Question: Is there a limit to making sacrifices for the sake of God? What should be the degree of material-spiritual sacrifice for those who dedicate their lives to the services of education?
Answer: As it is known, not all people are at the same level in terms of their relationship with God Almighty. There are differences among them from the ground level to the stars. In other words, every person has a different degree of relationship with God according to his or her level of faith, knowledge of God, and the love and enthusiasm they have for God. For example, as there are people who observe all of the religious commandments with utmost sensitivity and seek further closeness to God with the additional supererogatory devotions, there are others who suffice with observing the obligatory responsibilities. The reality is that no matter at what level, nobody’s relationship with God can be taken lightly, for this is an implication of taking lightly what God values. If we elucidate this further, on the slippery grounds of the contemporary time which abounds with factors of misguidance, one who makes the proclamation of faith, who observes the Daily Prayers, who observes the fast, and who gives the prescribed alms, and makes the pilgrimage to Mecca—if the person is rich enough to be responsible for these—and in addition to all of these, if a person keeps steadfast with an upright stance in the face of different attacks and accusations of being “someone-ist” or “something-ist,” they are doing something really important. We believe that such a person will enjoy infinite blessings of God Almighty in the next world, because every deed offered under such circumstances has a very different value in the sight of God. It is for this reason that none of the sacrifices by those who join the services for the sake of God with their lives and properties should be underestimated, and every contribution they make must be appreciated.
Invigorating efforts through appreciating good works
If we look at the issue from the perspective of donating for the sake of God, we see a level of difference even among the Companions of the Prophet. For example, when they asked for donations from Muslims prior to the campaign of Tabuk, Abu Bakr brought all of what he had. When the Messenger of God asked him what he had left for his family, he replied: “I left them God and His Messenger.” So this is the level of being the siddiq (truthful one). He was loyal to God and His Messenger, and a prototype Muslim at accepting Islam. Umar ibn al-Khattab brought half of his wealth. Surely, we need to add that it will be a disrespect toward our master Umar to say he was much behind our master Abu Bakr because Umar is considered more virtuous in certain respects even though Abu Bakr is more virtuous in the overall sense. And the leading Companions such as Uthman ibn Affan and Abdurrahman ibn Awf donated a fortune of five hundred camels. Considering the conditions of those times, it can be compared to donating five hundred luxury cars today. Ali ibn Abi Talib added a separate depth of sincerity into this matter, preferring to donate part of his wealth openly and some of it secretly. By donating openly, he fulfilled the duty of presenting a good example to others and showed that he did not fall behind others, and by donating secretly, he wished only for God to know about it. In addition to these, particularly at this early period, there were those who contributed to this caravan of goodness with a little amount of money or a few handfuls of dates, as much as they could afford. Actually, this has always been the natural situation with people. In addition to those who give away everything, there are others who give half, a quarter, or one tenth of their property. It should not be forgotten that the same thing happens today, and even the smallest sacrifices must be appreciated and applauded. But it should also be noted that appreciating and applauding small sacrifices is only one aspect of the issue. Another aspect is continually seeking to help people make progress, guiding them to new doors leading to goodness and showing them new targets. There are so many righteous deeds a person can do in addition to the minimal duties he or she can fulfill. For this reason, one should never keep his or her horizons narrow, but always aim for higher ideals. Every morning people must try to feel God more deeply than the day before, trying to gain deeper insight into the spirit of religion, seeking to strengthen their bonds of heart with the Messenger of God, and always seeking a higher level to jump over. They should never see the level that they have attained as sufficient and always spur their horse further, asking for more. And even if they reach the levels of “annihilation in God” (fana fillah) and “subsistence by and with God” (baqa billah) at spiritual journeying, that is, even if their entire existence is lost in their sight before the Holy Light of the Divine Countenance (Subuhatu’l-Wajh), even if they put aside everything mortal and passing, and regain existence in a perpetual form after having been obliterated with respect to one’s physical and carnal aspect, and then experience a different revival with their heart, soul, and feelings, and thus see that their head reached the firmament of their spiritual potentials… in spite of all of these, they should still aim higher for the horizons and say, “My God, please grant me abilities far beyond my potentials, and by allowing these abilities to flourish, shower your blessings down on me!”
People have different levels with respect to their personal religious life and spiritual journeying or on their path to serve God, but the way to progress is always open for those who carry out the minimum levels of a certain observance. As they feel within the quintessence of the service they are committed to, they will be committed further in a wholehearted fashion; by fulfilling the services they are supposed to do and by working them into their hearts, those acts of goodness will become ingrained in them after some time—so much so that when the day arrives when their service is no longer needed, when nothing is asked from them for the sake of serving God and shouldering some task, they will feel a deep void, see it like a state of death, bend over with pain, and begin to seek new ways of donating. Attaining such a level, however, depends on time, committing to that task with active patience, and internalizing it.
It is necessary to know the people addressed well
Another approach to consider on the issue is that some people take the period of Medina as a basis and suffice by carrying out the obligatory commandments. If they donate one fortieth of their wealth or one tenth of the worth of their yearly crops, they have carried out their duty. On the other hand, others take the absoluteness in the period of Mecca as a basis and try to give what they can. At this point, it is very important for the people in a key position of guidance who try to encourage others to contribute to services to act with perspicacity and insight, understanding those with whom they deal well. If they see what is being done as little and try to burden people with what they cannot bear, then—may God protect—this pressure might evoke a feeling of unwillingness, weariness, and hate in the people appealed to. At this point, I would like to relate a memory still fresh as today in my mind. In Bozyaka dormitory in Izmir, we had gathered people to ask for donations. After delivering a speech on the importance of the issue, I was heading for the room where I stayed those days. One man quickly climbed the stairs after me and approached me. I knew that he had retired after having worked at a state institution. He gave me the keys of the apartment that he had bought with the money he received upon his retirement. And then he said, “Downstairs, everybody made a promise for a donation. I have no capital other than this. And I am giving you the keys to my apartment. Before this moving scene, I told him that there is no such responsibility in religion and gave him back the keys. And then I said, “Go and live in your apartment with your children. If God grants you more later, you can donate for His sake.” In my opinion, if the issue is addressed in this manner and such a balance is not achieved, it could lead to coercion in religion. However, God Almighty commands that there is no coercion in religion (al-Baqarah 2:256). Whether it is accepting Islam or certain practices for the sake of religion, there is no coercion into doing certain things. Islam takes easiness as the basis. If you make it so difficult by demanding more than what people can bear, you make religion impossible to practice. You would then lead to the opposite of what you had intended. At a time when you expect people to show their magnanimity and shoulder a certain task, things develop adversely for you, having made religion too difficult to practice, and thus you become the loser. The Messenger of God, blessings and peace be upon him, stated, “This religion is ease, and whoever makes it difficult, religion overpowers him.” For this reason, those in a position to guide others need to know the people before them well, understanding who can bear how much, and act with perspicacity and insight. It should not be forgotten that following this wise conduct signifies following the Divine code at the same time, as it is stated in the Qur’an, “God burdens no soul except within its capacity” (al-Baqarah 2:285). Thus, instead of burdening people with more than what they can bear, it is necessary to make them happy with appreciating the good works they have done and find ways to motivate them further.
Continuity at donating
Indeed, pushing people to give more and thus taking away the capital in their hands will cause them to become unable to run their business. But letting them run their business and expand it will enable them to donate more for the sake of God. For this reason, even if the heroes of donation fill with enthusiasm and give everything in their hands, you should keep the balance at taking, consider the long-term dimension, and favor continuity at giving.
Let me point out one final thing. Those who demand more sacrifice from the people before them, owing to the multitude of services that need to be carried out, should try to save their duty from monotony and make a format change. Without violating the essential principles, they should present the importance of the values that they believe in with a different hue, a different pattern, and a different tongue at every turn, evoking a continuous wave of love and enthusiasm in those appealed to. It should never be forgotten that “every new thing is delicious.” In this respect, the messages presented through different veins will generate a different taste and gusto, and thus will be welcomed by them. Otherwise, if you let the issue get monotonous, people will grow weary, as familiarity breeds contempt. Therefore, you will find it difficult to make your message echo in their hearts.
 Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Al-Musnad, 6/115
 Sahih al-Bukhari, Iman, 29; Sunan an-Nasa’i, Iman, 28
This article has originally been published in Turkish on 07/10/2013.