(Five remarks on human happiness and misery.)
[Human beings were created of the best stature, on the best pattern of creation, and given a comprehensive potential. They have been sent to an arena of trial, where they either will rise to the highest rank or descend to the lowest level. These are the ways open creation’s ultimate pinnacle. I shall expound the mystery of humanity’s ascent and descent in five remarks.]
FIRST REMARK: We have some relationship with and are in need of most species. Our needs range into all parts of the universe, and our desires range as far as eternity. We desire a single flower as well as a whole spring, a garden as well as an eternal Paradise. We long to see our friend as well as the Majestic, All-Beautiful One. We knock on our beloved friend’s door for a visit, and so also must seek refuge in the Absolutely All-Powerful One’s high Presence. This One will close this world’s door and open the one to the Hereafter, the world of wonders, and will replace this world with the next one so that we may rejoin the 99 percent of our friends who have left for the Intermediate World.
Given this, our true object of worship can only be the Majestic, All-Powerful One, the All-Merciful One of Infinite Beauty, the All-Wise One of Perfection, in Whose hand are the reins of all things, in Whose possession is the provision of every existence, Who sees everything and is omnipresent, unbounded by space, and free of any constraint, flaw, defect, or deficiency. As our unlimited need can be satisfied only by the One with Infinite Power and All-Encompassing Knowledge, He is the only One worthy of worship.
If you worship Him alone, you will attain a rank above all other creatures. If you do not, you will become a disgraced slave to impotent creation. If you rely upon your selfhood and power instead of prayer and trust in God, and claim an arrogant superiority, you will become lower than a bee or an ant and weaker than a fly or a spider with respect to positive acts and constructive invention. But your evil and destruction will weigh heavier than a mountain and be more harmful than a pestilence, for you have two aspects of being. One is positive and active, and has to do with constructive invention, existence, and goodness. The other is negative and passive, and concerns destruction, nonexistence, and evil.
As for the first aspect of your being, you cannot compete with a bee or a sparrow, are weaker than a fly or a spider, and cannot achieve what they can. As for the second aspect of your being, however, you can surpass mountains, Earth, and the heavens, for you can bear a burden that they cannot. Thus your acts have a wider impact than theirs. When you do something good or build something, it reaches only as far as your hand and strength. But your evil and destructive acts are aggressive and expandable.
For example, unbelief is an evil, an act of destruction, an absence of affirmation. It may look like a single sin, but it implies an insult to creation, the debasement of all Divine Names, and the degradation of humanity. Creation has a sublime rank and important task, for each part of it is a missive of the Lord, a mirror of His Glory, and a servant of His Divinity. Unbelief denies them the rank bestowed by these functions and reduces them to playthings of chance, insignificant, useless, and worthless objects doomed to decay and decomposition.
Unbelief insults the Divine Names, Whose beautiful inscriptions and manifestations are seen in the mirrors of all created forms throughout the universe. It also casts us down to a level more wretched and weak, helpless and destitute, than the lowliest animal. It reduces us to an ordinary, perishable sign-board without meaning, confused and swiftly decaying. And this when humanity, in reality, is a poetic work of Wisdom that manifests all Divine Names; a great miracle of Power that, like a seed, contains the Tree of Creation; and God’s vicegerent, superior to angels and higher than mountains, Earth, and heavens by virtue of the trust we accepted.
Let me sum this up. As regards evil and destruction, the soul, the evil-commanding self, may commit countless crimes and cause unlimited destruction, while its capacity to do good is very limited. It can destroy a house in a day but cannot rebuild it in 100 days. But if it abandons self-reliance and vanity and relies upon Divine aid to do good and constructive things, if it abandons evil and destruction and seeks Divine forgiveness and so becomes a perfect servant of God, it becomes the referent of: God will change their evil deeds into good deeds (27:50). Our infinite capacity for evil then is changed into an infinite ability for good. We attain the worth of “the best pattern of creation” and rise to the “highest of the high.”
Consider then, O heedless one, the All-Mighty’s Grace and Munificence. In reality, it is absolute justice to record one sin as 1,000 sins, due to its consequences and effects, and a good act as only one. But God does the reverse: He records a sinful act as one and an act of goodness as 10, 70, 700, or, in some cases, 7,000. From this we can understand that entering Hell is the result of one’s deeds and pure justice, while entering Paradise is the result of His absolute Grace.
SECOND REMARK: Human beings have two faces. The first face looks to this worldly life because of our selfhood. Here we are poor creatures indeed. Human will is as feeble as a hair, human power is restricted to a most limited talent, human life is as short as a flash of light compared to the world’s life, and our material existence is that of a tiny thing bound to decompose. In this state, we are no more than a feeble member of one species among countless others spread throughout the universe.
The second face looks to the eternal life because of our nature as God’s servants. Our perception of helplessness and insufficiency as God’s servants make us important, inclusive beings. The All-Wise Creator has implanted an infinite impotence and poverty in our nature so that each of us may be a comprehensive mirror reflecting the infinite manifestations of God’s Compassion and Power, Richness and Generosity. Through belief and worship, therefore, we gain infinite power and limitless riches.
We resemble seeds, for each of us has the potential to engender and attain perfection. A seed is endowed by Power with great potential and is destined to put it into effect. According to Destiny’s subtle program, it should germinate underground to grow into a “perfect” tree via its worship according to the language of its potential. If that seed abuses its potential to attract harmful substances, it will soon rot away in its narrow place. If it uses its potential properly, however, and in compliance with the laws of Him Who splits the seed for sprouting (6:95), it will emerge from its narrow place and grow into an awesome, fruitful tree. In addition, its tiny and particular nature will come to represent a great and universal truth.
Our essence also is equipped by Power with great potential and is inscribed by Destiny with important programs. If we use our potential and spiritual faculties in this narrow world under the soil of worldly life to satisfy the fancies of our carnal, evil-commanding selfhood, we will become corrupt, a rotten seed, for an insignificant pleasure during a short life. Thus we will depart from this world with a heavy spiritual burden on our unfortunate souls.
But if we germinate the seed of our potential under the “soil of worship” with the “water of Islam” and the “light of belief” according to the Qur’an’s decrees, and if we use our spiritual faculties for their true purposes, we will grow into eternal, majestic trees whose branches extend into the Intermediate World and the world where our deeds take on the forms specific to the Hereafter. This will yield countless, perfect fruits in the next world. We will become the fruit of the Tree of Creation, which will be favored in Paradise with infinite perfections and countless blessings.
We can make true progress only when we turn our faculties (e.g., intellect, heart, spirit, and imagination) to the eternal life, so that each will be occupied with its own kind of worship. What the misguided consider progress—subjecting our faculties to the carnal, evil-commanding selfhood to taste all worldly pleasures—is nothing but decline and degradation. I once observed this truth in a vision, which is as follows:
I reached a huge city full of large palaces. Outside some of them, Inoticed ongoing spectacles and shows to amuse and entertain. As I drew near to one of them, I saw that its owner was playing with a dog at the door. Women were chatting with young strangers, and girls were organizing children’s games. The doorman was behaving as if he were their master. I realized that the palace was empty, with all important tasks left unattended, for its corrupted inhabitants were pursuing useless affairs.
I then came across another palace. A faithful dog was lying at the door, and beside it was a doorman with a stern, serious, and sober expression. The palace seemed so quiet that I entered in wonder and amazement. Inside was a scene of great activity, for the inhabitants were engaged in different, important tasks. The men on the first floor were managing the palace. On the second floor, girls and boys were studying. The women on the third floor were producing beautiful works of art and delicate embroidery. On the top floor, the owner was in constant communication with the king to secure his household’s well-being and so that he could perform noble duties for his own progress and perfection. As they did not see me, I walked about unhindered.
Once outside, I saw that the city was full of similar palaces. I asked and was told that the palaces like the first one belonged to the foremost unbelievers and misguided, while those of the second type belonged to upright Muslim notables. In one corner, I came across a palace on which my name was written: “Said.” As I looked at it closely, I felt as if I saw my image on it. Crying in bewilderment, I came to my senses and awoke.
The city is our social life and the terrain of human civilization. Each palace is a human being, and the inhabitants are human senses and faculties (e.g., eyes, ears, intellect, heart and spirit, and powers of anger and lust). Each sense and faculty has a particular duty of worship, as well as particular pleasures and pains. The self and fancies, as well as the powers of anger and lust, correspond to the dog and the doorman. Thus, subjugating the sublime senses and faculties to carnal desires and fancies so that they forget their essential duties is decline and corruption. It certainly is not progress. You may interpret the other details for yourself.
THIRD REMARK: In our actions and bodily endeavors, we are like weak animals and helpless creatures. The realm at our disposal is so limited that our fingers can touch its circumference. Our weakness, impotence, and indolence are so great that even domesticated animals are influenced by them. If a domesticated animal is compared with its undomesticated counterpart, great differences can be seen.
But as passive, recipient beings who need to pray and petition, we are worthy travelers allowed to stay for a while in the guest-house of this world. We are guests of a Generous One, Who has put His infinite Compassion’s treasuries at our disposal and subjugated His peerless works of creative power and special servants to us. Also, He has prepared for our use and pleasure such a vast arena that its radius is as far as sight or even imagination can reach.
If we rely on our physical and innate abilities, taking the worldly life as our goal and focusing on its pleasures, we will suffocate within a very narrow circle. Moreover, our bodily parts, senses, and faculties will bring suit and witness against us in the Hereafter. But if we know that we are guests and so spend our lives within the limits approved by our Generous Host, we will lead happy and peaceful lives and reach the highest rank. We will be rewarded with an everlasting life of bliss in the Hereafter, and all of our bodily members and faculties will testify in our favor.
Our wonderful faculties are not meant for this trivial worldly life; rather, they are for our eternal life. We have many more faculties and senses than animals do, but the pleasure we derive from our physical lives is much less than what animals derive. Every worldly pleasure bears traces of pain, is spoiled with past sorrows and fears of the future, and pleasure’s ultimate disappearance. Animals experience pleasure without pain, enjoyment without anxiety, and have no past sorrows or anxiety about the future. They enjoy comfortable lives and praise their Creator.
We have been created in the best pattern. If we concentrate on this worldly life we are far lower than a sparrow, although we have far more developed faculties than any animal. For example, a man gives his servant 10 gold coins and tells him to have a suit made for himself out of a certain cloth. He gives another servant 1,000 gold coins and sends him to the market with a shopping list. The former buys an excellent suit of the finest cloth. The latter acts foolishly, for he neither notices how much money he was given nor reads the shopping list. Thinking that he should imitate his friend, he goes to a shop and asks for a suit. The dishonest shopkeeper gives him a suit of the very worst-quality cloth. The unfortunate servant returns to his master and receives a severe reprimand and a terrible punishment. Anyone can see that the 1,000 gold coins were not given for a suit, but for a very important transaction.
In the same way, our spiritual faculties, feelings, and senses are much more developed than those of animals. For example, we can see all degrees of beauty, taste all varieties of a food item’s particular tastes, penetrate the many details of visible realities, yearn for all ranks of perfection, and so on. But animals, with the exception of a particular faculty that reaches a high state of development according to its particular duty, can realize only slight development, if any.
Our senses and feelings, which have developed a great deal owing to our mind and intellect, require that we have many faculties. Our many needs have caused us to evolve different types of feelings, to become very sensitive to many things. Also, due to our comprehensive nature we have been given desires turned to several aims and objectives. Our senses and faculties have greatly expanded due to the diversity of our essential duties. Furthermore, since we are inclined and able to worship, we have the potential to realize all kinds of perfection.
Such rich faculties and abundant potentialities cannot have been given to us for an insignificant, temporary, worldly life. In reality, they were given to us because our essential duty is to perceive our obligations, which are directed toward endless aims; to affirm our impotence, poverty, and insufficiency via worship; to study by our far-reaching sight and penetrating understanding; to bear witness to creation’s glorification of God; to discern and be grateful for the All-Merciful One’s aid sent in the form of bounties; and to gaze, reflect upon, and draw warnings from the miracles of His Power as manifested in creation.
O world-worshipping one charmed by the worldly life and ignorant of the meaning of your nature as the best pattern of creation! Once I saw the true nature of this worldly life in a vision, as follows: My Lord had caused me to set out on this journey. He gradually gave me some of the 60 gold coins He had allotted to me. This went on for some time, and after a while I arrived at an inn that provided some entertainment. I gambled away 10 gold coins in one night of entertainment and frivolity. The next morning, I had no money for the provisions I would need at my destination. All I had left was pain, sorrow, and regret left by sins and illicit pleasures. While I was in this wretched state, someone said to me: “You have lost all you had and deserve to be punished. Moreover, you will go on to your destination with no money. But if you use your mind, the door of repentance is not closed. When you receive the rest of the money, keep half in reserve and use it to buy what you will need at your destination.”
My selfhood did not agree, so the man said: “Save a third of it then.” Still my selfhood balked. The man insisted: “Then a quarter.” I knew that my selfhood could not abandon its addictions, so the man turned away indignantly and disappeared. At once, I found myself on a high-speed train travelling through a tunnel. I was alarmed, but there was no escape. To my surprise, I saw very attractive flowers and tasty-looking fruits alongside the track, hanging out from the sides of the tunnel. I foolishly tried to pick some of them. But all around them were thorns that, due to the train’s speed, tore at my hands and made them bleed. Whatever I tried to hold on to slipped from my grasp. Suddenly an attendant came and said: “Give me 5 cents and I’ll give you as many flowers and fruits as you want. Otherwise, with your hands all cut up, you will lose a 100 instead of 5 cents. Besides, there is a punishment for picking them without permission.”
Depressed by this condition, I looked out the window to see when the tunnel would end. But there was no end in sight. The tunnel’s walls had many openings into which passengers were being thrown. Suddenly I caught sight of an opening just opposite me with a gravestone on either side. When I peered out, I made out my name, “Said,” written in capital letters on a gravestone. I gave a cry of bewilderment and repentance. Unexpectedly, I heard the voice of the man who had advised me at the inn, asking: “Have you come to your senses?” I replied: “Yes, but I am in despair and there is nothing I can do.” He told me to repent and trust in God, to which I replied that I would. Then I woke up and I found myself transformed into the New Said; the Old Said had gone away.
I will now interpret some aspects of this vision: The journey is our life, a journey from the incorporeal world of eternity, passing through the stages of your mother’s womb, youth, old age, the grave, the Intermediate World, Resurrection, and the Bridge. The 60 gold coins are the 60 years of an average lifetime. I was 45 when I had this vision. Only God knows when I will die. A sincere student of the Qur’an showed me the true path so that I might spend half of the remaining 15 years for the Hereafter.
The inn, I came to understand, was Istanbul. The train was time, and each wagon was a year. The tunnel was this worldly life. The thorny flowers and fruits were illicit pleasures and forbidden amusements that make the heart bleed with the idea of separation at the very moment you reach for them. Disappearance of pleasures increases sorrow, and besides, being unlawful, cause one to suffer punishment. The attendant had said: “Give me 5 cents, and I’ll give you as many flowers and fruits as you want.” This means that the permissible tastes and pleasures, obtained in lawful ways, are enough to satisfy me and so there is no need to pursue illicit ways.
FOURTH REMARK: We resemble tender children. Our strength is in our weakness, and our power in our impotence. This lack of strength and power has caused creation to be subjugated to us. So if we perceive our weakness and become humble servants of God via verbal and active prayer, and if we recognize our impotence and seek God’s help, we will have shown our gratitude to Him for this subjugation of nature to us.
Moreover, God will enable us to reach our goal and achieve our aims in a way far beyond our own capability. Sometimes we wrongly attribute a wish’s attainment to our own power and ability, when in reality it has been obtained for us through the prayer offered by the tongue of our disposition. Consider how great a source of power is a chick’s weakness, for it causes the mother hen to attack even a lion. A lion cub’s weakness subjugates a great lioness, which will suffer hunger to feed its baby. How remarkable is the powerful appeal inherent in weakness, and what a spectacular manifestation of Compassion for importunate beings.
In the same way, beloved children obtain their goals by weeping, wishing, or making sad faces, all of which can cause mighty people to serve them. If children rely on their own strength, in practical terms they can achieve nothing. Their weakness and powerlessness, as well as feelings of affection and protection, are so in their favor that a single gesture may allow them to subjugate powerful persons to themselves. But if they arrogantly deny the care and affection shown to them and claim to do all of this on their own, they deserve to be punished. Similarly, we deserve punishment if we deny our Creator’s Mercy and show our ingratitude by saying that our own power and knowledge—not Divine Mercy— have achieved all of this. We will be like Korah, who said: I have been given it (my possessions) on account of my knowledge (28:78).
This shows that our observed dominion in nature, and our advancement and progress in civilization and technology, are mainly due to our essential weakness and helplessness, which attract Divine aid. Our poverty is the source of Divine provision, our ignorance is compensated for by Divine inspiration, and our need draws Divine favors. Divine Mercy, Affection, and Wisdom, not our own power and knowledge, have empowered us with dominion over creation and have put things at our disposal. Divine Authority and Compassion enable us, beings so weak that we can be defeated by a blind scorpion and a footless snake, to dress in silk produced by a worm and to eat the honey produced by a stinging insect.
Since this is the truth, O people, renounce arrogance and self-trust. Rather, affirm your impotence and weakness in God’s high presence by asking for His help, and by praying and entreating Him. Declare your poverty and insufficiency. Show that you are His true servant. Then say: God is sufficient for us. Most sublime is He in Whom we trust (3:173) and ascend to the higher ranks.
Do not say: “I am nothing. Why should the All-Wise Creator put creation at my disposal and demand universal gratitude?” In physical terms you are almost nothing, but your duty or rank makes you an attentive observer of this magnificent universe, an eloquent tongue of beings declaring Divine Wisdom, a perceptive student of this Book of Creation, an admiring overseer of the creatures glorifying God’s praise, a respected master of worshipping beings.
You are, O humanity, an insignificant atom, a poor creature and weak animal in terms of your physical being and soul. And so you are being carried away by creation’s huge waves. But if you are perfected through the light of belief, which comprises the radiance of Divine love, and through the training of Islam, you will find a kingliness in your being a servant, a comprehensiveness in your particularity, a world in your small entity, and a very high rank in your insignificance. The realm of your supervision of the rest of creation will be so broad that you can say: “My Compassionate Lord has made the world a home for me. He has given me the sun and moon as lamps, spring as a bunch of roses, summer as a banquet of favors, and animals as obedient servants. He has put plants and vegetation at my disposal, as ornaments and provisions to my home.”
In conclusion, obeying your evil-commanding selfhood and Satan leads to the lowest depth, whereas following the truth and the Qur’an leads you to the highest rank and as the most excellent pattern of creation.
FIFTH REMARK: We have been sent here as guests with a special responsibility. Endowed with important potentials, we have been assigned important duties and strongly urged to carry them out. If we do not, we will be punished. To make “being the best pattern of creation” more comprehensible, I will summarize the essentials of worship and duties.
Our worship consists of two aspects. The first aspect is implicit and concerns reflection and consciousness. It involves our submitting to the Sovereignty of His Lordship over creation and observing in amazement the works of His Beauty and Perfection. We draw the attention of others to the intricate, ornamented works of art: the sacred Divine Names’ manifestations. We also measure in “units” of due perception and discernment the gems of the Lord’s Names, each of which is a hidden spiritual treasure, and evaluate them with our hearts’ grateful appreciation.
Then we study the pages of creation and the sheets of the heavens and Earth, each of which is a missive of Divine Power, and contemplate them in great admiration. Afterwards, as we gaze in amazement and admiration upon the subtle ornamentation and refined skills seen in creation, we ardently desire to know their Beautiful Creator and yearn to enter His Presence, where we hope to be received into His favor.
The second aspect, visible prayer, means turning toward our Majestic Creator, Who wills Himself to be known through His artistry’s miracles. Supplicating directly in His presence, we unburden ourselves to Him in sincere belief and try to acquire knowledge of Him. We discern that a Compassionate Lord wants to be loved through His Compassion’s beautiful fruits, and so make ourselves loved by Him through devoting our love and adoration to Him.
Seeing that the Generous Provider nourishes us with the best and dearest of His material and spiritual favors, we respond with gratitude and praise, expressed through our works, deeds, lifestyle and, if possible, our senses and faculties. Observing that a Lord of Beauty and Majesty manifests Himself in the mirror of beings and draws attention to His Glory and Perfection, Majesty and Beauty, we respond: “God is the Greatest. Glory be to God,” and prostrate before Him in wonder and adoration.
Noticing that the One of Absolute Riches displays His limitless wealth and treasuries in an infinitely generous fashion, we respond by glorifying and praising Him and, displaying our need, ask Him for His favors. Observing that the Majestic Creator has arranged Earth like an exhibition to display His matchless works, we appreciate them by saying: “What wonders God has willed and created,” confirm their beauty by saying: “God bless them,” show our wonder by saying: “Glory be to God,” and express our admiration by saying: “God is the Greatest.”
We see that the Unique One shows His Oneness throughout creation by His unique signs and specific decrees, and by His inimitable stamps and seals that He has put on each creature. He inscribes signs of His Oneness on everything and raises throughout the world the flag of His Unity to proclaim His Lordship. We respond to this with belief, affirmation, admission, and testimony to His Unity, and with devotion and sincere worship.
We may attain true humanity through such types of worship and reflection. We may show that we are the best pattern of creation and, by the grace of belief, become trustworthy vicegerents of God on Earth. Now, O heedless people who move toward the lowest level by misusing your will, although you have been created as the best pattern of creation, listen to me. To see how ugly the world’s face is, which turns toward passions and desires, and how extraordinarily beautiful is its other face, which turns toward the Hereafter, look at the tables below.