The Concept of Zeal in a Society of Ignorance
Who Belongs to a Society of Ignorance?
Ignorance is usually understood as being uneducated and uncultured. However, the ignorant people depicted throughout this book are those who are ignorant about the religion of Islam, about the infinite might and attributes of Allah Who created them, and about the Qur’an that has been revealed to mankind. Such people live according to information imposed on them by a society full of misconceptions rather than facts revealed in the Qur’an. Allah defines people of ignorance as those "whose forefathers were not warned, so they are unaware."4
The lives of people who are unaware of the Qur’an and have no knowledge of the real nature of worldly life, the truth about death, and the after-death experiences of Hell and Paradise are compatible with their ignorance. Consequently, the matters that make them feel happy, eager and excited are based upon flawed and erroneous beliefs.
People of Ignorance Are Enthusiastic Only About Worldly Goals…
"...Those who took their religion as distraction and amusement and whom the worldly life deluded."5
As the verse suggests, people in a society of ignorance are greatly deluded about the life of this world. Despite being aware of its brief and imperfect nature, they prefer this temporary life to an eternal life in the Hereafter because they expect to obtain worldly benefits more easily and harbor mistaken doubts about the existence of the next world. This erroneous rationale assumes that the world is within easy reach, while the Hereafter is far away.
It is, no doubt, a very shallow and irrational kind of reasoning. After all, man’s life in this world is confined to a very brief period of time. A lifespan lasting six or seven decades, half of which is spent in childhood and the advanced years of old age, is indisputably brief compared to the eternal life of the Hereafter. Furthermore, even before the completion of those six or seven decades, one may die for some reason. At any moment he may find his life, which he assumed to be well in his hands, suddenly taken away, and may, at an utterly unexpected time, find himself entering his eternal life in the Hereafter, although he had assumed it to be very distant.
The heedless people of ignorance strive to make the most of their worldly lives during this short period rather than earning Allah’s acceptance and His reward of Paradise. Consequently, the issues over which these people show zeal are limited to the minor goals pertaining to this world. In fact, the feelings they imagine to be enthusiasm and excitement are nothing but greed. Passionately attached to this life, they feel great excitement towards everything from which they expect to derive benefit and consequently, better living conditions. Accordingly, people feel a great desire to become wealthy or to have a prestigious status or career. In order to attain such a goal they make all forms of self-sacrifice and willingly endure every hardship. However, their lives pass in both moral and physical torment.
The daily lives of these people, whose targets are limited to earthly desires, abound with incidents that reveal their understanding of zeal. For example, to earn a prestigious diploma, which would bring him recognition, a student may immerse himself in books for years. Aware that this is conducive to success, he willingly spends sleepless nights and avoids socializing, if necessary. A typical day begins for him with an early morning commute and is spent in tremendous effort, which he endures with pleasure. Yet, he would decline to make the same sacrifice to help a friend since it brings him no perceivable worldly gain. What is underlined here is that although the majority of people know how to accomplish a task with zeal and enthusiasm, they will undertake it only if it serves their own interests. They do not demonstrate the same ambition for something that would earn them the pleasure of Allah, and show indifference if a worldly benefit is not forthcoming.
The mentality peculiar to ignorance, which is based only on worldly benefits, can be portrayed with the following example. An executive whose company is on the edge of bankruptcy devotes all his energy, wisdom, means and time to work out the problem. But his employee does not feel the same eagerness to save the company and thus is unlikely to find a good solution because he is not the person who will suffer direct loss when the company goes bankrupt. As seen, worldly benefits generally underlie the zeal and determination felt by members of ignorant societies. The extent of benefit is often indicative of the degree of ambition felt.
The Excitement of Its Members Is But a Temporary Desire
The concept of zeal peculiar to a society of ignorance is apparent in the fleeting nature of worldly enthusiasm. People may experience a burst of interest and eagerness towards a certain issue and then one day lose these feelings abruptly. In a society of ignorance almost everyone has launched numerous projects enthusiastically. Yet, they quit after a short while simply because of boredom and unwillingness to continue. For example, most of those who desire to play a musical instrument soon lose interest and quit their courses. Someone who is eager to help the needy and immediately begins charity work may, before long, lose his zeal and stop the work. Because such people do not really commit themselves to noble ideals, helping the poor, doing good deeds or broadening one’s horizons in any given subject prove to be only passing whims. Living through the day, being able to meet their immediate needs, and earning the appreciation of other people are often enough to satisfy these people. Nothing beyond that point seems meaningful to them. This being the case, they may occasionally give attention to some issues which are unrelated to their own needs and concerns, but after a short while their interest is overcome by boredom and monotony.
As long as a person believes his efforts will bring him good and benefit, his zeal and enthusiasm never abate. Yet none of the aims pursued by one who turns his back on the Hereafter is worthy of continuous zeal. Encountering the slightest difficulty, failure or criticism, he may suddenly feel tired and daunted and abandon his goal. Additionally, he may fall into despair. Negative thoughts such as, "I took great pains to accomplish it but failed" draw him into pessimism and dampen his enthusiasm.
A person who for years had the ambition to become an architect may suddenly lose it once he encounters difficulties in his drawing projects. Or a person interested in painting may lose all his interest after a couple of tries. Often, the commitment of those who engage in voluntary work with aid organizations is praised in newspapers and among friends. The pleasure derived from doing charity work and the good feeling such voluntary work produces may draw other people. However, those who engage in such charity work to earn prestige in society may lose their interest after some time, and the only way to keep their enthusiasm is to make their efforts known to the public and praise them. Otherwise, even getting up early on weekends seems difficult and becomes a reason to quit such activities.
Believers, however, who consider engaging in good deeds and helping people a means to attain the good pleasure of Allah, never lose their enthusiasm. Encountering difficulties will not make them abandon their ideals. On the contrary, aware that in the face of difficulties such work becomes more precious in the sight of Allah, they derive more pleasure and feel more enthusiastic about it.