How Should Believers Invite Others to Faith?
The aim of sending the Prophets is communicating the divine message, which is the most important and vital obligation incumbent on humanity. That is to say, to enlighten others with knowledge of the true religion and the duties that accompany it. In the light of this our primary duty is to review all existing and past methods and approaches, and to put into practice today those principles which it is possible to apply, and which lead to the best results. Everyone who is considered old enough to be responsible for his actions may and should serve to convey the message of God to everyone, in the recognized ways, with the courtesies proper to the task. Whatever their ages and status are, each and every individual is obliged to tell others what he is supposed to tell, and this constitutes a most vital duty. The purpose of our existence is the same too. For, God says:
I created man and jinn for no other purpose than to worship Me only.
Such worship or servanthood to God is like a race, and every person will take part in it. Some will not cope with the hurdles and be detained, and some will always win and attain the furthest places in this race, even to the presence of God.
To know God and devote oneself to Him is the purpose of one’s nature and the essence of creation. Devotion, servanthood, to God requires not only listening, understanding, accepting, abiding by and applying certain rules in one’s life; it also means seeking the purity in ideas and mind, and striving toward the horizon of thinking of only the Creator, whose effort is a heavy, sublime, and sacred duty.
“O you people, worship your Guardian Lord Who created you and those who came before you that you may become righteous, Who has made the earth your couch, and the heavens your canopy; and sent down rain from the heavens; and brought forth therewith fruits for your sustenance; then set not up rivals unto God when you know the truth.”
Worship your God. For He is the Creator. The Creator of you and the people who lived before you. The act of creating and the things created belong to Him alone. It is God Who brought you into existence, and Who created, in one sense, before your birth, the elements and particles which would constitute you, and Who created, in another sense, the people who came before you. It is God Who caused to perish many before you, like Pharaoh, Nimrod, Shaddad, and such. By His laws of creation, He turned the Romans, the Greeks, the Byzantines, the Ottomans and the rest, who strutted and swaggered about the earth, into ruins. So it is God Who created and caused to perish all those. Therefore, beware and worship God alone, the Almighty, the Creator, the Sustainer, and keep always in mind and before your eyes the example, lesson and warning of the past and present, so that you may enter into the circle of piety, consciousness of God.
It is the Sustainer, the Almighty, who made the earth your couch, a resting place. He created and provided for it in such a way that everything of need is placed within the reach of your hand. It is as if the world were a big mansion and the Owner of this mansion, the Sovereign of all the worlds, was entertaining His weak and unable guest with a great show of honor, treating him with marks of respect and distinction. If the slightest failure occurred in this couch, the guest could do nothing and would have nowhere to flee to. So everything is maintained according to the guest’s wants, needs and weaknesses. When this guest lies down on his back and looks at the canopy over his head, he will see it ornamented with stars and systems for his observation. It is God Who made this magnificent canopy over His guest’s couch.
He has made the heavens as a canopy well guarded. There is a continual preordained coordination between the heavens and the earth. The heavens give light and heat, and the earth responds with buds and flowers; the earth returns the evaporation to the heavens, and the heavens turn it back as rainfall; the heavens have the thunders, lightning, and the earth gets its share from their fertile effects; the heavens give rain, and the earth preserves and presents it as drinking water, the living things live their lives and die, and the earth is purified and sterilized by the change of time, seasons, and so on and so forth. So we see that this guest-house is created; not left to run itself but, on the contrary, it is cared for, sustained, and provides for the guests fruits and blessings of all kinds. Therefore, turn to your Sustainer, Cherisher, Lord of all the realms, and worship Him.
We are surrounded by such magnificent order, harmony, splendor, and blessings, operated with great wisdom and power. It is apparent that light for our eyes, taste for our tongues and sound for our ears, that is, our physical and spiritual needs, are all regulated and provided, as sustenance for us. All these come from God. He is never confused while granting all these diverse kind of sustenance; and He neither needs others’ help nor lets them interfere with His work. Therefore, be fair and reasonable; and do not confuse, do not associate, others in your worship of God. Avoid and save yourself from the different kinds of the ugliness of shirk (attributing partners to God) whether open or hidden, big or small.
All causes are accidental, secondary, none has true substance or primary reality. Had God not assigned to us recourse to causes, we would not have felt any need to refer to cause and would have regarded any attempt of that kind as shirk. However, since this world is the abode of wisdom and everything comes into this place entangled in causes, we just consider them as mediating conditions. But the real focus is the Giver, Creator, Who holds all causes under His disposal, therefore we worship Him alone. While attributing some share to causes, whether in the face of misfortunes, calamities and sufferings, or of joy, pleasure or delight, one should always preserve the balance, and avoid words and acts which give any hint of shirk. And the sensitivity to be observed on this matter is directly proportional to one’s closeness to God. When one has tasted the blessing of the immaterial and spiritual pleasures, one should continue to act and worship God in a way worthy of such blessings. One should not let oneself go astray even for an instant by any inclination that might turn one to any other than God. If such an inclination occurs to one, one should come to oneself and proclaim the oneness of God. Such servanthood to God done in this consciousness is the purpose of life, and every understanding of service that leads to such a purpose is an obligation, which is the wisdom in sending the prophets to carry out this obligation. So we, the believers, undertake such a sacred duty, and serving God in this way is a competition in virtue, and the people who take part are the most virtuous people of all.
We live such a life that neither our coming into nor going out of it is in our hands. But, it is possible for us to turn our lives from ones in which we exist and do nothing but wait for the inevitable end, to ones in which we live and make gradual progress to the level that God is pleased with us. This could be done first by digesting all the principles of faith into our souls, making them an integral part of our souls, and filling our consciences with knowledge of God; and next, aspiring to the consciousness of worshipping as if we were seeing God-by raising our faith toward the level of perfect sincerity by means of constant worship, and thus making the pillars of faith a faculty inherent in our particular nature; and finally conveying these merits, virtues and qualities, which we acquired for ourselves in the first instance, to the community, making them prevalent in all walks of life and thus enlightening all people and places.
In reflecting how to perform the duty of guidance and teaching faith, a number of points are worth bearing in mind. To set the matter out somewhat systematically can be useful in terms of giving people ideas about how to do it, but it can be harmful in terms of over-fixing and over-defining what needs to be natural and flexible. Bearing in mind the need for naturalness and flexibility, we can look briefly at a number of points.
1- One should seek and find ways to win entry into the heart and soul of the person addressed. There are many humane ways one may resort to, such as giving gifts or easing the person’s difficulties. In fact these are ways of kindness that are an essential part of the faith, part of what we are commanded to practice when approaching people. So, first, the person we address should be in a state willing to accept our friendship, cordiality and intimacy. These are important factors if what we say is to be welcomed by that person. Therefore, every effective way legitimate and permissible in faith should be used to win the person’s heart.
2- Gaining the trust and respect of the person spoken to is essential. He must trust and become attached to you in such a way that you and his love for you weigh heavier than that of his other friends; because your friendship, relationship and love for that person is different from the others’ and only for the sake of God, it will definitely show its effects on his heart. When he is to make a choice, he should be ready to prefer the strenuous duties the religion lays upon us, to the comfort and pleasures of the other side. Even the hardship, trouble and dangers he might experience in the way you are going should be dearer to him than the pleasures and comfort of his previous life. This can only happen for that person if he knows and trusts and loves you thoroughly.
3- We should have a sound grasp of our faith. Naturally this can only be done by reading and studying, improving one’s level of knowledge and culture. That is why those who assume the duty of communicating the divine message should allocate a certain period in a day only to study. The person who is unaware of the knowledge and culture of his day has nothing much to say to the people he is dealing with, or in other words, the person whose level of knowledge and culture is shallow cannot long satisfy the minds of the people he is addressing. Therefore, a guide who is likely to meet people at all levels of knowledge and education should at least have sufficient knowledge and the mastery of the issues he is explaining to satisfy the people he is dealing with. It is my belief that anyone who is backward in his cultural epoch can offer but very little to those who are, or think they are, ahead of him.
I insistently and emphatically repeat that those who regard communicating the message as the purpose of their lives should be equipped with learning and knowledge of God. What an empty person will say is also empty, worse still is when such people try to cover their lack by vehemence, belligerence, angry and futile attitudinizing: in reaction to that, those who are listening will be put off and indeed resent what they otherwise would accept as reasonable.
4- All work should be done with devotion, from the heart and with sincerity. Seeking the pleasure of God is what should govern the perspective, and everything should be designed and regulated accordingly. The method to be followed and the strategies to be applied should primarily be evaluated and assessed by the pleasure of God. If we have a strong conviction that God will be pleased with them, we will go ahead, otherwise, we should absolutely renounce them, and in this way we may hope never to offer any occasion for people to be misled.
The Prophet defines, limits, struggle in the way of God as that struggle which is undertaken only to exalt the religion of God. That means that if you are striving on the way in order to spread the name of God, then it is for God. But to claim that, while in reality serving one’s carnal self, is doomed to failure: for such a struggle is without sincerity and obtains no reward, and where sincerity is damaged, neither the pleasure of God nor any positive influence on the hearts of others are thinkable.
There lived such people before us that whenever they felt that they had spoken or acted flawlessly, they straightaway went into prostration and asked for forgiveness and sincerity from God. To speak of God and to spread His message in such a style that the carnal self gained no advantage or comfort from it was almost considered a principle. They assumed that since their own carnal self did not like and get a share from such acts, that there was the pleasure of God in them, and later they turned this into a principle. In sum, sincerity and action from the heart must be the whole essence of what is taught or explained; and if we would avoid reproach and having our efforts thrown back in our faces in the Hereafter, we must stick to sincerity firmly.
5- Whatever the level the guide has attained, his heart should be equipped with religious sciences and his mind with civil and positive sciences. By employing his skills and talents at a level high above worldly trivialities, a level attained as a result of the union of both kinds of knowledge, he should become more profound in inward self-supervision, and then, within the potentialities granted to him, he should improve in understanding of the Names of God. All of which is, of course, related to the point we made above-the acquisition of sincerity and action from the heart in all their dimensions.
Those who take on the duty of guidance should never indulge in the vulgar ways of getting others to accept them, of having the conceit that they influence people, or of boasting of increase in the number of their followers. Instead, they should make a self-criticism of their actions to see if they conform to the pleasure of God. Self-criticism, self-inspection, and self-supervision are essential with regard to spiritual guidance.
What is the reason for what you are doing? That is what needs to be checked and supervised. If there is anything related to our nafs (selfhood, carnal self), we must know to stop there and then. For instance, you are reading and telling something in a gathering, a very good thing in itself, but as you become attentive you realize that what you are captivated by is not the content and meaning of what you are reading but the fact that you are doing so and how well you are doing it. So, there and then, you must stop, or at least pass the book to someone else to carry on. Say, you are preaching from a pulpit, and by the grace of God, you are blessed with such an “expansiveness” that you have only to part your lips and the words flow from your mouth as if of their own accord. There and then you should pay attention to Him Who makes you speak so, and realizing the Giver of such a blessing you should acknowledge your smallness, your servanthood to Him and His Lordship. Otherwise, if your nafs is trying to get some share in His Grace, and you are captivated by that, you must know to stop speaking immediately and get down from the pulpit. For, there is severe trial in speaking well, and one should seek refuge in God from such an end. There have been such orators in the world who led great masses of people behind them, but (except the few who were sincere among them) many of their followers are still giving their accounts bitterly, resentfully, to God of how they were persuaded. Say, we are regularly reading and reciting from the Qur’an as our act of secluded worship, and, while reading, we become aware of also trying to melodise and sweeten our voice. Thus, by this inner self-supervision, we learn to regulate ourselves in respect of what is coming up from the depths of our hearts. When it is time, one should know how to deny the carnal self and how to strive against the carnal self. Even in this struggle, one should look for the pleasure of God and act in the ways which will lead to His pleasure.
Such a mood may sometimes manifest in manners that will appear to some people as abnormal, such as, shaking the head, being doubled up in pain, or going into prostration and crying, groaning, there. However, sincerity will, gradually over time, will become natural, and then one can do, act, take or give up everything for God with ease of heart.
6- If our work causes some adverse reactions in some particular conscience, we should, saying “God’s good pleasure (with us) is above all,” wholeheartedly and cheerfully give way to another to do the work. Some individuals may react to us for some particular personal reasons, and whatever we say may bring about an adverse reaction. If we remained insisting, our efforts would only serve to make the other refuse, rather than accept. Thus, while that other person has suffered a loss in not accepting the truth, we will suffer a greater loss for we prevented its acceptance. The solution is simple. It is someone else, not we, who will speak to that person. It may be that he accepts the truth from another and so, for being a means to it, however indirect, we will earn the reward for it-as much as the one who worked after us. A subtle matter here is to observe that there is a difference between merely willing that another do the work, and accepting cheerfully that it be so, liking it to be so. We should endeavor to be of the latter, for that is sure to displease the carnal self, and that takes courage and is an instance of genuine altruism and generosity in the cause.
7- When we encounter issues or questions we have no knowledge of, we should readily and comfortably say “I don’t know.” So, we should easily be able to acknowledge that we do not know; but we need not to leave it at that; we must follow up the matter, and seek learning where we are ignorant. It is also possible that there may be a knowledgeable person whom we know and trust, to whom we can take the questioner or the question. In this way, we learn ourselves and prepare opportunities for others to learn also.
8- The people of guidance should be generous, open-handed and benevolent. They should be ready, willing and decisive to spend everything they have in His cause while going on the path of serving God. To win the hearts of people they should make their generosity a means, a vehicle.
Every spiritual teacher young or old, should try to enter and conquer the hearts of people in this way. If one gains the heart of a person by spending all he has, he will be considered to have gained a lot and lost nothing. For the generous will open the gates of Paradise. So, one should open the ways that lead to such gates in this world so that there are many to accompany one to Paradise in the other world.
By M. Fethullah Gülen