Merit and Deserving Punishment


Question: It is stated that those who cannot shoulder the responsibility and cannot have merit and capacity required by serving faith deserve to be excluded from this circle, in terms of the Divine Custom (the way of God’s treatment). Will you elucidate the necessary qualities to have, in order to avoid ending up this way, and also those qualities needed to have such merit?

Answer: Merit means good character worthy of reward. Capacity denotes being capable for a certain task and fulfilling it properly; whereas deserving punishment indicates the bad deeds one commits and receiving that punishment. However, let us express right up front that even if a person has capacity for a certain task, God Almighty’s Grace and Mercy is essential for everybody at all times. In this respect, even if individuals endowed with high abilities and competence prove their merit for the duty they have undertaken, the essence of their success still lies in Divine Grace. Additionally, when the issue is seen from the perspective of Divine Custom, it is seen that merit is a means for very important gains; whereas, deserving punishment on account of bad character is an important cause for their ceasing.

Networks of Hypocrisy and Deserving Punishment
All along, networks of misguidance and hypocrisy plotted and intrigued in various different ways in almost every era for overturning certain positive and beneficial services established by believers. There is only a difference of hue and pattern changing according to the time and conditions of those plots and intrigues. When the same network of hypocrisy understood that they could not achieve the end that they desired with the argument they used at a certain period, they developed other arguments, trying again and again to put a stop to these good works with these new arguments.
So the question whether the networks of hypocrisy attain their purposes or not to some extent depend on whether the journeyers of noble ideals give their position its due, fulfill their responsibilities, and the merit they have at this issue. If they are fulfilling their duty as truthful bearers of trust and are thoroughly performing their duty with “wakeful eyes” against dangers that may come through different openings and gaps, then God will render the plots of the hypocrites ineffective. However, if they are continually losing stature in terms of the nature of their merit and are becoming dull—may God protect—it means they are shifting towards being deserved to be punished in the same degree. When justice is realized, God takes that trust and hands it to other people worthy of that trust. In this respect, if the souls devoted to serving on the path of faith and the Qur’an wish to be saved from the conspiracies against them and to retain their present position, they must give the due of the point at which they stand and constantly seek merit.

An Important Condition for Eligibility: Endeavor for Renewal
By starting from some verses in the Qur’an, we can comprehend the attributes that serve as a means for merit and those that cause deserving deprivation from it. For example, God Almighty states the following in a verse: “If He so wills (for the fulfillment of His purpose in creation), He can put you away and bring a new generation (of humankind in your place)” (Ibrahim 14:19; Fatir 35:16).
It is understood from the word “new” (jadid) that the people devoted to the path of God should feel everything freshly, as if savoring a feast descended from heaven or delicious dates from Paradise. When they take the verses of the Qur’an and begin to recite them, they should feel enraptured as if they were revealed to them for the first time at that moment, with a pleasure and delight far beyond what they have ever felt before. In the same way, they must have deep insight into their era and carry out service to Islam as befits the requirements of their era. Even their spiritual life should have its share from this novelty. Even if time flows and years pass, they should not give in to monotony of familiarity, lose color, nor become weary. Since being “new” is an indispensable attribute of merit, if a community loses this quality, they become deserving of being substituted.

Where Those Who Back Away from Service End Up
Another Divine statement about the subject that needs to be mentioned is the following verse from the chapter al-Maedah: “O you who believe! Whoever of you turns away from his Religion, (know that) in time, God will raise up a people whom He loves, and who love Him, most humble towards the believers, dignified and commanding in the face of the unbelievers, striving (continuously and in solidarity) in God’s cause, and fearing not the censure of any who censure. That is God’s grace and bounty, which He grants to whom He wills. God is All-Embracing (with His profound grace), All-Knowing” (al-Maedah 5: 54).
This verse primarily draws attention to the danger of being an apostate or deserter. Apostasy (irtidat) means a person’s abandoning a worthy position and returning back to his or her previous lowly state. Such a person is in general terms an apostate (murtad). The first and most drastic sense of apostasy that comes to mind is apostasy in faith. Such a person deserts the Islamic faith and returns back to unbelief, becoming an apostate. Additionally, there are deserters on the path of serving faith. Even though they give their hearts to a certain cause at a certain period, they cannot help dwelling on trivial matters that they cannot overcome in their minds. Thus, they lose their fervor and enthusiasm for service, together with their previous zeal and activity, and abandon the circle they were once in. Actually, these people are mostly poor ones, troubled in heart and mind, who wish all works to be carried out according to their own personal fancies and desires. When their wishes are not fulfilled, they create disagreement and dissent in the places where they are. As a consequence, they completely turn their backs on their former service.
God first warns such people with “slaps of compassion” to bring them to their senses, but if they continue adding fire to the flames of disagreement and dissent, then they become deserving of a “slap of chastisement.” Upon this, God Almighty virtually makes an address to them: “Given that you have reckoned on disagreement and dissent, I will move you away and bring instead those who take unity and togetherness as a basis, who act with a spirit of concord and alliance.” In this respect, believers who have attached their hearts to the path of serving faith must be extremely concerned about becoming “apostates of service;” they must be able to relinquish many personal rights so that they do not fall into such a situation. As this is an act of seeking merit, it is, at the same time, the way and method of avoiding to be deserving of a bad ending.

Love of God, the Essence of Merit
In the verse we quoted above, God Almighty states, “God will raise up a people….” In other words, He will replace those who cannot give their position its due with another group who can. The Arabic modal sawfa in the original verse denotes distant future, conveying the following meaning: God Almighty does not punish believers immediately owing to the certain negativities they have committed. As He values their belief, He first gives them, time and again, a term to make up for what they did. If they persist in their faults and wrongs, God then removes them and brings another people to replace them. From the fact that the word qawmun (a people) is in an indefinite form, we both understand that this community is both an unknown one and has a high worth.
The glory of this community is so exalted that you cannot conceive of, nor imagine, it. This verse also gives us some clues to recognize them: “God loves that people whose worth you cannot comprehend.” That is, He holds them in high esteem—in a way that becomes His glory—and in accordance with the immensity of His mercy and the ampleness of His love, He bestows upon them what loving calls for. This loving transforms into love of God in their hearts, and they love God, too: “…and whom love Him.” This verb is inflected in the Arabic verb form of if’al. One of the meanings this form conveys is profusion. In this respect, it is possible to paraphrase it as: “They also love God crazily.”
The verse continues as, “…most humble towards the believers.” That is, they lower their wings of modesty before believers to the degree of humiliation. However, let this not be misunderstood, for this humbleness of theirs is never a complex of inferiority. As they hang onto their own values tightly, they are dignified and honorable in the face of those who deny those values. That is, they do not kiss the feet of those who deviate to denial on the grounds of conceit, pride, wronging, lacking a sound perspective, or by asserting that they stick with the ways of their ancestry. In the same way, they never bow before obstinate and obdurate ones who take a firm stance against the messages presented by believers.

The Spirit of Striving for God’s Cause
Another attribute of theirs is referred to as “striving (continuously and in solidarity) in God’s cause.” The nature and scope of this striving is very extensive. Within the frame of definitions, this striving (mujahada/making jihad) is the removal of obstacles which stem from the carnal soul, as well as from evil desires, and which come between people and God, thus preventing the acceptance of faith and the meeting between their hearts and God. According to this definition, it is necessary to extend a hand to others by taking into consideration the contemporary era’s philosophy of life, as well as levels of comprehension and knowledge, for the sake of eliminating the obstacles between people and God.
Another way of striving is ceaselessly trying to fulfill the duty of enjoining the good and forbidding the evil. This means voicing the truth at mosques, conference halls, seminars, lecterns in parliaments, places of education, or wherever you are granted the opportunity.
However, if a day comes that invaders fixed on animosity—as it happened in different times—attack your country, threaten your chastity, and attempt to tread you underfoot, then the form of struggle will naturally change. In that case, there will be a struggle in the sense of fighting, as it happened in many examples in history, and the necessary struggling will be given its due. Surely, such a struggle to be made as an entire nation can only be done with a decision of the state and under its control. This is one type of jihad in the form of physical struggle. To reiterate a fact we have expressed at different instances, it is definitely wrong to take “jihad” solely as engaging in war, which is only one aspect of struggle. There are various different forms of struggling and striving for the sake of helping people understand truths or preventing oppression and injustice. In addition, as it is understood from the expressions, “on the path of God” or “for the cause of God,” a given task must be fulfilled purely for the sake of God, in a righteous fashion, by observing the rules and principles that our noble Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, established. Nobody must ever act for the benefit or wrath of a certain person or group under the guise of jihad.
In short, with the statement “striving in God’s cause”, God Almighty mentions striving on this path as an important attribute of those who uphold the cause of Islam. The last point mentioned in the verse as one of the attributes of the souls dedicated to sharing the Divine message is having no fear of any censure. It is always possible for journeyers of noble ideals to be censured by people who see life restricted to the world in which they live and one they wish to indulge in. For example, they may give so-called counsel to the volunteers as: “Why are you making your own lives a misery instead of enjoying this world? Why are you turning the ‘champions of the path of deviance and worldliness’ against you?” Unfortunately, in every era there have been people disturbed by the resounding of the Prophet’s message. However, the souls dedicated to the path of serving faith and the Qur’an do not care about the unfair censuring of others and do not shy away in the face of threats, always walking on without being hindered by the obstacles that come before them on the righteous path.

Being Employed on this Path Is a Favor of God
The statement at the end of the verse, “That is God’s grace and bounty, which He grants to whom He wills,” tells us that all of these are very important attributes and that they are not just given to everybody, but only to distinguished servants whom He wills. That is, God grants the honor of serving religion, not to those who have a PhD, a post-doctoral degree, or even double or triple post-doctoral degrees, solely for the sake of building a career, but to sincere believers, who attach their hearts to God. Such a person may, for instance, appear in the mountainous areas of Eastern Turkey, completing the entire madrasa education in less than a year and thus giving a lesson to humanity in terms of teaching about the religion, observances, and the Qur’an. Thus, he pushes open doors on the way to renewal in thought. While carrying out such mission, however, he never makes any personal claims, but ascribes all of these solely to the unmerited favors of God. So the ending of the verse, “That is God’s grace and bounty, which He grants to whom He wills,” alludes to an indispensable quality of merit: never making big claims on one’s achievements, but always being modest, no matter which great duty is being fulfilled, and knowing these as favors and graces of God.

This text is the translation of “Liyakat ve İstihkak.”

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