The "Let Them Say" and "Don't Let Them Say" Principles in the "Religion" Of Worshipping People
The basic rules of this "religion" are founded on two principles: "Let them say," and "Don't let them say." At these principles' root is the error of seeking to please others and feeling one has to assume the identity and lead the kind of life that others expect. In other words, a person who adopts such a goal has ceased to use his mind and his freedom of thought. He will have to change himself constantly in relation to other people's expressions of praise, affection, interest, intimacy and friendship. Such concerns as, "I want people to say this about me", and "I don't want anyone to say that about me" prevent him from using his mind and cause him to make every effort towards the impossible goal of trying to please everyone. He is forced to live not in accordance with what he sees as very true and of which he does not have the slightest doubt, but in accordance with what society demands. However, in the Qur'an Allah says that a life not founded on seeking to please Him will certainly lead to Hell the one who lives it.
Who is better: Someone who founds his building on fear of Allah and His good pleasure, or someone who founds his building on the brink of a crumbling precipice so that it collapses with him into the Fire of Hell? Allah does not love wrongdoers. (Surat at-Tawba 109)
Despite the clear truth revealed in this verse, the importance of winning Allah's favor has been almost totally lost in today's many societies. A majority of people have come to see themselves as attached to others rather than to Allah. At the root of this is human beings' endless desire to show off and receive praise.
People's Passion for Showing off and Earning Praise
The human ego wants to show off and receive praise from others. People, still unaware that Allah has created them as His servants and that they survive by what He gives them, want to receive praise and are eager to obtain a selfish superiority by doing all they can to show off to others. They believe that they possess their talents by their own power and that can obtain everything they want with their own hands. Allah gives us an example of this wrong state of mind in the person of a vineyard owner:
He was a man of wealth and property and he said to his companion, debating with him, "I have more wealth than you and more people under me." He entered his garden and wronged himself by saying, "I do not think that this will ever end." [He said,] "I do not think the Hour will ever come. But if I should be sent back to my Lord, I will definitely get something better in return." (Surat al-Kahf, 34-36)
As Allah relates in the verses this man thinks that he is really the owner of the vineyard and makes a display of it, believing that this land will forever be in his possession. However, it is Allah Who will decide what it to happen. Whatever fate He has determined for this vineyard and this individual will come to pass. No other being apart from Allah can change the future. But the vineyard owner, unaware of this and with an ignorant mind-set, was proud of his possessions. Because he did not consider the reality of fate, he was making predictions about his vineyard and his own future. Probably he wanted to dazzle others with his wealth and win their adulation. Because he placed all these things above gaining Allah's approval, Allah destroyed his vineyard and left him with nothing to garner praise from others. Because of what happened to him, the owner of the vineyard woke from his heedless sleep and came to understand that his error was choosing another priority besides Allah. This situation is described in the Qur'an:
The fruits of his labor were completely destroyed and he woke up wringing his hands in grief, ruing everything that he had spent on it. It was a ruin with all its trellises fallen in. He said, "Oh, if only I had not associated anyone with my Lord!" (Surat al-Kahf, i, 42)
From these examples in the Qur'an, we can see that a life based on ostentation and praise is the selfish passion of faithless people. They think that the purpose of life is to receive praise from others, show off their wealth and become richer; and when they are able to do so, they believe they have gained something. Elsewhere in the Qur'an, Allah tells us about people who have this distorted way of thinking:
Fierce competition for this world distracted you, until you went down to graves. (Surat at-Takathur, 1-2)
The reality is not as it appears, however, to those who think it a virtue to be in the majority. Allah did not create the world so that individuals could contend with one another and gain superiority in selfish pursuits; He created it to test who would do the best things in their service to Him. Allah says in the Qur'an as such:
He Who created death and life to test which of you is best in action. He is the Almighty, the Ever-Forgiving. (Surat al-Mulk, 2)
For this reason, the most pleasurable, happy and joyful things are those that are done to win Allah's favor, because a human being can be basically satisfied by the joy that faith brings. All else brings a short-lived sense of satisfaction that will be of no benefit in the hereafter.
Yet some individuals reject true morality of religion and prefer to worship people they idolize other beings apart from Allah (Allah is beyond that) and as a result, base everything they do on this erroneous foundation. They are always ostentatious, showing off to others the things they have been given. But ostentation puts great material and spiritual burdens on an individual. It wearies his mind and body and distances him from his very nature, turning him into someone who acts inhumanely towards others, treating them harshly, with anger, grudging insincerity and hypocrisy. This person may even start performing acts of worship that require sincerity of heart so that others will say that he is a devout Muslim. In the Qur'an, Allah tells us of people who practice religion as lip service to others.
So woe to those who perform prayer, and are forgetful of their prayer, those who show off. (Surat al-Ma'un, 4-6)
As in the practice of their prayers, these individuals spend for Allah's cause for purposes of which He does not approve such as ostentation and seeking praise from others, although these acts of worship are founded on the Qur'anic ideal of "giving to those in need what is left after one's own needs have been met." The Qur'an describes the condition of those who use their material possessions for ostentation:
You who believe! Do not nullify your charity by demands for gratitude or insulting words, like him who spends his wealth, showing off to people and not believing in Allah and the Last Day. His likeness is that of a smooth rock coated with soil, which, when heavy rain falls on it, is left stripped bare. They have no power over anything they have earned. Allah does not guide disbelieving people. (Surat al-Baqara, 264)
As Allah says in the Qur'an, combining the desire to please others with faith in Allah is a breach of religious sincerity. In His Sight, it makes an individual insincere. By paying too much attention to what people think of him, he sullies his faith with ostentation and hardens his heart with the selfish desire for praise. As a result, he lives for worldly gain and profit and loses his fear of Allah. Totally unaware of the punishment He will give, he will employ the fine moral qualities he should use to earn Allah's favor as currency for worldly gain and to bring opportunities his way. Everyone who "worships" people adjusts his life to these principles.
We'll give some examples of his distorted mentality as it appears in daily life.
The "Let Them Say" Principle
In an ignorant society, people feel continually obliged to live with regard for what others say, will say, or have said. As a result, they do not think about Allah and are far from acting according to sound moral principles. Their thoughts are divorced from religious morality, and they know nothing about the well-being that religion can give, having fallen into a disordered, contentious environment where right and wrong are confused.
According to this distorted mentality, only human beings have the right to make laws and establish rules. All the things that Allah has commanded or prohibited are removed from human life, one by one. For this reason, an individual who practices the precepts of true morality of religion and disregards any argument that detracts from the importance of winning Allah's favor, will immediately attract notice of ignorant people and who will treat him badly. But a person who is sincere in his religion will take no notice of this adverse behavior because his only goal in this world is to win Allah's favor.
But concerns for what others will say or think may influence those whose faith is weak. This is why they cannot fully practice the moral virtues of the Qur'an and in their thoughts and actions, why they resemble idolaters more than real Muslims. These individuals live their whole lives greatly deceived by a perverse understanding of the "facts of life" that prevents them from embracing the real spirit of religion. In the Qur'an Allah describes those people whose hearts are sick with regard to faith:
They vacillate between the two—not joining these or joining those. If Allah misguides someone, you will not find any way for him to go. (Surat an-Nisa', 143)
This false religion affects people like an infectious disease, preventing the many of weak will or personality from remembering Allah or seeking His favor. Under the influence of the majority, they regard their erroneous thinking as so normal that they don't even feel the need to distance themselves from it.
Describing the fundamental rationale of this false religion, which holds sway over its members and people of weak faith, would help people discover the distorted thinking they had fallen into. And by the Will of Allah, the sincere could save themselves from this false religion. The following pages give some false stock examples of the "Let them say" mentality characteristic of the "people- worshippers."
"Let Them Say I Am Good-natured"
Allah has many statements about the importance of being morally virtuous in the Quran. Allah says that the Prophets had a good and gentle nature, returned good for evil, were patient, enduring and feared Allah. For example, the Prophet Abraham (pbuh) sincerely turned to Allah and was renowned for his moral virtue:
Abraham was forbearing, compassionate, penitent. (Surah Hud, 75)
The basic morality of all the prophets and devout believers comes from their reverent submission to Allah. Believers serve only Him and seek His favor above that of any other being. They have the moral virtue of which Allah, Creator of the whole universe, approves. But the basis of their good nature lies in their desire to win Allah's favor.
However, ignorant people live in a system that works in just the opposite way. An individual who practices People-ism has memorized the rules of his superstitious religion and assumes that by telling people what they want to hear, he is doing the right thing. Even if he is good natured, at the basis of this behavior is the desire to exert a positive influence on others, get them to like him, and gain from them something of material value.
He will do everything he can to achieve this goal; he will be perfectly good-natured. For example, if need be, he will help his neighborhood poor to display of his compassion; and will tell everyone how important honesty is for human beings. He will let himself seem to be modest. He will speak about the great harm evil brings upon humanity, appearing all the while to be happy, loving and patient. People trust him for the appearance he presents; they like him and befriend him. They will tell all their friends how good-natured he is, give many examples of how he has helped others, shown compassion to a poor child or respect for some elderly person he met on the road. They describe to others how he took to the police station a wallet he found on the street, gave his seat on the bus to a pregnant woman even though his own feet were sore, turned up on time for work in the morning without seeming tired even though he stayed late at work the night before. This individual performs all these acts of self-sacrifice merely so that people will say he is good-natured, hardworking, compassionate and honest.
Another person will go to a rehabilitation center and bring little gifts to the people that live there. He will bring homeless children various things to make their rooms homey. Then, so that other people will know what he has done, he advertises his kindness to his close associates in an appropriate way. Or he may make a considerable donation for the renovation of a particular department of a hospital.
All these acts are laudable, of course, but it must be remembered that they are "good" only if performed to earn Allah's favor. If done to bring an individual praise or appreciation, to make him appear good, generous and just, they will bring him no benefit beyond a small worldly gain. If conditions grow bad for him, or if acting good-natured turns to his disadvantage, he can immediately give up being "good." But things done to gain Allah's approval are permanent and enduring, because they are done unconditionally.
Moreover, it is very easy for anyone to turn from his error and change his intentions. An individual who realizes that "people worship" brings him nothing but harm must simply repent and intend to seek Allah's favor. This decision takes only a moment and from that moment, all the good things a person does with good intent hardly count for nothing, but are written in Allah's Sight to be rewarded. The important thing is, that person fears Allah and strives to do His will.
It's very important to recognize the power of Allah and to fear Him as one should, because when a person does not fear Allah, it is not clear how he will act or what kind of decisions he will make. If he requires rewards for doing good, he becomes instantly ill-natured. It does not occur to him that his behavior will receive punishment from Allah. He may exhibit one character one week and a wholly different one the next. According to the laws of people-worship, he may return evil for evil and injustice for injustice. He also begins to apply the merciless laws of the superstitious religion he believes in. And because, as we said before, the so-called deities this superstitious religion worships are only human beings (Allah is beyond that), his human conscience functions accordingly. For this reason, he gives no importance to the kind of moral behavior expected by Allah. However, Muslims also treat pitiless, cruel and unjust individuals who behave badly towards them as their moral virtue dictates—and under no conditions do they compromise the virtuous behavior that pleases Allah.
Therefore, never do believers diverge or withdraw from their path of moral virtue. Always humane, they never lose their religious convictions, because their life aim is based on their desire to be servants of Allah. In the Qur'an, Allah describes this kind of moral virtue:
[People of intelligence are] those who are steadfast in seeking the face of their Lord, and perform prayer and give from the provision We have given them, secretly and openly, and stave off evil with good, it is they who will have the Ultimate Abode. (Surat ar-Ra'd, 22)
Let Them Say that I Am Rich, Generous and Like to Spend Money
In "people-worshipping religion", much importance is placed on wealth. In this false religion, wealth means power. A person with power in society has a few highly valued privileges; the richest person is the most popular, most deferred to, and enjoys the most friends. Such a person thinks that wealth will open wide all the proverbial doors for him. For this reason, some individuals expend lots of effort putting this aspect of themselves in the foreground. They have a number of ways to get people to notice how rich they are and how they like to spend money. They never miss the opportunity to strengthen the impression of how wealthy they are, they are lavish, sometimes extravagant, in spending money on clothes, cars and houses. They decorate their homes in a way that society, especially other wealthy people, would appreciate.
If society chose to decorate with the color green for a particular year, these individuals choose green too, even if they don't like it; and if red is in vogue, they use red. Wanting everything to be just right becomes a matter of pride for them. Influenced by the "let them say" and "let them think" mentality, they spend their whole lives doing things to display their wealth. They spend their summers in the most popular vacation spots and go skiing in the most stylish winter resorts. They send their children to school abroad and buy their clothes from other countries. In their circle of acquaintances they let it be known that "they have money too" and so buy an expensive yacht. Even if they do not sail it themselves, they moor it in a harbor to show it off. If there are people they want to impress, they take them sailing, treating their guests to the best food and drink to emphasize that they do not lack for anything.
If a person has money, of course there is nothing wrong with acting in this way if one wants to; in fact, if he takes real pleasure in doing these things, they are blessings. But most of the people we have been talking about think in this distorted way. They want only one thing: For people to observe that they are wealthy, generous and like to spend. This gives them a sense of selfish satisfaction, boosts their morale and increases their motivation. If they do not hear what they want to, they become upset, discouraged, depressed and take no pleasure in anything. But were they asked to show the same eagerness in teaching others religious morality and increasing the number of believers in Allah, probably they would decline the invitation. Because they act in compliance with an ignorant rationale they are more interested in winning others' approval than earning the favor or Allah. In this, they would find nothing in terms of material gain or earning others' praise.
But on the Day of Judgment, they will leave behind all their possessions and enter our Lord's Presence alone. They will leave behind all those individuals they tried to please and ingratiate themselves with, to the point of deifying them none of whom will be of the slightest assistance. They will defend themselves before Allah, Who tells us what awaits these adherents of false religion on the Day of Judgment.
You have come to Us all alone just as We created you at first, leaving behind you everything We bestowed on you. We do not see your intercessors accompanying you, those you claimed were your partners with Allah. The link between you is cut. Those you made such claims for have forsaken you. (Surat al-An'am, 94)
Let Them Say I Am Their Friend
People who practice this false religion befriend with the most attractive, wealthy, and famous people in their social circle. They give no importance to their moral character. To be known as the friend of a beautiful woman, for example, they endure all her caprices. To shine in her social circle, they'll do everything they can to be known as of that particular person's best friend and try to be seen with her.
Anyone with this mentality does the same thing when he makes friends with someone wealthy. He feels pride to talk and laugh with him sitting at the same table; she loves it when that person is familiar enough to call him by his first name, joke with him, call him or visit his home. He likes to be seen getting into his friend's car. He counts it a great success when people say about him, "That rich man's friend is very nice. How lucky he is!" He thinks he is important for having that man as a friend and just to be called "his friend," is prepared to take part in all his whims, even if they are sometimes cruel and selfish.
However, human beings must found their friendships on Allah's will, because they can gain honor and power only by being His servants. In the Qur'an, Allah tells us that all the honors and positions that people seek belong to Him:
Do those who take the disbelievers as protectors, rather than the believers, hope to find power and strength with them? Power and strength belong entirely to Allah. (Surat an-Nisa', 139)
A person can be harmed and humiliated merely by forming worldly friendships based on the pursuit of these goals. Friendships established only to attract attention and stir up envy will never meet one's true expectations. So long as an individual does not live according to the moral teachings of the Qur'an, he will never know real friendship, faithfulness, or loyalty. Even if he appears to have gained a few worldly advantages, friends who do not practice the morality of the Qur'an will cause him great loss in the hereafter. In the Qur'an, Allah reveals this truth:
They debar them from the path, yet they still think they are guided so that, when he reaches Us, he says, "If only there was the distance of the two Easts between you and me! What an evil companion!" (Surat az-Zukhruf, , 37-38)
Let Them Say, "He Always Knows What's Best"
Humans are helpless creatures; it is impossible for them to step outside the fate that Allah has determined for them. Everything in the universe continues its existence according the fate that Allah has given it. As He reveals in the Qur'an:
A person will live his life as Allah has determined. For example, it is determined beforehand where he will err, where he will be successful and unsuccessful and, when the time comes, he will live every moment of what has been determined for him. No matter what he does, he cannot escape this fate. If Allah has determined that he will commit the same error 500 times, he can do nothing either to increase or decrease that number—he will repeat that same error exactly 500 times. Under such circumstances, it would make no sense to claim that an individual knew what was best and did it while still in error.
But people of no faith, who are deluded to think that the universe came to be through a chance occurrence, cannot accept this plain fact. As a result they believe that they can exert an influence over others. This distorted thinking leads them to great efforts to prove themselves. They must appear intelligent, and everyone must think that they know everything about everything.
For example, for someone to be called an economic expert, that person must give correct answers to every question he is asked on this subject. To do so, he must read and follow current events day and night. A person supposed to know about history must know every detail about some important event and whom it affected. Again, this would require years of effort. Someone who claims to excel at sports must train for hours every day, win every competition and, if necessary, shunt his friends, family and social life to the background.
But it must be remembered, these are worldly pursuits. Of course it's a good thing to work hard and be successful in the world. But if, in the pursuit of these things, the will of Allah is forgotten a person has a lot to lose. If he gains a certain amount of success in this world but has not lived to win Allah's favor, he will—unless Allah wills otherwise—forever lose his place in the hereafter.
Before Allah's Sight, man is a feeble being. A person who is very successful in a given field may suddenly lose it all in the face of an unexpected event. For example, a person well versed in world politics who always keeps informed could fall into a pitiful state as the result of some illness. Such a person should remember that, compared to Allah's knowledge, he knows nothing; that "Over everyone with knowledge is a Knower." (Surah Yusuf, 76)
Our Lord has the highest knowledge; it is absolute. Therefore, a successful person supposed to know everything about everything in his chosen field must make an effort to win Allah's favor by being His servant and living a moral life. Real salvation is possible only in this way.
Let Them Say, "He Adapts Himself to Every Environment"
As we have been saying from the beginning, a person in an ignorant society feels obliged to follow its rules and lifestyle. He tries to do what his circle of acquaintances want him to and be the model of the sort of individual they want him to be. Often he won't hesitate to do something against the Qur'an's moral teachings or act in a way that will bring him harm. He does not want to go contrary to one of the mantras of the religion of people worship, and wants others to say of him that "he adapts to every environment."
For example, a polite young man may have rebellious and disrespectful friends; although he may not be that way himself, he will try to conform to their lifestyle. He compromises his character because he does not want to be thrown out of the group and accused of being "not with it" or a "mommy's boy." Even though he knows that cigarettes are bad for his health, he will start smoking because his friends do. Some may even believe in Allah but, because their social circle is not religious, may present themselves quite differently to his group. They will stop saying their prayers in order so as not to be expelled from the circle, all to win and keep the favor of others and keep them on his side. Those who behave in this way must consider the harm they are doing to themselves in this world and the world to come; they must fear that day when they will give their accounts to Allah.
To close one's eyes to immorality and turn away from what is right, with the excuse of fitting in with one's social group is very dangerous—even from the point of view of the community. This distorted thinking lies especially at the root of the moral degeneration of young people. Suppose you met some who used drugs, were undergoing treatment for alcoholism or earned their living by prostitution. Ask why they live the way they do, and one major reason they gave would be that they "had to fit in" with their friends.
In the Sight of Allah, however, no human being has any such duty towards another. Allah holds people responsible only for earning His favor and obeying the moral edicts of the Qur'an. Everything else done apart from this purpose will simply put people on the wrong path and induce them to do things against creation. And their lives will be consumed by pangs of conscience and anxiety. In the Qur'an, Allah tells us about the state of those who make bad friends:
Instead of Allah, he calls on something which cannot harm him or help him. That is extreme misguidance. He calls on what is far more likely to harm than help. What an evil protector! What an evil associate! (Surat al-Hajj, 12-13)
So far we have considered a few basic examples of the "let them say" principle of people-worship. But this false religion is not limited to these non-believers. Nearly every step taken by people who practice this superstitious "religion" is to get others to think well of them and win their approval. Their thoughts are obsessed with this goal, and they spend every moment in this pursuit.
But even though they live in the same community, individuals with sincere faith are different from those in the society of ignorance. They may appear to do the same things, yet their intention is not directed towards other people, but towards Allah. They realize that no human being has any power, and that all power belongs to Him. They may do things to please others also, but their purpose is to win Allah's favor. As Allah has commanded, they act with moral propriety towards others—and by so doing, they win Allah's approval and also make others happy.
The "Don't Let Them Say" Principle
Those with this mentality fail to consider the reason why they are in the world and make it their aim to please people instead of the Creator.
A person who thinks in this way work hard so that his acquaintances will not say, "He doesn't even have a car," or "He doesn't have a house of his own." He'll devote his entire life to attaining those material possessions regarded as indispensable by his society.
If he owns a business, this individual will try to act in an authoritarian way towards those around him. He will be harsh to his employees so that no one can say that he "can't get anyone do to what he says."
A woman would not want her friends to gossip that she's not good at housecleaning. So, even though she may sometimes neglect her housework, every time her friends are coming over, she will clean it down to the last speck of dust and prepare various lavish foods. But she doesn't care about places that her friends will not see.
Another person will fill his library with books he has no intention of reading so that people will not think him ignorant or uncultured. Or he will take a book with him on vacation and pretend to read it, so that people will not say that they have never seen him open a book.
A member of the religion of people worshippers will pretend to be interested in the same things that interested his social circle, because he feels obliged to follow their rules. For example, even though an art exhibition doesn't appeal to him, he will attend as if it were a homework assignment; just as he will go to an auction, a car race, or learn to play the piano. He will force himself to do things he doesn't like so that people will accept him, like him, and not say, "He doesn't fit in," or "He's a dilettante." (Of course, there is nothing wrong if he likes doing these things. The kind of person we refer to here pretends to like things even though he does not—and feels obliged to do them in order to be liked.)
These are only a few examples. In every society of ignorance that does not practice the moral teachings of the Qur'an, it is possible to find others—at every level, in every city and in every school. As a result of these feelings of obligation, a person may find himself following the same rules as people with whom he has nothing in common and he does not get along. He is condemned to live a nightmare of a life from which there is no awakening. Besides, the rules he has to follow go very much against his grain. Usually what one person thinks or wants is not the same as what someone else does. Clearly these rules will not bring about like-mindedness on any point and offer no intelligent solution to the problems that arise from human nature. For this reason, a person who avidly practices the religion of people worship can never get what he wants and he will never be able to please everyone at the same time. What he does to please one person, will displease someone else. In short, this false religion condemns him to a vicious circle.
However, those who seek Allah's favor have no experience with this kind of confusion. Since their only goal is pleasing Allah, they do not run across such difficulties. Allah wants people to live the kind of life that is completely suited to their nature. Our Lord has sent down the Qur'an to show us how to live together in harmony and as a guide to direct our lives towards happiness in both this life and the next. Those who practice the Qur'an's moral teachings experience the unlimited freedom that comes from turning to Allah. In their lives, there is no room for confusion or darkness. Their consciences always know what is right, and they strive to behave in the best possible way. For this reason, they are satisfied spiritually and have a contented and consistently positive state of mind.
In the Qur'an Allah gives this example comparing these two groups of individuals:
Allah has made a metaphor for them of a man owned by several partners in dispute with one another and another man wholly owned by a single man. Are they the same? Praise be to Allah! The fact is that most of them do not know. (Surat az-Zumar, 29)
As Allah relates in the Qur’an, there is nothing in common between those who strive to win Allah's favor only and those who follow rules set by people who, among themselves, share neither harmony nor communality. There is no misunderstanding or dissention among only those who believe in Allah, obey only what He commands and follow His book. For this reason, they are not obsessed about what people do or do not say, or about what people do or do not think. They think deeply, believing that the most important thing is not to conform to this world or the people in it, but to please our Lord in this world and the next.
In another verse, Allah reminds people that it would be a great error for them to accept any other guide besides Him:
Say: "Have you thought about your partner gods, those you call upon besides Allah? Show me what they have created of the earth; or do they have a partnership in the heavens?" Have We given them a Book whose Clear Signs they follow? No indeed! The wrongdoers promise each other nothing but delusion. (Surat al-Fatir, 40)
But as we already explained in detail, this belief is rooted in people living in societies of ignorance. They are condemned to live according to the principles of "Let them say" and "Don't let them say" and, on the other hand, this leads them to behave in wrong ways, some of which include:
Sooner or later, anyone who adjusts his life to others' expectations will be forced to tell lies to hide his mistakes. People worshippers try to make it appear that they are perfect and never make mistakes. But as human beings, they often do violate social criteria and can cover up their errors only by telling lies. As a result, they will try to deceive people by always trying to make themselves appear to be something they are not.
For example, a young person entering a new school wants to be accepted by a particular group of friends and, to that end, will present himself as being quite rich, from a very good family. He will emphasize this in every conversation, make it appear that he goes abroad for vacations and frequents very expensive places. However, he's just inventing all this to influence his schoolmates. When the truth comes out, they'll learn that he comes from a middle-income family and has never gone abroad. But the requirements of people worshipping led him to tell these lies, assuming a false identity according to the standards expected by his society. He did not consider that all along, Allah was aware of every lie he told and that when the time comes, he must give our Lord an accounting. These kinds of examples are frequently encountered in society. Today, many people present themselves differently from how they really are, resorting to exaggerations, if not outright lies to make themselves seem more important.
However, a devout Muslim always keeps it in mind that Allah sees everything he does, and knows when anyone lies. He knows that even if a person can hide the truth from others, he cannot hide it from Allah. As He tells us this in the Qur'an:
… Nothing is hidden from Allah either on the earth or in heaven. (Surah Ibrahim, 38)
In one of his hadiths, our Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) contain the excellent advice he gave about speaking the truth:
O Muadh, I advise you: Fear Allah, speak the truth, fulfill promise, pay up trust, give up breach of trust, save your neighbor, show kindness to orphans... (Imam Ghazzali, Ihya Ulum-Id-Din (The Book of Religious Learnings), Islamic Book Service, New Delhi, 2001, Volume II, p. 236)
But the religion of people worshipping distances the hearts of individuals from Allah and impels them to tell lies as a fact of life making its members believe that immorality is almost a natural trait of human beings. This is why they disregard the fact that Allah knows everything that humans keep inside themselves and fail to reveal. In their conversations, they are forced to deceive others to make it appear that they are not hiding something inside, and make a show of affection even though they do not feel it. As a result of all this, deep insincerity dominates their friendships and all their other personal relationships. Large numbers of people who practice ignorant religion live out their lives and finally die without experiencing the real affection and sincerity that faith in Allah brings. They have never known a real friendship that is not opportunistic but based on unconditional love and focused on the life of paradise, which is, in the words of our Prophet is, "nearer to any of you than the strap of his shoe, and so is the [hell] Fire."(Imam Ahmad, Volume 1, Number 387)
Keeping up Appearances
Fierce competition for this world distracted you. (Surat at-Takathur, 1)
In a society of ignorance, people emphasize the value given to possessions, power, money and property. As mentioned in the previous section, they feel constrained to present themselves as much richer and more powerful than they actually are. As a result, society develops a kind of person who overstates in everything. For instance, a person who does everything to win the favor of others so that people will say he "has the best of everything" cannot lead a normal life. The clothes he buys, the way he decorates his house and his life style are all dedicated to keeping up appearances. When he is with others, he will make an extravagant show of his wealth so that people will want to be in his place. In conversations, he makes it a point to make people notice him. His aim is to get people to talk about his wealth and gossip about the fine things he possesses. To this end, he will insist on mentioning the extent and value of his wealth and say that he chooses his clothes from among the best designer labels; creating the impression that he frequents the best places.
People worshippers' passion for ostentation leads them into great error as they live their lives in this world. In the Qur'an, Allah reveals that ostentation distracts people and puts them in a stupor in which they cannot see reality:
Know that the life of this world is merely a game and a diversion and ostentation and a cause of boasting among yourselves and trying to outdo one another in wealth and children: Like the plant-growth after rain which delights the cultivators, but then it withers and you see it turning yellow, and then it becomes broken stubble. In the hereafter there is terrible punishment but also forgiveness from Allah and His good pleasure. The life of this world is nothing but the enjoyment of delusion. (Surat al-Hadid, 20)
The real lives of people with this passion are quite different from how they try to display themselves. They spend their entire day in the simplest and smallest room of the house they have described so lavishly. Instead of wearing their lavish clothing, they put on plain, simple, comfortable things. They do not want to show off to themselves, only to others. That is, they do not live showy lives where they are not going to be seen. Only with other people do they feel constrained to give themselves unnecessary anxiety by the desire to prove themselves.
However, the important thing is not for a person to win praise from his social circle, but to live in accord with the moral teachings of the Qur'an and his own human nature. Living otherwise wearies a person, and he quickly grows old. Ignoring the moral virtues of the Qur'an, he turns into a hypocrite who speaks and behaves disingenuously to affect others. The insincere individual does not enjoy true affection or respect, nor can such a character be happy and content in life. And in this world, our Lord will inflict spiritual misery on anyone who disregards Him and serves His servants instead. Allah tells us in the Quran that the suffering in the hereafter will bring sadness and disgrace:
But as for those who have earned bad actions—a bad action will be repaid with one the like of it. Debasement will darken them. They will have no one to protect them from Allah. It is as if their faces were covered by dark patches of the night. Those are the Companions of the Fire, remaining in it timelessly, for ever. On the Day We gather them all together, We will say then to those who associated others with Allah, "To your place, you and your partner-gods!" Then We will sift them out, and their partner-gods will say, "It was not us you worshipped. Allah is a sufficient witness between us and you. We were unaware of your worship." Then and there every self will be tried for what it did before. They will be returned to Allah, their Master, the Real, and what they invented will abandon them. (Surah Yunus, 27-30)
Previous sections have shown how ignorant individuals' desire to be well regarded makes them act without sincerity. But this insincerity is a negative quality of behavior that pervades every moment of their lives. Their inability to be sincere—that is, the inconsistency between what they know to be true and how they present themselves—makes it problematic for them to speak in a natural voice and show unself-conscious facial expressions.
So when such a person smiles, it is not because he is enjoying some inner sensation; he smiles only because the person he is with expects it of him. Where he thinks he will earn points for showing interest, he will speak and use facial expressions to give the impression of being attentive. What he says does not reflect what's really on his mind. Thus a curtain descends between people and prevents a natural exchange of ideas. This curtain allows him to play roles like an actor throughout his whole life, changing his appearance according to the situation and the expectations of the person he's with. He regards everyone as an autonomous individual independent of Allah and so, does his best to win their favor. Having memorized a few reactions that society has taught him, he uses them because they are what other people expect.
But in a society of ignorance, this problem situation is so widespread that no one is aware of its extent. People seldom realize that this artificial identity is the source of the anxiety and discontent in which they live. Only a person devoted to Allah, who practices the moral teachings of the Qur'an and does not seek to please others, can detect all this artificiality and correct the cause of this distressingly insincere behavior. Those who believe in the religion of people worship and others who accept similar superstitious rules regard all these things as "facts of life" and the "responsibilities that life heaps on a person."
Allah keeps His servants away from the distress that insincerity brings. He lets them taste the blessings of freedom brought by living in accord with human nature. No matter where or with whom a believer finds himself, and no matter how easy or difficult the conditions he must deal with, he is always aware that Allah is at his side. If three persons are gathered in one place, he knows that Allah is the fourth. Allah reveals this truth to us in the Quran as thus:
Do you not see that Allah knows what is in the heavens and on the earth? Three men cannot confer together secretly without Him being the fourth of them, or five without Him being the sixth of them, or fewer than that or more without Him being with them wherever they are. Then He will inform them on the Day of Resurrection of what they did. Allah has knowledge of all things. (Surat al-Mujadala, 7)
For this reason, they believe with all their heart that Allah is the One Who must be feared and that they must do everything they can to win His favor. This strong faith produces a natural, sincere behavior in believers. Even when they are with other people, they are aware that they are in Allah's Presence. In what they say and do, He keeps them from every kind of artificiality and protects them from insincere thoughts and ostentatious acts.
The Tendency to Hide What They Believe
Some people of faith feel the need to hide their beliefs in a superstitious belief system in which people exclude devout people who fulfill their religious obligations, consider them with their own foolish minds as backward and outdated people. They think that society will reject them for their faith, and so many are mistaken to compromise their acts of worship in order to avoid losing their jobs or worldly social status.
With an outlook totally divorced from the facts, societies that do not know Allah and generally ignorant about religion view religion as the same as being closed off from the world, out of step with modern times and opposed to every new development in the world—a longing for an imaginary description of the sort of life people lived thousands of years ago. As the general prejudice has it, religious people share this view of the world.
This is why some individuals avoid religion and devout people entirely; why they refuse to learn the morality of religion at all. And even if they do believe in Allah, they will keep their faith secret because they do not want to be known in society as a "religious fanatic." They fear that if other people learn the truth, their mutual ties will be broken, leaving them to suffer both materially and spiritually.
However, a person who really believes in Allah understands the essence of the Qur'an. He knows very well what Allah will and will not ask of His servants. He knows that real Muslims conceive and understand things quite differently from those others described above. He understands that religious morality transforms a person and spreads before him all the blessings of this world and the next. In the Qur'an, Allah warns people against ignorance and against making judgments out of ignorance:
Do they then seek the judgment of the Time of Ignorance? Who could be better at giving judgment than Allah for people with certainty? (Surat al-Ma'ida, 50)
In the Qur'an, moreover, believers are commanded to avoid those ignorant people who tend to hold on to their old false ideas about Allah and religion, even though they have been told differently. It says:
Make allowances for people, command what is right, and turn away from the ignorant. (Surat al-A'raf, 199)
From these verses, we can see that the religion of Islam contends against ignorance. Individuals who have acquired this spirit have the Knowledge of the Qur'an together with a high level of culture and experience, and do not care what others think of them. Having the assurance of doing the most correct thing, they only seek Allah's mercy and favor and to attain paradise.
It is all very simple. People can enjoy a healthy mind and spirit only by practicing true morality of religion, which frees them from material attachments. It makes them responsible only to Allah and to the commands in His true book. In many verses of the Qur'an, Allah mentions the simplicity of Islam, saying that human beings will find success in this simplicity:
We will ease you to the Easy Way. (Surat al-A'la, 8)
In another verse, He says that one major characteristic of the Messengers sent is that they free believers from the heavy burden of laws and false beliefs loaded on them. And another verse announces the good news that those who obey these commands will attain salvation:
… commanding them to do right and forbidding them to do wrong, making good things lawful for them and bad things forbidden for them, relieving them of their heavy loads and the chains which were around them. Those who believe in him and honor him and help him, and follow the Light that has been sent down with him, they are the ones who are successful. (Surat al-A'raf, 157)
The only person who can have freedom of thought is one who has been released from his worldly chains, whose mind has been cleansed and purified of ignorant ideas. Such a person is not bound by what others think or the courses they pursue and so, can make decisions of which Allah will approve. The reason is that he keeps himself within the limits revealed in the Qur'an as the proper measure for him. Besides this, as we have been saying from this book's beginning, he doesn't care what people say or think about him or about any opinion they may form. For a person of faith, there is no way of living other than winning Allah's favor and abiding by His commands. So devout Muslims who understand this truth could never practice people worship—one of the false religions of a society of ignorance.
In the Qur'an, Allah gives many examples of individuals who avoided non-Islamic immorality in the societies they lived in and devoted themselves to Allah. One group that attained this honor was the Companions of the Cave, described in detail in Surat al-Kahf:
We will relate their story to you with truth. They were young men who had faith in their Lord and We increased them in guidance. We fortified their hearts when they stood up and said, "Our Lord is the Lord of the heavens and the earth and We will not call on any god apart from Him. We would in that case have uttered an abomination. These people of ours have taken gods apart from Him. Why do they not produce a clear authority concerning them? Who could do greater wrong than someone who invents a lie against Allah? When you have separated yourselves from them and everything they worship except Allah, take refuge in the cave and your Lord will unfold His mercy to you and open the way to the best for you in your situation." (Surat al-Kahf, 13-16)
Throughout history, many devout individuals like the Companions of the Cave have dedicated themselves to Allah and saved themselves from false beliefs and worldly passions directed towards winning the favor of others. One of these noted individuals blessed by Allah and praised in the Qur'an is Mary, of high moral virtue that made her "most honored among all women."