When we think of a superficial person as understood by most people, generally we imagine an individual ignorant of the rules of etiquette; one who is uneducated, uninformed, immoderate and who often does not know how to behave in certain situations. But what this book will dwell on is not the kind of superficiality as generally understood; we will discuss, in terms of religious morality, how superficiality can become a spiritual state. The superficiality we will examine here is much deeper, more radical: a sickness that is more serious than commonly understood. And, unless Allah wills otherwise, it is a great danger that can draw a person into Hell.
We will discuss the superficiality that infects a person's behavior and thinking when he does not expand his spirit according to the moral teaching of the Qur'an and is unwilling to draw closer to Allah and seek His favor. This superficiality manifests itself when a person has only a weak grasp of Allah's infinite power, of the purposes that lie behind events that transpire in the world at large, and of the true meaning of life. There is a total difference between moral character of a true Muslim, who comprehends Allah's existence and mighty power, and the character, personality and behavior of a superficial person who thinks too little, if at all. Muslims have nobility of spirit, high personal qualities and a deep understanding, whereas superficial individuals are debased by the weakness of their character.
Superficiality—an aberration in behavior, thinking and speaking—stems from a basic inner poverty that, for some individuals, becomes a way of life. But when we speak of superficiality, we must not get the wrong impression. Natural, unpremeditated behavior is not superficial; being natural has its own appealing beauty and integrity. Therefore, avoiding superficiality does not mean restricting spontaneity. Superficiality is quite something different; it comes not from the natural expression of intimacy but from a closed consciousness that remains unaware of compulsive, negative, and trivial behavior that goes against religious morality. In ignorant societies, some individuals think that avoiding superficiality entails a false show of sobriety and dignity. But these individuals have another behavioral aberration at least as false and compulsive as superficiality; they think that dignity requires coolness, officiousness, haughtiness and artificial refinement in behavior.
However, the way to avoid superficiality is not through false dignity, but only through the moral teachings of the Qur'an. Many people see superficiality as an inevitable fact of life. Regarding it as normal, they are not made uncomfortable by either their own or others' behavior in this regard. On the contrary, they urge this unseemly behavior on one another and feel obliged to practice the same superficial behavior that everyone else does. So conditioned are they in this regard that superficiality—with its ways of speaking and thinking and its particular codes of behavior—actually becomes a sort of false religion. However, superficiality is a major behavioral aberration that prevents any individual from living a good moral life, developing a quality personality and thinking admirable thoughts. Anyone who adopts this false "Religion of Superficiality" can never practice true religious morality, even if he claims to be religious. He may claim that he is a Muslim and believes in Allah, but so long as he is not saved from this superficial sickness, he cannot practice the moral teachings of the Qur'an in any valid sense. In this regard, the Qur'an tells us about the shallow and superficial moral understanding of a group of individuals: a group of Bedouins who lived in the time of the Prophet Muhammad (saas). The following chapters will examine the superficial behavior and way of thinking of these Bedouins in the light of the Qur'an. Allah reveals that they were different from real Muslims and that faith had not really taken root in their hearts:
The desert Arabs say, "We believe." Say: "You do not believe." Say rather, "We have become Muslim," for faith has not yet entered into your hearts. (Surat al-Hujurat: 14)
True Muslims who fashion their behavior purely according to the moral teachings of the Qur'an avoid shallow behavior and superficial thinking because they lead a moral life that Allah has chosen for them and that is most befitting their nature. Everything they do, say and think reflects their depth of noble spirit. Muslims judge everything on the basis of the Qur'an and, for this reason,—by relying on what Allah reveals in the Qur'an—they are keenly able to discern superficiality. Individuals who live a superficial life see no great danger in it. And as long as they think that superficiality is a fact of life, they cannot become aware of the harm it does them. Yet superficiality is a debased and blemished culture, totally removed from the morality and understanding of the Qur'an; and it prevents an individual from living the life of a Muslim.
Some people call themselves religious, even though they are far removed from practicing religious morality. This book examines every aspect of the debased culture into which these people have fallen—and offers a solution.
Never forget, those who live debased by superficiality are still responsible for their lives. Such people who live far from the Qur'an and the subtleties of its moral teaching, pursuing superficial ideals, do not consider that they will be held accountable for their lives. And when they see the angels of death coming to take their souls, they will awaken up to the profound error that they have been living. But this awakening comes too late. This is because the purpose of human creation is for them to live their lives practicing a morality that is pleasing to Allah, and the worst possible time for them to realize that purpose is at the moment of death when this life is about to be left behind.
Allah tells us of the reward in the world to come that awaits those who do not renounce superficiality in this world and fail to submit to the true moral teachings of the Qur'an:
Those who did evil used to laugh at those who believed. When they passed by them, they would wink at one another. When they returned to their families, they would make a joke of them. When they saw them, they would say, "Those people are misguided." But they were not sent as guardians over them. So today those who believe are laughing at the disbelievers, on couches, gazing in wonder. Have the disbelievers been rewarded for what they did? (Surat al-Mutaffifin: 29-36)