Chapter 3: The Excuse of Personal Problems (1/2)
Regardless of their own difficulties and hardships, sincere believers choose to please Allah rather than placate their lower self. However, another segment of humanity does just the opposite. In moments of trial, these people, who assert the importance of supporting believers, frequently saying that they have no other aim in life, forget their words and even retreat when they see potential hardship coming their way.
One of the major reasons for this attitude is that they dwell on their personal problems: finding a good job, starting a family, and investing for the future, among others. They consider satisfying these concerns to be more important than striving to please Allah even though He states in the Qur'an:
O you who believe. Do not let your wealth or children divert you from the remembrance of Allah. Whoever does that is lost. (Surat al-Munafiqun: 9)
[... who] are not distracted by trade or commerce from the remembrance of Allah, the performance of prayer, and the giving of the alms; fearing a day when all hearts and eyes will be in turmoil. (Surat an-Nur: 37)
These possessions and children are blessings from Allah. Of course, people may try to find a good job, start a family, and engage in profitable business. However, these things must never become the main goals in life or divert them from the importance of praising Allah, working toward the Hereafter, and winning His approval. On the contrary, all of these should help them attain these goals. Otherwise, as Allah says in the above verse, these things may have evil consequences and cause a person's downfall in this world and the Hereafter.
By pursuing their own interests and avoiding self-sacrifice, they cannot grasp the idea of Allah's power, His mercy and forbearance toward believers, or His protecting and helping them. Ignoring the fact that Allah sends their difficulties to test them, these people think that they have absolute power and strength. Since they think that other people can harm them, they are overwhelmed by fear. For an example, in the Qur'an Allah cites the case of those people who accompanied our Prophet (saas) to the battlefield but then wanted to retreat because they were terrified that they would be hurt. Allah tells these people to trust that Allah would help them:
Remember when you left your family early in the day to install the believers in their battle stations. Allah is All-Hearing, All-Knowing. And remember when two of your clans were on the point of losing heart and Allah was their Protector. Let the believers put their trust in Allah. Allah helped you at Badr when you were weak, so fear [and respect] Allah so that, hopefully, you will be thankful. (Surah Al 'Imran: 121-123)
At the time of our Prophet (saas), many people had no will to sacrifice and were intimidated by hardship and difficulty. This attitude is well-documented in the Qur'an, where Allah encourages people by reminding them that they can be successful only with His help: "… and when you asked the believers: "Is it not enough for you that your Lord reinforced you with three thousand angels, sent down?" (Surah Al 'Imran: 124). But they did not want to sacrifice, and so gave various excuses, hoping that our Prophet (saas) would allow them to stay behind:
There are only grounds [of complaint] against those who ask you for permission to stay when they are rich. They were pleased to be among those who were left behind. Allah has sealed up their hearts, so they do not know. (Surat at-Tawba: 93)
Some said that their houses were exposed, or that it was too hot, or that they could not afford it. But although they did not have the means, many of our Prophet's (saas) Companions showed their self-sacrificial spirit by joining the battle on foot. Some even wept because they could not accompany him, while others did not sacrifice even though they could, and others hid behind each other and sneaked away from the Muslims: "Allah knows those of you who sneak away. Those who oppose his command should beware of a testing trial coming to them or a painful punishment striking them" (Surat an-Nur: 63). However, the right thing for them to do would have been to show loyalty and faithfulness by sacrificing even when hard-pressed.
Allah tells us that these people were more attached to this world: "Would that there had been more people with a vestige of good among the generations of those who came before you, who forbade corruption in the land, other than the few among them whom We saved. Those who did wrong gladly pursued the life of luxury that they were given and were evildoers" (Surah Hud: 116). In another verse Allah tells us that they had broken their promises:
Yet, they had previously made a contract with Allah that they would never turn their backs. Contracts made with Allah will be asked about. (Surat al-Ahzab: 15)
This situation applies to all times. Some people claiming to have belief might avoid the responsibility of spreading the Qur'an's morality when they come up against the slightest difficulty. Caught up in their own transient worldly interests, they quickly return to thinking about their own problems. Even though they know, like all intelligent individuals with a conscience, that they are responsible for preventing injustice, helping those in pain and those suffering from poverty and oppression, and ending this oppression by showing people the true path, such people think it more sensible to remain on the sidelines and leave this responsibility to other believers.
Allah warns those who know what they should do but do not do it: "Do you order people to devoutness and forget yourselves, when you recite the Book? Will you not use your intellect?" (Surat al-Baqara: 44).
Allah states that the good attitude will, Allah willing, lead a person to salvation in this world and the Hereafter: "O you who believe. Shall I direct you to a transaction that will save you from a painful punishment? It is to believe in Allah and His messenger, and to strive in the way of Allah with your wealth and your selves. That is better for you if you only knew" (Surat as-Saff: 10-11). Allah reminds us that this is better. People without real belief think that it is enough to accept a bit of religion and sacrifice only when it is convenient for them.
In the same way, they may think that it would be better for them to stay as far away as possible from difficulties and inconveniences. But Allah tells us that these people are the losers. By dwelling on their worldly concerns and personal problems, they neglect their responsibility and, later on, will realize that they have occupied themselves with vain concerns and then be overwhelmed by sorrow:
The kind of morality that will bring salvation in this world and the Hereafter requires people to sacrifice their personal interests and possessions, as well as to live the kind of moral life pleasing to Allah in times of hardship, sickness, and difficulty. But those who know this and, nevertheless, yield to the suggestions of their lower self and pursue their own interests and well-being will be called to account.
Of course it is irrational to jeopardize one's eternal life by not being steadfast in the face of a minor hardship and by being unwilling to sacrifice. People who fully realize this truth and know that Allah always supports those who are faithful to the Qur'an's moral precepts must willingly sacrifice their interests and shoulder their responsibilities.
Furthermore, people must never forget that living according to the Qur'an's morality wins them His love:
Many prophets have been fought when there were many thousands with him. They did not give up in the face of what assailed them in the way of Allah, nor did they weaken or yield. Allah loves the steadfast. (Surah Al 'Imran: 146)
Other Excuses for Avoiding Self-Sacrifice
Some people know what living by the Qur'an's morality entails, and yet avoid self-sacrificial acts even though they know that their attitude is wrong. Due to their weak belief, they do not use their conscious will to change their behavior; rather, they place more importance on pleasing people than winning Allah's favor. They do not care that He sees the weakness of their hearts, belief, and conscience, for their goal is to convince others of their sincerity by justifying their behavior and appeasing their own conscience. They seek to give the impression that they sincerely want to be self-sacrificial and take on responsibilities, but that there are many reasons why they cannot do so.
They know that their excuses are false and that they could find a way to sacrifice if they really wanted to. But they suppress their conscience to pursue their own interests, thinking that they will have a comfortable life if only they avoid assuming their responsibilities. But this is impossible.
Their conscience continually reminds them every time they do not please Allah and violate the Qur'an's moral teachings. They know exactly what they are doing and what Allah ttells them to do in the Qur'an. Nevertheless, they ignore their responsibilities, and so will be burdened with a great responsibility in this world and the Hereafter.
Such people go to great lengths to convince others that they really want to assume their proper responsibilities, but for some reason they cannot. Therefore, in those societies where the Qur'an's morality is not practiced, the best way to gain sympathy is generally thought to convince others that one's excuses are valid. Those who actually have such a misguided idea do not measure themselves according to the Qur'an's morality, and so resort to this technique to get what they want. But believers reject this approach, for they consider the Qur'an's moral teachings as their measure in all things. In the Qur'an Allah describes a sincere attitude as one that seeks first to win Allah's favor. For this reason, believers can recognize those who hide behind excuses to avoid acts of self-sacrifice, for their excuses reveal their insincerity and weak belief.
Instead of engaging in a contest of goodness, such people only superficially adopt the Qur'an's moral teachings because, as they often claim, they do not have the strength. They can use this excuse in every aspect of their daily lives, all the while claiming that they are sincere and that their hearts are pure. To convince others, they do not even hesitate to swear in Allah's name: "They will swear by Allah: 'Had we been able to, we would have gone out with you.' They are destroying their own selves. Allah knows that they are lying" (Surat at-Tawba: 42).
In one verse, Allah refutes their claim: "Allah does not impose on any self any more than it can stand. For it is what it has earned; against it is what it has brought upon itself" (Surat al-Baqara: 286). The fact that they say the opposite reveals the sickness in their hearts and their intention to avoid responsibility.
This is exactly what happened with Talut (or Saul) and those who followed him when Allah sent him to the people as their ruler and promised to test them with a river. When Talut asked the people not to drink from the river, most of them could not see the purpose in this order, ignored it and fulfilled their desires. Later on, using the excuse mentioned above, they withdrew on the grounds that they did not have the strength to fight alongside Talut. But those who knew that Allah would cause them to prevail, even though they had very little strength, kept their promise and followed Talut:
When Talut marched out with the army, he said: "Allah will test you with a river. Anyone who drinks from it is not with me. But anyone who does not taste it is with me – except for him who merely scoops up a little in his hand." But they drank from it – except for a few of them. Then when he and those who believed had crossed it, they said: "We do not have the strength to face Goliath and his troops today." But those who were sure that they were going to meet Allah said: "How many a small force has triumphed over a much greater one by Allah's permission. Allah is with the steadfast." (Surat al-Baqara: 249)
Those who seek to avoid self-sacrifice sometimes maintain that circumstances forced them into a certain situation against their will. For example:
Those who were left behind were glad to stay behind the messenger of Allah. They did not want to strive with their wealth and themselves in the way of Allah. They said: "Do not go out to fight in the heat." Say: "The Fire of Hell is much hotter, if they only understood." (Surat at-Tawba: 81)
They wanted to hide their insincerity; however, their excuse, which they hoped would be accepted, only showed the degree of their self-deception. Allah says that He will burden an individual only with the amount of responsibility he or she can bear, and that along with the difficulty He will create the ability to endure it. Believers who know that Allah helps and supports His servants never believe that such an excuse is sincere. Just as He created the heat of the day, He also gave these people the opportunity to serve and sacrifice.
Allah can change the temperature or enable people to endure the heat. Those who hide behind insincere excuses know this. Moreover, the fact that other Muslims who face the same circumstances willingly assume their responsibility also shows the insincerity of these people.
Just as they refused to enter the struggle, they encouraged others to follow their example because it was too hot to fight. Others, as the Allah says, referred to service and self-sacrifice as "fitnah." Allah reveals their insincerity:
Among them are there some who say: 'Give me permission to stay. Do not put me to fitnah [trial].' Unquestionably, into fitnah they have fallen. Hell hems in the unbelievers. (Surat at-Tawba: 49)
Another excuse used to convince those around them is that they are occupied with the affairs of this world. Again, some of the people whom our Prophet (saas) called to support the Muslims sought to avoid that responsibility:
And a group of them said: "O people of Yathrib. Your position is untenable, so return." Some of them asked the Prophet to excuse them, saying: "Our houses are exposed," when they were not exposed. They merely wanted to run away. (Surat al-Ahzab: 13)
These people thought that they would suffer hardship, danger, and difficulty if they did what the Prophet (saas) told, and so they tried to make excuses by saying that they were needed at home, where they had important responsibilities. Allah tells us that they were lying, for they were fully aware that He was pleased with the Prophet's call and supports the believers. Allah then says that their overall goal was to avoid responsibility and self-sacrifice.
They use these kinds of excuses for everything imaginable. Believers who know that people are suffering must do what they can to help, for this is part of the Qur'an's morality. But insincere people try to find a way to avoid this responsibility by claiming that they do not have the ability to help, it is the wrong time, another responsibility is more important, they are sick, or they are having financial problems. In fact, they cannot find a way to help because they have no desire to do so. This is the real purpose behind their excuses.
In the meantime, while they try to escape responsibility, the sufferers of oppression are still oppressed and continue to be crushed mercilessly under harsh conditions. But those individuals who do not heed their consciences cannot understand the severity of the situation. Instead of feeling uncomfortable, they regard it as more important to involve themselves with their own worldly concerns. They also deceive themselves into thinking that their view is that of the majority. But they must not forget that everyone will be held accountable in the Hereafter. Allah warns believers not to be influenced by such people: "So be steadfast. Allah's promise is true. Do not let those who have no certainty make you impatient and shake your firmness" (Surat ar-Rum: 60).
Allah also reveals a very important truth: "So fight in the way of Allah – you are only answerable for yourself – and spur on the believers. It may well be that Allah will curb the force of those who do not believe. Allah has greater force and greater power to punish" (Surat an-Nisa': 84).
He can remove every difficulty and hardship that may arise, and so all people who place their trust in Allah can overcome every difficulty with His help. But if they try to escape their responsibilities, they will experience pangs of suffering sent by Allah that only He can relieve. Given this fact, every person must consider these things carefully and then put sincerity and the desire to win His favor above everything else.
The Real Reasons for Avoiding Self-Sacrifice
As we saw earlier, those who think that being self-sacrificial is a loss come up with many excuses to exonerate themselves. They know that their excuses are completely insincere, and yet their overall goal is only to convince others and protect their reputation in other people's eyes. Moreover, the believers know this as well, because they use the Qur'an as their guide.
Unbelievers know that they would win Allah's favor by being responsible and self-sacrificial, but they choose to do otherwise because their hearts are filled with doubt and indecision:
What! Are they in doubt about the meeting with their Lord? What! Does He not encompass all things? (Surat al-Fussilat: 54)
They are indeed in grave doubt about it. (Surah Hud: 110)
Only those who do not believe in Allah and the Last Day ask you to excuse them. Their hearts are full of doubt, and in their doubt they waver to and fro.(Surat at-Tawba: 45)
Allah warns people against satan's wiles: "The truth is from your Lord, so on no account be among the doubters" (Surat al-Baqara: 147), and proclaims that those who are not overwhelmed by doubt but, regardless of the current hardship carry on with determination, find favor in His Sight:
The believers are only those who have believed in Allah and His messenger, have had no doubt, and have striven with their wealth and themselves in the way of Allah. They are the ones who are true to their word. (Surat al-Hujurat: 15)
These people doubt the existence of Allah, Judgment Day, and the Hereafter, and consider the worldly interests nearer and easier advantages. They forget that Allah's justice is infinite, that He created everything, and that He helps the believers. Overwhelmed by distrust and anxiety about the future, the unbelievers forget His promise: "As for those who make Allah their friend, and His messenger and those who believe: it is the party of Allah who are victorious" (Surat al-Ma'ida: 56).
One of the main reasons why people try to evade their responsibility and avoid sacrificing their interests when necessary is because they live in error and their hearts are filled with doubt.
In addition, they choose this world's life over the Hereafter:"These people love this fleeting world and have put the thought of a Momentous Day behind their backs" (Surat al-Insan: 27). However, no matter how easy and attainable the world's benefits may seem, those who know the Qur'an also know that the only permanent and enduring life is the Hereafter. But those with weak belief lay more importance on this world, for they cannot overcome their passion for its baubles. They feel some closeness to religious morality and to believers, but consider this world, their relatives, work, business, possessions, and respect to be more important than attaining Allah's approval. They may not openly express this, but their way of life and obsession with this world show the truth:
Say: "If your fathers or sons, brothers or wives, tribe, or any wealth you have acquired or any business you fear may slump, or any house that pleases you are dearer to you than Allah and His messenger and striving in His way, then wait until He brings about His command. Allah does not guide people who are deviators." (Surat at-Tawba: 24)
Those Arabs who remained behind will say to you: "Our wealth and families kept us occupied, so ask forgiveness for us." They say with their tongues what is not in their hearts. Say: "Who can control Allah for you in any way, whether He wants harm for you or wants benefit for you?" Allah is aware of what you do. (Surat al-Fath: 11)
These individuals also put their own interests above winning Allah's favor, for the fundamental insincerity of their belief causes them to believe that pursuing their own worldly interests is the most important thing in life. When they have to deal with a situation, they politely feign interest and utter a few stock phrases. In reality, however, they intend to do nothing about it.
Some people who lived in our Prophet's (saas) time had the same kind of moral understanding:
When a sura is sent down saying: "Believe in Allah and strive together with His messenger," those among them with wealth will ask you to excuse them, saying: "Let us remain with those who stay behind." They are pleased to be with those who stay behind. Their hearts have been stamped, so they do not understand. (Surat at-Tawba: 86-87)
The desert Arabs came with their excuses asking for permission to stay, and those who lied to Allah and His messenger stayed behind. A painful punishment will afflict those who do not believe. (Surat at-Tawba: 90)
This clearly shows that those people, who say that they live to win Allah's favor, are actually more interested in this life than in the Hereafter. Another reason why they avoid self-sacrifice is because they are coward. They forget that Allah is the Ruler of humanity and can create whatever and whenever He wills. Believing that people are independent of Allah and have autonomous power, they are very concerned with others' opinion of them, completely unaware that only Allah can prevent evil and bring them good. And so they try to please other people, thinking that they can either harm or benefit them in some way. But this is a great mistake, for this power belongs only to Allah, Who created every individual and determines their every action. As revealed in the Qur'an:
They will not fight against you all together as a group, except in fortified towns or behind high walls. Their hostility towards each other is intense. They are full of bravado in each other's company. You consider them united, but their hearts are scattered wide, because they are people who do not use their intellect. (Surat al-Hashr: 14)
Their fear lets them sacrifice for and support believers only if their material needs are assured and if they are sure that no one will harm them. Allah reveals several truths to these people, as follows:
Say: "Flight will not benefit you if you try to run away from death or being killed. Then you will only enjoy a short respite." Say: "Who is going to shield you from Allah if He desires evil for you or desires mercy for you?" They will find no one to protect or help them besides Allah. Allah knows the obstructers among you and those who say to their brothers, "Come to us," and who only come to fight a very little and are begrudging toward you. Then when fear comes, you see them looking at you, their eyes rolling like people scared to death. But when fear departs, they flay you with sharp tongues, grasping for wealth. Such people have no belief, and Allah will make their actions come to nothing. That is easy for Allah. (Surat al-Ahzab: 16-19)
Allah says that these people are begrudging and selfish toward believers, that they will not put themselves out, and that when they are afraid they look as if they are scared to death. Furthermore, He says that they have no belief.
Unaware of Allah's infinite power, their fear causes them to deny their resources to solve other people's problems. While they might offer some support, they do not have the courage to sacrifice their interests. For example, the people of many countries could be brought up to work together and to sacrifice for each other in order to help solve problems. In the same way, people act unjustly, oppress others, and cause environments of confusion and terror because they have no fear or respect of Allah. If they were told about the proofs of His existence, the truths of belief, the existence of the Hereafter and the Day of Judgment, many would start following their conscience, a development that would ensure peace and contentment in society. Of course, radio, television, and the press play a major role in getting this message across to the masses.
Conscience demands that such people should not think only about their own advantage, but also of the needs of society. Where people's lives are hard, some people who could help and are aware of the problems refuse to help, for they place winning Allah's approval second and are afraid of being inconvenienced and suffering financial loss.
They withhold their resources because they do not want to be put in a difficult situation or face their disbelieving companions' criticism. Sometimes they do things that exalt His name, make others appreciate belief, and commend good morality, but only under pressure from their conscience and to a very limited degree so that people will not talk about them. In this way they try to placate their conscience while ignoring what will happen to them in the Hereafter. This divided attention, one part directed toward the world and the other toward the Hereafter, may not be enough to attain salvation in the Hereafter, for everyone will be held responsible as to whether or not they did all they could. Allah reveals that:
The hypocrites think that they deceive Allah, but He is deceiving them. When they get up to pray, they get up lazily, showing off to people and only remembering Allah a very little. 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': 142-143)
These people also avoid service, self-sacrifice, and responsibility because they live in anxiety about the possibility of becoming poor, losing possessions, spending money, and falling into desperate poverty: "Satan promises you poverty and commands you to avarice. Allah promises you forgiveness from Him and abundance. Allah is All-Encompassing, All-Knowing" (Surat al-Baqara: 268). For all of these reasons, they avoid any act of self-sacrifice.
Allah reminds us that they do not realize how great an advantage their acts of self-sacrifice would be for them in this world and the Hereafter: "What harm would it have done them to have believed in Allah and the Last Day and to have given of what Allah has provided for them? Allah knows everything about them" (Surat an-Nisa': 39). Believing that they have acquired their possessions by their own efforts and that they can protect them and add to them on their own, they forget that Allah, the true Owner of whatever they possess, can give them and withdraw them as He wills.
As we have seen, people do not support believers and avoid their responsibility because of their insincere belief. The weakness of their belief causes them to avoid doing religious service, practicing the Qur'an's morality, and seeking Allah's approval. But according to the Qur'an, anyone who is reluctant to worship Him will suffer grievous pangs:
The Messiah would never disdain to be a servant to Allah, nor would the angels near to Him. If any do disdain to worship Him and grow arrogant, He will, in any case, gather them all to Him. (Surat an-Nisa': 172)
As for those who believe and do right actions, He will pay them their wages in full and give them increase from His favor. As for those who show disdain and grow arrogant, He will send them a painful punishment. They will not find any protector or helper for themselves besides Allah. (Surat an-Nisa': 173)
In such a situation, believers who know the Qur'an must have the intention to act according to their conscience and practice the Qur'an's moral teachings. If they do this, Allah will both help and support them and will give them the finest reward in both worlds.