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Avoiding Attitudes Harming Sincerity


In previous chapters, we underlined the characteristics that anyone wishing to acquire sincerity should possess. To this end, the second important issue is to purify oneself from all manners of thinking "impeding sincerity" or "totally obfuscating sincerity." Hence, as Bediuzzaman Said Nursi stressed, by saying "My brothers! There are many obstacles before great works of good. Satans put up a powerful struggle against those who assist those works. One has to rely on the strength of sincerity in the face of these obstacles and satans. You should avoid things which harm sincerity the same as you avoid snakes and scorpions. In accordance with the words of Joseph (as), "Nor do I absolve my own self [of blame]; the [human] soul is certainly prone to evil, unless my Sustainer do bestow His mercy," (Surah Yusuf: 53) the evil-commanding soul should not be relied on. Do not let egotism and the soul deceive you!"22, the devil is the enemy of those aiming at acquiring sincerity and attaining true genuineness. He wants to lead them astray, and to interfere with their sincerity by encouraging the evil penchants of their souls. Against these determined efforts the devil, any true believer should take the morality of the Prophet Yusuf (as) as a model. He doesn't yield to his lower-self and ardently avoids all its commands. In the following chapters, we will edify the true believer by discussing these attitudes that destroy sincerity and the ways to be purified from them.

Cleansing of the Evil of the Lower-self

As the test of this life entails—unless otherwise willed by Allah—the lower-self was created to continuously invite men to commit evil deeds. One of these evil deeds is to act insincerely. In order to destroy sincerity, the lower-self directs itself in a way as to encourage all kinds of evil thoughts. As indicated in the verse quoted below, the wicked side of the soul is comprised of "incessant sin and evil."

And the self and what proportioned it and inspired it with depravity or with its sense of duty. (Surat ash-Shams: 7-8)

However, Allah also inspires man ways to avoid this incessant evil and to cleanse and purify his soul.

The subsequent verse maintains that those who corrupt their souls will fail and those who purify them will be among those who succeed as follows:

He who purifies it has succeeded, he who covers it up has failed. (Surat ash-Shams: 9-10)

Certainly, the one who aims to acquire sincerity and to be among the pious servants of Allah should make such a choice. Allah calls attention to the genuine efforts made by the true believers in the following verse:

And among the people there are some who give up everything, desiring the good pleasure of Allah. Allah is Ever-Gentle with His servants. (Surat al-Baqara: 207)

However, what is important is that one should conduct himself with honesty and sincerity, and should in no way pity nor support the wicked side of his soul. Thus, he must train himself to this effect, purifying his soul of evil, and rendering it submissive. Therefore, he should never confuse the wicked side for his real soul, nor ever support it. He should know that the wicked side of his soul is always wrong, opposes the Qur'an, and acts as the devil's speaker. One should evaluate anything received from it with this understanding.

Just as one feels no pity towards another person's lower-self, or feel compelled to defend it or prove that it is in the right, he should act similarly in regards to his own self. He should treat the wicked side of his soul as an alien and take opposing side to it. He should admonish it when it encourages evil, and should listen to his conscience's voice, without submitting to the evil compulsion. Only in this way could he detect any deceptive methods used by his lower-self, evaluate it objectively, and judge it on the basis of the Qur'an. Only then could he acquire sincerity and Allah's consent. Allah informs us of this truth in a verse as follows:

But as for him who feared the Station of his Lord and forbade the lower self its appetites, the Garden will be his refuge. (Surat an-Nazi'at: 40-41)

Preferring Another Believer's Soul over One's Own

One of the attitudes that harms sincerity is the "greediness and selfishness" innate in one's self. Allah made light of this tendency with the words:

Truly man was created headstrong—desperate when bad things happen, begrudging when good things come. (Surat al-Ma'arij: 19-21)

In order to acquire sincerity, one should be superior over this negative aspect of his soul, and instead replace it with self-sacrifice and self-denial. As Allah informs us in the verse below, to be successful, one must purify himself from the greediness of his soul:

... It is the people who are safe-guarded from the avarice of their own selves who are successful. (Surat at-Taghabun: 16)

It is easy for someone to train his soul in this way. Not believing himself to be self-sufficient, and always being suspicious of the wicked side of one's soul, is what is most necessary. However, the vices of selfishness and greed should not be misunderstood. In ignorant communities, where people lack fear of Allah and faith in the hereafter, selfishness and greed are a philosophy of life. These people perceive as vigilance placing their needs above others and defending merely their own wishes; and assume this to be a good quality. Hence, they never take into consideration their responsibility towards Allah. In light of the verses of the Qur'an, it would be wrong to attribute greedy and selfish passions only to these people and limit the issue to ignorant people alone. These people practice this morality to the extreme. However, some people who are not commonly thought of as greedy or selfish could secretly or openly harbor these tendencies in themselves. Such tendencies prevent them from acting sincerely under any condition, and of being sincere. It is truly very simple for one to purify his soul of these evils. For this purpose, he will only have to practice the morality of the Qur'an to its fullest and most perfect extent.

Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, called attention to the solution revealed in a verse of the Qur'an as follows:

"Gain complete sincerity in accordance with the verse, '... [they] prefer them to themselves even if they themselves are needy...' (Surat al-Hashr:9)"23

In His verse, Allah stresses that true believers prefer their brothers before themselves, even if they are themselves hungry or needy; and that they stood by their brothers, against themselves, when they had to make a choice. Muslims living in Medina were not troubled to help their fleeing brothers from Mecca. They provided them shelter and food, regardless of their limited means. On the contrary, they were happy and rejoiced at having beaten the selfish and niggardly tendencies of their souls and given priority to their brothers for Allah's sake. In that situation, they clearly knew that such behavior was the most noble, conscientious and sincere, and in compliance with the Qur'an. Moreover, Allah has and will increase their reward for their self-sacrifice many times, both in this world and the hereafter. Allah announces the reward to be granted to those who practice such morality as follows:

If you set apart for Allah a goodly portion, He will double it for you and forgive you; and Allah is the Multiplier (of rewards), Forbearing. (Surat at-Taghabun: 17)

Not to be Deceived by the Temptations of One's Lower-soul

If one were to consider the matter honestly, he would see that throughout his day he is constantly being confronted with the incitements of his lower-self. These incitements of the lower-self encourage him not to abandon his worldly inclinations. For instance, Allah has indicated in one of His verses that spending in charity out of what one loves is what is best. Only in this way can a person become truly good:

You will not attain true goodness until you give of what you love. Whatever you give away, Allah knows it. (Surah Al 'Imran: 92)

Though he may sacrifice everything he owns, one could still be passionately attached to some of his belongings, thus, be reluctant to give them up. Or, when he is to share his belongings with a fellow Muslim, he may prefer himself to his brother. He may keep his favorite belongings for himself and leave only the remaining to his brother. However, his conscience would nevertheless remind him that spending out of what he loves is more worthy. However, such desire in himself will prevent him from behaving in accordance to his better moral judgement and acting sincerely.

However, true good is in offering one's favorite possessions immediately when he sees that another is in need. If his possession had been so dear to him, then the other person will enjoy and be pleased with it as equally. Therefore, keeping one's favorite things for oneself and giving away to others only those less desireable shows that one's soul is not yet fully purified of selfishness. Hence, Allah has called attention to the fact that this attitude should first be established before one could hope to attain goodness.

If one prefers the good of another to his own, always looks out for the betterment, health and happiness of others, then he is said to be sincere. For instance, if a difficult and tasking job is to be performed, he should come forward and volunteer for it. It is insincere to avoid a difficult task and expect others to take care of it. What is more befitting to a Muslim is to complete such jobs secretly, without there being anybody to thank him. As indicated in the verse "race each other to the good," what is truly representative of sincerity is to immediately embark upon a task and to complete it in the best possible manner. Such an act is also a sign that the said person prefers his brothers to himself. He chooses difficulty over comfort and ease, with thoughts of self-sacrifice such as, "Let me be tired instead of my Muslim brother," "Let me be burdened with the difficulty of this work while he rests," or "Let myself and not he spend the time to do this." In this way he may hope to gain Allah's consent with this sincere behavior.

In one of his works, Bediuzzaman Said Nursi underlined the goodness of giving precedence to other Muslims when it comes to innocent, harmless benefits in order to be free of the selfish passions of the soul by saying, "Choose your brothers' souls to your own soul in honor, rank, acclaim, in the things your soul enjoys like material benefits. Even in the most innocent, harmless benefits like informing a needy believer about one of the subtle, fine truths of belief. If possible, encourage one of your companions who does not want to, to inform him, so that your soul does not become conceited. If you have a desire like, 'Let me tell him this pleasant matter so I'll gain the reward,' it surely is not a sin and there is no harm in it, but the meaning of sincerity between you could be damaged."24 Thus, he reminds the Muslims that sacrificing that which is pleasing to one's soul, such as honor, reputation, authority, material benefits, and affection, should become a means to acquire sincerity. For instance, a believer can remain in the background and let one of his brothers receives the attention if he were to make a good suggestion or say something important.

Any man who avoids these incitements from his soul, and strives to gain sincerity and Allah's consent, will be welcomed by Allah and be successful in his endeavors. Allah gives the good news to the believers as follows:

But as for him who feared the Station of his Lord and forbade the lower self its appetites, the Garden will be his refuge. (Surat an-Na'ziat: 40-41)

Conquering Greed and Jealousy

Allah informs us in the following verse that human soul is swayed by greed as follows:

... people are prone to selfish greed. If you do good and do your duty, Allah is aware of what you do. (Surat an-Nisa: 128)

Thus, as with other evils, we are all prone to struggle internally with feelings of jealousy and greed. One should strive to purify himself of them. Otherwise, he will never be able to duly practice the morality of the Qur'an and to fully gain Allah's consent. Similarly, in another verse of the Qur'an, it is indicated that people disagreed among each other and strayed from the straight path because of the "envy" they felt against each other, in spite of having received the Book guiding them to the straight path:

Mankind was a single community. Then Allah sent out prophets bringing good news and giving warning, and with them He sent down the Book with truth to decide between people regarding their differences. Only those who were given it differed about it, after the Clear Signs had come to them, envying one another. Then, by His permission, Allah guided those who believed to the truth of that about which they had differed. Allah guides whoever He wills to a straight path. (Surat al-Baqara: 213)

This instance related in the Qur'an is of a great importance for aiding people to understand the extent of harm jealousy can cause. Although being aware of and seeing the right path, one could take the wrong turn, merely as a result of jealousy. Feelings of jealousy and greed prevent one from thinking rationally and of properly evaluating events. When confronted with certain situations, one overcome by such feelings could in no way react according to the values of the Qur'an. He could not speak of what pertains to Allah, or act in a sincere and genuine manner. Under such circumstances, he would not be ruled by his mind and conscience, but rather by his lower-soul, taking on the role as the devil's advocate. His lower-self directs him towards the morality of evil.

In order to be purified of these vices, one should, first and foremost, understand that feelings of jealousy and greed are contrary to religion. These feelings emerge from worldly values. People become jealous of the material or moral virtues of others, and therefore vie against them. Whereas, the true believers are those who refrain from becoming excessively attached to worldly possessions. Essentially, they long only for the hereafter. A true believer knows for certain that worldly benefits are granted by Allah, and will again be taken back by Him when the time comes. Although he may derive benefits from them in a way that pleases Allah, he never becomes passionately devoted to them. He does not become consumed with ambition for more. He gives thanks to Allah for what He bestowed upon him, and knows how to be content with what he has. And, as stated in the subsequent verse, if Allah for some reason bestows more of His blessings upon another, he knows that this is for a purpose:

The Keys of the heavens and earth belong to Him. He expands the provision of anyone He wills or restricts it. He has knowledge of all things. (Surat ash-Shura: 12)

Thinking About the Hereafter Eliminates Jealousy and Greed

Each person is being tested through the blessings that Allah either makes ample and straightens for him. Thus, those who approach Allah with gratitude differ from those who behave ungratefully by abandoning the morality of the Qur'an. Hence, it is impossible for one to become greedy or jealous of the worldly blessings of another if he comprehends that this worldly life is an ephemeral place created merely to test people. For instance, being jealous of another because he is rich, handsome or endowed with authority is not in accord with the morality of the Qur'an. One, who lives by the high level of morality of the Qur'an, knows clearly that Allah will bestow great blessings upon him in the hereafter. Thus, he lives with the peace of mind of that awareness of this truth brings. However, those who fail to understand fate, the real nature of this worldly life, the fact that Allah is the Creator of all things and to put their faith in Him, get carried away by feelings of jealousy and greed. Any true believer well aware of that truth, refrains from committing such wrongdoing.

Even if it is for traits reflecting the sublime morality of the Qur'an, a true believer carefully avoids becoming jealous. Instead, he will desire to adopt the fine morality of that fellow Muslim. His wish to "keep-up" never leads to greediness. In compliance with the verse of the Qur'an that states, "race each other to the good," he strives with sincere effort to become among the beloved servants of Allah, and to practice the morality of the Qur'an in the most ideal manner. Nevertheless, this competition is not based upon feelings of jealousy or rivalry. This is a competition aimed at approaching closer to Allah rather than human beings. Similarly, such a person also wishes for other believers to be among Allah's most beloved servants, just like he does for himself. Not only does he pray for this sincerely, but also strives for it.

True believers are aware that, like all creatures, they are weak. They fear Allah, and they do not refrain from admitting to their weaknesses when faced with their Lord. A verse of Surat al-A'raf enlightens us this truth:

Say: "I possess no power to help or harm myself, except as Allah wills. If I had had knowledge of the Unseen, I would have sought to gain much good and no evil would have touched me. I am only a warner and a bringer of good news to people who believe." (Surat al-A'raf: 188)

One who places more importance on the hereafter than the worldly things never adopts a morality that is based on the opinion of others. He strives to gain only Allah's consent. Thus, he never tries to be better than others, gain esteem or to secure a place among them and achieve an important role in society. As understood from the issues mentioned up to this point, if one recognizes such tendencies or deficiency in himself, he should then be aware that he is practicing a morality which will ultimately harm his sincerity and prevent him from gaining Allah's consent.

In his works, Bediuzzaman Said Nursi dealt profoundly upon this issue, and stressed a number of important points in order to guide the true believers. In his commentary on sincerity, he described rivalry among believers as follows:

"In matters relating to religion and the hereafter there should be no rivalry, envy or jealousy; indeed there can be none of these in truth. The reason for envy and jealousy is that when several hands reach out after a single object, when several eyes are fixed on a single position, when several stomachs hunger for a single loaf of bread, first envy arises as a result of conflict, dispute and rivalry, and then jealousy. Since many people desire the same thing in the world, and because the world, narrow and transitory as it is, cannot satisfy the limitless desires of man, people become rivals of each other. However,… It is ... clear that there is no cause for rivalry in the hereafter, nor can there be rivalry. In that case, neither should there be any rivalry with respect to those good deeds that entail reward in the hereafter; there is no room for jealousy here. The one jealous here is either a hypocrite, seeking worldly result through the performance of good deeds, or a sincere but ignorant devotee, not knowing the true purpose of good deeds and not comprehending that sincerity is the spirit and foundation of all good deeds. By cultivating a kind of rivalry and hostility toward Allah's saints, he is in fact placing in doubt the breadth of Allah's compassion…

O people of the truth and the path! The service of the truth is like carrying and preserving a great and weighty treasure. Those who carry that trust on their shoulders will be happy and grateful whenever powerful hands rush to their aid. Far from being jealous, one should proudly applaud the superior strength, effectiveness and capacity of those who in upright love come forward to offer their help. Why then look on true brothers and self-sacrificing helpers in a spirit of rivalry, thus losing sincerity?"25

Here, Bediuzzaman has reminded true believers that jealousy and rivalry have no place in the morality of Paradise. Just as rivalry has no place in Paradise, pious deeds aiming to gain Paradise could never be tainted with jealousy or rivalry. True believers are friends, guardians and brothers of each other, both in the life of this world and in the hereafter. Each serves the same purpose. The more they support each other, the more they will be pleasing to Allah. For this reason, what befits a true believer is to help and be proud of the other, rather than being jealous of his noble qualities and competing with him. In all situations, this is what best reflects sincerity. The Prophet (saas) told of the need for this unity, mutual affection and comraderie among true believers as follows:

"You will observe that the believers are like the parts of the body in relation to each other in matters of kindness, love and affection. When one part of the body is afflicted, the entire body feels it; there is loss of sleep and a fever develops."26

In another one of his works, Bediuzzaman Said Nursi reminded Muslims that true believers could overcome jealousy and rivalry by taking pride in the superior characteristics of each other. He also stressed that each and everybody practicing such morality will leave his own personality aside to dissolve within the morality of the entire Muslim community. Thus, every noble virtue will be attributed to each and every one of them:

"This is to imagine your brothers' virtues and merits in your own selves, and to thankfully take pride at their glory. The Sufis have terms they use among themselves, 'annihilation in the shaykh, annihilation in the Prophet (saas);' I am not a Sufi, but these principles of theirs make a good rule in our way, in the form of 'annihilation in the brothers.' Among brothers this is called 'tafânî;' that is, 'annihilation in one another.' That is to say, to forget the feelings of one's own carnal soul, and live in one's mind with one's brothers' virtues and feelings. In any event, the basis of our way is brotherhood. It is not the means which is between father and son, or shaykh and follower. It is the means of true brotherhood. At the very most a Master [Ustad] intervenes. Our way is the closest friendship. This friendship necessitates being the closest friend, the most sacrificing companion, the most appreciative comrade, the noblest brother. The essence of this friendship is true sincerity. One who spoils this true sincerity falls from the high pinnacle of this friendship. He may possibly fall to the bottom of a deep depression. There is nothing onto which he may cling in between."27

Jealousy and Rivalry Destroy the Power of Believers

Bediuzzaman also emphasized the harm caused by disagreements arising among believers. He said that, just as disagreements and rivalry destroy the power of believers, agreements and alliance render them even more powerful:

"... As for the people of neglect and misguidance, in order not to lose the benefits with which they are infatuated and not to offend the leaders and companions they worship for the sake of benefit, in their utter humiliation, abasement and lack of manliness, they practise union at all costs with their companions, however abominable, treacherous and harmful they be, and wholeheartedly agree with their partners in whatever form may be dictated by their common interest. As a result of this wholeheartedness, they indeed attain the benefits desired."28

As understood from the words of Said Nursi, people who do not believe in Allah or in the hereafter could forget the rivalry among them and establish an alliance with each other only to gain more power, worldly benefits and rewards. Their excessive fondness for these benefits could eliminate the jealousy and rivalry among them, and could immediately make them the closest of friends. They hope to benefit from their alliance, and thus reap its rewards.

As even those who deny Allah could form such powerful alliances, only to gain benefits and rewards, it would be impossible for true believers, who aim to gain Allah's consent, to fail to abandon jealousy or rivalry and establish such an alliance. Their enthusiasm to gain Allah's assent can easily overcome the jealousy or rivalry whispered to them by their lower-souls. Most important is that they understand that such disagreements could harm both themselves and their religion. They are reminded that conflicts and disagreements cause their power to diminish.

The Prophet Muhammad (saas) has also expressed that Muslims should always complement the deficiencies of each other and cover their mistakes by saying, "If anyone covers up a Muslim [his sins], Allah will cover him up [his sins] on the Resurrection Day."29 Otherwise, the unity among them will be eliminated and their power will be diminished. When the power of the Muslims diminishes, those who deny Allah will grow in strength. No Muslim would like to be held accountable for such a thing, just for fulfilling the desires of his lower-self. Essentially, Muslims are expected to practice the morality of the Qur'an to the best of their abilities, to be examples for others, and to encourage them to live according to the religion. It is apparent that one, who hasn't succeeded in overcoming the jealousy or rivalry within him, could not correctly fulfill this responsibility. Therefore, he acts in a way that diminishes the power of the believers and strengthens those who deny Allah. Consequently, such a person is not only a bad example for his friends and family, but also bears a great deal of guilt. Therefore, he should immediately cease to behave in such a fashion and adopt a nobler morality. Only then could he acquire sincerity and attain a level of morality consented by Allah. As Bediuzzaman said, what befits a Muslim is to "establish a genuine alliance with Muslims" in compliance with the verse which states, "Help one and another in goodness and piety," and to keep sincerity alive:

"The cure and remedy for this disease of discord among the people of truth is to make one's rule of conduct the Divine prohibition contained in this verse: 'Do not fall into dispute, lest you lose heart and your power depart,' (Surat al-Anfal: 46) and the wise Divine command for social life contained in this verse: 'Work together for the sake of virtue and piety.' (Surat al-Ma'ida: 2) One must further realize how harmful to Islam dispute is, and how it helps the people of misguidance to triumph over the people of truth, and then, wholeheartedly and self-sacrificingly, join the caravan of the people of truth, with a sense of his own utter weakness and impotence. Finally, one must forget his own person, abandon hypocrisy and pretension, and lay hold of sincerity."30

Abandoning Arrogance

In this chapter, we discussed that which harms a believer's sincerity, and examined the inclinations of the soul such as rivalry, ambition, and preferring oneself to others. All of these traits of one's lower-self are based upon a much greater evil: Arrogance.

Arrogance is found in one who disdains to worship Allah, by forgetting his weaknesses, despising others, and feeling proud. However, man is a weak creature. He depends upon Allah's power to exist and sustain his existence. Allah is the sole Power Who has created man from nothing, imparted him with spirit, sheltered and fed him, caused him to breathe, and bestowed countless other blessings upon him. Allah is the Lord of the Universe. In spite of the clarity of this truth, one who thinks of himself as a being independent of Him, and believes his qualities and abilities to result from himself, is evidently suffering from a grave self-delusion.

In fact, one has no right to be proud. The truth that Allah could take back all blessings bestowed upon him when He pleases is sufficient evidence. From time to time, we all observe the harm caused by one who behaves proudly on account of his or her physical beauty, knowledge, ability, wealth or social status. We can also observe what becomes of them when they suddenly lose these for any reason. If such qualities had resulted in the person from his or her own doing, then there would be no reason for him or her to lose them. Likewise, Allah creates many afflictions and difficulties in this worldly life to help people understand this truth. He tests mankind through many frailties, such as ageing and illness.

One who comprehends that Allah bestows all he possesses, and that he has no power without His help and assistance, may then discern in return the wisdom of Allah in His creation, and acquire humility by reconizing his own weakness. According to Bediuzzaman, the most important step taken towards acquiring sincerity is to abandon arrogance:

"To preserve truth from the assaults of falsehood, to abandon the self and its egoism, and give up the mistaken concepts of self-pride, and cease from all insignificant feelings aroused by rivalry. [If these precepts are adhered to], sincerity will be preserved and its function perfectly performed."31

It is necessary to adhere to this morality in order to acquire sincerity. Arrogance causes one to behave in a way as to favor himself rather than Allah. Arrogance means loving one's self more than any other, listening to himself rather than the others, and protecting that which he owns at all cost. Hence, one who is swept away by pride closes his conscience from any warnings. Therefore, as he does not listen to the voice of his conscience, he could in no way behave sincerely.

In the Qur'an, Allah defines the influence of arrogance as follows:

When he is told to heed Allah, he is seized by pride which drives him to wrongdoing. Hell will be enough for him! What an evil resting-place! (Surat al-Baqara: 206)

What is truly befitting a believer is to put aside his arrogance and lower-self, and behave according to that which is pleasing to Allah. The following verse reads:

And among the people there are some who give up everything, desiring the good pleasure of Allah. Allah is Ever-Gentle with His servants. (Surat al-Baqara: 207)

In Surat al-Qasas Allah informs us of the end met by the tribes who behaved haughtily towards the Messengers sent by Him:

He said, "I have only been given it because of knowledge I have." Did he not know that before him Allah had destroyed generations with far greater strength than his and far more possessions? The evildoers will not be questioned about their sins. (Surat al-Qasas: 78)

Realizing What is Lost through Arrogance

It is possible to observe the damage done by arrogance on one's sincerity in every phase of one's life. One claiming to be superior to others is closed against all kinds of criticism, warning or advice coming from them. Even if the other were to remind him of a point he had not considered, he would be influenced adversely by his sense of superiority. Instead of surrendering to truth, he will defend his views, even if they are wrong. Therefore, he becomes insincere, and is ruled by his lower self. However, what exemplifies sincerity is to comply with what the other had said, and surrender without the need to feel superior.

For this purpose, one should, first and foremost, abandon the feelings of his ego which cause arrogance, and refrain from stubbornly defending himself. Only then can he hope to act in compliance with the spirit of the Qur'an and behave sincerely. Likewise, Bediuzzaman Said Nursi reminded the true believer that the most efficient antidote against the ambition to be superior and to be in the right, stemming from arrogance, is to "surrender to the mind of true believers without supporting one's self":

"The sole remedy for this disease is to accuse your own soul before others raise these charges, and always to take the side of your fellow, not your own soul. The rule of truth and equity established by the scholars of the art of debate is this: "Whoever desires, in debate on any subject, that his own word should turn out to be true, whoever is happy that he turns out to be right and his adversary to be wrong and mistaken—such a person has acted unjustly." Not only that, such a person loses, for when he emerges the victor in such a debate, he has not learned anything previously unknown to him, and his probable pride will cause him loss. But if his adversary turns out to be right, he will have learned something previously unknown to him and thereby gained something without any loss, as well as being saved from pride. In other words, one fair in his dealings and enamoured of the truth will subject the desire of his own soul to the demands of the truth. If he sees his adversary to be right, he will accept it willingly and support it happily."32

Considering one's successes to be achieved merely by virtue of one's self stems from arrogance and destroys sincerity. However, Allah is the One Who has bestowed upon mankind their mind and ability. As stated in the following verse, man knows nothing except what Allah has taught him:

They said, "Glory be to You! We have no knowledge except what You have taught us. You are the All-Knowing, the All-Wise." (Surat al-Baqara: 32)

Man is a weak creature Allah has created from nothing. All of man's powers are the result of the generous gifts and benevolence of Allah. When taking into account the endless wisdom, limitless power and knowledge of Allah, clearly, one who considers having acquired these qualities by himself is in grave error. Carried away by pride, he forgets these realities, and thinks that his success arises out of his own accomplishment. He may become arrogant and insincere. What is more befitting for a true believer is never to consider any of his successes as his own, even if he were the most able, intelligent and perfect man ever to set foot on earth. Arrogance should never take hold of him. If he behaves in a manner by which he takes account of his own weakness, in spite of all these blessings, then Allah will bestow even greater favors upon him. He will make him obtain His consent, compassion and enter Paradise, on account of his sincerity. Yet, most people forget that this worldly life is nothing but a test. They turn to Allah in times of affliction, and yet, act ungratefully when they are granted blessings. They also commit a great error by believing that these blessings are the outcome of their own abilities, and that the success belongs to them alone. In Surat az-Zumar, Allah commands the following:

When harm touches man he calls on Us. Then when We grant him a blessing from Us he says, "I have only been given this because of my knowledge." In fact it is a trial but most of them do not know it. (Surat az-Zumar: 49)

Another tendency frequently found among people under the influence of arrogance is the "ambition to lead." The lower-soul tempts a man to act ambitiously even while performing good and pious deeds, and attempt to destroy his sincerity by putting forth excuses that would seem reasonable. As Said Nursi affirmed, saying: "Moreover sincerity and adherence to the truth require that one should desire the Muslims to benefit from anyone and at any place they can. To think 'Let them take lessons from me so that I gain the reward' is a trick of the soul and the ego."33, in various circumstances, some people act by deciding that, "I will be the one to complete this job" without taking into account quality of the outcome or the benefits to be gained as a consequence. This attitude, ruled by the desire to lead and arrogance, completely destroys sincerity.

As expressed by Bediuzzaman, who said "Thinking to oneself 'Let me gain this reward, let me guide these people, let them listen to me,' he takes up a position of rivalry towards the true brother who faces him and who stands in real need of his love, assistance, brotherhood and aid. Saying to oneself, 'Why are my pupils going to him? Why don't I have as many pupils as him?' he falls prey to egoism, inclines to the chronic disease of ambition, loses all sincerity, and opens the door to hypocrisy"34, a peevish man considers his Muslim brothers as his rivals. Unwilling that another be endowed with important responsibilities, and complete his tasks successfully, is to be understood as not wishing anyone else to gain the rewards of Paradise, nor to accept a responsibility which will grant him entry into Paradise. Yet, the noblest attitude according to the Qur'an, that which is most sincere, is to let others earn the access to Paradise and to encourage them to embark on tasks pleasing to Allah.

A Muslim should wish to make others gain the rewards of Paradise and take on noble tasks leading to favor in the hereafter, just as he wishes to perform pious deeds for his own benefit. Turning a good deed into one for the sake of a worldly ambition, by saying "I am the most qualified person to do this job," "Let them see how good I can manage this job, and understand how superior are my qualities," "I will undertake this job in order to acquire a status and prestige among the believers," is not in accordance with sincerity. Instead, one should give preference to another believer. He should point out that he also possesses superior qualities to enable him to practice good morality and to act sincerely. In order to conquer one's arrogance and the ambition to authority, Bediuzzaman Said Nursi gave the following recommendation:

"The cure and remedy for this serious disease is to be proud of the company of all those travelling the path of truth, in accordance with the principle of love for Allah's sake; to follow them and defer leadership to them; and to consider whoever is walking on Allah's path to be probably better than oneself, thereby breaking the ego and regaining sincerity. Salvation is also to be had from that disease by knowing that an ounce of deeds performed in sincerity is preferable to a ton performed without sincerity, and by preferring the status of a follower to that of a leader, with all the danger and responsibility that it involves. Thus sincerity is to be had, and one's duties of preparation for the Hereafter may be correctly performed."35

By these words, Said Nursi has once again underlined the importance of sincerity, and reminded the believers that those who aim to live in Paradise should be cleansed of selfish feelings, such as ego, rivalry, and the ambition to lead. He also made note of the importance of giving preference to another believer as an act of sincerity, of allowing him to lead and of being pleased with his accomplishments. He reminded believers that what is truly reflecting of sincerity is to believe that others could be superior to oneself and to surrender to them.

Refraining from Hypocrisy

Hypocrisy is one of those tendencies that is encouraged by the lower-soul, which, though, is contrary to the laws of the Qur'an. Hypocrisy means that the true thinking hidden within a person differs from his outward behavior. The person is a two-faced, by not behaving according to what he believes. Thus, hypocrisy is a vice that destroys sincerity. The fact that a person could behave so insincerely and could adopt two different characters, inside and out, indicates that he has not yet fully grasped the meaning of faith, or appreciated the extent of Allah's power and wisdom.

Allah surrounds all, knows the secret of the secrets, hears the thoughts in people's minds, and sees them everywhere. If one hides his true feelings and strives to appear elsewise, then he has forgotten these attributes of Allah. Even if this person succeeds in pleasing others around him through his behavior or words, Allah knows what he hides in his heart.

One who fears Allah should avoid behaving in such a way that displeases Him. People could praise someone in this worldly life due to his hypocritical outward behavior. However, he will not gain any favor in the hereafter. It should always be kept in mind that any benefits gained during this worldly life are trivial when compared with those gained in the hereafter. Allah reminds us of this truth as follows:

... Are you happier with the life of this world than the hereafter? Yet the enjoyment of the life of this world is very small compared to that of the hereafter. (Surat at-Tawba: 38)

One who is hypocritical is insincere and pretentious. By Allah's Will, true believers would be able to detect such characteristics. In particular, Allah's prophets, aided by a knowledge imparted to them by Allah, were capable of recognizing such people, those who hide what they really think by acting hypocritically, and who display a different identity than their true one, by the tone of their speech and their features. Even if these people are not detected by the true believers, Allah knows about their affected and insincere behavior, hears their every word, and sees their every action. Allah makes the following known in one of His verses:

He knows everything in the heavens and earth.He knows what you keep secret and what you divulge. Allah knows what the heart contains. (Surat at-Taghabun: 4)

No true believer needs to rely on hypocrisy to make people love or accept him. Because, it is only Allah Who is capable of placing love among people. All believers naturally support and love the believer who strives to gain Allah's consent. It is in the nature of their faith for believers to love a decent, sincere, honest and genuine person. Obtaining Allah's consent results ultimately also in gaining the consent of true believers. However, any deed done solely to gain people's consent is worthless in gaining Allah's consent.

For this reason, one should not harken to these incitements of his soul. He should purify himself of any kind of hypocritical thought and attitude in order to acquire sincerity.

Abandoning the Ambition to Acquire Authority and Position

Another reason that prevents people from aiming solely to gain Allah's consent, and from striving sincerely for only Paradise, is their excessive fondness of worldly values such as authority, status and reputation. However, such worldly values will mean nothing in terms of the hereafter. Allah announces that the superiority between humans will be determined, not in accordance with their authority or status, but in accordance with their level of righteousness:

Mankind! We created you from a male and female, and made you into peoples and tribes so that you might come to know each other. The noblest among you in Allah's sight is the one who best performs his duty. Allah is All-Knowing, All-Aware (Surat al-Hujurat: 13)

In one of his works, Bediuzzaman Said Nursi affirmed this fact as follows:

"[The second obstacle destroying sincerity] is to flatter the ego and give high status to the evil-commanding soul through attracting attention to oneself and public acclaim, driven by the desire for fame, renown, and position. This is a serious spiritual sickness, so too it opens the door to the hypocrisy and self-centredness called 'the hidden association of partners with Allah,' and damages sincerity"36

The belief that authority and position implies superiority is a deception quite common in ignorant societies. Any true believer who grasps the meaning of faith should in no way incline to the insinuations of his lower-self. He should instead seek superiority through sincerity. Hence, one who purifies his soul of these desires will gain authority of a sort far above the worldly variety. He will be bestowed upon with true honor and respect. Mankind are reminded of this truth in the following verse of the Qur'an:

If you avoid the serious wrong actions you have been forbidden, We will erase your bad actions from you and admit you by a Gate of Honor. (Surat an-Nisa': 31)

To deserve such a place of honor, the believer should grasp the following truth:

If anyone wants power, all power belongs to Allah. All good words rise to Him and He raises up all virtuous deeds… (Surah Fatir: 10)

Allah is the sole Possessor of honor. The only way to acquire honor, is to sincerely perform good deeds.

In his works, Bediuzzaman Said Nursi also called special attention to this matter. He highlighted the insignificance of worldly authority, such as status and reputation, when compared to the honored place to be gained in the hereafter. He quoted Allah's verse that says, "nor sell My Signs for a small price," and stated the following:

"We are in utter need of instilling sincerity in ourselves. Otherwise what we have achieved so far in our sacred service will in part be lost, and will not persist;and we shall be held responsible. We shall manifest the severe threat contained in the Divine prohibition 'Nor sell my signs for a small price' (Surat al-Baqara:41) and destroy sincerity, thus harming eternal happiness for the sake of meaningless, unnecessary, harmful, sad, self-centred, tedious, hypocritical base feelings and insignificant benefits. And in so doing we would violate all our brothers' rights, transgress against the duty of service to the Qur'an, and be disrespectful towards the sacredness of the truths of belief."37

This desire to acquire status and authority prevents a person from being sincere in deed and leads him to become dishonest. Such a person, who aims at gaining Allah's consent and heavenly reward, on the one hand, may also aim to acquire honor and repute in this life. This will cause him to invalidate his deeds inadvertently. Any true believer should heed these reminders of the Qur'an, and cleanse his soul of the worldly desires to acquire repute and honor. He should endeavor to gain glory and honor with Allah.

Otherwise, a person will become diverted by the "mutual rivalry for piling up," until he reaches the end of his life, as stated in the following verse: "Fierce competition for this world distracted you until you went down to the graves." (Surat at-Takathur: 1-2) He will only understand his doom in the hereafter, as the result of many lost years spent aiming to fulfill the vain desires of his lower-soul. All his effort would have been in vain. More fitting for a true believer is to purify himself of the evil side of his soul while there is still time. He should acquire sincerity, a level of morality consented by Allah.

Not Worrying about One's Property or One's Life

Another corrupt tendency of the lower-soul is its passionate attachment to material objects and to one's physical self. For this reason, the lower-soul continuously encourages the person to be more ambitious for these two things. However, material objects and one's physical self were not created for passionate attachment to worldly things but only to test men, as the following verse says:

You will be tested in your wealth and in yourselves... (Surah Al 'Imran: 186)

Allah gave the glad tidings of Paradise to those who preferred to sacrifice their worldly possessions to gain His assent, instead of pursuing them obsessively. He informed humanity that they should only in this manner attain happiness and success, as in the following verse:

Allah has bought from the believers their selves and their wealth in return for the Garden. They fight in the Way of Allah and they kill and are killed. It is a promise binding on Him in the Torah, the Injil and the Qur'an and who is truer to his contract than Allah? Rejoice then in the bargain you have made. That is the great victory. (Surat at-Tawba: 111)

Therefore, true believers should carefully refrain from becoming passionately attached to their wealth and their selves. The soul will certainly incite a man to these motives. However, a believer who is aware of the promise of Allah could in no way incline to his lower-soul. Hence, nothing gained through one's property or personal effort in this worldly life could match the eternal blessings of the hereafter. Therefore, Allah instructs men to "rejoice in your bargain that you have made." Humans are destined to enjoy the blessings of this world only briefly. At death, one will be forced to leave behind not only his body, but also the belongings he had accumulated. The blessings to be bestowed by Allah in the hereafter are the true means for one's attainment of success or happiness.

Bediuzzaman expresses the condition of those who are deeply attached to their belongings and lives, and who then come to comprehend their futility, as follows:

"Thus, there are in man thousands of emotions, each of which has two degrees, one metaphorical, the other, true. For example, the emotion of anxiety for the future is present in everyone. Then a person is intensely anxious at the future, but he sees that he possesses nothing to guarantee that he will reach the future he is anxious about. Also, in respect of sustenance, there is an undertaking for it, and the future is brief and not worth such intense worry. So he turns away from the future towards the true future beyond the grave, which is long lasting, and which for the heedless, there is no undertaking."38

In the same work, Bediuzzaman Said Nursi points out the futility of men's passion for material objects and their personal selves in the following manner:

"Man also displays intense ambition for possessions and position, then he sees that the transient property which has been put temporarily under his supervision, and calamitous fame and position, which is dangerous and leads to hypocrisy, are not worth such intense ambition. He turns away from them towards spiritual rank and degrees in closeness to Allah, which constitute true rank, and towards provisions for the Hereafter, and good works which are true property. Metaphorical ambition, which is a bad quality, is transformed into true ambition, an elevated quality."39

If one worries about his belongings and of his life, then it will be impossible for him to approach unto Allah with a sincere heart, to duly surrender himself to Him. These passions that are hidden deep in his soul will direct him furtively, and cause him to act on behalf of his own gain rather than for Allah's consent. For instance, when he encounters someone in need, he prefers to secure his own benefit rather than giving alms and support to the needy. Yet, as Allah has informed in the verse below, that which is more representative of sincerity is to willingly give to another, even if if it means he will have to do without:

Those who were already settled in the abode [i.e., Medina], and in faith, before they came, love those who have migrated to them and do not find in their hearts any need for what they have been given and prefer them to themselves even if they themselves are needy. It is the people who are safe-guarded from the avarice of their own selves who are successful. (Surat al-Hashr: 9)

Similarly, his personal desires will overshadow his concern for gaining Allah's consent. Allah informs us in the Qur'an that such a choice will only bring disgrace:

Say: "If your fathers or your sons or your brothers or your wives or your tribe, or any wealth you have acquired, or any business you fear may slump, or any house which pleases you, are dearer to you than Allah and His Messenger and striving in His Way, then wait until Allah brings about His command. Allah does not guide people who are deviators." (Surat at-Tawba: 24)

As outlined by Our Lord, one's wealth will not be of any avail in the hereafter: "His wealth will not help him when he plummets to the depths." (Surat al-Layl: 11) However, only those who are sincere will be rewarded with endless and eternal blessings:

Those who best perform their duty will be far removed from it: those who give their wealth to purify themselves —not to repay someone else for a favor done—desiring only the Face of their Lord Most High. They will certainly be satisfied. (Surat al-Layl: 17-21)

The Qur'an relates various examples of the condition of those who worry as much for their lives as for their wealth. Thus they lose their sincerity, and become unable to gain Allah's consent. When the Prophet (saas) invited people to fight with their selves for Allah's sake, some said that, "Had we been able to, we would have gone out with you" (Surat at-Tawba: 42) and others voiced, "Do not go out to fight in the heat." (Surat at-Tawba: 81) Hence, they preferred their own selves by putting forth excuses. While fabricating such excuses, some went beyond that by pronoucing an oath by Allah to demonstrate that they were speaking the truth. However, Allah affirmed that He was well aware of their lies, that they have committed their souls to punishment for their insincerity. The comportment of true believers as portrayed in the verse quoted below is that which is truly representative of sincerity:

But the Messenger and those who believed along with him have struggled with their wealth and with themselves. They are the people who will have the good things. They are the ones who are successful. (Surat at-Tawba: 88)

Believers should strive hard with their property and their selves to gain Allah's consent. In another of His verses, Allah gave the glad tidings to the true believers that those who strive hard in His way, with their belongings and persons, and those who grant a greater importance to Allah's consent, will have a higher degree with Him. The verse states as follows:

Those believers who stay behind—other than those forced to by necessity—are not the same as those who strive in the Way of Allah, sacrificing their wealth and themselves. Allah has given those who strive with their wealth and themselves a higher rank than those who stay behind. Allah has promised the Best to both, but Allah has preferred those who strive over those who stay behind by an immense reward. (Surat an-Nisa': 95)

Footnotes

22. Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, The Risale-i Nur Collection, The Flashes Collection, The Twentyfirst Flash

23. Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, The Risale-i Nur Collection, The Flashes Collection, The Twentyfirst Flash

24. Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, The Risale-i Nur Collection, The Flashes Collection, The Twentyfirst Flash

25. Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, The Risale-i Nur Collection, The Flashes Collection, The Twentieth Flash

26. Hadith of Al-Bukhari and Muslim on the Authority of Nu'man Ibn Bashir

27. Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, The Risale-i Nur Collection, The Flashes Collection, The Twentyfirst Flash

28. Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, The Risale-i Nur Collection, The Flashes Collection, The Twentieth Flash

29. Sahih Bukhari and Muslim hadith

30. Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, The Risale-i Nur Collection, The Flashes Collection, The Twentieth Flash

31. Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, The Risale-i Nur Collection, The Flashes Collection, The Twentieth Flash

32. Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, The Risale-i Nur Collection, The Flashes Collection, The Twentieth Flash

33. Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, The Risale-i Nur Collection, The Flashes Collection, The Twentieth Flash

34. Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, The Risale-i Nur Collection, The Flashes Collection, The Twentieth Flash

35. Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, The Risale-i Nur Collection, The Flashes Collection, The Twentieth Flash

36. Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, The Risale-i Nur Collection, The Flashes Collection, The Twentyfirst Flash

37. Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, The Risale-i Nur Collection, The Flashes Collection, The Twentyfirst Flash

38. Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, The Risale-i Nur Collection, The Letters Collection, The Ninth Letter

39. Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, The Risale-i Nur Collection, The Letters Collection, The Ninth Letter

5 / total 7
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