THE EIGHTH WORD
The Necessity of Religion
In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate.
God, there is no god but He, the Ever-Living, the Self-Subsistent. (2:255)
The religion with God is Islam. (3:19)
The following allegory explains the world and our spirit within it, and religion’s nature and worth. It also explains how the absence of True Religion makes this world the darkest dungeon and the unbeliever the most unfortunate creature, and why belief in God’s Existence and Unity, as well as reliance upon Him, opens the universe’s secret sign and saves our souls from darkness.
Two brothers travel together. Coming to a fork in the road, they see a wise old man and ask him which way to take. He tells them that the right fork requires observance of the road’s law and brings a certain security and happiness, while the left fork promises a certain kind of freedom as well as certain danger and distress. He tells them to choose. The well-disciplined brother, relying on God, takes the right fork and accepts dependence on law and order.
The other brother takes the left fork for the sake of freedom. He seems comfortable, but in fact feels no inner tranquility. Reaching a desert, he suddenly hears the terrible sound of a beast that is about to attack him. He runs away and, seeing a waterless well 60 meters deep, jumps into it. Halfway down, he grabs a tree growing out of the wall to break his fall. The tree has two roots, both of which are being gnawed away by two rats, one white and the other black. Looking up, he sees the beast waiting for him. Looking down, he sees a horrible dragon almost at his feet, its large mouth open to receive him. Looking at the wall, he sees that it is covered with laboring insects. Looking again at the tree, he notices that although it is only a fig tree, it miraculously has many different fruits growing on it, such as walnuts and pomegranates.
Hanging in the well, he does not understand what has happened. He cannot imagine that somebody has caused all of these things to happen, for he cannot reason. Although inwardly distressed, and despite his spirit’s and heart’s complaints, his evil-commanding self pretends everything is fine and so ignores their weeping. Pretending that he is enjoying himself in a garden, he starts eating all kinds of fruits—for free. But some of them are poisonous and will harm him.
In a hadith qudsi, God says: “I will treat My servants in the way they think of Me.”18 This man sees everything happening to him as unimportant, and thus that is the way it is for him. He neither dies nor lives well, but merely persists in an agony of suspense.
The wiser and well-disciplined brother always thinks of the good, affirms the law, and feels secure and free. Finding beautiful flowers and fruits or ruined and ugly things in a garden, he focuses on what is good and beautiful. His brother cannot, for he has concerned himself with evil and finds no ease in such a garden. The wise brother lives according to: “Look on the good side of everything,” and so is generally happy with everything.
Upon reaching a desert and meeting a beast, he is afraid. But thinking that it must be serving someone, he is not so afraid. He also jumps down a well and, halfway down, catches hold of some tree branches. Noticing two rats gnawing at the tree’s two roots, as well as the dragon below and the beast above, he finds himself in a strange situation.
But unlike his brother, he infers that everything has been arranged by someone and constitutes a sign. Thinking that he is being watched and examined, he understands that he is being directed and guided as a test and for a purpose. His curiosity aroused, he asks: “Who wants to make me know him?” Meanwhile, he remains patient and self-disciplined. This curiosity arouses in him a love for the sign’s owner, which makes him want to understand the sign, what the events mean, and to acquire good qualities to please its owner.
He realizes that the tree is a fig tree, although it bears many kinds of fruit. He is no longer afraid, for he realizes that it is a sample catalogue of the unseen owner’s fruits prepared for guests. Otherwise, one tree would not bear so many different fruits. He starts to pray earnestly and, as a result, the key to the secret is inspired in him. He declares: “O owner of this scene and events, I am in your hands. I take refuge in you and am at your service. I desire your approval and knowledge of you.” The wall opens, revealing a door (the dragon’s mouth) leading onto a wonderful, pleasant garden. Both the dragon and the beast become two servants inviting him in. The beast changes into a horse on which he rides.
And so, my lazy soul and imaginary friend! Let’s compare their positions and see how good brings good and evil brings evil. The brother who took the left road of self-trust and self-willed freedom is about to fall into the dragon’s mouth. He is always anxious and lonely, and considers himself a prisoner facing the attacks of wild beasts. He adds to his distress by eating apparently delicious but actually poisonous fruits that are only samples; they are not meant to be eaten for their own sake, but to persuade people to seek the originals and become customers of them. He changes his day into darkness. He wrongs himself, changing his situation into a hell-like one, so that he neither deserves pity nor has the right to complain.
In contrast, the brother who took the right way is in a fruitful garden and surrounded by servants. He studies every different and beautiful incident in awe, and sees himself as an honored guest enjoying his generous host’s strange and beautiful servants. He does not eat up the fig tree’s fruits; rather, he samples them and, understanding reality, postpones his pleasure and enjoys the anticipation.
The first brother is like one who denies his favored situation in a summer garden surrounded by friends, and instead, becoming drunk, imagines himself among wild beasts in winter and complains thereof. Wronging himself and insulting his friends, he deserves no mercy. The other brother, who accepts trustingly what is given and observes the law, sees and accepts reality, which for him is beautiful. Respecting the owner of reality, he deserves mercy. Thus can we attain a partial understanding of: Whatever good befalls you is from God, and whatever ill befalls you is from yourself (4:79).
Reflecting upon the brothers, we see that one’s inner self prepared a hell-like situation for him, corresponding to his own attitude of reality, whereas the other’s potential goodness, positive intention, and good nature led him to a very favored and happy situation. Now, I say to my own inner self as well as to the reader’s: If you desire success, follow the guidance of the Qur’an.
The gist of the allegory is as follows: One brother is a believer; the other is an unbeliever. The right road is that of the Qur’an and belief; the left road is that of unbelief and rebellion. The garden is human society and civilization, which contain both good and evil, cleanliness and pollution. A sensible person “takes what is clear and pleasant, leaves what is turbid and distressing,” and proceeds with a tranquil heart. The desert is Earth, the beast is death, the well is our life, and 60 meters is our average lifespan of 60 years.
The tree in the well is life, the two rats gnawing on its roots are day and night, and the dragon is the grave’s opening. For a believer, it is no more than a door opening onto the Garden. The insects are the troubles we face, and in reality are God’s gentle warnings that prevent believers from becoming heedless. The fruits are the bounties of this world presented as samples from the blessings of the Hereafter, inviting customers toward the fruits of Paradise.19 The sign shows the secret will of God in creating. It is opened with belief, and its key is: “O God, there is no god but God; God, there is no god but He, the Ever-Living, the Self-Subsistent.”
For one brother, the dragon’s mouth (the grave) changes into a door to the Garden (Paradise). For the other, as for all unbelievers, the grave is the door to a place of trouble (Hell). The beast changes into an obedient servant, a disciplined and trained horse. In other words, for unbelievers death is a painful detachment from loved ones, an imprisonment after leaving the Paradise-like Earth. For believers, it is a means of reunion with dead friends and companions. It is like going to their eternal home of happiness, a formal invitation to pass into the eternal gardens, an occasion to receive the wage bestowed by the Most Compassionate and Merciful One’s generosity for services rendered to Him, and a kind of retirement from the burden of life.
In sum, those who pursue this transient life place themselves in Hell, even though they stay in what appears —to them—as a paradise on Earth. Those who seek the eternal life find peace and happiness in both worlds. Despite all troubles, they thank God and patiently conclude that all of this is merely a waiting room opening onto Heaven.
O God, make us among the people of happiness, salvation, the Qur’an, and belief! Amen. O God, bestow peace and blessings upon our master Muhammad, and upon his Family and Companions, to the number of all letters contained in the Qur’an, reflected by the permission of the Most Compassionate One in the sound waves of each word recited by Qur’anic reciters from its first revelation to the end of time. Have mercy on us and our parents, and upon all believers to the number of those words, through Your Mercy, O Most Merciful of the Merciful. Amen. All praise be to God, Lord of all the worlds.
18 Hadith Qudsi: This is a specific category of sayings from the Prophet. The wording is the Prophet’s, but the meaning belongs to God.
19 The tree with various fruits shows the seal of Divinity, Whose unique virtue is “to create everything out of one thing” and “to change everything into one thing”; to make various plants and fruits from the same soil; to create all living things from one drop of water; and to nourish and sustain all living things in the same manner but through different foods. (Tr.)