A Season To Weep
This article is about the tears of sadness, joy, and compassion.
Time has always made this poor Zihni weep,
I went to the orchard, and saw the keeper weep,
Hyacinths are just wretched, roses sadly weep
Since the beloved nightingale left this orchard.
Tears manifest feelings like sadness, joy, and compassion, which swell inside like clouds, and are expressed through the eyes. Worry, sorrow, eagerness, zeal, objectives, hopes, separation, reunion—perhaps more than all of these, what makes a person weep is awe and fear of God, particularly one with a wakeful heart who loves Him deeply. Other types of weeping are the outcomes of natural and ordinary conditions; they are not a result of opening up to God, and therefore are commonplace.
As for the cries triggered by sincere feelings and whose essence is based on faith and knowledge of God, they spring completely from awareness of God, sensing Him in everything, living with dreams of reunion at some unknown time, and trembling in awe and standing in His presence in the utmost reverence. This awareness is limited; very few fortunate ones have achieved it, and its continuity depends on their gaze reading Him in everything, sensing Him, demanding Him, knowing Him, and telling of Him. Those who know feel interest; when the interest grows deeper in the spirit, it turns into love, and in time this love becomes an irrepressibly passionate love of God. Now such people cannot remain still; they stride through deserts, like Majnun seeking Layla.27 Such people are constantly eager to overcome their own remoteness from Him. They keep seeking signs and traces which tell of God, sometimes converse with creation, and sometimes interpret things and events as if they were letters from Him, smell their scent, and try to feel them. And sometimes, they are moved by these messages, and find relief in tears. And sometimes, they are entranced by heralds who tell of Him and always breathe with deep eagerness. This is the condition of those who try to feel and sense the Artist through the art, awakening to the Owner of all beauties through the beauties they encounter, lending an ear to everything that recalls Him and listening to Him in reverence, those who try to lead their lives like an embroidery of love being worked, feeling great closeness and love for everything because of Him.
Also at the times of separation and reunion with friends and relatives people’s eyes are filled with tears, perhaps not for reasons as deeply felt as in reverence to God; this is also a type of weeping, however the value of every cry is measured in the life to come according to the depth of feeling and thought of the sufferer. Those who open up to God and cry out of feelings of awe and self-accounting, or those who try to control the storm for the reason given by the poet Fuzuli,
You say you are a lover, then do not complain of the affliction of love;
By complaining, do not make others informed of your affliction
are the loyal servants at the door of the Beloved. Such people keep their secret so faithfully that they are even jealous of their own eyes. Both their cries and silences are sound and meaningful.
On the other hand, forced acts of weeping which do not emanate from the heart are an unpleasant sight, disrespect for real tears, and deceitful. Therefore, such forced efforts to cry only make the devil happy and this means nothing but spoiling by pretentiousness a potion with a potential to extinguish hellfire and wasting it.
Weeping in a tone of discontentment and complaint in the face of misfortune and calamity is forbidden; whining with anxiety about the future is a disease of the spirit, lamenting what has been lost is in vain and a waste of tears.
The grief of the Prophet Jacob for his sons Joseph and Benjamin arose from the feeling of fatherhood and compassion; who knows, maybe the crying of that noble prophet came out of his seeing them as hope for the future and out of concern for their rank before God. If this is so—as we accept it to be—then these kinds of cries are not something to be avoided. On the other hand, the feigned crying of Joseph’s brothers before their father was trickery and deception. When the time came, Joseph would forgive them and say, “No reproach this day shall be on you; indeed, He is the Most Merciful of the merciful” (Yusuf 12:92). And his brothers would respond, “God has indeed preferred you above us, and certainly we were sinful.”
Crying for the sake of God is the sounding out of the love cherished for Him. One who has fire in the heart will have tears in the eyes; a person with eyes as dry as deserts does not have life within.
Sadness and tears are the most important characteristic of God’s prophets. The Prophet Adam wept for a lifetime. The weeping of Prophet Noah was like a flood of lamentation. Prophet Muhammad, the Pride of Humanity, peace be upon him, always reflected the poetry of his feelings in tears. In this respect, it would not be a mistake to call him a prophet of sadness and tears. On one occasion, he cried until the morning while repeating the verses, “if You punish them, they are Your servants; and if You forgive them, You are the All-Glorious with irresistible might, the All-Wise,” (Maeda 5:118) and “they (the idols) have indeed caused many among humankind to go astray. So, he who follows me is truly of me; while he who disobeys me, surely You are the All-Forgiving, All-Compassionate” (Ibrahim 14:36). When the Archangel Gabriel conveyed the reason for this weeping to God Almighty, He relieved the Prophet with the glad tidings that He would not upset the Prophet about the community.28
God’s Messenger led his life in a continual state of sadness and reflection, most often in contemplation and then weeping. Even though occasional glad tidings made him joyful, he would most often open up like a nightingale and weep. A nightingale cries and screams, even when it lands on the rose. It is virtually created for mourning. On the other hand, crows have no such worry, and ravens only raise their voices near food.
Sadness and weeping is the usual state of the lovers of God, and mourning day and night is the shortest path to Him. Those who reproach the lover for his or her tears can be considered to have revealed their own roughness. Understanding nothing now of the hearts burning with longing, they will spend their lives in longing and grief in the other world.
The Qur’an often draws attention to people with fire in their hearts and tears in their eyes and always counsels that they be taken as examples.
In appreciation of eyes which cry for the sake of the good of the soul, the realm of Hereafter, and out of awe of God or repentance for sins, the Qur’an says, those who were endowed before it with knowledge fall down on their faces in prostration when the Qur’an is recited to them… and it increases them in humility and a feeling of awe (Isra 107–109), and takes the tears shed for the sake of God as a gift with which to beseech His mercy.
After God commends and praises different prophets in the chapter of Mary for their special merits, He concludes by mentioning their common characteristic of weeping: …when the All-Merciful’s Revelations were recited to them, they would fall down, prostrating and weeping (Maryam 19:58).
The Qur’an praises those who received the first signs in the earlier revelations to the Messenger of God and then who are moved— and thus whose faith reaches the degree of certainty—while listening to the message sent to the Final Prophet; it underlines the importance of tears in the sight of God by stating, When they hear what has been sent down to the Messenger, you see their eyes brimming over with tears because of what they know of the truth… (Maeda 5:83).
Similarly, the Qur’an highlights another group of heroes of tears in the verse, …when they came to you to provide them with mounts, and you said, “I cannot find anything whereon to mount you,” they returned, their eyes overflowing with tears in sorrow that they could not find anything to spend, (Tawba 9:92) and consoles their broken hearts with divine acclaim.
As well as reminding us of the fact that true weeping is a condition particular to godly people, the Qur’an also issues a warning about those who spend their lives in amusement, taking this life as play and entertainment; here the Qur’an places a different emphasis on the importance of crying in So let them laugh little and weep much, in recompense for what they have been earning (Tawba 9:82).
The Qur’an underlines the same fact in tens of verses and different ways and counsels us to adopt a stance that suits our position.
The blessed purveyor of the Qur’an, the Prophet, with his brilliant soul, kept his life in line with these insistent counsels from the Qur’an. From time to time, he would show his Companions the three steps to ascent, saying, “Glad tidings to those who control their carnal selves! Glad tidings to those who keep their homes large and convenient (for guests)! Glad tidings to those who shed tears for their mistakes!”29 and thus he would invite them to join his company. He would also turn the attention of his Companions to the dreadful things beyond the physical realms with statements such as, “If you knew what I know, you would laugh little but cry much.”30
He would counsel his Companions to weep and cry, draw attention to the fact that tears untainted with hypocrisy and shed in awe of God could be a shield against divine punishment: “There two types of eyes which hellfire will not touch in the afterlife: one is the eye shedding tears in awe of God, and the other is the one which watches out for the enemy at the frontiers.”31
Another time he emphasized the same meaning in different words: “It is not possible for milk which has come out of a breast to go back where it came from; it is equally impossible (concerning the divine practice of God) for one who cries and moans in awe of God to enter Hell.”32 Thus, he emphasized the value of tears in God’s sight. And if this crying happens somewhere away from other people and seen only by God … Indeed, I must confess that I do not know a criterion to appreciate how excellent such a thing is.
Everywhere and all the time the Prophet reminded people of such things and he was already far ahead of what he said. During his prayer, a sound similar to the creaking of grindstones was heard from his bosom, to the sound of his inner weeping.33
The Prophet asked Ibn Masud to recite to him verses from the Qur’an. When Ibn Masud came to the verse meaning, How then, will it be (with people on the Day of Judgment) when We bring forward a witness (a prophet) from every community, and bring you (O Messenger) as a witness against all those (whom your Message may have reached)? (Nisa 4:41), the Prophet signed him to stop. Ibn Masud reports, “When I turned to him, I saw that he was shedding tears.”34
While he shed tears, his most distinguished Companions did not remain impassive for sure. They also cried and sometimes their crying grew into a chorus of woe and weeping. When the Prophet reminded his Companions of the verses meaning, “Do you then deem this Discourse strange? And do you laugh and not weep (in consideration of your recalcitrance and sinfulness)?” (Najm 53:59–60), all of them started to weep and sigh. Then the Prophet, who was moved by this scene, joined them in shedding tears. Seeing the Prophet crying touched the Companions even further and they completely abandoned themselves to tears.35 Those blessed people already cried and wept constantly; sometimes with the joy of faith and knowledge of God, sometimes in fear of punishment in the Hereafter, and sometimes at the darkening of the horizon, they would weep and turn to the door of divine mercy with cries of supplication.
As a matter of fact the reckoning of our prayers which reach God quickest is largely related to our inner yearnings and tears, since it is not possible to find anything else that reflects the feelings of the heart more swiftly and purely than tears. The forces of sin are put to rout where heartfelt sobs wave their flags. Wakeful hearts are relieved with the pleasant breezes of divine approval touching their consciences.
Those who spend their lives in woe and weeping for the sake of God are considered by the inhabitants of heavens to be nightingales of loyalty and divine love. When they start to sing, all the spirit beings hush and start listening to them. Given that true crying is a waterfall springing from the heart and emerging through the eyes, then one should direct it toward eternity and offer it to the Almighty Lord in the utmost secrecy; it should not be contaminated through showiness, turning a waterfall to overcome Hellfire into the acid of falsehood.
We are living in a world which has lost its light and is covered with dust and smoke on all sides. We all need to turn our eyes down on the ground in humility, contemplate our transgressions and sins, and then let out such a wail like a nightingale that all the inhabitants of the heavens hasten to this feast of weeping with shining torches in their hands. These days when the flames around us are so far out of control, I think it is high time we dissolved into tears. Since tears are a potion that breaks all kinds of devilish spells, instead of enjoying ourselves with the coarsest merriment everywhere we go, we should try to relieve our minds and put an end to suffering and lamentation with our tears.
According to friends of God, tears bear the secret of becoming life for lifeless corpses, like the breath of Jesus, and everywhere they flow they bring life, like the water of life. Those who deepen with their crying the grottos of their night worship which are closed to all but God, and make their souls listen to the music of entreaty will certainly be revived tomorrow if not today, and continue to breathe life everywhere they go.
Our prayer rugs dried out long ago. For years, our ears have strained after the screams of the heart. Our atmosphere is as dry as deserts. It seems that we do not feel the burning of the hearts that burn with grief. Our faces resemble blocks of ice, and our glances are totally devoid of meaning. There is no trace of agonizing pain in our bosoms. And our expressions are not convincing. This kind of heedlessness can only make it very difficult for us to walk toward the future and continue our existence.
Ever since the day our tears ceased to flow, the springs of blessings from the sky have also dried up in a sense. Rains of inspiration do not fall anymore; roses and tulips do not grow. The lights from the sky flicker and the occasional winds are feeble. The inhabitants of the heavens are thirsty for woe and weeping. The residents of the heavens are awaiting tears to form clouds. As the poet Zihni expressed it,
Rose and hyacinth taken by the thorns
Snakes have captured the throne of Solomon
Spiritual joys are now woe and groans
Once an age of bliss, now a time to mourn.
Who knows, maybe the celestial beings are waiting for our tears before they take charge? Possibly, when we wail and cry about the troubles surrounding us on all sides, the horizons of the heavenly realms will fill with clouds laden with merciful rains, and as they see our sins, transgressions, and faults drifting away on the stream of our tears, they will be filled with joy and pour down on us in compassion. I guess that sometimes heavenly beings—just as we wipe our faces with the rosewater offered during gatherings in honor of the Blessed Birth (of the Prophet)—wipe their faces with our tears, which stand for the breaths of grieving hearts, and they take our tears as a valuable gift offered to them.
Our sins and transgression are as huge as mountains, yet our regrets and their accompanying tears are mere show, and there is no trace of suffering in our hearts. Our crying and weeping are mostly for things of this world. In this condition, we need nothing but tears of regret to purify us from the dirt of centuries. Probably, it is only through these tears that we can reach the door of repentance and rebuild our wasted life.
Prophet Adam’s lapse, which he took to be as huge as Mount Everest, melted and disappeared through his tears. Like incense giving off a pleasant scent all around as it burned, he burned within and groaned with regret, and thus was exalted to an honorable rank, like a shrine to be revered by angels. And when the time came and his suffering was completed, the dawn of every new day broke in the hues of the decree of his forgiveness.
As far what falls to us after so many sins, transgressions, and the consequent suffering, I think we need to seek times when we are away from others’ eyes, hide behind the veil of the night, prostrate ourselves before God and shed tears… for our faithlessness, for not being able to be truly sincere, for constantly zigzagging on our path, for not fulfilling the due of our position, for not being able to take a sound stance as becomes what we are blessed with, and for the offences of others who follow our bad example; we should weep in such a way that even the heavenly beings who constantly weep will shed tears for our cries from now on.
We have failed to preserve the position that was granted to us; we have failed to take a determined and conscious stance in pure sincerity. We have let go each other’s hands, we have lost what is dear to us, roses have been struck by fall, and nightingales have started to cry mournfully. Fountains have ceased, rivers dried up. Thorns have appeared, and ravens are crowing all around. We should say something with the tongue of our heart, and we should put an end to this drought by pouring potions of tears upon our longings and emotions.
Our Creator has directed us toward the goal of living in accordance with our potentials by endowing us with blessings like a body, life, feeling, consciousness, cognition, and so on. But we have sacrificed everything to our fancies and withdrawn far back from our ordained position, as far back as we could possibly retreat; in retreating we damaged our capacity to live as human beings and we were also damaged. From now on at least, should we not show determination to lead our life in the direction of our heart!
Now come, let us sing laments in payment for our heedless joy until today. Let us be concerned a bit and bid farewell to leading a life oriented toward carnality and try to sense the other hues of life as well. Let us speak of concerns, listen to concerns, and seek ways of being close to the One Who listens to those who are concerned.
The good days of our life have mostly been wasted. Now we see on the horizon the signs of the night after the day of our life. What falls to us now is to light a torch for the long night after this life. From now on at least, we need to come to ourselves, free ourselves of this confusion, turn to our essence, and express the longing in our hearts through tears. And we should know that in the sight of God, nothing has ever fallen on this earth dearer to Him than genuine tears. The drops falling on earth today will soon turn into beautiful greenery all around. Come, in this steppe drier than deserts let us be the cupbearer of tears for everyone and serve all around us with a banquet of the freshest fruits we can offer, with the lyrics of our emotions and the melody of our tears.
By M. Fethullah Gulen
27 A Sufi metaphor for an initiate seeking God.
28 Muslim, Iman, 346.
29 Munziri, at-Targib wa’t-Tarhib, 4/116.
30 Bukhari, Kusuf, 2; Muslim, Fadail, 134.
31 Tirmidhi, Fadail al-Jihad, 12.
32 Tirmidhi, Fadail al-Jihad, 8; Nasai, Jihad, 8.
33 Abu Dawud, Salat, 157; Nasai, Sahw, 18.
34 Bukhari, Fadail al-Qur’an 33; Muslim, Salat al-Musafirin 247.
35 Bayhaqi, Shuab al-Iman, 1/489.