One's life must be lived in constant awareness of God's supervision, and one must knock tirelessly on His door with supplication and contrition. If an initiate successfully establishes such a balance between fear and hope, he or she will neither despair (of being a perfect, beloved servant of God) nor become conceited about any personal virtues and thereby neglect his or her responsibilities.
True expectation, possessed by those who are sincerely loyal to the Almighty, means seeking God's favor by avoiding sins. Such people undertake as many good deeds as possible, and then turn to God in expectation of His mercy. Others, however, have a false expectation. They spend their lives in sin, all the while expecting God's favor and reward, even though they perform none of the obligatory duties. They seem to believe that God is obligated to admit everyone to Paradise. Not only is this a false expectation, it is a mark of disrespect for the All-Merciful, the All-Compassionate, for such an expectation reflects their (misplaced) hope that God would violate His very nature to protect them from the consequences of their sins. To think that one is guaranteed a place in Paradise is a sin; to hope and strive for the same is commendable.
For Sufis, hope or expectation is not the same as a wish. A wish is a desire that may or may not be fulfilled, whereas hope or expectation is an initiate's active quest, through all lawful means, for the desired destination. In order that God, in His Mercy, will help him or her, the initiate does everything possible, with an almost Prophetic insight and consciousness, to cause all the doors of the Divine shelter to swing open. In other words, hope is the belief that, like His Attributes of Knowledge, Will, and Power, God's Mercy also encompasses all creation, and the expectation that he or she may be included in His special mercy: My Mercy embraces all things (A'raf 7:156); and in a hadith qudsi, a Prophetic saying whose meaning was directly revealed by God, which reads: God's Mercy exceeds His Wrath. Indifference to such Mercy, from which even devils hope to benefit in the Hereafter, and despairing of being enveloped by it, which amounts to denying it, is an unforgivable sin.
Hope means that an initiate seeks the ways to reach the Almighty in utmost reliance on His being the All-Munificent and the All-Loving. Muhammad Lutfi Efendi expresses his hope as follows:
Be kind to me, O my Sovereign,
Do not cease favoring the needy and destitute!
Does it befit the All-Kind and Munificent
To stop favoring His slaves?
Those who are honored by such Divine kindness can be considered as having found a limitless treasure-especially at a time when a person has lost whatever he or she has, is exposed to misfortune, or feels in his or her conscience the pain of being unable to do anything good or to be saved from evil. In short, when there are no means left that can be resorted to, and all of the ways out end in the Producer of all causes and means, hope illuminates the way, like a heavenly mount that carries one to peaks normally impossible to reach.
Here I cannot help but recall the hope expressed in the last words of Imam Shafi‘i in Gaza:
When my heart was hardened and my ways were blocked,
I made my hope a ladder to Your forgiveness;
My sins are too great in my sight, but
When I weigh them against Your forgiveness,
Your forgiveness is much greater than my sins.
It is advisable for one to feel fear in order to abandon sin and turn to God. One should cherish hope when falling into the pit of despair and the signs of death appear. Fear removes any feeling of security against God's punishment, and hope saves the believer from being overwhelmed by despair. For this reason, one may be fearful even when all obligatory duties have been performed perfectly; one may be hopeful although he or she has been less than successful in doing good deeds. This is what is stated in the following supplication of Yahya ibn Mu'adh:
O God! The hope I feel in my heart when I indulge in sin is usually greater than the hope I feel after performing the most perfect deeds. This is because I am impaired” with flaws and imperfections, and never sinless and infallible. When I am stained with sin, I rely on no deeds or actions but Your forgiveness. How should I not rely on Your forgiveness, seeing that You are the Generous One?
According to many, hope is synonymous with cherishing a good opinion of the Divine Being. This is related in the following hadith qudsi: I treat My servant in the way he thinks of Me treating him. A man once dreamed that Abu Sahl was enjoying indescribable bounties and blessings, and asked him how he had attained such a degree of reward. Abu Sahl answered: By means of my good opinion of my Lord. That is why we can say that if hope is a means for God's manifestation of His infinitely profound Mercy, a believer should never relinquish it. Even if one always performs good deeds and preserves his or her sincerity and altruism, since these are the accomplishments of a finite being with limited capacities, they have little importance when compared with God's forgiveness.
Fear and hope are two of the greatest gifts of God that He may implant in a believer's heart. If there is a gift greater than these, it is that one should preserve the balance between fear and hope and then use them as two wings of light with which to reach God.
1. Al-Bukhari, "Tawhid," 55; Muslim, "Tawba," 14-16, Ibn Maja, "Zuhd," 35.
2. Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn 'Uthman al-Dhahabi, Siyar 'Alam al-Nubala', 25 vols. (Beirut, 1992), 1:150.
3. Al-Qushayri, Al-Risala, 133.
4. In other words, one should regard Him as an All-Merciful and All-Forgiving Lord, rather than as an All-Punishing One.
5. Al-Bukhari, "Tawhid", 15; Muslim, "Tawba," 1; Al-Tirmidhi, "Dawa‘at," 132.
6. Al-Qushayri, Al-Risala, 134.