We find the basis of Islamic ethics in getting closer to Allah the Almighty with love and sincerity. And we also observe the most apparent and significant sign of this approach in “serving the humans for the sake of Allah.” Because, based on the principle “those who serve humans are served by others,” serving human beings is an exceptional and sublime step to take the souls to Divine apexes.
This is such a step that all prophets and friends of Allah were exalted on it. In other words they became concrete manifestations of the following tradition of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh):
“The masters of a nation are the ones who serve their nation…”(Daylami, Musnad, II, 324)
Therefore for servants the path to Divine peaks goes through serving human beings with sincere hearts. Sometimes a little service deserving the contentment of Allah can be more rewarding than many voluntary worships.
Once, the Prophet (pbuh) and his Companions camped during a journey. It was a very hot day. Some of the Companions were fasting, some were not. The fasting Companions fell asleep from exhaustion. Those who were not fasting carried water for their fasting friends and put up the tents. When the time came to break the fast, the Prophet (pbuh) said:
“Today those who did not fast have gone with more reward.”(Muslim, Kitab al-Sawm, 100-101)
The Prophet (pbuh), who taught his followers so many guiding principles like the one above, carried bricks on his back for building the Quba Mosque and the Prophet’s mosque in Medina even though his Companions tried to prevent him from working. His modesty and love to serve human beings is a matchless example for his Muslim nation. In fact he spent his entire life serving human beings and creation.
That is why serving humanity is one of the apparent characteristics of those who follow his footsteps. In other words the soul who loves Allah the Almighty and His Messenger should be among the people of service. On the one hand, service for the sake of Allah becomes a means to help others; on the other hand it provides a spiritual ascension for those who serve in the extent of their efforts and sincerity. Thus maybe the one who serves gets more benefit from the recipient of the service.
Man of service is like a river, which gives life to thousands of beings around it. This river’s final destination is the sea of union with Allah the Almighty. Those who are aware of this fact deem themselves as servants of the pubic even if they are Sultans. When Ottoman Sultan Yavuz Salim heard an imam praising the Sultan in the sermon: “Hakim al-Haramain al-Sharifayn or Sovereign of the two harams (Mecca and Medina)” he objected with crying eyes: “On the contrary I am servant of two harams (Khadim al-Haramain al-Sharifayn).”
Ubaydullah Ahrar (q.s.) says about the state he reached by serving human beings:
“We have ascended in this path not just by reading books but by applying what we read to our lives and serving public. Everybody is taken through a path and we were taken through the path of service.” These words reveal that knowledge itself is not enough unless it is transformed into action and service.
However for the acceptance of a service in the presence of Allah the Almighty, it should fulfill some conditions. An accepted service should be performed with a sincere, gracious and altruistic heart and should seek the contentment of Allah. In other words service must be done without aiming any a personal gain but to attain eternal reward. Service adorned with this quality will be a cause for eternal salvation, even if it is giving half a date as it was mentioned in the hadith.
Ubaydullah Ahrar (q.s.) narrates:
“One day I went to market. Someone came to me and said: “I am hungry. Would you give me some food for the sake of Allah?” I did not have anything to give save an old turban. We went to a soup kitchen and told the cook: “Take this turban. It is old but clean. You can dry your dishes with it. And in return could you feed this poor man?” The cook gave some food to the poor man, and he did not want to accept my turban. But I refused. I waited until the poor man finished his meal, even though I was hungry myself.”
Later Ubaydullah Ahrar got so rich that he employed thousands of workers at his ranches. However, he never stopped serving human beings. His service to everybody, from the beginning to the end of the spiritual path, was magnificent. He narrates one of his services as follows:
“I had taken the care of four patients at Madrasah Maulana Qutbuddin in Samarkand. Because their diarrhea got worse, they started to wet their beds. I helped them to take their baths and washed their clothes. Because of my continuous care, I got infected and fell ill. Even then I continued my services and kept cleaning their clothes and beds.”
Ideal behaviors of our predecessors, their charities and services for the sake of Allah are excellent examples for us. No matter how rich a Muslim is, he would fulfill his wealth’s requirements in the extent of maturity of his heart and spiritual state. Those who fulfill their obligations and maintain their modesty while ascending in the ranks of spirituality would reach the ideal state mentioned in Ubaydullah Ahrar’s anecdote.
Another very difficult rank to reach in serving human beings can be observed in Ma’ruf al-Karkhi’s following narration: A sick and old person visited Mar’uf al-Karkhi. He was destitute; he was balding, and looked very pale. As if it was his final moments. Ma’ruf al-Karkhi prepared a bed for him and treated him well. the sick man was moaning and crying with pain. He neither slept himself nor let anybody else from the household members sleep all night. Besides he started to annoy everybody by his complaints. Finally everybody in the house except Ma’ruf al-Karkhi and his wife run away from the house.
Ma’ruf al-Karkhi was struggling to do everything he could in order to serve the sick man. However, one night he could not stand sleeplessness and fell asleep. When the heedless sick man saw him sleeping, instead of thanking him he continued his complaints and said:
“What kind of dervish is this? As a matter of fact people like him have a well-known in appearance, but in reality they are hypocrites. Their outside is clean but their inside is full of filth. They advice others to be pious but they themselves do not follow their own advice. Look how this man is sleeping without thinking my poor condition. What would someone who fed himself full and fell asleep know about the state of a helpless sick man?”
Ma’ruf al-Karkhi, on the other hand, bore with his complaints and pretended not to hear them. However his wife could not stand anymore and quietly told her husband:
“You heard what this grumpy old man said. We can no longer have him in this house. Let’s not allow him to hurt you anymore. Tell him to find himself another place to stay. Goodness should be done to those who appreciate it. To do favors to the ungrate ful is in fact doing them evil. A pillow should not be placed under a lousy man’s head. His head deserves to be on a stone.”
After listening quietly his wife’s words, Ma’ruf al-Karkhi said smilingly:
“My dear, why do his words hurt you? If he had said something, they were for me; if he had done something rude, he did it to me; do not you see he is in great pain. He cannot even sleep. You should also know that the real kindness and mercy is to able to tolerate people like them…”
Sheikh Sadi who narrated the aforementioned story gives the following advice:
“The merit in serving humans is to endure the burden of the poor when you feel yourself strong and healthy.”
“The heart filled with love is a forgiven heart. If you are made up just from an appearance, when you die, your name will die with your body. If you live as a generous man and be a man of service, your life will continue after your death in the extent of your devotion and penetration into the hearts. Do not you see there are so many tombs in the city of Karkh, but none of them is known and visited as much as Ma’ruf al-Karkhi’s tomb.”
How nice the friends of Allah have said:
“Tasawwuf or Sufism means to be a yâr (or friend) not a bâr (or burden)” In other words it means to bear everybody’s burden but not to be a burden on anybody.
Especially with compassionate and devoted services, doors of mercy will be opened for the Muslim nation. Value of a service depends on the size of sacrifice and its performance with the feelings of worship. Again an accepted service is the one performed only for the sake of Allah the Almighty and without hurting the recipient’s feelings. As it is stated by Abdullah b. Munazil (q.s.):
“Good manners in service are more precious than the service itself.”
Mawlana Jalal al-Din Rumi says about this fact:
“Work for the sake of Allah, Serve for the sake of Allah; what difference does it make for you if the populace accepts it or rejects it? Does not Allah suffice you as a profitable customer? What can humans give you when it is compared to what you can get from Allah? Therefore turn your eyes and soul to what you will attain from Allah the Almighty from the appreciation of humans.” 
This is the level of highness and beauty to which Sufism wants to take human soul. In this regard, Amir Kulâl advices his disciple Bahauddin Naqshiband:
“Placate the souls, serve the weak. Protect the weak and stricken. They are such people that have no expectation from public. However, most of them live with complete ease of mind and modesty in gratitude to Allah. Search and find these kind of people.”
In fact Bahauddin Naqshiband (q.s.) served the sick and stricken, wounded animals and cleaned the roads for seven years in order to achieve nothingness or opposite of pride and vanity in the early years of his adherence to Sufi order. He narrates:
“I worked in the way my master ordered me. I did all the services. My ego reached to such a level that when I see a creation of Allah crossing across the street I would stop and wait until it passed. My service continued for seven years. And at the end of these years such a level manifested to me that I started to feel their whimpers as seeking refuge to Allah the Almighty.”
Allah the Almighty states in the Qur’an about the righteous Muslims the following:
“…they strive with one another in hastening to good deeds.”(3; 114) And the most distinguished product of these righteous believers is the religious foundations. Endowed people are the Prophet, friends of Allah and those who were trained by them. They carried the excitement of faith in their hearts to all corners of the world and wrote the golden pages of history.
It is interesting to note that there were about one hundred and twenty thousand Companions ready at the farewell pilgrimage. More than one hundred thousand of them spread around the world and endowed themselves to the sake of Allah. They died faraway from their homes. In fact tombs of sons of Othman and Abbas (may Allah pleased with them) are in Samarkand and tombs of several Companions are in Istanbul. Those who stayed behind in Mecca and Medina protected the center of Islamic state and took care of these cities’ services.
Khalid b. Zaid Abu Ayyub al-Ansari came to the gates of Istanbul twice even though he was around 80 years old and was martyred there. This was one of the exemplary efforts of the Companions to invite humanity to Islam and to save them both in this world and in the Hereafter. Their love and excitement to serve humanity and their struggle to attain the eternal life motivate to spread their services all around the world.
Wahb b. Kabsha (may Allah be pleased with him) is another great exemplary figure of serving human beings. His tomb is in China. The Prophet (pbuh) sent him to China to convey the message of Islam; whereas in those days China was a yearlong travel away from Arabia. After serving in China for a very long time, this Companion set out to Medina in order to relieve his longing for the Messenger of Allah (pbuh). He arrived at Medina a year later after a very difficult journey, but unfortunately he could not see the Prophet (pbuh) for he had passed away. Thinking his responsibility, he went back to China and passed away while giving service to Islam.
These altruistic services can only be tolerated by strong faith and love. Their love and spirit for helping people have become stars illuminating their paths.
Of course the noble Companions reached this level by following the Prophet (pbuh)’s training, particularly the following nine principles:
Serving Allah the Almighty; willingly following His orders and prohibitions and exerting all efforts in the path of exalting the word of Allah.
Serving the Prophet (pbuh); loving him and helping people live according to his Sunnah.
Serving the elders of Islam; showing respect, loyalty and fidelity
Serving parents; gaining their contentment without showing them any disrespect
Serving the offspring; raising them as righteous Muslims
Serving relatives; visiting and helping them.
Serving the believers; sharing both their joy and pain
Serving all of humanity; doing their best in benefiting people with their hands and tongues
Serving creation; Showing compassion to all existence.
In this respect, Musa Topbas (q.s.) often narrated the following sayings of Ali Ramiteni:
“There are many people helping others but reproachfully reminding their kindness to them. However there are very few who considers serving others as a blessing. Consider having the opportunity to help others as a blessing and feel grateful to those you helped; everybody will be pleased with you and their complaints will decrease.”
As a matter of fact what we all try to reach is salvation of our soul, or the attainment of peace and tranquility, whether we are aware of it or not. And this is an inner treasure which can be attained by serving human kind with the same joy of worshipping Allah the Almighty. That is why believers, who consciously serve creation, know to find opportunities and means to serve under any circumstances. He is more determined and eager to help humans for the sake of Allah the Almighty than those who help others for worldly benefits.
When eagerness to serve others settled in the heart, it transforms the servant into a traveler of eternity. The heart frees itself from the harshness of Hajjaj the oppressor and wraps itself into the fur of compassion. Knowledge, art, and ethics gained with this spirituality attain enchanting eternity. Therefore the real and sincere services are the fruits of cordial maturity. Those kinds of hearts are the places of Divine sight.
And yet what a great loss to spend life distant from such cordial virtues! How blessed are those who filled their hearts with real love for service!
Dear Lord! Fill our heats with the love, rapture and excitement of attaining your contentment. Bless us with the same excitement of the Companions for serving creation!
. For the English translation of Mathnawi, I have benefited from The Mathnawí of Jalálu’ddín Rúmí, edited from the oldest manuscripts available, with critical notes, translation & commentary, ed. Reynold A. Nicholson, Konya Metropolitan Municipality, 2004
. Vol. VI, verse 839
. There is a tomb attributed to Sa’d b. Abi Waqqas (May Allah be pleased with him) in Guangzhou, China. It is a known historical fact that companions’ tombs have maintained and protected the religious feelings of the public. In fact there are several examples proving this fact in the cities of Middle Asia, like Samarkand, Bukhara, Turkistan and Tashkent.
. Al-Ḥajjāj ibn Yūsuf (661-714) was a military governor of the Umayyad caliphate.