Question: The educational activities by the movement of volunteers yield very good examples of success, as happened in the Science Olympiads. Can we say that a success of the desired level has also been achieved regarding the spirit of devotedness and human virtues? If there are any shortcomings, what can be their possible reasons?
Answer: There are so many factors—we know and we don’t—behind the activities and works that are seen as success and thus appreciated. For example, factors such as systematic working, presenting a good performance, determination, perseverance, and acting with a spirit of consultation and collective consciousness are all related to the outer aspect of the issue. In addition to these outer aspects, there are also points related to a person’s inner world that makes it impossible to make a certain judgment about others in this respect. For example, we cannot know whether individuals hold the secret intention of bringing their own person to the fore, whether they carry on their service with considerations of personal benefit, and how deep their relationship with God is. We are responsible both for taking objective facts as criteria and having a positive opinion of others. For this reason, we assume the builders of an existing success to be sincere, and concerning the matters we cannot be sure about, we come to our senses with the Prophet’s admonition “Did you cleave his heart open?” Thus we avoid making presumptions about others’ inner worlds. These issues related to one’s inner world are completely between God and the individual, and are out of our sphere of judging. If we have any worries, we open our hands and pray as
اَللّٰهُمَّ يَا مُحَوِّلَ الْحَوْلِ وَالْأَحْوَالِ حَوِّلْ حَالَنَا إِلَى أَحْسَنِ الْحَالِ
(O my God, You are the One who puts His creatures from one state into another with different manifestations of His Divine Names and exalted Attributes! Put us into the best condition with Your grace, help, and benevolence!).
In addition, when we consider the performance presented by the volunteers of education and its continuity, we see that these tasks are not easy to achieve, and they take serious forbearance and patience in the face of time. For this reason, it is so hard to believe such things can ever be realized with considerations of showing off or personal gain. Particularly, when we consider the troubles encountered by people who serve out of their native countries, it will be understood that the services carried out require a serious degree of conviction and devotedness. Therefore, in addition to judging by the outward dimension and thus having a positive opinion, when the issue is seen with respect to the difficulty of the tasks carried out, it is a duty that befalls on us to think that the people who support these services on the path of knowledge and wisdom are sincere.
Trustworthy bearers of responsibility
For example, they wish to form islands of peace in different parts of the world and to build bridges of tolerance and dialogue between different mentalities and cultures by expressing the virtues and merits they possess with the silent language of their heart and state. People build some breakwaters against certain geological phenomena and try to prevent a disaster in one place by passing the effects off to another area, in an effort to save the people there. In the same way, the devoted souls are realizing activities of education and dialogue for the sake of building breakwaters between different societies and cultures by preventing clashes to be generated by bias and ignorance, and by preventing the spread of such negativities, which might grow worse with a mob psychology. So people devoted to such a cause must be very well equipped in spiritual terms, so that they can bear such a heavy responsibility. Their faith and reliance on God must be very strong so that they can keep conscious in the face of every event and always know that all kinds of success are from God, while some occasional adversities stem from personal faults. Obviously, it is not correct for individuals to judge others this way, but the main idea is to be self-critical. As it is understood from the explicit statements in the Qur’an and Sunnah, people should know that they personally cause all kinds of spiritual or material adversities they face.
The essence of the matter is purity of intention
As people’s visible, material mistakes cause certain things to go wrong, there are other factors that cause the person to be punished by Divine destiny and face some adversities, such as lacking purity of intention, pursuing carnal desires, and giving priority to personal plans. Besides causes of occasional adversities, the question of whether a certain task will be achieved or not works in a similar way; the metaphysical dimension is no less important than the physical one in effecting a certain outcome. Our inability to see the metaphysical dimension does not change the reality of its importance. What we can see is only limited to the realm of apparent causes. For example, sowing a seed in a field is an act carried out within the physical realm. However, some other factors we cannot see play a role in allowing that seed to germinate and flourish as a plant. Even if we see water and sunlight, we cannot see the seed’s faculty of flourishing. And we cannot even see air, which exists within the realm of physical causes as one of the agents that plays a role in the seed’s growth. In the same way, events that take place in individual and social life not only have dimensions related to the physical realm but also metaphysical ones. For example, factors as determination, resolution, sticking with a sense of permanence, sincerity, faithfulness, standing upright, pursuing a lofty ideal, respecting the will and works of God… these are such spiritual causes that probably each one of them, alone, are more powerful factors than material causes. For example, we never know how God grants favors when the time comes to a man who has cherished good thoughts since his childhood and pursued great ideals. Those lofty ideals and dreams can serve as a prayer, as an invitation for Divine Providence to make them come true. It is possible to take it vice versa, too. That is, evil feelings, dark intentions, acts based on hypocritical considerations, jealousy and the like are important causes that give way to certain negative outcomes. For example, the Prophet warned people against envy (hasad), and stated that it devours a person’s good deeds, as fire devours firewood. Then this inability to stand what others enjoy is such curse that it devours the good deeds you do. If somebody builds a school as a reaction against certain people they do not like, just for the sake of preventing them, then this ill feeling may one day cause the school to burn down, either in the material or spiritual sense. God Almighty punishes them for those negative feelings within. However, it is not possible for people taken by the whirlpool of envy to understand such spiritual causes. Therefore we can say that spiritual causes play a no less important role than material ones regarding God’s granting success. As Bediüzzaman puts it, “Those who attribute everything’s existence to matter limit their intellectual capacity to what they can see, yet eyes cannot see what is spiritual.” However, along with eyesight, there are certain things rather related to having insight, or seeing through the eye of the heart. This spiritual sense of seeing depends on perception and discernment, inner sensation and intuition, faith and the inner faculty sensing God directly as well as Divine inspirations. One should not ignore the existence of these things. Even though some people do not recognize them, there are such people that recognize spiritual factors very well, understand their tongue, and can virtually hold them, the way a normal person holds physical objects.
For attaining true and lasting success, ones devoted to serving God need to know very well the material and spiritual causes that lead to God’s granting success and be aware where the limits of those causes begin and end. In other words, the devoted ones try to serve in different places, develop projects for opening institutions like schools and universities, and with all of these they share the inspirations of their soul with the hearts that welcome them; at the same time, they need their spiritual state to be fully prepared. Not shaking in the face of some adversities, not giving up the struggle, and standing upright in the face of storms—by God’s grace, depends on appreciating the value of spiritual means.
Retaining the spiritual state
The chivalrous ones of deep spirituality, who defy their self a few times a day and are so virtuous as not to forgive even the sins that just pass their minds, must constantly seek to raise their level, together with their companions, through continuous rehabilitations, and thus bring permanence to their desired spiritual state. Not only attaining such a state, but also retaining it, is very important. Sometimes, one attains such spiritual positions that he or she sees, feels, and perceives existence very differently; that person begins to live with a complete consciousness of the omnipresence of God (ihsan) and awareness of being seen by Him. However, what really matters is to keep up this feeling and consciousness, because sometimes intervals in this state take away very important attainments. So many gains might pour into even just a moment’s void. It is necessary to attain a desirable spiritual state; on the other hand, whatever one’s position is, it is necessary to keep that state in the same level.
In conclusion, even if you do your best and become very strong with respect to material causes—to the point of monitoring space with your satellites, it still makes up only one side of the issue in terms of gaining God’s good pleasure. You should know that what really makes you strong is your trust in the infinite power of God Almighty and always keeping a sound relationship with Him. I think the devoted souls must always remind one another of this truth and weave their lives in accordance with this truth.
This article has originally been published in Turkish on 09/09/2013.