Chapter 1: The Importance of Self-Sacrifice (3/3)
Spreading Good Morals
When believers consciously seek to live an honest and sincere morality, they encourage others around themto do the same. As Allah says, urging others to live a moral life is one of their responsibilities:
Let there be a community among you who call to the good, enjoin the right, and forbid the wrong. They are the ones who have success. (Surah Al 'Imran: 104)
Moreover, believers want others to experience the blessings and contentment that living such a moral life brings. Allah says that leading a good life is possible only if people turn to Allah and live the kind of moral life that pleases Him: "Only in the remembrance of Allah can the heart find peace" (Surat ar-Ra'd: 28) and "if anyone turns away from My reminder, his life will be a dark and narrow one, and on the Day of Resurrection, We will gather him blind" (Surah Ta Ha: 124). Throughout history, a society's lack of religious morality has inevitably resulted in its people living lives full of anxiety in troubled, war-torn environments; suffering hunger, famine, exile, and oppression; and denying orphans and those old people who are in need proper care.
Believers are aware of this fact and therefore eager to spread religious morality among their people. This undertaking requires self-sacrifice, patience, and determination. Moreover, believers understand the true Qur'anic nature of self-sacrifice and thus naturally feel a sense of responsibility when they see other people coping with anxiety and problems.
Having this clear awareness, believers do not remain uninvolved out of the mistaken idea that it is not their responsibility, that someone more skilled and intelligent should solve the problem, or that someone with more material resources should do something about it. They would never be so selfish as to think that they have enough problems of their own and that other people should solve their own problems. They consider the guidance, intelligence, understanding, and openness that they have received from Allah as great blessings and act accordingly. Without waiting for someone to ask for help, they are prepared to shoulder every responsibility and transcend their own milieu in an attempt to solve all people's problems. They do this so that they might be examples of good moral character:"… make us a good example for those who guard against evil" (Surat al-Furqan: 74).
Sincere believers may be required to perform many acts of self-sacrifice to fulfill this responsibility. Such individuals place their own problems and needs second to solving the problems of others. They will mobilize all of their resources to do this, even to the point of suffering themselves. They will be patient, determined, and undaunted by the magnitude of the problems they encounter.
Allah tells us about the prophets' and sincere believers' great efforts to establish religious morality, and stresses the importance of having a good moral character in the Qur’an. Although they faced many difficulties while trying to fulfill this task, they spread their moral message with zeal, self-sacrifice, and complete sincerity, because their only purpose was to be rewarded with Allah's approval. Allah inform us of the prophets' many sincere acts, all of which are examples to humanity. For example, the Prophet Noah (as) preached the importance of having a good moral character only to win Allah's approval:
... their brother Noah asked them: "Will you not guard against evil?" [Noah said:] "I am a faithful Messenger to you. I do not ask you for any wage for it. My wage is the responsibility of no one but the Lord of all the worlds." (Surat ash-Shu'ara': 106-109)
[Noah said:] "My people, I do not ask you for any wealth for it. My wage is the responsibility of Allah alone. I will not chase away those who believe. They are surely going to meet their Lord. However, I consider you to be an ignorant [of true belief] people." (Surah Hud: 29)
Allah tells us that the number of people who follow the prophets' advice is generally very small: "Those are the signs of the Book. And what has been sent down to you from your Lord is the Truth. But most people do not believe" (Surat ar-Ra'd: 1). Most people do not accept this invitation to salvation in both worlds, even though doing so would give them a good and happy life. Moreover, they are determined not to understand the message.
The prophets and other sincere believers who preached the importance of having a good moral character were always patient and displayed their moral excellence and sincere self-sacrifice by speaking the finest of words. They did all that they could not for their own gain, but to save people from the pain of Hell. They did not become angry with those who refused their message, for their awareness enabled them to proclaim the truth patiently and to find the best way to reach others. The Prophet Noah's (as) message to his people clearly shows his sincerity, self-sacrifice, and patience:
He [Noah] said: "My Lord, I have called my people night and day. But my calling has only made them more evasive. Indeed, every time I told them of Your forgiveness, they put their fingers in their ears, wrapped themselves up in their clothes, and were overweeningly arrogant. Then I called them openly. Then I addressed them both publicly and privately." (Surah Nuh: 5-9)
The Prophet Noah (as) used many methods to convince his people to follow the true path. We are told in these verses that this virtuous person advised his people day and night and that they opposed him so much that they put their fingers in their ears [and] wrapped themselves up in their clothes. But in spite of this, he continued to relay Allah's message with patience and sincerity:
[Noah said:] "I said: ‘Ask forgiveness of your Lord. Truly, He is Endlessly Forgiving. He will send heaven down on you in abundant rain and reinforce you with more wealth and children, and grant you gardens and waterways. Why do you not hope for honor from Allah, when He created you by successive stages? Do you not see how He created seven heavens in layers, placed the Moon as a light in them, and made the Sun a blazing lamp? Allah caused you to grow from earth, and will return you to it and bring you out of it again. Allah has spread out the land as a carpet for you so that you can use its wide valleys as roadways.'" Noah said: "My Lord, they have disobeyed me and followed those whose wealth and children have only increased them in loss. They have hatched a mighty plot." (Surah Nuh: 10-22)
No one responded to Noah's (as) sincere appeal; rather, Allah reveals that they hatched a mighty plot.
Other prophets and sincere believers encountered similar opposition from their people. But instead of being intimidated, they persisted in calling them to believe in Allah and live lives pleasing to Him. Allah tells His servants who engage in self-sacrifice only to win His favor that:
If anyone desires the reward of this world, We will give him some of it. If anyone desires the reward of the Hereafter, We will give him some of it. We will recompense the thankful. (Surah Al 'Imran, 145)
Being Patient and Self-Sacrificial at All Times
Prophets and believers have always encountered many hardships, for their people seldom welcome them. Their attempts to spread the Qur'an's high morality conflicted with the interests of those societies inhabited by unbelievers, hypocrites, and idolaters. Such people thought that being honest and having good intentions, engaging in self-sacrifice and generosity, doing good deeds without expecting any return, treating people justly and kindly, and regarding everyone as equal without distinguishing between rich and poor would undo their social system. They understood that the unjust and immoral practices so far in effect would attract far more attention once people who practiced such a morality became the majority. These worries caused them to harbor a great enmity toward all believers, which, in turn, blinded them to the good that following the Qur'an's morality would bring them or the wisdom of the advice contained therein. The prophets spread the message through every kind of self-sacrifice and without expecting any reward, but their people, unable to conquer their own hostility, did whatever they could to stop them and invalidate the message in their people's eyes.
The unbelievers' reaction is always the same. In the Qur'an Allah tells us that this is a special test created for believers:
You will be tested in your wealth and in your selves, and you will hear many abusive words from those given the Book before you and from the idolaters. But if you are steadfast and guard against evil, that is the most resolute course to take. (Surah Al 'Imran: 186)
Believers know that all accusations and destructive calumny leveled against them are only part of the test sent by Allah. Therefore, they are not swayed by hardship; rather, they eagerly continue to spread the importance of good morality, hoping to be rewarded in the Hereafter. They experience full contentment and security in the knowledge that Allah always helps, advocates for, and supports sincere believers.
Unbelievers set traps for believers, thinking that they can put them off with accusations and attacks. But Allah reveals in the Qur'an that He will bless all believers with success and disprove all of the accusations made against them. For example, people slandered the Prophet Moses (as), but Allah exonerated him:
O you who believe. Do not be like those who abused Moses. Allah absolved him of what they said, and he was highly honored with Allah. (Surat al-Ahzab: 69)
Historically, all accusations made against prophets and believers have been pretty much the same. Whenever they called upon their unbelieving societies to practice true religion and high morality, the people accused them of sorcery and of being crazy poets:
Do people find it so surprising that We should reveal to a man among them: "Warn humanity and give good news to those who believe that they are on a sure footing with their Lord?" The unbelievers say: "This is downright magic." (Surah Yunus: 2)
They say: "You, to whom the Reminder has been sent down, are clearly crazy." (Surat al-Hijr: 6)
Furthermore they say: "A muddled jumble of dreams!" "He has invented it!" "He is a poet!" and "Let him bring us a sign like those sent to previous peoples." (Surat al-Anbiya': 5)
[They said:] "Out of all of us, has the Reminder been given to him? No indeed! He is an impudent liar." (Surat al-Qamar: 25)
The ruling circle of his people who did not believe said: "He is nothing but a human being, like yourselves, who simply wants to gain ascendancy over you. If Allah had wanted, He would have sent down angels. We never heard of anything like this among our ancestors, the earlier peoples." (Surat al-Mu'minun: 24)
Those who do not believe say: "This is nothing but a lie that he has invented, and other people have helped him do it. They have brought injustice and falsehood." (Surat al-Furqan: 4)
Unbelievers use such slander to diminish the influence of the believers' words. But what makes the believers' words so effective is their sincerity, honesty, awareness, and truthfulness, not to mention the fact that they are calling people to solid truth. Only Allah can cause these words to influence people and move their hearts. So, such events do not affect the people in the way that the unbelievers had hoped.
In addition, other believers pay no attention to the slander directed toward fellow believers, for Allah reveals in the Qur'an:"O you who believe. If an unbeliever brings you a report, scrutinize it carefully in case you attack people in ignorance and later on come to regret greatly what you have done" (Surat al-Hujurat: 6). Knowing that all prophets and sincere believers have encountered such accusations, believers think good things about their fellow believers and support each other to prove that the accusations have no foundation. As befits their character, they pay no heed to these accusations and slurs, for they"strive in the way of Allah and do not fear the blame of any censurer" (Surat al-Ma'ida: 54).
The unbelievers' war of words is not limited to making false accusations; sometimes, they actually threaten and oppress the believers in an effort to stop the spread of religious morality among their people. They threaten the believers with death, exile, prison, and torture; sometimes, they actually assault them. Allah tells us that this is nothing new, for:
When those who do not believe were planning to imprison you or kill you or expel you, they were planning and Allah was planning. However, Allah is the Best Planner. (Surat al-Anfal: 30)
Clearly, the unbelievers seek to get the believers arrested, killed, or exiled. But instead of doing so openly, they set traps to stop the spread of the Qur'an's morality. Allah tells us of these traps in many verses. One example is the case of the Prophet Lot (as) and his family, whom the unbelieving inhabitants of the land wanted to expel for trying to live a pure and upright life among them. The Prophet Lot (as) called upon the people to live a moral life and to abandon their shameless immorality, but:
Right after he and his family left, Allah destroyed the city and turned the traps set for believers against those who had set them.
The only response of his people was to say: "Drive the family of Lot out of your city! They are people who keep themselves pure!" (Surat an-Naml: 56)
Believers were also threatened with imprisonment. In fact, Allah reveals that Pharaoh threatened the Prophet Moses (as) with prison if he did not obey him:
They said: "O Jethro, we do not understand much of what you say and we see you are weak among us. Were it not for your clan, we would have stoned you. We do not hold you in high esteem!" (Surah Hud: 91)
Pharaoh and his inner circle made plans to kill the Prophet Moses (as). But with Allah's help, Moses (as) learned of this trap:
A man came running from the furthest part of the city, shouting: "Moses, the council is conspiring to kill you, so leave! I bring you good advice." (Surat al-Qasas: 20)
The Prophet Abraham's (as) people tried in vain to burn the prophet who called upon them to abandon their idols and worship Allah. But Allah miraculously rescued His messenger from this difficult situation:
The only answer of his people was to say: "Kill him or burn him!" But Allah rescued him [Abraham] from the fire. There are certainly signs in that for people who are believers. (Surat al-'Ankabut: 24)
Unbelievers act with as much hostility toward sincere believers as they do toward prophets. But no matter how aggressive their assaults may be, all prophets and believers continue to call their people to accept the Qur'an's morality with great patience. Despite all of their hardships, they remain examples of courage and self-sacrifice. They submit themselves to Allah in trust and resignation, knowing that He controls everything:
Say: "Call on your partner deities, try all of your wiles against me, and grant me no reprieve. My Protector is Allah, Who sent down the Book. He takes care of the righteous." (Surat al-A'raf: 195-196)
[Believers are] those to whom people said: "The people have gathered against you, so fear them." But that merely increased their faith, and they said: "Allah is enough for us and the Best of Guardians." (Surah Al 'Imran: 173)
[Their messengers said:] "And why should we not put our trust in Allah, when He has guided us to our ways? We will be steadfast however much you harm us. Those who trust put their trust in Allah." (Surah Ibrahim: 12)
Say: "Nothing can happen to us except what Allah has ordained for us. He is Our Master. It is in Allah that the believers should put their trust." (Surat at-Tawba: 51)
These traps and assaults, which always end favorably for believers, reveal those people who have a sickness in their heart, who work against believers, and who refuse to sacrifice for His sake. In the Qur’an Allah describes the attitudes of those who lose their zeal to spread the message in times of difficulty and who even rejoice in their lack of eagerness:
Among you there are people who hang back and if you encounter a setback then they say, "Allah has blessed me in that I was not there with them." (Surat an-Nisa': 72)
However, being slow and lazy in proclaiming the Qur'an's morality, avoiding self-sacrifice and putting the responsibility on others is not the proper way to behave. Those who ignore their conscience and abandon the truth, even though they understand it in their mind and conscience, must not think that they have gained anything. Those who are slow and among the last to live the kind of moral life pleasing to Allah will find themselves held accountable for such serious errors. Those who remain passive in this world in order to preserve their own comfort and protect their own interests will, in the Hereafter, suffer misery beyond their most vivid imaginations. Their ensuing pangs of conscience will cause them great anxiety. Besides this, if Allah wills, He may give such people misery in this life, too:
Leave them then until they meet their Day, when they will be struck down by the Blast, the Day when their ploys will not profit them at all and they will not be helped. And those who do wrong will have a punishment besides that. But most of them do not know it. (Surat at-Tur: 45-47)
Believers place their trust in Allah when confronted with the pressure exerted on them by those seeking to block the spread of the Qur'an's morality. They will do their best to live according to the Qur'an's moral teachings regardless of their circumstances. Allah gives these people the following glad tidings:
If Allah helps you, no one can defeat you. If He forsakes you, who can help you after that? So the believers should put their trust in Allah. (Surah Al 'Imran: 160)
O Prophet! Allah is enough for you and for the believers who follow you. (Surat al-Anfal: 64)
But if they turn away, say: "Allah is enough for me. There is no deity but Him. I have put my trust in Him. He is the Lord of the Mighty Throne." (Surat at-Tawba: 129)
Even in the face of hardship, sincere believers continue to spread the message with great enthusiasm, because they want to outdo each other in goodness and be in the forefront of those who win Allah's pleasure. They know that the self-sacrifice enjoined in the Qur'an is not limited to certain situations only, and realize that they must live every moment undaunted by hardship and determined to practice this morality. This moral character is praised in the Qur'an, and Allah promises them the following reward:
Many a prophet has been fought when there were many thousands with him. They did not give up in the face of what assailed them in the way of Allah, nor did they weaken or yield. Allah loves the steadfast. All they said was: "Our Lord, forgive our wrong actions and any excesses that we went to in what we did. Make our feet firm and help us against these unbelieving people." So, Allah gave them the reward of this world and the best reward of the Hereafter. Allah loves good-doers. (Surah Al 'Imran: 146-148)
Not All Acts Might Have the Same Value in the Sight of Allah
Earlier in this book, we referred to the fact that experiencing hardship and difficulties is an important test for distinguishing sincere believers from hypocrites. Allah reveals in many verses that even those who live among believers and display a similar moral character may act quite differently when confronted with hardship. Many people can put up with some hardship in an otherwise comfortable environment, but they may not show this moral quality when hardship occurs. In any case, only those people who have strong belief can really trust in Allah, remain committed to Him, and struggle to overcome their difficulties.
Some individuals ignore this fact, feeling that it is enough to do a few good deeds in the midst of their prosperity. However, in times of hardship, they avoid such self-sacrifice on the pretext of having done some good deeds already. They present these deeds as proof that they have the spirit of self-sacrifice described in the Qur'an. Such people also claim that they are not responsible for dealing with other people's problems when they have to deal with their own difficulties. They think that someone else should assume this responsibility.
But such thinking has nothing to do with the Qur'an's moral teaching, for Allah has made people responsible for living a good moral life. Therefore, everyone is responsible for making a life-long commitment to self-sacrifice and for remaining patient, trusting, sincere, honest, loyal, and faithful at all times: "Wealth and children are the embellishment of the life of this world. But in your Lord's Sight, right actions that are lasting bring a better reward and are a better basis for hope" (Surat al-Kahf: 46). The self-sacrifice described in the Qur'an is something undertaken willingly by those who are patient even when their own interests are thwarted and they are put at risk.
Allah tells us in the Qur’an that the self-sacrifice of those believers who are experiencing difficulties is not the same as the efforts made by those who are in the midst of secure prosperity. People in need and those dealing with their own problems, and yet who still give generously of what they have, have far more value in His Sight:
And how is it with you that you do not give in the way of Allah, when the inheritance of the heavens and Earth belongs to Allah? Those of you who gave and fought before the victory are not the same as those who gave and fought afterwards. They are higher in rank. But to each of them Allah has promised the best. Allah is aware of what you do. (Surat al-Hadid: 10)
In another verse, Allah reveals the real reason why people with weak belief are reluctant to engage in self-sacrifice in difficult times: "If it had been a case of easy gains and a short journey, they would have followed you. But the distance was too great for them…" (Surat at-Tawba: 42). These people live and work in harmony with sincere believers in times of comfort and prosperity, but are discouraged when hardships come.
But because they fear and respect Allah, sincere believers show courage and determination even in times of hardship. Their zeal to win Allah's favor never falters. In fact, such apparently difficult situations actually become easy for believers who view them through the eyes of belief. They live trusting in the knowledge that Allah will help all sincere believers who are committed to practicing the Qur'an's moral teachings and winning His favor regardless of any worldly benefit.
Believers who are aware of this reality must continue to practice self-sacrifice in times of hardship. However, Allah says that certain people are exempt from this responsibility:"Nothing is held against the weak and the sick, nor against those who find nothing to spend, provided that they are true to Allah and His messenger. There is no way open against good-doers. Allah is Ever-Forgiving, Most Merciful"(Surat at-Tawba: 91). Those who fear and respect Allah in their conscience and know this truth do not shirk their duty to pursue their own interests. For in the Qur'an Allah gives us some examples from the time of our Prophet (saas), revealing that no excuse for doing so is valid:
There are only grounds [of complaint] against those who ask you for permission to stay when they are rich. They were pleased to be among those who were left behind. Allah has sealed up their hearts, so they do not know. (Surat at-Tawba: 93)
They will make excuses to you when you return to them. Say: "Do not make excuses, [for] we will not believe you. Allah has already informed us about you. Allah will see your actions, as will His messenger. Then you will be returned to the Knower of the Unseen and the Visible, and He will inform you of what you did." (Surat at-Tawba: 94)
These people try to persuade those around them that their attitudes are quite reasonable. But in reality, they are only attempting to quiet their own conscience. Sometimes they use the excuse of having family or business responsibilities to give the impression that they are not in a position to sacrifice for others. However, they know that their excuses are invalid. In addition, they are aware that everything in this life is transitory and that only Allah is eternal; He is the One to Whom everything will finally return. Allah knows their real intention: "We know those of you who have gone ahead and those who are still to come" (Surat al-Hijr: 24). In spite of this, they still prefer to satisfy their lower self rather than to win Allah's favor. They fall into the serious error of thinking that it is to their advantage to protect their own interests, whereas their real advantage is to seek His approval, for only He, the Lord of the worlds, can protect and bestow blessings upon them, and ensure their security, contentment, and ease.
Those who have a selfish moral character will find themselves belittled both in this world and in Hereafter. In fact, those who avoid self-sacrifice are proclaimed in the Qur'an:
If Allah returns you to a group of them and they ask you for permission to go out, say: "You will never go out with me, nor will you ever fight an enemy with me. You were happy to stay behind the first time, so stay behind with those who are left behind." (Surat at-Tawba: 83)
In addition, those who claim to believe and yet choose their own interests over earning Allah's approval will experience great sorrow in the Hereafter. But if they consider these truths and live as best as they can according to the Qur'an's moral teachings, they can hope to be saved from this eternal sorrow.