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Sincerity: The spirit of deeds

by Fethullah Gülen on . Posted in The Broken Jug

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Fethullah Gülen: Sincerity: The spirit of deeds

Question: In one of his sayings, the noble Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, states: “Always intend to earn God’s good pleasure when performing your deeds, for God accepts deeds that are done purely for Himself.”[1] How can we attain this virtue enjoined by the noble Prophet, and become conscious and attentive about “purely seeking God’s good pleasure in our deeds?”

Answer: A real believer who truly loves God, may His glory be exalted, needs to seek God’s good pleasure in all of his attitudes and behaviors; he should take no notice of himself, even for a moment; he should not say “I spoke, I did, I achieved...” and he should erase what he achieved even from his memory. Especially when inviting others to the truth, a believer must never try to prove himself. If he is to speak somewhere for the sake of expressing the truth, his words must definitely echo the voice of his heart. When he attains the result in the end, he must not lay the slightest claim to any deeds and achievements that he has performed.

Lifeless words without a visa from the heart

A consciousness as mentioned above is not something that can be attained in just a moment, of course. A person must constantly train to efface oneself to the degree of saying, “I wonder whether I exist or not,” and attain a state of being oblivious of oneself in the long run. Otherwise, the effect of the good deeds realized will be restricted to a very narrow sphere, and will not become fruitful. Even if at first there is some activity, it will be temporary and the services carried out will not likely be lasting.

Not even one tenth of the ceremonial recitations in mosques—such as reciting Surah Ikhlas three times before the Prayer—existed during the time of the noble Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him. In Muslim countries, adhans from the minarets resonate all over the land today. Preachers constantly make speeches in mosques and on TV programs; they keep preaching on and on. However, these speeches and recitations do not affect the hearts; they do not reach into them. People are not guided to God as they were during that blessed era, because the words emitting from the mouth do not take a visa from the heart. If a person even merely implies his own greatness, even while saying “God is great,” and tries to put emphasis on his person with certain sounds and tones, and while talking about God and the blessed Prophet if he tries to prove how well he tells about them, then such a person is tacitly lying.

Depth of faith

The situation described above is a very serious risk for people who have attached their hearts to serving faith. If they somehow so far always took the issue lightly and did not stand at the center of the issue as they should have, then what they need to do first is deal with their inner world and rehabilitate themselves in terms of deepening their faith. Actually, the conduct and understanding of the Companions required this. When they met one another, they would say, “Come on, let us have faith in God for an hour.”[2] To paraphrase that, “Our faith had meaning so far. But we do not know whether this will mean anything tomorrow. Therefore, let us revise it one more time.” If you look carefully, the Companions did not say, “Let us have faith anew,” but “Let us have faith in God for an hour.” So this means, just like the noble Prophet said in his address to Abu Dharr al-Ghifari, “Maintain and renew your ship once more for the sea is so deep,”[3] opening to a new voyage every passing day.

Just as a man who is about to go on a long journey gets his car checked all over from the engine to the wheels, one must similarly repair the aspects of oneself that need restoration in terms of one’s responsibilities and duties toward God. With a new concentration, a person must renew his faith once again. One who casually sets sail on this sea of life, which is so deep, might sink at any moment. What awaits us ahead is a very long journey that begins in the intermediary realm of the grave and ends in Paradise or Hell. Therefore, a person must prepare very well before this unfamiliar journey begins.

Right after that, the noble Prophet said: “Prepare your provisions perfectly, for the journey is truly long.” The provisions a person prepares must be ample in order to let him pass the Sirat Bridge and enter Paradise. The Sirat Bridge is not like worldly bridges. It may not be possible to pass over it smoothly. By considering the noble Prophet’s statements on this issue, it could be a long journey like the worldly life. A person’s entering Paradise depends on passing this bridge.

In addition to obtaining the provisions he will need during this journey, a person must always stay away from every kind of wrong and sin because they will become a burden for him. The Messenger of God conveyed this meaning by saying, “Keep your load light, for the slope before you is truly steep.” A person must try to avoid entering the grave, passing to the intermediate realm, and standing on Judgment Day with so many accounts to settle, and avoid being caught by the hooks on the Sirat Bridge.

For his last piece of advice, the Messenger of God stated: Be sincere in your deeds and only care about Him; for God, who scrutinizes everything, is aware of what you do.” Bediüzzaman expresses this fact in “The Third Gleam” as follows: “Do whatever you should do for God’s sake, meet with others for God’s sake, and work for God’s sake. Act within the sphere of, ‘for God, for God’s sake, and on account of God.’”[4] God Almighty critically evaluates your behaviors and takes a record of your good and bad deeds; He sees you all the time. None of your behaviors is secret to Him. He is aware of everything you do.

Constant self-criticism

The worldly life must be understood within this framework. This issue has no tolerance of negligence, heedlessness, forgetfulness or indifference. One of the saintly personages, Aswad ibn Yazid an-Nakhai, pointed out, “This issue is not like something you know; it is very serious!”[5] Namely, it is no simple and ordinary issue to be taken lightly and to be dealt with haphazardly. This is the matter of being saved from eternal punishment or not. Therefore, a person must evaluate his Prayers, fasting and other acts of worship with this consciousness, and should constantly criticize himself.

In this regard, while explaining a certain matter, the speaker’s prayer, such as, “May God Almighty make us speak correctly, express ourselves effectively; may He grant influence to our words and make them welcome in hearts,” is just one aspect of the issue. Another aspect is freeing the matter from egotism and fulfilling it with sincerity. One must never neglect praying, “My God, let all of my words be uttered in compliance with Your good pleasure.” In other words, as the Qur’an teaches through the supplication of Prophet Moses, peace be upon him: “My Lord! Expand for me my breast. Make my task easy for me. Loose any knot from my tongue (to make my speech more fluent). So that they may understand my speech clearly” (Ta-Ha 20:25–27), we must adopt this as our habitual prayer. However, we should not neglect also saying, “My Lord, together with your good pleasure.”

Monuments of sincerity

To elaborate a little further, a person must always pray, “Deepen my words with Your good pleasure, crown them with Your approval! Make them gain infinite depths with Your favor, attention, and grace! Otherwise, I am a simple mortal, everything will be over when I pass to the realm of Hereafter. If You are not present in what I do and carry out, then it bears no meaning.” One must be so earnest to say such things some 50–100 times a day.

The late Nurettin Topçu would refer to those who try to prove themselves with showy recitations as “throat performers,” for he was so open to sincerity and constantly emphasized its importance.

Bediüzzaman’s wonderful stance on this issue is deserving of appreciation. He did not wish to accept anything without sincerity; he slammed anything that did not come from the bottom of the heart, and trampled over it. In our time there is a need for a few dozen of such monuments of sincerity, for they will change the face of the world. Even though those who carry out their duty for the sake of worldly returns, appreciation and praise might give rise to a temporary sign of life, such people have never made any permanent achievements, and they will never be able to do so.

The Umayyads, Abbasids, Khwarismians, Ayyubids, Seljuks, and Ottomans who came after the Pride of Humanity and his Rightly Guided Caliphs fulfilled many services for Islam. Particularly during certain periods, they served as representatives of the Age of Happiness, and then took leave of this world as good memories. However, they were never able to attain the accomplishments of the Rightly Guided Caliphs. The underlying reason is those blessed caliphs’ dizzying sincerity of the deepest kind. What humanity needs today is not outward forms, formality, populism, appreciation, applauses or big claims, but real Islam’s practical representation and its indication through personal state.

[1] Daraqutni, Sunan, 1/51; Bayhaqi, Shuabu’l-Iman, 5/33.
[2] Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Musnad, 3/265; Ibn Hajar, Al-Isaba, 4/83.
[3] Daylami, Musnad, 5/339.
[4] Nursi, Bediüzzaman Said, The Gleams, New Jersey: Tughra, 2013, p. 27.
[5] Abu Nuaym, Hilyatu’l-Awliya, 2/104.

This article has originally been published in Turkish on 30/05/2016.