The Third Word
Choosing the right way
In the Name of God, the All-Merciful, the All-Compassionate. O you people, worship... (2:21)
If you want to understand the bliss and benefit that come with worship, and the loss and destruction that come with vice, dissipation, and ignoring God’s commands, consider the following parable: Two soldiers are told to go to a far town. Travelling together, they come to a fork and meet a wise person who tells them: “The road on the right is risk-free, and nine out of ten travelers meet with great advantage but no difficulty. The road on the left 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, which is under military order, 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, he reaches his destination, where he receives a reward worthy of 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 innumerable dangers and anxieties. He is constantly fearful and in need. When he reaches the destined 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. Worship seems to be a strenuous demand, but in reality gives indescribable peace and comfort. Those who pray recite ashhadu an la ilaha illa’llah (I bear witness that there is no deity but God) 8, the Creator and the All-Providing. 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. Having belief, the believing soldier sees in every event a door to the wealth of God’s Mercy and knocks on it via prayer and 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 complete 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 the earth were to explode, those servants of God with truly illuminated hearts would not frightened—they might even consider it a marvel of the Eternally Besought One’s Power. A rationalist but unbelieving philosopher might tremble at the sight of a comet, lest it should strike the earth. (This was how some Americans reacted to the recent sighting of Halley’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 understands 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 very low probability of safe passage. The way of belief leads one safely to endless bliss with near certainty; the way of unbelief and transgression, meanwhile, is not profitable and has a near certainty of endless loss.9 Even its travelers agree on this truth, as do countless experts and people of insight and observation.
In conclusion, just like the other world’s bliss, happiness in this world 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.
Bediuzzaman Said Nursi
8The 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.)
9The author uses the term near certainty, as opposed to absolute certainty, out of respect for God’s 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.)