The place of some individuals in altruistic work cannot be denied; however, individuals are not all there is to this work. Personalities are important, on the one hand, for the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, is a personality and God commanded us to become bound to him. The most important factor in this is virtue. People become tied to others because of their virtue. For example, if it were not for Abu Hanafi, we would not know the Hanafi school of thought. For this reason we have a heartfelt tie. In the same way, someone from the Shafii school is tied to Imam Shafii, a person from the Maliki school is bound to Imam Malik and someone from the Hanbali school is tied to Ahmad b. Hanbal.
Just as virtue is a means for connection among people, everyone’s applauding it is a sign of appreciation. Yes, as an expression of appreciation, it is necessary to salute those who enlighten humankind. This is our duty. However, if the person who is saluted sees the situation as connected to himself, then he has attributed a partner to God.
In a hadith the Messenger of God says, “Let the person who awaits the salute of others prepare his place in Hell.” For example, you need to stand up when your teacher comes to your side. However, if your teacher wants and expects others to stand up, then he is at a loss. In fact, one day drawing attention to the sensitivity of this matter, the Prophet said to the Companions who stood up for him, “Don’t stand up when I come upon you as others do (who stand up to exalt their master)!” Of course this is the refined manner of a great person or, in other words, the attitude a great person should take. It is our responsibility to behave respectfully to them in spite of this kind of wish.
Another aspect of the matter is that good works, which require full, comprehensive, and strong support, should not be built on personalities. People in service to others should establish agreement and accord among themselves and in view of their successes they should say, “God is bestowing all of this on our collective body.” They should convince their egos of this because the blessings coming to them come as a result of their coming together.
Meanwhile they should cast from their minds the thought, “If such and such a person leaves this circle, it will give harm to our group.” For if a cause is really for God, no one can give harm to His cause by leaving the circle. Consequently, becoming tied to certain individuals and knowing everything to be a result of their efforts within the understanding, “Our group will disintegrate and disperse,” is contrary to Islam’s pure and clear belief. In order for the matter to be better understood, I would like to give one or two individual examples:
It is not possible to imagine a person who could love the Blessed Prophet as much as Abu Bakr. In fact, in one hadith the Messenger of God expresses this truth, “When everyone denied me, he affirmed me.” Ali expressed Abu Bakr’s love and attachment to the Prophet as follows: “When it was time for the Prophet of God to go, no one had the courage to go with him. Abu Kuhafa’s son (i.e. Abu Bakr) stood up. When everyone was making suggestions in the apostasy events, he mounted his horse and said, ‘I will follow the Prophet’s path even if I am alone.’”
We see that although he loved the Messenger of God this much and never left his side for a moment, Abu Bakr was not at Ali’s side during the Prophet’s funeral. For at that moment there was a more important matter; achievements of the Prophet could fall apart, some could sow discord among Muslims and irreparable division could occur.
Just at that moment Abu Bakr immediately appeared and said, “Whoever worships Muhammad should know that he has died. Whoever believes in God should know that He is the All-Living and the Self-Subsisting.” When he recited the verse, “Muhammad is no more than an apostle. Many were the apostles that passed away before him. If he died or were slain, will you then turn back on your heels? If any did turn back on his heels, not the least harm will he do to God. But God, on the other hand, will swiftly reward those who (serve Him) in gratitude,” (Al Imran 3:144) Umar, who reflected the general feeling, would say, “(Upon Abu Bakr’s recitation) I felt like that verse was just revealed. Abu Bakr warned us.” Later, as is known, very conscientious believers who grasped the Messenger’s cause well, like Abu Bakr, Umar, and Abu Ubayda, gathered at Bani Saqifa and resolved the matter of caliphate there.
All Companions loved the Prophet very much and all were bound to him from the heart. Actually there is no harm in such a tie. However, seeing the message he brought as tied to him and thinking that everything is finished when he left is wrong.
We also see this portrait of consciousness that Abu Bakr displayed in Umar’s time as well. Halid was the commander of Caliph Umar’s army. When he rode his horse over Persia, he demolished all of Persia’s forces. When he rode over the Roman Empire, he destroyed its walls as well and showed an unequaled military genius.
Umar discharged this great commander and gave the following reason for it: “Halid! God knows I love you very much. But the people are attributing victories to you. But I know that God is bestowing these victories. For this reason, I am relieving you of your duty.” After Halid was removed from duty, the victories continued and the people understood that the victories were from God, not Halid.
Just as in the past, today there are those who fall into this mistake and attribute matters to individuals. Whereas, just as conquests in Islam continued after the Prophet’s death, conquest in the spiritual field always continued. For example, Abd al-Qadir Gilani and Shah Naqshiband have died, but their followers have continued until today.
Bediuzzaman, the great thinker of our time, died, some viewed things as if everything was over. However that great man said, “While I am an individual in this life, when I am under the ground I will be like an ear of corn. In comparison to service to the faith appearing in one place, after my death it will appear in perhaps one hundred places.”
Again this same great man gave us this yardstick on this subject. He once said that his students confused the real cause with the apparent cause when they said, “If our teacher had not come here, we would not be learned.” Bediuzzaman continued that he would do the same confusion, “I once was saying that if there had been no one holding a pencil like these brothers, how could a half-literate person like me serve this cause (and produce books)? Later I understood that after giving you the sacred blessing by means of a pencil, God bestowed success in this service upon me. Two things that have conjoined one another cannot be the cause of one another. I do not thank you, I congratulate you. As the price of your gratitude to me, you, too, pray and give congratulations.”
Actually every believer should think like this. For God’s grace comes to all of us commonly. There is a conjunction everywhere from the doorkeeper who opens the door to an institution to the director who manages the institution. May God give us success in showing effort in this comprehension and association!