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Chela 2 (Suffering)

| Fethullah Gulen | Issue 148 (Jul - Aug 2022)

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Chela 2 (Suffering)

In This Article

  • The purpose of suffering is that travellers to God should purify themselves, discover their inner world and advance toward new horizons through the steps that are to be taken during the spiritual journey.
  • Suffering for those who succeed the Prophets is, beyond our own spiritual progress, the dedication of our lives to the happiness of others in both worlds and living for others.

Although suffering always takes on the same form, dervishes experience it differently according to their capacities and their powers of resistance. Some are almost completely freed from corporeality and worldliness, and are content with extremely little to meet the essentials of life, spending all their time in worship, thinking and mentioning God. Some others try to live consciously every hour, minute and second, letting no part of life pass without an effort to attain His nearness. Hours pass, weeks follow one upon another, and hunger, thirst and other hardships continue, without any sign of ending, but a dervish who has been accustomed to suffering as a way of life never desires the periods of suffering to come to an end. However, when the first period of forty days ends, the guide investigates to see at what stage the dervish is. The guide looks into the heart of the individual or reflects upon any dreams or visions reported. If the dervish has reached the point of being able to lead a life at the level of the heart and spirit, the guide will then put an end to the period of suffering with certain ceremonies. But it is always possible that new periods will be assigned if the guide considers that the dervish still needs more suffering in order to complete the spiritual purification.

In addition to the Mawlawis—followers of the Sufi order attributed to Mawlana Jalalu’d-Din Rumi—Persians, Azerbaijanis and even some Baktashis—followers of a Turkish mystical order—have ceremonies of their own for suffering. To whatever spiritual order or way a dervish belongs, the purpose of suffering is that travelers to God should purify themselves, discover their inner world and advance toward new horizons through the steps that are to be taken during the spiritual journey, leading a life at the level of the heart and then deepening through their other innermost faculties, such as “the secret” and “the private,” and “the more private,” observing their relations with and duties to the guide, perceiving the significance of obedience to orders, and endowing their spirit with humility and a feeling of nothingness, sincerely adopting the principle of being a simple human being among the people. This is what the guides, who teach dervishes suffering, and the dervishes who suffer, are seeking and what they expect from suffering. The final goal is to become true, perfect human beings.

However, it is not inevitable that one must suffer a certain period in order to attain what is expected from suffering. It is possible to obtain the expected result by abstention from doubtful things, not only the forbidden ones, being content with the pleasures inherent in the lawful sphere under the supervision of a guide who has truly succeeded God’s Messenger, upon him be pace and blessings, and who has achieved the degree of great sainthood, by the acknowledgment of one’s innate poverty and helplessness before God, by thankfulness to Him, by zeal in serving His cause, and by exceptional piety, abstinence, and sincerity. What is absolutely essential in this way is that we should not approach the forbidden things, we should be careful about doubtful things, and we should benefit from the lawful only to the extent of what is necessary.

For those who succeed the Prophets, suffering is, rather than going into retreat to be busy with worship and the recitation of God’s Names, and the abandonment of an easy life for the sake of torment, the pursuit only of God’s good pleasure and approval, always being aware of God’s company even while among people, arousing in hearts zeal for worshipping God with sincere Islamic thoughts, feelings and attitudes, representing Islam in daily life in the best way possible, stirring up Islamic feelings in others, and by developing in others the desire to believe. This is the way of the Companions.

Suffering in this sense becomes, beyond our own spiritual progress, the dedication of our lives to the happiness of others in both worlds and living for others. In other words, we should seek our spiritual progress in the happiness of others. This is the most advisable and the best approved kind of suffering: that is, we die and are revived a few times a day for the guidance and happiness of others, we feel any fire raging in another heart also in our own heart, and we feel the suffering of all people in our spirits. In response to selfish considerations, such as “One who has not suffered does not know what suffering is,” we groan with the afflictions and pains which others in our immediate and distant surroundings endure.

Actively expecting (exerting the necessary efforts for) the subsidence of the storms of denial and heresy is a great suffering, while enduring with humility and grace life among rude and ignorant people in order to enlighten them both mentally and spiritually is double suffering. The struggle with the cruel people who take belief in and submission to God as a sport and who reject Islamic values is suffering upon suffering. Finally, in an atmosphere where all the causes of suffering already mentioned exist, and where friends are unfaithful, where time and conditions are pitiless, where troubles are numerous, where cures are extremely scant, where enemies are powerful, and where the wheel of events turn in the opposite direction, to always breathe in the atmosphere of the Ultimate Truth while having to live every moment of life as if sipping poison is the greatest of sufferings. All of this will help travelers to God to reach the final point in a very short time.

Those who suffered the most in this sense are the Prophets, and on their right and left are the pure, verifying scholars who succeed them and the saints. The hadith, Those who are subjected to the greatest afflictions and suffering are the Prophets, and then come others (according to the depth of their belief) [1] indicates this fact and reminds us that the intensity of suffering is directly proportional to the resistance of the sufferer.

There are few who really suffer in the sense that has been discussed here. It is not genuine suffering that people are subjected to in daily life. Those who really suffer feel suffering and bear it in their private worlds. It cannot be shared by others. Prophet Joseph, upon him be peace, whose suffering began when he was cast into a well, experienced suffering doubly in a foreign county when he was sold as a slave and thrown into jail, and left among a people who had a different culture and language, and who did not sympathize with him. The suffering he experienced purified and perfected him in the name of his mission as a Messenger; and God made him nearer to Him. Prophet Adam, upon him be peace, bore his suffering with tears, and Noah, upon him be peace, had to breast terrible disasters and destruction, while Abraham, upon him be peace, whom God took to Himself as an intimate friend, always had to travel in rings of fire. Prophet Moses, upon him be peace, whom God addressed directly, struggled fiercely against the rebellion of brute force. Jesus, upon him be peace, a pure spirit from God, called people to God under the fatal shadows of the gallows. And finally, the master of creation, upon him be peace and blessings, suffered all that the other Prophets and Messengers suffered. He wept tears, groaned and burnt inwardly for the salvation and happiness of others, but without displaying any sign of suffering.

Hundreds of sufferers from the first day of human history have tasted the pleasure of suffering for the salvation and happiness of others in both worlds in utmost submission to God and have been wholly dedicated to the life of others, without ever considering that they have been made to experience the greatest of sufferings. More than this, they have welcomed such suffering and have been intoxicated with the pleasure thus received.

Suffering of thought is also another great suffering. Thinking, leading others to think, setting themselves to solve the severest problems and world-heavy enigmas, including that of existence, is a form of suffering. Without yielding, making  compositions and syntheses from the thought under the guidance of the Divine Revelation and presenting pure extracts produced from these compositions and syntheses to “hungry” and “thirsty” hearts and minds: this is the suffering in which the heroes of suffering, who are as sincere as angels and who have followed the Messengers, have found an antidote for poison in the poison itself, peace and coolness in the fire, having experienced such with the greatest pleasure. Such people are fortunate that there is no end to their periods of suffering; they cannot be pleased with the idea that such suffering is bound to come to an end. If you attempt to take them out of gardens of suffering, you will not be able to do so; if you were able to do so, you would extinguish their fire and leave them to die.

It is this suffering which is the purest source that feeds the spirit of a true dervish, and which is the most powerful means for travelers to the Ultimate Truth to reach eternality.

Our Lord! In You we trust, and to You we turn in contrition, and to You is our homecoming. Our Lord! Pour out upon us patience, and set our feet firm, and help us to victory over the unbelievers. And bestow blessings and peace on our master Muhammad, the leader of those nearest and most lovable to You, and on his Family and Companions, patient and faithful.


  • at-Tirmidhi, “Zuhd,” 57; Ibn Maja, “Fitan,” 23.

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