Failures of Belief and Behavior that Drive People to Secret Sorrow
Since the beginning of this book, we have stated that though some people say that they accept the faith, insincerity is the reason why many cannot experience true tranquility and happiness. As Allah tells us in the verse, "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), these people know everything in their consciences, but deviate between ignorant morality and the morality of the Qur'an. Even though they believe, demonstrating this moral indecision causes such people to live in secret suffering.
Few are aware that the troubles and sorrows they experience is the recompense for the insincerity they conceal inside themselves. They believe that these are "facts of life"—that is, a part of life that almost everybody is apt to experience. However, none of the behavior which turns to sorrow for them is an inescapable fact of life.
People of this type suffer sorrow and torment either because they have set their faces against the religious morality that will protect them from darkness, as Allah tells us in the verse, "Alif Lam Ra. This is a Book We have sent down to you so that you can bring mankind from the darkness to the light, by the permission of their Lord, to the Path of the Almighty, the Praiseworthy" (Surah Ibrahim: 1), or because they do not live the way that religious morality requires.
In that case, what ideas, defective morality, attachments and beliefs are distancing people from religious morality and causing them to demonstrate ignorant behavior? In the following lines we will answer this question and refer to the ugly behavior that turns people away from happiness.
Inability to Fully Comprehend the Perfection of the Morality of the Qur'an
The principal reason why some people continue to suffer the secret sorrows of an ignorant life, even though they say they believe, is their failure to follow completely the path shown by the Qur'an. In the Qur'an, Allah brings the faithful the good news of a beautiful life in this world. But for this, people need to follow His instructions unconditionally and live out the perfection of the morality that He approves. While living out religious morality, if a person acts under the influence of even a single part of ignorant morality, he cannot fully achieve the beautiful life of which the Qur'an speaks. For people to be able to live the life of the world in the way the Qur'an promises, they must understand that there is no lifestyle suitable for the human character other than the morality of the Qur'an.
Pride Is a Cause of Sorrow and Trouble in This World and the Hereafter
Pride is a moral defect that Allah does not like. A proud person is suffering from the disease of conceit. The reason for that conceit is that the person assigns himself a separate identity and regards himself and those around him as creatures independent of Allah. (Surely Allah is beyond that!) Such a person believes that everything he does and everything he possesses is his and his alone. For example, when he achieves any success, he shows off and views himself as a wonderful person. He wants to make those around him feel that he is superior under every circumstance.
In fact, such people can never achieve the true honors they pursue because respect is earned only by following the Qur'an. Allah informs us of this truth:
If the truth were to follow their whims and desires, the heavens and the Earth and everyone in them would have been brought to ruin. No indeed! We have given them their Reminder [that by which one is remembered, i.e., with praise], but they have turned away from it. (Surat al-Muminun: 71)
When a person does not conform to the Qur'an, everything is brought to ruin, as Allah tells us in this verse. In another verse, Allah points out that people often fall into this error and that they seek honor and respect for an illusion of superiority:
They say, "If we return to Madina, the more honorable will drive out the inferior." But all honor belongs to Allah and to His messenger and the believers. But the hypocrites do not know this. (Surat al-Munafiqun: 8)
As the verse tells us, honor and might belong to Allah, and Allah grants this superiority only to those of His followers who demonstrate high moral standards.
Although they say that they believe, some people still remain under the influence of suggestions they have received during their ignorant lives and cannot bear to abandon their pride. The truth is, pride and false superiority are among the foremost factors that drive people to torment.
At the same time, pride is a moral defect which drives people into sin and causes them to commit many immoralities and bad acts which do not conform to the Qur'an:
When he is told to fear Allah, he is seized by pride which drives him to wrongdoing. Hell will be enough for him! What an evil resting-place! (Surat al-Baqara: 206)
A prideful person loves himself more than anybody else. Because of this, in everything that goes against his own advantage, he pushes his own passions and desires to the forefront rather than considering the approval of Allah or his own conscience. This inevitably directs him towards wickedness and low morality.
Though a prideful person sets himself above everyone else and always pursues his own interests, he can never find the happiness and tranquility he seeks.
Prideful people can never taste the many beautiful things experienced by the truly faithful. For example, they can never experience real love. Because they love themselves more than anyone or anything else in the world, they are unable to love others as they should. They cannot openly express the affection they feel for another, and cannot treat others with kindness or show them the warmth, sincerity and friendship that love requires. Because of the cold and formal character which they display, they cannot be loved by others either.
Prideful people cannot accept being defeated in any matter, and because their egos are dominant, they always damage friendships and display behavior that causes tension and unease. They cannot display an optimistic, patient, humble, forgiving and conciliatory character. They want whatever they say to always be accepted. When there is a disagreement, they behave in an obstinate, stiff-necked fashion and refuse to back down. When what they want is not done, they make trouble, which all causes them to be regarded as difficult and quarrelsome. It is very difficult for them to make friendships, to have a friendly chat or experience love, friendship and superior morality. This causes them to become unloved by people around them. Their presence causes discomfort for others, and for them this is a great loss.
Within these people, inability to experience these beautiful feelings secretly turns into a great sorrow. Although they feel a need to love and be loved, make friendships and share superior morality with others, their own pride and conceit simply prevent them from doing so. They feel a deep longing for these things, but cannot attain them, which causes them to continually suffer from secret sorrow.
Another kind of sorrow that pride causes is the fear these people have of making mistakes. Because they claim to be flawless, they also claim to be immune to error. As a result, they feel very troubled whenever they do make a mistake. They aim to protect their prestige in the eyes of others, instead of earning Allah's approval.
Having another person point out their errors or defects is very hurtful to their pride. In such an event, they feel shaken, thinking they have demeaned themselves and lost face in the eyes of others. For this reason, they are constantly living in fear and tension inside themselves. They cannot act as they would like and live a normal life. Part of their minds is always calculating, so that they behave according to the calculation instead of sincerely and from the heart. Because of this, they are under stress and always compelled to act artificially.
For example, where everybody is enjoying themselves, in contrast to everyone else, proud people suffer sorrow. On the one hand, they feel a great desire to join in the entertainment, but on the other, they remain aloof out of fear that they will demean themselves if they demonstrate undignified behavior.
Because of their own approach, these people are forced to live with their obstinacy in a cold and lonely world. If they were able to show a submissive character towards Allah and the faithful, all these troubles would be at an end.
With submission, they would acquire cheerfulness, tranquility and happiness in place of sorrow because a submissive person has no fear of making mistakes. When a mistake he's made is pointed out to him, he immediately turns towards Allah to ask for forgiveness and corrects his intentions and behavior. Moreover, through his devotion, he regards the correction as a blessing for him and is happy to think that it is a means of developing himself further. He sets store not on what others think of him, but on Allah's approval. Obviously the spiritual state and the life of a person who thinks like this are quite different from those of a person who suffers tension and discomfort because of his pride.
Never forget that pride is the basic characteristic of satan. It caused his expulsion from Paradise, his condemnation by Allah and has ensured his abode and torment in Hell. For this reason, people who forget their own feebleness with regards to the power of Allah and enter into competition with others out of unjustified pride should fear the same rewards as satan's. Indeed Allah has pointed out that bitter torment in the Hereafter awaits people who cannot rescue themselves from the value judgments of the society of the ignorant and persist in their obstinacy in the name of personal honor. Allah tells us how those who pretend to worldly greatness will be called upon on that day:
Taste that! You are the mighty one, the noble one! (Surat ad-Dukhan: 49)
True honor and superiority are for people who behave submissively, inoffensively and gently while on Earth. Allah gives the faithful this good news:
If you avoid the serious wrong actions you have been forbidden, We will erase your bad actions from you and admit you by a Gate of Honor. (Surat an-Nisa': 31)
Failure to Consider the Perfection of Destiny and that There Is Goodness in Everything
In one verse of the Qur'an, Allah tells us, "... It may be that you hate something when it is good for you and it may be that you love something when it is bad for you. Allah knows and you do not know" (Surat al-Baqara: 216). During their lives, people may encounter unexpected, unwanted and undesirable events. Every one of these is a special situation created to test them, as we are told in the verse, "He Who created death and life to test which of you is best in action..." (Surat al-Mulk: 2). What people need to do, no matter how difficult and negative what happens to them may seem, is to trust in Allah and be aware that our Lord predestines good for them in every event. The security and submission which a faithful person feels in his heart controls his morality. This is the kind of behavior by which a person puts his trust in Allah.
Putting trust in Allah is a blessing and a great consolation for people, provided by Allah. People who understand the truth declared by Allah in the verse, "… What assailed you on the day the two armies met was by Allah's permission..." (Surah Al 'Imran: 166) surrender themselves to Allah's wisdom, so they both see beauties and blessings at every moment of their lives and show their faith and trust in Allah through their morality. In return for this morality, Allah eases their paths, as we are told in the verse, "...Whoever fears Allah—He will make matters easy for him" (Surat at-Talaq: 4). As Allah informs us in the verse, "It is He Who sent down serenity into the hearts of the believers thereby increasing their faith with more faith—the legions of the heavens and the Earth belong to Allah. Allah is All-Knowing, All-Wise" (Surat al-Fath: 4), in return for the submission which they display, Allah calms the hearts of the faithful and gives them feelings of tranquility and security.
The Qur'an tells us how believers, who know that Allah will transform all events that appear on the surface to be good or bad into something auspicious for His sincere servants, express their submission to Him:
"And why indeed shouldn't we put our trust in Allah when He has guided us to our ways? We will be steadfast however much you harm us. Those who trust put their trust in Allah." (Surah Ibrahim: 12)
A person who trusts in Allah and relies upon Him suffers no pain or grief. This is Allah's promise to His devoted followers. In the Qur'an, we are told this:
Those who say, "Our Lord is Allah," and then go straight will feel no fear and will know no sorrow. (Surat al-Ahqaf: 13)
As we can see, if Allah wills, submitting to Him makes everything easier. In the absence of submission, every detail of one's life turns into an additional difficulty, trouble and sorrow. Every task becomes more complicated, even insoluble. The most ordinary and basic occurrences, and those that are easiest to resolve, grow to problematic proportions in the eyes of those who are not submissive. Even when they claim they believe in Allah, such people may forget how destiny is woven in a wonderful pattern or become trapped in the idea that events occur independently of Him. (Surely Allah is beyond that!) Because of this, they cannot look positively at events that happen to them and see the goodness in events. They live in continual fear and concern. They experience tension brought about by their lack of submission by thinking up negative possibilities, even when these are not at all likely. In the same way, they find something to describe as a drawback, even in affairs that are running perfectly smoothly.
In addition, because they do not consider that every event they experience is from Allah, they get into terrible troubles by believing that they have to solve every difficulty or problem by themselves. In fact, no matter what they do, it is impossible to solve anything without Allah's willing it. For this reason, a submissive person will attempt every solution and make every effort he can. But because he knows that Allah will bring about the outcome, he does all this calmly and comfortably.
The problems suffered by people who lack submissiveness are frequently encountered in everyday life. For example, you will have often run across the rage and the angry words of a person who's missed his bus on the way to work. He cannot pull himself together for several minutes. Even if he finds another way of getting to work on time, he is upset by this incident throughout the day. He will become stressed and torment himself by thinking that everything will go wrong on a day that's begun badly. If instead of this, he considers the possible benefits that Allah may grant through this event, he would not become so troubled. He would go on hoping for Allah's approval because he surrenders himself to Allah even when everything appears to be going wrong.
In the same way, a person injured in an accident cannot be protected from the worry into which he falls when he behaves with a lack of trust in Allah towards what has befallen him. Because he has forgotten that it was Allah Who created this event, he looks for the fault in the driver of the vehicle or in himself and gets angry. In fact, all his worry is entirely groundless. In such a situation, thinking about just one positive aspect of what happened is enough to rescue the person from this irreconcilable concern.
For example, considering that the outcome could have been not injury but death is a reason to be grateful to Allah and a source of calm and cheerfulness. Or the patient should take pleasure in thinking that injury is a means of feeling close to death and the Hereafter, and that this brings him very close to Allah and increases his fear of Allah. Perhaps because of this he will be rescued from pride and vanity, and his submission will make Allah pleased with him. This will bring him great blessings and benefits in the Hereafter. Thus a person who believes with certainty in Allah and the Day of Judgment can understand the benefits and blessings Allah has created in any situation.
People who have only a superficial faith may often behave with lack of submission. And because of this, in contrast with true believers, their lives may be filled with troubles and sorrows. If such people submit to Allah in the way the faithful are instructed to do in the verse, "[Believers are] those to whom people said, 'The people have gathered against you, so fear them.' But that merely increased their faith and they said, 'Allah is enough for us and the Best of Guardians'" (Surah Al 'Imran: 173), the sorrows they suffer will come to an end.
In the Qur'an, Allah makes mention of a negative moral characteristic commonly found within man: "... When We let a man taste mercy from Us, he exults in it. But if something bad strikes him for what he has done, he is ungrateful" (Surat ash-Shura: 48). Certainly some people are ungrateful to Allah in spite of the countless blessings amongst which they live. Although they may never have considered this, such poor moral behavior towards Allah is one of the principal reasons for their unhappiness. In the verse, "Remember Me—I will remember you. Give thanks to Me and do not be ungrateful" (Surat al-Baqara: 152), Allah orders people to avoid ingratitude. Despite having faith, their failure to appreciate Allah's mercy and all the fine things He has granted them will naturally grow into a torment for them.
The fundamental reason for these people's showing such poor moral behavior is that they have not fully grasped the essence of religion. Their inability to consider the perfect structure of destiny, or that there is goodness in everything whether it appears good or bad, causes them to regard events negatively. In every event, there are really hundreds of details in which a person can find a blessing and take pleasure. But because of their distorted vision, these people cannot see the blessings and be grateful as they should. Some see these beautiful things which have come to them from Allah and think they own them and hence, do not show the necessary gratitude—just as Qarun, who was given so much wealth that he could not even carry his keys, behaved ungratefully towards Allah.
As we are told, "He [Qarun] said, 'I have only been given it because of knowledge I have...'" (Surat al-Qasas: 78). Such people start thinking that they deserve the things they possess. For this reason, they do not regard them as blessings that bring joy and happiness. Because they have not completely purged worldly ambition from their hearts, what they do possess does not seem enough for them. They show a contrary character towards their blessings because they are conceited, yet dissatisfied.
These people also forget that it's Allah Who gives blessings and takes them away and Who increases or reduces them. For this reason, whenever they suffer a loss, they are plunged into deep disappointment. In fact, this is one of Allah's tests—an important learning opportunity for people to understand the true value of whatever they have.
People should take advantage of the opportunities that Allah provides them and try to earn Allah's approval with a grateful approach. We are told in the Qur'an that people who are ungrateful to Allah while in the midst of His blessings may suffer the loss of those same blessings as a result. The verse which tells us this truth is:
Allah makes an example of a city which was safe and at peace, its provision coming to it plentifully from every side. Then it showed ingratitude for Allah's blessings, so Allah made it wear the robes of hunger and fear for what it did. (Surat an-Nahl: 112)
If people like those described in the verse show gratitude instead of ingratitude, Allah will increase their blessings. People who believe live with the tranquility and happiness this morality brings. Because they look at everything with the eyes of faith and wisdom, they immediately notice the blessings and the fine and beautiful things around them. Because they are not ambitious for worldly advantages, they know how to be satisfied with what they have. They maintain this morality even under the most difficult conditions and in the most troubling circumstances. Rather than seeing anything bad in an event and letting it make them unhappy, they know how to see that event's good aspects. In return for this superior morality, Allah rewards His sincere followers by increasing their blessings still further, as we are told in the verse:
... your Lord announced: "If you are grateful, I will certainly give you increase, but if you are ungrateful, My punishment is severe." (Surah Ibrahim: 7)
In the Qur'an, Allah tells us of a weakness in people's natures with the verse, "... people are prone to selfish greed..." (Surat an-Nisa': 128). Indeed, man is prone to succumbing to selfish desires. He is ready to put himself first at every opportunity, look after his own selfish benefits and love himself above all others. If a person is not sufficiently strong-willed in his fear of Allah and in superior morality, this will prompt him to selfish desires such as "Let only me be loved," or "Let me be admired" and "Let me be praised." Such an immoral approach invariably puts the comfort, tranquility and happiness of others in second place. Instead of thinking such self-sacrificing thoughts as, "First, let me ensure the comfort of others," or "Let it be to their advantage and if necessary, I'll sacrifice my own benefits," and "Let others be happy and let me take pleasure from their happiness," he will come to act with the idea of "Me first, no matter what!"
Believers conquer this tendency in their natures and live out the morality which Allah approves. But some people fall into the error of thinking "I already fulfill certain religious obligations, what can be wrong if occasionally I look after my own interests?" and regard this as a harmless deficiency in their morality. They go further and view protecting their own advantages as "a fact of life." In other words, even though the Qur'an tells them this is wrong, they privately believe that to stay alive and prosper, they need to put their own interests first. They think that nobody else can look out for their interests and that others will suppress and harm them. Moreover, when everyone else demonstrates this morality and looks after his own interests, but one of them is generous and self-sacrificing, they believe this one is making a fool of himself. Because of these ideas, they cannot direct their thinking toward self-sacrifice. In fact, there is only one Power Who can protect people's advantages, and that Power is Allah. Neither selfishness nor the pursuit of his own interests can bring a person any advantage.
Allah explains this in a verse:
If Allah afflicts you with harm, no one can remove it except Him. If He desires good for you, no one can avert His favor. He bestows it on whichever of His servants He wills. He is Ever-Forgiving, Most Merciful. (Surah Yunus: 107)
People's egotism emerges most clearly through their passion for life and property. For example, when a person is asked to lend something he owns, he may lie and say, "I don't have it with me," because he doesn't want to hand it over. This selfish tendency manifests itself at every stage of life. Such people want a fine meal to be served to them alone. To avoid sharing it with others, they take pains to ensure that they dine when nobody else is in the house. When sharing is unavoidable, they keep the choicest parts of the meal for themselves and offer the others what is left. In the same way, when there is a difficult job to be done, they use various excuses to escape doing it and try to arrange for someone else to do it. They regard their own selves as more important than anybody else's. For this reason they still seek ways of escaping work, even if they have nothing to do and others are very tired or busy.
This attitude that such people conceal in their hearts is not limited to property and food, but becomes apparent in many other subjects. One whose soul is not cleansed of egotism will stoop to many things. He always wants his own wishes to be carried out and his to be the last word. For example, when many others are present, he wants to listen to his choice of music and watch his choice of TV programs. He never regards the wishes of others as a priority. He rushes to grab the most comfortable seat. When work is being divided up, he "volunteers" for the easiest tasks and dumps the most difficult on others. In situations that require effort or self-sacrifice, he acts slowly and is always one step behind. In conversation, he regards pushing himself forward as a talent, rather than behaving with humility.
The truth is, behaving in this way to obtain miniscule advantages pushes anyone who claims to be a believer and knows about the morality of the Qur'an into great hypocrisy. Insincerity always causes substantial uneasiness. A person who continually pursues his own interests must undertake massive efforts to deceive others around him. He lives with the fear that this ongoing secret hypocrisy will be discovered.
Sincere Muslims never experience such fears. We are told in the Qur'an that if need be, sincere Muslims put their lives and their goods in jeopardy to earn Allah's approval, act with no expectation of any return and put the needs of other Muslims ahead of their own:
Those who were already settled in the abode [Madina], and in faith, before they came, love those who have migrated to them and do not find in their hearts any need for what they have been given and prefer them to themselves even if they themselves are needy. It is the people who are safeguarded from the avarice of their own selves who are successful. (Surat al-Hashr: 9)
They [the believers] give food, despite their love for it, to the poor and orphans and captives. "We feed you only out of desire for the Face of Allah. We do not want any repayment from you or any thanks. Truly We fear from our Lord a glowering, calamitous Day." So Allah has safeguarded them from the evil of that Day and has made them meet with radiance and pure joy. (Surat al-Insan: 8-11)
As we can see, Allah brings Muslims radiance and light because of their self-sacrificing morality. For the selfish, in contrast, Allah creates a secret torment. These selfish people believe that they are intelligent and are setting traps for others, but really fall into their own trap. This is one of the secrets the Qur'an reveals to us. One who displays self-sacrificing morality may seem to tire himself more because he accepts more responsibilities, expends his goods and money, and renounces his own rights and desires. But he lives a comfortable, happy and beautiful life with a clear conscience. A selfish and egocentric person lives a troubled, difficult life in the attempt to protect his own interests, the slightest threat to which is enough to make him uncomfortable and unhappy.
The Tension Created in People by Hatred and Anger
Among moral characteristics, hatred and anger play a very substantial role in causing people to fall into trouble and sorrow. In daily life, people may come across unpleasant behavior as well as many events which do not please them. In such circumstances, some immediately become angry and do not stop there, but turn their inner anger into hatred.
The faithful pay no attention to this tendency within themselves because Allah defines those of His followers who earn His approval and reach Paradise, as "those who give in times of both ease and hardship, those who control their rage and pardon other people—Allah loves the good-doers" (Surah Al 'Imran: 134). Because of this, the faithful take refuge in Allah from anger and hatred and pray like this:
... "Our Lord, forgive us and our brothers who preceded us in faith and do not put any rancor in our hearts towards those who believe. Our Lord, You are All-Gentle, Most Merciful." (Surat al-Hashr: 10)
For the faithful, feelings of hatred or rage against other believers should really be feared and avoided because in the Qur'an, Allah tells us that the faithful are one another's guardians: "Your friend is only Allah and His messenger and those who believe: those who perform prayer and give alms, and bow" (Surat al-Ma'ida: 55). Faced with people who love Allah, seek His approval, live out the morality of the Qur'an and devote their lives to serving their religion, feeling such emotions as hatred or anger shows that faith has not fully taken root in a person's heart. Such insincerity towards Allah and His followers makes a person unable to live in the tranquility and happiness of faith as he should.
People like this cannot at all protect themselves against the effects of unexpected events, which, in fact, they could easily tolerate. A simple incident or somebody else's innocent mistake is enough to enrage them. Because sometimes they see only through the eyes of anger, they may perceive even perfectly normal behavior as infuriating. Under anger's influence, they cannot think clearly or evaluate events fairly and objectively. More important, their momentary desire to satisfy their anger take precedence before a great many other goals. Although they know that Allah wants for them to conquer their anger and behave charitably and forgivingly, being under the influence of their lower selves, they cannot keep themselves from growing angry. In the Qur'an, Allah tells people to "make allowances for people, command what is right, and turn away from the ignorant" (Surat al-A'raf: 199). Because of this, a believer seeking Allah's approval will forgive the faults of his brothers and sisters among the faithful, even if they made serious mistakes.
Moreover, these people shouldn't deceive themselves by hiding their hatred and anger inside and not showing it outwardly. What Allah wants is for people not to feel these emotions, even secretly. They also forget that Allah knows what they conceal in their hearts. Allah tells us in a verse:
Or did those with sickness in their hearts imagine that Allah would not expose their malevolence? (Surah Muhammad: 29)
As with all moral defects, hatred and anger harm those who harbor them far more than they injure anyone else. Most of the time, others are not aware that they are feeling like this, though at the time, the people feeling so can think of nothing else. So long as they cannot cast out the anger in their hearts, they find it impossible to concentrate on any other matter, use their intelligence, do work or even hold a normal conversation with others.
Nor can the physical effects of anger be taken lightly. This type of moral defect is usually the root of such ailments as internal upsets, headaches, stomachaches and insomnia.
These moral defects arise from forgetfulness of Allah, their destiny, and of the fact that they are being tested and will be called upon to give an account in the Hereafter. Reflecting on these things, it is impossible to think for hours, days or even weeks about another's behavior and harbor anger in one's heart as a result. Anyone who fears Allah in the true sense is aware that his lower self deceives him on such matters and behaves as Allah instructs us:
As for those who guard against evil, when they are bothered by visitors from satan, they remember and immediately see clearly. (Surat al-A'raf: 201)
Hatred and anger prevent any true conception of friendship, love and togetherness from developing. Such people always remain friendless and alone; and it is impossible for a friendless, lonely person to be happy and enjoy blessings. People have been created to derive pleasure from sharing friendship, love, affection and joy with others, and from being in the company of those they trust. Because loneliness and friendlessness are against human nature, they weary people and plunge them into sorrow. No matter how much people may claim, "I am happy to be alone. I love nobody except myself and take comfort from this," they are not sincere. They remain unhappy because of their hatred of others, or their inability to find anyone with whom they can form a friendship. They say such things only to make others believe they are happy.
People who cannot make friends often befriend dogs, cats and birds out of desperateness, which is the motive behind their becoming so devoted to them and even talking to these animal pets as if they were human. In short, hatred and anger are against human nature and inevitably drive people into loneliness, unhappiness and helplessness.
In Paradise, there is no place for hatred and anger, as we are told in these verses: "'Enter them in peace, in complete security!' We will strip away any rancor in their hearts—brothers, resting on couches face-to-face" (Surat al-Hijr: 46-47).
This being the case, a believer whose aim is Paradise needs to purge himself of these moral defects.
Affectation: A Characteristic that Wearies and Discomforts People
The catalyst that drives people into affected behavior is their concealing any number of secret thoughts in their hearts. Because their internal and external behaviors are contradictory, these people find it extremely difficult to behave naturally and sincerely from within. They are always concealing and simulating, trying to deceive others by putting on an act. For this reason their expressions are not authentic, their voices are not their natural tones, and what they say seldom reflects their true thoughts. Because of their pretended behavior, it is impossible for such people to form relationships. They cover up their real characters and try to keep secret their real opinions about others, their true interpretations of events, and their own weaknesses, ambitions and desires. Even when their affected behavior and the situation in which they find themselves is explained to them and they are asked to be sincere, still they respond with the same affected reactions. As a result, it's never possible to understand these people's true character and discover their real ideas. In consequence, it's hard to be comfortable around them because anyone who covers up his real self may behave unexpectedly and badly at any time.
By contrast, one of the main characteristics of a believer is trustworthiness. What affords him this trustworthiness is his fearing Allah, taking refuge in Him, and his sincere effort to correct any mistakes or defects instead of trying to hide them. Behavior contrary to this is first of all, insincerity towards Allah and secondly, hypocrisy toward other people.
Hypocrisy brings pain because it is as difficult and troublesome as sincerity is easy and comfortable. Insincerity requires that a person put on an act throughout life, without a moment's respite. Concentrating to maintain the unnecessary pose and continually planning and calculating are very difficult. In the same way, curbing the genuine desires that arise from within and never living a natural life drive people into serious suffering. To turn the bad thoughts in their hearts into positive thinking, adopt superior morality and ideas and as a result, be unhesitating in behaving sincerely, naturally and comfortably is much easier than to live that way.
Merely imitating a religious and moral life, while pretending genuine sincerity towards Allah, causes those who do so to suffer loss in this world and the Hereafter. Because of this, nothing should be left in a person's heart which is not in keeping with the Qur'an. One should behave with the utmost sincerity, directness and honesty towards Allah and His followers.
This is a serious behavioral defect that arises from devotion to worldly life. Allah tells us that such an emotion is lodged in the human soul in this verse of the Qur'an: "Or do they in fact envy other people for the bounty Allah has granted them? ..." (Surat an-Nisa': 54). We are told that for human salvation, it is necessary to cleanse the soul of such evil: "He who purifies it has succeeded" (Surat ash-Shams: 9). The contrary, that such an evil in the soul drives people to destruction, is made clear in the verse, "He who covers it up has failed" (Surat ash-Shams: 10). The damage and torment that envy brings down on people in this world clearly demonstrate the form which the failure referred to by the verse may take in this world.
Among the ignorant, the view of envy is very different from that given in the Qur'an. People assume that envy is a natural human characteristic, present in everybody to a greater or lesser degree. They regard as strange people who say, "I am not at all envious." As for themselves, they are jealous of almost everything possessed by the people they live near: their intelligence, appearance, goods, children, houses, jobs, and so on.
Instead of sharing in their pleasure, envious people feel uncomfortable at others' virtue, beauty and success. Their resentfulness leaves them deeply saddened by the blessings that others enjoy. This inward emotion can even make them want to harm others. Because of this, in the Qur'an Allah warns the faithful:
Say: "I seek refuge with the Lord of Daybreak, from the evil of what He has created and from the evil of the darkness when it gathers and from the evil of women who blow on knots and from the evil of an envier when he envies." (Surat al-Falaq: 1-5)
The faithful know that this characteristic, harbored by ignorant people, is basically bad. In contrast, they praise others' good characteristics and pray to Allah for the good and the benefit of one another. Actually, anyone who knows the Qur'an and lives out its morality cannot contemplate doing otherwise. But in spite of this, some people say they do believe, but cannot achieve this moral approach. Such people do not regard envy as natural, as in the community of the ignorant who defend it openly. Yet they are driven in this direction by the blandishments of their own lower selves. Some deceive themselves by thinking that in certain situations, feeling this emotion is natural and not contrary to the Qur'an.
For example, as a natural desire—and one which is in accordance with the Qur'an—they want to be foremost amongst the faithful in matters of affection, friendship and reliability. Of course, any believer wants to gain the affection, friendship and trust of Allah and His faithful followers, as much as possible. But to the same extent, he also wants other believers to acquire these blessings. If another can demonstrate morality superior to his own, then he should praise and admire him. Envy has no place in the morality of the faithful. But envious people may confuse admiring others with being jealous of them.
For every one of these people, becoming familiar with religious morality brings an understanding of the clear distinction between good and evil and right and wrong. The verses of the Qur'an show people and their consciences what arises from envy, and what from natural desires. Despite this, some go on deceiving themselves by methods all based on their insincerity towards Allah. Although they could live in the tranquil morality of the believers, their insincerity forces them to secretly experience the torment of living out the morality of the ignorant. People who keep envy alive in their hearts live in a world that's perpetually unhappy. The very existence of others who are more attractive and more talented, and the praise and affection granted to those people by others, cause them sorrow and suffering—because they do not know how to be satisfied with the blessings Allah has given them, nor how to be grateful and consequently, happy.
The only way to be rescued from these secret torments is to cleanse one's soul of such bad characteristics and evaluate everything according to the verses of the Qur'an. Anyone who can do this knows that the real owner of all the good things of life, of all goods and property, is Allah; and that in the world, Allah tests people's morality by granting them these things in different measures. Because he acts in the light of this truth, every beautiful thing can become a pleasant blessing for him.
Falsehood is a bad moral characteristic, but widespread in communities of the ignorant. A great majority believes that there is no problem about telling a lie which they, to their own minds, have cleverly planned that others cannot detect it because such people regard themselves as being responsible solely to others. They believe that once they have deceived and convinced others, no problem remains. But in fact, the whole of human responsibility is to Allah. In the Qur'an, Allah instructs people to avoid lying in the verse, "... have done with telling lies" (Surat al-Hajj: 30). No matter how clever a lie may be or how well it deceives others, Allah knows the truth and He sees that the person is lying.
Believers know that lying is a type of behavior which Allah has forbidden and they strongly abstain from telling falsehoods on even the most trivial matter. But some in their ignorant lives, influenced by their own selfish drives, persist in this moral defect which should be left behind. When asked, these people will naturally deny that they would ever do anything at all that is forbidden by Allah, but under pressure, their desires may still prompt them into lying.
A person telling a lie, who knows this is forbidden by Allah, may at first believe that he has protected himself or gained something, but this is not true. Lying troubles a person's conscience and makes him uncomfortable. Such a person always remains afraid that his lies will be discovered and that as a result, other people will demean him. He lives with this tension all the time. Deep inside, he feels uncomfortable because he knows he has done something forbidden by Allah. Furthermore, once a person tells a lie, he feels the need to tell more lies, one after another, in order not to let his first lie be discovered. Each time he is drawn deeper into the swamp of falsehoods and feels stress in his heart because he cannot escape from it.
In addition, liars are suspected right away by those around them and as a result, are neither trusted nor respected. This makes a liar feel even lower. People who tell lies to exalt and benefit themselves find that the reward they receive is exactly the opposite.
Allah tells us in the Qur'an that such people are acting under the influence of satan:
Shall I tell you upon whom the satans descend? They descend on every evil liar. They give them a hearing, and most of them are liars. (Surat ash-Shu'ara': 221-223)
As with all forms of insincerity, the solution is to take refuge in Allah with sincere repentance and live out the morality of the Qur'an in full. If people do this, their worldly troubles will end and they will be able to hope for salvation from eternal torment in the Hereafter.
Emotionalism is a significant factor that makes people lead troubled lives. It is not in conformity with the approach instructed by Allah in the Qur'an, but most people do not notice its danger. Indeed most of the time, being emotional attracts others' praise, admiration and encouragement. It is deemed to be a manifestation of affection, whereas in fact it creates torment within people who are distanced from the morality of the Qur'an. True affection is a genuine and sincere emotion which is shown with neither hesitation nor conceit. As for emotionalism, it springs from concealing affection or from directing toward people the love which ought to be felt for Allah. Those who behave in this way nurture feelings that border on the idolatrous toward those whom they love. Because of this, they live in constant anxiety.
Emotionalism is contrary to religion. The Qur'an brings people the ability to observe events objectively and interpret them logically. Emotionalism, on the other hand, distances people from reality, pushes them into illogical thinking, and directs into making wrong decisions. For people who grasp faith and the morality of the Qur'an, there is no positive side to emotionalism. They realize that this mindset drives people into sorrow, disappointment and harm. Because of this, they permit no such weakness in their hearts, either openly or secretly.
People of faith who are unaware that these aspects of emotionalism are contrary to the Qur'an or who place no importance on them may show weakness in this matter. Sometimes they merely keep it concealed inside themselves, and other times let it openly control their behavior.
One of its clearest indications is an uncontrollable tendency to cry, from sorrow over something a person cannot cope with and from failure to submit with heartfelt calm and gratification to whatever destiny Allah has created.
Under the influence of emotionalism, these people have a permanently sorrowful appearance. They will definitely find something in every event they experience to upset and discomfort them. Because of this, they live with a continual tendency towards weeping, but a person's tears should not be all that comes to mind. Sometimes they cry with genuine tears, but sometimes go on weeping even though not shedding tears physically. This is the wailing of the body. In this spiritual state, a person's eyes may moisten slightly. A certain pallor caused by sorrow shows itself on their faces. There is no strength or life in their voices. Their looks are stiff and grieving. There is a heaviness and weariness about them, and a deep hopelessness prevails in their speech. Their bodies cannot perform functions as they should because of intense stress. For this reason, such people suffer not only spiritual depression but serious physical problems as well. At times, when they are deep in this spiritual state, even were the world's greatest blessings offered to them, they would be unable to take any pleasure from them. None of them will be effective in rescuing them from their sorrow. While they could live in the calm and comfort of faith and submission, they create a world full of pain for themselves with their own efforts.
In the Qur'an Allah reveals the following with regard to unbelievers: "Let them laugh little and weep much... " (Surat at-Tawba: 82). That is, crying, grieving and feeling sorrow are characteristic of unbelievers. In the same way, verses of the Qur'an often refer to the unhappiness and miserable state of unbelievers and the trouble-filled lives they lead. In the Qur'an, the faithful are encouraged to be cheerful always; and a great many verses give them good news about matters that will bring them joy in this world and the Hereafter. This being the case, if a person who professes faith is continually filled with sorrow or is in a spiritual state tending towards the tearful, this indicates that he is superficially evaluating a number of matters, including submission to Allah, and is not in a truly religious state of mind.
For these reasons, a person who says he has faith should not regard grieving and being sorrowful as normal for any reason. Rather than give way to such feelings he should take refuge in Allah. He should not regard living a life of such torment as natural, when it is possible to be friends with Allah and live in tranquility by trusting in Him. As Allah points out in the Qur'an, "They will say, 'Our Lord, our miserable destiny overpowered us. We were misguided people. Our Lord, remove us from it! Then if we revert again, we will definitely be wrongdoers" (Surat al-Muminun: 106-107), we should take warning from the situation of people, defeated by unhappiness in the life of this world, who enter the Hereafter in a state of regret. We should aim to attain a true and unshakable faith.
Irritability and Sulk
Another behavioral defect that causes people to suffer sorrow is irritability. Irritable people may become offended at any event they witness or anything they hear under the influence of the spiritual state they are in, even though there is no justification for such a reaction. The words spoken may have nothing to do with them. Or because of their irritability, such people may completely misunderstand what is said to them. Instead of seeing the sense in what is said, they draw totally unwarranted conclusions and use these to fuel their resentment.
Those around them cannot understand why irritable people behave as they do because they seldom say openly what they are vexed about, what is upsetting them. Other bystanders try various methods of working out the problem, but most of the time they cannot figure out why these people have been offended.
One of the reasons for such people's irritability is that they do not regard those around them as friends and do not trust them. Invariably they interpret others' words and behavior as hostile. Another reason is these people's lack of tranquility and the insincerity inside. Because they are aware of their own unscrupulousness, they think others may notice it and throw it up to them at any moment.
Allah tells us of this characteristic of hypocritical people:
When you see them, their outward form appeals to you, and if they speak you listen to what they say. But they are like propped-up planks of wood. They imagine every cry to be against them. They are the enemy, so beware of them. May Allah destroy them! How they are perverted! (Surat al-Munafiqun: 4)
Some people who do not really take offense deliberately behave as though they did and from this, try to derive an undeserved advantage. By sulking, they want to make the person they are speaking with feel sorry and back down. Believers do not stoop to such methods. In the morality of the Qur'an, if the other person behaves ignorantly, wrongly or thoughtlessly, there is still no reason for irritability or sulk: A believer knows that every event, every act and every word has been created according to the destiny predetermined by Allah. Behaving badly in spite of this is a mistake committed against Allah. In addition, the faithful know that tolerant, forgiving and affectionate behavior is necessary for Allah's approval.
Allah indicates the importance of this in the Qur'an:
The repayment of a bad action is one equivalent to it. But if someone pardons and puts things right, his reward is with Allah. Certainly He does not love wrongdoers. (Surat ash-Shura: 40)
Irritable people cannot be friends with anybody. They cannot love anyone and cannot be loved. They live in continual trouble and sorrow. Because they take everything amiss, they are always lonely. It is very important for every Muslim to accept that irritability and vexation with others are not in harmony with the morality of the Qur'an. A Muslim, even when he is in the right, speaks openly to others about matters that upset him; and if he is in the wrong, he corrects his behavior. If somebody else is behaving incorrectly, he is not put out by that person, but instead warns him by reminding him of the verses of the Qur'an.
Avoiding Thoughts About Matters that Destroy Worldly Ambition
Despite having faith, one important reason why some are troubled at times is their great desire for worldly goods and their reluctance to think about matters that will remove this same desire.
From the Qur'an, we understand that the subjects which trap people in worldly life are always the same. Among the most important are the drive to accumulate property, fondness for one's life, the desire to gain prestige and avoid losing respect in the eyes of other people.
Allah tells us about people who are trapped in worldly ambition by these matters in the following verse:
To mankind, the love of worldly appetites is painted in glowing colors: women and children, and heaped-up mounds of gold and silver, and horses with fine markings, and livestock and fertile farmland. All that is merely the enjoyment of the life of this world. The best homecoming is in the presence of Allah. (Surah Al 'Imran: 14)
All these are surely the blessings of the life of this world. Allah has created people in a way for us to take pleasure from them. Aware that each of these worldly pleasures is a blessing from Allah, the right thing to do is to treat them with gratitude. It is wrong to attach more importance to these blessings than the life in the Hereafter and thus become trapped in a passion for them.
The principal ways that enable people to overcome worldly ambition are dealt with at length in the Qur'an. These are the subjects that most people do not care to think about. They can be listed as follows:
1. Consideration of the fleeting nature of life
Some avoid thinking about the temporary nature of worldly life—not, however, because of their inability to understand this truth. Almost every day, they meet with a great many incidents that make it clear. At various times they witness loved ones going bankrupt, having accidents, even losing their lives. Most importantly, they witness that everyone, including themselves, moves closer to death with every passing day. The loss of beauty that comes with aging, illnesses, incapacities and weaknesses are more than enough to let people understand the transitory nature of this worldly life.
Despite all, some people avoid thinking about these matters, being aware that doing so will loosen their attachment to the world. Considering that life is very short; that one can lose it unexpectedly at any moment for any reason; and that prized qualities such as beauty, wealth and respect can be wiped out at any time will place on these worldly things only the value they deserve. As a result, one will understand the irrationality of desiring temporal possessions and direct himself towards gaining Allah's approval and eternal life in the Hereafter.
At times, this habit of avoidance from thought—common in ignorant societies—can be observed even in people who claim to be believers. Of course, their outlook on life differs greatly from those people of the ignorant societies. But in spite of understanding the true nature of the life of the world, they err in not living this truth as they should. They know perfectly well that they should not be ambitious in any matter concerning the life of the world and that their lives will end within 60 to 70 years, at most. They are also aware that they must make an effort towards the eternal life in the Hereafter and take every opportunity to tell this to others. However, they fail to adopt this realization into their daily lives.
An example will illustrate. One who buys a brand-new car may take every opportunity to admit that it is only one of the fleeting blessings of worldly life and thus, it's unreasonable to be passionate about this car. However, in case someone wants to borrow the car in an emergency, he may forget what he has said and succumb to a protective passion for his car. Though he has condemned such behaviors at every opportunity up till then, he fails to act correctly when faced with such a test in real life.
These people ignore these moral matters when they conflict with their interests, despite their consciences' awareness. This causes serious trouble with their conscience, and a spiritual torment brought about by these people's failure to live what they know to be right. Therefore, they continually experience a troubled spiritual state.
Aging, illness, loss of property and others' respect are major causes of tension for anyone with worldly passions. A person who keeps in mind that he will die one day and can take none of his money and property with him cannot feel a passion for anything. He uses everything generously in the way Allah approves; he concentrates on the eternal life of the Hereafter rather than the fleeting life of this world and works towards this end.
2. Remembering that there is no deity but Allah
Every occurrence in the universe happens through Allah's power and will. There is no power other than Allah. In the Qur'an, Allah reveals this truth as follows:
Allah, there is no deity but Him, the Living, the Self-Sustaining. He is not subject to drowsiness or sleep. Everything in the heavens and the Earth belongs to Him. Who can intercede with Him except by His permission? He knows what is before them and what is behind them but they cannot grasp any of His knowledge save what He wills. His Footstool encompasses the heavens and the Earth, and their preservation does not tire Him. He is the Most High, the Magnificent. (Surat al-Baqara: 255)
Despite this fact, the vast majority fail to believe in Allah with a pure faith. As Allah tells us in the verse:
If you ask them, "Who created the heavens and the Earth?" they will say, "Allah." Say: "So what do you think? If Allah desires harm for me, can those you call upon besides Allah remove His harm? Or if He desires mercy for me, can they withhold His mercy?" Say: "Allah is enough for me. All those who truly trust put their trust in Him." (Surat az-Zumar: 38)
Some accept the power of Allah, but also adopt deities other than Him. But these deities that people exalt and whose goodwill they try to earn are nothing but creations which have no power to do anything and cannot even bring themselves any benefit. In the Qur'an, Allah tells the impotence of deities other than Him as follows:
But they have adopted deities apart from Him which do not create anything but are themselves created. They have no power to harm or help themselves. They have no power over death or life or resurrection. (Surat al-Furqan: 3)
Those you call on besides Allah are servants just like yourselves. Call on them and let them respond to you if you are telling the truth. (Surat al-A'raf: 194)
But keep in mind that when asked, most people never refer to these beings they exalt as deities and do not accept that they regard them as such. Yet all their behaviors reveal that they do so. While they need only to ask for help from Allah and be grateful to Him, these people seek help and assistance from the false deities they believe to have power. One needs to fear only Him and seek only His approval, but they set the goodwill of these false deities above His approval.
Some, on the other hand, make deities of themselves—as we are told in the verse, "Have you seen him who has taken his whims and desires to be his deity? Will you then be his guardian?" (Surat al-Furqan: 43). Despite their total impotence in the face of Allah's power, these people believe they are independent beings. Their accomplishments, they believe, are of their own making, and their failures are the result of their own mistakes.
Of course, this is the result of people's failure to appreciate Allah's power as they should. The fact is that, there is no deity but Allah. As is the case with every occurrence in the universe, only by Allah's will and His order do these events take place. Only Allah can answer people's prayers, grant their aspirations, ease their troubles, bring peace and security to hearts and ensure them beautiful lives. As Allah tells us in the Qur'an, "... All might belongs to Allah..." (Surah Yunus: 65).
Some people's heedlessness on this subject prevents them from living the peace of faith as they should and cause them trouble in a number of ways. From others they expect love, respect, affection, friendship, self-sacrifice, patience, forgiveness and many other blessings. Likewise, they believe that they will achieve them by their own acts, efforts and their own will. However, only Allah can make an individual be loved, respected and admired. No matter how hard he tries, a person can never affect the hearts of others. Allah places love in a person's heart as a blessing resulting from his observance of the morality of the Qur'an. Likewise, no one can create love for another in his own heart. It is Allah Who gives him this emotion. Whatever people acquire materially or spiritually is created by Allah. Allah tells us this in the Qur'an:
... Say, "All favor is in Allah's Hand, and He gives it to whoever He wills. Allah is All-Encompassing, All-Knowing." He picks out for His mercy whoever He wills. Allah's favor is indeed immense. (Surah Al 'Imran: 73-74)
If Allah helps you, no one can vanquish you. If He forsakes you, who can help you after that? So the believers should put their trust in Allah. (Surah Al 'Imran: 160)
Setting the approval of others above Allah's approval causes considerable trouble. Living according to others' rules and ideas rather than those of the Qur'an also has the same effect, for no one can please a large number of people at the same time. When a particular behavior pleases one person, it angers somebody else. This is a vicious circle, and such an individual is doomed to live an uneasy life. In the Qur'an, Allah reveals the following about people of this kind:
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)
For a person who seeks only Allah's approval, everything is easy. The Qur'an informs him of all the deeds to which he should conform, and which he should avoid, during his life. What others think and how they behave towards him is of no importance. As long as he conforms to Allah's will, a sincere Muslim lives in the hope of finding salvation both in this world and the next. Consequently, he lives out a far more tranquil, simple and beautiful life than those who feel compelled to judge themselves against those around them and seek the approval of others.
Allah describes the situation of people who seek the approval of others in this verse: "Most of them do not believe in Allah without associating others with Him" (Surah Yusuf: 106). For this reason, without excepting himself, everyone should think carefully on the subject of idolatry and regulate his beliefs and his life according to this truth. As Allah tells us:
Allah does not forgive anything being associated with Him, but He forgives whoever He wills for anything other than that. Anyone who associates something with Allah has committed a terrible crime. (Surat an-Nisa': 48)
Everybody should take a warning from this important truth which Allah reveals to us in the verse:
That is part of the wisdom your Lord has revealed to you. Do not set up another deity together with Allah and so be thrown into Hell, blamed and driven out. (Surat al-Isra': 39)
In this section, you have seen the various reasons behind the secret sorrows that people suffer. In times of trouble, true faith never creates feelings of distress or hopelessness. If a person succumbs to such feelings, he first needs to reconsider his faith and remind himself of the verses of the Qur'an and of the facts in the light of the Qur'an. Otherwise, no matter how much one claims to have faith in Allah, he will definitely suffer unless he lives as faith requires and regulates his life and attitudes according to the verses of the Qur'an. As Allah tells us, the hearts of those who do not live by the religion are always troubled:
When Allah desires to guide someone, He expands his breast to Islam. When He desires to misguide someone, He makes his breast narrow and constricted as if he were climbing up into the sky. That is how Allah defiles those who have no faith. (Surat al-An'am: 125)