, when we gather to worship, we should never be unserious. We should make the assembly meaningful by reading and discussing subjects to make us more conscious of God. After such gatherings, we need to question whether we experienced any of the truths expressed in the supplication:

“O God, increase us in knowledge (ilm), faith (iman), certainty (yaqin), reliance on You (tawakkul), surrender to You (taslim), commitment to You (tafwiz), knowledge of You (marifah), love of You (mahabbah), intense love of You (ashq), yearning for reunion with You (ishtiyaq ila liqaik), chastity (iffah), innocence (ismah), perspicacity (fatanah), and wisdom (hikmah).” Even at our gatherings for worldly matters, when we find a chance, we should shift the subject to such topics and try to whisper the beauties of faith into our hearts.

Knowing what happens in our present culture, it is understandable that people are influenced by popular norms. Knowing what happens in our day and following certain matters of actuality is surely acceptable. However, given that there are so many people immersed in these matters, those who devoted themselves to serving the truths of the Qur’an should try to fulfill their spiritual potential, and deepen their faith. For this reason, they should always be spelling the Name of God, and living with this truth each and every night.

In short, we are supposed to do whatever must be done to help people passionately love God Almighty, and to cherish their love for the blessed Messenger, peace and blessings be upon him. This love should be so intense that upon hearing his blessed name, the listener should feel a shiver down his spine. Sustaining our enthusiasm for this cause, and keeping our devotional spirit fresh, requires continuous maintenance.

The same principle is true in our physical life. For example, when a certain limb is not used for a long time, the muscles atrophy until they finally become completely useless. The same is true of our heart and spirituality. We cannot overlook the wisdom in the commandments to pray five times a day and to fast during the month of Ramadan. Believers who release their buckets into the fresh fountain of Islam five times a day are washed and purified with what they receive from it. That is, they try to feel Him, sense Him, and know Him five times a day. We are supposed to grasp this essential point in the act of worship, and orient our behavior and our time toward sustaining the Islamic love and enthusiasm.

The seas before us cannot be passed with a ramshackle ship

In order to emphasize the importance of continuous spiritual maintenance, the beloved Prophet’s advice to his Companion Abu Dharr is very important: “Restore your ship, for the sea is deep. Take your provisions perfectly, for the journey is long. Lighten your load, for the ascent is steep. Be sincere in your acts, for the Watchful One sees everything.”[3]

As the distance to be covered is very long, and the sea to pass is very deep, there is no tolerance on the journey for the slightest heedlessness. May God forbid, but in the face of temptation, one can sink like the Titanic to the bottom of the sea. If the ship represents our spiritual life, and our heart’s relation with God Almighty, then we need to restore it with every new dawn. It is not possible to undertake a long journey with a ramshackle ship, a neglected heart, and a faulty mentality.

The wise pieces of advice continue. The noble Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, advised his Companion to take his provisions perfectly, for the journey would be very long. That long journey begins in this world and ends in the next. The provisions are neither food or drink, nor weapons; they represent a person’s servitude and obedience to God. For example, our Prayers will accompany us in the intermediary realm of the grave,[4] and our fasting will help us pass through the Rayyan gate of Paradise.[5] If these are not taken here, on Earth, as provisions for the afterlife, then a person will face misery there.

There is also the warning about the steep ascent, and the recommendation to lighten one’s load. Accordingly, believers are supposed to avoid immersing themselves in worldliness—to keep the load on their backs light so they can surmount that steep ascent. Finally, we are reminded to be sincere in our actions, for the Watchful One sees us every moment.

Although such preparations are important to our worldly life because they uphold the truth, establish justice, and continue efforts to dignify believers, they are even more important to our eternal life.

God Almighty reveals the following truth in the Qur’an: “If He so wills (for the fulfillment of His purpose in creation), He can put you away and bring a new generation (of humankind in your place)” (Ibrahim 14:19; Fatir 35:16). Here, rather than meaning a new people appearing on the stage of history, we can take the phrase “a new generation” to mean enthusiastic souls devoted to God—ones who did not give in to weariness, who did not take their religion for granted but felt its profundity freshly. In the next verse, it is stated, “That is surely no great matter for God” (Fatir 35:17). “When He decrees a thing, He does but say to it, ‘Be!’ and it is” (al-Baqarah 2:117). Unless they welcome a spiritual revival, those who become weary, who resemble worn-out goods, and who lose their spirit of religious enthusiasm are replaced by a new generation, through the noble lives of the Great Prophets or the activities of the respected expounders of Islamic laws, or the renovations of the great revivers of faith.

If those who experience a revival by showering God with favors become proud of their status as the “new generation,” they risk losing the Divine blessings and support. This support depends on humility and modesty. When we are given a responsibility, we should carry it out in the best way, while still remaining humble by remembering our servitude to our Creator.[6] Only through an active understanding and faith can we survive long journeys, even those that take centuries. With a renewed enthusiasm and devotional spirit, we can walk toward the future.

[1] Sunan at-Tirmidhi, Ilm, 16; Sunan Abu Dawud, Sunnah, 5; Sunan ibn Majah, Muqadima, 6
[2] Nursi, The Gleams, p. 255
[3] Ad-Daylami, Al-Musnad, 5/339
[4] Sahih al-Bukhari, Tahajjud, 2, 21; Fazailu Ashabi’n-Nabi, 19; Tabir, 35, 36; Sahih Mulim, Fazailu’s-Sahaba, 139, 140
[5] Sahih al-Bukhari, Sawm, 4; Sahih Muslim, Zakah, 85
[6] Nursi, Şuâlar, p. 424