Working hours of the devoted souls

by Fethullah Gülen on . Posted in Endeavor for Renewal

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Working hours of the devoted souls

Question: How is the volunteers’ understanding of working hours supposed to be? Will you share your considerations on how self-sacrifice relates to working hours?

Answer: Our time spent working for the sake of Divine truths can be considered in the same category with money and possessions donated for the sake of God—or with infaq to use a general term—with respect to their essential philosophies. Particularly in the conditions of the Meccan period, the issue of infaq was taken in the absolute sense: “…and out of what We have provided for them, they spend (of wealth, knowledge, power, etc., to provide sustenance for the needy and in God’s cause, purely for the good pleasure of God and without placing others under obligation)” (al-Baqarah 2:3).

As it is seen, God Almighty encourages us to spend as much as we can out of the blessings He provided us. In the same way, acting with a complete spirit of devotedness and spending our time on the righteous path with the absolute understanding of the Meccan period is a consequence of such horizons of self-sacrifice. However, one important point should not be overlooked. In order to motivate the volunteers, we can make statements like “They should spend as much as they can” or “They should run like noble steeds until their heart stops…” As such a style can be adopted for the sake of encouragement, some situations may truly necessitate one to give whatever one possesses and run breathlessly until he or she perishes. However, considering everybody in general, it is necessary to take human nature into consideration both regarding spending for the sake of God and planning the hours of working. That is, we are human beings, we have families to support and other responsibilities, and thus expectations from us should not be beyond what we can bear. There can be exceptional figures who do keep running until they perish. However, such sacrifice should not be expected from everyone, and such performance and program should not be taken as the basis for everybody. We need to make our plans by taking general facts into consideration and present our issues accordingly.

Following the way of the noble Prophet in programming our lives

In a hadith we can relate to our subject, the noble Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, stated: “Indeed, this religion is easy, and no one will ever overburden himself in religion, except that it will overcome him.”[1] That is, religion in its essence is not something beyond people’s power to carry out. By planning our time, putting things into order, and receiving support from one another we can easily carry it out. However, if one makes religion unbearable, that person should not forget that he or she will be overcome. One should take the issue in such a way that they will be able to carry out their practices during their youth, maturity, and old age alike; so that they can practice religion not as an individual, but as a family and a society. There can always be some people who totally dedicate their entire lives to serving in the name of righteousness and Divine truths, who totally forsake the world and are totally indifferent to anything other than serving faith. If such people do not try to impose their subjective case on others around them, there may be no harm in their preference. Among Sufis as well, there were the Halwati dervishes, who spent their lives as hermits. They completely closed their doors to the world in order to avoid any distractions that might avert their gaze. However, it should not be forgotten that this is not what is expected from the inheritors of the noble Prophet’s tradition. We meet those people’s greatness with respect. However, as the Messenger of God, millions of peace and blessings be upon him, conveyed the Divine teaching to his followers, he stated that being among people and putting up with the troubles they cause is better than living alone in retreat.[2] In this respect, everybody is supposed to fulfill some responsibilities for the sake of their people and what befalls an ideal believer is to carry out that responsibility in the best way one can. Elevating oneself in a way depends on the people’s and future generations’ elevation. Therefore, one should develop wide-scale projects that take the relevant needs of society into consideration and then make the necessary efforts to realize those projects. In addition to doing that, they should plan their time without neglecting their personal religious life and spiritual progress, along with serving in the way of God to the best of their powers. Then everybody should fulfill their duty so as not to leave a gap in any part of life. They should efficiently plan their time and their divisions of labor; whoever can do what in the most perfect way, they should try to perform efficiently.

As Abdullah ibn Amr ibn As was an outstanding Companion with respect to his piety and God-consciousness; he was also one of the people who listened to and understood the noble Prophet in the best way. This blessed Companion would spend his nights standing at Prayer and spend his days fasting. Sometimes, he would not eat anything for two or three days in a row. Imagine what happens to a person who observes such a life of devotions. If he is married, he neglects the rights of his family. For example, a man who stands in Prayer until dawn may not have the opportunity to see his children and have a talk with them. He may be neglecting other responsibilities as well. Hence, on hearing about the situation of his Companion, the Messenger of God told him to sleep for a part of the night and pray during the rest, to fast on some days and not to fast on others; then he warned Abdullah that in addition to God’s right of worship, there are other owners of rights upon him, such as his own self, his family and guests, and that every rightful one should be given their rights.”[3] With this warning, the beloved Prophet not only draws attention to the significance of objective responsibility that one can handle, but also to the necessity of good time management and putting things to do into order.

Getting back to the initial question, we need to be balanced in our understanding of service and notion of infaq. Imagine a factory owner who came to a charity organization and said, “I would like to donate my factory altogether. You can use it as you wish.” And let us say that some 10 other factory owners did the same. It causes a serious problem of handling things. Can the staff of that charity organization run those factories or not? Can the people who donated those factories give the donation they planned to make every year? You must take all of these into consideration. Acts of goodness should be realized in such a way that the business can continue running and the owner should be able to make a contribution every year. Otherwise, one who gives away everything will simply watch while others keep giving the following year.

What good time management promises

In addition to a spirit of self-sacrifice, one must manage their time well to serve on the righteous path. As conveyed by the final verses of the chapter Al-Inshirah in the Qur’an (94:7–8), it is possible to take an active rest and use time efficiently by alternating between acts of worship and worldly tasks. We need to eliminate spiritual tiredness with physical activity, and physical tiredness with concentration of the spirit. This way, it is possible to have a body and spirit of strong, sound, and dynamic structure.

In different countries, there are altruistic guides and teachers serving at schools and cultural institutions; they serve their people and the whole of humanity, and expect nothing for their person. What is expected from people working at those institutions is different—be it a small salary like the scholarship of a student, a decent salary, or whatever payment they need to get by. After having maintained the livelihood of their families, they are supposed to give 30–40 hours of lessons, attend to their students night and day, if necessary, and even to provide them guidance during the weekend. How I wish those selfless souls could help with the studies of their students with a Prophetic determination, share their troubles of any kind, and even show a motherly care for their boarding students who stay at the dorm. With only such an understanding of work can we find an opportunity to order our life of knowledge and wisdom, which has been in ruins for such a long time. However, before expecting such a degree of self-sacrifice from individuals, we first need to tell about the necessity of understanding work, offer due rehabilitation, make people accustomed to it, and after all of these, entrust the notion of self-sacrifice to their freewill. Let me add that while doing all of these, there is nothing to be gained by using coercion.

The Language Olympiads and the working hours factor

If we expect to get good results from our services, we need to devote a serious amount of time to it. Let us suppose that you are a guide or administrator at a school. In addition to carrying out the administrative responsibilities during the school day, you should supervise the students and fulfill their needs concerning where they should or should not go. Your effectiveness will be in direct proportion with your devotion of time and effort. I think the fruitfulness God Almighty granted to the works of volunteers is in a way related to their surpassing the notion of time and exerting themselves to the ultimate degree. Take the language Olympiads, for instance. Some sing the praises of this beautiful activity which serves as a conveyor of language and culture; some express their admiration and appreciation; and some cannot hold back their tears of happiness. But it should not be forgotten that all of those achievements are Divine favors granted in return for making serious efforts and working diligently, night and day, with an understanding of work surpassing the norms. May God grant success to those good people who carry out the activities that mean much for their people and humanity and let them keep on with such an understanding of work, may He enable them to love their work, and plan their time wisely, and may He continue showering His blessings on us!

Correctly understanding the laws prevalent in creation and making a work plan

In his works, Bediüzzaman refers to time management as one of the important essentials of progress, and states that this can be realized by following the Divine commands, piety, and sound adherence to religion.[4] Taqwa (piety) includes avoiding what is forbidden, observing all of the fard (obligatory) responsibilities, fulfilling the wajib (necessary) acts in a flawless fashion, and keeping away from dubious things. In this respect, a person’s careful observance of his lawful rights, his ability to use his time effectively, concentrate on his work, and fulfill his duties in the best way, are responsibilities directly related to taqwa. For this reason, if a person commissioned to a duty does not fulfill his responsibilities, he will be called to account by God, and will have let down the institution for who they work.

As it is known, taqwa has one more dimension: complying with the laws of creation in addition to observance of religious laws.[5] For example, making your activities run smoothly by using your time very well, must be done in accordance with taking into consideration the developments in the world and the various hostile individuals or circles likely to impede your activities; it is the worldly aspect of taqwa that necessitates many of our responsibilities. If a person harms his or her people, and the circle of service they are affiliated with, for God’s sake, what can this be called other than sin? As time management is a religious commandment, it is a very important means to lead us to success. It is necessary to plan very well when to have a rest, when to work, what will be gained through what means, when to receive spiritual nourishment and when to give it… all of these should be well planned. One needs to be prompt and follow the planned hours carefully.

Division of labor and doing things on time

On the other hand, not only planning the working hours but also choosing the things to do is very important. Who will do what, and the duties individuals are likely to succeed better at, need to be chosen correctly. This can be fulfilled well by truly competent leaders. A different depth of the Prophetic perspicacity of God’s Messenger was that everybody he commissioned for a certain duty proved to be the precisely perfect choice. There was no need to change any of the people he commissioned; each of them succeeded well at their duty. This depends on gaining insight into people, testing them well and discovering their characters very well before commissioning them. Within the conditions of our time, fathoming individuals’ abilities well and commissioning them correctly depends on collective reasoning and consciousness.

I would like to make one final point here: Different programs and meetings are held at certain intervals in state institutions or private establishments. It is absolutely necessary to be prompt about timing, because time is very precious. Nobody has the right to waste and kill other people’s precious time. God will bring people to account for such irresponsible behavior. Particularly for some tasks, your half an hour delay can cause failure; a little delay might cause serious losses and negative consequences. On the other hand, agreeing for a certain meeting at a certain time and place is a kind of promise. One who does not comply with it should fear the Divine admonition, “Why do you say what you do not do (as well as what you will not do)?” (Saf 61:12). Although the verse conveys a wide range of meaning, when we study the reason for its revelation, we see that it was a case of not keeping one’s promise.[6] For this reason, a person who promised to join a meeting must do one’s best in order to be there on time. When needed, they should even go there some time before and wait at the door. Instead of making others wait for us, we had better wait for others. If one faces a problem that causes them to be delayed, then it is necessary to phone right away to apologize and give notice, so that others do not come early and waste their time. In addition, matters to be discussed in the meeting should be put in order beforehand, serious notes should be prepared to present the issue, and no place should be left for disorganized speech depending on what comes to mind at that moment. The matters we noted regarding sound mind, feelings, and heart are very important for us; we can keep the issues we discussed within frame this way. Otherwise, somebody makes a remark, another gives a reply, somebody brings up some other issue, emotions and feelings arise, and thus the main issues can be lost. However, the notes we take beforehand will draw a frame for us. Notes we take with a sound mind will help us keep on task and time will not be wasted.

Another issue I tried to warn my friends of is not unnecessarily prolonging phone conversations. Sometimes, they prolong issues so much that expressions like “err…” or “I mean…” make up most of the talk. However, if one chooses to take notes before speaking, they may avoid unnecessarily wasting time. Sometimes you see that a matter to be presented in two minutes takes half an hour owing to lack of preparation and talking in a disorganized fashion. Doctors warn that talking on a cell phone for too long might lead to a brain tumor. Thus, we need to take their advice and be careful about using such phones; otherwise, we will have committed a sin. In conclusion, believers need to be well organized in all of their actions; they should behave in a disciplined way, talk in a disciplined way, and continue their lives within the Divine discipline and rules.

[1] Sahih al-Bukhari, Iman, 29; Sunan an-Nasa’i, Iman, 28
[2] Sunan at-Tirmidhi, Qiyamah, 56; Sunan ibn Majah, Fitan, 23
[3] Sahih al-Bukhari, Sawm, 54; Sahih Muslim, Siyam, 181
[4] Nursi, The Gleams, p. 171
[5] Nursi, The Words, p. 750
[6] Fakhruddin ar-Razi, Mafatihu’l-Ghayb, 29/270; Al-Baghawi, Ma’alimu’t-Tanzil, 4/337