There is a truthful saying, which probably has never been fully understood by anyone or its secret never discovered, which is: “I entered the circle of scholarship and desired the wisdom. Wisdom stood far away; it first demanded nothing but propriety!” Yes, propriety is both earlier and later than scholarship. That is, propriety is both the beginning and conclusion of scholarship. The result of propriety is scholarship and the result of scholarship is the propriety.
It is known that there are three principles to set the essence of wisdom in a heart as related from the ‘Talimu-l Muteallim’ courses lectured during the late Ottoman period. First, one has to show respect and compassion for the teacher and the book, secondly, perseverance has to be obtained, and thirdly, permanent reading is to be done. One cannot be called non-believer just because he doesn’t perform his worship. However, when he disrespects or shows impertinence to worshipping and denies it, it is judged as he became a non-believer. That is to say, a believer may have deficiencies or flaws in his good deeds. But he is obliged to show respect to those deeds required by Islam although he may not be able to perform them through bearing a real consciousness of being Allah’s subject. Disrespect is an indication for hypocrisy.
Imam Ghazali (rh) compares wahbi knowledge (directly from Allah, ilm al-ledun) and acquired knowledge (knowledge obtained through studying) with a story, and shows the superiority of wahbi knowledge as follows: Once upon a time, two artists – one of them Chinese and the other one being Roman – take on at the presence of a sultan. Is it you or me who is the better artist? Then the sultan says: “Here is an easier way. We will hang up a curtain between you; you both perform your art, and we’ll see which one of you is the better.” The curtain is hung and both perform their arts. Then, when the curtain is removed, they look at the Roman’s work. He has made a real-looking sculpture. Then, they turn their gazes on the Chinese’s work and become fascinated. This is because he has varnished the wall so brilliantly that the Roman’s work of art is reflected on the wall as exactly as it is. At this point the sultan judges that the Chinese artist is craftier. In the same way, the knowledge that is acquired through hard work and struggle can be compared to the Roman’s work of art. However, the scholarship that is reflected on the heart of Allah’s subject (wahbi knowledge) through good manners (propriety) and purity of heart (varnish) is like the Chinese’s work of art.
Allah the Almighty placed no natural limits or boundaries on the senses, emotions and faculties He had granted over mankind. Faculties such as reason, lust or anger are left limitless. Human can proceed in these areas without any restriction. Human is not confined with any innate restriction; whereas, a legal boundary has been placed on these limitless senses, emotions and faculties by the Qur’an and the Sunnah.
In other words, Allah (swt) puts a restriction for us saying, “You are authorized till this point but you don’t have any right or authority beyond that point.” Man naturally needs and is compelled to live together with other people, cooperate with them and look for his needs and rights in society.
However, one can experience oppression, injustice and presumption in social relations. This is because some people are tended to be more cunning, greedier, more ambitious or lustier. In that case, unfortunately these shameful and undesired events can occur. The most disgraceful part which results in eternal sorrow is when man engages in presumption against his Lord. Man’s presumption in terms of worshipping is called “sin”. But if we pronounce presumption with belief, then it is called unbelief. Sins can be forgiven and erased by The Creator. But perversions and presumptions regarding faith will (May Allah save us) be responded with eternal torment.
Because of the fact that no innate limitation has been determined on man’s faculties such as mind, thought or imagination, some people can transgress the legal boundary predetermined by Qur’an and sunnah and run at full speed in the valleys of heresy. By dealing with matters away from the circle of his boundary and right, he can go beyond the pre-eternally determined boundary and become an unbeliever. Mind and thought are limitless. It is the Qur’an and sunnah which set the principles and one can respect and obey this order through obtaining a way of conduct what we call propriety. When a servant of Allah observes propriety, he will certainly respect all the rights. If he abandons propriety, he will heed neither human’s rights nor his Lord’s decrees. Extremist words, daring cases, insulting behaviours, actions demanding torture, overreaching faults can emerge from him. Under all of these situations lays the lack of the lofty attribute called propriety. The saying “Immoral person is detained from Allah’s mercy.” summarizes this reality most eloquently.
In the 11th Flash of the Risale-i Nur Collection, Ustad Bediuzzaman gives us the definition of “propriety” within the broadest frame as follows: “Propriety in the sunnah implies being furnished with a complete propriety within the boundaries of the names of the All Glorious Maker.” In other words, each and every one of Allah (swt)’s names bears some requirements. The Propriety exemplified in the sunnah is to adhere to the necessities of these names and to behave in accordance with what is required by these names. For example, the names of our Lord such as Lateef, Muzayyin, Hakeem, and Jameel require the created things to be nice, to hide their ugly sides and conceal their unpleasant aspects. So, we can imagine and think how suitable to propriety is to fulfil the requirements of these names and display them in our attitudes. It can well be understood how shameful it is, both before Allah (swt) and people, not to comply with the realities of these names.
If the acquired knowledge does not raise man to the elevated level of propriety, embellish him with good manners, it means that knowledge hasn’t reached its very goal. Such knowledge accounts for nothing but making man guilty and responsible before Allah (swt) and degrading him in the eyes of other people.
There is a strong relation between being people of presence and propriety. People of presence are the ones who are always aware of being in the presence of Allah (swt) and take heartfelt and spiritual pleasure from this state. Ustad Bediuzzaman makes the following explanation as to the second influential means for acquiring ikhlas (sincerity): With the glitters of a faith-based thinking which bring about recognizing and knowing Allah with all his names and attributes, the subject of Allah gains a kind of presence, and thinks that the Merciful Creator is present and watching over all places. So that he obtains ikhlas and saves himself from hypocrisy. Someone who in this way comprehends that he is in his Lord’s presence at all times and places shall start to obtain a favourable manner of propriety. He struggles to take all his actions in the most appropriate manner as he is conscious of being in his presence. His propriety can be read from all his daily courses such as sitting, standing, sleeping, eating, drinking, walking and so forth.
That is to say, the result of propriety is scholarship and the result of scholarship is propriety. Immoral person may have some knowledge but not the scholarship. If he comes to have scholarship, then it also makes him an upright person. How happy are the people who are embellished with the ornament of propriety by Allah (SWT).