In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate.
By the sun and its brightness, and the moon when it follows it, and the day when it reveals it, and the night when it enshrouds it, and the heaven and him Who built it, and the earth and Him Who spread it, and the soul and Him Who perfected it. (91:1-7)
A parable to understand Divine purposes behind the creation of man and the universe and the enjoining of the five daily prayers:
Once, there was a king. He had a vast treasury of precious stones, including diamonds and emeralds. He also had buried treasuries unknown to anybody. He was well versed in all kinds of industry and had a vast knowledge of arts and sciences and their different disciplines. It is natural that whoever has beauty and perfection [especially admirable by everyone and beneficial to others] would tend to show those qualities to others. So that king willed to construct a palace of exhibition where he might publicly display the magnificence of his kingdom, the splendor and extent of his wealth, the wonderful products of his artistry and skill. He desired to behold his beauty and perfection in two ways: one, with his own discerning eye; the other, through the eyes of others.
With this purpose in mind, the king began to build a very large, magnificent palace. He divided it into many apartments and rooms, decorating it with the finest and most beautiful works of his art, and embellishing it with all kinds of the precious stones in his treasure. He designed the palace according to the principles and disciplines of sciences and arts, and furnished it with the miraculous products of his knowledge. Then he prepared in the palace all kinds of delicious foods and drinks peculiar to each family of those that would inhabit it. He provided those foods and drinks so elaborately and generously, and so artistically that you would think that each food on each table was the result of at least a hundred separate skills.
Finally, the king willed that some certain part of his subjects should dwell in the palace and settled them in it. He sent them his aide-de-camp so that he should inform them of the purposes for which the king built that palace and what rules they should obey while staying in it. The aide-de-camp was also to describe to the dwellers what kind of being the king was and inform them about the architecture of the palace and all the decorations, furniture and ornaments therein. The king also ordered his aide-de-camp to tell the dwellers in what ways the palace, with its structures and designs and all its contents demonstrate the artistry and perfections of the king, and how they could please him while dwelling it.
The aide-de-camp had many assistants, each of whom was deputed for a certain apartment, and numerous students. Standing among his students, the aide-de-camp addressed the audience as follows:
O people! Our lord, who is the owner of this palace, would like, by building it, to make himself known to you. In return, know him, recognize him properly. He would also like to make himself lovable to you through these ornaments. In return, by appreciating his artistry and commending him upon his works, make yourselves loved by him. Through all his favors to you, he demonstrates his love for you. So, do you love him by obeying him! He also displays, through all these offerings of his, his care and compassion for you. Therefore, by thanking him, show your respect for him! Through the works of his perfection, the lord wants to show his beauty and grace to you. In return, exhibit a great desire to see him and secure his attention upon you! By setting his special stamp, which is impossible to copy, on all these things that you see, he would like to demonstrate to you that he is unique and absolutely independent, without any partners, and that this palace, with everything in it, is a work of his and belongs to him exclusively. In response to this, acknowledge his uniqueness, and absolute independence, without any partners.
The two groups
The aide-de-camp continued his address in the same strain. The dwellers of the palace were two groups:
The first group consisted of those who were sensible and aware of themselves. Once they had beheld the wonders in the palace, they concluded that all that they witnessed could not be to no purpose. While thinking of the purposes behind them, they heard the aide-de-camp and understood what all those things were for. They acted in accordance with the desires of the king. In return, the king was pleased with them and invited them, to another, much bigger and indescribably beautiful palace, conferring on them all kinds of bounties and blessings from himself eternally.
The second group consisted of people who were morally corrupt and unaware, and devoid of sound reasoning. When they had entered the palace, they had noticed nothing other than the delicious foods, in complete blindness to the meaning of all the decorations and embellishments the palace contained. They gave no heed to the address and directives of the aide-de-camp and his assistants. They only ate and slept, and they drank of the beverages forbidden to them. Getting drunk, they caused disorder in the palace and created mischief. They troubled both the servants of the king and the guests who had been invited to see the palace and eat of some particular foods provided in it. They did not obey the rules laid down by the king and he put them in prison.
O friend, you have been listening to this parable together with me! You have certainly understood that the glorious king built the palace for the purposes explained by his aide-de-camp. The realization of these purposes depends on the following two things:
The first is the existence of the aide-de-camp, whose address you have heard. If he did not exist, all those purposes would go to naught. For a book unintelligible and without a teacher to explain it amounts to no more than a package of sheets.
The second is the necessity of obedience to what the aide-de-camp communicated to the dwellers. That is, the existence of the aide-de-camp is the motive for the existence of the palace and the obedience of the dwellers is the cause of its maintenance. It can therefore be argued that, but for the aide-de-camp, the master who made the palace known to the dwellers and conveyed to them the will of the king, the glorious king would not have built the palace. Also, it can be said that if the dwellers do not heed the instructions of that master, the palace will be destroyed.
O friend! The parable has ended. If you have understood what it means, then come and reflect upon its meaning:
The meaning of the parable
The palace is this world, whose roof is the heavens illuminated with smiling stars. Its floor is the surface of the earth embellished from east to west with numerous kinds of flowers. The king is the Most Holy One, the Eternal King, Whom the seven firmaments and the earth, together with everything they contain, glorify and extol in tongues particular to each. He is such a Powerful King that He created the heavens and the earth in six days1 and, seated on His Throne of Lordship, [that is, through continuous manifestations of His Lordship,]2 alternates day and night like two threads, one white, the other black, to inscribe His signs on the vast sheet of the universe. Again, He is One, All-Majestic and Powerful, to Whom the sun, the moon and stars are all subjugated.
The apartments or divisions of the palace are the thousands of worlds, each designed, furnished and decorated in a way particular to it. The finest and most beautiful works of art you saw in the palace are all those things you see in the world, each of which is a miracle of the Divine Power. The foods stand for the wonderful fruits of the Divine Mercy that you see in the world, especially in summer; the kitchen of the palace, for the fire in the center of the earth and the heat of the sun; the jewels or precious stones, for the manifestations of the Divine Sacred Names and the embellishments, for the well-ordered and finely-made beings and the perfectly proportioned inscriptions of the Pen of the Power that adorn this world and point to the Names of the Majestic All-Powerful One.
The aide-de-camp, the master who addressed the dwellers of the palace, is our master, the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings. His assistants are the other Prophets, and his students, the saints and purified scholars. The servants stand for the angels, upon them be peace; the dwellers, for the jinn and human beings, and the guests invited to the palace, for animals created to be of service to human beings.
The first group of people are the believers. They are the students of the wise Qur’an, which is the interpreter of the verses of the book of the universe. The other group are the people of unbelief and rebellion. They are some ‘deaf and dumb’ misguided people who, obeying their carnal selves and Satan, accept only the worldly life and therefore reduce themselves to a rank even below the animals.
The first group, comprising the good and spiritually prosperous people, heeded the master who brought the principles of both intellectual enlightenment and spiritual well-being, the path of prosperity in both worlds. That master is both a worshipping servant in regard to servanthood who describes his Lord and makes Him known to people, and he also functions as an envoy of his community in the court of Almighty God—and a Messenger in regard to Messengership who communicates his Lord’s commandments to men and jinn by means of the Qur’an.
What did the prosperous group do?
That prosperous group heeded the Messenger and listened to the Qur’an. They found themselves in elevated stations, invested with many subtle and pleasing duties of the prescribed prayer, which is the index of all the varieties of worship:
- They observed the Divine works, and seeing themselves in the station of objective observers of the wonders of the Kingdom of Divine Lordship, declared God is the Greatest in performance of the duty of glorification and extolling.
- They saw themselves in the station of announcing the curious and precious manifestations of the Divine Sacred Names, and performed the duty of praising God and esteeming Him as the All-Holy, declaring: Glory be to God! All praise be to God!
- In the station of tasting and perceiving with their outer and inner senses the bounties stored up in the treasuries of the Divine Mercy, they performed their duty of giving thanks and praise.
- In the station of weighing with the scales of their spiritual faculties the jewels in the treasuries of the Divine Names, they carried out their duty of praise and declaring God to be free of all fault.
- In the station of studying the Messages of the Lord written on the lines of Destiny by the Pen of His Power, they performed their duty of contemplation and commending.
- In the station of observing the subtle beauties and delicacies in the creation of things and in the art of creation and declaring God to be free of all fault, they set out to fulfill their duty of loving and yearning for their Majestic Originator and Gracious Maker.
The spirit of worshipping
Thus, in observation of the universe and all the works therein, they addressed God indirectly in the third person and performed all those duties of worship in all the stations mentioned above. Then, having attained to the rank of observing the actions of the Wise Maker and the way He acts, they were amazed by the realization of how the Majestic Creator makes Himself known to conscious beings through the miracles of His Art, and, in direct response, they proclaimed in His presence: Glory be to You! We are unable to know You as required by Your knowledge—as the duty of knowing You requires! What makes You known are Your miracles displayed in Your creatures.
Then, in response to the All-Merciful making Himself loved through the lovely fruits of His Mercy, they proclaimed in love and ecstasy: You alone do we worship and from You alone do we seek help!
After that, in response to the Real Giver of Bounties exhibiting His Care and Compassion through His decorous gifts, they thanked Him and praised Him, saying: Glory be to You and all praise be to You! By which they meant: ‘You are One so worthy of thanks and praise that all Your favors scattered everywhere in the universe voice Your praise in the tongue of their disposition. Again, all Your bounties arranged and exhibited in the market of the world and scattered on the face of the earth declare Your praise and commendation. Besides, the beautiful, well-proportioned fruits and produce of Your Mercy and Graciousness scattered on the earth in due measure and quantity, bear witness to Your Generosity and Magnificence, thereby carrying out the duty of thanking You before the eyes of all creatures.’
Then, in response to His displaying His Grace, Majesty, Perfection and Grandeur in the ‘mirrors’ of creatures ever-recruited and renewed, they proclaimed God is the Greatest! and bowed before Him in due perception of their own impotence. Afterwards, they prostrated themselves in humility and with wonder and love. Then, before the All-Wealthy One’s exhibition of the abundance of His Wealth and comprehensiveness of His Mercy, they displayed their poverty and neediness and prayed: From You alone do we seek help!
After that, in response to the Majestic Maker’s exhibition of the subtleties and wonders of His Art through animate beings, they showed their appreciation, saying: What (wonders) God has willed! and their commendation, saying: How beautifully they have been made! Also, they continued their observation and said: God bless them! How wonderfully they have been made! and testified to Him by proclaiming their belief. Then, in full admiration, they called everyone else to witness the same, shouting, Come and see! Attach yourselves to the way to prosperity!
In response to the Eternal King’s declaration of the Kingdom of His Lordship and manifestation of His Oneness in all the spheres of the universe, they believed in and confirmed His Unity, and displayed their obedience and submission, saying: We have heard and obeyed. Also, to the manifestation of the Divinity of the Lord of the Worlds, they responded with worship, which consists in declaration of their impotence embedded in weakness, and their poverty embedded in neediness, and with the prescribed prayer, which is the essence of worship.
By spending their lives in that huge mosque of the world in performing these and other similar duties of worship, they assumed the best pattern of creation. They became, above all other creatures, trustworthy vicegerents of God3 on the earth equipped with the blessing of faith and trustworthiness. After this world of trial and place of testing, their Munificent Lord invited them to eternal happiness in reward for their belief, and to the Abode of Peace in recompense for their devotion to Islam. There, He bestowed on them out of His Mercy bounties so dazzling that no eye has seen them, nor ear heard them, nor anybody conceived of them, and gave them eternity and everlasting life. For, the observing and reflecting lovers of an eternal, abiding beauty will certainly go to eternity. Such is the end, the final station, of the students of the Qur’an. May Almighty God include us among them. Amen!
As for the other group, the sinners and the wicked, they entered the palace of this world at the age of discretion. They responded with unbelief to all the evidences of Divine Oneness, and with ingratitude to all the bounties. They also insulted in an unbelieving manner all creatures by accusing them of being worthless and responded with rejection and denial to the manifestations of all the Divine Names. In sum, they committed a boundless crime in a short time and deserved an eternal punishment.
Why were the capital of life and his faculties given o man?
Certainly, the capital of life and human faculties were given to man to spend on the duties mentioned above. If this is so, then, O my foolish carnal self and O my friend full of desires! do you think that your life’s duty is restricted to living an easy life according to the requisites of modern corrupt civilization and gratifying your carnal desires? Or do you suppose those delicate senses and abilities, those sensitive faculties and organs, those well-ordered members and systems, and those inquisitive senses and feelings were included in the ‘machine’ of your life—your body—in order that you should use them only to satisfy the low desires of your base, carnal self? Rather, they were included in your body and made a part of your nature for the following two basic aims:
- They should make you feel all the varieties of the bounties of the Real Giver of Bounties and urge you to offer Him thanks. So, you should feel them and perform the worship of thanking Him in return for them.
- They should make known to you and urge you to experience each sort of all the manifestations of the Divine Sacred Names manifested in the universe. So, you should experience and know them in order to believe.
It is through achievement of these two basic aims that a man can gain human perfection and become a true human being.
A parable to understand that man was not given his human faculties only to earn his worldly life through them:
Someone gave one of his servants twenty pieces of gold, telling him to buy himself a suit of clothes made out of a particular cloth. The servant went and bought himself a fine suit out of the best quality of the cloth, and put it on.
The same person gave another of his servants a thousand pieces of gold, and putting in his pocket a piece of paper with some things written on it, sent him to do some trade. Now, anyone with any sense would know that that capital was not for buying a suit of clothes. Since the first servant had bought a suit of finest cloth with twenty gold pieces, of course these thousand gold pieces were not to be spent on a suit. So, if the second servant would not read the paper in his pocket and, imitating the first servant, gave all the money to a shopkeeper for a suit of clothes, and worse, got a suit of the worst kind of cloth, one fifty times worse than his friend’s, for sure his employer would reprimand him severely for his utter stupidity, and punish him angrily.
O my carnal self and my friend! Come to your senses! Do not spend the capital of your life and your vital potentials on material pleasures and this transient life. Otherwise, although you are fifty times superior with regard to the ‘capital’ than the most developed of animals, you will fall fifty times lower than the lowest.
The perfect happiness in life
O my heedless self! If you would like to understand to some degree the aim of your life and its nature, its apparent form and meaning, and the perfect happiness in your life, then look! The aims of your life can be summarized as the following nine articles:
- You should weigh up on the scales of the senses established in your body the bounties stored up in the treasuries of the Divine Mercy, and offer general thanks on behalf of all your body.
- Through the feelings, tendencies and faculties embedded in your nature, you should discover the hidden treasuries—the works and manifestations—of the Divine Sacred Names, and recognize the Most Holy One through those Names.
- In this place of exhibition—the world—you should consciously display through your life before the whole creation the subtle manifestations of the Divine Names in your being [such as your senses, faculties and abilities].
- You should proclaim your worship and servanthood to the Court of the Creator’s Lordship verbally and through the tongue of your disposition.
- In the manner of a soldier who, appearing on ceremonial occasions before the king with the decorations he has received from him, displays the marks of the king’s favor towards him, you should consciously adorn yourself in the ‘jewels’ of subtle human senses and faculties embedded in your being through the manifestations of the Divine Names and present yourself to the view of the Eternal Witness.
- The main purpose for the creation of living beings is that they should worship and glorify their Creator. They fulfill this duty by submission to Him—by obeying, consciously or unconsciously, the laws He established for their lives. Thus, you should consciously observe the obedience of living beings to their Creator—their glorifications and worship of Him—and reflect on them and acknowledge them through testifying to them.
- Through taking as units of measurement the small samples of attributes like the partial knowledge, power and will given to your life, you should recognize the absolute Attributes and sacred qualities of the Majestic Creator. For example, seeing that by using your partial knowledge, will and power, you have made a beautiful, well-ordered house for yourself , you should know that the Maker of this palace of the universe is powerful, wise and capable to the degree it is greater than your house.
- You should understand the speech of each being in the world in its particular tongue concerning the Oneness of the Creator, the Lordship of the Maker.
- From your impotence and weakness, and poverty and neediness, you should infer the degrees of the manifestations of the Divine Power and the Richness of the Lord. Just as the pleasures and varieties of food are understood or distinguished in relation to the degrees of hunger and kinds of need, so too you should understand the degrees of the infinite Divine Power and Richness through your infinite impotence and poverty.
Briefly, those are the aims of your life. As for the nature of your life, it can be summarized as follows:
It is an index of wonders originating in the Divine Names, and a measure to consider the Divine Attributes, and a unit to know the worlds in the universe, and a catalogue of the macrocosm, and a map of the universe and its fruit or compressed form, and a bunch of keys with which to open the hidden treasuries of the Divine Power, and a most excellent pattern of the Divine perfections reflected in creatures and manifested through time.
The following is to describe the apparent, observable form of your life and its meaning:
Your life is a word inscribed, a wisdom-displaying word written by the Pen of Power. Observed and sensed, it points to the Divine Beautiful Names.
The meaning of your life is this: It is a mirror to reflect the Divine manifestation of Divine Oneness and the Divine manifestation as the Eternally-Besought-of-All. That is, through a comprehensiveness as the point of focus for all the Divine Names manifested in the entire world, it functions as a mirror to the Single and Eternally-Besought One. As for the perfection of your life in happiness, it is to perceive and love the lights of the Eternal Sun pictured in the mirror of your life, and to love them. It is to display ardor for Him as a conscious being. It is to be enraptured with love of Him. It is to establish the reflection of His Light in the center of your heart. It is because of this that, as the meaning of a hadith qudsi, (a Prophetic saying whose meaning is directly inspired in the Prophet’s heart or revealed to him by God) which expresses your rank among the highest of the high, it is said:
(God said): I am not contained in the heavens and earth, but I am contained in the heart of the believer.
So, O my selfhood! While your life is for the realization of such sublime aims and potentially has such priceless treasures, is it at all right and reasonable that you should waste it by spending it on gratifying fleeting carnal desires and seeking transient worldly pleasures? If you want not to waste it, reflect on the oaths and the following truths in the verses below, which allude to the parable and truths above, and act accordingly:
By the sun and its morning brightness; by the moon when it follows it; by the day when it reveals it; by the night when it enshrouds it; by the heaven and Him Who built it; by the earth and Him Who spread it; by the soul and Him Who perfected it, and inspired it (with conscience) of what is wrong for it and what is right for it. He is indeed prosperous who purifies it, and he has indeed failed who stunts it. (91:1-10)
O God! Bestow blessings and peace on the sun of the sky of Messengership and the moon of the constellation of Prophethood, and on his family and Companions who are the stars of guidance, and have mercy on us and have mercy on believing men and believing women. Amen! Amen! Amen!
1. Like the Bible, the Qur’an also mentions that God created the universe in six days. But in contrast to the Bible, it never mentions mornings and evenings and presents ‘day’ as a relative period whose measure is not known to us. For example, see the verses al-Ma‘arij, 70.4, al-Hajj, 22.47, and al-Sajda, 32.5.
2. The original word translated as ‘Lord’ is Rabb. It denotes God as One Who brings up, trains, educates and sustains and administers His creatures.
3. God’s vicegerency means man’s being the ‘means’ of God’s execution of His commands on the earth and ruling on it according to God’s laws.
This article has been adapted from Risale- i Nur Collection.