THE THIRD WORD
Choosing the Right Way
In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate.
O you people, worship... (2:21)
If you want to understand the bliss and benefit that come with prayer, and the loss and destruction that come with vice, dissipation, and ignoring God’s commands, listen to this short parable:
Two soldiers are told to go to a far town. Travelling together, they come to a fork and meet a wise person who says: “The right road is risk-free, and nine out of ten travelers meet with great advantage but no difficulty. The left road offers no benefit, and nine out of ten travelers suffer great loss. Both roads are the same length. But there is one difference: Those who take the left road, which has no rules or someone in charge, travel without equipment or arms, and so appear comfortable and at ease. Those who take the right road must submit to military rules, carry their own food, and a heavy weapon in case of attack.”
One soldier takes the right fork. Shouldering his heavy load, his heart and soul are simultaneously freed of any burdensome debt and fear. Travelling in peace, the townspeople he meets treat him as an honest soldier who fully performs his duties. The other soldier takes the left fork. Carrying nothing heavy, his heart and soul nevertheless suffer from countless dangers and anxieties. He is constantly fearful and in need. When he reaches any town, he is treated as a rebel and fugitive.
Now, my undisciplined and carnal soul, pay attention. The first soldier represents an obedient servant of God; the second soldier represents rebels and those who follow their own desire. The road is the lifeline coming from the world of souls, passing through this world and the grave, and continuing toward the Hereafter.
The heavy load and weapon are worship and piety. Prayer seems to be a strenuous demand, but in reality gives indescribable peace and comfort. Those who pray recite ashhadu an la ilaha illa Allah (I bear witness that there is no god but God),11 the Creator and All-Provider. Only He can give harm and benefit. He is the All-Wise Who does nothing useless, the All-Compassionate Whose mercy and bounty are abundant. The believing soldier sees in every event a door to the wealth of God’s Mercy and knocks on it via supplication. Realizing that his Lord and Sustainer controls everything, he takes refuge in Him. Putting his trust in and fully submitting to God, he resists evil. His belief gives him total confidence.
As with every good action, courage arises from belief in and loyal devotion to God. As with every bad action, cowardice arises from misguidance. If Earth were to explode, those servants of God with truly illuminated hearts would not be afraid—they might even consider it a marvel of the Eternally Besought’s Power. A rationalist but unbelieving philosopher might tremble at the sight of a comet, lest it should strike Earth (as did some Americans to the recent sighting of Haley’s comet).
Our ability to meet our endless demands is negligible. We are threatened with afflictions that our own strength cannot withstand. Our strength is limited to what we can reach, yet our wishes and demands, suffering and sorrow, are as wide as our imagination.
Anyone not wholly blind to the truth knows that our best option is to submit to God, to worship, believe, and have confidence in Him. A safe road is preferable to a dangerous one, even one with a tiny probability of safe passage. The way of belief leads one safely to endless bliss with near certainty; the way of unbelief and transgression is not profitable and has a near certainty of endless loss.12 Even its travelers agree on this truth, as do countless experts and people of insight and observation.
Thus, just like the other world’s bliss, happiness here depends upon submitting to God and being His devoted servant. So always praise Him, saying: “Praise be to God for obedience and success in His way,” and thank Him that we are Muslims.
11 The Islamic profession of faith. Anyone who says it is considered a Muslim, and is entitled to all the rights and benefits, as well as regulations and duties, of Islam. (Ed.)
12 The author uses near certainty, as opposed to absolute certainty, out of respect for His absolutely free will. God cannot be made or regarded as obliged to put believers in Paradise and unbelievers in Hell, for He does whatever He wills. But as He promised that He would reward those who believe and do good deeds with eternal bliss in Paradise, and punish those who do not believe in Hell, He will fulfill His promise. (Tr.)