Question: What are the key points for making Islam become an essential part of someone’s character?
Answer: Feeling the theoretical teachings of Islam in one’s conscience as they truly are and making them an essential part of our character depends, first of all, on knowing that putting theoretical knowledge into practice is an absolute requisite. With “practical reason” and similar notions, some philosophers actually drew attention to this fact, and Sufis tried to realize this issue with ways and systems of spiritual journeying.
From philosophers, for example, Bergson states that the truth can only be found with feeling and sensing of the conscience, and Kant notes that God can only be known through practical reason. It is always debatable how familiar these philosophers who were raised within Western culture are with the truth or how much can they help us become familiar with it. This is another issue. But it is a reality that most of the time if the evidences you present with respect to knowing God merely remain as theoretical knowledge, this may not suffice for preserving faith and the essentials of Islam. Every kind of knowledge that remains at the level of theory could be taken away by a dissident wind. Thus, theoretical knowledge must be placed on the basis of deeds.
The Way to Deliverance: Faith and Good Deeds
In fact, the Qur’an relates deliverance from ultimate loss and falling to the lowest of the low to belief and good deeds: “Surely We have created human of the best stature, as the perfect pattern of creation; Then We have reduced him to the lowest of the low. Except those who believe and do good, righteous deeds, so there is for them a reward constant and beyond measure…” (at-Tin 95:4–6).
The fact that a verb form is used both while referring to belief and deeds denote the significance of “continuity” in faith and deeds in terms of deliverance. In this respect, a person should never see the belief he or she had yesterday as sufficient but should say like the Companions said, “Come on, let us have faith in God anew” and thus be in a constant endeavor to renew one’s faith. You may have settled all problems about having no faith before and condemned them to execution. However, in order not to lose the gains you have obtained in terms of faith, you should never see the point you have reached as sufficient, always seeking ways to renew your faith every day.
After faith, constantly-practiced good deeds, free from defects and showing-off, are given importance. The scope of “good deeds” is very extensive: from faith in God to devotions; from there to observance of parents’ rights; and from there to protection of believers’ rights… Good deeds being referred to with a verb form denotes that a person should not suffice with doing a good deed once, but allow oneself to be a waterfall of good deeds and living continuously within this stream.
You can see the same theme in the chapter Asr. Right after stating that humans are in loss, deliverance is related to belief and doing good deeds. In human nature there are certain powers and feelings such as the faculty of desire, faculty of anger, and faculty of reasoning, which are also open to abuse. These can drift a person to loss and fall. So in these two Qur’anic chapters we have mentioned, God Almighty showed us the prescription that can be an antidote against these dangers. As an expression of this truth, Imam Shafi said, “If people pondered deeply over the chapter Asr together with its beginning and end, this would suffice them.
Impotence, Poverty, Enthusiasm, and Thankfulness
In order to internalize the truths of Islam and thus attain a higher character, Sufis advise spiritual journeying, which has different ways and methods of its own. Great personages took into consideration the factors that pressurized Muslims in their time and established systems suitable to struggle against them. Some of them related their system to the seven levels of the soul, while some established their system upon the ten human faculties.
As for Bediüzzaman, the system he established taught the four essentials: impotence, poverty, enthusiasm, and thankfulness in the absolute sense. He also talked about two complementary essentials, affection and reflection. This system is a way that should be followed so that those potentially human can become truly human and attain perfection. However, a person’s embracing these essentials and acquiring them as an ingrained character trait require a serious endeavor.
The first of these essentials, absolute impotence refers to a person’s awareness of being unable to do anything he or she wishes. Happenings unfold according to a plan and program determined by God Almighty, and most of the time we cannot interfere with them. Even though we do not deny the function of willpower with respect to this issue, it is a well-known truth that God Almighty creates the results. So a person must see himself like a drop in the ocean before the Infinite Divine power and will, and admit his place and position before God.
As for absolute poverty, it refers to a person’s recognition of the fact that God is the true owner of every object and being. Everything we own is from Him. It is He who brought us into existence, granted us certain means, made us Muslims, let us know the Sultan of the Prophets, blessings and peace be upon him, guided us to the highest horizons, made us attached to lofty ideals, and guided us to realize these in spite of our not being eligible at all. If we put aside our Divine blessings and stood on our own, nothing would remain in our hands. Given that our body, reason, feelings, thoughts, and everything else we possess are from Him, what are we then? As Bediüzzaman states, we are shadow beings, as shadows of the shadows of the shadows of the light of His existence. We cannot even be called a drop in the ocean before Him.
Reflection and Compassion
These essentials we have mentioned are very important, but they cannot be internalized just by reading them a few times and thinking them over. Making them part of one’s character depends on serious pondering, deliberation, and reflection. A person must deeply ponder over the Qur’an and the universe, and bring the topic of every talk to the explication of these considerations. One must constantly reflect upon what he actually owns, how much capital he possesses, and how much power he has. A person’s truly reaching considerations of enthusiasm and thankfulness depend on such an active system of contemplation.
As for compassion, one of the other essentials of our path, it refers to being compassionate toward humanity and exerting oneself for the sake of saving others. Not even limiting the feeling of compassion we have to humanity, one should outspread it to the entire existence and deeply reveal this feeling at every opportunity, to such an extent that one must have an immense feeling of compassion to the degree of crying in the sight of a bee floundering on the ground. Undoubtedly, gaining such a feeling depends on having a strong belief in the Hereafter, along with reflection and contemplation.
I think that the origin of the extraordinary excitement and disquiet of the Prophets, peace be upon them, was their anxiety of perdition and desire for salvation. They knew that people left on their own would tumble down to Hell, and they had firm belief in the existence of a Paradise in the next world with all of its splendor and magnificence. It is for this reason that they fully exerted themselves for the sake of guiding people to this Paradise. With a little difference in wording, the Qur’an describes in two different verses the concerned state of the Pride of Humanity, blessings and peace be upon him: “It may be that you (O Muhammad) will torment yourself to death with grief, following after them, if they do not believe in this Message…” (al-Kahf 18:6; as-Shuara 26:3). This state stemmed from his immense consideration of others.
A person must try to make spiritual progress as if ascending on a stairway spiraling upwards. While giving his present station (maqam) its due on the one hand, one should constantly turn his gaze to higher stations and always ask, “Isn’t there more?” as an unquenchable journeyer for knowledge of God. If he can make good use of the inspirational blessings and Divine favors bestowed in his present spiritual station, this will evoke eagerness toward new things in him, and such a journeyer will keep continuously knocking on different doors.
A Resolute Path and Ceaseless Endeavor
Such a journeyer for truth who acts in line with the enthusiasms evoked in him will constantly desire to raise the standard higher, and as he raises it higher, there will be an opportunity to act accordingly. He will step in a virtuous cycle, where righteous enthusiasms will continuously emerge in him, and he will ask for new levels with these enthusiasms. That is, when the person fulfills what falls on his part by striving in compliance with the apparent causes, then the Divine power—the true Necessity—will come to act and make him reach the levels that he wished for.
Naturally, it will not be possible to internalize and make these a part of one’s character all of a sudden. This calls for a serious endeavor. In some exceptional cases, though, people have rocketed to the peak of human perfection in a wondrous fashion. For example, people who remained for a short time in the presence of the noble Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, reached the horizons of being a Companion because his presence is an atmosphere which deeply imbued the attendees with its hue. His state, attitude, acts, manners, silence, speaking, and the lines of his face, which conveyed awe or joy from time to time, reminded of God in their entirety. Every state of his made those near feel their being in the presence of God.
In the same way, some saintly figures who lived after the Prince of the Prophets may also make those who enter their atmosphere reach the horizons of human perfection, sometimes in a very short time. For example, you can see this rocketing progress in people with a high potential who took their places around Bediüzzaman such as Tahiri Mutlu, Hasan Feyzi, Hafız Ali, and Colonel Hulusi Bey. However, these are rare happenings and such cases are not recursive, since they are special Divine bestowals. While these bestowals happen with the Prophets in the form of miracles, they happen with saints as wonders (karama). As for the objective form of this issue, that is, the form that can apply to everyone and all the time, it depends on giving one’s willpower its due in this respect.
If we wish to make our values an essential part of our character, then we need to engage our own sources of spiritual nourishment ceaselessly, always bringing any issue to the talk of the Beloved and orienting all of our conversations toward this.
In addition, it should not be forgotten that if one makes a serious effort to become a true servant of God, He will help that person. As Muhammed Lütfi Effendi said,
If you truly love the Lord, do you think He will not love you?
If you seek His good pleasure, will He not let you have it?
If you go near His door, ready to offer all you have,
and serve as He ordered, will He not give its reward?
If you turn to God, He will treat you accordingly. If you turn your gaze toward him, He will look at you as well. If you open your heart to Him, then He will not leave that heart empty.
Let me point out one final thing: if a person can make practicing Islam a part of his character, he will not have much difficulty at carrying out certain devotions. For example, dividing sleep to offer the Tahajjud Prayer in the night is a burdensome task for the carnal soul. But if a person makes a habit of this like a natural behavior and virtually makes a secret contract with God, then he will not have much burden at rising from the bed. One may waver with the drowsiness at the first moment, perhaps. But after one prays and crowns it with a supplication to God and begins to open up to Him, he or she will not help but say, “It’s been so good that I woke up and made good use of these private hours of the night in terms of my relations of God!”
 Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Al-Musnad, 3/265.
 Ibn Kathir, Tafsiru’l-Qur’an, 1/3.
 Nursi, Bediüzzaman Said, The Letters, New Jersey: The Light, 2007, p. 24.
 Nursi, Bediüzzaman Said, The Letters, New Jersey: The Light, 2007, pp. 97–98.
This text is the translation of “İslâm’ın İnsan Tabiatı İle Bütünleşmesi.”