M. Fethullah Gulen
In the language of Islamic Sufism, waqt (time) denotes the time when the Divine gifts pour on a traveler to the Ultimate Truth in accordance with one’s nearness to Him. These gifts invade the inner world with their Divine quality according to the initiate’s capacity to receive them in the frequencies particular to them. If the gifts come with an air of fear and sorrow, the initiate becomes as an embodiment of fear and sorrow; if they come with the air of rejoicing and exhilaration, then breezes of peace and joy begin to blow in one’s world of feelings, without causing loss of self-possession.
One who is conscious of the Divine origin of the gifts may express resignation with such words as “Your favor is welcome, and so is Your retribution.” One acts in peace and contentment and tries to attain confidence in the valleys of reliance, surrender, and commitment. Negligence of what is necessary for a traveler to do in order to hunt these gifts that come from the Ultimate Truth—for example, neglecting to do what falls to the free will in order to obtain a desired result—is a fault on the part of the saintly ones, who have reached the ranks of perfect godliness and nearness to God. Since this means that the heart has lost some degrees in its relation with God, the Ultimate Truth, the traveler is punished according to his or her rank. Those who have risen to a certain rank are expected to use all their time in the most profitable way possible, and to try to strengthen their relation with the Almighty and multiply their rewards. It is because of this that a Sufi is called “a child of time.”
Being “a child of time” means that initiates always consider what they must do at all times and, doing what is best in God’s sight, use all times and opportunities given by God as if each were a seed capable of producing seven or seventy or seven hundred grains. This also means fixing one’s eyes exclusively on God and always turning expectantly and hopefully to the source from which the Divine gifts come. Also, one makes one’s will dependent on God’s Will. The beginning of this rank, marked by an initiate’s spiritual state and pleasure, is time and its end is the intersecting point of being contained and not contained in time and place. We can also view it as the projection onto an initiate’s heart of the Messenger’s rank—he reached the highest point pre-destined for him, a point at which he became so close to God that there was left only the distance between the strings of two bows adjacent to each other or even less (53:9). Mawlana Jalalu’d-Din Rumi indicates this as follows:
A Sufi is an example of how one can be a child of time;
but as for a purified saintly one, he is free from both time and state.
The periods of time when the Prophets are sent to the world with God’s Message, or illustrious, purified saintly scholars are charged with special duties, or honorable saints are honored with sainthood are the periods when the doors to the Divine gifts are wide open and the world is enlightened and honored by the Divine Light. Those periods, and every part of the Age of Happiness, that is, the Time of the Messenger, in particular, are regarded as the Days of God in proportion to the density and extent of radiation of the lights those holy people diffuse. On the other hand, time gets darker in proportion to the fading of the enlightening thought that they diffuse and in proportion to the world’s being deprived of this thought.
If the Almighty wills that His servants who are traveling on His way be favored and embraced with mercy, He strengthens them with time, making it a ladder for them to climb beyond time, or enabling them to do many useful things in a short time, things that would be impossible in a normal timeframe. If, by contrast, He wills to throw those who stray from His way into loneliness and boredom, He wraps time in evil for them and allows them to wander on the slopes of time in a dark, barren land that is closed to the Ultimate Truth. We call this barren part of time “time” only in its literal meaning. Otherwise, time is a gurgling stream that continuously flows into the observatories where God’s Acts are observed.
The true heroes of time have always taken the present day into consideration and tried to use it in the best way possible. They take the previous and the following days into account, but only from the viewpoint of their being the beginning and end of the present day; they regard the previous day as the basic element of the fabric of our lives and the following one as the weft. As for those foremost in nearness to God who live as if beyond the limits of time, they make use of all of time, they have assigned time to God in such a mysterious way that according to the famous adage One who does not taste, does not know, we cannot perceive it. Those people who do not live on the same horizon can neither grasp the showers of gifts with which they have been favored nor understand the profundity of their knowledge of God and the depth of the spiritual pleasures they taste. As time serves like rain pouring down from the heavens and a fertile field bursting with vegetation, they sometimes think of the past favors of God and increase their devotion to Him, saying, “Should I not become a servant thankful (to my Lord)?” (Bukhari, Tahajjud, 6); sometimes they speak to themselves of such feelings of gratitude and are immersed in waves of gratitude. Their responsibilities always bring them good and blessings, and the good and blessings they receive lead them to more gratitude.
By virtue of being conscious of the source of the favors and understanding the main reason lying behind the compliments, an initiate experiences pleasures beyond all understanding and begins to perceive punishments as if they were favors. Though such a degree of favor may open the door for some people of certain disposition and temperament to free and easy behavior and the utterance of proud words that are incompatible with the rules of Shari‘a, those who travel on the way to God guided by the Sunna of the Prophet always behave with self-possession. In obedience to the Divine commandments, they adorn their nearness to God with utmost respect for and awe of Him; they fly in the depths of the heaven of sainthood on the wings of knowledge (ilm) and knowledge of God (marifa). Attributing to God alone whatever favors they may receive and whatever achievement they may realize, their lofty ranks will never prevent them from the utmost humility. Traveling from state to state, they drink gifts sip by sip from the bowl of self-possession.
For others who can take one more step forward, things and events no longer become visible, the past and future are confused, and time melts away in the infinity of the absolute Owner of time and completely disappears from their view. Traveling in such a mysterious valley, they taste the pleasures of seeing everything annihilated in God Almighty and, in the face of the scene which things and beings display under the overall manifestations of God’s Names, they feel wonder, absorbed in turning to God Almighty and utter amazement at His signs and acts. They even take the manifestations of His Names and Attributes for His manifesting Himself in visible forms or in nature or other things. This mood is the point where an initiate may become confused in the world of his or her feelings, thoughts and pleasures. Some people of different temperaments may, as mentioned above, confuse God’s manifestations of His Names and Attributes with His manifesting Himself in different forms, and see a drop as if it were an ocean, a particle of light as if it were the sun, nothing as if it were everything, and utter such words as: “I am the Truth; How exalted my being is!”; “There is nothing in the name of existence save God;” and “There is nothing that exists but God.”
We should point out that the fact that everything is from Him and is sustained by Him does not mean that nothing else exists, or that everything is not different from Him, or that everything is identical with Him. If things and events are not viewed and analyzed in the light of the Prophetic Message and with an insight and consciousness based on it, and if the spiritual journey is not based on self-possession and discernment (between truth and untruth, origin and shadow, God and His Acts and works), it will be difficult for people of certain disposition and temperament to be freed from such confusions.
O God! Guide us to the Straight Way, the way of those whom You have favored. And bestow blessings and peace on our master Muhammad and on his Family and Companions, all of them.