Question: What are the points of consideration in terms of keeping up sincerity in our intentions?
Answer: In order to gain the good pleasure of God Almighty, it is very important for a person to say what they are saying sincerely and do what they are doing sincerely. Because, if deeds are like a body, sincerity is like the soul; if deeds are like a wing, sincerity is the other wing. Neither can a body live without a soul, nor can a wing function without the other. A word uttered or an action realized sincerely is so precious in the sight of God that angels take that word to their mouths and include it in their habitual prayers; spirit beings keep reciting it as if it were a phrase of glorifying God. If the words coming out of one’s mouth are the true voice of his or her heart, then those words make their way from mouth to mouth until they reach the Holy Sphere (Hazirat al-Quds). In addition, it needs to be known that as far as such words uttered sincerely remain in memories, the Divine reward for the goodness keeps flowing into the speaker’s record of good, righteous deeds, and thus every word uttered gains infinity through their replicas.
Spoiling Good, Righteous Deeds by Revealing Them Sanctimoniously
However, if someone adds a personal emphasis on his or her good act by the tone of voice, facial gestures, and other sanctimonious attitudes, that person becomes a loser on a ground of winning and becomes deprived of the abundant reward in consequence.
For example, the Daily Prayers are an exalted form of worship that takes one’s journey through the skies of infinity. It is so wonderful to glorify the greatness of God at bowing and prostration, and to praise the Lord while rising from bowing; the Prayer is such a laudable form of good, righteous deed. However, if a thought such as, “Let others also hear how I am glorifying Allah in the bowing and prostration positions,” passes the mind of the person at the Prayer, the glorification will be ruined; the words will become lifeless, and that beautiful act of worship will be turned into a movement devoid of spirit and a title without meaning. If one holds any consideration of showing off to others, even one percent of weight, he or she expels the spirit of those words and let it fly away.
You can evaluate all acts of worship, such as making the (first and second) calls to Prayer, reciting a portion from the Qur’an during the Prayer, and the recitations and prayers made right after the Prayer within this frame. It should be kept in mind, however, that tuning into the inner voice and musicality of the Qur’anic verses recited during the Prayer, thereby letting oneself into that stream naturally, and trying to impress others by showing off with their vocal skills are two completely different things. It should be known that a person who shadows his deeds with his ego, in a way, allocates a share for himself from what belongs to God, proportional with the degree of this shadowing. This resembles breaking the wings of a bird, and thus preventing that good deed to take wing to the realms beyond.
Therefore, a person must consider his or her sincerity in all he or she does. With the condition of not becoming a negative example, one must look simple when viewed from the outside. That is, one must be unpretentious and look like a simple hut, but should be more dazzling and noble than the greatest palaces with respect to his or her inner world.
Self-Criticism as a Shield
Believers need to see themselves so lowly to the degree of saying, “How surprising, when I view my inner world, I consider myself as a person who fell from level of humanity to that of animals. But as a Divine favor, God still lets me continue my life in human form.” As for their contribution to the services carried out for the sake of God, they should say, “I could have used these opportunities granted by God Almighty in the best way and exerted myself to tell the truths of faith to others. But I haven’t been able to make efficient use of these opportunities for His sake; I wasted them. For this reason, I am a contemptible person who has not been faithful toward Islam and the Qur’an. I feel surprised that I did not turn to stone.” They must come to grips with their carnal soul and continuously be at its throat. Seeing oneself in such a low position triggers a wish for spiritual progress as well. If seekers of perfection wish to reach higher levels, they need to see themselves as being in a lower position than they are. Also, journey to the Infinite One is infinite. God Almighty has revealed for us the horizons of perfection and completeness: “This day I have perfected for you your Religion (with all its rules, commandments and universality), completed My favor upon you” (al-Maedah 5:3). We must become insatiable journeyers on the path to infinity in such a way that, even if God Almighty openly grants us Divine love in a bowl in a miraculous way without or beyond any manner and measure, we would still be asking for more and more of it. Attaining such perfection and completeness depends on constant self-criticism. Otherwise, those who perceive themselves as already perfected individuals and who act as if further progress is not possible will be condemned to remain where they are; it is impossible for such people to taste and thus become acquainted with perfection.
In addition, there is another negative side of not facing oneself: a person who does not make self-criticism begins busying himself with a fruitless concern about others’ shortcomings unawares that he is doing so. And if the pride of being affiliated with a certain group adds to one’s personal arrogance, that person has a greater risk to become a loser. As Bediüzzaman emphasizes, communal arrogance gives strength to personal arrogance. Therefore, it can be said that communal arrogance is a fatal and destructive calamity of great danger. The way to be saved from all of such dangers is to constantly face oneself and make self-criticism.
For example, God Almighty may grant one man the opportunity to carry out very important services in different parts of the world. Indeed, this man may have conquered the hearts of all people in a place and may have realized a breakthrough in knowledge and spirituality there. But our consideration in the face of such achievements must always be: “Since I have been in charge, so many other things have not been completed. Had it been for another one enlightened in heart and mind, God knows how the services here would have further flourished. I wish the services had not been narrowed down or hindered because of me.” This must be the true spirit of self-criticism that journeyers to God must possess.
In fact, avoiding a stumble and fall in the face of praises and flattery depends upon maintaining a practice of self-criticism. That is, a person must criticize himself several times a day, keep himself under self-surveillance, and adjust his relationship with God Almighty, accordingly. Thus, even if others sing his praises and extol his virtues, he still says, “I know myself. This can be an intervention of Satan here,” thereby saving himself from giving into pride and arrogance.
May God fill all of our hearts with such a high consciousness of self-criticism. May He enable us to give the due of the duties He granted us as a blessing! Amin!
This text is the translation of “Niyet İbresi ve Muhasebe Şuuru“