Human beings are the noblest of creatures and the most precious ornament of the universe. Allah the Almighty has provided humanity with many bounties and capabilities that He did not give to other creatures. In return for these, Allah made human beings responsible beings.
Allah the exalted has placed in us tendencies toward immorality as well as inclinations to reverent consciousness and carefulness toward Him. And He has granted us the free will to choose between the two, thus putting us to the test in this world. He bestowed upon us freedom to opt for either good or evil on condition that we shall be content with the result that we receive.
As a precondition of the worldly trial, He determined different life conditions for each of His servants.
Human beings are created with different abilities and conditions in order to insure the continuity of human social life in order, harmony, and peace. If all human beings were endowed with identical qualities, identical vocational capabilities, and identical material and spiritual conditions, there could be no division of labor in society, and consequently, no peaceful order of human life. Instead, human beings are created to need each other, just as our two hands need each other in order to wash themselves. The course of human life is designed for all people to cooperate in its affairs, just as all parts of a machine are necessary for the sound functioning of the machine. Thus the fact that human beings have different opportunities in this worldly realm of trial is not without wisdom.
Different circumstances create different responsibilities for the faithful, as well as allotting different rights. One’s social position, whatever it may be, makes special demands upon conscience and faith. Allah the Almighty has required his poor, weak and needy servants to be patient; they will receive compensation in the Hereafter for what they suffer in this world. Allah the Almighty has also required his rich, powerful, and capable servants to beware greed and arrogance; they must be thankful instead.
Giving thanks to Allah is not a matter of words. The true way to give thanks is to offer sustenance to those who need it. It is supporting the weak for the pleasure of Allah, seeking to meet their needs and receive their blessings. Acts like these are the best expressions of gratitude.
Surely now and then we must ask ourselves, “I am strong and healthy: why is so-and-so handicapped and ill? I am wealthy: why is so-and-so poor?” We should answer these questions by reasoning, “Allah has entrusted these bounties to me, so I am responsible for them. I must do my best to use these opportunities to help those who lack them.”
The Prophet (pbuh) said, “Whoever remains indifferent to a fellow Muslim’s sorrow is not one of us.” (Hâkim, IV, 352; Haythamî, I, 87).
A responsibility of empathy linked to religious solidarity is very important. Despite our concrete separateness, Muslims are meant to consider each other as limbs of a single body, all depending on the same heart. Just as pain suffered by one limb is felt throughout the body, so the pain of any suffering Muslim is a trial of conscience for all of us.
When Ozi Castle fell to a siege and all its inhabitants were murdered, Ottoman Sultan Abdulhamid I was profoundly grieved. “O my Lord, my soldier sons and innocent people are slaughtered!” he cried. From the depth of his sorrow he lost his health, and finally became paralyzed and died: a manifestation of a deep sense of responsibility. How great was the sensitivity, flowing from faith, that took the life of a mighty sultan! If we are to obtain divine approval, then we faithful must seek to love each other, to serve each other, and to support each another with this degree of sensitivity.
We believers also need each other for good deeds and prayers. Weak and suffering believers need the good deeds of the rich and powerful, and rich and powerful believers need the blessings of the suffering and weak.
Mawlana Jalâluddîn Rûmî expresses this elegantly:
Just as beauty seeks a clear mirror, so generosity seeks the poor. As the outer beauty of a handsome person is reflected in a mirror, so the inner beauty of a giving person is revealed through others’ need.
On the other hand, those who suffer various difficulties should not consider what they experience to be punishment. They need to know that such challenges are divine tests. If they are patient and thankful to Allah in every situation, they will receive compensation for whatever they suffer.
Thus with regard to the good pleasure of Allah, the thankful rich and the patient poor are equal. The only difference between them is that one group is being tried by poverty while the other group is being tried by wealth.
To show us an example of each, Allah the Almighty tells us of the prophets Solomon and Job. Although Solomon (pbuh) had unlimited wealth, he never became arrogant. Worldly possessions did not occupy his heart, and he always remained thankful to Allah. This is why Allah complimented him in the Qur’an, saying “ni`mal-`abd” “how excellent a servant!”
On the other hand Job (pbuh), who was tried by poverty and disease, was always conscious that it was Allah who had decreed those trials should fall upon him. He accepted his condition and never complained. Because of his consent to the divine decree, Prophet Job (pbuh) received the same divine compliment, “ni`mal-`abd” “how excellent a servant!”, as did Prophet Solomon. Thus the important thing in the view of Allah is not how a certain servant is tried, but rather how he responds to his trial.
This is why sincere believers should above all aim to be content with Allah. In order to root this attitude firmly within ourselves, in spiritual affairs we should admire and emulate people who are more virtuous than we are. In material affairs, we should keep in mind those who are worse off , and be thankful. We should not complain about difficult conditions decreed by Allah the Almighty, but be consoled by our faith that the conditions we suffer from will lighten our accounting in the Hereafter. For Allah the Almighty will question most strenuously those to whom He gave the most resources in the life of this world. Those who received less bounty shall be held less responsible. Divine justice will then manifest in this manner.
It follows that a person born into a primitive or an ignorant society is less responsible for accepting true religious beliefs than a person born into a religious and civilized society: their conditions are not comparable. Hence the divine gifts bestowed upon each servant are the factors that determine the limits and the degree of our responsibility.
In the noble Qur’an Allah says:
Allah tasks not a soul beyond its scope.(Baqarah, 2/286)
That is, Allah holds His servants responsible exactly to the extent of the power and opportunity He grants us. This implies that each of us is answerable for every undertaking we might have carried out, and yet did not. We must keep well in mind that we shall be held accountable in the Hereafter for each good deed we could have done but refrained from doing, as well as for unprovided services such as advising others toward faith and good works, and warning them against injustice and evil.
At this point, an important problem emerges for serious Muslims. For while it is easy to estimate the amount of alms that we owe on our wealth, it is difficult to identify how much service we owe due to our other worldly benefits, let alone the spiritual gifts bestowed upon us by Allah. For example, making an effort in the cause of Allah is a duty with which Allah the Almighty taxes the servant. However, unlike almsgiving, its amount or proportion is never defined.
If your wealth is so great that you properly owe a hundred million dollars in alms, your responsibility is not discharged if you pay out a million to the poor. The responsibility resulting from spiritual gifts may be considered in similar terms. Some people receive more such gifts, and others, fewer. Let’s say that the heart-capacity of the latter is a little cup, while the heart-capacity of the former is a big kettle. If a person who has a big kettle pours out of it only a cup’s worth of water, that means he is either miserly or pointlessly carrying around an empty kettle. Capacity is a matter of divine decree, and the differences among us makes us responsible to different degrees.
Since it is impossible to know the exact amount of responsibility due for the divine gifts given us, we should never place too much trust in the designated prayers that we have performed or the good deeds and works of charity that we have carried out. It may be that the capacity of our “responsibility container” is so large that our good deeds are very far from filling it!
We receive many illustrations of this principle from the Age of Felicity. For instance, a Bedouin once came to the Prophet (pbuh) and declared that he would observe only the compulsory acts of worship. The Prophet (pbuh) remarked: “If he keeps his promise, he will be delivered.” This was because the capacity of that person was only that much. However, the Prophet (pbuh) repeatedly advised Mu`âdh, one of his close Companions, that his observances were “not enough.” Finally the Prophet (pbuh) said to him, “Shall I inform you of the thing on which the fulfillment of all these depends?” When Mu’âdh said: “Yes, please, O Messenger of Allah!” The Prophet (pbuh) grasped his tongue and said, “Protect your tongue!”
Mu`âdh then asked: “Are we held responsible for what we say?” And the Prophet (pbuh) replied, “O Mu’âdh! May Allah make you good! The thing that pushes people to Hell is only the words produced by tongues!”
We have no certainty whether we hold a cup or a large kettle in our hand, that we might identify the degree of our responsibility. In fact, we don’t even want to know. Perhaps we have a big barrel of responsibilities! Still, each of likes to pretend, “I have only a little cup….so it’s enough for me to give a little from my little cup!” Many people who enjoy great divine bounty and so are holding large barrels still compare themselves to those who hold small cups, and say of their few good deeds that “I have filled my cup.” Many other people are totally out of their minds: they compare their private situation to the overall wealth of society, discount their vast resources, and comfort their consciences by taking care of themselves, leaving the whole work to others.
However, we must know that divine gifts bestowed upon a society and those given to individuals are not to be compared. That is why we should never feel satisfied with the services that we provide for the cause of Allah. We should never assume that we have fulfilled our duty completely. In order to meet our responsibility for the divine gifts granted us, we must keep making efforts until our last breath.
We must also be careful of falling into the trap of considering ourselves exempt from making efforts in the cause of Allah because we suffer some deprivation. Our example is Abdullah ibn Umm Maktûm , of the Companions of the Prophet, who was blind. Nonetheless he participated in the Qadisiya military expedition, saying, “I can carry the flag, at least!” Another example comes from the Tabuk campaign. A poor Companion was regarded as exempt from participating because he did not have a mount. But he joined the expedition anyway by reaching an agreement with another Companion to borrow his mount. The agreement was that if they won the battle and he survived, he would give his entire share of the war booty in exchange for the use of the mount. The people of that time showed many such examples of self-sacrifice. They understood that the degree of effort necessary to carry out a good deed increases the reward one gets in return.
All sincere services undertaken to please Allah are signs of maturity of heart. They are all occasions to get closer to our Lord. Thus even if we suffer some disease, disability, or poverty, we should not abandon serving Islam, saying that “I have a valid excuse…” Instead, we should clear obstacles from the way and try hard to do everything we can to serve the religion of Allah.
Allah says in the noble Qur’an:
O you who believe! If you help Allah, He will help you and will make your feet firm.(Muhammad, 47/7).
Don’t endanger yourselves!
During the `Umayyad period, the Muslim military, wishing to realize the prediction of the Prophet (pbuh) regarding the conquest of Constantinople, the Byzantine capital, advanced very close to the city. Among the soldiers was Abû Ayyûb al-Ansârî, the famous Companion who had served as the Prophet’s host in Medina when the Prophet (pbuh) departed Mecca.. The fighting was intense, and the Byzantine soldiers were protected by the city’s great walls. A Muslim soldier from Medina charged his horse into the Byzantine army. Seeing how dangerous the situation was and keeping in mind the divine command, “be not cast by your own hands into ruin,” the Muslim army was shocked. “ My God!” they said, “Look at him, running blatantly into danger!”
Overhearing this, Abû Ayyûb al-Ansârî told them, “That Qur’anic verse was revealed about us, the original Muslims of Medina. After Allah made his religion prevail through the surrender of Mecca, we said: ‘From now on, let’s take care of our own possessions and work to make them more profitable and fruitful.’ Then the verse was revealed to the Prophet (pbuh) :
Spend your wealth for the cause of Allah, and be not cast by your own hands into ruin; and do good. Lo! Allah loves the beneficent. (Baqarah, 2/195).
“‘Casting oneself by one’s own hands to ruin’shows the danger of being occupied with private affairs and neglecting the responsibility of making efforts in the cause of Allah.”
Such was the situation of Abû Ayyûb al-Ansârî. Having observed this divine warning with outmost sincerity, and being concerned with fulfilling his responsibility, he never considered his deeds enough and never stopped trying his best in the cause of Allah. During a military expedition, in which he participated with the passion of his faith, he reached the rank of martyrdom. He was eighty years old. (See Abû Dâwûd, Jihâd, 22/2512; Tirmidhî, Tafsîr, 2/2972).
Caliph `Umar ibn `Abd al-Azîz, whose two-and-a-half year reign was filled with great achievements, used to reflect self-critically. As his wife consoled him, he would say, “O Fâtimah! What will I say when my Lord questions me about the people under my rule? And what will I say if the Messenger of Allah reminds me of my responsibility?” When he reflected on these issues, they say, one could easily discern how he was struggling, like a bird fallen into water, fluttering its wings….
In the noble Qur’an, Allah says:
“O you who believe! Observe your duty to Allah with right observance, and die not save as those who have surrendered (unto Him).”(Âl Imrân, 3/102).
“And serve your Lord till the Inevitable (death) comes unto you.”(Hijr ,15/99).
“So when you are relieved, still toil, and strive to please your Lord.” (Inshirâh, 94/7-8).
Following the holy verses, we should keep making efforts with all our heart and increasing frequency until the end of our lives. Again, the Prophet (pbuh) is our example in this regard. He used to pray all night until morning asking Allah for forgiveness, even though his past and future sins had all been forgiven.
When his community was building its mosque, the Prophet (pbuh) carried stones on his back. He used to collect firewood to cook the family meal when they went out to the fields. When the Muslim army was on the march during the Badr campaign, he traded time on his camel in shifts with three of his Companions. Those Companions tried to waive their turns to his advantage, but he would not accept that, saying “You are not better walkers than I am, and I am not less needy of divine rewards than you are.” (Ibn Sa`d, II, 21; Ahmad, I, 422)
To sum up, since we cannot measure the capacities and opportunities that Allah has bestowed upon us, we must dedicate ourselves until our last breath to serving the cause of Truth as much as we can.
The best way to pay what we owe for the divine gift of faith is to explain the message of Islam to people without faith and sinners. We should guide them to Islam in a respectful and acceptable manner. One must be careful. Sinful people are like wounded birds — they are cured not by anger, but by mercy. We must never transfer our dislike of sin to a dislike for the sinner. Such refined behavior is more easily learned in an environment influenced by a proper Sufi perspective.
Nowadays, since many people suffer from weakness of will, we must behave like doctors in a hospital. Just as providing sick people with the road to recovery is the humanitarian responsibility of a doctor, so providing guidance toward the cure for people’s spiritual diseases is our responsibility.
Indeed, our Prophet (pbuh) said: “Religion is advice.” (Bukhârî, Imân, 42). So that we might grasp that advice should be provided repeatedly, he repeated his saying three times.
Don’t trust in your deeds!
No human deed is enough to pay back our debt of gratitude to Allah for all His gifts. This is why virtuous and good servants, and even prophets, wish to be judged not merely on the basis of their deeds, but also on the basis of divine forgiveness and mercy.
One day, the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) asked his Companions to keep away from extremes and to lead a balanced life. “Keep to the middle way, be straightforward (in religion). Beware! None of you can be saved simply because of his deeds.”
His Companions responded with surprise, “O Messenger of Allah, does this also apply to you?”
And our Prophet (pbuh) said: “It applies to me as well. However, if Allah forgives me out of his mercy and generosity, that is something else!” (Muslim, Munâfiqîn, 76, 78)
In an another Prophetic tradition it is declared: “Even if a man were to make continuous efforts and keep prostrating in worship from the day of his birth till the day of his death, his deeds would still be insufficient on the Day of Judgment.” (Ahmad, c. IV, s. 185).
That is, even such a devoted and pious believer should understand that his deeds by themselves are not enough to save him.
Our Prophet (pbuh) affirmed that human beings are unable to worship Allah as He deserves. He took this position even though he himself used to worship so much during the night that his feet would become swollen. His prayer was, “O my Lord! I am unable to praise You as You deserve! Only You can praise Yourself!” (Muslim, Salât, 222)
Accordingly, that which is proper for us is not to console ourselves by our deeds, but to ask Allah for forgiveness and generosity, even while we are working hard.
There can be no doubt that our responsibilities are heavier than ever in this time of spiritual crisis when people are ruined under the yoke of temporary delights and paltry desires. May our Lord grant that we make efforts appropriate to our responsibilities! May He forgive our faults and shortcomings and honor us all with His Paradise and His beauty.
. See, Sa’d 38/30.
. See, Sa’d 38/44.
. For the details of this event, see Bukhârî, Imân 34; Sawm 1; Shahâdât 26; Muslim, Imân 8 and 9.
. For the details of this event, see Tirmidhî, Imân, 8; Ibn Mâja, Fitan, 12.