In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate.
There are many ways leading to Almighty God; all of these true ways have been derived from the Qur’an, but some of them are safer, and more comprehensive and lead to the destination more directly than others. The way I have derived from the Qur’an by my own defective understanding, depends upon a man’s perception and confession of his helplessness and poverty before God’s Might and Riches, and upon affection and reflection.
Man’s perception and confession of his helplessness is a way as sure as the way of love of God, or even safer than that, since it elevates a man so as to be loved by God on account of sincere devotion to Him. Man’s perception and confession of his poverty or inadequacy leads to the Divine Name, the All-Merciful, Affection is more effective than love and leads to the Name, the All-Compassionate. Reflection is more bright and comprehensive than love and leads to the Name, the All-Wise.
This way of ours is unlike some Sufi Orders which have conceived ten steps to purify and sharpen ten outer and inner senses or faculties of man, and whose members prefer silent recitation of God’s Names. It is equally unlike others which have adopted public recitation and seek to enable man to purify himself from all the defects contained in the seven stations of the soul.
Our way consists of four steps, and, rather than being a tariqa, it is Shari’a, or the truth itself. The fundamental principles of this way consist in following the Sunna, performing the religious obligations, avoiding the heinous, major sins, and in performing the five prayers properly, and in reciting litanies of praise to God after every prayer.
The first step of this way finds its expression in the verse, Do not justify and hold yourselves as sinless.
The second step is indicated by the verse, Be not as those who forget God and so He caused them to forget their own selves.
The third step is pointed to by the verse, Whatever good visits you is from God, whatever evil befalls you is from yourself.
The final step is shown by the verse, All things perish except His Face and His good pleasure.
The following is a brief explanation of these four steps:
The first step
Man must never regard himself as infallible, and sinless, since he loves himself first on account of his commanding self, thus he will sacrifice anything to satisfy it. He praises himself as though he were a god, and holds himself to be free from every defect. He endeavors to prove himself free from guilt and defends himself with so much insistence that you would think him full of self-love. Furthermore, he exploits the faculties entrusted to him for giving praise and thanks to God, to the glorification of his own self, and thus becomes referent of the verse, who takes as his god his own desires and fancies. He praises himself, relies upon himself, and admires himself. A man can purify himself in this step only by regarding himself as fallible, liable, even susceptible, to error.
The second step
As the verse, Be not as those who forgot God (and so He caused them to forget their own selves teaches, man is oblivious of himself, and is not aware of himself. He will never want to remember death, although he will always consider others to be mortal. He holds back at the time of bearing hardships and rendering services, but considers he should be the first to receive the reward at the time of collecting fruits. A man can purify himself at this step by discharging his responsibilities, and being prepared for death, and by forgetting any reward he might obtain.
The third step
As the verse, Whatever good visits you is from God, whatever evil befalls you is from yourself teaches, the evil-commanding soul always ascribes good to himself and feels conceited, whereas in reality he should perceive his defects and insufficiency and give thanks to God and praise Him for whatever good he is able to do. According to the meaning of the verse, Prosperous is he who purifies it, his purification at this step is possible by knowing his perfection to lie in confession of his imperfection, his power in perception of his helplessness, and his wealth in acceptance of his essential poverty and inadequacy.
The fourth step
As the verse, All things perish except His ‘Face’ and His good pleasure teaches, man under the influence of his evil-commanding soul considers himself to be completely free and existent in his own right. Furthermore, he goes so far as to claim divinity for himself and rebels against his Creator, Who alone deserves to be worshipped. He can save himself from this perilous situation only by perceiving the truth that everything is, with respect to its own self, essentially non-existent, contingent, ephemeral and mortal, and that only on account of being a mirror reflecting the Names of the Majestic Maker and responsible with various duties is man existent, experiencing and experienced.
Man can purify himself in this stage by perceiving that his existence lies in confession of his essential non-existence. He must know that when he considers himself to be self-existent, he falls into the darkest pit of non-existence. In other words, if he relies upon his personal existence, ignoring the Real Creator, then his ephemeral, firefly personal existence becomes drowned in the infinite darkness of non-existence. If, on the contrary, he abandons pride and egoism, and recognizes that he is nothing but a mirror in which the Real Creator manifests Himself, then he attains to infinite existence. Thus, because he has discovered the Necessary Being, the manifestations of Whose Names cause all things to come into existence, he is counted to have found everything.
This way is the method of affection and reflection, and the individual’s recognition of his own incompetence and insufficiency.
This way leads to its objective rapidly since it is the easiest and most direct way, and consists of four stages only. A man’s recognition of his incompetence leads him to rely upon God alone, once he has succeeded in freeing himself from the influence of his commanding self. Love, which is regarded as the quickest route, can lead to the true Beloved only after it is freed from the false ephemeral beloved.
This method is safer than other ways, since instead of leading a man to utter boastful words, and make false claims, it obliges him to recognize his incompetence and to ascribe all his defects to himself.
This way is a main ‘highway’, much broader and more universal. For, in order to attain to a constant awareness of God’s presence, it requires neither the denial nor the ignoring of the actual existence of the universe, as is demanded by those who believe in the ‘Unity of Being’ (Wahdat al-Wujud) or ‘Unity of the Witnessed’ (Wahdat al-Shuhud). Instead, it admits the actual existence of the universe as proclaimed in the Qur’an, by ascribing it directly to the Majestic Creator. It considers all things as mirrors in which manifestations of the Divine Names are reflected, and does not consider the creation as self-existent and self-perpetuating but as manifestations of His Names and accordingly devoted to His service. It saves man from heedlessness to make him always aware of God’s presence by opening up a way to Him through everything.
In short: This way considers beings as neither existent nor working on their own behalf, rather, beings function, according to this way, as signs and officials of God, the All-Mighty.
This article has been adapted from Risale- i Nur Collection.