How Superficiality Manifests Itself
Bedouins and Their Debased Culture
In the days of the Prophet Muhammad (saas), as in every period of history, there were those whose crude and shallow minds could not understand the subtleties of religious morality. Faith had not settled into their hearts. As already said at the beginning of this book, some who adopted this religion of superficiality were the Bedouins:
The desert Arabs are more obdurate in disbelief and hypocrisy and more likely not to know the limits which Allah has sent down to His Messenger ... (Surat at-Tawba: , 97)
It is revealed in the Qur’an that the Bedouins were more given to disobedience and ignoring boundaries. Even though they personally met a blessed individual like the Prophet (saas), engaged him in conversation and heard his message, and even though they witnessed his special moral character and noble and modern demeanor, most Bedouins remained backward, crude and shallow. This could be seen in their inability to properly appreciate Allah’s glory, their wrong attitudes toward religion and obedience, the way they sat and stood and how they ate—and their lack of respect toward the Prophet (saas).
In the Qur’an, Allah reveals that some Bedouins and others with the same moral character were ignorant in their behavior toward the Prophet (saas). With no subtlety of mind, courtesy, respect or love for others, these people acted in a way quite remote from the standard of morality found in the Qur’an. Allah tells us about the shallow behavior of these people, who may have been in close proximity to the Prophet (saas):
You who believe! Do not go into the Prophet’s rooms except when you are invited to come and eat. Do not wait there while the food is being cooked. However, when you are called, go in, and when you have eaten, disperse, not remaining there to chat with one another. Doing that causes annoyance to the Prophet though he is too reticent to tell you so. But Allah is not reticent with the truth ... (Surat al-Ahzab, 53)
As said earlier, these people could not ponder subtle matters. For example, some called out to the Prophet (saas) from outside his private quarters. They interrupted him and raised their voices during conversations with him. In the Qur’an, Allah warned them about this behavior:
As for those who call out to you from outside your private quarters, most of them do not use their intellect. If they had only been patient until you came out to them, it would have been better for them ... (Surat al-Hujurat, 4-5)
Because their crude minds could not appreciate his superior moral character, high sense of conscience, patience and tolerance, they knew nothing of etiquette or respect. And they were not aware of what a great blessing it was to live at the same time as a blessed prophet loved and chosen by Allah, to see him and to know him.
Allah sent down a revelation about the shallow behavior of these people who raised their voices and interrupted conversations. He revealed that their good deeds would count for nothing:
You who believe! Do not put yourselves forward in front of Allah and of His Messenger; and have fear of Allah. Allah is All-Hearing, All-Knowing. You who believe! Do not raise your voices above the voice of the Prophet and do not be as loud when speaking to him as you are when speaking to one another, lest your actions should come to nothing without your realizing it. (Surat al-Hujurat, 1-2)
As you see, this verse is addressed to those who have faith. These people once lived in the vicinity of the Prophet (saas), could enter his house and engage in conversation with him. In these verses, Allah points out that people of shallow character may live among believers, but have no real sense of religious morality. They feel no real love or respect in their hearts for those who have faith.
This lack of respect could never be observed in devout believers. They fear Allah and speak in a way that makes others feel comfortable. Their fear of Allah leads them to be in a highness of character mastered by sincerity and modesty. For this reason, believers speak plainly and clearly. They say openly what they think and never use innuendo to express what they feel. They regard it as unfitting to say anything disrespectful that would plant doubt or resentment in the heart of another. This conscientious, intelligent and fine fashion is seen not only in how they speak to others but also in their logic and behavior. We can easily understand from what Allah says in the Qur’an that believers are meticulous about showing respect:
... Those who lower their voices when they are with the Messenger of Allah are people whose hearts Allah has tested for heedfulness. They will have forgiveness and an immense reward. (Surat al-Hujurat, 3)
Just as sincere Muslims have good spirit and noble character, so those who adopt the religion of superficiality have debased spirits and ignoble characters. Even if such people were in the same company with Muslims, they would not change themselves. They feel no need to develop and improve themselves. Because they have shrouded their consciences and followed the path of satan, they do not find it necessary to compare the good and refined behavior of Muslims with their own crude, superficial moral quality. Pleased with their intelligence, they regard their superficial behavior as natural. These people’s situation is like that of a fish; it swims in water and knows nothing of the world above it. However, those of shallow character who lived in the Age of Happiness had our respected and honorable Prophet (saas) whom they could take as an example:
You have an excellent model in the Messenger of Allah, for all who put their hope in Allah and the Last Day and remember Allah much. (Surat al-Ahzab, 21)
As Allah says in the Qur’an, the Prophet (saas) is the best example for humanity in all ways.
Just as our blessed Prophet (saas) was a good example for everyone living in his day, he is also the best example for everyone living after him until the Day of Judgment. In the Qur’an, Allah has revealed the Prophet’s (saas) superior moral character. And, both in the hadiths of the Prophet (saas) and the interpretations concerning him passed down to us by his companions, we can learn from the high quality of his morality and take his character as an example.
But whether in the past or present, those who have adopted the religion of superficiality cannot experience the noble quality of Muslim behavior as revealed by Allah in the Qur’an and seen in the life of the Prophet (saas). Those with weak faith, narrow minds and dull intellects cannot bring the morality of the Qur’an into their lives. Their spiritual state is revealed in how they think and speak, in their crude sense of humor and the means of entertainment they choose, in their lack of aesthetic sense and in their unseemly behavior. The following pages will consider how those who adopt the debased culture of superficiality manifest its shallowness in their lives.
The Superficiality in the Eyes
A person’s eyes reflect his personality and the culture that he lives in. His expression reveals his true face, and is important in determining his spiritual state, level of culture, personality and character.
Deep devotion, submission and maturity are striking when seen in the eye of a person of sincere faith who fears for his state in the world to come. From the peaceful expression in his eyes and on his face, it can be seen that he has reached maturity and is free of worldly passions. From his look of intelligence and awareness, it is clearly understood that he has faith in Allah. The Prophet (saas) says the following in one of his hadiths:
The one who remembers death the most and the one who best gets prepared for the life after death; he is indeed the one who is the most wise and conscious. (Ibn Majah)
A Muslim with such awareness does not try to reflect anything unnatural in his eyes; on the contrary, his freedom of expression suggests that he can be trusted. His spirit shows how peaceful he is in the power of his faith. His expressions show a person of fine moral character and fear of Allah and who is determined to have nothing to do with ignorant culture. There is keenness and nobility in his expressions.
In contrast to such an individual, people under the influence of superficial culture wear expressions that betray all the ugliness of that culture. No matter how much they try to hide it, their eyes always give them away. For example, a Muslim shows his excitement, pleasure and lively happiness, but these others frequently have a dull look in their eyes. These people may be lively and extroverted, good conversationalists. But, the empty lifelessness on their faces comes from their unawareness and inability to understand the reality of the Hereafter.
We are told in the Qur’an that such expressions come from the fact that these people do not keep Allah in their hearts—that is, from their unawareness:
Those are the people whose hearts, hearing and sight Allah has sealed up. They are the unaware. (Surat an-Nahl, 108)
This manner of expression in the eyes is formed under the influence of this debased culture. No matter how these people may try to assume a meaningful expression in their eyes, because they do not have faith, they cannot change their expressions into the look of nobility, grace and understanding that a faithful Muslim displays. They can only pretend to look this way. This culture is most often narrow-minded and far removed from religion; it makes impossible any true and admirable goodness in an individual. On the contrary, it turns the individual into a repulsive person that causes discomfort both with his looks and his demeanor. In the expressions in his eyes, there is no real meaning that would allow direct contact, or allow others to have mutual conversations or to evaluate a situation together.
To hide their own lack of wisdom, some people in this debased culture try to find something to mock about in every situation. This is the reason for the discomforting look of mockery in their eyes. But by using ridicule instead of speaking honestly from the heart, by trying to elevate themselves by making others look ridiculous, shallow individuals actually humiliate themselves. Behind their looks there are most often weak individuals in no position to ridicule anyone and who lack even others’ ability to comprehend issues deeply. Anyone who properly understands Allah’s greatness would never wear an expression of mockery. Being always aware of his own helplessness in Allah’s sight, he would never enter such a state of moral depravity. His intelligence and his conscience ensure that his eyes are always natural and sincere. There is always a wise, humane, warm, sincere and friendly expression in the eyes of a devout Muslim. Others see through his eyes that he is reliable and has a high moral character. Besides this, his eyes act as a veritable shield against superficiality. Someone who gazes at him with a shallow expression will never receive the response he expects.
The awareness, precision and clarity are striking in the eyes of a person who sees Allah’s manifestations in everything and who praises Him. When you look into such a person’s eyes, his admiration of Allah’s creatures, his love and interest are obvious. But when you look at someone who does not regard his environment this way but who, on the contrary, thinks of human beings as independent of Allah (surely Allah is beyond that), forgetting that the world is under His control, you see his eyes reflecting emptiness and often tension. Because he does not love Allah in his heart as he ought to, the love he feels toward Allah’s creatures is weak. His eyes give no indication that he understands what real love is. On the contrary, no matter how friendly you act toward such an individual, he will respond only insofar as his shallow understanding of love permits. This is because superficiality as a culture draws him into unawareness by preventing him from gathering together things that would strengthen his love toward Allah and His creations. A person under this culture’s influence has an extremely shallow, narrow mental make-up.
The unpleasant culture of superficiality is also influential in the way people give off-putting forms and meanings to their expressions. For example, people living within that culture adopt a squint as they engage in gossip, one of the unpleasing features of that culture. In a similar way, they open their eyes as wide as possible and exhibit an ugly appearance in order to express admiration or amazement. During private conversations with others with whom they share this same culture they constantly look to right and left. In addition to these, they also have sly ways of looking especially while prying into subjects which they know is actually not their business. This consists of looking out of the corner of the eyes or concealing the object of the interest by pretending to be looking elsewhere.
A wise person is able to watch himself and to identify and correct any improper behavior and body language. Such people are therefore immediately able to alter such behavior in themselves. Superficial people, on the other hand, lack the intelligence with which to perform such analysis and self-criticism. For example, even if the abnormality of the expressions just outlined above are described to them, they still fail to understand, because they see nothing wrong in them, and may even suggest that these are perfectly natural reactions. Their perspective is far too shallow to permit them to distinguish between superficiality and naturalness. Of course, when someone is surprised, his eyes may expand. When he is curious, he may show it in his face. But here we are referring unnatural reactions on the faces of shallow people and how they use this as a means to an end. They pretend to be surprised when they are not. They use furtive looks when they are needlessly curious. They scan the area around them when gossiping; they put on an inquisitive look when they are prying or looking for another’s faults. None of these expressions is reasonable or humanly acceptable. On the contrary, they are the result of the deep unawareness and superficiality they live in. This type of expression is never seen in the eyes of a Muslim whose heart is attached to Allah and knows that He sees him and embraces him at every moment. When these other individuals look around with such expressions, they are not aware that Allah sees them or, as stated in the Qur’an, that He perceives their eyes:
Eyesight cannot perceive Him but He perceives eyesight. He is the All-Penetrating, the All-Aware. (Surat al-An‘am,103)
In another place in the Qur’an Allah says that, just as no concealed idea will remain hidden from Him, so no eye expression will remain hidden:
He knows the eyes’ deceit and what people’s breasts conceal. (Surah Ghafir,19)
Those who share this debased culture gaze on at one another with an expression that creates an unspoken understanding among them. According to the time and the place, they look at one another with expressions that carry different meanings and nod and wink at one another. Sometimes these looks and signals are intended to ridicule someone or to secretly send a message among themselves appropriate to such a debased culture. In the Qur’an, Allah says that the mockery that these people use, together with their other debased methods of communication are the very means used by evildoers:
Those who did evil used to laugh at those who believed. When they passed by them, they would wink at one another. (Surat al-Mutaffifin,29-30)
In another verse, Allah warns people against such morality:
Woe to every scorner and mocker. (Surat al-Humaza: ,1)
Allah says in the Qur’an that the renunciation and repenting of unseemly behavior are special characteristics belonging to Muslims:
[People who guard against evil are] those who, when they act indecently or wrong themselves, remember Allah and ask forgiveness for their bad actions [and who can forgive bad actions except Allah?] and do not knowingly persist in what they were doing. (Surah Al ‘Imran, 135)
Conversation in a Culture of Superficiality
The conversations that people engage in, both in its content and tone of voice, also reflect their spiritual state.
Shallow people spend more time than necessary to make a point. Among themselves, they can speak for hours expanding on a topic that they could have dealt with in one sentence. For example, when some women in this culture are cooking together, they engage in endless conversation about how to do it, even though they know very well how. They endlessly describe the methods they themselves use and spend useless time criticizing the methods of others. Preparing a meal, they take much longer than is required because they waste time talking about other things on their minds. It does not disquiet their consciences to spend time talking for hours about useless topics. For example they can talk about their diets for hours.
In the same way, men in this culture can discuss football games or a particular make of car at great length. Surely, it would make much more sense to share real information with others that would be of some help to them. However, their habit is to go into needless irrelevant detail, drag out the topic and make it trivial. Since they do not have more important matters to occupy their minds with, they seize on such easy topics and happily spend much time discussing them. Although there are some very important matters for them to ponder, such as the life after death and important decisions they should make, it does not bother their consciences to talk day and night about more ordinary things.
In the Qur’an, Allah tells us that some people spend their time fussing about things of no use to them in the world to come:
... who play at frivolous games. (Surat at-Tur, 12)
We can see in this verse that Allah calls spending time on unnecessary pursuits a “frivolous game.” For those who live according to the Religion of Superficiality, the matters and shallow details they concern themselves with show themselves in every area of their lives. However, devoting more time than is necessary to a topic and discussing it in all its aspects is very boring for an intelligent person who fears Allah as he should and believes in the Hereafter. Those who don’t dwell on details or give the impression that a simple matter is complex and intractable gain much—spiritually and morally—from not living in this culture. In the Qur’an, Allah reveals that He has given the prophets wisdom—in other words, a concise manner of speaking:
They are the ones to whom We gave the Book, wisdom and Prophethood ... (Surat al-An‘am, 89)
In another verse, Allah tells us that speaking with wisdom is a very great blessing and those to whom this wisdom has been given have received a great good:
He gives wisdom to whoever He wills and he who has been given wisdom has been given great good ... (Surat al-Baqara, 269)
In the sight of Allah, it is good to keep conversations short but beneficial. In the Qur’an, Allah says that Muslims turn away from shallow, pointless conversations:
... those who turn away from worthless talk. (Surat al-Muminun, 3)
And the following verse points out that, with their noble behavior, they are far removed from such a shallow environment:
Those who do not bear false witness and who, when they pass by worthless talk, pass by with dignity. (Surat al-Furqan, 72)
Those who engage in shallow conversations see nothing wrong in using coarse words in the name of intimacy. In the conversations of those who live in the culture of superficiality, it is natural to raise their voices in a way that expresses their surprise or resentment, to humiliate those they are talking about by using a tone of voice and accent that underscores their mockery. However, anyone who realizes he will be held responsible for everything he has done in his lifetime that is not in accord with the Qur’an will try to speak and act so as not to be ashamed on the Day of Judgment. He will strictly avoid conversations that will debase him and put him on the same level as superficial people. But no one who has adopted superficiality as a culture has any of these worries. They ignore the fact that Allah sees them at all times and that they must give an account of their every moment. Therefore, they believe that they can speak however they like. However, Allah reveals in the Qur’an that every word a person utters is recorded and warns humans against falling into this kind of error:
And the two recording angels are recording, sitting on the right and on the left. He does not utter a single word, without a watcher by him, pen in hand! (Surah Qaf,17-18)
A person may forget the pointless conversations he had in the past, or even yesterday, but as revealed in the Qur’an:
“... My Lord does not misplace nor does He forget.” (Surah Ta Ha, 52)
A person may forget the things he has said but Allah, with His infinite knowledge, remembers every word that a human being has uttered.
In the culture of superficiality, it is usual for people to try to get others to feel sorry for them, with the hope of getting some help. Shallow people like drawing attention to themselves, expecting that someone will take an interest in feeling sorry for them. Such people want to stir up a sense of pity by constantly relating the injustice of some situation they’re in and how difficult conditions are. They take a strange pleasure from other people regarding them as wronged and wanting to help them. They have an incomprehensible desire to be looked after and protected by others. However, a noble individual takes no pleasure from being pitied. On the contrary, he wants to be seen as strong and resilient. In the Qur’an, Allah says that only deceitful people display such behavior. Because of their jealousy, for example, the brothers of the Prophet Yusuf (as) wanted to kill him and threw him into a well. Afterwards, as we are told in the Qur’an, they wanted to make their father, the Prophet Ya‘qub (as), feel sorry for them:
That night they came back to their father in tears, saying, “Father, we went out to run a race and left Yusuf together with our things and then a wolf appeared and ate him up but you are never going to believe us now, not even though we really tell the truth.” (Surah Yusuf, 16-17)
And despite the fact that they openly lied, as if they would be blamed unjustly, they tried to present themselves as wronged. Yusuf (as) had a good moral character from childhood; he was a blessed individual praised by Allah. But his brothers undertook to murder him even though he was their brother. To put it plainly, they were treacherous. But, with his insight, Ya‘qub (as) immediately understood the deceitfulness of his sons and told them that what they had done came from their lower selves:
... “It is merely that your lower selves have suggested something to you which you did ... ” (Surah Yusuf, 18)
Whether they are right or wrong, those who live in the debased culture of superficiality, want to make people pity them. They constantly talk about their anxieties, pain and difficulties. Feeling sorry for themselves, they explain how they came into such straits. They exemplify a person who has not committed himself to Allah. From the tearful helplessness with which they speak, it can be easily seen that they do not practice the moral teachings of the Qur’an. However, a person who knows that everything is under Allah’s control would never let himself speak in this shallow way, but would firmly demonstrate in his words that Allah is always with him. With the strength Allah gives him, he would openly say that he could do everything with His help. He would not want anyone to feel sorry for him, but to trust and respect him for his strong character.
The mental horizons of superficial people are limited to what they can say about the ordinary topics that belong to their culture. For this reason, they can have intimate discussions with those who share the same culture, but the areas of discussion they have with those who do not share their culture are very narrow. Their daily conversations with others who live in the same shallow world, and even the words they use, are almost always the same. When they start, their listeners can guess what they are going to talk about and even what words they’ll use. Because their horizons are limited, they cannot appreciate the good things that Allah has created or the events that occur in the world. Their abilities to find new subject matters, express their thoughts in a novel way, or to go beyond the clichés they have learned by rote, are so limited as to be almost non-existent. And unless someone tells them about it, they are incapable of understanding or even noticing their situation. Having departed from sincere faith and adopted the religion of superficiality, they have little intelligence, insight, understanding or wisdom.
Even though their abilities to think and to speak are limited, they think they are very important and intelligent. For this reason, they use a wording that generally praises themselves in any conversation. Unaware of the degrading position that their debased culture has put them in, they praise themselves in conversations, either openly or covertly. However, Muslims direct their praise only to Allah and say:
“... Praise be to Allah Who has had no son and Who has no partner in His Kingdom and Who needs no one to protect Him from abasement ... ” (Surat al-Isra’, 111)
An intelligent person with faith knows that Allah is the only Lord of everything in the universe. No matter how much his talents, beauty, intelligence and material possessions may seem to belong to him, he is always aware that their real Lord is Allah. He lives in humility, knowing that Allah can take back every blessing any time He wants to. He praises and exalts Allah as the Lord of all things. When he hears someone praising himself in a way that shows that he has no knowledge of these truths, he realizes the extent of the unawareness into which this superficial culture has thrust people. He wants to wake these others out of their unawareness, to tell them of the existence of Allah and that He is the absolute Lord of everything.
In this regard, in the Qur’an, Allah gives the examples of two men. One of them is a Muslim who turns to Allah with all his heart; the other praises himself for the many possessions he thinks belong to him, and believes that they will remain his possessions forever:
Make an example for them of two men. To one of them We gave two gardens of grape-vines and surrounded them with date-palms, putting between them some cultivated land. Both gardens yielded their crops and did not suffer any loss, and We made a river flow right through the middle of them. 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. 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.” His companion, with whom he was debating, said to him, “Do you then disbelieve in Him Who created you from dust, then from a drop of sperm, and then formed you as a man? He is, however, Allah, my Lord, and I will not associate anyone with my Lord. Why, when you entered your garden, did you not say, ‘It is as Allah wills, there is no strength but in Allah?’ Though you see me with less wealth and children than you possess, it may well be that my Lord will give me something better than your garden and send down on it a fireball from the sky so that morning finds it a shifting heap of dust or morning finds its water drained into the earth so that you cannot get at it.” 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!” There was no group to come to his aid, besides Allah, and he was not given any help. In that situation the only protection is from Allah, the Real. He gives the best reward and the best outcome. (Surat al-Kahf, 32-44)
As revealed in the verses, this man made the great error of praising himself instead of Allah. He did not consider that he might lose his possessions by some adversity sent by Allah, nor that when he died he would leave everything behind in this world and appear before Allah all alone. But he understood the reality of his situation when all the things described in these verses happened to him. Until that moment, he had no understanding of the nature of the life of this world. And, because of his shallow thinking, he was unable to conceive of Allah’s power. When these things happened to him, he repented with the words, “Oh, if only I had…”
You can see how the culture of superficiality prevents people from interpreting things correctly, just like the owner of the garden in this story. It leads people to an unreal and empty sense of pride. An individual proud of his possessions feels the need to mention them to everyone, either openly or covertly. He always praises himself for his intelligence, talents, his new house or car, a successful project, his possessions or the school his children attend. He tries to vaunt himself by constantly mentioning all the good decisions he has made, sometimes openly and sometimes indirectly.
In this ignorant culture, such an individual enters a sort of contest with even his siblings and friends to determine who is wealthier, whose children are the most intelligent, whose were selected by the best schools, and endless other such things. When one party initiates such a contest, the other, in order not to be bettered, will open another subject that he thinks he is better at than his rival. In this way begins an endless contest of dissimulation and superficiality. Their conversations will affirm the intimacy of their relationship in artificial and exaggerated terms. On the other hand, however, they will use expressions to score points against, embarrass and humiliate each other and create discomfort by placing each other in difficult situations.
As previously stated, this perverse culture can sometimes be very cruel and heartless; even while people appear to be benign and peaceful, they choose subjects for conversation to make others uncomfortable and to promote themselves. All this exerts an influence only on those who share this culture. A Muslim who believes in Allah and trusts in Him could never share on the same level with people of this culture. He could never take this truth out of his mind:
Do you not see those who praise themselves for purity? No, Allah purifies whoever He wills ... (Surat an-Nisa’, 49)
Reactions of sadness and jealousy common to shallow personalities are never to be seen in a person of faith. For this reason, people of a shallow, debased culture can never make devout Muslims share in it; their shallow conversations would never obtain any response. Muslims believe that Allah owns every possession and is the Creator of everything; therefore, they learn from the way others praise themselves and exalt themselves in their conversations. Rather than being influenced by these things, such conversations produce a kind of repulsion in their hearts, because the only One worthy of praise is Allah, the Lord of the heavens, the Earth and all that lies in between:
... Sovereignty and praise belong to Him. He has power over all things(Surat at-Taghabun, 1)
And say: “Praise be to Allah Who has had no son and Who has no partner in His Kingdom and Who needs no one to protect Him from abasement ... ” (Surat al-Isra’, 111)
Any sincere Muslim knows that Allah has given all His blessings to human beings as a test:
Do not let their wealth and children impress you. Allah merely wants to punish them by them during their life in this world and for them to expire while they are unbelievers. (Surat at-Tawba, 55)
Another common attribute in these people’s conversations is their lack of interest in world events, the cruelty and oppression directed toward Muslims and the difficulties suffered by the weak and helpless. Always occupied with the small world they have created for themselves, they never come face to face with the many larger ones. Most often they are completely unaware of what is going in the world, the difficulties that occur because people do not live according to the moral values of the Qur’an, those conflicts and wars that are sparked because of the absence of religious morality and people forced to live in hunger and poverty. Because these events do not touch them personally, they do not care about them. When asked about such matters, they are clearly unaware of the issues and not concerned.
Their world is limited by issues such as what they will eat and drink, trips they will take, their families and careers. They don’t wonder why other people suffer or what can be done about it; their consciences are unaffected by these things. The need to search for practical solutions that will end suffering does not cross their minds. They always leave such responsibility to others. Accepting that they themselves are superficial and shallow-minded, they see themselves as exempt from taking responsibility for such matters. It makes them not the least bit uncomfortable to waste time thinking about shallow subjects or conversing about them.
If someone starts exhorting them to be consciously human, they become irritated and fall silent. They want to talk about things that appeal to their lower selves; the subject matter of their conversations is particularly chosen to serve their own benefit. But for cruelty to cease in the world, Allah calls everyone with a conscience to wage an intellectual struggle. Allah tells us in the Qur’an about those who do not sense this responsibility:
What reason could you have for not fighting in the way of Allah—for those men, women and children who are oppressed and say, "Our Lord, take us out of this city whose inhabitants are wrongdoers! Give us a protector from You! Give us a helper from You!"? (Surat an-Nisa’, 75)
Instead of focusing on vital issues, trying to discover a fundamental solution to problems, these people calculate their own gain. However, Allah tells us in the Qur’an that Muslims must cooperate with one another toward high ideals; they must urge everyone toward what is best for them and make them refrain from evil:
Let there be a community among you who call to the good, and enjoin the right, and forbid the wrong. They are the ones who have success (Surah Al ‘Imran, 104)
Clearly, those who adopt such ideals will bring benefit to others, both in what they do and in the things they speak about with one another.
Superficial culture emphasizes points with certain mouth movements and ways of using the voice. For example, a person may lower his voice in the course of a conversation, meaning that some special information not to be heard by everyone is about to be given to a selected confidant. Mostly women use this tone of voice when speaking about another or mocking someone. Similarly, they sometimes lower their voices at certain points in the conversation and roll their words in their mouths to prevent others from understanding what they are saying, and so that only the one to whom they’re speaking will understand.
Generally in this culture all facial expressions are used for a negative purpose, distorting the natural lines of the face. When having a conversation full of resentment, for example, these people narrow their eyes and purse their lips. So the face takes on an unpleasant expression, and their words come out with an unnatural emphasis. In the same way, some carefully put on unnatural accents that they regard as modern, rolling their words in their mouths or lisp, making themselves hard to understand.
Gossip is widespread in this debased culture, especially among women. They talk about the most basic subjects, engaging in endless conversations filled with malice, dissension, jealousy and resentment about people. They never think of this truth that Allah has revealed in the Qur’an:
... 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)
In doing this they display a total lack of awareness. They can secretly say prejudiced things about others, clearly intended to show these people’s weak points based mostly on slander and conjecture. Instead of being morally upright and thinking positively, these gossips take delight in sharing the ill-intentioned ideas from their malicious minds and are designed to stir up dissension. However while those people engage in unaware conversations, Allah witnesses them. He reveals in the Qur’an:
Or do they imagine that We do not hear their secrets and their private talk? On the contrary Our messengers are right there with them writing it down! (Surat az-Zukhruf, 80)
In the gossip spread among people with this moral character, what is said is not always clear. Sometimes they adopt a manner of speaking that lets someone unacquainted with the person in question believe that the words directed toward him are actually praise. However, this praise is actually hypocritical mockery, designed to deride the person being spoken of. But those who understand the same language also understand what is being said and about whom. This is because every word is insidiously chosen and the conversation is laced with subtle, satanic innuendo. In this way, they give their conversation the appearance of innocence and continue in their shallowness. However, in the Qur’an, Allah forbids His servants to engage in gossip:
You who believe! Avoid most suspicion. Indeed some suspicion is a crime. And do not spy and do not backbite one another. Would any of you like to eat his brother’s dead flesh? No, you would hate it. And have fear of Allah. Allah is Ever-Returning, Most Merciful. (Surat al-Hujurat, 12)
It is described as a disgusting kind of behavior. We are also told that those who gossip must repent and ask forgiveness. In the Qur’an, Allah commands that people should fear Him, especially in their private conversations. Those with faith should be careful about the subjects they speak about; they should choose topics that promote goodness and the fear of Allah:
You who believe! When you confer together secretly, do not do so in wrongdoing and enmity and disobedience to the messenger; rather confer together in goodness and fear of Allah. Have fear of Allah—Him to Whom you will be gathered. (Surat al-Mujadala, 9)
Shallow people often talk about their physical needs. These people often say they are hungry or thirsty, that they have a headache or they have not slept well. Of course, anyone can express his needs, but those of shallow characters speak of their needs just for the sake of talking, and to draw attention to themselves. A Muslim would never lower himself to speak of such matters. If he needs anything, he takes measures to supply it. His mind is not concerned with his own small needs, but is always filled with thoughts that exalt Allah and about performing useful deeds in this world that will be pleasing to Him. In the Qur’an, Allah describes Muslims in this way:
It was not for people of Madina, and the desert Arabs around them, to remain behind the Messenger of Allah nor to prefer themselves to him. That is because no thirst or weariness or hunger will afflict them in the way of Allah, nor will they take a single step to infuriate the unbelievers, nor secure any gain from the enemy, without a right action being written down for them because of it. Allah does not let the wage of the good-doers go to waste. (Surat at-Tawba, 120)
We see in this verse that Muslims are not concerned with the passions of their own lower selves. On the contrary, they regard every adversity, great or small, that occurs to them in the way of Allah as an opportunity to receive a reward. For this reason, they are not greedy but trust in Allah to supply their every need and therefore, avoid shallow conversations that make their needs the topic of discussion.
Shallow people give unnecessary explanations to everyone they meet, to justify their actions and make it appear that they never make mistakes. They bother their acquaintances by making them listen to long explanations. They go on at great length to explain what they have done and why, that they do not want their basic intentions to be misunderstood, and that the result of their actions was positive. These are all small, ordinary matters. A glass broken at home, the moving of a piece of furniture, a missing file at the office, a forgotten message; shallow people exaggerate other various and unimportant things into matters that need explaining. No matter how much they explain, there is arrogance behind it. They cannot accept making a simple mistake, being taken off-guard or overlooking a detail. Whenever such an event happens, they seek to defend their pride. They offer several excuses to show that anyone would do the same thing in the same circumstances. However, a person’s failure to accept his faults is one of the greatest obstacles to his personal development and attaining a good moral character.
Someone who does not trust Allah is afraid to acknowledge his mistakes. He remains bemired in apprehension, thinking, “If I make a mistake in such a simple matter, what will people think of me when it comes to important ones?” It doesn’t cross his mind to leave everything to Allah’s will, to take refuge in Him, to trust and rely on Him. If he thought about this, he would know that Allah knows everything, would be content, and would feel no need to offer explanations to anyone.
The alibis offered in this debased culture, which makes people forget Allah and give preference to human ideas, are not limited to mistakes and instances of thoughtlessness. People in this culture always feel the need to give alibis about reasonable, legitimate actions that ordinary people do in the course of a day. Similar apprehensions lie at the root of this too.
Because their spirit and personality are not mature, they are squeezed into their little world. They cannot be happy and content themselves, and cannot allow others to be so. They have abandoned the morality of the Islamic religion that Allah has been pleased to choose for mankind. Such anxiety and apprehension is the reward they receive in this world for their choosing to live in the miserable system of superficiality.
Their Sense of Humor and Enjoyment
Shallow people laugh at shallow things. Most of the things that amuse these people would not amuse anyone else removed from that shallowness. For example, human deficiencies are an important element of humor for people in this culture. These deficiencies must be overcome by using will and intelligence, and no sensible person would ever make these a matter of discussion. But for the shallow, they can be a source of rich entertainment. But no one wants to hear about people’s shortcomings and, if they do so inadvertently, pretend that they did not. Superficial people, on the contrary, make a special joke of these weaknesses and laugh at them. This primitive sense of enjoyment can also be seen in some films and television programs.
Similarly, laughing at some people’s physical imperfections has an important place in the entertainment of this shallow culture. When such people see a person who is shorter than normal, for example, they break out laughing. Because they are themselves unaware and shallow, they do not consider that their situation in life comes by the will of Allah and that He could test them with similar deficiencies. Besides, it never crosses their minds that their laughing at people can embarrass them.
In general, the jokes these people make are detracting, intended to exalt themselves, but belittle, criticize and humiliate someone else. The humor shown by Muslims who practice religious morality is intended primarily to amuse others. Were they to make a criticizing joke, its humor would only criticize themselves. Muslims have a highly developed sense of humanity and therefore attach importance to others’ feelings. If they sense the slightest displeasure, they do not pursue the conversation. However, shallow people do not regulate their humor. They joke about matters that others are sensitive about and go too far. They do not consider that they are making others uncomfortable; and even if they did, they would not care, because shallow people do not have any sensitivity. They cannot grasp subtlety or keep details in their minds. They take no pleasure in showing their humanity.
Those who live in a shallow culture use mockery in their humor, which believers would never do. These people often use mockery to put someone else down and elevate themselves, to make themselves the center of attention. When they detect that another individual has said something wrong, mispronounced a word, or is uninformed on a certain matter, they point this out with a humor intended to ridicule the other person. They use human mistakes and deficiencies for entertainment. In this way, they try to make themselves appear more intelligent, attractive, and knowledgeable and, in short, superior compared to others. But this is highly superficial. A person who practices the morality of the Qur’an would never think of making the imperfections of others a matter of humor. On the contrary, he would pretend not to notice such things so as not to embarrass the other. For example, if a shallow person saw someone trip while walking down the street, he might laugh, and not go to assist him, even if the person appeared to be injured or needed help. Instead of acting humanly, he might pretend that he was laughing too hard to speak. Besides, he would laugh while pointing out human deficiencies he could have pretended not to notice. For example, he gives nicknames that point out people’s imperfections. However, in the Qur’an, Allah forbids giving people derisive or maliciously intended nicknames:
You who believe! People should not ridicule others who may be better than themselves; nor should any women ridicule other women who may be better than themselves. And do not find fault with one another or insult each other with derogatory nicknames ... (Surat al-Hujurati,11)
Those who are entertained by mocking humor do not consider that they are encompassed soul and body by an infinite Power. They can act in such a superficial manner because they do not realize that Allah could punish them at any time, that He could take their lives and bring them face to face with the angels of death. But a person who knows that he is in the presence of Allah could never mock another because of the respectful fear he feels in his heart. The humor based on mockery displayed so often by superficial people is an indication of their shallow thinking and lack of proper reverence for Allah.
Those who live in a superficial culture do not feel uncomfortable engaging in conversations that are not observant of the respect due to Allah, or religious and sacred concepts. Allah tells us how people of shallow character did this unseemly thing in the days of the Prophet (saas):
When an example is made of the son of Maryam your people laugh uproariously. They retort, “Who is better then, our deities or him?” They only say this to you for argument’s sake. They are indeed a disputatious people. He is only a servant on whom We bestowed Our blessing and whom We made an example for the tribe of Israel. (Surat az-Zukhruf , 57-59)
People in every age have spoken in this unseemly way. Jokes against religion do not make people uncomfortable if they have a weak attachment to religion. Even if some people feel discomfort at such humor, it is not enough to make them withdraw from that environment. But the hearts of Muslims have been created to take pleasure in remembering Allah, to practice Islamic morality. For this reason, they immediately separate themselves from any environment dominated by an irreligious sense of humor. In the Qur’an, Allah commands those with faith to leave such environments:
OIt has been sent down to you in the Book that when you hear Allah’s signs being rejected and mocked at by people, you must not sit with them till they start talking of other things. If you do you are just the same as them. Allah will gather all the hypocrites and unbelievers into Hell. (Surat an-Nisa’,140)
Places of superficial entertainment will awaken in a truly religious person the desire to protect and defend Islam. Such a person will never allow topics to enter conversation that are not respectful toward Allah and religion. Because of his love and respect for Allah and his attachment to Him, he remains on guard against ideas and suggestions opposed to religious values and will take no part in such conversation. In the Qur’an, Allah describes this noble quality that marks the Muslim character:
When they hear worthless talk they turn away from it and say, “We have our actions and you have your actions. Peace be upon you. We do not desire the company of the ignorant.” (Surat al-Qasas, 55)
Shallow people often seem unaware while amusing themselves. For example, if they are watching a television program they like and someone nearby has a health problem, they will show no interest. They may even be irritated if asked for help, as if the person in distress has spoiled their entertainment. Because they are shallow and inhumane, they prefer entertainment to helping those in distress. And they continue sitting in front of the television without any pangs of conscience. However, their behavior prevents them from enjoying their entertainment as they expected. Their shallow sense of amusement is reflected in what they choose to laugh at. They will be amused for hours by a program that repeats the same old jokes and has nothing in it to give a person enjoyment.
Of course, the shallowness spoken of here does not lie in watching television or taking entertainment from it. These people’s shallow culture develops in them an unaware sense of amusement that is far from human values. A Muslim who fears Allah and practices religious morality is always aware. Because he always acts with the intelligence given to him by his faith, he can quickly overcome all situations that confront him. He is aware even when it comes to entertainment. Allah is always in his heart and mind. Whether he listens to loud music, watching television, or playing games in a crowded, noisy environment, his conscience and attentiveness remain keen. For this reason, he takes great pleasure from his entertainment.
People like to watch a wise person laugh and being entertained. But the things shallow people laugh at and how they laugh is superficial. How shallow people laugh is not pleasant to the ear, and others do not enjoy listening to it.
It’s very important to understand what superficiality is, from the point of view of its sense of humor and enjoyment. Of two people sharing the same entertainment, one may live by superficial culture, while the other may not—because superficiality is a philosophy, not limited to just a few ways of behaving and speaking. A person may laugh spontaneously, but his intelligence and depth of understanding make him different from superficial people. For this reason, a shallow sense of entertainment or shallow laughter should not be misunderstood. Natural laughter arising from intimacy is not shallow; natural enjoyment is good in itself. Avoiding superficiality does not restrict this naturalness. But superficiality does not come from naturalness and intimacy; but from a closed conscience, from not being aware of the negative effect of jokes and laughter, from being immoderate and going to extremes.
Some people think that avoiding superficiality implies a false seriousness with cold, artificial smiles. One person in a rich society may laugh in an affected manner, while another in an uneducated circle may have a vulgar laughter. But, in the essence, both are superficial. No matter what a person’s culture, there is only one solution to superficiality: A person must attach himself to Allah and practice the moral teachings of the Qur’an. Allah says in the Qur’an:
... But all honor belongs to Allah and to His messenger and the believers ... (Surat al-Munafiqun:, 8)
The Way They Interpret Events
Those who are glad to live in a superficial culture have a very shallow way of interpreting events that happen in their own environment and in the world. Their narrow-minded way of looking at things conceives of events within a narrow frame of reference. Therefore, they can never free themselves from their superficiality.
Superficial people interpret every event within their own parameters. For example, when a major war breaks out in another country, their most important concern is whether it will affect them. They worry about whether the war will change their lives, upset their present circumstances and influence the money markets.
Of course, it’s reasonable for any individual to take measures to protect himself and his family. But it’s not reasonable to limit his sense of responsibility to his own close circle. Someone who thinks like this cares only about his own personal well-being. As the old saying has it, “May the snake that doesn’t bite me live a thousand years.” He hides behind a false logic: It’s as if helping those who live a difficult life and struggle to survive is irrelevant or beyond his capacity.
A person with this mindset doesn’t consider that, if a war breaks out, women, children and elderly living in a country could find themselves in difficult straits. A person who is not interested in finding out why this situation has arisen or what he can do to remedy it will do everything he can to protect himself.
Such an individual lacks sufficient awareness to see the chaos that absence of the fear of Allah inflicts on the world. He does not strive, beginning with himself, to make the morality of the Qur’an prevail in people’s lives. He wants only the welfare of himself and his family. For him, it’s enough if he can supply his own needs and live without anxiety and difficulty. He’s not very concerned about the conditions that others live in.
However, someone with a keen sense of moral awareness looks at the general course of world events and—even if he is not in the kind of situation described above—will immediately know that the world needs a morality based on the fear of Allah. He knows that any society composed of insensitive, selfish and heartless individuals who do not care about others will draw everyone into a frightening world of no religion. He sees that in societies that do not practice the morality that pleases Allah, deep wounds are opened, and that the only way to heal them is to ensure the dominance of religious morality. Then he will strive to establish this high morality and become the means whereby others may come to it.
Allah tells us about such people in the Qur’an:
Then when they forgot what they had been reminded of, We rescued those who had forbidden the evil ... (Surat al-A‘raf, 165)
Those who repent, those who worship, those who praise, those who fast, those who bow, those who prostrate, those who command the right, those who forbid the wrong, those who preserve the limits of Allah: give good news to the believers. (Surat at-Tawba, 112)
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 earth, other than the few among them whom We saved ... (Surah Hud, 116)
One of the characteristics of superficial people most frequently noticed is that they constantly make negative comments. Most often, they overlook the positive side of issues; they anticipate that events will turn out badly and tend to draw the conclusion that they have suffered some injustice. Even when someone says something pleasant to these people, they immediately become emotional and tearful. The main reason why is that they don’t understand the essence of religion. A person who’s lived his life according to the Qur’an knows that he should never be influenced by negative thoughts and should never lose hope. Allah tells us this in the Qur’an:
... Do not despair of solace from Allah. No one despairs of solace from Allah except for people who are unbelievers. (Surah Yusuf , 87)
Despair and pessimism take spiritual and material strength away from weak personalities who live in a culture of superficiality. They ruin their mood and make them unhappy and joyless. These people see things negatively and are surprised at the comments of believers, who always see the good in everything that happens and the reason for it. They never understand that events they interpret as disasters are completely under Allah’s control. This lack of understanding is strongly reflected in the pessimism and negativity evident in their conversations. Their warped outlook and negative comments give those who share the same culture an anxious and hopeless sense of oppression. They never mention the peace, security, comfort, happiness and beauty that Islamic morality brings. They never speak of the good works and service that Muslims do, the ease of living according to Islamic morality or the contentment that Allah gives to believers. Their comments are almost completely dominated by complaints and the feeling that there is no solution.
Believers would never allow such comments in their environment. If a person comes up against difficulties, they know that Allah has created them and that, as in every situation, these difficulties will finally turn out for this person’s good. No difficulty cannot be surmounted with Allah’s help. Believers know this and are always optimistic in everything. Therefore, they never make negative comments, but see everything that happens to them as good. They never worry about the outcome and they do not give way to apprehension. In the Qur’an, Allah tells us about the fine behavior of the Companions of the Prophet (saas) in a time of difficulty:
When the believers saw the Confederates they said: “This is what Allah and His Messenger promised us. Allah and His Messenger told us the truth.” It only increased them in faith and in submission. (Surat al-Ahzab, 22)
Even if they do not know about something, superficial people need to comment about it. They never say they don’t know about a given subject. On the contrary, they make conjectures about topics they know nothing about, people they don’t know and things they’ve never experienced. They don’t think in terms of the morality of the Qur’an and so, have no problem pretending to know something they actually know nothing about. Their egos find it hard to admit they do not know something, lest their image be ruined in the eyes of others. However, in the Qur’an, Allah tells us that those who make false explanations based on guesses and conjecture are unaware:
Death to the conjecturers: those who flounder in a glut of ignorance. (Surat adh-Dhariyat, 10-11)
Elsewhere, Allah commands people not to argue about matters they know nothing about:
[Say,] “You are people arguing about something of which you have no knowledge. Why do you argue about something of which you have no knowledge? Allah knows; you do not know.” (Surah Al ‘Imran, 66)
It is senseless to act as if one knew everything. No matter how much a person knows, there are certainly things he does not. But Almighty Allah, with His infinite knowledge and intelligence, knows everything. So, even if a person knows about many things, we must not forget that:
... Over everyone with knowledge is a Knower. (Surah Yusuf, 76)
Allah tells us in the Qur’an that, no matter how knowledgeable a person may be, this is not a reason to become filled with pride; to be humble is more important.
Someone who truly fears Allah will refrain from saying anything or passing on information whose truth he’s unsure about. He will assert nothing based on guesses or conjecture and hesitate to make any comment about it, but will certainly not hesitate to say he does not know. This is because he will be held responsible:
Do not pursue what you have no knowledge of. Hearing, sight and hearts will all be questioned. (Surat al-Isra’, 36)
Another characteristic of superficial people is that they exaggerate in order to draw attention to themselves. To achieve their basic goal of getting people to like them, listen to what they say, and make them laugh, these people do not hesitate to give exaggerated accounts of interesting matters whose truth is suspect. They have no hesitation in entering a serious discussion with argumentative words. In their desire to be noticed, they may tell lies to alter the truth in order to satisfy that desire.
The purpose of these shallow individuals is not to show a moral character pleasing to Allah, but to make themselves seem more important. They want to gain the favor of others and so, do not care that what they say is totally based on lies. They present their exaggerations as harmless, innocent conversation. But as revealed in the Qur’an:
... have done with telling lies. (Surat al-Hajj, 30)
Lies, whether great or small, harmless or otherwise, must therefore be avoided.
An intelligent person who takes pleasure in his good moral character can notice false exaggeration in the conversation of another. This individual, in order not to let that person descend to the same level as liars, will urge him to correct his exaggerations. And he carefully avoids falling into such a situation himself.
They Display a Different Character in Different Situations
BThe lives and religious interest of superficial people are usually not sincere. What they do is often different from what they say. They claim they are religious, but in difficult situations the weakness of their faith is immediately evident. For example, when they feel healthy, they are energetic and joyful. But let their health fail even a little, and their joy can suddenly disappear. They can forget the prayers they made to Allah. They begin to ask themselves why Allah gave them their illness, even go so far as to think that they do not deserve such a thing. In this way, they show lack of gratitude for their blessings and their lack of trust in Allah. However, bouts of illness are often important times in which Allah tests His servants, trying their patience and attachment to Him. Those who continue to be patient and thank Allah in times of difficulty are faithful servants with deep faith.
The attitude a person displays in times of difficulty, when he risks losing his possessions or his life, depends on his understanding. One who seems balanced and moderate in a content problem-free environment may grumble and complain bitterly in a moment of danger and send out negative messages to friends and acquaintances. He behaves this way because he has a superficial way of thinking. The danger is that such a person may exhibit an attitude quite divorced from religion under different terms and conditions. For example, when in difficulty he may lie, feel sorry for himself and weep, forgetting the fact of destiny and his trust in Allah, and fall into deep despair. He may also display an angry, aggressive attitude, because those who live superficially think that growing angry, becoming emotional and showing distress are natural reactions, which they do not hesitate to display spontaneously.
However, several examples are given in the Qur’an to warn us that these sudden reactions are wrong and should be avoided. Allah says that Muslims are “... those who control their rage and pardon other people” (Surah Al ‘Imran: 134).
In another verse, He says:
... Do not despair of solace from Allah. No one despairs of solace from Allah except for people who are unbelievers. (Surah Yusuf, 87)
These individuals focus their lives on others, trying always to please them and win their favor. Of course, they do not hope to please them or behave morally toward others in an effort to win Allah’s favor. What is meant here is that they adapt themselves to the persons they are with and, they can easily resort to every sort of shallowness and lack of moral standards to gain their appreciation.
Although they know it is not right, such people may falsify documents and tell lies according to the situation just in order to earn their boss’s appreciation. They may be quite passive in the presence of a high-level manager, but arrogant, peevish and tyrannical toward those working under them. The right thing is to behave conscientiously and in a balanced way, and not influenced by other people or their positions. To adopt the same manner of conversation as an insincere and artificial person, to be arrogant in the presence of the arrogant and to fall under their influence—in other words, to adapt oneself to every kind of character and allow oneself to be influenced by them—is the height of superficiality.
Those with such a character are very easily influenced by what others might think about them, positive or negative. If someone says anything against them, they become upset and sometimes enter a depression that lasts for days. And every compliment or bit of praise makes them overly enthusiastic. Forgetting that Allah sees them everywhere and at all times, they adjust their lives totally to others. They act differently when they are at home and at work, on the street, in their summer houses or on vacation; they change according to the situations and environments they are in. Their personalities are weak; therefore, they always fall under the influence of others and compromise their own values.
Among these people may be those who tend to practice religious morality, but whose faith is weak. They usually say their prayers and fast, but when on vacation, they adapt themselves to that environment and postpone their prayers. In their style of clothing, behavior and preferred kinds of entertainment, they resemble very much those who are far removed from religious morality. When a large group of non-religious people gather, it is easy for those in whose heart faith has not established itself to conform to the group. These people in such an environment, shopping and amusing themselves, forget the infinite power of Allah.
Their minds become caught up with details about where to have dinner, or what to wear on a certain evening. It’s certainly no error that these people go on vacation to amuse themselves. Their error lies in their debasing themselves by conforming to the majority in different environments. In so doing, they enter a spiritual state far removed from the moral teachings of the Qur’an. But Allah tells us clearly in the Qur’an that conforming to the majority is a mistake:
If you obeyed most of those on Earth, they would misguide you from Allah’s way ... (Surat al-An‘am, 116)
Conforming to the masses is frequently seen in people of superficial character. But Muslims, no matter where and when they are, keep Allah in their hearts and in their conversations. Since their only purpose in life is to win Allah’s favor, mercy and to attain Paradise, they act toward attaining this one goal at every moment. They may take a trip, go on vacation or otherwise amuse themselves at the appropriate time. But in doing so, they are always submissive to Allah:
... Say: “My prayer and my rites, my living and my dying, are for Allah alone, the Lord of all the worlds.”(Surat al-An‘am, 162)
Even if they happen to be the only one in a crowd who acts according to religious morality, still they never waver. On the contrary, they are more attentive and avoid doing anything they think would displease Allah. Under no condition do they let their passions lead them away from practicing religious morality or remembering Allah and the world to come:
[Believers are] not distracted by trade or commerce from the remembrance of Allah and the establishment of prayer and the giving of alms; fearing a day when all hearts and eyes will be in turmoil.(Surat an-Nur, 37)
In the time of the Prophet (saas), there were people of shallow character who conformed to the situation they were in. Allah gives us an example of such people and their perverse behavior in the Qur’an:
But when they see a chance of trade or entertainment, they scatter off to it and leave you standing there. Say: “What is with Allah is better than trade or entertainment. Allah is the Best of Providers.”(Surat al-Jumu‘a, 11)
These people had the honor of being in the presence of the blessed Prophet (saas), loved and chosen by Allah. But they were superficial individuals who did not think deeply and who were unaware that this was a great blessing.
For the sake of business or entertainment, they would leave Allah’s chosen servant standing alone. Because of their shallow minds, they saw nothing wrong with their behavior. This is because shallow individuals do not appreciate good people and high values, cannot grasp the subtleties of religious morality or the value of an enlightened person of deep faith like the Prophet Muhammad (saas), who was attached to Allah and honored by Him. Whenever they saw a matter that might represent even a simple advantage, they immediately headed in that direction and departed from the side of the Prophet (saas).
People of shallow character are very much influenced by happenings. For this reason, most of them do not live in a balanced spiritual state. They are buoyed up by events they consider positive, but quickly become upset, for example, if they become ill, lose some possessions, receive bad news or hear a word that they do not want during the course of a conversation. They ignore that Allah is in control of everything and fall apart because of their lack of trust in Him. Allah points out this tendency of the human lower self:
Truly man was created headstrong—desperate when bad things happen.(Surat al-Ma‘arij, 19-20)
These people may appear dignified at other times, but such incidents unexpectedly reveal their true characters. For example, someone who earlier presented himself as calm and composed may have a fit of temper when his interests are challenged. Some things may make him angry, make him lose control of himself and weep. Because he forgets about Allah and the fact of destiny—or chooses to ignore them—he falls into melancholy.
When he has an unsuccessful venture in his work or loses something of value, he may become dispirited. However, it is important to remember that whatever happens for a person, be it sickness or injury, is his destiny and takes place according to Allah’s will. When this person considers the role a virus played in an illness, or that of a bad driver in an accident, his forgetfulness of Allah and untrusting behavior show the weakness of his faith. Of course, Allah has created many tests for human beings, but all are under His control. A person becomes ill or injured because this was his destiny. Similarly, it was fated for the driver to have that accident; this was the will of Allah. That a person ignores this truth and assumes a sad expression shows that he is associating His creation with Allah. It is a sin to think that there is no good purpose in calamities and illnesses, that illnesses are simply caused by germs and ignore the fact that germs and viruses were created by Allah as means to His ends. The behavior caused by such ideas will be highly superficial and far from the high moral quality that religion bestows.
In the Qur’an, Allah warns people of faith against such shallow and superficial thinking and reminds them that it can endanger their lives in the next world:
Among the people there is one who worships Allah right on the edge. If good befalls him, he is content with it, but if a trial befalls him, he reverts to his former ways, losing both this world and the Hereafter. That is indeed sheer loss.(Surat al-Hajj, 11)
This tendency can be present in the hearts of those who have not yet come to faith. These people are careful to practice religious morality when they are surrounded with blessings and their situation and environment are just as they wish. Under such circumstances, they eagerly perform their required acts of worship. But when the situation changes, when Allah takes away some of their blessings as a test, these people behave differently. Heaviness replaces their former eagerness. Some of them may even fall into perverse thinking:
As for man, when his Lord tests him by honoring him and favoring him, he says, “My Lord has honored me!” But then when He tests him by restricting his provision, he says, “My Lord has humiliated me!”(Surat al-Fajr, 15-16)
However, this is the nadir of shallowness. To be positive when conditions are good, and to become ungrateful when the situation changes, is behavior that should be avoided. Similarly, to disregard Allah, grumble and complain and become depressed in times of difficulty, reflects the same shallow way of thinking. In everything that happens, Muslims put their trust in Allah. To have a fine moral character and be patient, moderate, intelligent, perceptive, resourceful, sensible, balanced, forgiving, compassionate, and loving brings the deep joy of faith. When a believer sees these good qualities in himself, he is very happy; and it is yet another pleasure when he senses the joy of faith that other believers have taken from him.
Their Understanding of Friendship
Friendship is based on mutual intimacy. But a shallow person can perceive sincerity and intimacy as not requiring the use of reason. His smiles, conversations, behavior and expressions reflect a shallow mind, and he displays even more shallowness in the name of intimacy. He can easily do something shallow in the presence of one he regards as an intimate friend, but would avoid doing the same in someone else’s presence. For example, he’ll talk to his friend about private and confidential matters. Or he talks about illness or physical weaknesses, whose mention does no good at all. Instead of choosing easy solutions, he describes his ailments at great length. He always tells others that he is hungry, thirsty, sleepy or exhausted by the heat. He relates in great detail how his head ached all night, how much medicine he took but to no avail, how tired he is from lack of sleep, that he got a chill from an open window, and countless similar unnecessary things. All this he does in the name of intimacy; but this is merely superficiality.
Contrary to what such people think, a person receives no comfort from not using his will or intellect. When superficial people act without thinking, they imagine that this will put themselves at ease and present an image of friendship to those around them. However, the opposite is true. When a person uses his intellect consciously, he makes himself comfortable as well as those around him. Otherwise, all conversation and activity would be very shallow and repellent. If a person acts intelligently and thinks subtly, to that extent will his friendships be sound and valuable. The prophets and Muslims who practice the moral teachings of the Qur’an are the best example of this. Because they try to win Allah’s favor at every moment, their conversations and actions are all designed toward this end. When there is an illness, for example, they take appropriate medical treatment and see a doctor to learn what the trouble is. But most importantly, they remember that these things will be effective only if Allah permits, and they pray to Him for healing. They do not make unnecessary conversation about their illness to a friend, relative, or anyone else. They do not constantly talk about their ailment. The Prophet Ayyub (as) is an example for Muslims. When he was seriously ill, he turned only toward Allah:
And Ayyub when he called out to his Lord, “Great harm has afflicted me and You are the Most Merciful of the merciful.” We responded to him and removed from him the harm which was afflicting him ... (Surat al-Anbiya’, 83-84)
This is the basic way in which Muslims think. It stems from their knowing that Allah is in control of everything and that they expect good things only from Him.
In a superficial understanding of friendship, “pouring out grievances” occupy an important place. According to this way of understanding, being someone else’s friend means being able to have such a talk with that someone whenever one wants to. Such conversation in whisper tones in doorways, around the kitchen and in a corner of the office is a completely shallow habit. In this one wants a confidant to tell little things to, rather than a true Muslim friendship. Far from being of any use, the confidant listens to the shallow problems and takes pleasure in sharing the same spiritual state. In the Qur’an, Allah draws attention to the superficiality of those who do not practice religious morality:
There is no good in much of their secret talk, except in the case of those who enjoin charity, or what is right, or putting things right between people ... (Surat al-Hujurat, 12)
Because these kinds of friends have the same way of thinking, they also share a common superficial culture. Even in a crowded environment, these people will recognize one another and seek one another out. Although their lifestyles may not be the same, when they spend time together, they are more comfortable than they would be with someone else. But this ease does not arise from intimacy, love, respect or trust; it is a freedom that results from living the same superficiality and understanding the same language. When these same people see another with a higher morality, they know that such an individual could not live in their debased culture. For this reason, they always choose as their closest friends those who share the same morality.
When they cannot act freely in the presence of others with a high standard of morality, they sit back in silence. Because they cannot display the shallow behavior of their debased culture, they withdraw mentally and physically. They carry on hesitant and artificial conversations and appear very hard-pressed not to reveal themselves as they really are.
Instead of being altruistic toward their friends, they are actually selfish, proud and arrogant. Such a person always expects love, friendship, tolerance and self-sacrifice from others, but he can never obtain any of these. He does not think to do favors for anyone else, but expects others to do something for him. For example, he wants others to be tolerant with him, but he is intolerant of the least thing. He wants very much to be loved, but his character is not lovable, nor can he love another person in any real sense. Besides, if someone else feels love and respect for him and does him some favors, he cannot respond in the due manner because of his shallow character. He will abuse this good treatment at every opportunity. Because he thinks he deserves the love and goodness offered to him, he grows arrogant and self-satisfied. It is too much for him when he receives respect from someone—respect he has never had before and that he does not deserve. And such a person has no sense of loyalty. A word of advice that goes against his ego may suddenly make him irritated and aggressive.
These people do not truly value one another, and their friendships are not long-lived because they are not based on love and respect. They often take offense, sulk and become upset as a way of making a protest. No matter how normal such behavior may seem to people in an ignorant society, it is brought about by the false religion of superficiality and has no place in the morality of the Qur’an. In the Muslim understanding of friendship, there is no room for this kind of ignorant, primitive tactics. Those with faith can speak to one another about every matter in a tolerant and understanding environment and can resolve issues by reference to the Qur’an.
Some people perpetuate this lack of understanding and reproachful attitude for months or even years. It arises from their shallow way of thinking. These people do not fear Allah as they ought and so they struggle with small matters, thinking that they are actually disasters. If a friend of such a person meets with another mutual friend without informing this person and do not invite him, he will quickly become upset and even end the friendship. Such people focus their entire attention on unimportant issues that arise in their small worlds; and yet while they are doing this, death is fast approaching. Such people live in their superficiality with no preparations for the world to come. They completely ignore the fact that one day they will die, be buried and give an account in the next life.
Muslims are individuals with common goals and values, who love Allah, work to win His favor, mercy and to attain Paradise. They have faith in Allah, obey Him, and practice the morality of the Qur’an. This makes their love strong and it takes deep root among them. As a corollary of this sense of love and respect, they form strong bonds of friendship among themselves. Both sides are extremely content in this friendship. They practice the morality of the Qur’an in everything they do and, as a result, their actions and conversations are always natural and good. The warmth of Islamic morality radiates from their friendship. They perform acts of self-sacrifice for one another. We are told in the Qur’an that such people always put their friends’ wants before their own, and they “... prefer them to themselves even if they themselves are needy ...” (Surat al-Hashr: 9). They always act with gentleness and compassion in accord with the command of Allah to “... take the believers under your wing” (Surat al-Hijr: 88). Because they love other Muslims and honor them for the sake of their faith and morality, they act with consideration and avoid doing anything that their friends would not like or that would make them uncomfortable. In the Qur’an, Allah tells Muslims that this bond among them goes beyond friendship:
The believers are brothers ... (Surat al-Hujurat, 10)
In another verse, Allah reminds us that this friendship among Muslims is a blessing from Him:
... Remember Allah’s blessing to you when you were enemies and He joined your hearts together so that you became brothers by His blessing ... (Surah Al ‘Imran, 103)
This strong bond among Muslims is a blessing given by Allah as a reward for their faith. It is not possible for anyone to have this friendship and intimacy if they do not practice the moral precepts of the Qur’an. Allah reveals this truth in the Qur’an:
And [it is He Who] unified their hearts. Even if you had spent everything on the Earth, you could not have unified their hearts. But Allah has unified them ... (Surat al-Anfal, 63)
They Take no Pleasure in Goodness or Beauty
Those who believe in Allah and in the life to come know that He is the reason for the existence of everything they see around them. Someone with this knowledge looks around and is aware every moment of the countless beautiful things that Allah creates for human beings. Such a person takes deep pleasure from the artistry in the things that Allah has created. For this reason, a Muslim always wants to be surrounded by beauty. His spirit always tends toward what is purer and more beautiful. He likes renovation and change in these things. When he enters a certain environment, he immediately notices any alterations made to it. In the same way, he notices lack of symmetry, and changes that have been done without any understanding of purity. He immediately feels a desire to rearrange it and make it beautiful. In return for this genuineness, Allah bestows a great sensitivity on his spirit.
In the Qur’an, Allah promises a Muslim living with this way of thinking a life in Paradise filled with infinite beauty and artistry:
Their Lord gives them the good news of His mercy and good pleasure and Gardens where they will enjoy everlasting delight. (Surat at-Tawba, 21)
But someone who lives in an ignorant culture cannot appreciate the blessings surrounding him. For example, if a delicate handmade artwork were shown to such a person, he would not recognize its value. He could not appreciate the talent of the artist who made it, the work it took or the meticulous and attentive artistry that went into it. He would not have in his spirit anything approaching the ability to observe, enjoy and appreciate the delicacy of its workmanship.
Because of the effects of superficial culture on his mind, he has become unable to appreciate beauty in what he sees. But this state is like a dangerous illness that can blind the human spirit. Under this culture’s degenerating influence, a person who cannot appreciate beauty has damaged with his own hands the wonderful blessing that Allah has given him. Finally, this person’s life falls into the state Allah describes in the Qur’an:
On the Day when those who disbelieved are exposed to the Fire: “You dissipated the good things you had in your worldly life and enjoyed yourself in it ...” (Surat al-Ahqaf, 20)
However, the human spirit has been created to take pleasure in every sort of spiritual and material beauty. It is disposed to appreciate beauty. But a person accustomed to his own superficiality and lives without improving on what is good and beautiful in his character, blinds his spirit. He becomes unable to notice beautiful things before his eyes and the wonderful artistry, harmony and symmetry in the things Allah has created. Caring only about his own survival, he chooses goals that are debased and unworthy of the purpose of human life. If he sits down before a fine meal, he will have no awareness of the effort that went into preparing it and no ability to understand its subtle, aesthetic touches. He will never understand that its careful preparation is a wonderful blessing and gift from Allah. In such a situation, he will engage in superficiality regarding that meal.
Also, some people with this mindset attach no importance to the cleanliness of their bodies or their environment. As Allah says in the Qur’an, they live in filth because they do not use their intellect:
... He casts uncleanness on those who do not use their intellect. (Surah Yunus, 100)
For example, they take no real pleasure from wearing clean clothes or living in a clean environment. They appear to attach importance to these things in places where other people can see them. Apart from this, they do not care anything about cleanliness or what it entails. All this is proof that shows that they do not possess the personal dignity that is the mark of people with faith.
People who share the culture of superficiality attach no importance to aesthetics, eye-pleasing order or, more importantly, good moral character. That they care nothing for aesthetics or beauty can easily be seen from the way they pay no attention to these things. However, an individual whose personality is formed by the morality of the Qur’an and who knows that Allah is aware of all he does, always wants to look his best in Allah’s sight. Allah says that He has created human beings best among all other creatures:
We created man in the finest mould. (Surat at-Tin, 4)
For this reason, in everything they do throughout their whole lives human beings should emphasize this blessing of Allah and act so as not to weaken their human aspects. Besides, Allah tells us in the Qur’an that He will lower the state of those who do not use their good qualities and behave according to the creation that makes them superior to other creatures. We can see from the following verse that only those who show their faith in the works they do will not be put into this lowly state:
Then We reduced him to the lowest of the low, except for those who believe and do right actions ... (Surat at-Tin, 5-6)
Those who can appreciate Allah's wonderful creative artistry, beauty and goodness in what they see are ones whose spirits take pleasure from these things and deepen their perceptions. In the Qur'an, Allah describes the moral excellence of a Muslim:
[People with intelligence are] those who remember Allah, standing, sitting and lying on their sides, and reflect on the creation of the heavens and the Earth: “Our Lord, You have not created this for nothing. Glory be to You! So safeguard us from the punishment of the Fire.” (Surah Al ‘Imran, 191)
This depth is impossible to attain in a superficial culture. But a person attached to Allah in sincere faith has this depth when standing, sitting or lying. A person with a Muslim morality thinks of Allah at every moment; in his mind he senses the greatness of Allah the Creator in everything he sees. This keeps a person with faith in a spiritual state by which he can appreciate everything he sees. He knows that everything is Allah’s creation and can perceive the goodness and the subtlety in it.
They Talk About the Positive Things They Have Done
People of shallow character want everyone to know all the good things they have done, and do these things where everyone can plainly see them. For example, when they give money to a poor person, they do it openly. Later, they draw attention to what they have done in a covert way or talk openly about it. You can hear them say things like, “I gave him that,” or “I bought what he is wearing. I cleaned it,” “I prepared that file,” “I gave him that idea,” “If I hadn’t reminded him, he would have forgotten,” “I dropped him off in my car,” “I looked after him when he was sick ...” Superficiality drives a person to behave like this. People of shallow character use these kinds of things to praise themselves and make themselves look good in the eyes of others. If the praise of Allah was in their hearts and minds, they would not lower themselves to seek others’ appreciation and praise. But because they do not try to win Allah’s favor and the rewards in the Afterlife are far from their minds, they are more inclined to seek the appreciation and gratitude of others as an easy gain.
These people can even cite the material or spiritual help they have given to the recipients themselves. Because they cannot conceive of subtlety of religious morality, they do not see this as superficiality. However, in the Qur’an, Allah tells His servants to avoid such behavior:
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 ... (Surat al-Baqara, 264)
He reminds them that if they make another person feel obliged to them they will render their alms ineffective. In another verse Allah says:
Correct and courteous words accompanied by forgiveness are better than charity followed by insulting words. Allah is Rich Beyond Need ... (Surat al-Baqara, 263)
With their good works and exemplary behavior, Muslims who practice religious morality seek only to win Allah’s favor. They look with unalloyed intentions toward Paradise and do so not expecting any material or spiritual return from anyone. In this sense, they place no importance on the appreciation or gratitude of others. Since they have no desire to win the others’ praise, they behave in a dignified and sincere manner. They never try to let others know the good they have done, and so never mention them. They never make another person feel obliged, and expect no thanks, praise or compliments. Allah tells us in the Qur’an that they expect their reward only from Him:
... [Hud said:] “My wage is the responsibility of Him Who brought me into being ...” (Surah Hud, 51)
As Allah points out in the Qur’an, they prefer to do good deeds in secret:
If you make your charity public, that is good. But if you conceal it and give it to the poor, that is better for you, and We will erase some of your bad actions from you. Allah is aware of what you do. (Surat al-Baqara, 271)
In another verse, Allah explains a Muslim’s basic goal:
... Whatever good you give away is to your own benefit, when you give desiring only the Face of Allah ... (Surat al-Baqara, 272)
Shallow People are Easily Angered
Anger and tension usually arise from conflicts of interest. When some individuals of shallow character think that their material circumstances are endangered, they can become irritated in a moment. Anger can suddenly make a calm, peaceful or humorous person unrecognizable; it can make him hard and heartless. But for this to happen, the individual must have a weak will and conscience, be unmindful of Allah and be unable to control his lower self.
These people have countless ways to make their anger felt. When someone asks them a question, they are silent for a while before answering. They use innuendo in their conversations; they constantly complain and cause discord. They do not laugh when it is appropriate; they sulk; they do not join in conversations; they slam doors and throw things on the floor. These are only a few of their displays of anger and innuendo, all coming from shallowness. And none of this has any place in religious morality, because everything that happens to a person happens under Allah’s control. Every minute and second of our lives is under His sovereignty. For this reason, there is no situation in which a person should lose himself and become caught up in anger. When a valuable antique is broken, a purse is lost, an important document is thrown into the trash, an accident happens, a false or hurtful word is uttered—all such things that are a part of life may be considered adverse. But they are part of the destiny that Allah has created for everyone. In His infinite wisdom, our Lord has created these things for the good of His faithful servants.
Think of a person who sprains his ankle, misses an important appointment, is fired from his job or is the subject of unfounded gossip. Or someone who fails a university entrance examination after years of constant preparation. Before they become angry, these people should consider that none of these occurrences happened by chance. For a devout Muslim, all of these things are the means to good and were all created for a purpose.
Shallow people frequently forget about the fact of destiny; they do not consider that any adversity that happens to them is under Allah’s control, and they become caught up in anger. But believers control their anger. They trust in Allah and ask for good to come out of their negative experience. They keep in mind that Allah directed the other person who may have caused such an adversity. They know that being overcome with anger, tension, hurtful words and irritability are marks of a person with a shallow mind. In the Qur’an, Allah reveals:
[People who guard against evil are] 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)
Greed is an Essential Part of the Shallow Character
People of shallow character have a strong attachment to the values of this world and so live divorced from religious morality. What drives a person into superficiality are things like arrogance, jealousy, ambition, impatience, and anger, at the bottom of which lie the passions and desires of the lower self. As with all of the above, the passions and desires of the lower self also lie at the root of greed. The lower self is like an enemy placed inside a person. In the Qur’an, Allah tells us the following:
[Yusuf said:] “I do not say my self was free from blame. The self indeed commands to evil acts—except for those my Lord has mercy on ...” (Surah Yusuf, 53)
A person must use his intelligence and conscience against his lower self, because, if he puts aside his fine human values and yields to it, he will be greatly deceived by going after worldly gain. Allah shows us the superficial tendencies of those who follow their lower selves and distance themselves from the Qur’an:
If We had wanted to, We would have raised him up by them. But he gravitated towards the earth and pursued his whims and base desires ... (Surat al-A‘raf, 176)
In another verse, He says that behavior that falls outside the practice of religious morality is degrading:
... Some of them are righteous and some are other than that ... (Surat al-A‘raf, 168)
If they used their consciences, they would live respectable and honorable lives, but they show this tendency toward degrading behavior. So, greed is one of the aspects that reflect this superficial and degraded morality.
Greed is a concept that weakens and degrades a person, and can cause great harm. Because of ambition, a person with this kind of morality can abandon valuable things he owns to pursue things of no value. Although he can desire and work toward gaining Allah’s favor and mercy and attaining the infinite blessings of Paradise, he desires the transient and decaying benefits of this world. Because his lower self is full of avarice, he cannot see the future, only the present moment. As revealed in the Qur’an, he puts the next world out of his mind:
These people love this fleeting world and have put the thought of a Momentous Day behind their backs. (Surat al-Insan, 27)
Wealth, possessions, ambition and desire for gain drive this person into superficiality and always degrade him. But ambition and greedy desire for worldly possessions is a deception. In order not to fall into this state, a person must not pursue his passions and the desires of his lower self.
In the Qur’an, Allah reveals:
... You desire the goods of this world, whereas Allah desires the Hereafter . . (Surat al-Anfal, 67)
In another verse, He describes that, compared to the desire for wealth and possessions, “... Allah’s reward is better for those who believe and act rightly. But only the steadfast will obtain it ...” (Surat al-Qasas: 80). When a person becomes ambitious, he is open to making mistakes and behaving wrongly; soon he is far removed from many truths and beautiful things. He compromises values he believes in to have a bit more to eat or more things to wear, a higher standard of living or a higher position. However, these things are all transient, all unimportant. A person can be filled with a single meal; he can wear the same shirt for years. No matter how big his house is, he can only be in one room at a time. No matter what the circumstances of his life, a person should be dignified and never countenance such superficiality. If he is going through a difficult time, he should work hard, trust in Allah and never be greedy for anything, large or small. He should ask for what he needs only from Allah. In the Qur’an, Allah reveals:
There is nothing wrong in seeking bounty from your Lord ... (Surat al-Baqara, 198)
We are told in this verse that a human can ask all sorts of things from Allah. Allah gives sustenance to every living being on Earth and in the heavens; He is our Creator. He gives good things to His faithful servants along with the good news that He will answer their prayers. He says:
... If you fear impoverishment, Allah will enrich you from His bounty if He wills ... (Surat at-Tawba, 28)
By Allah’s grace, Muslims have a noble spirit. For this reason, they expect every kind of blessing and assistance from Him:
You alone we ask for help. Guide us on the Straight Path, the Path of those You have blessed. (Surat al-Fatiha, 4-6)
They are dignified, so that even if they are in need, they will not let other people know. Allah draws attention to the worthiness of such fine morality:
[Alms are] for the poor who are held back in the way of Allah, unable to travel in the land. The ignorant consider them rich because of their reticence. You will know them by their mark. They do not ask from people insistently ... (Surat al-Baqara: 273)
They 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.” (Surat al-Insan, 8-10)
Those who were already settled in the abode, 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 ... (Surat al-Hashr, 9)
We are told in the last verse above that, even if they are in need, believers prefer to give rather than receive.
Muslims take great pleasure in this honorable and generous behavior, which is just the opposite of greed. Greedy people grab their blessings, and it never occurs to them to give thanks for them. For this reason they cannot take pleasure from anything they possess. They always want more. Even if they do not need anything, still their ambition is to possess more. They are greedy even about little things. Allah tells us about this in the Qur’an and points out that these people are insistent in their refusal to practice religious morality:
Leave the person I created on his own to Me alone, him to whom I have given great wealth and sons who stay with him, and whose way I have smoothed. Then he wants Me to add yet more! No indeed! He is obdurate about Our signs. (Surat al-Muddaththir, 11-16)
They are close-fisted and resist spending what they have, though they have very different expectations from other people. In the Qur'an, Allah reveals the falsity which comes from their greediness:
Woe to the stinters! Those who, when they take a measure from people, exact full measure, but when they give them a measure or weight, hand over less than is due. (Surat al-Mutaffifin, 1-3)
However, this is a kind of superficiality that does not please Allah; He describes it in the Qur'an and warns people against it, reminding them that the blessings He will give are much better:
Do not direct your eyes longingly to what We have given certain of them to enjoy, the flower of the life of this world, so that We can test them by it. Your Lord’s provision is better and longer lasting. (Surah Ta Ha, 131)
The idea of greediness is not limited only to material things. This moral perversity may show itself in many ways, including an answer given to a question or a word uttered. A superficial person, in his own words, “gives as good as he gets” and is eager to have the last word in an argument. Some individuals take every opportunity to pepper their conversations with foreign words to indicate that they know another language. Instead of speaking plainly and simply, they pretend not to remember the word in their own language for what they want to express. In order to show off, they demean themselves by using foreign expressions. This superficiality also lies at the root of conversations that mention brand names, car models and vacation homes. However, addiction to the things of this transient world brings shame upon people. Those who lower themselves to this level of superficiality must realize how far they have fallen. Such people must remember that everything they own belongs to this world that will pass away in the twinkling of an eye and that in death, all of it will be left behind.
The desire to seize the least opportunity to get the upper hand is also a part of this debased morality. Amazingly, people with this greedy way of thinking regard small things as gains. For example, a shallow person is made happy when he gets a better seat in the theater or attends a company dinner without paying. Similarly, little things he has cheated others out of give him unexpected excitement. People who try to get to the table first to take advantage of a buffet or try to take the plate with the most food on it share the same superficiality. Most of them are greedy for a plateful of food even though they do not actually need it.
Greed has nothing to do with whether a person’s material means are great or small; everything to do with the fact that they have a shallow spirit divorced from religious morality. Just as many honorable people of limited resources do not reveal their needs to anyone, so many wealthy people are tight-fisted and greedy for the smallest things. For example, a famous rich person goes to a small town for some reason. Whatever modest store he enters, he does not leave without receiving a gift, even if a small one. The shopkeeper who gave the gift was probably not very well-off. If this individual wandering through the town does not pay for a meal in a small restaurant, he regards it as a gain. He is actually greedy for the possessions of needy people.
From this example, we can see that superficial people may be greedy for receiving gifts from friends and acquaintances. Such a person always reminds them of New Year’s, birthdays, and anniversaries. In order to receive gifts, he jokes with his friends, but his so-called jokes contain certain implications that force the other person to buy a gift for him. Together with this, he constantly mentions that he likes a certain object and wishes that he had something just like it, expecting that the others will give him one as a present. In this way, he is greedy for the smallest things and regards it as gain if he secures them.
We must remember that there is no direct connection between superficiality and education, culture, wealth or poverty. In fact, it is a matter of religious morality and conscience. Only Muslims who use their conscience, seek Allah’s favor and look forward to the next life are tranquil and content. They avoid things contrary to religious morality such as ambition, greed and exploiting other people, because they do not look for the transient benefits of the moment, but for the endless life of Paradise.
The Prophet Muhammad (saas) warned people with faith against greed in his hadiths. He says, “Do not be avaricious. Avarice is poverty itself” (At-Tabarani). In another hadith, he says that avoiding greed makes a believer honorable “... The honor of the believer lies in his not casting his eyes on the possessions of others” (al-Hakim). And in another hadith, the Prophet (saas) points out the difference between being ambitious and not being ambitious for the things of this world:
“Whosever’s desire and objective is the world, Allah will narrow that person’s affairs in his disfavor, will make his poverty between his two eyes [in other words, he will suffer troubles for the sake of obtaining the things of this world] and nothing from the world [blessings and goods] but what is written for him [in his destiny] will come to him. Whosever’s desire and objective is the Hereafter, Allah will make good his fragmented affairs, locate wealth in his heart and the world [its blessings and goods] will submit to him.” (Sunan Ibn Majah)
And Bediuzzaman Said Nursi reminds us in one of his reflections that someone who has earthly desires may be deprived of them:
“Greed is the cause of deprivation; submission and contentment, on the other hand, are a vehicle for mercy.” (Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, Risale-i Nur Collection, The Letters, p. 271.))
They are Curious
Those who live in the debased culture of superficiality use various tactics to find out what they want to know. They are curious about things that do not concern them and try to find out about things of no advantage to them. For example, Person No. 1 was not invited to a gathering of friends the evening before. In order to find out whether Person No. 2—someone he had a disagreement with—was invited, he tells Person No. 3 that he tried all night to call Person No. 2, but without success, and that he was concerned. So Person No. 3, not knowing the real reason for the question, says that Person No. 2 was at last night’s gathering and that is why he could not be reached. With his sneaky questioning, Person No. 1 makes a display of good will to Person No. 3 without making him aware of his curiosity and jealousy.
“Let he who believes in Allah and the Hereafter either speak auspiciously or else remain silent.”(Tirmidhi hadiths)
In another hadith, he says:
“A person’s abandoning useless, empty words is the foremost of the beauties of Islam.” (Tirmidhi hadiths)
So a Muslim who experiences this beauty would never yield to vain curiosity. Even if he wanted to learn about a matter, he would rein himself in. To fall into such a situation otherwise would be unbecoming. Everyone may try to deceive others and use covert tactics to learn from them what they want to know. But the important thing is whether the person doing this can find room for such behavior in his moral make-up. Can he reconcile this insincere, curious personality with his own moral understanding? If he is prepared to do this just to obtain a piece of information, in the knowledge that Allah sees him and knows what he is doing, it is a sign that his fear of Allah is not strong.
However, that a person wants to learn something useful that will supply his needs and make life easier has nothing to do with curiosity. This is Muslim way of behavior proper to those who believe in Allah.
As explained above in detail, the kind of questioning designed to fulfill a person’s egotistical desires and put his curiosity to rest is totally different from the Muslim understanding. It is an activity that comes from superficiality and is proper to those individuals who have lost, to a certain degree, the sensitivity that faith imparts.
They are Overly Refined
Those whose way of thinking is not superficial behave with natural grace. Such people feel no need to use artificiality in their conversations, actions or expressions. For superficial people, however, acting in an overly refined manner comes at the head of their list of artificial tactics. By “overly refined,” we do not mean being mannerly, considerate or polite; but the attempt of shallow characters to present themselves as other than they are, to make others like them. Being overly refined is a tactic a person uses to conceal his real personality, shallow behavior and way of life from others.
This individual knows that he is shallow, and that among some people around him he can live fearlessly in this shallowness. He knows he needn’t act in a refined way among those with whom he shares this low culture; he can even act in quite vulgarly with them. But he feels an intense need to act in a refined manner with those who are not like him, in whose eyes he fears to be humiliated if they detect his shallowness.
Attempts to act refined is a tactic that exalts human beings more than necessary. It is seen in people with weak personalities and shows those who act this way to be ignorant and shallow. For example, anyone who behaves naturally says what he wants to, simply and directly. If he wants something, he states it clearly. But a shallow person, in his attempt to be refined, cannot say what he wants to. He goes off the track and goes on at great length. Especially when he wants something from someone, he is easily embarrassed and acts unnaturally. This overly refined manner is seen not only in his manner and conversation, but also in the way he sits, stands, eats, holds things and in many other ways. Everyone who sees him knows that such a person cannot live that way for 24 hours a day, because such behavior is so obviously unnatural.
Overly refined behavior may also stem from formality and remoteness. If a person speaks always in a refined manner with someone else, it’s a sign that he is not that person’s friend; but that they remain strangers. These people do not feel the need to be so refined with their families or close friends. They trust these people and so can act comfortably with them, showing their natural side. On the other hand, those with whom they feel they must strike a refined pose are people from whom they want to hide their real personalities. Unlike what some may think, those who act in a refined manner do not act that way out of respect for others, but on the contrary, out of a lack of sincerity.
Instead of hiding their shallow character by acting in an overly refined manner, those people should abandon and be saved from superficiality. Only this way will their behavior become normal again and of a high quality. This is possible by living fully according to the morality of the Qur’an.