Sincerity: the most important basis, the greatest strength

“The Twenty-First Flash” from the Risale-i Nur Corpus

بِسْمِ اللّٰهِ الرَّحْمٰنِ الرَّح۪يمِ

وَلَا تَنَازَعُوا فَتَفْشَلُوا وَتَذْهَبَ ر۪يحُكُمْ

وَ قُومُوا لِلّٰهِ قَانِت۪ينَ

قَدْ اَفْلَحَ مَنْ زَكّٰيهٰا  وَ قَدْ خَابَ

مَنْ دَسّٰيهَا

وَلَا تَشْتَرُوا بِاٰيَات۪ي ثَمَنًا قَل۪يلاً

In the Name of Allah, the Merciful, the Compassionate

Quarrel not with one another, lest you lose heart, and your spirit depart (Anfal 46)

Stand before Allah in devotion (Baqarah 238)

He who purifies his soul succeeds, and he who corrupts it fails (Shams 9-10)

do not sell My signs for a paltry price (Baqarah 41)

O brothers of mine in the Hereafter! And O my companions in service of the Qur’an! You know and you should know – and you do know – that the most important basis, the greatest strength, the most acceptable intercessor, the mightiest tower of strength, the shortest way to the truth, the spiritual supplication most likely to be accepted, the most wondrous means to all aims, the loftiest character trait and the purest worship in this world, and especially in services related to the Hereafter, is sincerity.

Since sincerity possesses many [spiritual] lights, and many powers the like of those just mentioned, and since we are very small in number, and very weak and poor and powerless, and [live] in this terrible time faced by fierce enemies, intense pressure, aggressive innovations and misguidance, a singularly heavy, sublime, universal and sacred duty of faith 1 and Qur’anic service has been loaded onto our shoulders by the Divine beneficence.

There can be no doubt that we find ourself compelled and responsible to [struggle to] win unto sincerity with all of our strength, even more than others.

We are, moreover, in the greatest need of establishing the secret of sincerity within ourselves.  For otherwise, the sacred service which we have attained up to now will be partially lost, ceasing to continue, and furthermore, we will be held severely accountable.

We will be addressed by the fiercely threatening Divine prohibition in the verse

و لا تشتروا بآياتي ثمناً قليلا

do not sell My signs for a paltry price (Baqarah 41)

by reason of our having violated sincerity at the expense of eternal bliss, merely in order to gratify certain lowly sentiments and trivial benefits, meaningless and useless, harmful, troublesome, arrogant, burdensome and hypocritical; we will have transgressed against the rights of all of our brothers working in this service, encroached on the sanctity of service to the Qur’an, and disrespected the holiness of the spiritual realities of faith.

O brothers of mine!  Acts of goodness momentous and immense face many harmful obstacles. It very often happens that satans get at those serving in this service.

Against these obstacles and these satans, then, one must depend upon the power of sincerity. Avoid the causes of the violation of sincerity, therefore, just as you avoid snakes and scorpions.

One cannot trust or rely upon the evil-commanding self, just as our master Yusuf [as] said,

إنّ النّفس لأمّارة بالسوء إلاّ ما رحم ربّي

surely the self commands to evil, except insofar as my Lord has mercy (Yusuf 53)

Do not let egotism or the evil-commanding self deceive you; in order to attain sincerity and preserve it, and remove the obstacles to it, let the following principles be your guide:

Your first principle: Allah’s pleasure must be in your deeds. If He is pleased, the shunning of the entire world is of no importance.

If He accepts [your deeds], then the rejection of all people has no effect. After He is satisfied [with your deed] and He accepts it, and if He wills and His wisdom requires [that others appreciate it], He will make them accept [your service], and He will cause them to be pleased with it – even if you have not requested this.

Thus, [gaining] directly and solely Allah’s good pleasure must be made the fundamental objective of this service.

Your second principle: To not criticise your brothers [working] in this Qur’anic service, and to not trigger a sense of envy by selling your virtues, showing [your imagined] superiority to them.

For man’s hand does not compete with his other hand, nor does his eye criticise the other, and his tongue does not object to his ears, and the heart does not see the deficiencies of the spirit; rather, they each make up for the deficiencies of the other, and hide their shortcomings, assist one another with their needs, and help each other in their duties.

Otherwise, the life of the human body would be extinguished, his spirit would flee, and his body would fall apart.

Moreover, the gears [of machines]  in a factory do not try to hinder one another’s work out of competitiveness, nor do they [try to] go ahead of, or control the other, nor do they compel one another to break down in order to frustrate the other’s yearning to run, by criticising the other and seeking out its shortcomings and errors.

Rather, each assists the other to the best of its ability, in order to orientate the movements of each of them to the collective objective, such that they proceed unto their purpose of creation by means of true mutual support and agreement.

Were there to be interference of an atom’s weight of opposition to and dominance over one another, it would dismantle the factory, making it unproductive. Its owner would then dismantle it, and demolish it entirely.

Therefore, O students of the Book of Light and O servants of the Qur’an! You and we are the limbs of a collective personality worthy of being called ‘the Perfect Man’. We are like the gears of a factory that produces eternal happiness in an eternal life. We are servants working on a Lordly ship, that makes the community of Muhammad [s] to traverse [the sea] to the abode of peace which is the shore of safety.

There can thus be no doubt that we are in need of and indeed compelled to [put] true mutual support and unity  [into effect], through winning unto the secret of sincerity that  provides a spiritual power of the strength of one thousand one hundred and eleven, 1111, which is yielded by only four individuals.

Yes – should three ones not unite, they will make three, yet if they unite, by the secret of number they acquire a value of one hundred and eleven, 111.

Four multiplied by four, if [the fours are] separate, makes sixteen. If, by the secret of brotherhood, unity of purpose, and concordance of duty, they are to be congruously aligned, and stand shoulder to shoulder on one line, they then acquire the strength and value of four thousand four hundred and forty four. In the same way do there exist a great many historical events that bear witness to the value and spiritual strength of sixteen sacrificing brothers being greater, by the secret of true sincerity, than that of four thousand people. Now, the secret of this secret is that each individual is able to see through the eyes of the rest of his brothers, and hear through their ears in true and sincere concordance. It is as if each of ten truly united individuals possesses spiritual power and value that sees as if with twenty eyes, thinks with ten intellects, hears with twenty ears, and works with twenty hands. 2

Your third principle: You must know that all of your strength lies in sincerity and truth. Yes, strength lies in truth and sincerity.  Even the strength of those who are astray is such, for they acquire strength from the sincerity and firmness that they evince in straying from the right path.

Yes – one of the proofs that strength lies in truth and sincerity is this service of ours. For just a trifling amount of sincerity in this service proves [the truth and virtue] of the cause [of true faith and the Qur’an] and becomes proof of itself.

For all of the service to [sacred] knowledge and religion we did over the course of twenty years in my region and in Istanbul, we have done with you here [in Barla] a hundred times over, within seven or eight years.

Despite the fact that those who had been helping me in my region and in Istanbul were a hundred times, nay a thousand times greater in number than those working here with me; and despite being here alone, forlorn, destitute, half-illiterate, under the surveillance of unjust officials, and subject to their harassment; I have absolutely no doubt that it was only from your sincerity that the success-granting spiritual power came, manifested in the service that I carried out alongside you all over the course of seven or eight years – a hundred times greater than my past service.

And I confess that that in some sense you saved me by means of your pure sincerity from the ostentation that flatters my lower self under the cover of fame and prestige – if Allah wills, you will be granted success in acquiring perfect sincerity, which you will also push me into.

You know that ‘Ali [r] with his miracle-like wonder-working, and al-Ghawth al-Aʿẓam [ʿAbd al-Qādir al-Jīlānī] with that extraordinary wonder-working of his, pertaining to the Unseen, both cherish you on the basis of this secret of sincerity, and they comfort you by means of their protection, and spiritually applaud the services that you carry out.

Yes – do not ever doubt that their blessing and cherishing come about due to sincerity; but should you deliberately violate this sincerity, you will receive their slaps.

Remember the ‘slaps of compassion,’ contained in the ‘Tenth Flash’! If you wish therefore to have these spiritual heroes behind you as supporters and before you as teachers, win unto the secret of perfect sincerity by means of the secret of

وَ يُؤْثِرُونَ عَلٰٓي اَنْفُسِهِمْ

they give them preference over themselves (Hashr 9)

Prefer the selves of your brothers over your own self in that which gives pleasure to the self, like honour, position and people’s attention, and even regarding material benefits. Furthermore, delivering the most subtle and beautiful truths of faith to a believer in need is assuredly a benefit of the least harm and the greatest innocence.

If possible, in order to keep your selves away from egotism, you must be content for a friend of yours to [deliver] these truths [instead of you].

There is neither sin nor harm in your wishing to acquire reward on your own and without others, or to elucidate a subtle issue yourself – yet this may result in the impairment of the sincerity that exists between you.

Your fourth principle: This is taking pride – in a state of thankfulness – in the nobility of your brothers, in your selves taking their merits into consideration, and your essences their virtues.

There are terms in use amongst the Sufis like: annihilation in the Shaykh (fanāʾ fī al-Shaykh), and annihilation in the Messenger (fanāʾ fī al-Rasūl) – and I am no Sufi, yet this principle of theirs can serve as a beautiful principle for our way and method in the form of, ‘annihilation in the brothers’ (fanāʾ fī al-ikhwān).  Amongst brothers this is known as ‘annihilation in one another,’ that is,  for each of them to pass away in the other (tafānī) – in other words, for each brother to forget his egotistical sentiments and live while reflecting on the merits and feelings of his brothers. For in the first place, the foundation of our way is brotherhood.

This is not the bond between father and son or between Sufi Shaykh and aspirant (murīd), rather, they are the bonds of true brotherhood. The most that exists is a [relationship of] Mastership. 3

Because our way is that of true friendship (al-khalīliyya), our method is one of the closest friendship.

This friendship requires being the closest friend, the most sacrificing companion, the best, appreciative comrade, and the most chivalrous brother.  The foundation of foundations of this friendship is ‘perfect sincerity.’

Whoever violates perfect sincerity therefore, falls from the highest tower of friendship, and may indeed fall into a very deep pit. Between [the tower and the pit], he finds no handhold.

Yes – it appears that there are two roads; those who depart from our way in this time – which is the supreme Qur’anic path – may well inadvertently assist the irreligious power that is so adversarial towards us.

Those who enter into the holy sphere of the Qur’an of Miraculous Exposition through the intermediary of the Book of Light will – by the will of Allah – continually strengthen light, sincerity and faith – and will not fall into the likes of those pits.

O companions of mine in the service of the Qur’an! One of the most effective means of achieving and safeguarding sincerity is ‘meditation on death (rābitat al-mawt).’

Yes, just as it is ‘[delusional] long-term hopes’ that damage sincerity and drive one to ostentation and to this world, it is ‘meditation on death’ that arouses one’s distaste for ostentation and makes one to win unto sincerity. That is to say, it is to rid one of the intrigues of the lower self [by causing one] to remember one’s death and to recall the fact that this world is transient.

Yes – the Sufis and people of reality have taken the meditation on death as a foundation of their spiritual journeying, by means of the lesson they have taken from verses in the Wise Qur’an the likes of

كلّ نفس ذائقة الموت

Every soul will taste death (Al-‘Imran 185)

and

إنّك ميّت و إنّهم ميّتون

you will certainly die, and they will certainly die  (Zumar 30)

and by means of that meditation, they have eliminated the delusion that [this world] will extend on endlessly, which is the origin of [delusional] long-term hopes.

They hypothetically visualise and imagine themselves dead, envisage themselves being washed and placed into the grave, and think about this over and over again; as a result, the evil-commanding self becomes influenced by this imagining and visualisation.

This meditation has a great many benefits – for the noble tradition teaches this meditation to us, saying,

أكثروا ذكر هادم اللّذّات

or a wording near to it, that is to say, “Remember much [death] – the destroyer of pleasures!

And since our way is not a Sufi order but a way of reality, we are not compelled to practice this meditation in hypothetical and imaginal form like the members of the orders; and indeed, this is not befitting of the way of reality.

Indeed, it is not a matter of bringing the future to present time by means of reflecting on a result [that is to come], rather it is to journey in thought from the present time to the future in terms of spiritual reality and of seeing the future in vision.

Yes – man can witness his funeral, which is the one fruit upon the tree of his short life, without being in need of imagination and conjecture in the first place.

Just as he witnesses his own death through this meditation, – should he wish to journey in thought step by step even further than that – he too witnesses the death of the age; as he continues to think, he even sees the death of this very world itself, and this cleaves open a road to the most perfect sincerity.

The second cause: By means of the power of critically verified faith, and of the flashes arising from contemplation informed by faith upon the Divine works of art, which results in knowledge of the Artful Maker, man to some degree acquires the Divine Presence, and thence he reflects on the fact that the Compassionate Creator is present and watching, and doesn’t seek for the attention of other than Him, and he thinks that turning to other than Him and seeking help from other than Him is at odds with proper courtesy towards that Presence – and in this way does he escape from that ostentation and win unto sincerity.

In any case, this topic contains many levels and degrees. The more one is able to benefit from it in accordance with the proportions of one’s shares, the more profit one gains.

We suffice ourselves here with this, entrusting [the fuller account] to the many truths that have been mentioned in the Book of Light that rid one of ostentation, and enable one to win unto sincerity.

In summary form we will now elucidate two or three of the very great number of causes that impair sincerity and drive one to ostentation.

The first: Competition over material benefits impairs sincerity step by step, and impairs the fruit of the service, and causes one to lose even those material benefits [themselves].

Yes – this nation has always revered those working for the sake of spiritual reality and the Hereafter, and borne these [noble] feelings [of a desire to assist] them.

With the intention of actually taking part in a certain way in their true sincerity and loyal services, members [of this nation] have respected them and aided them with material benefits of charity and gifts so that they do not waste their time occupied by the acquisition of material necessities.

Yet these benefits, help and aid are not to be requested, rather only bestowed. Indeed, they should not even be requested in the language of one’s state, such as one’s desiring them in one’s heart and expecting them.

Rather, they are conferred on one whence one least expects. Otherwise, one’s sincerity is afflicted with a deficiency, and one would draw close to the prohibition of the noble verse

ولا تشتروا بآياتي ثمناً قليلا  “sell not My signs for a trifling price”

 such that one’s good deeds are partly wasted.

As a result of the desire and expectation for these material benefits, [one’s] evil-commanding self, in its selfishness, and in order to not let those benefits go to someone else, provokes one’s disposition to competitiveness against one’s true brother and one’s friend in that particular [religious] service.

One’s sincerity is thus harmed, and one’s activities inviting to the truth lose their sacredness, and one takes on a condition that is disagreeable in the eyes of the people of reality – and one loses even those material benefits [themselves].

In any case, ‘this dough needs a lot of water,’ 4 and I am thus cutting it short here, and will mention only two examples that will strengthen the secret of sincerity and sincere united concordance between my true brothers.

The first example: Even certain politicians, figures, and organisations that play an important part in human social life have taken the principle of co-partnership in wealth as their guide, for the sake of the acquisition of great riches and tremendous power. They attain overwhelming strength and benefits along with all of the [possible] misuses and harms of the principle of co-partnership.

Despite the many harmful aspects of the principle of co-partnership in wealth, these do not change the reality of the fact that one becomes the owner of the wealth as a partner; in terms of the authority that each wields over it, each is counted as the owner of all of the wealth, except that one is not able to benefit from it in a complete fashion.

In any case, were this principle of co-partnership in wealth to enter into activities related to the Hereafter, it would become the pivot of immense and harmless benefits without being sullied by damaging factors, for the secret of all the wealth is that it is owned by every individual that becomes a partner.

For example, with the intention of partnership, were there to be four or five people one of whom brought the oil, another the wick, another the lamp, yet another the glass and the last the matches, thereby igniting the lamp, each would [in a sense] own a whole lamp, and were each of these partners to possess a great mirror on the wall, the lamp would become fully reflected into the mirror together with the room, without deficiency or partition.

Now, exactly in the same way, the truth – that as a result of partnership by the secret of sincerity in the property of the Hereafter, and mutual support therein by the secret of brotherhood, and the cooperation therein by the secret of unity, the entire harvest and all of the light yielded by that partnership in activities will enter the book of good deeds of each and every one of the partners – is witnessed, and is an actuality amongst the people of spiritual reality, and constitutes the entailment of the expansiveness of mercy and the generosity of the Divine.

O my brothers, therefore! In shāʾ Allāh, material benefits will not drive you to competitiveness. Yet it is possible that you might be deceived concerning benefits related to the Hereafter, as happened with some of the adherents of the Sufi orders.

Yet what is individual and partial reward when compared with the reward and light that result from partnership in activities, as in the aforementioned example?

The second example: In order to attain a great number of fruits of production, people in arts and manufacturing accumulate great riches by means of their partnership in crafts and industry.

Once, there were ten men making needles for sewing; each of them tried to make a needle himself, and the yield of that individual work and the fruit of that solitary manufacturing was just three needles a day.

Thereafter, those ten men united in accordance with the principle of cooperation, such that one of them brought the metal, and another stoked the fire, while another bore a hole through the needles, and the fourth placed them in the fire, while the fifth sharpened them, and so on.

Since each one of them occupied himself with a particular task involved in the making of the needle, and since the task that each of them took on was easy and simple, it did not waste time; each of them acquired an expertise, and thus completed their work in its production at speed.

They then divided between themselves the fruits of the production that they had acquired as a result of cooperation and the division of labour.

They found that each of them was due a share of three hundred needles in a single day, as opposed to three [before].

This event became proverbial amongst world-serving manufacturers, as a form of encouragement of cooperation.

O brothers of mine! Since the fruits yielded by such unity and concordance in [even] worldly matters and within concrete substances give rise to massive, immense benefits the like of this, you can draw your own conclusions about just what an immense profit the reflection of all rewards related to the Hereafter and illumination is – by Divine grace and without any need for partition or division – within the mirror of every individual, and each individual’s procurement of the reward obtained by all! The like of this immense profit should not be missed because of competitiveness and an absence of sincerity.

The second obstacle that impairs sincerity is winning favour in people’s eyes under the veil of glory and dignity – with the incentive of the love of fame that arises from the love of social status – fondling one’s egotism by attracting the regard of people, and giving the evil-commanding self a position; this is a terminal spiritual sickness and paves the way for the ostentation, boasting and self-praise that is called “the hidden ascription of partners to Allah”, and impairs sincerity.

O my brothers! It being the case that our way and method of service to the Wise Qur’an is that of reality and brotherhood, and it being so that the secret of brotherhood is one’s annihilating one’s personality 5 in his brothers and preferring them to himself, it would be unbefitting for the competitiveness that stems from this type of love of social status to influence us, for it totally contravenes our way.

And since it is possible for the brothers’ honour to belong to each and every individual, I am hopeful that the sacrifice of that sublime spiritual glory and merit for the sake of glory and fame that are individual, egotistic, competitive and trivial is totally foreign to the students of the Book of Light.

Yes – the hearts, intellects and spirits of the students of the Book of Light disdain to fall into the like of these despicable, harmful, lowly matters; yet [nonetheless], every human being has an evil-commanding self. It is sometimes possible for the self’s desires to infringe upon the nerves, and thereby enforce their judgements to a certain extent, quite despite the heart, and spirit.

I am not casting aspersions on your hearts, spirits and intellects – rather, I trust in you all, because of the influence that the Book of Light wields within your selves, but [even so], the lower self, caprice, sentiment and delusion can sometimes deceive; that is why you are at times severely cautioned and warned; but this severity is intended for the lower self, caprice, sentiment and delusion – be always on alert [against them] then.

Yes – were our way and method one of taking spiritual masters, there would only exist a single position of standing [to seek after], or there would be only a limited number of positions of standing, and there would be numerous [people of] different capacities with an eye on them, and in such a case it would be possible for egotism marred by jealousy to affect their lower selves.

Yet our way is that of brotherhood, and it is not possible for a brother to be his brother’s father, nor can he take on the stance of a spiritual guide, for in brotherhood, the positions of standing are spacious and broad, so they cannot be the locus of envious competitiveness. A brother is only the helper and backer of his brother and strengthens his service.

Highly momentous and august spiritual perfections and benefits exist for the followers of the Sufi orders. Yet due to [their] eagerness to gain spiritual rewards, and their high aspirations pertaining to positions like father and spiritual guide that may exist, competition and conflicts may arise therein, in envy-bearing form. This results in very harmful and volatile consequences such that even their tremendous spiritual powers are unable to stand firm against the currents of innovation.

The third obstacle is fear and covetousness – but this obstacle has been thoroughly elucidated in ‘the Six Onslaughts’ (Hujumāt Sitta) with a group of other obstacles, and so we will entrust its explanation thereto.

We ask Allah the Most Merciful of the Merciful, interceding with all of His Beautiful Names, to give us success in achieving perfect sincerity. Amin.

اَللّٰهُمَّ بِحَقِّ سُورَةِ الْاِخْلَاصِ اِجْعَلْنَا مِنْ عِبَادِكَ الْمُخْلَص۪ينَ الْمُخْلِص۪ينَ

آم۪ينَ آم۪ينَ آم۪ينَ

سُبْحَانَكَ لَاعِلْمَ لَنَٓا اِلَّا مَا عَلَّمْتَنَٓا اِنَّكَ اَنْتَ الْعَل۪يمُ الْحَك۪يمُ

O Allah, by the right of the Sura of Purity, make us from amongst your chosen, sincere servants!

Amin, amin, amin.

Glory be to You; we have no knowledge except that which You have taught us, surely You are the All-knowing, the Wise.

________________________

  1. Translator’s note: This is to undertake activities, and to teach and learn lessons, in accordance with the true faith.
  2. Yes – just as by the secret of sincerity, sincere mutual support and unity constitute the loci of a great many benefits, so too are they the most important barricades and towers  of strength against all fears and even against death; for if death comes, it only takes a single spirit away. For he who connects himself to his brothers by the secret of true brotherhood for the sake of the Divine good pleasure and in matters related to the Hereafter has as many spirits as he has brothers, and such a person thus meets death laughingly and cheerfully saying, “If a single one of my spirits dies, let my other spirits live [in its stead].”  For they ensure that I permanently have a spiritual life; by means of their winning reward for me continuously, I do not die.’ And he says, ‘I live on in terms of Divine reward by means of those spirits, and I die only in terms of [any] sins [I might have]’; and he thus rests in tranquillity.
  3. Translator’s note: Mastership here refers to the relationship of Said Nursi and subsequent masters to the brothers; he is their instructor, and possesses real mastery of spirituality and the sciences, and has a stronger influence when it comes to decisions pertaining to the brothers and the service; however, he remains a brother, and does not have a paternal or authoritarian relationship with his brothers.
  4. Translator’s note: A Turkish proverb denoting that the issue at hand is too lengthy to treat properly in the present context.
  5. Yes, the happy person is the one who throws his ice-cube-like self and ego and melts it in the pool of kawthar, in order to acquire [for himself] the [entire] sweet pool that stems from the kawthar of the Qur’an.

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