Ways to Attain Sincerity
One should always be aware that he may all damage his sincerity by a number of deeds performed out of habit, or forms of behavior acquired from the surrounding community. Therefore, he should constantly check his intentions, and utter every word, perform every movement purely for Allah. And yet, he should in no way forget that this level of morality is not difficult to maintain, but is, rather, quite simple.
Purity, honesty and turning to Allah in an untainted manner, are characteristics that can be obtained without major effort. Furthermore, our Lord, who facilitates each action, has supported us with His prophets and pious believers, and has shown the ways to acquire sincerity in His verses. Islamic scholars have also attached great importance to sincerity, and used their works to invite true believers to turn to Allah.
The works of Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, a renowned Islamic scholar, play an important role in guiding the Muslims who strive to attain sincerity. Bediuzzaman emphasized the need of self-purification in particular, and presented critical recommendations to true believers:
As stressed by Bediuzzaman himself, sincerity is one of the most important characteristics that one has to possess in order to serve Allah as perfectly as possible. As ordered in the coming verse, "We have sent down the Book to you with truth. So worship Allah, making your religion sincerely His. Indeed the sincere religion belongs to Allah alone..." (Surat az-Zumar: 2-3) , true religion could only be lived by serving Allah and sincerely obeying to Him. Bediuzzaman Said Nursi claims that one should definitely acquire sincerity in order to obtain merit with his deeds in Allah's presence:
In verses of the Qur'an, Allah announces how one can acquire untainted faith and sincerity. Additionally, each man has been created with a competency to understand and experience sincerity and genuineness. Therefore, acquiring and increasing one's sincerity is quite simple. Even if one is completely ignorant, he may acquire sincerity by relying on his conscience. He becomes able to comprehend what is sincere and what is not, purifying himself of all attitudes that hinder sincerity after merely turning to Allah with an honest heart. For this reason, one should be aware that his conscience is a divine guide. He should never fool himself with excuses such as "I didn't know which approach was the sincere one," "I could not guess that this behavior would damage my sincerity," "I thought that I was sincere and genuine" etc. He should always keep in mind that these are nothing but insincere excuses, put forth in order to ease his conscience. Hence, it is quite simple for one who complies with his conscience to attain to sincerity and maintain it until the Day of Judgment.
In this chapter, we will be discussing the "ways to attain sincerity", as they are made known in the verses of the Qur'an, and which are also continuously brought to mind by our own consciences. We will cite examples of this in daily life. Following that, we will call attention to the attitudes that hinder sincerity, and will relate how simple it is to attain it.
Sincerity Strengthens the True Believers
In order to experience true sincerity, one should first and foremost comprehend why sincerity is important. He should have a heartfelt desire to attain such a level of faith. Because, any person who fails to comprehend the importance of sincerity may then seek power and might in worldly things, pursuing them in order to attain societal prestige. Such a person obstinately seeks fame, repute, glory, wealth, beauty, academic credentials and other honors. Yet, none of these can grant one the true power and esteem, neither in this world or the hereafter. Likewise, Bediuzzaman Said Nursi reminds true believers that power, both in this world and in the hereafter, could only be acquired through sincerity, by stating, "You should know that all your strength lies in sincerity and truth. Yes, strength lies in truth and sincerity. Even those who are wrong gain strength from their sincerity in their wrongdoing. Evidence that strength lies in truth and sincerity is this service of ours. A small amount of sincerity in our work proves this claim and is evidence for itself." 7 Therefore, anyone forgetting this principle and running after the above mentioned material assets is not purely seeking to gain Allah's consent.
For instance, let us assume that a task deemed favorable by the Muslims is divided among four or five people. Let us also imagine that one of the said people is entrusted with a passive and seemingly unimportant behind-the-scenes job, which may nevertheless be difficult to accomplish, whereas the others are charged with active jobs, and in the foreground, which directly call upon the attention and praise of others. If the first person refuses to embark of the said task, just because he will have to remain in the background and will not achieve praise, and wishes to replace his job with another offering greater opportunity to acquire recognition and respect, then he will be impinging upon his sincerity. Under such circumstance, the said person will most likely have been carried away by insincere thoughts, such as "Even though I will expend enormous effort, my name will not be mentioned in the end. What's more, the others will gain more merit in spite of working less than me." Nevertheless, the most noble approach to follow, under such a situation, would be to work only to acquire Allah's recognition and praise, to seek to gain His consent. If the job is likely to bring a benefit, it is of no importance who participates in it. Even if one is unlikely to acquire recognition from others and remain unknown, he should still undertake such opportunity with the enthusiasm of gaining Allah's consent. This is what sincere behavior would imply.
One who always acts sincerely will not only be successful and enjoy peace of mind in this world, but may also be hopeful of a great recompense in the hereafter. Because, such a person does not depend on his worldly possessions, authority, belongings or wealth, and his esteem in society, but primarily depends on Allah, then his faith, intelligence, conscience and sincerity. As portrayed in the following verse, Allah always helps those who turn to Him with untainted devotion:
... Allah will certainly help those who help Him—Allah is All-Strong, Almighty (Surat al-Hajj: 40)
Therefore, no force could overcome faith and sincerity. Through sincerity, one is assured of gaining Allah's assistance, support and power.
Increasing One's Fear of Allah
Fear of Allah is the primary way to increase one's sincerity. One must dedicate himself to Allah with a profound love after comprehending His greatness, that there are no other forces beyond Him, that it is only Allah Who has created the universe from nothing and Who guards living things compassionately. He thus understands that his only real friend, both in this world and the hereafter, is Allah. Therefore, His consent is the only approval one should seek for. Apart from this profound love, he deeply fears Allah, as Allah has told people in His verses to fear and heed Him:
… So heed Allah. And know that you will be gathered back to Him. (Surat al-Baqara: 203)
The fear of Allah arises out of the understanding and appreciation of His greatness and power. One who comprehends the eminence of Allah's authority and His eternal might knows that he may have to face His wrath and punishment, as part of Divine justice, if he were to fail to lead a life conforming to His wishes. The torments prepared by Allah in the life of this world and the hereafter for those who deny Him are detailed in the verses of the Qur'an, and all people are warned to beware them. Any true believer is always conscious of this fact. Fear of Allah serves to ensure that he continually remembers that his worldly life will sooner or later come to an end, and that all people will finally have to account for their actions and deeds in Allah's presence. Thus, he is always conscious of the said torments. This conscientiousness causes him to feel an inherent fear of facing Allah's chastisement, and therefore to "restrain himself" from it.
Restraint means that one persistenly refuses to behave in ways forbidden and not consented by Allah, and takes no chances whatsoever in duly fulfilling His orders. A sincere man, fearing and being cautious of Allah, is aware of any behavior not consented by Him and takes necessary measures to avoid it. For instance, he would realize if the wicked side of his soul is inclined towards earthly possessions. In such a case, he will put all his wealth and might to use in a noble cause for the sake of Allah, in order to rid himself of the inclination. This is true morality, which is most compatible with sincerity. One who wishes to acquire sincerity, should immediately remember Allah's orders to "spend in the way of Allah" and "fear Allah as much as you can" in order to restrain himself from all behavior unpleasing to Him. As ordered by Allah, he should spend in His way, disregarding the temptations of the wicked side of his soul. The verses state the following:
It is not devoutness to turn your faces to the East or to the West. Rather, those with true devoutness are those who believe in Allah and the Last Day, the Angels, the Book and the prophets, and who, despite their love for it, give away their wealth to their relatives and to orphans and the very poor, and to travellers and beggars and to set slaves free, and who establish prayer (salat) and pay the welfare tax (zakat); those who honor their contracts when they make them, and are steadfast in poverty and illness and in battle. Those are the people who are true. They are the people who do their duty. (Surat al-Baqara: 177)
Allah instructs people to fear Him as much as they can: "So fear Allah as much as you can; listen and obey" (Surat at-Taghabun: 16) . In compliance with this verse, a believer never finds his faith and fear of Allah sufficient. He tries to increase his fear of Allah in his heart and the power to restrain himself until the very last moment. The verses of the Qur'an refer to those "who live in the awe of their Lord":
Those who live in the awe of their Lord in the Unseen will have forgiveness and an immense reward. (Surat al-Mulk: 12)
"… have awe of their Lord and fear an evil Reckoning." (Surat ar-Ra'd: 21)
Fear of Allah and sincerity are nurtured together side by side. True believers try to fear Allah as much as they can in compliance with the above-mentioned verse. These efforts are also known as parts of sincerity. Thus, believers succeed in fearing and guarding themselves from Allah, as indicated in the following verse: "You who believe! Heed Allah with the way He should be heeded and do not die except as Muslims..." (Surah Al 'Imran: 102)
The depth and sensitivity brought by the increase in one's fear of Allah causes the person to become even more cautious and sincere. In addition, he will be able to see the means to approach unto Allah, and use such opportunities as a sincere person. The following verse states that truth in the following manner:
You who believe! Heed Allah and seek the means of drawing near to Him... (Surat al-Ma'ida: 35)
Such a person, who fears Allah deeply, could in no way behave meekly while practicing the morality of the Qur'an. He could never pass up an opportunity to worship Allah. He never forgets that Allah hears and sees him always and everywhere, whether he is alone or surrounded by a large crowd. He acts with the knowledge that he may be faced with Allah's chastisement if he fails to adopt the best comportment. As the fear of Allah felt by such a person increases, his understanding is continuously strengthened. Thus, he never sacrifices any part of his sincerity, as he always remembers the threat of Hell throughout his lifetime.
Not Fearing Anyone but Allah
One of the responsibilities of any true believer is to be conscious of the truth revealed in the following verse, and to reach a level of faith sufficient to "honor Allah with honor that is due to Him."
They do not measure Allah with His true measure. The whole earth will be a mere handful for Him on the Day of Rising the heavens folded up in His right hand. Glory be to Him! He is exalted above the partners they ascribe! (Surat az-Zumar: 67)
Allah can only be honored if all His attributes are known and the revelations of these attributes are seen and grasped at any given moment. One could only fear Allah and restrain himself, and therefore attain a sincere faith, if he truly grasps the extent of His greatness.
One should be conscious of the truth that "there are no greater forces than Allah" in order to duly honor Him. Those who fail to duly appreciate Allah are deceived by the outer appearances of the worldly life and base their lives upon this deception. They tend to grant undue importance to those with money, respect and authority, deemed important according to worldly values. They tend to overemphasize their worth, and misjudge them as being people of power and status, with the ability to control others as well as life itself. Therefore, they strive to win their love and appreciation. They are attentively on their guard against their wrath, and fear becoming the target of any harm that could be inflicted by them.
If you were to ask these people about their faith, you will likely find out that some of them claim to have faith in Allah. However, these people who claim to know and recognize Allah tend to divine those they fear as beings who could act independently of Allah. Such thinking impinges upon the sincerity of their worship. It even leads them to behave in such a way as to gain the consent of the above-mentioned people that they so respect or revere.
Yet, there is no other power that could do good or harm to people without the permission of Allah. In the verses of the Qur'an, Allah denounces this line of thinking:
If you ask them, "Who created the heavens and the earth?" they will say, "Allah." Say: "So what do you think? If Allah desires harm for me, can those you call upon besides Allah remove His harm? Or if He desires mercy for me, can they withhold His mercy?" Say: "Allah is enough for me. All those who truly trust put their trust in Him." (Surat az-Zumar: 38)
… Say: "Who can control Allah for you in any way whether He wants harm for you or wants benefit for you?" Allah is aware of what you do. (Surat al-Fath: 11)
In regards to this truth, Allah reminds mankind not to fear any other except Him:
... then you should not fear them but rather fear Me—and so that I can complete My blessing to you so that hopefully you will be guided.. (Surat al-Baqara: 150)
This level of morality, that assists people in acquiring pure faith and sincerity, can be observed in the prophets. In the Qur'an, it has been emphasized that the prophets feared no one but Allah. The following verse underlines this fact:
Those who conveyed Allah's Message and fear Him, fearing no one except Allah. Allah suffices as a Reckoner. (Surat al-Ahzab: 39)
Every human who succeeds giving due honor to Allah, knows that there are no forces but Allah, and never fears any one but Him. He also knows that nothing could ever happen without His consent. This understanding enables him to continuously worship Allah in a pure, sincere and untainted fashion. If he is to do a good deed, he does it not because he is afraid of others people's reactions, but because he will fail to fulfill Allah's commands if he does not do it. Similarly, he gives up any deed or form of behavior, not because he thinks he will be exposed to the anger of others, but because he desires to win Allah's compassion and avoid His chastisement.
For instance, when people who work in an office are asked to donate to a charitable foundation, some will see the opportunity as a requirement of the morality of the Qur'an and make their donations purely out of the fear of Allah. Whereas, others will donate money thinking that their friends might accuse them saying "How tight he is!", or if they fail to donate, "He is the only one who didn't donate," or "He probably has no money." Thus, they act reluctantly, not sincerely wanting to give any money. However, they feel forced to do so, since they do not want to be perceived negatively by others. It is certain that the recompense for these alms in Allah's presence will be very far from the recompense for alms donated by sincere believers. Such people have tainted their sincerity and have strayed from the morality of the Qur'an. However, those who act out of fear of Allah may hope to be rewarded by Him.
The difference between those who fear others and those who fear Allah could also be observed under adverse circumstances. For instance, let us take the example of a man who made a habit of making use of unfair advantages in his office. If this man remains unaffected when reminded that his acts will not be accepted by Allah, though stops as soon as he is told that his immoral actions will be revealed in detail to his colleagues, then it will be impossible to assert that he is sincere. Although it might have appeared outwardly that he had stopped acting immorally, he is, nevertheless, insincere. He has corrected his actions not out of his fear of Allah, but out of his desire to protect himself from the wrath of his colleagues. However, he will always be able to make amends for what he did. If he sincerely repents and corrects his way of thinking, he may then act sincerely. It is very important for anyone who wishes to act sincerely to heed the right approach as in these examples we have given of types of circumstances we commonly encounter in daily life. Thus, he should monitor himself accordingly. If he fears any other being or status other than Allah, he should then purify himself of this fear, if he wishes to achieve sincerity.
Striving One's Utmost for Allah's Consent
One who aims to behave sincerely under whichever circumstance he is faced with should "strive his utmost to obtain Allah's consent." Allah's instruction on this matter is related in the following verse:
… So compete with each other in doing good. Every one of you will return to Allah … (Surat al-Ma'ida: 48)
Another verse declares:
Then We made Our chosen servants inherit the Book. But some of them wrong themselves; some are ambivalent; and some outdo each other in good by Allah's permission. That is the great favor. (Surah Fatir: 32)
As mentioned in this verse, there are people who are "ambivalent," despite believing in Allah, and there are those who "outdo each other in good." A sincere Muslim strives to hasten in good deeds. Every moment of his life, he struggles to act in ways that please Allah. He uses all his means to become one of the pious servants of Allah.
The difference between those who are ambivalent and those who outdo each other in good could be explained as follows: One is confronted by many events during his lifetime. He is always faced with many options from which to decide how to direct his affairs, what to do when confronted with these events, and what kind of morality to adopt. The choice depends entirely on his conscience. A true believer is extremely careful and cautious of those options that are incompatible with the values of the religion. Thus, he unconditionally refuses such choices and adopts instead that behavior with which he thinks Allah is most pleased, and which will bring him closest to Allah and gain the greatest reward in Paradise. His ability to obey his conscience while making his decision is what makes him acquire sincerity. In the Qur'an, believers who became foremost in good deeds are portrayed in the following way:
Those who are filled with the fear of their Lord, those who believe in the Signs of their Lord, those who do not associate anything with their Lord, those who give what they have given, their hearts fearful of their return to their Lord—It is those who hasten to good deeds, and they outstrip [others] therein. (Surat al-Muminun: 57-61)
Even if one is faced with thousands of alternatives, it is simple for him to spot the one pleasing to Allah. This alternative is clear and evident for the one who seeks the means of approaching to Allah and perceives what happens to him with the eyes of faith. For instance, when one is forced to choose a way to spend his day, he will be faced with numerous alternatives. He may spend the entire day by being engaged in sports' activities or watching television at home. He may claim that these activities are pleasing to Allah, as sports are important to maintain health while watching television cultivates him. Surely, exercising and watching television are beneficial and important activities. However, spending an entire day at sports or watching television could not be regarded as conscientious for a true believer if he considered how irreligious trends are becoming more and more prevalent every day; defenseless women, the elderly and children are being killed in Muslim territories, merely for saying, "Our God is Allah"; battles, war and moral degeneracy are widespread. There is no doubt that telling others about the perfection of the morality of the Qur'an, and trying to be the means by which they may attain their heavenly reward in the hereafter, would instead be a more desireable activity. This is a responsibility to be assumed by each and every Muslim. All who choose this alternative will be performing a pious deed and a religious service for the sake of his life in the next world. But, apart from this, he will also be gaining a heavenly reward for conveying the religion by conforming to the provisions of the verse, as well as being the means for the salvation of others.
Allah offers the following example:
Do you make the giving of water to the pilgrims and looking after the Masjid al-Haram the same as believing in Allah and the Last Day and struggling in the Way of Allah? They are not equal in the sight of Allah. Allah does not guide wrongdoing people. Those who believe and make pilgrimage and struggle in the Way of Allah with their wealth and themselves have a higher rank with Allah. They are the ones who are victorious.(Surat at-Tawba: 19-20)
As is apparent from these verses, the giving of water to pilgrims or looking after the Sacred Mosque are also good deeds suitable for obtaining Allah's consent. However, it must be stressed that believers who limit their religious duties to these deeds, in spite of possessing other responsibilites, should not fool themselves into thinking that these deeds are sufficient. These deeds are found to be inadequate when they are compared to the acts of others who fight by sacrificing their belongings and lives for Allah's sake. It would not be sincere to prefer less commendable deeds when one thinks that there are some more in conformity with the morality of the Qur'an. This implies that he is not making full use of his conscience, that he is taking his responsibitly lightly, and that he is merely concerned with ensuring his comfort and security. However, to prefer the opportunity to gain Allah's consent to acquiring the things of this world is that which conforms to the teachings of the Qur'an. The difficulty of the deed or the degree to which it opposes one's wishes are of no importance. Such an understanding grants a true believer sincerity. Similarly, pious deeds proffer him with Allah's consent, compassion and reward in Paradise.
Expecting Reward Only from Allah
Anyone desiring to acquire sincerity should be aware of the following fact: He should expect reward for his worldly deeds only from Allah. Any deed done by expecting any recompense other than Allah's consent, compassion and heavenly reward, will diminish his sincerity. A good deed performed to gain material and societal advantages rather than a reward from Allah will bring only loss instead of gain. Even if one had served Allah for years with this mindset, he could never hope to acquire true sincerity until and unless he strove only to gain His consent. However, any religious deed performed without contaminating one's intentions with anything other than Allah's pleasure will certainly result in a great heavenly reward.
In the following verse, Allah announces that believers who do good will be be given a great reward:
This Qur'an guides to the most upright Way and gives good news to the believers who do right actions that they will have a large reward. (Surat al-Isra': 9)
Allah informs us in another verse that doing good will be rewarded doubly.
But those of you who are obedient to Allah and His Messenger and act rightly will be given their reward twice over; and We have prepared generous provision for them. (Surat al-Ahzab: 31)
In his works, Bedüizzaman Said Nursi claims that humankind could only be successful through sincerity, and that people could only acquire sincerity by considering Allah's consent:
Bediuzzaman also underlines the fact that affection felt towards a person will only be sincere if it is without expecting something in return and only for Allah's consent:
Anybody wishing to acquire sincerity should clearly grasp this fact. Thus, his efforts will become pious and he would then be able to hope to attain Allah's consent, compassion and heavenly rewards.
However, Satan continually attempts to lead men astray from the straight path and direct them towards seeking benefits other than Allah's consent. Excuses such as, "I am already working to gain Allah's consent, what harm will it do to me if I hope some small personal benefit as well?" "I will gain both Allah's consent and the community's respect," "I will do a good deed, but they will owe me one in return," or "I would make a self-sacrifice, but I hope that everything will be repayed to me" etc., results out of the Satan's efforts. Each one of these thoughts that compel one to seek rewards other than Allah's consent prevents him from acquiring sincerity and of performing pious deeds.
Said Nursi said that sincerity could only be achieved if one is pleased and satisfied with what Allah gives him. The point emphasized here by Bediuzzaman is that one should not only speak out loud of his satisfaction, but also should enjoy deep in his heart the submission of being content and happy with what Allah gives him. Because, he will finally be held responsible for the intentions in his heart in Allah's presence:
In yet another of his works, Bediuzzaman stressed the importance of receiving all of the rewards in the hereafter by saying "This world is made for service, not for receiving remuneration. The remuneration, fruits, lights of pious deeds are in the next world. Bringing those everlasting fruits into this world and wishing to have them here means making the next world dependent upon this one. Thus the sincerity of that pious deed is harmed, and its light is extinguished. Yes, those fruits are not desired, intended. Any man granted one should give thanks to Allah by thinking that it is granted for encouragement." 11
Indeed, all recompenses other than Allah's consent hoped for by mankind belong to this world and represent the preference of this world to the hereafter. Such persons, who enjoy these worldly benefits may be deprived of them in the hereafter. Whereas, a person who performs pious deeds by aiming at acquiring only Allah's consent, and who keeps his intentions untainted will be granted by Allah blessings both in this world and the hereafter. Allah gives the following good news to believers:
Anyone who acts rightly, male or female, being a believer, We will give them a good life and We will recompense them according to the best of what they did. (Surat an-Nahl: 97)
In the Qur'an, there are many examples highlighting the supreme morality of the prophets in this regard. In the verses of the Qur'an, it is told that the prophets informed their communities that "they did not demand any reward other than Allah's consent for their service":
[Hud said:] My people! I do not ask you for any wage for it. My wage is the responsibility of Him who brought me into being. So will you not use your intellect? (Surah Hud: 51)
[Nuh said:] My people! I do not ask you for any wealth for it. My wage is the responsibility of Allah alone. I will not chase away those who believe. They are surely going to meet their Lord. However, I see you as ignorant people. (Surah Hud: 29)
Bediuzzaman Said Nursi also reminded that one could only hope to acquire sincerity by wanting to imitate the superior morality of the prophets:
Freeing Oneself from the Need of the Opinions of Others and Seeking only Allah's Consent
In one of his works treating the conditions to be fulfilled to acquire sincerity, Bediuzzaman Said Nursi highlighted the importance of cleansing one's self from the need of acceptance from others and turning only to obtain Allah's consent, by saying, "You should seek Divine pleasure in your actions. If Almighty Allah is pleased, it is of no importance even should the whole world be displeased. If He accepts an action and everyone else rejects it, it has no effect. Once His pleasure has been gained and He has accepted an action, even if you do not ask it of Him, should He wish it and His wisdom requires it, He will make others accept it. He will make them consent to it too. For this reason, the sole aim in this service should be the direct seeking of Divine pleasure." 13 This example is of great consequence in understanding the meaning of sincerity. It stresses that once Allah assents, nothing matters, even if the whole world were to turn in opposition to you. Besides, Allah controls the hearts of them all. If He so willed, then He makes them all to agree with you.
On the other hand, if Allah does not give His assent, then it is unimportant whether the whole world were to give theirs. Any true believer knows with certainty that if he earns only the assent of people it is not worth anything in Allah's presence, and that he will have acquired nothing on his way to the next world, unless Allah willed otherwise. Those who had assented may well be great in number, or powerful in terms of wealth or authority. Yet, these beings are all weak, and proceed through Allah's permission, and will one day lose their power and might after having decomposed in the earth. For this reason, the support of even large groups will not be beneficial in the hereafter. Only Allah is Everlasting and worthy of granting consent. It is only by comprehending this truth that one can acquire the understanding of lasting sincerity. He should turn towards acquiring Allah's assent by freeing himself from the "opinions of others." In the Qur'an, Allah describes this with a metaphor:
Allah has made a metaphor for them of a man owned by several partners in dispute with one another and another man wholly owned by a single man. Are they the same? Praise be to Allah! The fact is that most of them do not know. You will die and they too will die. (Surat az-Zumar: 29-30)
In the Qur'an, seeking the consent of others besides Allah is described as "idolatry (shirk)" or "ascribing partners to Allah." In the above-mentioned verse, Allah compares the one who seeks the consent of others and ascribes partners to Allah to a man owned by several partners in dispute with one another. He also compares the one of faith who firmly serves Allah with the one wholly owned by a single man. Allah reminds us that all beings other than Him will surely meet their end some day. Thus, He invites people to ponder the importance of seeking only His consent.
Therefore, one should guard against the vain desires of his inner self, and evualuate himself sincerely without letting his lower-self deceive him. One of the strongest inclinations of one's lower-self is the desire to acquire the approbation of others, as opposed to complying with the morality of the Qur'an. Likewise, many people act the way they do not because they like or approve of it, but to be appreciated by their peers. In other words, they strive to increase their status in society. Therefore, the primary motive in their lives becomes the "desire to acquire the consent of others."
Many of you have no doubt often heard people saying such things as "What will people say?", "How could we explain this to others?", "We have become the laughingstock of the neighborhood" or "Now we can never go out in public again."
In general, these reactions stem from attaching too much importance to what people say, and think. Sometimes people feel the pangs of their conscience, not because they have committed a wrong, but because others have come to know about it. However, if a wrong is committed, the fact that Allah knows about it is truly what matters. And, once again, one should turn only to Allah to seek repentance. When one feels no responsibility whatsoever towards Allah for committed errors, but feels ashamed or embarrassed in front of others, then it is clear that he accords more importance to the consent of other people than that of Allah's. When outside, such people fail to be as committed to fulfilling religious duties as they are when at home. Excessively concerned with others' opinions, they prefer to gain their consent to Allah's.
Their behavior differs when they visit the seaside or a wealthier neighborhood. Their morality also varies when they are with Muslims or when they visit other cities or countries. From time to time, ruled by such a way of thinking, they may even neglect to pay sufficient attention to the worship of Allah. However, a sincere person never behaves in such a way. Wherever he goes, or whomever he sees, he remains committed in his devotion because of his fear of Allah. The Qur'an calls attention to the fact that no conditions or circumstances could ever influence the minds of true Muslims, as follows:
[There are men who are] not distracted by trade or commerce from the remembrance of Allah and the establishment of prayer and the payment of the welfare tax; fearing a day when all hearts and eyes will be in turmoil. (Surat an-Nur: 37)
Thus, any true believer wishing to acquire sincerity should completely free himself from the worry of "what would people say." Such a concern is well entrenched in ignorant communities. Hence, one can never experience pure sincerity, as long as he holds on to the need for other people's approval.
One should always be sincere in his intentions and seek purely turn to Allah's consent in order to acquire sincerity. The fact that people grant him their assents would in no way be beneficial for him unless Allah wishes so. Yet, one who earns the consent, support, love and approval of Allah has already acquired the support that all these people can provide. If he behaves sincerely, Allah will enable him to lead the best of lives, both in the world and in the hereafter, provide a means of support that no human being can provide, and grant him a friendship incomparable to any friendship among humans. In one of his works, Bediuzzaman Said Nursi also highlighted this important fact as follows:
Strengthening One's Conscience
Conscience is a power entrusted by Allah with the task of showing mankind the right way. Until the end of their lives, it warns people about the evil in their souls, the incitements of the devil, and all other kinds of behavior disapproved by the Qur'an. It inspires in one the means to please Allah and act in accordance with the Qur'an. Whatever the circumstance, one who listens to the inner voice of his conscience will be able to achieve sincerity. Sincerity means the ability to use one's conscience in the most effective way. It also implies that one should never abandon his conscience, even under the opposition of his lower-self or outside influences.
For this very reason, one who wishes to acquire sincerity should first and foremost determine whether he is making good use of his conscience. If he suppresses his conscience from time to time, does not listen to its voice, and intentionally behaves in a way to please his lower-self, then he is not using his conscience in compliance with the Qur'an. More importantly, as announced in the verse which states, "In fact, man is evidence against himself, though he puts forth his excuses," (Surat al-Qiyama: 14-15) each man intuitively knows that the voice whispering in his ear is the voice of his conscience, and also what excuses he sets forth to be able to ignore that voice.
Conscience is a great blessing and gift to humanity. As expressed by Bediuzzaman Said Nursi as, "Even if the mind goes on holiday and neglects the opinion, the conscience could never forget its Creator. Even if it denies its own lower self, it sees Him, thinks of Him, and heads towards Him" 16 or "... The Creator having two windows in each conscience shall cause His skill to always manifest itself in human hearts" 17, the conscience is never caught unawares, even if the man himself is unaware. One's conscience never becomes distracted by the inner-self, even if the person himself does. One's conscience never acts insincerely, or obeys the devil, even if the person does. In brief, one could intentionally or unintentionally commit errors, but his conscience never strays from the straight path or commits errors.
However, one's ability to listen to one's conscience may diminish. If one acts unconcerned to the voice of his conscience, which invites him to the straight path, and if he makes a habit of suppressing this voice, then he will weaken his conscience's influence, and will cause his ability to listen to it to become dull. Even though his conscience warns a person and calls him to do the right thing, he would no longer be swayed by its voice. He would no longer listen to it or consider it significant. Therefore, many types of behavior, which would in no way be accepted by a true believer's conscience, start to by-pass his conscience. Such a person no longer feels the pangs of his conscience while violating the Qur'anic rules. He may behave contrary to Allah's consent, and follow the Devil. He performs deeds unapproved of by the Qur'an without concern. For instance, during war, most people feel great discomfort and uneasiness when they watch defenseless women and children die. They wish to be able to do something to help them. However, in the coming days, reading the same articles and seeing the same scenes over and over in the newspapers, tend to dull one's conscience. From then on, news about death or cruelty no longer influences him. He no longer feels any worry nor is he conscientious of any responsibility. This change clearly marks the dulling of his conscience. Though, in such case, it is no longer impossible to speak of untainted sincerity.
In order to acquire sincerity, first and foremost, one should ensure that he is sensitive to his conscience, as guided by the Qur'an. This is only possible through an increase in one's fear of Allah. One should consider profoundly that Allah hears and sees him, everywhere and at all times. He keeps track of all of his deeds; and will one day call him to account for them. He should strive to comprehend clearly that death could come upon him in just a matter of moments, that he may as well find himself giving account for himself in Allah's presence. He may be faced with the torment in Hell if he had failed to live up to the level of morality indicated by Allah and to make good use of his conscience. If he succeeds in letting these important facts of the Qur'an penetrate well and deeply within his heart, then the dullness of his conscience will be replaced by a conscientious sensitivity. Such sensitivity may, in turn, enable him to act sincerely by listening to the voice of his conscience, whatever the circumstances.
Comprehending that Life of this World is Temporary
Throughout the world, all people, without exception, talk about or at least think about one issue at one point in their lives: living a long life, and to avoid dying if at all possible... Scientists have been devoting serious effort to this end for many centuries, and have tried to find formulas to make people live a longer life. However, to this day, no progress has been made. Hence, with the verse, "We did not give any human being before you immortality. And if you die, will they then be immortal? Every self will taste death. We test you with both good and evil as a trial. And you will be returned to Us," (Surat al-Anbiya': 34-35) Allah instructs us that each person was created mortal, a fact which each will certainly face at his appointed time.
Regardless of the fact that people refrain from thinking or accepting the reality of death, the truth is that mankind is mortal. In any case, this worldly life is exceedingly short and transient. Each one is sent to this world in order to be tested for a period of time ranging from sixty to seventy years. Therefore, it would be a great mistake for anyone to base his plans on this worldly life alone, to accept this short-lived sojourn as his true life, and to forget the hereafter where he will live forever.
This fact stands out clear and simple so that all can easily comprehend it. Yet, as indicated in the following verse: "He Who created death and life to test which of you is best in action. He is the Almighty, the Ever-Forgiving," (Surat al-Mulk: 2) Allah adorned this world in order to create this environment in which man will be tested. One should not be deceived by the fact that some people compete with each other to maximize their enjoyment of these worldly blessings. Because, as the verses of the Qur'an indicate, those who live in negligence could in no way be deemed a group one should measure up to. Those, who strive to accumulate and heap up belongings, sacrifice their beliefs in order to acquire authority, and who play roles to earn the appreciation or approbation of others, are in fact running after illusory ideals. To suppose that this worldly life is real, and to run hopelessly after mundane benefits and rewards, is just as illogical, comical and humiliating as mistaking the scenes of a play for reality.
However, it should always be kept in mind that, not only those who devote themselves to this worldly life, but also those who expend effort to acquire benefits both in this world and the hereafter, are deluded. The life of this world was created as a blessing for mankind. While they are here, people should make the best possible use of its many splendors, and enjoy its many blessings. Yet, one should never idealize nor run after these blessings with excessive desire or ambition. He should utilize them all to live according to the religion in the best possible manner, to appreciate Allah, and to give thanks, after having recognized that which has been bestowed upon him by Allah. Acting in accordance with such reasoning as, "I can lead a life both to gain Allah's consent and to make the best use of the benefits of the worldly life," would be a thought-pattern damaging to one's sincerity.
In the following verse, referring to some of His prophets, Allah reminds mankind that the behavior of those who keep solely the hereafter in mind are the best in merit with Him:
And remember Our servants Ibrahim, Ishaq and Ya'qub, men of true strength and inner sight. We purified their sincerity through sincere remembrance of the Abode. In Our eyes they are among the best of chosen men. (Surah Sad: 45-47)
Nevertheless, Allah bestows the greatest worldly blessings upon those who sincerely turn to Him and desire the hereafter. Thus, one who distances himself from sincerity by saying, "Let me have both this world and the next," will in the end be deprived of both. One who longs for the hereafter alone will gain the blessings both of this world and the next.
Similarly, Bediuzzaman Said Nursi said, "The secret of this matter lies in sincerity. The transient pleasures of this world become an ultimate purpose for those who have not succeeded to attain spiritual purity. Thus, the acts done by these people for the hereafter are effected by these pleasures, and their sincerity is tainted. Because worldly objectives, pleasures could not be sought along with deeds to earn otherworldly rewards. If so, sincerity is harmed." 18He underlined that the aim to gain both worldly and otherworldly benefits emerge from a soul defficient in its education. Such thinking diminishes sincerity, and prevents one from performing pious deeds aimed at the hereafter.
In another of his works, Said Nursi noted that only those "who assume that the world is a guest house" could hope to lead the best and happiest of lives. Hence, such a frame of mind leads one to acquire Allah's consent and to behave sincerely.
"I observe that the most fortunate person in this worldly life is he who sees the world as a military guest-house, and submits himself and acts accordingly. Through seeing it in this way, he may rise swiftly to the rank of Allah's pleasure, the highest rank. Such a person will not give the price of a lasting diamond for something of the value of glass that will be broken. He will pass his life uprightly and with pleasure. Yes, the matters to do with this world are like pieces of glass doomed to be broken, while the lasting matters of the Hereafter have the value of flawless diamonds. The intense curiosity, fervent love, terrible greed, and stubborn desires, and other intense emotions in man's nature were given in order to gain the matters of the Hereafter. To direct those emotions in intense fashion towards transitory worldly matters means giving the price of eternal diamonds for pieces of glass that are to be smashed."19
In these words, Bediuzzaman compared this worldly life to a breakable bottle, and the hereafter to a diamond. Anyone acting insincerely, by becoming carried away by this worldly life, will lose his heavenly recompense, just as a man sacrificing a diamond for a worthless glass bottle. On the other hand, one who comprehends that this world is a guest-house will not commit the same error, and will exert himself to the utmost in this world and the next.
Thinking about Death, the Day of Judgment and the Hereafter
Some appraise the significance of death in the wrong way. They consider it as a termination, a putting to an end of the blessings of this worldly life, causing them to say a last farewell to this life, never to return again, and to vanish by decomposition in the earth. However, these thoughts stem from a failure to duly comprehend Allah's existence, as well as the reason for creation of themselves and of this worldly life. They are not aware that their worldly life is nothing but a test to determine the course of their true lives after their passing away. They consider this world as the reality and the hereafter as a delusion. For this reason, they perceive death, which merely ends this worldly life and begins the other worldly one, as a termination.
Due to such ideas, "death" or even "thinking about death" becomes frightening and disturbing to them. They come to believe that they will not be able to find any pleasure in this worldly life, and that all enjoyments will lose their excitement if they start to think about death. Consequently, they aim to derive the most pleasure from the blessings of this world, and to become more immersed in this life, by ignoring the subject of death.
However, whether or not a person thinks about or forgets death, the ultimate result will remain unchanged. As already mentioned by the verse quoted here, each man will certainly meet his death:
Say: "Death, from which you are fleeing, will certainly catch up with you. Then you will be returned to the Knower of the Unseen and the Visible and He will inform you about what you did." (Surat al-Jumu'a: 8)
Therefore, the wise approach will be to prepare oneself to encounter this inevitability, rather than avoiding it in neglect or forgetfulness. If one leads a life to gain Allah's consent, then death will bring no loss or harm to him. On the contrary, it will be the means to enable him to start his eternal and more sublime life. If this person has turned to Allah with a sincere heart, death will not be painful, regardless of its means. In the Qur'an, Allah refers to those "who gently draw out the souls of the blessed." (Surat an-Nazi'at: 1-2) Therefore, if a man is faithful and sincere, death will not be a painful end for him.
On the other hand, thinking about death is an important means enabling one to derive the greatest pleasure from the blessings of this world. It doesn't diminish his enjoyment of this world, as is misperceived by most. Rather, one can enjoy such blessings in the best possible way only when he comprehends that they are merely transient and temporal, instead of becoming greedily attached to them. In one of his speeches, the Prophet (saas) has indicated the importance of thinking about death as follows:
Besides, death is not an end to life, nor to blessings or to pleasure, as people tend to believe. On the contrary, death is the beginning of the real life; the transition to the real world, where people will live eternally in accordance with the choices they made during their time in this world. If one has appreciated the greatness of Allah, and has lived with this knowledge in mind, then he will spend his eternal life among in Paradise. However, if he has immersed himself in this worldly life, and forgotten about death, the Day of Judgment, and the hereafter, then his eternal residence will be Hell. Refraining from thinking about death while here on this earth will in no way prevent that person from meeting his ultimate destiny.
A Man Could Face Death Anywhere and at Any Moment
Thinking about death and coming to terms with this truth are essential matters of consideration if one is to always act sincerely and in a conscientious manner. One who sincerely believes in the existence of Allah and the hereafter clearly knows that Allah controls not only life but also death. No one could delay nor advance his end. Death will come when Allah approves and under circumstances that He pleases. As indicated by the verse, "Every nation has an appointed time. When their time comes, they cannot delay it a single hour or bring it forward" (Surat al-A'raf: 34), one who is aware of this truth behaves with a clear mind, knowing he may have to face death at any time. As already mentioned, death will certainly come by Allah's will. It does not depend on one's age or health or whether or not he has acted cautiously. By the Will of Allah, a sudden accident, an unanticipated illness, or even a very minor cause could bring one's term to an end.
Anyone, who is capable of understanding the significance of death in its numerous facets, is aware that he could meet his death anywhere and at any moment. His life could come to a sudden end. That understanding directs him to always act sincerely, and to make the best possible use of his wisdom, conscience and abilities. He acts with the clear conscience that even in the next moment he may find himself having to account for his deeds in front of Allah. Thus, at any moment, he could be sent to Paradise or Hell. He spends his life in this world with faith and sincerity, as if he has already been to the hereafter to see Paradise and Hell, and has been fully assured that they are real and near. He passes each moment with a profound fear of Allah, as if he were to meet the angels of death coming to take his life, the book containing his deeds were to be opened, and as if he was awaiting the decision of whether he was to be sent to Paradise or Hell. He guides his behavior by always remembering the nearness and horror of the torment of Hell. He constantly retains the fear of possibly experiencing this torment forever. On the other hand, he also becomes filled with the hope of escaping Hell, and living an eternal life in Paradise as a servant befriended by Allah. He acts by knowing with certainty that vain excuses, such as "I did not know," "I did not understand," "I did not realize," "I forgot," "I became distracted along with other people who were unaware," "I behaved irresponsibly," "I followed the Devil" or "I thought that Allah would surely forgive me," "I was performing my religious duties and I thought this would be enough," put forth on the Day of Judgment before Allah will be useless.
Such awareness reveals itself in a strong conscience, firm comprehension, advanced wisdom and a consistent sincerity. As one knows that the advent of death is only a matter of time, he never puts off performing any good deed, never procrastinates or behaves lazily, under any circumstances, and never acts unenthusiastically. He considers that his life may not be long enough to be able to perform a deed that he plans to realize in the near future, whether in the next hour or the following day. He is aware that he might be greatly regretful in the hereafter for these incomplete or postponed deeds.
He knows that he must behave with an understanding of sincerity like that of the prophets. He avoids being among those who feel regret in the hereafter, and who will utter "I wish I had done more pious deeds, come to the aid of more people, behaved with high morality and led the pious and Muslims, devoted myself to Allah's religion more firmly, strove with greater effort to inform people about the morality of religion, ordered people to do good and prevented them from doing wrong, did not put off making myself ready for the hereafter instead of being carried away by worldly concerns, when I had the opportunity to become one of those who has succeeded today."
As he may face death at any instant, the more righteous deeds he performs sincerely, the more profit he reaps in return. He is aware that he must act with such devotion and sincerity in order to evade a dreadful end like Hell. He is conscious that behaving irresolutely, being reluctant to do something, or preferring the lesser among finer and better alternatives will cause him to remorse in the hereafter. His profound awareness and sincerity shine through under all circumstances; he adopts a sincere attitude in his approach unto Allah and in his respect, affection and genuineness towards Muslims, his fine morality, his self-sacrifices, his hard work, his worship, his prayers, that which he spends with his wealth and person, his words, his enthusiasm and his vigor.
One could only hope to acquire such superior understanding of sincerity if he lived his life continually thinking about death. In his Treatise, Bediuzzaman Said Nursi emphasized the benefits of thinking about death as follows:
With these words, Bediuzzaman recommends people to evaluate death with a clearness of mind and maturity as if they had really been put into their graves, seen their own deaths and funerals, and observed the death of the world from the hereafter. He also accentuates the fact that thinking about death can constitute an important means to purify oneself from all kinds of behavioral and moral weaknesses appropriated in the life of this world.
5. Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, The Risale-i Nur Collection, The Flashes Collection, The Twentyfirst Flash
6. Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, The Risale-i Nur Collection, The Flashes Collection, The Twentyfirst Flash
7. Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, The Risale-i Nur Collection, The Flashes Collection, The Twentyfirst Flash
8. Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, The Risale-i Nur Collection, The Flashes Collection, The Seventeenth Flash
9. Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, The Risale-i Nur Collection, The Flashes Collection, The Seventeenth Flash
10. Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, The Risale-i Nur Collection, The Flashes Collection, The Twentieth Flash
11. Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, Kastamonu Lahikasi (Kastamonu Letters), p. 134
12. Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, The Risale-i Nur Collection, The Flashes Collection, The Twentieth Flash
13. Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, The Risale-i Nur Collection, The Flashes Collection, The Twentyfirst Flash
14. Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, Barla Lahikasi (Barla Letters), p. 78
15. Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, Mesnevi-i Nuriye, p. 215.
16. Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, Mesnevi-i Nuriye, p. 215.
17. Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, Mesnevi-i Nuriye, p. 215.
18. Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, Emirdağ Lâhikasi (Emirdağ Letters), Vol. 1, p.86
19. Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, The Risale-i Nur Collection, The Letters Collection, The Ninth Letter
20. Ahmad Diya'al-Din al-Kamushkhanawi, Ramuz al-Ahadith, Vol 1, 80/16
21. Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, The Risale-i Nur Collection, The Flashes Collection, The Twentyfirst Flash