What Do People Usually
In previous chapters, we mentioned that people do not think as they ought to and do not develop their faculty of thinking. Yet here there is an important point that needs to be clarified. Surely certain things cross one's mind every moment of one's life. There is almost no moment, save at times of sleep, that the human mind is utterly blank. However, a great many of these are useless, futile and unnecessary thoughts that are of no avail in one's Hereafter, that lead nowhere, and serve one no good.
If someone tries to remember what he thought during the day and notes it down, then looks over it at the end of the day, he will see how futile most of his thoughts are. Even if he were to find some of it useful, he would most likely be mistaken. For, on the whole, thoughts that seem correct may not be of any use in the Hereafter.
Just as people waste time dealing with futile things in their daily lives, equally they spend time in vain carried away with futile thoughts. In the verse : "Successful indeed are the believers…who keep aloof from what is vain…" (Surat al-Muminun: 3), Allah points out one of the characteristics of the believers. Surely, this command of Allah holds true for people's thoughts as well. This is because thoughts, unless we control them consciously, continuously flow through our minds. One unconsciously jumps from one thought to another. While thinking about what needs to be brought from the shops, the mind suddenly starts to think about an old conversation with a friend. This uncontrolled and useless thinking may go on uninterruptedly throughout the day.
Yet controlling thought is possible. Everyone possesses the ability to think things that will improve him, his faith, mind, courtesy and his surroundings.
In this chapter, we will mention what sorts of things heedless people tend to think about in general. The reason for mentioning this is so that the readers may recognize in these heedless thoughts, ones similar to their own and realize that what they are thinking is not beneficial and useful. This will help in taming the thought process to think of subjects that are truly useful.
When one fails to control thoughts and direct them towards achieving a good end, one may often feel apprehension or treat events that have not happened as if they have occurred and become led astray by unnecessary grief, distress, worry and fear.
The parent of a student sitting for an exam, may fear the worst consequence and as a result worry uselessly, for example, "If my child fails this exam then he will have wasted the money that I spent on his education, he will not be able to get married and then what will people say? What if my neighbor's child passes but my child fails…?"
These misapprehensions are never ending but it is important not to lose sight of the fact that the student has not yet taken the exam. Someone who is distant from religion and its teachings cannot resist such useless worries. There is surely a reason for it. The Qur'an relates that the reason why people cannot be relieved of useless anxieties is their lending ear to the whisperings of satan:
(Satan:) "Most certainly I will lead them astray and excite in them vain desires…" (Surat an-Nisa: 119)
As seen in the above verse, he who is occupied with futile anxieties, who forgets Allah and does not think clearly, is always open to the whisperings of satan. In other words, if man, deceived by the life of the world, does not exercise his will-power and act conscientiously and if he lets himself drift in the course of events, he comes completely under the control of satan. One of the most crucial patterns of behavior of satan is that he causes people to become anxious. Therefore, all misapprehensions, pessimism and anxieties such as "what will I do if such-and-such happens?" contrived in the mind are caused by the whisperings of satan.
Allah shows people the way to save themselves from this situation. In the Qur'an, Allah advises people that when an evil impulse from satan provokes them, they should seek refuge in Allah and remember Him:
As for those who have taqwa, when they are bothered by visitors from Satan, they remember and immediately see clearly. But as for their brothers, the visitors lead them further into error. And they do not stop at that! (Surat al-A'raf: 201-202)
As stated in the verses, someone who reflects, sees what is right while someone who does not, goes wherever satan drags him.
The important thing is to know that these thoughts will be of no use to the person and will, on the contrary, hamper him from thinking the truth, reflecting on important matters, and therefore purifying the mind from these useless thoughts. Man can think properly only if he frees his mind from futile thoughts. In this way, he "keeps aloof from what is vain" as Allah commands in the Qur'an.
Say: "Am I to take anyone other than Allah as my protector, the Bringer into Being of the heavens and the earth, He Who feeds and is not fed?" Say: "I am commanded to be the first of the Muslims," and, "Do not be among the idolaters." Say: "I fear, were I to disobey my Lord, the punishment of a dreadful Day."
(Surat al-An‘am, 14-15)