Question: The need for affiliation and sense of belonging are human conditions, but they may sometimes overshadow charitable actions. What should believers do to engage in altruistic work with the intentions of only pleasing God and without seeking credit for themselves and their affiliated groups?
Answer: Running to aid others is the most eloquent way of petitioning for divine providence. The noble Prophet Muhammad stated the following: “Whoever eliminates a worldly trouble of a believer, God will eliminate one of the troubles of that person in the Afterlife. Whoever eases the situation of a person in hardship, God will ease the affairs of that person in this world and the next...” (Sahih Muslim, Dhikr 38; Abu Dawud, Al-Adab 68). The noble Prophet also stated that “the best of people is the one who is most beneficial to them” (Tabarani, al-Mu’jamu’l-awsat, 6/58). In this respect, if you run to the help of humanity, God will not leave you without help. If you lend an altruistic hand to humanity, you will receive help in unexpected ways.
While helping others can be in the form of a prosperous person’s financial support, a doctor’s medical help, a business expert’s consultancy, or a therapist’s counseling, the most important type of help is eliminating the obstacles between people and God, letting hearts “meet” Him, and letting people attain success in the Afterlife. Those devoted to glorifying the name of God need to extend a hand to those who are unguided, those who remain lost on long roads, and those who crawl on beaten paths instead of walking comfortably on paved avenues. Worldly hardships are obstacles that prevent hearts from meeting God and minds from thinking about the Afterlife. Therefore, eliminating worldly hardships can, in a way, be evaluated as supplementary to the spiritual aspect. Eliminating people’s material and spiritual needs will save them from being busied with simple and mundane distractions and will serve as a significant bridge for their becoming closer to God. Support given to people in difficult situations will facilitate their favorable response to being called to God’s way.
Offering material and spiritual help together is the way of the Prophets. As a righteous and noble servant of God, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) ran to help people all throughout his life and always supported and cared for the needy, so much so that he never turned down an empty hand. When he was able to, he gave to them and when he was not able to give, he promised that he would. At the same time, he perfectly fulfilled everything for the sake of letting people meet God by eliminating the obstacles between hearts and God. During his Farewell Sermon when he asked three times “have I communicated the message?” the vast congregation he addressed affirmed it in unison, to which he prayed to God to be his witness.
With a feeling of a very serious degree of responsibility, that question could be extended a bit further as if to imply asking: “Have I properly fulfilled my mission of Prophethood? Have I communicated my message to you? Have I extended a hand to you? Have I been able to show the truth to you as clearly as possible?”
Everybody should bear such a feeling of responsibility and exercise due self-interrogation. If a person is a preacher, after having addressed people for many years, he should inquire about their feelings and ask them, “have I fulfilled my duty towards you? Are you a witness to that?” This is very important to be saved from responsibility. A person should not leave this kind of bearing witness to be done at his or her own funeral. They must come face to face with their conscience while in this world and be concerned with fulfilling, and then verifying said fulfillment of, his duties.
Being able to extend a hand to everybody according to their needs and not turn down anyone asking for help is both a requirement of being human and an important trait of a believer. As this can be carried out with individual efforts, it can also be done by means of charitable organizations.
Not seeking credit for one’s group
Such acts of charity and help should be solely done for eliminating the troubles of the needy and gaining God’s good pleasure as a result. It is necessary to be freed from all considerations other than that, and these missions should never be made into tools of popularity or any worldly benefit.
I wonder whether we were able to be sincere to this degree while doing those acts. I wonder whether we sacrificed those good acts to fame and titles from time to time. I do not wish to develop negative assumptions towards anyone, however it should not be dismissed that we may have occasionally been faulty in this regard. Unfortunately, sometimes certain good acts that promise very important benefits for the sake of humanity are credited to group affiliation. While such a self-crediting irritates people who do not like faith and belief at all, it might also provoke feelings of envy and jealousy in some superficial believers.
How I wish we could be “things without names.” So many good deeds were done in the early periods of Islam as “things without names.” In that era, even though Muslims practiced asceticism, piety, abstinence, as well as impotence and poverty before God, there were no establishments or orders by which these acts were represented. There were no Sufi orders at all until the third year of the Islamic calendar. These people would obey Divine orders with great precision and would exercise a spiritual life with the entirety of its depth and fine points with no institutions or affiliations to Sufi orders.
With these words, I am not accusing those who established Sufi orders of baseless innovations (bid’ah). On the contrary, each of them took a path and method of their own based upon the qualities of the Messenger of God and his rightly guided caliphs. By taking into consideration the conditions and conjuncture they are in, some chose the path of seclusion, while others preferred mingling with people; some made their remembrances (dhikr) outwardly, and some did inwardly.
“Things without a name” continued as such particularly until the third year of Islamic calendar, when they started having names, it evoked certain considerations of affiliation without any such intentions. Different affiliations and -isms to certain individuals emerged in society and groups began getting directly credited for the good they were doing.
Over the course of time, groups and affiliations overtook this era of namelessness if you will, and things were victimized: good deeds became victims to one’s name, the spirit forsaken to the body, and meaning was sacrificed to the form. When people made progress in society with their names or titles, they even took it further with a chauvinism of affiliation and started to put on airs with certain adherences. After people took different paths in terms of practicing and representing religion and made them into different schools, they began to attach everything to these newfound identities. This being so, people became blind, deaf, and heartless towards the essence and meaning of truth. When matters began to be evaluated with a chauvinism of affiliation, they had very narrow and fanatical understandings as “those who join us and think like us will be saved. Those who do not take our path will not be delivered...” and thus they mistreated religion and the essential values of religion.
Without the qualities of esteemed pioneers such as Abdul Qadir al-Jilani, M. Khalid al-Baghdadi, or Sheikh al-Naqshbandi, considerations of affiliation can become a deadly poison for a person. The way to remain free from danger is such that those who walk on any such path, or who remain adhered to a certain system, should be able to open their door to everyone in the same degree, love everyone in the same level, and be able to appreciate good acts of everybody else in the same degree.
However, I think that the safest and soundest way still is managing to be a “thing without a name.” Because it is not this or that person who did all those good acts; God is the one who planned, acted, and created all of them. In order to put to practice this plan and project of destiny, He uses some people as instruments. In this respect, nobody has the right to lay claim to those good works.
Given that services are being offered for the sake of God and endeavors are being made for spiritual growth, then it is necessary to keep away from everything that might prevent this. If the service would be negatively affected when matters are approached with a consideration of affiliation, then we should adopt the following fair thought that becomes a believer: let alone a consideration of affiliation, if our own souls, loved ones, and wealth are obstacles for the fulfillment of the services of goodness, may God take all of these from us lest the services stop. This humble servant’s thinking has always been this way so far. I opened my hands to God and always implored thus: “My Lord, if assaults are being made to the good services because of my relation to them, I am ready to take my leave.”
What really matters is continuation of the activities deemed to be good for one’s faith, society, and the entirety of humanity. If things need to be done are completed, rays of faith sent to hearts, and breezes of love and tolerance blew between people, there is no need for us to be known, applauded, or appreciated. Otherwise, it means that we are exchanging people’s applause with appreciation from God, which is a form of associating partners with Him. The way to be saved from this lies with fulfilling one’s service quietly and without pomp, staying away from every kind of ostentation, and then walking to God quietly.
The essence and spirit of the matter
Today, unfortunately, “name” appears more on the front than the “thing” itself. This being so, no progress beyond formalism is made and the essence and spirit of the issue is not caught. For example, we talk about observing the daily prayers, fasting, and giving alms, and try to carry them out some way. Nobody can disregard these acts since God ascribed a value to them. However, if we cannot rid ourselves from going by the moves at these acts of worship and cannot grasp the meaning they bear, cannot feel the consciousness of worship deep in our conscience... namely, if it is not understood that each of them is a bridge leading to the truth, then we cannot attain the benefit out of them and progress towards the end. We cannot progress from superficial worship to true worship by effectuating the heart and spirit. And the depths like the sir (secret), khafi (hidden), and akhfa (most hidden) can never be sensed; because acts of worship like the daily prayers, fasting, alms, and the Pilgrimage are molds, envelops, and camouflages of an essence. What really matters is trying to reach that essence by means of these molds, feeling it, and trying to represent it.
On the other hand, acting with considerations of affiliation will lead to attributing certain achievements to this or that person and group, and thus to forgetting God. What really matters is coming a little closer to Him in everything seen, tasted, and felt, seeing His hand of power behind every happening, exercising constant self-nullification and saying “He.” However, people who act with considerations of affiliation will not be able to act in this manner and will start being diverted from the essence of the issue.
Although ways leading to God are as many as the breaths of His creatures, if a person who has taken any of those ways sees only that one but refuses to recognize any other right ones other than that and sees all other ways as false—may God forbid—this can be a cause of doom and disaster for that person.
The way to stay away from such danger is firstly a constant renewal of faith, keeping up a strong bond with God, and seeing His consent as paramount to everything else. Together with this, believers must not remain obsessed with the services they carried out but know to applaud others who do good works also. The good works of people who serve in different parts of the world in different ways should not be disregarded. On the contrary, it is necessary to work together with them and walk towards common goals.
Secondly, people should not praise or advertise their own charitable work. If there is an aspect to be magnified or be praised in these works, it is necessary to leave that to others. Further than this, all of those good works should firstly be ascribed to God, the true owner of every kind of goodness. If anything good is to be attributed to a human being on account of apparent causality, we should wholeheartedly say, “our inclusion in the issue is almost naught. Had the suitable grounds not been prepared by others, had minds not been readied in that respect, we would not have been able to make such achievements.” This is a necessity of being righteous, as well as showing respect to God and not provoking envy in people. Otherwise, we will not only harm our sincerity but will also become vulnerable to attacks.
Communal pride and chauvinism of affiliation are also doomed to be nasty viruses. Actually, when people with different feeling and thoughts gather around a common ideal and form a collective, and then utilize this potential in a good and charitable way, this is a great blessing for them. However, as Said Nursi also highlighted, if personal arrogance grows worse with a chauvinism of affiliation, and if differences between communities, orders, and movements, which are actually like the different loops of a lacework, are magnified to be means of separation and conflict, and thus, if people are setting about seizing a field for themselves as fueled by a feeling of envy, then a consideration of affiliation becomes a societal disease.
Such issues of conflict and disunity always inflicted different societies and states; they even made great empires collapse. One must be aware that each of these can suffice to make people lose; it is necessary to struggle against such viruses and germs, and direct them to a favorable course. If we can accomplish that, they will yield very auspicious results.