O wayfarer! Do not think your knowledge is the reason for the mi’râj It is none other that service and adab that has taken the prophet to heaven
Serving others is one of the social dimensions of servitude which Allah Almighty demands from His servants. The life of a believer bears fruits and gains depth and meaning by serving the creation. Serving others, which is an important element of Islamic morality, is really an act of seeking Allah and His approval through freeing oneself from the selfishness of the nafs and tending to the creation with a giving soul. Every sincere service that is performed for the sake of Allah and which is far from selfish benefit is a search for a union with the Lord Almighty.
Therefore, all kinds of service should be performed in as perfect a form and manner as possible. This is possible through conforming to certain âdâb and measures. As much as it is important to show diligence in performing material and spiritual services, the quality of this service is also very important. The blessing and acceptance of any service in the eyes of Cenab-i Haq is dependent on this. For this reason our elders have said “Service is important but adab in service is even more important”. They state the importance of serving with a sincere and enlightened heart and performing it with the correct procedure.
It is absolutely necessary to have knowledge, wisdom, competence, dignity, a strong character and disposition if we are to succeed in serving others. On the contrary, it is useless to expect a fruitful result from services that are performed negligently and without sincerity.
It is possible to list the âdâb and measures that a person of service should take:
1. Grasping the Importance of Service
The person of service should think that the service is a great prize and blessing for himself and see this as the first rule of service. He should understand that the continuation of service is possible through giving thanks (shukr) and constantly being in a state of praising (hamd) and thanking his Lord.
The greatest service is to exalt the name of Allah (i‘lâ kalimat Allâh) and doing missionary work (tablîgh), that is, communicating and explaining the religion of Islam to others as it is encapsulated in the testimony of faith (kalima al-tawhîd), lâ ilâha illallâh muhammad rasûlallâh. This is a grand invitation (da‘wah)and a sacred responsibility entrusted to the believers. The Qur’ân and the Sunnah are a trust bestowed on us from Allah and His Messenger. We have to deliver this trust to the coming generations in the same way and understanding that the Companions of the Prophet and our blessed forefathers of previous centuries have done. These services will be our wealth in the Hereafter and, Allah willing, will be our passes to Heaven.
Our late Master, Mûsâ Efendi, who was an outstanding person that dedicated his entire life to serving Allah’s creation, explained the value and the importance of service as follows:
“A believer should strive to undertake all worship and deeds of excellence with sincerity and as the opportunities arise, without considering their greatness or insignificance. Many people do great services whilst neglecting small ones. In fact, it is not known in which act of service Allah’s pleasure lies.
One should realize that the opportunity to serve does not come to all. There are many people who have the ability to serve in every way but because the time and place are not favourable, they are bereft of it. Those who serve should see service as a blessing and increase their modesty and should even be in a state of thankfulness for those who they serve for the reason that they have been a vehicle for this blessing.”
Imâm Rabbânî describes the necessity of being in a state of thankfulness towards the one who is being served by the one serving since he also saw it as a blessing:
“Just as the way one person can inspire many people to gain maturity and perfection, many people can also inspire one person to gain maturity and perfection. Because, even though a master can inspire maturity and perfection in his students, it is certain that as a result of mutual reflection they are also a reason for the master’s perfection and maturity.”
The obligatory percentage of charity (zakât) one has to give from his wealth is clearly stated in Islam. In this regard, the person who gives zakât as a percentage of his possessions has performed the service required of him in regards to his wealth. However, because it is not possible to quantify the amount one should donate in charity from the abilities and opportunities the Lord Almighty has bestowed upon him, he needs to commit himself to service for the sake of Cenab-i Haq, as his strength allows until his last breath. The result is that the servant constantly sees his acts of service as inadequate and so ever asks himself what more there is to be done; he remains in constant pursuit of service. One of the most vibrant examples of this is ‘Abdullâh ibn Umm Maktûm (May Allah be pleased with him), one of the Companions of the Prophet. This Companion was exempted from participating in jihâd because he was blind. But his participation in the Battle of Qâdisiyya with the intention of at least holding the flag is a clear manifestation of his desire to serve Allah under any condition.
From this point of view, every believer should understand the greatness of the responsibility and the consequences of lagging behind when there is an opportunity to serve. He should realise that such complacency can place at risk the rewards to be had in the Hereafter.
2. Ornamenting the Heart with Spiritual Traits
Acts of service which are not fed by spiritual nourishment are like buckets of water that are poured onto sand in the hope of growing crop. A seed thrown onto dry land is destind only for the stomach of a field mouse, whereas the seeds of service that are scattered with spirituality are the sycamores of the future. For this reason, the person of service needs to be careful about the spiritual nourishment of his personal life. He needs to reach spiritual maturity through giving weight to spirituality, refinement in morality and conduct, as well as to elegance and reciprocity.
The heart of the person who serves should be like a fertile ground. The creatures walking on that ground tread on it, spilling their wastes on it, but the ground merely recycles all of this and grows beautiful varieties of vegetation which then feeds every creature that walks on it. The heart of the person in service should be like this fertile ground; with such beauty in his heart, the scenery and flow of might should impact upon those who are served just like a spontaneous poem.
One needs to pay attention to four principles in order to acquire these characteristics. The heart should be:
a. With Allah at all times
b. Full of the love of Allah and His Messenger
c. Full of love for one’s brethren in religion
d. Full of love, compassion and mercy towards the creation for the sake of the Creator.
We should revive ourselves with the love of the Lord Almighty and then plan our lives accordingly.
3. Conserving sincerity (ikhlâs) and steadfastness (istiqâmah)
Sincerity and steadfastness should be the two indispensable characteristics of the person of service. To be a true master of service is an honourable blessing from Allah to His servant. The value of this honourable blessing should be appreciated and one should strive to have sincerity and steadfastness in everything they do. If not, it should be known that this blessing will be removed. Likewise, the person climbing a high mountain needs to be more careful about where he puts his foot and what he holds onto; it is much more dangerous to take a wrong step or to hold a weak branch when one is at the peak. The following hadîth is a beautiful statement of this truth: “…the pious face great danger” (Bayhaqî, Shu‘ab al-Imân, V: 345).
Sincerity is the most important requirement for the correctness of service. When there is sincerity, discord, egoism and greed disappear. The path to allocating a share for oneself will be secured and the obstacles on the path of service will be reduced.
The people of service should exhibit a stable character before anything else. People admire those who have strong characters and who are dignified examples to follow and be taken as role models. From this point of view, the people of service should be trustworthy in their words and within their essence (ahl al-sidq), conscience that they are of the Ummah of a prophet endowed with attributes such as “the Trustworthy” (al-Amin) and “the Truthful” (al-Sâdiq). All of these can only be realized with a form of servanthood that remains on the straight path.
4. Being Compassionate, Merciful and Forgiving
A mature and perfect human being is a person of heart. Compassion and altruism should be his most glowing characteristics and innate nature. Mercy in a believer’s heart is like a fire that never goes out. The path to the outlet of the heavens of maturity that a human soul can reach traverses the lands of mercy and service. Mercy is a divine essence which is a testimony of our faith in this world and which brings us close to our Lord.
People of service should make it a priority to show compassion and mercy towards the creation they serve by contemplating the Lord Almighty’s names, Rahmân and Rahîm; this is because service is a work of mercy. All beautiful things are acquired through mercy, compassion and humbleness. The most distinguished sign of mercy is charity. From this point of view, the people of service also need to be generous because sublime morality and attributes complement each other. The merciful person will be generous, the generous one will be humble and the humble person will be the ideal one for service. The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said:
“Allah Almighty is generous and beneficent; He loves generosity and high morality.” (Suyûtî, al-Jâmi‘al-Sagîr, I: 60)
Also, low morality and unpleasant attributes are inseparable. The person deprived of mercy and compassion is mean, a mean person is arrogant and an arrogant person is far from serving others.
Therefore, no blessing will be expected from a service performed in a rude, hurtful and harsh manner, that has no connection with good morality. This becomes even more important in service such as education, guidance and missionary work, which directly address human beings. In the following verse, the Prophet, and by extension, the whole Ummah is addressed:
“It was by the mercy of Allah that thou wast lenient with them (O Muhammad), for if thou hadst been stern and fierce of heart they would have dispersed from round about thee…” (Âl ‘Imrân, 3:159)
The exoteric aspects of religion are evaluated and taught by the intellect and the spiritual, esoteric aspects, which are the essence, by the soul. Mercy and affection increases the outcome of nurturing, directing and managing people. Many people, who cannot be ruled by brute force, yield to affection and compassion.
Truly, the love felt for a teacher increases the attachment to him and increases interest in what he teaches because his affectionate and compassionate approach enables him to influence via a spiritual channel rather than an intellectual one. By this, the inspiration gains a suitable content for the spiritual inclinations of the one who is the receiver, enabling the greatest reform within the personality. For this reason, people, especially students, should be approached through affection and compassion since most will surrender to these. The true conquerors of the world are those who can conquer hearts.
The sovereigns who are selfish and deprived of affection and mercy obtain a forced submission from those under their governance because they cannot rule their souls. For this reason, their achievements remain minimal. This is a delicate factor that concerns parents as much as administrators.
Truly, in a person of service, egoism and pretence should make their way for love and affection. Delicate, beautiful flowers can only blossom like this. Those who reach perfection in their behaviour through affection and mercy always search for the stricken and miserly creatures that need spiritual and material help. They feel the suffering of those who fall into misery.
One of the attributes of Allah Almighty that expresses His forgiveness is His name, Al-‘Afuw. So too the person of service should be forgiving. Forgiving is a natural result of becoming one with Allah’s morality. Looking at the creation with the gaze of the Creator prepares the grounds for forgiveness. Those who want to be filled with divine merriment are those who spread the fragrance of forgiveness. We should prepare the grounds for our own faults to be forgiven by first being forgiving ourselves. In reality, the person who does not forgive has ruined himself.
In addition, the person of service should be one who covers faults and shameful actions, not the one who inquires about these. The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said:
“Whoever covers the faults of his friends, Allah will cover his faults on the Day of Judgement. Whoever reveals the faults of his Muslim brother, Allah will reveal his faults as well. Allah will even shame him with his faults in his own home.” (Ibn Mâja, Hudûd,
“Whoever reproaches a believer with a failure, he will not die before he commits that same failure.” (Tirmidhî, Qiyâmah, 53)
5. Acting with Consultation
Acting with consultation when serving the other is a Divine order and an important Sunnah. Addressing the Prophet, the Lord Almighty said:
“… Consult with them upon the conduct of affairs. And when thou art resolved, then put thy trust in Allah. Lo! Allah loveth those who put their trust (in Him).” (Âl ‘Imrân, 3:159)
He has declared in the following verse that believers should counsel each other in important matters, “…and whose affairs are a matter of counsel…” (Shûra, 42:38)
The beloved Prophet sought counsel from his Companions in almost all matters he saw important. To set an example for his Ummah, in every matter and incident he would prefer consultation, although he was supported by revelation in all matters. At Badr and Khandaq he determined where and how they would encounter the enemy by consultation. At the Battle of ‘Uhud, though his own inclination was to adopt a defensive strategy, because of the advice of his Companions recommended he confront the enemy outside Madina, the Prophet left his own preference and acted accordingly.
A human being is always under the influence of his emotions; he thinks and acts upon them. From this point of view, the consultation of the people of service will guarantee actions which are both correct and rewarding.
However, it is important that the people who are sought for counsel be intelligent, knowledgeable and pious, along with being affable and good at teamwork. It is obvious that many minds yield better decisions than just one. The Messenger of Allah stated this truth in the following words:
“Those who make pray for guidance (istikhâra) will not face disappointment, those who consult (istishara) will not regret it and those who are economical will not face poverty.” (Haythamî, Majmû‘ al-Zawâ’id, II, 280)
Feedback from consultation should definitely be applied. Consultations that are done without sincerity, just to please others, will not bring any benefit. Only those who are competent should be sought for counsel and everyone should state their ideas openly, without hesitation so that truth and mercy will come out of it. If the person who is sought for counsel is not competent in the subject, the result will be ineffective and full of mistakes. From this point of view, bizarre mistakes such as asking a matter of medicine from a lawyer should be strictly avoided.
A person of service should know to prefer the enjoyment of his brothers involved in service over his own. Those who want to perform service entirely alone will tire quickly, become distressed and change their views. They will start belittling everyone. They will become slaves to their love for leadership. The true and mature person of service is a person of purified soul who has shed his mortal being and sees himself right at the back of the caravan of service.
6. Knowing well the Person who is Served
Knowing well the person who is served is also as important as the service itself because appropriate service is possible only through this. A Muslim should seek a share of the attribute of fatâna (intellect, wisdom and foresight related to the heart) from the Prophet and use the blessing of intellect in the most effective way. He should know what to say, when to say it, how to say it and to whom to say it, along with knowing how to behave. For example, the delicate approach Ja‘far at-Tayyâr (May Allah be pleased with him) took as he was informing the Ethiopian King Najâshî about Islam is very important in showing the foresight of a Muslim. Najâshî, who was a Christian, asked Ja‘far at-Tayyâr to recite a few verses from the Qur’ân. Rather than reciting the chapter al-Kâfirûn which challenges disbelievers, he chose to recite from al-Maryam which speaks about the Prophet Jesus and his mother with praise. Najâshî, greatly affected by the verses that were recited, drew a line on the floor with his staff and said:
“-Our religion and your religion are as close to each other as this!” He then became a Muslim shortly afterwards.
Whilst performing service, it is a necessity to know the person one is serving well in order to be sure that the trust is going to one deserving. The Prophet (May Allah bless him and grant him peace) did not dispatch companions who were better suited to commanding an army as diplomatic delegates; neither did he nominate the Ashâb as-Suffa—people of knowledge, missionary work and righteous souls—as commanders. When he was allocating these duties, he would consider the persons character, capabilities, competence and even physique.
At this point, recalling some aspects about training and education will be beneficial.
The most difficult service is educating a human being. A nafs that has not been trained will continuously stir one towards wickedness. Allah Almighty has instilled inclinations for both wickedness and piety in human beings. From this point of view, the manifestations of these two inclinations are seen from childhood. Deterring the inclination towards sin and strengthening piety secure happiness for a person. The way to do this is tarbiyyah (training). Training the wildest animal is easier than to train a human being who has given into his nafs.
Tarbiyyah is the occupation of prophets. To become an educator one has to have strong feelings and sentiments because when connecting with a student, one needs to understand their feelings and act accordingly. This is like a doctor who has to understand the reason of the pain before he can produce a diagnosis. It should not be forgotten that only the person whose problem is solved can be gained.
The aptitudes of people are different from each other just as their various weaknesses. For this reason an educator needs to approach human beings with the carefulness of a psychiatrist. A word or an action that is beneficial for one could be harmful for another. For this reason, we should know the characters of those very well who we are responsible for educating.
An educator should know his student’s character and aptitude like the beads on his rosary and work on developing the capabilities they have. For example, the person who has an inclination for poetry should be directed towards the depths of his soul. The one who is apt for administration should be taught about administration, the importance of giving duty to capable people, the necessity of treating people with justice and compassion, and so forth. Other occupational aptitudes are similar too. The approaches in educating all of these aptitudes, which are necessary for any society, are different from each other.
The service of educating a human being should be planned considering the balance of body-soul and mind-heart. If only the intellect of a human being is addressed, then self-interest, status, worldly whims and wishes will become important and the maturation of the soul will be neglected. A human being raised as such will become a slave to wealth, fame and lust. If his heart can be trained along with his intellect, only then will it be possible to direct the inclinations he has in his nature towards the path of Allah. One should be mindful that knowledge that does not reach the heart will not translate into wisdom. Knowledge that is bereft of wisdom can drag one to perversion. The human being who is not equipped with spiritual feelings and virtues will have been left alone to the brute force of his nafs, which continuously commands towards wickedness.
May Lord Almighty make us among those fortunate people who serve all humanity-especially the people of faith-,His religion and the entire creation with love and in the best manner.