A traveller who was travelling in a vast desert suddenly encountered a wild animal and took to his heels. But however fast he ran, he knew that the animal would catch up with him, so he jumped into a well without a second thought. As he was falling into the depths of the well he caught hold of a branch that jutted out from the wall. He grasped the branch with all his might for dear life. At the bottom of the well there were snakes ready to devour him. Then he saw two mice – one black and one white – gnawing at the root of the branch. He became so fearful that he almost fainted. The next moment he also saw a honeycomb in the wall and said to himself, “Let me taste this honey, I might not get another chance to find such sweet food.”
And the man in peril became engrossed in the honey, forgetting his pitiful condition. He was like an ostrich who puts its head in the sand, thinking to hide itself. His eyes were blinded by the passing taste of the honey. Rather than trying to get out of the well, he enjoyed eating the honey while the mice ate up the root of the branch. The poor traveller fell down and was devoured.
In this story the well represents calamities and worldly life, the dragons and snakes represent evil characteristics, the honey worldly lusts, the white and black mice represent the passing days and nights, and the traveller represents us – the ordinary heedless man. The branch represents one’s life-span: when it is eaten up by the mice of time, life ends. The entire story is a parable for the situation of mankind which was sent to this world for a mission but forgot its duy for the fleeting passions of the flesh.
Man’s salvation lies in the cleansing of evil characteristics and using time in the best way. That is why man is created and given time – to realize himself.
Every creature on the face of the earth can only realize happiness by living their life in accordance with their true nature. Human beings, who are superior to all other creatures in this world, prosper only through understanding their raison d’être and arranging their life in accordance with the will of Allah. A life spent away from Allah, in ignorance of oneself and of one’s true essence, is a life of misery. A person who lives in such a way is described as heedless (ghāfil). It is a delusion for a human being to be unaware of his true nature, his position, and the wisdom and purpose of his or her life and death. It is difficult to imagine an intelligent person who does not want to understand the real wisdom and secrets of a human being’s arrival into this world from an invisible world, and then passing away after having been examined.
To understand the real meaning of humanity, life, and death is only attainable through avoidance of heedlessness. This, in turn, is possible only through sound reasoning and a spiritually developed heart. Natural human tendencies such as negligence, lust, arrogance, ambition, envy, extravagance, and anger are all the destructive manifestations of heedlessness. Being addicted to such traits and drowning in their whirlpools is the greatest delusion. It is because of this delusion and the human being’s inclination to the nafs (lower self or ego) that sins block awareness of haqīqah (reality). They may damage a human being’s honor, darken the spirit and lead to a disregard of the Creator. The Qur’an makes the following reference to such people: “Woe to those whose hearts are hardened against the remembrance of Allah!” (Zumar, 39:22).
Indeed, when morality weakens in one’s heart, spiritual depth and true understanding will soon weaken also. Such a person will not realise istiqāmah (uprightness) anymore. Onw who indulges in sins becomes blind to his or her own faults. Heedless people under the influence of the nafs (ego) do not notice the damage that they have inflicted upon themselves, for they are blind and deaf to reality. Someone who has a wound in his finger can eat with this finger without feeling any dislike, whereas those who are at the same table with him cannot eat because of disgust at his wound. In the same way, heedless people will not feel the damage they inflict on others. They are engulfed in their heedlessness like a soldier in his armor. They are blind and deaf to reality and to all things Divine. Allah describes these people as “Deaf, dumb and blind…” (Baqara, 2:18)
Rūmī narrates the funny story of a heedless deaf man’s visit to his neighbor for the latter’s being sick. The deaf man did not visit his sick neighbor with a good intention, he only visited him to be seen by others. Similarly the sick man was also a heedless person, who at the first mistake of the visitor started accusing him without giving the benefit of doubt to the visitor. The story goes:
A wise friend of the deaf man said to him:
“Your neighbor is ill. Did not you know?”
Having heard this, the heedless man started calculating how to visit his neighbor:
“If I visit my neighbor, how would I be able to understand the ill man with my deaf ears?”
Then he said:
“When a person becomes sick his voice weakens. So I would not be able to understand any of his words.”
However he decided to visit his neighbor anyway, thinking:
“I have no way except to visit him since he is my neighbor. Otherwise everybody will blame me for not visiting my neighbor and this will bring me much disrespect.”
Then he made a plan:
“When I visit him I will try to understand what he says by looking at the movements of his lips. I will not show my neighbor that I cannot not hear him. Anyhow he will not be able to notice my deafness because of his own pain.”
First I will say:
“How are you my dear neighbor?”
He will probably reply:
“I am well.”
Then I will say:
“Praise be to Allah!”
Then I will ask:
“What have you eaten today?”
He will possibly say:
“I have had soup and juice.”
Then I will say:
“I hope you enjoyed it!”
Then I will ask:
“So which doctor is coming to examine you?”
He would say:
“So and so…”
And I will say nice words to him in order to boost his morale:
“You are a very lucky man. It is good that you called him. If he comes, everything will be fine.”
The poor deaf man went to visit his neighbor after planning the whole dialogue, questions and answers in his mind.
First he asked as he planned:
“How are you my dear neighbor?”
His neighbor replied moaning in severe pain:
“I am in a very bad condition. It feels as if I am dying.”
But since the deaf man did not hear the answer he immediately said:
“Thanks to Allah!”
The sick man was hurt by these words and deeply annoyed. He could not understand his neighbor’s attitude. He thought to himself:
“My neighbor wants me dead!”
The deaf man asked his second question unwarily:
“What have you eaten?”
The annoyed neighbor replied in anger:
Then the deaf said:
“I hope you enjoyed it!”
The sick man became angry – he was not a patient man. Then the deaf man said:
“Which doctors are coming to examine you?” The sick man’s anger reached its peak. He shouted:
“Whom would you expect to come? The Angel of death, of course!”
But the deaf man could not hear what his neighbor told him and could not understand his attitude. Instead he replied:
“You are a very lucky man. This doctor brings health whereever he goes. You should be very happy for his coming!”
Then he left, feeling deep satisfaction his task was done. As he was leaving the house he thought to himself:
How fortunate that I visited my neighbor! I have safeguarded my reputation and brought some happiness to an unfortunate man.”
Yet this stupid man’s visit had actually been detrimental, even though he mistakenly thought that it had been profitable. The sick man now uttered harsh words about his neighbor:
“Now I have realized that our so-called neighbor was our mortal enemy! What a shame that I did not know this earlier!”
He was cursing his neighbor behind his back, saying:
“Visiting the sick is done for the sake of Allah and in order to console the sick. However, this man did not come for the sake of Allah, but for the sake of people. Nor did he come to inquire about my health but for enmity, and to offend me, and take revenge upon a sick man! He wanted to satisfy his bad heart by seeing his enemy in such a poor and weak position! However, I have never hurt him during the time that we have been neighbors”
Rūmī explains this story:
“The deaf person hurts someone else with the intention of pleasing him. He put his neighbor’s heart into flames with his fictitious words. By visiting his sick friend in a hypocritical way, he has committed a sin.”
“Because of his words based on guesses, their neighborliness and friendship was destroyed.”
“On the other hand, the sick man was defeated by his anger and could not show patience. By acting in such a way, he was deprived of any divine reward. He did not try to learn the intention of this deaf neightbour. On the contrary, he did not show any good will towards him!”
Many people get caught in such situations. They worship and behave not solely for Allah’s sake, but for their own interests. They try to gain Paradise by worship mixed with nafs.”
“Their worship conceals sins and association of partners with Allah. To worship for someone else’s sake is a grave sin. The prayer performed ostentatiously, though viewed as pure from the outside, soils the heart with the association of partners to Allah. Just as water loses its sweet taste with a single dirty drop, so too does worship performed with a sick and heedless heart.” (Adapted from Mathnawī, V.I, 3360-95)
The deaf man’s interpretation of his sick neighbour’s behavior and his words according to his heedless understanding remind us of the moral deafness in today’s people. The behavior of today’s deaf vying for the closure of religious schools and Qur’an courses cannot be explained plausibly in any other way. The behavior of heedless administrators, who are deaf to public protest to this new regulation, is the best example of heedlessness. Those who unconsciously benefit from the advantages of this world do actually try to be happy with fleeting favors. They consider their life in this world to be a Paradise. But it is absolutely true that those who loot these divine beauties will meet a severe reckoning in the hereafter.
Rūmī describes heedlessness, that is, the inclination of human nature to worldly affairs and bounties, in the following way:
“When you eat and drink the delicious foods of this world, you eat and drink as if in a dream. When you wake up, you feel hungry and thirsty again! The food you have consumed in your dream has brought you no benefit. The world is like a mere dream. The world and its favors are like someone who asks for something in his dream and it is granted to him. When he awakes, there is no sign of these favors he had received in his dream! This world is made of passing joys given in a dream.”
Allah states in the Qur’an:
“Then did you not see such a one as takes as his god his own vain desire?” (Jāthiya, 45:23)
The “ears” in the story above may suppose themselves to understand words and letters. Again the “eyes” may suppose that they can see something. But what of the internal ears that are meant to hear hidden secrets and voices? And what of the internal eyes that are meant to observe divine secrets? The deafness of the heart and the blindness of the eyes make a heedless person unfortunate both in this world and in the hereafter.
The Prophet Jonah (upon him blessings and peace) once said to Gabriel:
“Can you show me the person in this world who worships Allah the most?”
Gabriel showed him a person whose hands and feet were rotten from leprosy, and whose eyes had been lost. The man was saying:
“O Allah! It is no one but You that gave me whatever You gave through these hands and feet. And it is no one but You that save me from whatever You saved me from. O my God! You left only one desire deep in my heart: to reach You.”
Once hearts beat only for the sake of Allah, intentions and behavior become very different from what they once were. Therefore, in order to escape from heedlessness, it is necessary to purify our hearts and cleanse our nafs, emptying our hearts of everything except the remembrance of Allah, and to watch for the manifestation of wisdom and grace in this universe.
For a person to do otherwise it would mean that they will not be able to save themselves from heedlessness, and they will lead themselves to a life of deprivation in this world and in the hereafter. We must be aware of our Creator and our raison d’être as much as we can, and we should bring ourselves to the Qur’an and Sunnah with a heart filled with contemplation and wisdom.
Human beings should live close to their Creator. They should worship Allah, Who has given them all of His favors during their lives, has forgiven their sins, and knows all their secrets. Worship is limited to only a short time, but faith and service are for life.
May Allah include us among His friends who are on the right path and have a heart filled with awareness of the truth!
. The author reminds us of the official closing down of religious high schools and the difficulties brought by new regulations to the learning of the Qur’an in Turkey in recent years.