Discovering Oneself and Depth in Servanthood


Question: It is stated that deepening one’s relationship with God and servanthood to Him can be possible by knowing and discovering oneself. Could you elucidate on this?

Answer: There is a saying in Arabic which means “habits are not forsaken.” From this, scholars deduced the principle, “Forsaking habits is one of the causes that leads to ruin.” If a believer will make something into a habit, it will prevent ruin. Thus, if he makes the acts of worship he must observe with respect to his relation with God into habits, he will never forsake or be forsaken. If a person can maintain a close relationship with God by means of worship and devotions, and then make these practices into an inner depth of his conscience, he can attain the state voiced by some saintly persons when they say, “I will be ruined if I become oblivious of being in the presence of God for a moment.”

For this reason, it is very important for a believer to act as if he sees God and is seen by Him every moment. He must always seek His good pleasure with his feelings, consciousness, and willpower; and he must keep away from behaviors that might incur His wrath as much as possible, orienting his inherent feelings of love and respect to God.

Attaining such a state is a target for every believer; or rather, it must be a target for them. However, for the sake of attaining that target, a person must always revise his position and stance, and sincerely ask himself the following questions:

“Do I present the ideal state required for attaining such a horizon? Am I able to keep flying higher through the skies of progress by not becoming stuck in my present position? Am I asking for the next step at all times?”

The Path of Truth and Humility

It is very important that a journeyer to truth not suffice with the level he has attained while journeying through the horizons of the heart and spirit. He must continually target higher levels. However, this should not be mistaken as an encouragement for showing off by working some saintly wonders. What we are referring to is deepening in terms of knowing God Almighty and seeing oneself as nothing in His presence.

Imagine for instance that a person manages to change the movement of not only the earth, but all of the worlds; he still needs to see himself as nothing and acknowledge that everything is from Him. In this respect, those who volunteer to serve on the path of truth must never seek to work wonders. Desiring to gain some exceptional bestowals God Almighty grants to some of His saintly servants contradicts the spirit of the path of truth. The essence of the path of truth is modesty, humility, continuous self-revilement, and always seeing oneself as worth nothing. Let me state incidentally that heroes of truth who do not seek such spiritual ranks and titles will surely have no desire concerning worldly titles, such as being a governor, a member of parliament, a minister, and the like.

These statements should not be taken as disregarding the importance of those administrative positions. However, being inclined to such things in spite of the greatness of the sublime spiritual values one seeks is disrespectful toward those truths. If one has set foot on this path of seeking “God’s good pleasure,” he should know that there is nothing greater. If it is the Divine Countenance, there is nothing more exceptional; if it is the Firdaws in Paradise, there cannot be a place more important. Once a person has targeted these lofty ideals, it will be disrespectful towards them to turn away from them to care about other things. A person devoted to the path of truth becomes a voluntary servant for the cause of the Messenger of God, peace and blessings be upon him, and speaks out like Rumi:

I have become a servant, become a servant, become a servant;

I have bowed down in servitude to you.

Servants rejoice when they are emancipated;

Whereas I rejoice when I become Your servant.

Given that one has declared being a servant in submission to Islam and the cause of the blessed Prophet, then he or she will not, and must not, change that in return for anything else.

The Doors Are Bolted Tight for Those Who Say “I”

However, if a person has failed to abandon his own self, then he becomes stuck with his own egotism. The more he is stuck with egotism, the closer he will be to Satan, and more distant from God. The doors on the path of God never open to a person who says “I”. Every time he tries to open them, he always finds them closed and bolted, and he keeps waiting before that door in vain. This is because there cannot be two “I”s in the same place. Actually, saying “I” is an indication of haughtiness. When the Messenger of God, peace and blessings be upon him, asked who knocked at his door, the Companion answered, “I”; he would open the door but revealed his disturbance by saying “I, I!”[1] Thus it seems there is some arrogance in saying “I”; such a person virtually says, “I do not even need to introduce myself.”

Continuously saying “I” virtually means booming like a big drum; and a drum makes such a loud noise because it is hollow. A person who continually says “I” also reduces himself to the level of a hollow and lowly creature. Those who are not hollow do not sound out like a drum. Conversely, Rumi likens those who are hollow to the boxes that contain a few pieces of toy pearls and make noise when they are moved, and he likens people of wisdom to jewel boxes that give out no sound, because they are full of jewels.

The indication of modesty, humility, and humbleness is quietness. Quiet people act with these feelings and constantly try to generate plans and projects for their country, people, and the whole of humanity. They give priority to taking action. And just like thunderbolts, which reach their target before their noise does, they walk ahead of their sound.

On the other hand, showing off and pomp are hollow but noisy. Therefore, those who build their lives on showing off and pomp do nothing but cause hollow noise. What really matters is giving priority to action instead of paying lip service to an issue. Prophet Abraham, peace be upon him, prayed, “And grant me a most true and virtuous renown among posterity” (ash-Shuara 26:84), and thus asked for lasting services that would extend to future generations as well. This is an expression of giving priority to action. For this reason, a person must sow the seeds as much as he knows or can, and then leave the rest to God. However, serving with such an immense consideration depends on knowing and recognizing God, and this knowledge and recognition depends on the person’s knowing himself in his own position with God.

One Who Does Not Know Himself Will Not Know God Either

As it is also expressed in the following statement, narrated as a saying of the Prophet, “One who knows himself will know his Lord.”[2] A person who analyzes himself altogether with his physiological structure, conscience, and its four faculties — the subtle spiritual sense, the heart, the mind, and his feelings — knows his Lord better.

To take this statement another way, it means, “one who does not know himself cannot know his Lord.” In order to know his Lord, a person must know who he, himself, is. As Bediüzzaman puts it in “The Thirteenth Word,” the human is such a perfect factory that each of its parts is in mutual proportion with the other parts. At the same time, this existence is in a very serious proportion with the universe. For example, there is direct compatibility between a person’s mouth and the things he can eat, and between his eyes and what he will see with them: He can see and spot unique beings, as the different manifestations of Divine Names and Attributes.

This harmony of human organs is also true for other beings in the universe. According to the statements of physicists and astrophysicists, even the most distant systems have a relationship to the human, a being that seems so petty on earth. In order to be able to sense and understand this relationship, it is necessary to begin with the closest sphere. For example, if a person analyses himself in terms of the substances his mouth will eat and the relation between his eyes and the objects they will see, he will definitely find evidence indicating the existence and oneness of the Exalted Creator. Therefore, according to a blessed statement narrated as a hadith qutsi and included in religious literature, God Almighty stated:

“O human, one who knows himself knows Me; one who knows Me quests for me; one who quests for Me definitely finds Me and attains more; and he does not prefer anybody else over Me. O human, be modest, so that you can know Me. Get accustomed to hunger so that you see Me. Be sincere in your worship so that you reach Me. O human, I am the Lord; one who knows himself, knows Me also. One who abandons himself finds Me. Abandon thyself in order to know Me; a heart not flourished with knowledge of Me is blind.”

From Anatomical Structure to the Depths of the Spirit

Alexis Carrel wrote Man, the Unknown in 1935, and drew attention to the perfection in the human body and emphasized that it absolutely has a Creator, and thus left behind an important work. Although the author was defamed by some in Turkey, people in our country did read and benefit from that work. When people—particularly doctors—look at the analyses of human anatomy there, they will not be able to help but proclaim the unity of God in every step of Carrel’s analyses. It is not possible to explain the wondrous proportion in the human body without acknowledging the hand of the Divine Power.

His own anatomy and physiology being the first, after a human gets to know the outer world, he should seek to know his soul, his mechanism of conscience, and what occurs to his heart. Sometimes expressed as an intuition or sixth sense, cases of foreknowing—such as remembering someone in the morning and meeting that person in the afternoon and beholding scenes of the World of Representations in a dream and witnessing some of what appeared in that dream come true as they were (some with the meaning they represented)—these are happenings we experience in our inner worlds. It is not possible to explain these within the sphere of causality. When a person continues his journey in his inner world, he will both know himself concisely, conclude that the Exalted Creator exists, and will thus know his Lord better.

Real Freedom

In the words narrated as hadith qudsi and quoted above, it is stated that, “One who knows Me, quests for Me.” This relates to what was previously said. As much as one gets to know the Exalted Creator, he begins to wonder, “What does my God expect from me? How can I attain His proximity? How can I fill my bosom with yearning for Him? Filling my bosom with yearning for Him is my duty and His right. Only He must manifest in this bosom, and it is necessary to throw away everything else from it!”

The person who says this will deepen his quest. The poet Fuzuli voices this truth as follows:

True wisdom is not knowing this world and what it has;

He who is oblivious to this world and what it has is truly wise.

As pointed out in this couplet, a person needs to throw away from his bosom this world and what it has, but fill his heart with considerations of Him, and continuously keep his mind busy with Him. By fulfilling these responsibilities, the person will have found God Almighty. And He will not leave these sincere efforts of His servant unrewarded; as it stated in the words of wisdom quoted above, God will grant all of the person’s wishes—and even more. Muhammed Lütfi Effendi expresses this truth so beautifully in the following lines:

If You truly love the Lord,

Do you think He will not love you?

If you seek His good pleasure,

Will not He be pleased with you?

I Did Not Become a Muslim for the Sake of Prosperity

A believer who reaches this level is saved from the hegemony of different desires and wishes. Thus, he attains genuine freedom. As a late scholar once put it, “true freedom depends on being a servant to God.” Those who become a servant to God are freed from all other servanthoods. As for those who do not become a servant to God, as they should, even if they observe the prayers, they will be a slave to many other things, such as worldly position and status, their family, comfort, enjoyment, bohemianism, applause, appreciation, and leaving things for their children; even the polytheists of the Era of Ignorance did not have so many idols!

Being saved from servanthood and slavery to other things depends on being a servant to God in the true sense. The blessed Companions’ lives are full of beautiful and striking examples in this respect. For example, although the military and political genius Amr ibn al-As accepted Islam late, he grasped the spirit of religion in this respect so well that one cannot help but admire his understanding.

As it is known, during the peaceful period after the Treaty of Hudaybiya, Amr ibn al-As came to Medina and appeared before the presence of the noble Prophet in order to become a Muslim. He shook like a leaf out of embarrassment, because he had done much evil to the Pride of Humanity. However, the Prophet of mercy had not recorded any of these evils in his mind, but had forgotten them long ago. While they were shaking hands, Amr ibn al-As was enthralled and squeezed the blessed hand of the Prophet too hard, and God’s Messenger asked, “What do you mean O Amr?”

He responded, “Please forgive my wrong, O Messenger of God!”

Then the Messenger of God stated, “Do you not know that (embracing) Islam wipes out all that has gone before it (previous misdeeds).”[3]

A short time after Amr ibn al-As became a Muslim, the Pride of Humanity summoned him and told him that he would send him on a military campaign, after which he would have war gains. But he responded, “O Messenger of God, I did not become a Muslim for the sake of war gains…”[4]

In the same way, when the Messenger of God, peace and blessings be upon him, wished to give a share from war gains to a Companion whose name is not mentioned in the sources, that person said, “O Messenger of God, I cannot accept this. I have become a Muslim, so that I receive an arrow right here—by showing his throat—and become a martyr.” He then pushed aside the war gains. In the end, he was shot by an arrow that pierced his throat as he had wished, and passed to the[5] realm of eternity as a martyr.

Similarly, Abu Sufyan, who had opposed the noble Prophet for so many years until the conquest of Mecca, was shot by an arrow during the Battle of Yarmuk and lost one of his eyes. Holding that eye in his palm, Abu Sufyan looked at it meaningfully with his other eye and said, “What are you good for? You failed to see your master for seventy years,” and then threw it on the ground.[6] This can be expressed by the following words from Niyazi Mısri:

Do not adhere to any guide, lest he takes you through steep ways;

Those who walk behind a true guide, surely take a path of much ease.

While all of these examples reveal the impact of the master that guides a person, they also serve as examples for great spiritual progress.

The devoted volunteers in our time as well should take the Companions as role models and not seek anything worldly. This particularly true if they are serving at any level of the state: they should not obtain any benefit for themselves and next of kin by taking advantage of their position, nor should they seek luxury cars, planes, ships, etc. As it is stated in a Sufi proverb, one must say, “God is sufficient; the rest is empty desire!” They must then keep walking on the way where His good pleasure lies. One must solely target His good pleasure, and not change His Countenance and togetherness with the blessed Prophet in return for any other target whatsoever. Even if Paradise is offered to him in return for giving up all of these, he should still be righteous enough to say, “How strange! What kind of a flaw did they see in me that they are daring to offer something else instead of God’s good pleasure, yearning for Him, and seeing Him?” One must let his heart overflow with these feelings in such a way that there will not be room for anything else. In comparison to these lofty targets, even an ability to work saintly wonders such as flying without wings, walking on water, reading others’ minds, and foretelling what will befall them by looking at their faces will remain absolutely worthless.

To conclude, the people dedicated to glorifying the truths of faith and the Qur’an have to be very careful about the points explained so far. They must push aside everything in terms of the world and what it has, and act in accordance with the meaning of the Divine decree, “Pursue, then, what is exactly right as you are commanded” (Hud 11:112). They must not try to follow what is right in their own consideration, but try to pursue what is right—and that is whatever corresponds to “right” in the sight of God.

[1] Sahih al-Bukhari, Isti’zan, 17; Sahih Muslim, Adab, 38–39.

[2] Al-Munawi, Fayzu’l-Qadr, 1/225, 4; 399, 5/50; Al-Ajluni, Kashfu’l Khafa, 2/343.

[3] Sahih Muslim, Iman 192; Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Al-Musnad, 4:204.

[4] Ahmed ibn Hanbal, Al-Musnad, 4/197, 202; Ibn abi-Shayba, Al-Musannaf, 4/467.

[5] Sunan an-Nasa’i, Janaiz, 61; Hakim, Al-Mustadrak, 3/688.

[6] Ibn al-Athir, Usdu’l-Ghaba, 6/158.

This text is the translation of “İnsanın Kendini Keşfi ve Kullukta Derinlik.”

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