Question: It has been stated that one of the most important dynamics in the spirit of devotion in regards to serving humanity is “istighna” (contentedness, feeling no need for anyone but God, indifference to and independence from anything, but God). What are the ways to keep up an attitude of istighna for a lifetime in all aspects of life?
Answer: Firstly, let me state that istighna is such a treasure, that one who has internalized it can challenge the entire universe. Since a person who takes wing with istighna closes up all doors of material and spiritual expectations, he does not feel obliged to bow down to anybody but God.
However, it should not be forgotten that the concept isn’t merely an attitude against seeking material gain; istighna is the term for taking a resolved and upright stance against every kind of position, status, appreciation, praises, and all other kinds of temptations of the carnal soul. For example, if ten people insist that you become a manager, consultant general, or senator, you need to ask yourself whether you can keep up the spirit of istighna in the position mentioned. In other words, you need to make a self-critique, questioning yourself whether initiating such a process stems from any egoistic wishes or from an intention to serve people for the sake of God. If egoistic concerns seem dominant, then you should strive to resist against that wish. One may wonder whether things will be left unattended if we become indifferent to certain positions. If there are any competent people due for that position, then your stepping forth will cause rivalry, jealousy, and conflict. For example, if there are ten people in a place of worship who are eligible to lead a prayer, expressing your wish to lead the prayer will bring more harm than benefit with respect to that duty. One of those ten people will end up carrying out the task regardless. As Bediüzzaman also underlined in The Gleams, we better “prefer being a follower to leadership, which brings responsibility and therefore is risky.” Being an imam is tricky business, since he bears the responsibility of all the people he leads in prayer. A mistake made by the imam is not an individual one. The same goes for a governor. Such a person takes on the responsibility of all the people in his jurisdiction in a case that he makes a mistake. Similarly, when a person leading the state makes a mistake that affects the entire nation, he bears the responsibility of all those people before God. In result of this, instead of wishing to be elected, it is wiser to prefer to remain as a voter. Regarding those that are ambitious to get elected, there is no single individual who does not make serious mistakes. On the other hand, few people make mistakes among who say, “It does not matter who holds office, as long as they are competent.”
The Most Difficult Form of Istighna
The top level of istighna is becoming a self-effacing person, who feels discomforted by praise from others. Even though the carnal soul enjoys being praised, the conscience of ideal believers must take compliments as if they were insults. When they receive praises, they should ask themselves, “Why are they offering me a reward in this world that is to be received in the afterlife? Is it me who made them think this way?” Then they should take the humble path of acknowledging their impotence and poverty before God and pray, “My Lord, allow me to forget about my own self and help me dislike talking about myself.” A person may be indifferent to wealth and not care about holding office. However, istighna in the face of recognition and praise, is most difficult. Therefore taking a firm stance against applause and praise from the very beginning, not cherishing any instances of this kind whatsoever, and even interrupting people, who are about to praise us, bear great significance.
The Unsung Heroes
I see the contributing teachers of the Turkish Olympiad competition as the most self-sacrificing people of our time, because they went to different corners of the world to raise students in order to serve on the path of love and humanity. However, as their students were applauded by millions of people, they humbly remained anonymous. May God not prove us wrong in our good opinion of them. May God let them keep up their work with heartfelt modesty. They present exemplary behavior. After sowing seeds in the soil and completing our various tasks, we need to be able to walk away without seeking to be noticed. We should not hold on to any expectations about witnessing the harvest. Naturally, all Muslims wish to see that the message of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, to humanity reaches everywhere and that the truths he taught are welcomed by the people. Even a simple man like me is no exception. In spite of such a wish, if you had a little bit of contribution to this ideal, you need to say, “My Lord, you know how I wish to see those days, but I do not wish to see anyone praising me for any contributions I may have made. I wish to see that after I pass away.” They should also target attaining a genuine feeling of istighna to make them sincerely say, “If I am also included in this process, who knows what troubles I will cause. It is better for me to watch the blessings of God in the other world.”
Indifferent to the World, Turned toward God
Actually, the most important means to keep up the spirit of istighna is leading one’s life with an ethics of altruism (ithar), preferring others to one’s own self. The devoted ones should make altruism a part of their nature and be able to prefer others to their own selves not only at material benefits, but even in spiritual blessings and inspirations. They should think that saintly wonders—such as viewing the Ka’ba during prayer—are happening to others, and become indifferent to everything else but God Almighty. This is the spirit of altruism and the stance of istighna in the true sense. Above all, we need to adopt such an outlook in our time.
To conclude, we should be indifferent to material gains, praise, and their worldly benefits. We need to strive not to cherish even otherworldly expectations, but expect possible rewards to come in the afterlife as extra blessings out of God’s infinite grace. People can obtain nothing valuable if God does not grant it. They can neither enter Paradise, nor be saved from Hell. All of these can only be maintained by Divine mercy, providence, and grace. Also, God opens numerous doors to somebody who turns away from everything else, but Him. Try closing your doors to worldliness and you will see a thousand others opened by God Almighty, the Opener of Doors. That is, He is the only one who opens doors. Thus, if you wish His door of providence, good pleasure, and appreciation to open to you, then you must keep your doors closed to all worldly expectations for a lifetime.
This text is the translation of “Ömür Boyu İstiğna“