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A common disease and possible cures

by Fethullah Gülen on . Posted in Endeavor for Renewal

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A common disease and possible cures

Question: Individuals’ being easily offended and harboring bitter feelings toward one another for a long time has almost become a widespread “disease” in our time. How do you think it is possible to cure this disease, which gives way to personal, familial, and social problems?

Answer: In a situation as described in the question, individuals feel broken-hearted toward someone and consequently distance oneself from that person. They take a negative stance against that person, and refuse to continue friendly relations with him. It mostly entails other negative behaviors as well. For example, one who harbors resentment against a friend does not only stop there, but in time he or she begins to think negatively about that friend. This mood might even give way to backbiting or slandering that person. When a misfortune happens to the latter, the one harboring resentment feels glad about it. What is worse, as a resentful person lets oneself deeper into these negativities, he or she does not realize the greatness of their mistake and sin, owing to inclinations of seeing oneself as innocent. However, all of these are condemnable acts in the sight of God, which might cause one to fall into eternal ruin. The noble Prophet’s warnings and advice on this issue are of crucial importance. In one instance he stated that it is not lawful for a Muslim to break relations with his brother (or her sister in religion) for more than three days.[1] That no matter what happens, a Muslim can continue such a state of bitterness for no more than three days. Incidentally, let me add that if the case of being offended is not based on reasonable grounds, or a sound reference (manat) as termed in Islamic Law, even a period of three days will not be allowed. If the causes that led to breaking relations are real and acceptable—only then—can they break off relations for three days, which is the uppermost limit. This period lets anger abate and bitter feelings disappear. It allows broken feelings to weaken, and it will be possible to reconsider the rights of the other person in a calmer mood. As a consequence, the feeling and thoughts of brotherhood or sisterhood will revive once more in the believer’s spirit; they will fill the distance you put in between, and you will become close friends again. So by giving certain measures, the hadith teaches a way for freeing ourselves from resentment.

Bitter feelings in the real and metaphorical sense

Although there is no accustomed distinction as the real and metaphorical sense of the issue, we can make such a classification according to the intention and purpose of the people involved. Accordingly, harboring bitter feelings in the real sense is a condemnable condition, whereas its metaphorical version is a strategy that can be employed when necessary. A father can tell his own children “I was not expecting something like that from you!” and adopt an aloof manner toward them. The incident of ila[2]—when the beloved Prophet distanced himself from his wives for a temporary period—is an example of this. At this point, I would like to mention a memory of mine I had mentioned at some other talks. One day, my primary school teacher took hold of me and said, “and you also?” I guess if she had beaten me with fifty sticks instead, it would not make that much impact. Her words conveyed appreciation, reminding me of a good relation, and they were a warning, cautioning me to not destroy that relationship. That attitude of the teacher was an appropriate one to bring me to my senses. This is what I mean by referring to turning aloof in the metaphorical sense; that is, using a negative stance as a method to effect a desired result on the person to be warned.

The rights of parents and metaphorical resentment

Parents should be exempted from the above mentioned situation. Concerning one’s parents, God Almighty commands: “Your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him alone, and treat parents with the best of kindness. Should one of them, or both, attain old age in your lifetime, do not say “Ugh!” to them (as an indication of complaint or impatience), nor push them away, and always address them in gracious words” (al-Isra 17:23). Every time I recite this verse during Prayer, I feel as if I get stabbed; for who knows, some of our attitudes might have broken their hearts unawares. My mother, father, grandfather, grandmother, sister, and aunts might have felt offended by my ill manners. When I take these into consideration, I feel as if a spear pierced through my chest. For this reason, when I remember the elderly people in my family, I pray as “O our Lord! Forgive me, and my parents…” (Ibrahim 14:41) and with the hope of fulfilling the due of their rights upon me, within the means God provided me with, I sometimes send people to pilgrimage on their behalf. Therefore, it must be out of the question to harbor any bitter feelings toward one’s parents or the family elders, even in the metaphorical sense. Even if there are serious factors to cause one to feel offended, one should not be offended toward them. Even if one feels much offended, he or she must absolutely not offend them. On the contrary, one must try to keep them well-pleased. Otherwise, a day comes and one realizes his or her mistakes but it can be too late; it can be a point where it is impossible to compensate for the past. In this respect, it is necessary to plan our life in such a way that we do not express regret for the zigzags we have made and say, “I wish I had not acted that way but this way…” The Pride of Humanity stated that it is wrong to say “I wish…”[3] for it might imply a criticism of Divine Destiny. For this reason, one should agree with a friend to act as his or her coach, who will warn and guide that person about wrongs that might cause one to express regret with “I wish…” It is said that many great rulers of the past kept certain people near them. As those people used to be chosen from among less cultivated groups, they would bluntly talk to the sultan. As the sultan gave them permission, he would not feel disturbed by their words. On the contrary, the sultan would take a lesson from their words and straighten up again and return to his right frequency. In the same way, it is possible, in our time, for individuals to have a mentor to constantly give them sound advice, guide them to truth, and avert them from committing wrongs that could make them say “I wish…” in regret; because, even if such wrongs make themselves felt as a pang of the conscience, this feeling does not suffice to compensate for them.

Getting back to our essential subject, it may be proper behavior to take a soft negative attitude as a form of metaphorical bitterness. It is possible to compare this situation to the “blows dealt by Divine compassion” as Bediüzzaman puts it. As a mother may slightly smack her children on the hips in response to a certain wrong and express her disapproval, she still tries to let them know that this warning and advice is out of her compassion and for their own good. On the other hand, it needs to be known that using such ways and means wisely takes a certain deal of mastering. Unfortunately, we witness serious mistakes of parenting on such issues, since couples who are to be married do not receive good and sufficient training. People are ignorant about the rights of their spouse, children, and parents according to Islam. As these are not known, they make very serious mistakes. For this reason, I hold the opinion that couples need to undergo good training to be certified as eligible for marriage, so that they can have a successful marriage.

The deed that brings rewards equivalent to those given for worship

Let us briefly consider the real sense of taking offense. Sometimes, the people around us might really behave in a way that causes us offense. Even in such situations, we should strive not to take offense, as a requirement of our belief in God and the Hereafter, in spite of ourselves and our own feelings. Let us not forget that deciding not to take offense where one normally would bring otherworldly rewards as if that person offered worship. Because, it is a state of battling against one’s carnal soul and rising up against one’s inner tendencies of transgression, where one gives his or her willpower its due. As it is known, Bediüzzaman mentions three main types of patience and one of them is patience against troubles and misfortunes.[4] So it can easily be said that showing patience as we have described will bring the person otherworldly rewards to be gained by worship. We can sometimes face so many reasons to take offense. However, we need to see them as mere misfortunes and show due patience toward them. Even if somebody breaks relations with us, we should not. Even if they hurt us, we should not hurt another one. If others hurt us but we do not respond in the same way, act with certain flexibility, and find a way to give them a hug, then we will have made a very important sacrifice for the sake of faith and humanity; we will have enacted a very important virtue.

As for the social aspect of the issue, there are serious instances of taking offense, particularly between people who hold different worldviews and reflections of this situation in political life. Expectations of worldly gains as a high status add fuel to the flames. So much so that some people utter words they should not and make statements in conflict with the truth, and this leads to taking offense and harboring bitter feelings. If people do not act upon motives of seeking worldly status, it will be seen that there is a path and field for everybody to serve their people and humanity, and that there is a lane for everyone to run. As the members of a society, everybody can be on separate lanes but work for the common good, be hand in hand, and run toward the same target. This running does not include, nor should it include, a feeling of rivalry or considerations of “Let us leave them behind.” May be it should be a form of competing at good acts to make us say, “Let me not remain behind at doing goodness, let me present a performance no worse than those who run ahead of me.” Therefore, when the road is so wide, there will not be cases of touching, hurting, and offending one another. The same principle is true about sharing the beauties of faith and the Qur’an with others. God Almighty states: “Those (on the other hand) who strive hard for Our sake, We will most certainly guide them to Our ways (that We have established to lead them to salvation). Most assuredly, God is with those devoted to doing good, aware that God is seeing them” (al-Ankabut 29:69). That is, God will guide them to Himself through not one but many ways.

Bediüzzaman underlines the fact that “The roads leading to God are as many as His creatures’ breaths.”[5] Given that this is the case, one can reach God through one way or another. If we give an example from Sufism, the ways of Naqshbandi, Qadiri, Shadhili, Rufai, Badawi, Khalidi and other orders all lead to Him. For this reason, differences should not be made into causes of harboring bitter feelings. It is necessary to avoid jealousy and rivalry on such issues and refrain from considerations as “They trespassed on our property.”

As believers, we need to be as soft and mild as can be toward our brothers and sisters; we need to cherish feelings and thoughts that can smoothly be swallowed without hurting the throat at all. We should be able to present these feelings and thoughts in the same mildness.

Even though breaking relations with a certain person owing to taking offense is very ugly behavior, it might sometimes happen between the altruistic souls who have dedicated themselves to truthful knowledge and humanity. For this reason, I envision great benefit in forming teams for the sake of eliminating ill feelings between people from different sections of the society and different walks of life. As Bediüzzaman puts it, agreement and unity constitute an important means for inviting Divine help.[6] A relevant verse confirms this fact: “… God’s ‘Hand’[7] is over their hands” (al-Fath 48:10). That is, protection, help, and the graces of God are upon them. Concerning this verse, the noble Prophet stated “God’s hand is with the community.”[8] At another instance, the Messenger of God, peace and blessings be upon him a millions times, stated: “Whoever wants to be right in the middle of Paradise, let him (or her) not dissociate from the community.”[9] That is, let that person not fall into factionalism. One who breaks off with the community owing to taking offense, harboring bitter feelings, resentment, intolerance or a similar feeling, will distance oneself from God’s help as well.

There is nothing as “little”

Taking all of these into consideration, we can understand how great a disaster people’s breaking off relations with one another is, and what a virtuous act reconciliation is. Not dismissing any act of goodness as unimportant is essential in Islam. Sometimes, God Almighty may take people to the center of Paradise and let them enjoy the beauty of the Divine and experience feelings beyond imagination on the account of little acts of goodness they did. A hadith related to this fact states: “Be God-fearing and do not belittle anything from acts of goodness.”[10] When we view things from this perspective, we understand that there is actually nothing that qualifies as little.

In another hadith where the Pride of Humanity refers to the same subject, behaviors such as smiling at another,[11] saying a good word to that person,[12] feeding a morsel to the mouth of one’s wife,[13] and removing an obstacle that might inconvenience people passing[14] are all considered among good acts (sadaqa) to bring otherworldly rewards. Accordingly, placing a stone to a hole on the road in order to save passing cars’ wheels from falling in or removing a thorn that might hurt people’s feet from a walkway are considered among acts of worship. It is not certain which of such seemingly little deeds will be a means for settling right in the middle of Paradise. Let me relate a true story about this issue. Caliph Harun Rashid’s wife, Zubaydah, was a great woman who carried out important services. At a certain period, pilgrims going to Arafat and Muzdalifa for their worship had to carry on their backs the water they needed. In the conditions of those days, she had waterways and fountains built from Mecca to Mina, Muzdalifa, and up until Arafat, thus committing a great act of goodness.[15] By God’s grace, she provided millions of people with water to drink and make ablutions. God Almighty does not leave such a service unrewarded, of course. When I went to Hajj in 1968, I saw the fountains built thanks to that great woman. By making restorations, the Ottomans preserved that waterway for a long period. Those who saw that woman of such great service in dreams asked her how God treated her. Although she had done various good works, she told the deed that became the means of her deliverance thus: “One day the call to Prayer began to rise from the minarets. I told the people around me to be silent and listen. When I passed to the next world, they said ‘God forgave you because of this.’”[16]

We never know how God values deeds that seem very little and simple to us in this world. We do not know which deed will become a means of gaining His good pleasure and a means of enjoying eternal bliss in Paradise. For this reason, we should try to carry out everything God commands, without discriminating between them as great or little.

Committees of peace

I have told all of these stories for the sake of drawing attention to the significance of reconciling people who have broken off relations. Let me reiterate that as the issue is of great importance, it should not be left in a narrow sphere but it is necessary to form teams for this sake.

Committees must be formed from experienced ones who have sound insight into human psychology to enable them to recognize their addressees’ characters correctly, and who have competent powers of reasoning, judgment, and speech. This way, they can help people seized by bitter feelings and broken off relations.

Considering the people of Anatolia, they have respect for the sacred in spite of their ignorance in religious matters. For this reason, the universal principles and dynamics of Islam, which addresses everyone, can be a means for reconciliation, eliminating bitter feelings between people, and making them embrace one another again.

As this mission of reconciliation can be local, it is possible to implement it on a larger scale. That is, as you can carry out this beautiful act in a certain neighborhood, village, or city, you can practice it throughout a country. It is even possible to take it further and utilize it in terms of international relations. God’s Messenger gave glad tidings for those who contribute to this issue: “Should I tell you about what is more virtuous than fasting, the Prayer, and alms?” They said yes. He said: “Reconciliation between people. Breaking of relations between people is a cut-off (of religion).”[17]

Actually, the dialogues the people of Anatolia are trying to realize worldwide can be considered within this category. Going to the four corners of the world in the name of dialogue, restoring broken relations between countries, constantly generating such plans, and developing effective projects is very important in terms of preventing possible conflicts, wars, and disorders. The most important means of struggling against conflict and discord is education. That is, you will bring up perfect individuals in terms of virtues and universal values, values such as peace, tolerance, and dialogue. Not only will they know a few languages, but they will have expertise in different sciences. At the same time, they will be cultivated with human values and virtues, full of the ideal of making others live. They will pursue PhD and post-doctoral studies everywhere they are for the sake of serving humanity. These exemplary personalities will serve as barriers against discord and transgression, and they will fulfill an important duty in this respect. In a way, it is a matter of reconciliation on global scale. Therefore, this matter, implemented at the micro or local plan, needs to be implemented at the international level as well. Statesmen can come together with the goal of an alliance between civilizations. They can come to agreement on certain issues, and act cooperatively so that differences do not become a means of fighting. Surely, such an act is very important in the name of humanity; it is a laudable activity that deserves to be applauded. However, if such an understanding has not been internalized by the grassroots of the society, this kind of struggle will be doomed to fail. Therefore, it is necessary to seek ways to get people involved in this issue. You can see it as a way of facilitating the process initiated by statesmen through getting ordinary people involved in it; this is the key factor for permanence of the issue. During the cold war period, the communist and capitalist worlds kept fighting for a long time. Some of the smaller countries in between chose to join this or that pact. Each one of those countries experienced different troubles and difficulties as a consequence of such differentiation and polarization. I wonder whether any intellectuals, philosophers or thinkers spoke out loud that it could be handled without a fight as well, whether such an initiative for reconciliation came up or not. I guess not. On the contrary, there were different cases of provocation to make states confront one another. As some provoked their own men, others similarly provoked theirs, and a competition of armament began. Each pact occupied some land, exerted its influence there, and caused people to experience fear and terror that lasted for years. At a time when opportunities of communication and travel have developed and deadly weapons have become more powerful, I think it is an important act of worship to seek ways of reconciliation between nations by taking the issue to an international platform.

Passing to the next world with a pure heart

Restoring relations between people signifies adopting Divine morality as well.[18] Some sayings of the noble Prophet refer to God Almighty’s dealings that can be compared to reconciliation. For example, let us imagine that a certain man passes to the next world after having violated some rights of another, but this man has a certain degree of worth in the sight of God. Let us assume that in the afterlife, God Almighty says to the rightful claimer, “You have lawful claims from this servant of Mine; if You consent to give up your claim, I will give you such and such reward…”[19] So we can apply such an approach to our individual, familial, and social life, and follow this Divine morality. If this is the way God Almighty treats people on the Day of Judgment, it is a very important reference for us at the same time. In my opinion, we need to take this Divine morality as guideline and strive for reconciliation between people who broke off relations. I do not remember having personally broken off relations with anyone by taking offense. There are people who have been writing against me for some forty or fifty years. They write against me alike when I smile and when I cry. Even if I stand somewhere in between, they definitely come up with something to oppose me. I did not, and will not, take offense; on the contrary, I feel pity for their condition. Then I think, they have difficulty in finding some other subject to write about. It goes against my nature to wish them to end up in Hell. At a certain time, when a person who had been in certain proximity to me made vicious statements, the idea of his being punished by God passed my mind; it is worse to see such hostility from a person who once had been near you. But still, I went to my room and said to myself “How dare I…” and God is my witness to how I sobbed. It is not easy to condemn a person to Hell. The evil he did to you does not mean condemning you to Hell. Even if it were, it is not fair to condemn a person to Hell who did the same to you. For this reason, I see no point in taking offense and harboring grudge against some people. We must go to God’s presence with a pure heart and without harboring any resentment toward anyone. According to the relevant Arabic idiom, we must not have ghil—anything negative—toward anyone. As a lover runs to the beloved, we must respond to God’s waiting for us by going to His presence with a pure heart. If we are invited as “You have always led a pure life, come now!” we need to respond by going there in a pure state. May God enable us to have such horizons and understanding while passing to the realms beyond, amin!

[1] Sahih al-Bukhari, Adab, 62; Sahih Muslim, Birr, 25
[2] At-Tahrim 66:1–5; Sahih al-Bukhari, Nikah, 83; Sahih Muslim, Talaq, 30
[3] Sahih Muslim, Qadr, 34; Sunan ibn Majah, Muqaddima, 10
[4] Nursi, The Letters, p. 300
[5] Nursi, Al-Mathnawi Al-Nuri, p. 369; Ibn Arabi, Al-Futuhatu’l-Makkiyya, 3/549; Al-Alusi, Ruhu’l-Ma’ani, 1/396, 6/165, 14/160
[6] Nursi, The Gleams, p. 226
[7] “Hand” or any other similar term is metaphorical when used about God Almighty.
[8] Sunan al-Tirmidhi, Fitan, 7
[9] Ibid.
[10] Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Al-Musnad, 5:63
[11] Sahih Muslim, Birr, 144; Sunan at-Tirmidhi, Birr, 45; Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Al-Musnad, 3/360
[12] Sahih al-Bukhari, Jihad, 128; Adab, 34; Sahih Muslim, Zakah, 56
[13] Sahih al-Bukhari, Iman, 41, Janaiz, 37; Wasaya, 2; Manaqıbu’l-Ansar, 47; Sahih Mulim, Wasiyya, 5
[14] Sahih al-Bukhari, Jihad, 128, Adab, 34; Sahih Muslim, Zakah, 56
[15] Ibnu’l-Jawzi, Al-Muntazam, 10/277; Ibn Khallikan, Wafayatu’l-A’yan, 2/314
[16] Ibn Ash-Shahin, Al-Isharat, p. 871
[17] Sunan Abu Dawud, Adab, 58; Sunan at-Tirmidhi, Qiyamah, 57
[18] Al-Kalabazi, At-Taarruf, 1/5; Al-Ghazali, Ihya Ulumiddin, 4/306
[19] Ibn Abi’d-Dunya, Husn az-zan, p. 109; Al-Ghazali, Ihya Ulumiddin, 4/523