Question: In his work, Gulistan, Sheikh Sadi states: “Be soil, so that you grow roses; nothing other than soil can grow roses.” What meanings does this aphorism suggest pertaining to our understanding of servanthood to God?
Answer: If we first look at the literal meaning of this aphorism, we can say the following:
Roses only grow in soil. As it is not possible for a rose to grow from granite, marble or iron, it also cannot grow from silver, gold, emerald or ruby even though these materials are held by people as so precious.
Actually, the fact that people are buried in the soil when they die, suggests the same meaning. The body of a deceased person is not cast aside; rather it is buried in the ground so that it grows otherworldly roses in the beyond. Whether you attribute it to the truth about the last coccyx bone or some other interpretation. Human beings contain such an essence that God Almighty resurrects them through it. However, one who has let himself decay spiritually in this world, will not be able to grow as a rose in the realm of Paradise.
The pinnacle of servanthood: Prostration
Soil represents both modesty and humility. Although it is trampled underfoot, with God’s permission and grace it serves as a source of life for people and other beings. Therefore, if a person is like the soil, as long as he remains modest and sees himself as nothing despite any position he is elevated to, as long as he remains a humble servant to God, he will always rise and bear fruit. However, a person who assumes greatness and tries to fly in the air will fall headfirst one day.
In this respect, a person must be humble in accordance with the favors and blessings that God has bestowed upon him. You can visualize this truth by thinking about the essential movements in Prayer. For example, a person who makes the opening takbir, “Allahu Akbar,” sees his position before God as insufficient and humbly bows before Him in a form of reverence. Afterwards, the person virtually says: “My God I am so thankful to You, for You have given me the opportunity to worship You thus, how great You are! How exalted You are! Given that You are the only One who is great, what falls to me is insignificance. However, I cannot express this while standing on my feet. Here I lower myself before You as much as possible.” With these feelings, the person prostrates before his Lord. Then he says: “O God, Thanks are for You my Lord, for Your blessing me with the opportunity to worship You thus. How great You are! How exalted You are!” Then he sits back beseechingly. As if the person has caught a glimpse of Him, he finds the first prostration insufficient and prostrates himself again.
Remember the following saying of the Prophet Muhammad, the Pride of Humanity, peace and blessings be upon him: “The closest that a servant of God is to his Lord is while he is prostrating.” Thus he stated that there is no state in which a person can be closer to God other than prostration. This meaning is expressed in a poem as:
Head and feet
both on the ground,
The road to closeness to God is
Where the Prayer rug kisses the forehead.
The disaster of laying claim to achievements
So how close a person will be to God is determined in accordance with the degree of his modesty and humility. Actually, this is the general attitude of a genuine believer when confronted with the showers of blessings bestowed by God. Such a believer becomes more and more humbled before the infinite blessings of the Beneficent Lord, he places his head on the ground and declares his nothingness before the Infinite.
In this respect, those who have dedicated themselves to serving their religion, country and people must never lay claim to achievements, no matter how high a position they are promoted to. They must always retain humility and not entertain any expectations other than God’s good pleasure. They must not attach their hearts to any worldly or otherworldly returns. People devoted to serving humanity on the path of truth must not cherish any ideas such as, “Let me settle this worldly affair of mine; let me have a house where I can live comfortably; let my child achieve this advantageous position...” In addition, they must not associate the services that they carry out with entering Paradise or being saved from Hell, as they must expect these as unmerited favors from Divine grace, providence and protection.
Those who fill their pockets and form money pools whilst claiming they are serving the nation, are obviously lying as their actions show. They seek to gain worldly positions and have expectations such as popularity, applause, appreciation and becoming the center of attention for the services they carry out. These denote hypocrisy, egotism and daring to be so insolent as to bargain with God. Those who lay claim to success and achievements, which are but Divine favors, who ascribe these to their own cleverness, intellect, perspicacity and sagacity and thus boast like pharaohs, may have this opportunity today. However, tomorrow they will lose in utter failure what they have in their hands today. Just as they insolently stick their noses in the air today, tomorrow they will eat humble pie with their noses rubbing in the dust. This is the Divine Custom, which has never changed.
It is out of the question for a real believer to take advantage of certain accomplishments for personal gain, or to grow insolent and boastful with the lightheadedness of victory. In the face of favors bestowed by the Divine, a real believer acts with considerations such as, “I wonder whether I can propagate a suitable environment to encourage new roses to flourish by returning to the soil with my roses, flowers, leaves and roots?”
When the famous literary master, Necip Fazıl, referred to himself, he would say: “And take me as some manure.” I never forget this statement of his. Despite being aware of his greatness, cherishing such ideas is very important in indicating his modesty, effacement and humility. This is how a believer should see himself. Even if a believer becomes a rose garden and flourishes so vigorously that nightingales flock all around and start singing for him, he must still have the awareness to fall back to the soil in modesty as rose petals for the sake of making new roses grow. It is our duty, in the face of the bountiful showers of blessings bestowed by God, to further deepen our effacement, modesty and humility. When others talk about us with appreciation, we should be able to say, “How strange, what did we do wrong that these people are singing our praises, which to us is like swearing!”
From the perspective of causality, if we are to ascribe the services carried out to a cause other than God Almighty, they should be ascribed to the concord and unity between believers. One should remember that God Almighty accepts concord and unity as an expectant look directed toward Him, and He responds positively to those who turn to Him. Concord and unity are the most important means of Divine guidance and assistance.
Consider the meaning of the verse: “He has attuned their (the believers’) hearts. If you had spent all that is on the earth, you could not have attuned their hearts, but God has attuned them. Surely He is All-Glorious with irresistible might, All-Wise” (al-Anfal 8:63). As it is also pointed out here, what really matters is God’s help, protection and guarding. As long as we commit to Him, He will favor us bounteously, turning our one into thousands. He expresses His greatness by letting a drop carry out a task, which would normally require an entire sea. Similarly, He may employ an atom instead of a sun, or an ant instead of a rhinoceros; because one of God’s ways of expressing His greatness is through realizing great tasks by using very little things.
When the Pride of Humanity passed on from this world, his Companions numbered no more than 34,000. However, they were able to successfully deal with the Byzantines and Sassanids, the superpowers of the time. They then gained an important position among the world powers and put the balance of power in a new order. Moreover, they overcame eleven cases of massive rebellions. During his short caliphate of less than two and a half years, the blessed Abu Bakr suppressed all of these insurrections and maintained law and order.
Become so merged with the soil that even your grave will be unknown
God is sufficient, the rest is empty desire. We do not need applause, appreciation or flattery. We must serve God with the utmost humility and modesty, become fixed on gaining His good pleasure and then be buried in soil again in order to serve as a seed for a new rose. Let alone seeking appreciation in our lifetime, we should not even have such a desire and expectation as, “Let a huge crowd attend my funeral.” You should even regard the conventional statements during your funeral ceremony about your being a good person as idle talk and never forget that what really matters is maintaining a sound relationship with God Almighty.
We should always keep a low profile and pass to the eternal realm thus. If possible, we should even wish our grave to remain anonymous like the great guide Bediuzzaman did. Remember that he said, “Let nobody know where my grave is, except for a few students of mine.” For God’s sake, what an admirable conception of Divine unity, what a wondrous relationship with God it is! Since he passed from this world, none but a few people know the whereabouts of his grave. He internalized the principle of extraordinary modesty, effacement and humility as a philosophy of life and led his life with an utterly low profile.
If we have to have some expectations for the services we carry out let them be that the spirit of the noble Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, is revived and pervades the four corners of the earth. However, even in this respect we should not insist that we personally see the results, but leave the issue to the decree of Divine Will. It is not correct to prioritize anything other than what He wills. We want and wish, but cannot know what He wills. Some souls with a propensity to be like coal will never embrace right guidance and become like a diamond, even if we wish it. Though we are resolute and persistent, so that God Almighty and His Messenger will set a throne in hearts, we leave the result to God alone and welcome His judgment and decree.
 Abu Hurayra, may God be pleased with him, narrated that the Noble Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, stated: “Everything of the human body will perish except the last coccyx bone (end part of the spinal cord), and from that bone Allah will reconstruct the whole body.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab at-Tafsir, 1).
 Sahih Muslim, Salah, 215; Sunan Abu Dawud, Salah, 148; Sunan an-Nasa’i, Mawaqit, 35.
 Nursi, Bediüzzaman Said, The Rays, New Jersey: Tughra, 2010, p. 317; Nursi, Bediüzzaman Said, Emirdağ Lahikası (Supplement of Emirdağ), Istanbul: Şahdamar, 2010, vol. 1, p. 106.
Fethullah Gulen's article has been published on Fountain Magazine, Issue 123 (May - June 2018)