Question: The Messenger of God enjoined being like a stranger or traveler in this fleeting world. Some Muslims of the early period regarded even planning what to eat the following day as a form of cherishing long-term worldly objectives and delusion of eternity. Considering the conditions of our time, however, making certain plans about the future is deemed as necessary, particularly at issues such as choosing which schools to attend and what profession to learn. How can we strike the balance at making plans for the future?
Answer: As it has been mentioned in the question as well, the noble Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, did enjoin being like a stranger (gharib) or traveler (abiru sabil) in this world.1 The term “gharib” used in the Prophetic saying denotes a person who somehow leaves his or her hometown and migrates to somewhere else, thereby staying there for a while as a guest, and who has thus no deep relation with the things and people around. And the other term or phrase is “abiru sabil.” The root of the first word is ubur, which denotes journeying or crossing a road. As a matter of fact, every individual is a “traveler” journeying from the mother’s womb to childhood, from there to youth, maturity, to old age… from there to the grave—an intermediate realm between this world and the next, and finally (rise up from the grave to go) to the Plain of Great Gathering for judgment. Thus, the beloved Prophet counsels taking the journey of worldly life as if passing from one side of the road to the other.
The noble Prophet pointed to this same fact another time when he rested on a plain rough mat, which made marks on his body. With eyes full of tears, Umar ibn al-Khattab mentioned how the Sassanid and Roman kings lived (in luxury) and implied that the Prophet could benefit from worldly blessings. It is reported that the Messenger of God replied that he did not have anything to do with this world. The noble Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, compared his position in this guesthouse of the world to a traveler who takes shade under a tree for a while and then continues on his way.2 All of us know that had he wished so, the Companions would have brought anything they could find to make him feel comfortable. However, the Pride of Humanity, peace and blessings be upon him, likened himself to someone who stops temporarily under a tree for a rest and then goes on his journey, and this was the scope of his relation to the worldly life. He maintained this understanding until his blessed soul passed to the next world.
Fortunes Spent for the Sake of God
When the issue is seen with a holistic view and the commands of religion are taken as a whole, we understand that the noble Prophet does not tell us to absolutely neglect the world, but rather to refrain from indulging in worldliness in pursuit of lowly pleasures and delights. The following verse, for example, decrees that the Messenger of God, peace and blessings be upon him, is authorized to handle one-fifth of war gains: “And know that whatever you take as gains of war, to God belongs one fifth of it, and to the Messenger, and the near kinsfolk, and orphans, and the destitute, and the wayfarer (one devoid of sufficient means of journeying)” (al-Anfal 8:41). Even if the noble Prophet chose to take only one tenth out of the one fifth of the war gains for himself, he could have led a very prosperous life and lived in palaces. However, he preferred to lead his blessed life in a little cell instead. It was so little that, as his wife Aisha reported, when the Messenger of God stood in the Prayer at night and before prostration, he would touch his hand to the feet of Aisha, and only after our blessed mother receded her feet did he have enough space to prostrate.3 Imagine, he could not even find sufficient room for prostrating in his cell—let our souls be sacrificed for that cell. However, as we take into consideration the riches allocated to his use we see that he had the means to equip an entire army. He spent them for the sake of God and preferred to live an austere life. In terms of his personal life and abstention from worldly pleasures, he acted in such a careful, cautious, and measured way that he fulfilled the due of the virtuous conduct God Almighty demanded from him: “Pursue, then, what is exactly right (in every matter of the Religion) as you are commanded (by God)” (Hud 11:112).
The Representatives of Dignified Contentment (Istighna)
Undoubtedly, the Messenger of God, peace and blessings be upon him, was a transcendent person with respect to his relation with God, his position, state, profundity, and immensity. He had such a lofty and different nature that he expressed how he felt delight in worship, as other people take delight in physical pleasures. To relieve his aching for worshipping his Lord, the Prophet would frequently ask his wives to be excused and get up in the middle of the night to be nourished from the fount of worship and devotion. In this respect, let alone comparing him to ourselves, even comparing him with the Companions is not right: no other person can be compared to him. And I dare say that even comparing the Archangel Gabriel with him is a mistake. As an angel, Gabriel did not bear any burdens related to carnal desires and physicality. In spite of bearing the burdensome side of human nature, the Prophet was far beyond angels in spiritual progress. It is for this reason that as the Prophet, millions of blessings and peace be upon him, returned from the Ascension back to live among us, he descended from his high horizons to the level of ours to convey objective truths for our understanding and spiritual life. When we look into the matter within these criteria, although nobody can be compared to him, we can say that believers should lead their personal lives in dignified contentment, in compliance with his teaching. Indeed, all the great figures who were true to his path preferred to live this way. For example, if you study the life of Bediüzzaman, you see that dignified contentment is one of the important principles he held throughout his life. He would sometimes spend his days on his little platform on a tree; sometimes he would stay in the mountains for months, and sometimes he resided in a wood cabin, which was not really suitable for habitation. In short, he preferred to live a very austere life until the end of his life. Actually, not only people from the Muslim tradition, but also followers of others teachings who changed the fate of the societies to which they belonged, similarly lived a life of dignified contentment. In this respect, we can say that such virtues, which can be taken as a sign of greatness with respect to universal human values, are the same in almost everyone, but with one difference—in believing hearts, this virtue is more soundly established and it promises permanence, because they have Divine approval behind them. For some others, even though they temporarily possess virtues becoming of believers such as dignified contentment, self-sacrifice, and altruism, they do not necessarily promise continuity and permanence. And one thing that needs to be known is that God Almighty grants success in this world to anyone who possesses characteristics and qualities becoming of believers, because He treats His servants according to their good character and conduct. Therefore, even if someone is a saint flying miraculously in the air, God Almighty will not treat him in a way that becomes true believers, given that he acts in a lethargic or lazy way, or becomes a selfish one who runs after personal benefits; those who act thus fail to fulfill the meaning of being human in the true sense. Indulging in worldliness, leading a physical-oriented life, and acting upon animal desires are unacceptable for a believer, who should be proceeding toward realizing the God-given spiritual potential for human perfection. Obviously, such a lifestyle is not the way of the Prophet.
The Way to Eternalize Transient Means
Surely, today’s believers need not push aside everything about the world and live like ascetic dervishes in retreat. This is contradictory to the ideal of becoming a powerful community upholding justice; Muslims must try to have worldly means as much as they can. However, they must make use of the means they acquire in a benevolent way to eternalize them. At this point, I would like to express a feeling of mine: sometimes I imagine and wish that when I step into the room I find a great amount of money, out of nowhere, and distribute it to the people volunteering for benevolent services for humanity so that they can establish schools and cultural centers in different corners of the world and thus conquer hearts of people. This is just a dream of course. Since it is a dream, I realize no practical goodness with it. But let me point out that if such a dream did not belong to me but to a friend of mine, and if he shared this consideration with me, I would tell him that even such an imaginary action can bring you manifold rewards and blessings to be gained at worship. Sharing the inspirations of our heart with others, illuminating worlds with the torch in our hand, taking the beauties we learn from the Prophet to everywhere the sun shines upon, exerting ourselves with this thought, and becoming oriented to such a lofty goal even in our dreams are all very important.
Returning back to our main subject, though, let us reiterate that as far as worldly means are used correctly, there is nothing wrong with having them. However, adoration for one’s worldly goods, status, home, children, or carnal pleasures as if one worships them, leads a person toward worldly and otherworldly disaster. A person must adore and worship God Almighty only and love anything else solely for His sake. He must be the One to be remembered at the beginning and end of something and everything must be attached to Him. Otherwise, when we act in the name of physicality and our carnal side, everything will be condemned to our own narrowness and it will mean wasting ourselves and our God-given spiritual potential. A human being, who is as worthy as all the worlds and who is endowed with a vast potential to ascend to otherworldly ranks as great as the earth and sky, should not be condemned to such narrowness I think. One the contrary, he or she must run after eternity and seek His good pleasure all the time—so much so that a title of “conqueror” should not be anything desirable as far as it does not take one to God, as such a thing does not bear any meaning on its own. What makes an action valuable is the depth of a person’s sincere intention. An accomplishment will be truly valuable as far as it is meant to gain the rewards heralded by the noble Prophet, to hold Islam in esteem, and to share the values we learn from the Prophet with the entire world.
Intention as a Determining Factor
The same point holds true for the efforts directed to graduating from certain schools and performing certain jobs. In other words, if a person wishes to do something for the sake of their lofty ideals and pass through certain stages, they will naturally carry out what they need to do. For example, a student who wishes to have a good education must say, “I cannot go to the university without finishing high school. I cannot reach a good position to serve my people without finishing the university. I cannot be welcomed and respected without having such means to serve others. And if I do not become worthy of respect, I cannot do anything serious for the sake of my people and lofty ideals.” And a student must make such an intention from the very beginning.
We cannot stop ourselves from questioning previous generations and blaming them for having failed to see certain things, leaving gaps in certain fields, and losing continuously. But if we do not wish the next generation to question us in the same way, we must exert ourselves to fill the gaps left by the earlier ones and not let new gaps appear. We have to take certain pains in order not to receive righteous criticism from our children and grandchildren. What needs to be done first is to have a strong faith and to try not having any flaws in our worship, and then to attach everything we do to a sincere and sound intention. If this can be realized, a person’s studying at high school, finishing the university, and every other achievement they plan to do will be counted as worship and gain them blessings; because, whatever is the intention of attaining a goal, the means used to obtain it will assume the hue of that very intention. In this respect, everything that is done must be woven according to the pattern of a sound intention.
In conclusion, true believers never do—and must not do—anything in order to receive praise from others or for worldly concerns. They always strive for conveying the heavenly values distilled from their spiritual roots to others and make continuous efforts so that the representatives of these high values gain an esteemed status in the world. For this sake, they sometimes face difficulties, experience pain, and bend in two with suffering. But they know that their troubles and suffering for the sake of a sublime ideal will gain them so many blessings that such progress could not be attained even through a process of spiritual journeying.
1. Sahih al-Bukhari, Riqaq, 3
2. Sunan at-Tirmidhi, Zuhd, 44
3. Sahih al-Bukhari, Salat, 22
This text is the translation of “Dünyevî İmkânlar ve Geleceği Planlamada Ölçü“