Dialogue and Sacrifice: Balancing Social Interactions and Spiritual Integrity

Dialogue and Sacrifice: Balancing Social Interactions and Spiritual Integrity
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Question: It is reported that scholar Sha’rani[1] said, “If I stay in the company of a person who does not pray, even for a short period, I will not feel the effects of the prayers I have performed for forty days.” However, due to our duties, we often find ourselves in the company of various people in social life. Does such company have negative effects on our spiritual life?

Answer: Just as this famous saying of scholar Sha’rani is well-known, similar considerations have been expressed by other great figures as well. Such thoughts are particularly prevalent among those with a deeply spiritual disposition. Sha’rani mentions that when he is in the company of a person, even for a short period, who does not pray, he cannot feel the spiritual pleasure and delight he derives from his prayers. Although such an observation is an accepted truth among those who are experts in this matter, someone who does not deeply experience their prayers, does not feel like they are sipping the drinks of Paradise while connecting with Allah, might not understand this. These kinds of sayings and approaches might not mean much to those whose worship does not go beyond formality and rituals. Therefore, it is necessary to understand this issue in relation to those who live with the enthusiasm of meeting Allah every day and who are passionate about worship. Their experiences and perceptions of these sensations should be considered a particular measure, specific to them in this regard.

To avoid misunderstanding, acts of worship are not performed to seek spiritual pleasure, nor are they carried out with such an intention or goal. Spiritual delights should be seen as the result of servitude to Allah, not its purpose. Worship should be done solely and purely for the sake of Allah, with the aim of earning His pleasure. The spiritual joy and delight experienced as a result of such sincere worship, without seeking it, should be viewed and accepted as a grace and favor from Allah, and we should be grateful for it.

There are those who may not wish to feel the spiritual pleasure of their worship and devotion. Their only concern is to serve Allah in the best possible way. They see servitude as Allah’s right and their duty. They consider experiencing spiritual pleasure from their worship as a worldly reward and may even strive to distance themselves from it.

Bediuzzaman says, “The highest goal of creation and the most exalted outcome of nature is faith in Allah. The highest rank of humanity and the greatest station of humankind is the knowledge of Allah within faith in Allah. The brightest happiness and the sweetest blessing for humans and jinns are the love of Allah within that knowledge of Allah. The purest joy for the human soul and the most genuine happiness for the human heart are the spiritual pleasures within that love of Allah.”[2]

As highlighted here, faith in Allah is the foundation; without it, there can be no knowledge of Allah, love of Allah, or anything else. Similarly, knowledge of Allah is a heartfelt understanding that results from a person’s contemplation, research, and reading of the external and internal worlds. It is a culture of conscience. This knowledge opens channels in the heart and conscience towards the Divine Essence. When a person knows Him, they love Him, meaning they attain the love of Allah. The more they know Allah, the more they love Him. Spiritual delight is one of the most beautiful fruits of this love.

Faith and knowledge of Allah are, to some extent, matters of will, dependent on human effort and striving. The love of Allah and spiritual delight, on the other hand, are the gifts and favors granted by Allah as a result of faith and knowledge of Allah, and they occur involuntarily. Sometimes He grants them, and sometimes He does not.

If a person begins to experience spiritual delights due to their faith and knowledge but then loses these due to their engagements, relationships, and associations in social life, this situation represents a “hizlan” for them; it is the cessation of divine favor from Allah. Despite continuing their acts of worship and devotion as before, they no longer feel what they once felt or experience what they once experienced. In other words, they face a kind of deprivation and disappointment on a personal level. This indicates that the people with whom one associates can influence their spiritual and heartfelt world and their relationship with Allah. This is precisely what Sha’rani intended to convey.

Indeed, associating with people who are distant from God, religion, and faith can have some negative effects on one’s spirituality, heart, and soul life. The words of the friends of Allah in this regard are an important warning for us to keep company with righteous and sincere people. However, before making an absolute judgment in such situations, it is essential to consider intentions and objectives, to examine the reasons for someone’s associations and friendships, and to distinguish between those who act for their own selfish interests and those who walk in the path of seeking Allah’s pleasure.

Everyone who interacts with others and develops social relationships has their own motives. Some seek to expand their social circle. Some want to benefit from being close to people in positions of power and influence. Others do it purely for the sake of having a good time. However, there are also those whose sole objective is to inform others about their ideals, share the beauty ingrained in their nature, or find solutions to common human problems. Therefore, it is necessary to distinguish between these different approaches.

In this context, while actions such as sitting with people of different worldviews, making mutual visits, offering congratulations, attending their invitations, and being present on their special days might be common, the intentions and goals are different. Consequently, the judgments will also be different.

There are people who have the lofty ideal of being beneficial to humanity and, through this, seeking Allah’s pleasure. In pursuit of this ideal, they engage in dialogue with people from different segments of society, for example, having discussions with the bureaucracy or meeting with followers of different religions and traditions, and they establish good relationships. We can find examples of this in the Age of Bliss[3]. The Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him), in his effort to convey his message, met with everyone, sat with every group, and tried to open windows to the truth in their hearts. For the same purpose, he sent companion Mus’ab bin Umayr (may God be pleased with him) to Medina, which was then mostly inhabited by Jews and pagans. Mus’ab reached out to everyone he could and endeavored to be a herald of the truths he believed in.

We do not know of any instance where the Messenger of God (peace be upon him) forbade meeting, speaking, or associating with those who do not pray, do not worship, or lack faith, or where he said, “Do not meet with idolaters or disbelievers, lest you lose your spiritual feelings.” On the contrary, with his words, ‘My name will reach every place where the sun rises and sets,’ he encouraged believers to spread out to all corners of the world and convey the message he was given. He wanted this true religion of Islam to be conveyed to and heard by everyone, whether they are Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Brahmins, Zoroastrians, or followers of any other faith.

It is impossible to reach out to people who do not know you, do not love you, and do not trust you. If you have something to convey to them, it depends on establishing contact, engaging in dialogue, making mutual visits, and building friendships. First and foremost, you need to show your interlocutors that you are a person they can sit and interact with. As mutual dialogue continues, prejudices will break down over time, conditioned mindsets will dissolve, and negative emotions such as hatred, enmity, fear, and anxiety will be replaced by feelings of love, respect, trust, and appreciation. Then everyone will listen to each other and try to understand each other more closely. Without creating such conducive environments, even if you convey the truths you know in the most eloquent manner, your words will not be heard.

As Sha’rani mentioned, can one’s spiritual feelings diminish in this process? Perhaps. But our goal is not to live in material and spiritual pleasures but to endure hardships and fulfill the noble task of enjoining good and forbidding evil, which is the prophetic mission. In pursuit of the highest aim of introducing and endearing our Lord to His servants, we must be open to all kinds of material and spiritual sacrifices. In our terminology, this is called sacrificing material and spiritual feelings. As we said at the outset, spiritual delights are the result of faith in Allah, knowledge of Allah, and servitude to Allah, and they should not be the goal.

People who act based on their selfish desires and personal expectations in their relationships with others may experience the disappointment and loss that scholar Sha’rani warned about. However, every effort and endeavor to remove the barriers between people and the Divine Essence and to ensure that hearts meet with Allah is considered a struggle in the path of Allah. Such a struggle leads not to the loss but to the increase of spiritual feelings. People who walk in the prophetic path neither experience deprivation nor face disappointment and loss.

[1] Abd al-Wahhab al-Sha’rani (1492/3–1565), commonly referred to as Imam Sha’rani, was an eminent jurist, traditionist, historian, mystic, and theologian. He is credited with reviving Islam and is one of the most prolific writers of the early Egyptian-Ottoman period. His legal, spiritual, and theological writings continue to be widely read in the Muslim world today.

[2] Bediuzzaman, Mektubat, pp. 252-254.

[3] Asr-ı Saadet.