In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate.
This life of the world is but a diversion and a sport; while the home of the Hereafter, that is life if they but knew. (29:64)
KNOW, O SAID! You are journeying toward old age and the grave and eternity. Your Owner gave you this life to obtain the necessities for your life here and in the Hereafter. But you have spent everything in this transient life, which is only like an imaginary drop compared to an ocean. You should spend at least one-half or one-third of it preparing for the everlasting life. How strange that people like you are called intelligent and learned. Consider a person who is given 24 gold coins to buy provisions for a trip from Burdur to Antalya (provinces in southern Turkey), and then to Damascus, Madina, and Yemen. This traveler is told to arrange transport to Antalya, but after that to buy a vehicle. He or she then can travel in ease by ship or train or plane, and arrive in each city within a day. If this is not done, the traveler will experience great difficulty. So, this person sets out and spends 23 coins in 2 days. When told to use the rest to buy provisions, which will please the giver of the money, the traveler replies: “I will not spend it on something that probably will give no benefit.” Can there be any one more foolish?
The traveler is told: “How foolish you are! You set aside half of your money for a lottery in which 1,000 people participate, and thus take a great risk for a 1:1,000 chance. Yet you refuse to set aside one of the 24 parts of your wealth for a 999:1,000 chance, attested to by millions of people of certified knowledge. If someone tells you about a potential material benefit, you accept it. Why do you reject the tidings given to you by the suns and stars of humanity? Furthermore, the testimony of two people who confirm a thing is preferred to that of thousands who negate or deny it. For example, the testimony of two people who claim to have seen the crescent moon that marks the beginning of Ramadan is preferred to that of thousands who deny its appearance.”
You are the traveler. Burdur is your world. Antalya is the grave. Damascus is the intermediate world between this world and the next. Yemen is the realms after the Resurrection. The 24 coins represent the 24 hours of a day. You spend 23 of them on this transient life, and are lazy when it comes to spending one hour for the five daily prayers, your most essential food during the long journey.
This parable explains one of the profound meanings of: Paradise shall be brought forward for the God-fearing pious, and Hell advanced for the perverse (26:90-91).
O HEEDLESS ONE who has renounced the religious life for the sake of worldly benefits. I will speak to you in a parable containing truths pertaining to both the world and the religious life.
Two brothers, one well-disciplined and well-mannered and the other badly behaved, set out on a trip. Coming to a fork in road, they saw that the right fork required obligatory observance of the law governing that road, while the left fork promised a certain kind of freedom without obligation. The first brother took the right fork, accepting dependence on law and order.
The second one took the left fork and, without undertaking any obligation, headed north. Upon reaching a desert, he heard a terrible sound and saw a lion ready to attack him. He ran away and, coming across a 60meter-deep dry well, jumped into it. Half-way down, he grabbed onto a tree growing out of the wall. The tree had two roots at which two rats, one black and the other white, were gnawing. He saw the lion waiting for him at the top and, looking down, saw a horrible dragon almost at his feet, its mouth open to receive him. When he looked around, he saw harmful vermin everywhere. Looking again at the tree, he saw that it was actually a fig tree with a great variety of fruit.
He was very afraid. Although inwardly distressed and full of complaints, for he was under the influence of his evil-commanding self, he pretended that he was in a garden and began to eat the fruit. As stated in a hadith qudsi: “I treat My servant in the way he thinks of Me.”91 And so this wretched man remained in the well. He neither died nor lived well. His lack of understanding blinded him to the fact that his situation was not the result of coincidence.
The first brother, being a well-mannered man always thinking of the good, entered a garden and came across lovely flowers and attractive fruits along with some ruined or ugly things. He concerned himself with what was good and beautiful, and so found ease and was generally happy with everything.
Continuing on his way, all that had befallen his brother soon befell him. But there were differences. He was not so afraid when the lion roared, because he thought it might be serving the desert’s ruler. Jumping into a well, he ended up just as his brother had. These strange happenings did not cause him great fear, for he thought that these were arranged by someone and were signs that he was being tested. So his fear turned into curiosity about the one who made himself known by such things. Then his curiosity aroused in him a love for the signs’ owner.
His fear disappeared when he saw the fig tree bearing a variety of fruits, for he understood that there was a purpose behind everything. If not, how could the fig tree have borne the fruits of other trees? They must represent the various foods prepared by the ruler for his guests. His love for the ruler made him want to discover what the signs meant. The key to this understanding was inspired in him, and he said: “I abandon all things for your sake and rely on you.” At this, the wall parted and a door opened onto a wonderful, pleasant garden. He saw the dragon and the lion change into two servants asking him to enter.
Compare the positions of these two brothers. One is about to fall into the dragon’s mouth; the other is invited to enter a brilliant garden full of flowers and fruits. The former is terribly anxious and afraid; the latter studies what he witnesses and feels his fear give rise to love, respect, and knowledge. The former is lonely, full of despair and gloom; the latter sees himself in a friendly situation and is full of hope and expectation. The former is targeted for attack by terrifying enemies; the latter is welcomed and served as a guest. The former adds to his distress by eating apparently delicious (but actually poisonous) fruits that are presented only as samples, not intended to be consumed for their own sake but to persuade consumers to seek out the originals and become customers of them; the latter postpones eating and enjoys the anticipation.
Now we can interpret the parable: The first brother is the spirit and heart of a righteous believer; the second brother is the spirit and heart of a rebellious, sinful unbeliever. The right way is that of the Qur’an and belief; the left way is that of unbelief and rebellion. The desert is the world, the lion is death, the well is a person’s life, and the well’s depth (60 meters) is our average life span (60 years). The tree is life, the two rats are day and night, and the dragon is the grave opening on the Hereafter. The vermin are the troubles we face during life, and the fruits are this world’s bounties presented as samples from the Hereafter’s blessings, inviting us toward Paradise’s fruits. The poisonous fruits are that which is forbidden. The sign is the wisdom in creation, and the key is God: There is no deity but He, the All-Living, the Self-Subsistent. That is: “O God. You are my worship’s Object and (obtaining) Your pleasure is my life’s aim.”
The changing of the dragon’s mouth into a door to the garden denotes that the grave is the door through which believers pass to reach the All-Merciful One’s Mercy. For the people of misguidance and rebellion, the grave is the door to dark pits of loneliness and terror in the intermediate world, which is like a dungeon, the belly of the dragon.
The ravenous lion changes into a disciplined and trained horse. For the misguided, death is an eternal separation from loved ones and a removal from their false, worldly paradise to the dungeon of the grave. For the rightly guided, by contrast, death is a means of reunion with friends and companions, of returning home, a departure from the world’s dungeon for eternal gardens, and a reward for what was done in this world. This will be bestowed out of the grace of the All-Affectionate, Bounteous, the All-Requiter of good and evil, and the Merciful One. There is no deity but He.
KNOW, O CONCEITED SAID! You desire to be praised for even what you have not done. You have no right to be conceited and proud, for you are the origin of evil and imperfection. If there is good in your selfhood, it is only in proportion to your partial free will, while your free will causes great evil. Since your imperfection causes the fruits destined for you to fall and decay, you deserve great loss and shame.
You are like a foolish, conceited person who enters into a business deal with people on a vessel. While everybody does their job, he ignores his, which is to steer the vessel. And so the vessel sinks and they lose a great deal of money. They tell him to compensate them, but he responds: “No! Rather, we should share it among us.” Later, they set out on another voyage and make a good profit. They tell him that they should share the profit according to each one’s capital. But the foolish man answers: “No! I should get it all, for did you not attribute all the loss to me? Now, all the profit belongs to me.” They ask: “Are you so ignorant that you do not realize that something’s existence depends on the existence of all its parts and the presence of all conditions necessary for its existence?”
This is why the fruits of existence are shared among its constituents. Profit has a positive, sensed existence; loss means “non-existence.” That which exists can cease to exist if even one part is destroyed or one condition necessary for its maintenance disappears.
O ONE WHOSE NAME MEANS prosperous (Said) but who, in truth, is wretched. One who causes something to go into non-existence is responsible for its consequences. Therefore, you have no right to be conceited and proud:
FIRST: Evil is from you while good is from your Lord.
SECOND: Your evil is great and pervasive, while your good is little and restricted.
THIRD: You already have been rewarded for your good deeds before you do them. As your good deeds cannot pay for even one-billionth of your blessed status as a Muslim person, understand that Paradise is purely out of His Grace and that Hell is purely justice, for even the least evil act can cause global destruction.
FOURTH: Something becomes good if it is done for God’s sake, for only He causes something done for His sake to be realized. Therefore, as everyone is indebted to Him for his or her good deeds, thanks Him without pride or show, which change good into evil. Unaware of this, you are full of conceit. You attribute the good people do to themselves, thereby making each one a Pharaoh. You share what belongs to God among those rebelling against Him.
You seek to avoid responsibility by attributing your evil to Destiny, although it originates in you. You ascribe to yourself the good that your Creator causes to issue from you out of His Grace, and seek to be praised for what you did not do. Discipline yourself according to the Qur’an’s instruction: Whatever of good visits you, it is from God, and whatever of evil visits you, it is from yourself (4:79). Take what belongs to you and do not usurp what does not. Remember that the Qur’an says that evil is returned to the same degree, while good is returned tenfold. Therefore, do not be excessive in your hostility to those who wrong you by extending that feeling to their relatives and ignoring their good qualities. By the same token, if you love good, righteous people, love their relatives and overlook their defects.
O HEEDLESS SAID! You abandon your duty and occupy yourself with your Lord’s work, for you are unfair and ignorant. You abandon your duty of worship although it is easy for you to perform, and try to shoulder the work of Lordship that only can be done by Him Who created and fashioned, proportioned and composed you as He wished (82:7-8). Mind your own business, and commit His business to Him so that you may be at rest and ease. Otherwise, you will become wretched, rebellious, and treacherous.
Your situation is like that of a private whose essential duty is to train and fight when necessary. The ruler helps him fulfill that duty by recognizing his duty to provide the necessary equipment, food and clothes, weaponry and medicine. People see the private cooking and ask him what he is doing. He answers: “Working for the state”; he does not say: “Preparing my food,” for he knows that cooking is not his duty but that of the state, which must prepare his food and feed him if necessary. Thus a private seeking to earn his living through trade is ignorant, rebellious, and treacherous, and so deserves chastisement. If he neglects his training and runs away during a battle, he is a traitor and deserves severe punishment.
O WRETCHED SAID! You are that private, and the five daily prayers are your training. Your piety, avoiding major sins, and struggling with the carnal self and Satan is your fighting. This is why you were created, and God is the Helper Who makes you succeed. Your Creator provides your food and all that is needed for your life and maintenance, as well as for that of your family. But you must knock on the door of His Mercy’s treasuries to ask Him by speech and deeds. You must follow the ways to the kitchens where His bounties are cooked to ask Him in the tongue of potential or need, or work or speech, for what He has assigned to you.
How can you accuse Him concerning your livelihood, seeing that He provided you with the best food while you were a baby with no power and will? Only He, the All-Hearing, All-Knowing, All-Powerful, All-Wealthy, Who makes Earth in summer a kitchen for His guests to pour His blessings in floods out of the envelopes of gardens and fill the pans of trees with the most delicious food, meets all creatures’ needs. Besides performing your essential task, work for His sake and in His Name, and perform the task He has assigned to you. Trust Him and say: “God is sufficient for me. How good a Guardian, a Protecting Friend, and a Helper He is.”
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91 Muslim, hadith no. 2675; Tirmidhi, hadith no. 3538. Also recorded in Bukhari. A hadith qudsi is a saying from the Prophet, the wording of which belongs to the Prophet but the meaning to God. (Tr.)