Question: It is stated that those endeavoring on the path of serving humanity might provoke envy in their fellow volunteers due to their personal merits. They may also provoke circles that are biased against them or believers associated with other religious movements. These are great dangers. What are the points of consideration for being safe against these three dangers?
Answer: Although a mild degree of envy is allowed and is considered harmless in the Islamic Teaching, this is not an absolute and has certain criteria and basics. For example, a person might see a certain merit in a fellow volunteer and wish to have the same. Such a wish can be considered harmless at the beginning. As time passes, however, this person may think, “Why do I not have the same merits?” and thus covertly criticize Divine destiny. If feelings of jealousy and rivalry toward that envied person awaken in such a man, it means that now he has stepped out of the allowed zone and wandered into the inadvisable and dubious one. As this kind of envy is inadvisable, a person behaving in a way to provoke envy in others is also inadvisable and resembles wandering into the dubious zone.
As a matter of fact, the Messenger of God stated, “Both legal and illegal things are evident, but in between them there are doubtful (suspicious) things and most people have no knowledge about them. So whoever saves himself from these suspicious things saves his religion and his honor…”1 And he counseled believers to keep away from doubtful things. So the feeling of envy, which might turn to intense jealousy, resembles standing on such a boundary between the lawful and forbidden, and a person might easily transgress to jealousy and become unable to stomach the other person’s merits. Therefore, envy, and any attitudes and behaviors that might trigger it, need to be avoided. Bediüzzaman draws attention to this point in his treatise on sincerity by advising believers not to provoke the feeling of envy in other brothers or sisters.
Tanafus: Competing at Goodness
While it resembles envy in one respect, competing at goodness is an innocent deed. Tanafus means competing at goodness and righteous behaviors as well as intending and struggling to not stay behind other brothers and sisters on the path of glorifying the name of God. God Almighty invites believers to such a competition concerning deeds for the Hereafter with the verse that says, “And to that (blessing of Paradise), then, let all those who aspire (to things of high value) aspire as if in a race (with each other)” (al-Mutaffifin 83:26).
As far as worldly races are concerned, though one competitor comes first, all other competitors become losers; this affects a feeling of discomfort in them. However, a person with a heartfelt belief in the Afterlife has the following consideration about competing at goodness: targeting God’s good pleasure. As it is said, “My brothers and sisters endeavoring to glorify the name of God in four corners of the world, God willing, will run to the noble Prophet’s pool of Kawthar and take that heavenly drink directly from his blessed hands.” One must take place in this race for goodness in order not to remain behind while the others drink it. The idea of a race with no losers can be kept within the frame of tanafus; thus, it can also be seen as an innocent consequence of envy.
Actually, during such a race made in terms of righteousness—even if he or she is not expecting such a thing—a devoted soul is supposed to say, “Let the winner of the race and the first-comer be some other volunteers.” They should refer to possible rewards such as appreciation, applause, being seen as eligible for certain positions, and the like with a spirit of self-sacrifice and a noble wish for preferring others over oneself.
As you know, the principle established by Bediüzzaman about this guides us to prefer being administered instead of administrators; to be an administrator entails responsibility and relevant risks. Being in front and becoming the leader awakens different desires of the carnal soul in a person and spurs them towards such desires. One must be very cautious and self-possessed against them. Therefore, even if you seemingly stand as the most rightful one in this respect, it is necessary to prefer letting someone else come to that position and then take a place behind him.
The Spirit of Magnanimity That Extends to the Realms Beyond
If a believer is to enjoy the blessings of the Hereafter, he should not seek pleasure or adulation in this world, and should instead show magnanimity, preferring to laud his brothers and sisters. As a matter of fact, God’s Messenger informed us of the fact that scholars and rich believers will come to the gate of Paradise and both sides will wish to give priority to the other. We cannot know this, but perhaps there is a paradisiacal enjoyment and pleasure in such sacrifice and courteous behavior. Maybe there is such a mystic and spiritual pleasure in a person’s stepping back like an ordinary member in a congregation who stands in prayer behind an imam; this may even be more preferable than imamate (leadership) itself.
Actually, we should not take the spirit of ithar, the Companions virtue of preferring others to one’s own self, in a narrow sense. Namely, if you reduce this virtue solely to the issue of eating, drinking, and clothing, then you narrow down the consideration of sacrifice, which has a broad meaning, and virtually kill its spirit. Actually, just as the devoted souls, you should present a heroic and upright stance, so as to say like Bediüzzaman did, “Neither do I have a passion for Paradise, nor a fear of Hell. Given that I see the faith of my people is saved, I accede to burning in the flames of Hell.”2
You must ascribe your deliverance to saving others and thus try to make the best use of and deepen this short life by living for the sake of others. If you meet one thousand people whose hand you held and served as a means for their deliverance from the swamp of misguidance, you should behave so magnanimously as to be able to say, “O God, I do not know whether I have been able to offer due thanks for the blessings I have been granted. Please let these brothers and sisters of mine enter Paradise first.” In this world and the next, we should cross out ourselves and let others have the attention.
The Notion of Belonging and Arrogance Brought by Affiliation
As for the notion of affiliation, it is fed by people’s carnal soul and arrogance. Individual arrogance does not suffice for some people who try to bring themselves to attention. So they wish to join a collective, have its support behind them, and thus express themselves more forcefully by being a thread interwoven in its texture. They use the power of the community, movement, or current they are included in like a means for their personal propaganda. With the community they lean on, they consolidate their arrogance further. They try to show off with different attitudes and behaviors, and thus become a captive to their carnal soul and Satan; this is a form of arrogance stronger than individual arrogance.
Although some try to conceal their real intentions in a wrapping of modesty and humility, human nature can detect people with a certain degree of arrogance. In this respect, arrogance both eats away a person’s dignity, and it causes that person to be affronted by those around him and become an outcast. Those who act with this notion of belonging or affiliate arrogance either provoke envy in the affiliates of other groups or trigger a feeling of jealousy in them. Unfortunately, it is possible to find examples of each type in our time. Particularly, if people affiliated with a certain movement which has made certain accomplishments lay claims on all good things realized by the collective, always wish to be the center of attention, and disregard others’ efforts, these cause an adverse circle to form against them.
In the different sections of society, and in different communities and movements, there are sincere, clever, and diligent believers that, despite having striven for the sake of conveying truths to others, may not have achieved a hundredth of the services carried out by certain others. Therefore, those people feel disturbed when the affiliates of a certain movement, which have made different achievements, boisterously talk about themselves. In this respect, in order for the volunteers to abate the negative feelings that might be evoked in others, they must show utter self-possession and caution; they must try to tell about the services carried out by also giving credit to others as much as possible. For example, even if fair and appreciative people affiliated with other groups come to you and express their appreciation, what falls to the volunteers is to express the following fact: “Actually, all of these good results were your dreams and your ideals. You have sung ballads for these long years, longed for these results, and made serious efforts for this sake. You are the ones who initiated these services first. However, destiny included some other people at a certain part of the process and God Almighty let this ideal, which began with your efforts, come true through their hands.”
Every person with a fair conscience will accept the following anyway: Every community, movement, and current has made a serious contribution to the spiritual revival of the society in this country. Some of them opened establishments throughout the country for teaching how to read the Qur’an. At a period when the Qur’an was not taught, they went village by village, town by town, and tried to teach people how to read the Qur’an everywhere. Some of them provided young people with an education by opening the Imam-Hatip schools. And some tried to fulfill their responsibility toward the people by opening Islamic institutes, faculties of theology, dormitories, and the like. If there has been a certain degree of spiritual revival in Turkey, this happened thanks to the entirety of the communities, movements, and currents. I guess when you take such an approach, no fair person will think they have been pushed to the margins, overlooked, or disregarded, and thus will not commit sins such as making baseless negative assumptions, feeling jealousy, or practicing intolerance.
The Apprehensions and Anxieties That Trigger Feelings of Animosity
A devoted soul trying to serve humanity with sound consciousness should be able to present magnanimous behavior not only to their friends and family, but also to those who adopt hostile attitudes and behaviors toward them. This will help to remove the other person’s apprehensions, fears, and anxieties. Bediüzzaman relates the following words of Hafiz of Sheraz concerning the subject: “The tranquility of both worlds lies in two things: magnanimity towards friends and the wise management of enemies.”3
Given that we are believers and that compassion is one of our essential principles, then we need to treat everybody with mercy and lenience. In addition, in order to eliminate the apprehensions of those who are seized by fear and anxiety, you need to point out through different means that you have no expectations for the future other than gaining God’s good pleasure. You must speak out in a loud voice, time and again, to let the entire world hear the following truths: “Let alone seeking to govern a certain land of a certain country, we do not even have want to govern a single village. We have only one intention: Letting the blessed name of the Prophet be heard in the four corners of the world, letting humans—the most honorable of all creatures—be endowed with all the virtues they can take from the noble Prophet, and letting God’s exalted name be felt in hearts and wave there like a flag. We expel all other thoughts than these from our heads. Even if they offer us the sultanate of the world on a tray, just as God’s Messenger pushed away worldliness when it materialized before him and said, ‘you cannot make them accept you,’4 we also push away the worldly sultanate as individuals who try to follow the Master of the Prophets; we seek to gain God’s good pleasure, which is so much greater than the temptations of this alluring and transient world. The fact that there is not the slightest sign that we have sought such worldly gains, as some circles were worried, also supports this thought.”
This being the truth, these sincere considerations need to be emphasized at every opportunity. Otherwise, if you do not say anything and keep silent on this issue, even the most sincere people with no evil intentions might develop some wrong opinions about you by looking at the flourishing of the activities of education and dialog. If it is possible for those who stand next to you during the prayers to fall for some mistaken thoughts, then you can guess the degree of anxiety in those who take a stance against you for not knowing about your inner world and your ideal of gaining God’s good pleasure. In this respect, from a seven-year-old child to a seventy-year old man, all devoted souls must frequently point out that they do not have any expectations for the future about worldly power and the opportunities it brings. They must refrain from words, statements, attitudes, and behaviors that might trigger the fears of losing worldly means in those who see the world as everything and who attach their lives to this world only.
1. Sahih al-Bukhari, Iman, 39; Sahih Muslim, Musaqat, 107.
2. Nursi, Bediüzzaman Said, Tarihçe-i Hayat (Tahliller), p. 616.
3. Nursi, Bediüzzaman Said, The Letters, p. 286.
4. Al-Bayhaqi, Shuabu’l-Iman, 7/343, 345; Al-Hakim, Al-Mustadrak, 4/344.
This text is the translation of “Üç Büyük Tehlike.”