Abai Kunanbaev “Book of words”–(31-40)
WORD THIRTY-ONE We can name four means that promote the perception and memorization of what is heard:
First, you should acquire spiritual firmness and determination; secondly, you should heed wise counsels attentively and with an open heart, eager to grasp the meaning of what is said; thirdly, you should ponder over these wise words and repeat them over and over again so as to imprint them in your memory; fourthly, you should avoid harmful states of the mind and resist them even in the face of temptation.
These states of mind are: careless sloth, indifference, senseless amusement, the inclination to morose reflection and destructive passion. These vices can destroy both your mind and your talent.
WORD THIRTY-TWO Those who seek learning should know certain essential conditions without which they cannot achieve their goal.
First, do not attempt to do so for the sake of profit. You should love learning for its own sake and strive for it. If you value knowledge as a supreme blessing, each new truth you uncover will bring peace and satisfaction to your soul. Memorise well what is new to you, and you will feel the desire-for new quests, and a love of knowledge will be born in your heart. Then your memory will absorb whatever you have seen and heard. But if you have another purpose in mind, seek knowledge only with the aim of getting rich, your attitude to learning will be the same as that of a woman to her stepson. If your soul and your mind are well intentioned towards learning, it will be benevolent in turn-it will surrender to you readily. But it will show half-hearted benevolence to a half-hearted person.
Second, study with clear and noble aims, not to acquire learning so as to be able to argue with other people. Now, arguments within reason help to strengthen one’s convictions, but, excessive zeal for them can only spoil a man. For lovers of wrangling will launch into disputes not for the sake of ascertaining the truth but rather to show off their knowledge and get the upper hand of other people. Such arguments breed envy, add not a whit of humanity, and do not serve scholarship-on the contrary, they simply confuse people. This is the vain occupation of troublemakers. He who leads hundreds astray from the right path is not worth the little finger of one who has brought just one man back to the path of truth. True, disputation is one of the paths to knowledge, but a person who gives himself entirely to this runs the risk of becoming conceited and arrogant, an envious gossip. Such a person will be not averse to slander, backbiting and vituperation, which only lowers human dignity.
Third, if you have succeeded in your pursuit of a truth, do not turn back from it even on pain of death. But if you are not convinced of your knowledge, do not imagine that someone else will appreciate it. If you do not value your own knowledge, how can you expect recognition from utter strangers?
Fourth, there are two tool that aid the acquisition of knowledge. One is mulakhaza [the subtle art of polemics] and the other, mukhafaza [firmness in defence of one’s views]. It is necessary to strive constantly to perfect these, for without them it is impossible to reinforce and develop your knowledge.
Fifth, I spoke previously of four harmful attitudes of mind, and among these we named careless sloth or idleness. My soul! I enjoin you, to beware of this evil! It is pernicious both for God and for man, both for reason and for honour. It is the arch enemy of everything! But there is no place for this evil where conscience resides.
Sixth, human character is a vessel containing intelligence and knowledge. Develop your character therefore! By indulging in envy and frivolity, by allowing yourself to be influenced by the words of others and momentary passions, you may forfeit your strength of character. Learning will be of no avail if the vessel that receives your knowledge is not sound.
To attain your goal and be faithful to your duty, you should foster constancy of purpose, determination and strong will, for these help preserve the sobriety of your reason and the purity of your conscience. Everything should serve the cause of reason and honour.
WORD THIRTY-THREE If you want to be rich, learn a trade. Wealth diminishes with time, but a skill does not. He who sells the fruits of his labour without trying to deceive is considered saintly by the people. Yet those on whom God has bestowed some skill will not avoid certain vices either.
First of all, they may not endeavour to improve their skill by seeking to learn from better artisans. Content with what little proficiency they have, such people indulge in indolence. Second, one must spare no effort in one’s work. But there are those who, having acquired a few livestock, imagine themselves to be rich, and become lazy, boastful and careless in their work. Third, should someone approach him with the request, «You are a capable man and a generous one - it won’t cost much to you to do this or that for me,» he will swell with pride and think he has become an important fellow whom other people approach for help. Succumbing to flattery and hubris, he wastes his valuable time and lets a sly flatterer take advantage of him.
Fourth, such people are eager to make friends of any kind. If some swindler presents them with a trinket, they will promise their help and feel glad someone needs their friendship. That’s where their gullibility and poor knowledge of life come to light. Ready to trust a lying tongue and rejoicing at the salutations of a false friend, they will do their best to help him get what he allegedly lacks; they will share their goods with him and forget about their own needs, their concerns and obligations; if need be, they will, run about and borrow right and left. Trying to please others, they will waste their time and run up debts, they will get involved in quarrels because of these debts, they will lose face, and live in want and disgrace.
Why does all this happen? Because those inclined to deceive others often themselves fall prey to deception.
WORD THIRTY-FOUR Everyone knows that humans are mortal, that death comes not only for the aged and that, having taken someone away, will never give him back. The Kazakh is aware of this, but not through deep reflection.
The Kazakhs say they believe in a God who calls everybody to account when they die; He requites good with good and punishes those who do evil. They believe that His rewards and punishments differ from those on earth: His rewards are infinite in their generosity, and the penalties He metes out are immensely harsh. But I do not trust their words, for they do not hold their faith sincerely and consciously. If they truly believed what they say, they would act according to their faith and would not know sorrow. Is it possible to convince such people of some other things if they are feeble in their faith even in regard to these truths? How to correct their ways? Can they be called true Muslims?
He who seeks to avoid torments in this world and the next should remember one thing: there cannot be two joys, two passions, two doubts and two sorrows in one’s heart simultaneously. This is impossible. He who places earthly joys and sorrows above the cares and joys of the world to come is not a Muslim.
Now judge for yourselves what kind of a Muslim the Kazakh is. If he came upon two things, one designed for life eternal beyond the grave and the other for this life, and had to choose between the two, the Kazakh would certainly opt for the latter, hoping to get the former on another occasion, and believing that in any case Allah, in His magnanimity, will forgive him for making the wrong choice. Before the judgement of death, however, this man will swear that he has never exchanged worldly pleasures for the joys of life eternal. How can you trust him after that?
Man should be a friend to man. For everything in this life-birth, upbringing, satisfaction, hunger, sorrow and grief, the form of his body, the way in which he comes into this world and departs it-are common to all. In the other world, too, the same things await us all: death, burial, decay of the flesh and judgement. How do you know whether you will live another five days or not? All people are each other’s guests; man himself is a guest in this life. Is it good, then, to speak maliciously and quarrel because of wealth, envy another’s happiness and give offence for mere trifles?
Reverencing man but not God, praying not for one’s own labour to be blessed but for the good things of life to be wrested from others-should one turn to Allah with such a request? Will the Creator humiliate and deprive one person for the sake of another? To have no sound reason, no education and be unable to put two words together, obstinately insisting on one’s own way and trying to compete with the sage-is this worthy of the name of man? Is this really a man?
WORD THIRTY-FIVE Calling to His Judgement the Hadjis, Sufis, Mullahs, Jomarts and Sayyids, the Most High will demand much of them. He will set aside those among them who, during their earthly span, served and did good works only to earn respect and the good things of life. He will separate them from those who desired only to serve and please Allah.
To those who praised Him out of selfish interest He will say: «During your earthly life you served me only for the sake of being addressed with deference. But this will no longer be so. Your happy life has come to an end, and so has your power over people. You will not be honoured here, but called to account for all you have done. You will answer for all this. I granted you life and bestowed wealth upon you, but you used all that to your own benefit; you have deceived people under the guise of concern for the other world.»
But to those who served Him truly, the Most High will say: «By all your life and all your deeds you have endeavoured to please me. I am content with you. A place of honour has been made ready for you, so welcome! Perhaps you will meet friends whom you have helped or those who have supported you by their good intentions. So rejoice!»
WORD THIRTY-SIX In the words of Our Prophet, may Allah bless his name, recorded in the Hadith: “He who is without shame is also without faith.” Similarly, our folk saying declares: “He who has shame also has iman.” It is obvious therefore: shame is an integral part of iman. But what is shame?
There is a shame born of ignorance. It is akin to the timidity of a child who is shy of uttering a word or approaching a stranger even if it has done no mischief. He who is guiltless before the Shariah and his own conscience but is ashamed of what he should not be ashamed displays a sure sign of stupidity and low breeding. But true shame is that felt by a person who commits an action contrary to the Shariah laws, human conscience and human dignity. Such shame is of two kinds.
One is when you are ashamed not of yourself but of another man’s misdeeds. You are ashamed because you feel for the wrongdoer, and you think, “Heavens! What has happened to this man? How could he commit such an unworthy act?” And you blush for him.
The other kind of shame comes from your own wrongdoing before the Shariah, before your own conscience and humanity, which you may have committed in error or inadvertently. Perhaps no one except yourself is aware of your fault, but your mind and your being are in anguish and punish you. You worry, you are unable to look others in the eye, and you suffer.
People capable of feeling such kind of shame lose their appetite, cannot sleep, and in despair may even commit suicide. Shame is a feeling of human dignity that compels a man to admit his guilt to himself and mete out his own punishment. At such times you are incapable of thinking and at a loss for words. You have not time enough to wipe away the tears as they pour down. You feel like a snivelling cur. Unable to meet other people’s gaze, you are blind to everything around you. The person who knows about such torments but, instead of magnanimously forgiving the offender, only makes his suffering worse is lacking in humanity and mercy.
The people I see around me nowadays are ashamed of nothing and incapable of blushing. “I’ve admitted my fault, what else do you expect me to do?” they say. Or they make excuses: “Yes, I’ve behaved badly, but don’t you ever do the same?” Or they may argue: “Such-and-such people have done this or that, but they’re still walking the earth as if nothing happened. Compared to them, I’ve done nothing wrong. Besides, I had good reason to act like that.” Instead of being ashamed of their action, such people set out to whitewash themselves.
What shall we call such people: shame-faced or shameless? The Hadith and the words of the sages do not allow us to call them shame-faced.
Now, have such people iman or have they not?
- Judge a man’s qualities by the intentions of his action and not by its outcome.
- However good a thought, it is tarnished by passing through human lips.
- You may find solace by saying wise words to a conceited fool but, more often than not, they vanish into thin air.
- Render good to a wise man; a fool will only be spoilt by it.
- A father’s son is an enemy to other people. But a son of mankind is your dear brother.
- A good man may ask much, but will be content with little; a despicable one will ask much, but will be dissatisfied even if he gets more than he asked for.
- He who works for his own benefit alone is like an animal that grazes to fill its own stomach; but he who works to fulfil his human duty, the Most High will distinguish by His love.
- Who poisoned Socrates, burnt Joan of Arc, and crucified Jesus? Who buried our Prophet in the carcass of a camel? The masses, the multitude! The multitude is devoid of reason. Seek to direct in onto the path of truth.
- Man is a child of his time. If he is bad, his contemporaries are to blame.
- Had I the power, I would cut out the tongue of anyone who asserts that man is incorrigible.
- To be left alone is like dying. The lonely person suf fers misfortunes of every kind. The world knows many a vicious thing, but also pleasures and joys. Who will endure the former in dignity? And who will not be corrupted by the latter?
- Who among us has not known trouble? Only the weak lose hope. Nothing in this world is immutable, and misfortune cannot last for ever. Does not the bountiful and blossoming spring follow the harsh winter?
- He who keeps silent in his anger contains his fury within himself. He who spits abuse is either a braggart or a coward.
- Success and good luck make a man drunk. Only one in a thousand can keep cool and reasonable.
- If you want your labours to be successful, start the job in hand wisely.
- High office is like a high cliff. The slow snake will crawl up it and the hawk will swoop down on it. Ill-wishers start praising those who have not yet reached the top, and the latter, being credulous, will rejoice at such praise.
- The world is an ocean, time is a breath of wind, early waves are elder brothers, and late waves are younger brothers. Generation succeeds generation, even though things seems immutable in their quietude.
- A common man renowned for his cleverness is greater than a king who has been raised up by good for tune. A youth who sells his handiwork is worthier than an old man selling his beard.
- A beggar with a full belly is the devil incarnate; a lazy Sufi is nothing but a hypocrite.
- A false friend is like a shadow: when the sun shines on you, you can’t get rid of him, but when clouds gather over you, he is nowhere to be seen.
- Be frank with those without friends; keep on good terms with those who have many. Beware of the careless man; be a shield to the destitute.
- There is no use of anger without power, love with out fidelity and a teacher without pupils.
- While you are seeking happiness, everybody wishes you well; but once you have attained it, your only well - wisher is yourself.
WORD THIRTY-EIGHT My dear children, the solace of my heart! I have just written a few words on human actions, and I bequeath what I have written to you as a momento. Read carefully and try to understand the meaning of these words, and your hearts will be full of love. Now, human love is inseparable from human reason, intelligence and loving kindness. The source of these virtues are the perfections that are bestowed on man from his birth: sound health and a beautiful appearance; the rest depends on the nobility of soul of one’s father and mother, on wise mentors and kind friends. Love engenders aspiration and understanding, while reason, intelligence and loving kindness kindle an interest in learning.
A child does not aspire to learning of his own free will. He has to be persuaded through coercion or inducement until he acquires a thirst for knowledge. A child seeking knowledge may be considered a true human being, and you may hope that he will later strive to know God, to understand his own self and the world around him, that he will do well, but not at the expense of his honour, and will shun evil. Otherwise he will be doomed to live in ignorance or, at best, acquire only superficial knowledge. It is disgraceful that many parents, having raised their children badly, then leave them to the care of mullahs; but such learning will come to no avail. Children spoilt from infancy will show no interest in learning and religion, or respect for their tutors. They will never grow up to become worthy men, righteous mullahs and true Muslims. The most difficult thing is to instil humanity, loving kindness, in them. For Allah is the way of truth, and sincerity and truthfulness are the enemies of evil. Will a friend accept an invitation sent through an adversary? Truth cannot be attained unless the soul has a love of it. Human knowledge is gained by means of love of truth, through a thirst to discover the nature and essence of things for one’s self. This is not, of course divine omniscience: human curiosity and a striving for knowledge give learning only commensurate with man’s reason.
But, above all, one should come to love Allah. It is known that Knowledge is one of the attributes of the Most High, and therefore a love of Knowledge is a sign of humanity and integrity. Those who pursue it for gain and for base, selfish aims can never attain the heights of Knowledge. Let wealth, general respect and fame find a man of their own accord, only then will they becomes worthy ornaments of his person. But undue regard for them can only lower a man.
If you are possessed by love of truth and a desire for learning, listen attentively and be diligent. Those who profess Islam should know wherein the truth of the iman lies, for faith is not simply blind worship. Suppose we have come to believe in God, that the wisdom of the Qur’an expresses His will, and that Mohammad Mustafa, blessed be his name, is His messenger. What is to be gained by such faith? Do you believe in God for His sake or for your own salvation? Allah is great, and He will not suffer from your lack of faith. If you say that your faith is necessary for your own self-good, it means that you believe indeed. But if your faith is for the sake of faith alone, you will gain nothing from it. Your faith will prove truly righteous and bring you good only if you desire this. You should know by what efforts conscious, reasonable faith is achieved…
You say you believe in God, in his attributes and names. Then you should know His names, you should understand the greatness of each of His eight attributes, once you call yourself a Muslim and consider yourself a servant of the Most High, and try to subordinate your thoughts and designs to His divine will. Do not say in your ignorance that you cannot liken yourself to God. Indeed, the creations of the Most High cannot be exactly reproduced, but you can follow in His paths in all your deeds. These are the most radiant attributes of Allah: Life, Knowledge, Power, Will, Sight, Hearing, Word or Speech and Creation. The Creator has endowed man with these eight attributes of Himself, though not in the same absolute perfection.
Now, can we call ourselves Muslims if we do not employ the bestowed attributes, puny though they be, according to their design and to please the Most High? We should know how to act in accordance with the eight supreme attributes of Allah, for Allah’s nature is such that it does not need any description on our part; however, our mind ought to have a clear idea of God in the eight aforementioned attributes. Otherwise, we can have no conception of the Most High. But since we know of Allah only what He manifests to us, none of us can know Him in His completeness. Even the wisest among the wise will never understand the inner meaning of His deeds, let alone the essence of His nature. Allah is almighty, but our powers are finite. It is impossible to measure the infinite with the finite. Eager to fix the idea of Him in our minds, we repeat, “There is no god but Allah, Allah is one and unique.” Yet the very notions of «is» and «one» cannot express the essence of Allah, which is beyond human understanding, for no phenomenon in real life cannot escape the measure one». This measure likewise applies to the entire universe within Allah’s dominion, as revealed in the Holy Scriptures, where mention is made of His eight invariable at tributes and ninety-nine Beautiful Names expressing His inimitable image and His deeds.
But here I would wish to dwell on only four of Allah’s attributes; the first two are Knowledge and Power, while the other ones are an integral whole augmenting and supplementing the substance of these two. And I would like to single out yet another of the divine attributes-Life.
We say: “There is no god but Allah, Allah is one and unique.” We perceive and apprehend Him as the Power of Knowledge. But let us ponder, whether the notions “is,” “one,” “power” and “knowledge” are really potent. There cannot be any doubt that the power of knowledge is a real force: where there is Life, there is Will. But where Knowledge is, Will is likewise inevitable.
By itself Knowledge will not give anything. Everything on earth is set in motion by the omnipotence of the Almighty. One of the intrinsic properties of Will is the Word, that is, Speech. Can the Word dispense with written letters and the voice? Only Allah’s word is without letters and without voice. But since there is the need to speak, there must be the ability to hear what is said and see what is visible. Allah does not hear and see not like us, with ears and eyes; this faculty to see and to hear without eyes and ears is an overwhelming advantage, it is the Power of Knowledge.
Another attribute of Allah is Creation, which means substantiation. If we consider that Creation, as one of Allah’s attributes, persists in the act of substantiation without end and does not liberate itself from it in its own right, as do Knowledge and Power, but is subordinate, obedient to substantiation, then we shall have to admit the impotence and submission of Creation. Yet subservience is not proper to Allah. Creation is the tool of Power. It follows hence that Knowledge and Power bring together all the eight attributes of Allah. Knowledge is boundless and perfect. Power is omnipotent and infallible. A craftsman is judged by his works. It is not given to any mortal to comprehend what colossal labour and what omnipotent force have created and united everything that we behold and perceive.
If reason is the master of man, and strength serves himin all of his actions, does it not follow that the same qualities serve Allah as well? The notions of Knowledge and Power ought to be perceived conjoined as Omniscient Power, for otherwise one will lead the other, which is also is contrary to Allah’s teachings.
But, then, can it be that the eight attributes of Allah do not merge into a single image but are different and independent entities? All these properties issue from one Creator and, taken together, they personify the integral and inimitable image of Allah. We shall fall into error by ascribing some premeditation to their union and believing it to be forged for the express purpose of forming an almighty image.
Man’s strength resides in his reason and in his knowledge. The power of the Most High is expressed in Knowledge and in Compassion and Mercy. Although Mercy and Compassion are not mentioned amongst His eight attributes, they are present in His names: Most Gracious, Merciful, Compassionate, All-Merciful and Forgiving, Loving, Protecting, Condescending, Beneficent… These names of Allah bear out my arguments. The logic of my reasoning is likewise confirmed by the wondrous harmony of the created universe. Indeed, everything is designed for mutual benefit. Inanimate bodies feel no pain and serve as food for animate creatures; animals sustain the life of intelligent beings, humankind; the beasts are exempt from the Last Judgement, while man is endowed with reason and has dominion over everything upon the earth. That God has created man capable of answering for his deeds on the Day of Judgement bear witness to His justice and love for mankind. He has created man not after the image of worms, birds of the air or other living creatures, but put man on two legs, He has placed man’s head high so as to enable him to behold the surrounding world, and not let him crawl on all fours, as the beasts do, to get his food; God endowed man with two arms and two hands in the service of the head; He gave him a nose to enjoy fragrant scents; He provided him with eyes so as to see and behold, eyelids to protect the eyes, lashes to stop the eyelids rubbing together, and eyebrows to stop the sweat trickling down from the forehead; the tongue has been given to allow humankind to communicate, understand one another and work together. Does this not testify to God’s love for man? But if someone loves you, are you not obliged to reply in kind?
Just stop to think: the Sun sucks up moisture and turns it into the clouds that let fall the life-giving rain for seeds, grasses and flowers which gladden the human eye and heart; all kinds of fruit and sugar cane ripen to sustain life upon the earth; the rivers that flow into seas and lakes quench the thirst of birds and beasts and serve as the home offish. The Earth is the giver of bread, cotton, hemp, fruit and berries; its bowels contain mineral wealth; birds provide man with down, eggs and meat; livestock give milk, wool and hide. The waters yield fish, the fish - caviar, the bees-honey and wax, the silkworms-silk. Nobody in the world can say of these riches, «This is all mine!» All is meant for the good of man. Factories and machines, made by immense labour, are likewise intended to benefit man.
Is that not proof of the love of the Most High for man? Is it not man’s duty to requite love with love? To keep humankind from exterminating animal species out of sheer greed and thus harming succeeding generations, Allah made the selfsame human greed and cupidity serve the preservation of animals. Animals rely on their strength and speed, finding refuge in deep waters, high up in rocky mountains, in the depths of forests; every living being has the urge to multiply, is endowed with the instinct of self-preservation and of rearing its young. It is in the scheme of things that the animals should not become man’s equal but should provide man with nourishment. All that is the manifestation of divine kindness and justice to us.
We will not stop to think that kindness and justice are the commandments of the Shariah. Considering ourselves Muslims and faithful to Allah, do we follow His commandments without fail? Do we need other proof than these testimonies, bright as the heavenly bodies, of Allah’s care and concern for man?
We like to see the good deeds of other people. But we won’t burden ourselves with too much concern for our neighbour. Is this not sinful?
He who permits evil and does not oppose it cannot be regarded as a true Muslim. At best, he is a half-hearted Muslim. Where is the right way that the Most High has indicated? Many do not know it. I have never seen a Muslim who has absorbed the words of the Prophet: “Think of the deeds of Allah’ or followed the words of the prayer: “Love Allah, and He will love you.”
“Do good unto people, for Allah loves those who do good.” “Believers perform good deeds, and their place is in Paradise.” The Qur’an abounds in such verses, yet none of us will look deeply into their meaning; we lack both the will and sufficient knowledge to comprehend these truths.
“There are people who believe in Allah, who deem it their sacred duty to do good to others, for they know that Allah does not love those of ill will.” Proof of this are these words of the Prophet, may Allah bless him:
“He who is unjust, has no conscience. He who is without conscience is also without faith.” Hence we see that faith cannot come by itself it is born of justice and good will. But justice and virtues are not to be gained by prayer and blind adoration alone. I think no proof is needed here: you see Muslims zealous in their prayers and rigorous in their fasting, but this is not enough.
Justice is the mother of all good deeds. Conscience and honour come from justice. A just man will surely stop to think, and he will ask himself? “Why do I approve of the good deeds of others but do not hasten to share in them?” Does this not indicate his justice and honesty? Is this not the beginning of good works? But why, in his concern for other people, does he not show the same concern for the Creator?
The desire to do good is born of the ability to be content with little. Do not lose your sense of justice and never tire of doing good. There can be neither faith nor humanity , loving kindness, without justice. As Allayar Sufi teaches us, one sin begets a hundred others.
We conceive of the Most High in our mind as the Omniscient, All-Merciful and Just. If signs of Knowledge, Compassion and Justice are present in you, this means that you seek learning, you are a true Muslim and are endowed with great humanity. It is common knowledge that zhauan-mart [nobility of soul] embodies three virtues: truthfulness, good intent and sound reason. Truthfulness personifies Justice, good intent-Compassion and Mercy, and Reason, as we know, is one of the names of Knowledge. These qualities, albeit in small measure, are proper to man, and it is his duty to strive to perfect them, to use them for good, and to remember and cherish them in his heart. This can only be achieved with sincere desire and tireless effort. The Prophet possesses the above three qualities, and so do the saints, savants and true Muslims; these qualities are intended for the service of the Most High, they were preached by the Prophet and espoused with love by the saints. Yet the saints’ love is concerned only about life eternal beyond the grave. They have either forgotten about earthly joys or never paid any attention to them.
The savants, however, think of and care about life in this world. The judgements of the saints and the learned men are contradictory, though they are not far apart in their views, and both support Allah’s teachings. But should not any argument end to mutual satisfaction?
Like human nature, Knowledge and Reason brook no violence against them, they are averse to duplicity, they teach us to be kind, honest and good in our deeds, that is to say, they teach us Compassion.
But I think that both the saints and the savants seek satisfaction in dispute just to gratify their vanity.
Had humankind chosen the path of tarikat, the path indicated by the saints, the world would have fallen into desolation and decay. Who would have then grazed the livestock, who would have repulsed the enemy, who would have made clothes, and who would have sown wheat and extracted the riches from the bowels of the earth? In renouncing the good things granted unto us by the Most High, do we not run the risk of being discourteous, unreasonable and ungrateful, and so commit a grievous sin?
Those who have chosen this way may be doomed to disappear, or they may become an easy prey for unbelievers, and the weakest among them will abandon their path in disgrace.
If this path is predestined for only half of the Muslims, the question arises: is there such a thing as a truth that applies to only half? Truth ought to be the same for each and everyone. Can there be a selective truth? Or a selective justice? In this is so, there can be no life for the people at all. For life is the supreme and ultimate truth. There can be no perfection without life. Yet not all the saints have disdained the good things of this world. We know that three close adherents of the Prophet-Hazret Gusman, Gabdurahman ibn Gauf and Sahid ibn Abdukas-were renowned for their wealth.
We may explain the strict abstinence of the saints by their lack of confidence in their strength, by their fear of being tempted by earthly joys, which would undoubtedly have weakened their faith. Or perhaps this self-denial comes from their desire to turn people from cupidity by example, in the hope that common people, seeing their humility, would abandon evil passions and selfish aims, and would choose the path of love and charity? If all this is undertaken solely out of selfless love for people, their sacrifices are not justified, this path is wrong and dangerous. For much more is needed. Only people wholly committed to their faith, who have gained the highest knowledge, who have great spiritual strength, and possess exceptional courage and firmness will see the light of truth. It is next to impossible to find all these qualities in a one person; or their putative possessor may turn out to be an arch charlatan and impostor.
The desire to distinguish oneself and raise oneself above all others spoils human nature. An ignorant man who says he has embarked on the path of tarikat acknowledges thereby his own immorality.
The thinker and the savant are essentially the same, but they differ in their paths of cognition. The outward knowledge, recognised by the world, is delivered to us in the form of precepts. Teachers who have succeeded best in their precepts are called savants.
Nothing is created without a reason. It may be that the savants are possessed by the yearning to fathom the mysteries of Allah’s might, which is not prohibited to anyone; or do they pursue learning out of an infinite love of Allah Himself? But is it appropriate to speak of such love if it is not given to man to know Allah? Only a love born of clear understanding, infinite faith and a sense of gratitude to Allah for creating human beings with much love and endowing them in turn with the capacity to love and feel pity - only this can be called the true love for the Most High. Only those who seek to know Allah according to their lights and who look for the first cause of all phenomena and objects are worthy of the savant’s name. They seek truth, justice and good in the interests of humankind, for them there is no other joy or satisfaction in life but their work. Had there been no such thinkers pursuing the right path, the whole world would have gone to rack and ruin. These true savants are the backbone of all that is wrought by human hand; their minds set in order everything that is on earth. Their activities are directed towards well-being in this life; for, as it is said, earthly life is a field tilled for the life hereafter.
Not every savant is a sage, but every sage is a savant. The traditional faith is gained with the help of precepts from scholarly minds, but it is by enlightenment from the sage that it is transmuted into the true faith. This is achieved by the wise men who have understood the supreme meaning of Islam. The scholars of worldly knowledge, however, do not know the principles of religion, even though they may be in search of truth and may have succeeded in unravelling the enigmas of the universe and of human existence for themselves. Of the seven conditions of the Shariah they are capable only of recognising Allah, but they cannot tell Allah’s friends from His ene mies. Although such scholars cannot be our spiritual shepherds, they deserve our gratitude: for, as the Prophet says in the Hadith, those who do good to others are considered the best of men.
Such men know neither sleep nor repose nor diversions; they persevere in a tireless quest for discoveries that might be useful to humankind. They have given man electricity, the power of lightning, they have learnt to communicate with one another over immense distances, they have compelled fire and water to perform colossal work that even thousands of men cannot do. They improve the human mind, they teach us to distinguish good from evil, and we are certainly indebted to them for many things. The present-day mullahs are against learned men, a fact that attests either to the ignorance of the clergy or to their bad intentions; for it is said: man by his very nature is inclined to sin. Many of their pupils, having learnt by heart a few prayers in Arabic or in Persian, consider themselves capable of taking part in disputes and are proud of this; instead of good, they do people harm, and lead them astray by their loud-mouthed appeals and empty boasting. Some of them do harm not with malicious intent but by obeying their natural instinct. It is pleasant to see a few who have heeded wise counsels return to the fold of their conscience. But can you call someone who obstructs the truth a man of conscience? Conceit, let alone unfounded conceit, spoils man. If truth be still called truth, and the truth is Allah, one ought not to oppose it, but try to understand it and reason correctly. For delusion carries the danger of becoming alienated from religion.
When the great Prophet, blessed be his name, said, “There will come a day equal in length to a year,» the learned ulemas enquired, «How many prayers will there be on that day?” And they received the reply, “The learned men of that time will know.” Did not the Prophet imply by these words that the canons of religion would change and take new forms with time?
Nowadays, the methods of teaching at the madrasah are hopelessly out of date, and have proved to be not useless but even harmful. Accordingly, new schools have been opened in Turkey where, along with divinity, military and other sciences are taught. Our youth wastes too many years in empty memorising at the madrasah and come out ignorant, unreasonable and incapable of working, who will live only by fraud and deception. The teachings of mullahs do nothing but harm.
The beauty of the created universe ennobles the human mind. It may happen that man, finding himself in misery and want, will lose his human form and turn into an animal. To have no desire to understand world science and scholarship is a sign of ignorance condemned in the Qur’an as well.
There is a world of difference between the wealth laid up in order to become high and mighty and the wealth accumulated for the sake of helping the needy and not to be dependent on others. We should not seek to gain knowledge for the sake of profit. On the contrary, we should use wealth to acquire knowledge. Art is an inexhaustible treasure, and there is nothing more noble than to learn it. Knowledge ought to serve justice and conform to the demands of the divine law. Man must not only admire the good deeds of others, but perform good deeds himself.
Speaking of the mullahs, I should like to warn you against the ishans in particular. Their teachings are false and dangerous. Many of them are ignoramuses who do not know the real laws of the Shariah but chose the way of service nonetheless. They attempt to teach others in spite of the paucity of their own knowledge; the doctrines of these seducers of mankind are harmful even for the pseudo-religions. They find support among fools and their words are false; the signs of their learning are rosary beads, a turban and nothing else! You should know, my children, that the path of the Most High is infinite, and. it is given to no one to traverse it to the end. He who is resolved to follow this path is considered a true Muslim. But if your aim is to acquire wealth, in your narrowness of mind you do not follow the path of God. Why this incomprehensible greed and covet-ousness for the riches of the entire world? If you intend to share with people your money, livestock, learning and other good things you have, you are on the path of the Most High, the only path without end. Those who have chosen it are considered His true servants, they can cherish the hope of approaching God. What hope can there be on another path?
With some people their abilities and intentions are directed towards improving their appearance, they pay too much attention to their clothes and the way they walk, considering this to be a laudable occupation. Such persons are eager to show off, as if they were in the market place, and they arouse envy amongst fools whose wits are only in their eyes. Looking at them, some are consumed by jealousy, while others wear themselves out trying to copy them. Who stands to gain from this? How much effort has been expended just to impress others with their appearance? But man’s merits lie not in his appearance, but in the purity of his mind, in his spiritual essence, for it is by this that Allah distinguishes amongst us. Will these devotees of the looking-glass add so much as one jot to their wits? The human mind is improved by the infinite, inexhaustible love of good. By His consummate art Allah created the universe and man, so that he could grow and procreate. It is a sacred duty of each of us to increase the number of our friends. This depends on our good will and warmth of heart towards other people, something that must evoke a response in kind. At least do not wish ill to others, do not try to put ourselves above them by your words or deeds. But one may elevate oneself spiritually, and this can be done in diverse ways. First, the ability to preserve human dignity even at the time of great trials ennobles man. Second, self-praise and extolling your good points can do you only harm. Third, maliciousness, injuring the self-esteem of others and causing them humiliation breed animosity in turn. Boasting, which is a frequent consequence of the desire to show off, arouses envy, and one envy engenders another. The absence of these vices brings peace to the human soul, and in the soul at peace with itself aspiration is born. There are three things that can cause disgrace to the whole of humankind, things you ought to avoid, and these are ignorance, sloth and wickedness. Ignorance means lack of knowledge, in the absence of which nothing can be achieved; lack of learning makes man no better than the beasts. Sloth is the worst enemy of the arts; mediocrity, lack of will power, shamelessness and poverty-all these are born of laziness. Wickedness is the enemy of humankind: by doing evil to others, man alienates himself from his own kind and becomes like a wild beast. The antidote to these vices is the love of man, the desire for general well-being, firmness of spirit, justice and deep and broad knowledge. Direct all of your knowledge in the way indicated by Allah. As He spared no effort in creating the harmonious and perfect world, you, too, should carry out your work with as much industry and good intent. Whatever Allah has created has its purpose; the fruits of your labour should always serve people’s good, otherwise any work will be useless, and your faith will be in vain. It is common knowledge that Allah’s creations have not been wrought without difficulties, and nothing has been made without a purpose. Everything has its aim and its reason. A man yearning for knowledge ought to remember that work should be done for a purpose. The Prophet, may Allah bless his name, has left us these words: «Before undertaking anything, you should have a purpose and an aspiration.» Now, you have decided to make your ablutions, to say your prayers and observe the fasts henceforth. Good, but will it not be sinful to concern yourselves only with outward appearances in observing the rites? If your soul is pure, observation of the holy rites will reflect your spiritual life, and outward orderliness will but adorn and ennoble your faith. Is it not for this reason that the wise men have said that there is but one faith, that it is hallowed by great patience, and that without your restraint it tarnishes or may even be doomed to perdition. This has been said lest the ignorant, concerned about outward rites alone, should forget about the main goal: faith. I have reason to believe that the ignorant are convinced it is enough to perform the obligatory rites to be considered Muslims. But this is not so, for the rites are only the guardians of faith. But what good is a guard who just wakes people up but is not concerned about the safety and preservation of a precious object he is in charge of? What shall become of faith without constant vigilance? Preserving the treasure in your custody pure and intact-is that not the real purpose? You who are blind to the deeper meaning of ritual signs and acts, take heed! Their most essential part is namaz. But before saying your prayers, you must make your ablutions. These are performed after you have discharged the waste matter from your body. Remember that! The ceremony of ablution must end by passing your wet hands over your feet-some of these ritual acts are of symbolic significance. After freeing your body from waste matter, you perform your ablutions by washing the parts of your body invisible to the eyes of others. This is surely of no interest at all to strangers; but by these actions you show people that your soul is pure, and that you want your outward appearance to accord with your inner condition. In the state of complete purification and peace of mind, you proceed to your namaz. Namaz means prayers and incantations. The light touch of your wet fingers on your neck and feet means that you have purified yourself. Beginning your prayer, touch your ears with your fingers, to show that you dare not raise your hands higher than that before Allah. This movement attests to your belief There is no God but Allah! It attests to your fervent supplication unto Him: «Do not let me sink into worldly vanity, stretch out a helping hand!» Your bowed head and arms folded on your breast indicate that you stand not just like a slave before a master, not like a common man before a king, but like one who acknowledges himself to be a weak, humble creature and commits himself to the justice and omnipotence of the most wise Allah. The face turned toward the qiblah signifies worshipping the place of the supposed visitation of the Most High, even though we know that there is no place on earth worthy of His sojourn. This is in the hope that our prayers will reach the ear of the Most High. Saying your prayers, begin with the Fatihah. This is a long prayer rich in meaning. Genuflections made with the hands resting on the knees are a sign that the Muslim supplicant has appeared before Allah’s face. The first obeisance, touching the ground with the forehead, signifies that man comes from the dust of the earth, and the second-that unto dust he shall return. Turning your face to heaven is a sign of the hope and fervent supplication for resurrection after death. End your prayers in yet another prostration and utter words of salutation to the Most High and His Prophet, may Allah bless his name, and wish peace, unity and prosperity to all Muslims! Now, what have we learnt from this Word?
WORD THIRTY-NINE Yes, our forefathers were certainly inferior to the present generation in learning, civility, neatness and tidiness. Yet they possessed two merits which we have not. Overcoming, little by little, the shortcomings that we inherited from our forefathers, we have lost those merits. Had we possessed determination in our character and done our utmost to safeguard the old virtues while acquiring new qualities, we might have been the equal of other nations. But since we lack resolve and force of character, we have let the newly acquired qualities foster demonic, rather than human, properties in us. This is one of the main reasons why we have forfeited our national virtues. What character traits do I have in mind? In olden times there used to be people known as yel-basy and top-basy, who judged disputes and governed the life of the community. The common people somehow managed to look after themselves. They were not accustomed to dispute the rulings of the yel-basy and top-basy, or run from one to another of these dignitaries with complaints. We say: «Take a stick if it fits your hand, and then make it into a bat.» Or: «When everyone is his own judge, people cannot live together even in a boundless land; when a community has a chief, no one gets burnt even in a fire.» Acknowledging this truth, people would bring their offerings to the holy spirits and, having uttered their prayers, would hand the reins of government to one they had all elected, thenceforth supporting him in all his undertakings, even to the extent of hushing up his faults and praising his merits. They showed due respect for him, they heeded his words and obeyed him without fail; then even influential men did not transgress the bounds of reason. How could they fail to care for people when all were brothers and wealth was held in common? And another point our people treasured their unity as the holy of holies. If someone called on others for help, invoking the names of the forefathers, everyone would rush in, forgetting all offences and quarrels, to lend a hand, ready to make concessions and sacrifices. As people used to say: “He who cannot forgive the fault of his neighbour will be offended by a stranger.” “Brothers may quarrel, but not forswear each other.” “If six men are in conflict, they lose whatever they have in their hands; but if four are in accord, heavenly grace will descend upon them.” “He who seeks the right path will find treasure, but he who seeks quarrels will find woe.” Where is that noble community spirit and concern for honour? These were safeguarded by staunchness, good conscience and valour. We have them no longer. Among people today, friendship has nothing to do with friendliness; it is but breach of trust and perfidy. Enmity stems not from the love of truth, but from our inability to live in peace.
WORD FORTY How, this is what I would like to ask I you, honoured men. How come that we speak no ill I of the dead but find no worthy people among the living? Why do old folks live in peace with the young but constantly quarrel among themselves, even though their contemporaries grow fewer with every passing day? No sooner does someone happens to leave for foreign parts than everybody starts loving him like a brother. But when he comes back, we compel him to flee from us. Why? Why is it that seeing some good man from another tribe, people will put themselves out on his behalf and praise his qualities, while among their own kin they will not notice those who surpass the stranger in wisdom and nobility? When in an alien land, we praise our aul to the skies; on our return, we have nothing but praise for the foreign village. How come? Why do parents show tender care and kindness to their children so long as they are small, but are cold toward them when they grow up? Why is it so hard to bring our relatives together on a joyous or sad occasion, yet they will turn up in a body at the first whiff of thievery or brigandage? Why are your kinsfolk vexed if your horse comes first in the race? In the old days people would remember someone who had helped them along the road, be it only once, and recall him with gratitude till the end of their days. But nowadays people soon forget about good deeds. Why is that? Why is it that a bey’s son, on growing impoverished, is not ashamed of stealing, but considers it a disgrace to serve another bey? Why is it that two good men in the same family are unable to get on with each other, while two rascals always make friends? Why does someone you consider your friend, to whom you have given a good steed, turn away from you as soon as he gets a foal from your enemy? Why does someone not value a friend with whom he lives in harmony, but is ready to lay down his life for an enemy who has just once rendered him a service? Why do many of us not wish our friends well, and should one of two friends has a run of good luck, they become bitter enemies? Why do people seek a person to give them advice, and shun the counsels of those who know them well? Why do some guests behave as if they had brought all their herds with them, but when they are your hosts, pretend that their herds have all been driven far away? People yearn for peace and tranquillity, but should peace come to stay, they grow weary of it. Why on earth? Why is our people ruled by smart alecs, and why are they poor as a rule? Why is it that junior wives get shrewish? Why are scoundrels bold? Why are some of the poor so conceited? Why do people who show restraint and live in peace pass for weaklings, while those who are depraved, boastful and trouble-makers are considered bold and daring? Why will the Kazakhs not hearken to righteous words and find no time for that, but are ready to listen to all kinds of gossip, dirt and slander and won’t go away until they hear it out to the end, even if all of their affairs go to pot?