Improving oneself scholarly and ethically

A man of service should not neglect his personal progress in order to offer  quality service to humanity. Effort for continuous improvement must be his/her natural characteristic. The unqualified men of service who do not have enough knowledge and experience and who do not care about their moral and spiritual development cannot provide proper and serious services.

On the other hand, advancement and change in life is a Divine law. Every creature who cannot keep up with life is doomed to disappear. That is why men of service should observe this Divine law and accept to improve themselves as a duty.

 Another important issue is the reality that the type of service and how it’s performed change according to the conditions of time. Something that was essential yesterday might lose its importance today. The way it is performed may also change. To be able to see these facts are only achievable, if a man of service improves himself/herself.  Mawlana Jalal al-Din Rumi’s following verses show the necessity to change the way we utter our words:

“How many words there are, which belonged to yesterday, they were gone with yesterday

This is a new day; therefore new things should be said”

Ali (may Allah be pleased with him) says:

“Raise your kids not according to the requirements of your time but according to the requirements of their time”, he points out the significance of taking the conditions of time into consideration.

The men of service should especially improve themselves in the following points:

Scholarly improvement

The men of service should primarily be equipped with the knowledge, which will provide them their eternal future. Not to fall into the traps of false thoughts and beliefs, a strong theological knowledge needs to be acquired.  With the object of performing worships according to Divine guidelines, catechismal knowledge about Islam has to be acquired. In order to be a servant who obtains Allah’s pleasure, the life of the Prophet (pbuh) should be learned and comprehended with a contemplative heart.

The Holy Qur’an should be transformed into a source of prosperity and illumination for our souls. We should accept reading the Qur’an and living according to its principles as a duty.

The men of service should not neglect to read other books to increase their culture and improve their personality. From time to time they should read poetry and history books, stories from the Qur’an, advice from the Prophets and from the Sufi masters, Ali’s (may Allah be pleased with him) written commands to the governors[1] and advice from the men of the soul.

In addition to reading books they should attend scholarly circles and conferences. This is the way to acquire knowledge orally. Conferences and circles of righteous scholars who live an upright life should especially not be missed.

Spiritual improvement

A man of service should also improve his spiritual state, as long as he continues  his service. He should submit himself to his Lord and sincerely and modestly try to fulfill his duties with courtesy. If he does not spiritually improve, his service would create counter effects. Sometimes he might perform what he should have avoided, because he has lost his intuition (al-firasah). His service does produce any fruits, but only exhaustian. That is why in order to attain Divine help we have to give importance to mature our souls with piety.

To offer an acceptable service would be possible by having intuition and attaining Allah’s help and this can be achieved by being a devoted servant of Allah the Almighty. This is explained in a Sacred Hadith as follows:

“…And the most beloved things with which My slave comes nearer to Me, is what I have enjoined upon him; and My slave keeps on coming closer to Me through performing Nawafil (praying or doing extra deeds besides what is obligatory) till I love him, so I become his sense of hearing with which he hears, and his sense of sight with which he sees, and his hand with which he grips, and his leg with which he walks; and if he asks Me, I will give him, and if he asks My protection (Refuge), I will protect him; (i.e. give him My Refuge) and I do not hesitate to do anything as I hesitate to take the soul of the believer, for he hates death, and I hate to disappoint him.”(Bukhari, Kitab al-Riqaq, 38)

To maintain a robust and active heart and to make progress depends on freeing the heart from defects which is the place of Divine manifestations. This can be achieved by observing the following principles:

To be careful in regards to having lawful sustenance

To observe the rights of servants and creation

To be in a state of continuous supplication and repentance

To read the Qur’an and to abide by its rules

To perform worship in reverence

To spend nights with religious practices (The more we lighten our nights up with prayer the more they will be reflected in our mornings. Times of dawn are the most valuable times of a day. Wasting such valuable moments is a bitter deprivation.)

To continue remembrance and contemplation of Allah the Almighty.

To contemplate death

To be together with the righteous and trustworthy  people and stay away from the sinners and the dissolute

To attend circles of the scholars and the wise, who act what they know

To be men of charity

In short teachers, who train the future generations, are required to transform first their own hearts into Sufi convents. If their hearts do not turn into convents, they are not much different than the walls of a building, which would collapse and disappear after a while. Those who open their hearts to humanity live until Judgment Day, like Yunus Emre and Mawlana’s spiritual lessons in their schools continue benefit others without interruption.

Professional advancement

The men of service must have knowledge and experience in his field of service. If this capacity is not achieved, the service would be ineffective, it might even be harmful. Services performed in the best manner will never be forgotten. In fact in a verse Allah the Almighty says:

إِنَّا لَا نُضِيعُ أَجْرَ مَنْ أَحْسَنَ عَمَلاً

“…We do not waste the reward of he who does a good work.”(18; 30)

And the messenger of Allah says:

“Allah the Almighty loves His servant who does his job in the best and the soundest way.”(Daylami, Musnad, I, 157)

Therefore, the men of service are responsible to learn the best method with which they can perform their service. Another issue that can be inferred from the aforementioned tradition is serving while in the state of ihsan, that is serving creation as if we see Allah the Almighty, as serving with this frame of mind, no doubt, attracts Divine love.

In short, to improve ourselves scholarly and ethically means to advance and to perfect our outward and inward characteristics, because qualified generations can only be raised by qualified teachers who raise their students both scholarly and ethically. Unqualified teachers train unqualified and weak students. For lofty and high objects can be achieved by perfect individuals, these perfect individuals must be educated in the hands of skillful teachers with upright character.

As a matter of fact if there are qualified people in a society, who can shoulder the services, it would be possible and easy to transmit the people of that society to the peaks. If a society lacks such qualified people, it simply alludes to a crisis of manpower. Just like a headless body, that society cannot survive. That is why the most important matter is to train qualified people with high character and qualities, like the late poet Mehmed Akif says:

“It requires a real man to transform a nation into a real nation…”

On one occasion Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) was sitting with his friends. He asked them to make some requests from Allah the Almighty. Some of them said:

“I wish I this room was full of money, so that I could give it as charity.”

Some others said:

“I wish this house was full of gold so that I could spend it in the way of Allah the Almighty.”

However when Umar said:

“More, more ask more” they said:

“What else can we ask?” Umar said:

“I would ask that this house be full of people like Abu Ubayda b. Jarrah, Muaz b. Jabal and Huzayfa al-Yamani and appoint them the jobs of conveying the message of Islam and improving the society.” (Bukhari, Tarikh al-Saghir, I, 54)

[1].      For parts from Amirname-i Ali (Decree of Ali) see the related part of this book.