What are Virtues of Belief?
In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate
Surely We created man of the best pattern; then We reduced him to the lowest of the low, save those who believe and do good deeds. (95:4-6)
¨Belief is a relation which connects man to his Maker
Man, through the light of belief, attains to the highest degree of perfection and acquires a value worthy of Paradise. With the darkness of unbelief, he is reduced to the lowest of the low and falls to a position to deserve Hell. For belief is a relation which connects man to his Majestic Maker. Man’s value derives from his demonstration of divine art and the manifestation of Divine Names through his belief. Unbelief breaks off this relation; in consequence of it, the divine art is veiled and the value of man is reduced to the worth of his mere physical entity. The physical entity of man is of almost no value for it is perishable and consists of a transient animal. We will explain this truth by way of a parable:
In a work of art, the value of the material of which it is made, differs from the value of the art that is expressed in it. Sometimes the two may be of the same value, and sometimes it happens that five dollars’ worth of art is to be found in material like iron worth five cents. Sometimes, even, an antique work of art will fetch as much as a million dollars while its material is not even worth a few cents. If this antique is taken to the antiques market, it may be sold for its true value because of the art it contains and the name of the brilliant artist who fashioned it. Whereas, this work of art may only be sold for the price of its iron in the blacksmith’s market.
Man is a unique, priceless work of the art of God whom He created to manifest all His Names as a specimen of the universe
Similarly, man is a unique, priceless work of the art of God, the All-Mighty, and the most delicate and graceful miracle of His Power, whom He created to manifest all His Names and their inscriptions, in the form of a miniature specimen of the universe. If, therefore, man is illuminated with the life of belief, then all these meaningful inscriptions become visible. A believer manifests them through his connection with his Maker, that is, the divine art contained in him is revealed through such affirmations as “I am the work of the Majestic Maker, His creature and the object of His Mercy and Munificence.” Thus, belief makes manifest all the traces of art in man, who gains value in proportion to his reflection of this art and, though an insignificant being (in material terms), he thereby acquires a rank above all other creatures. He becomes one who communicates with God and His guest on the earth, and one qualified for Paradise.
Unbelief reduces man to being like coal although he is like diamond.
If, however, unbelief, which consists in the severance of this connection, becomes ingrained in man, then all those meaningful manifestations of Divine Names will be veiled by a darkness and no longer expressive. For, when an artist is not identified, the aspects that express the worth of his art cannot be identified either. Most of the meaningful instances of that sublime art and the elevated inscriptions are thus concealed. As regards the material aspects of his being, man in unbelief attributes them to trivial causes, to nature and chance, and thus reduces them to being like plain glass although they are, in essence, like sparkling diamonds. He is no more significant than any other material entity, self-condemned to lead a transient, suffocating life, as no better than a most impotent, needy and afflicted animal. In the end, he decomposes into dust. Unbelief thus spoils the nature of man and changes his diamond into coal.
Belief is a light which illuminates man and reveals all the messages inscribed in his being by the Maker
Just as belief is a light which illuminates man and reveals all the messages inscribed in his being by the Eternally-Besought-of-All (al-Samad), so too it illuminates the universe and removes the darkness from the past and future. We will explain this truth by way of an imaginary event that I experienced regarding the meaning of the noble Qur’anic verse,
God is the Protecting Friend of those who believe. He brings them out of the layers of darkness into the light. (2:257)
An imagined vision
In an imagined vision, I was standing on an awe-inspiring bridge set over a deep valley between two mountains. The whole world was completely covered by a thick darkness. As I happened to look to my right, I had the vision of a huge tomb. When I looked to my left, I felt as if I were seeing violent storms and calamities being prepared amid the tremendous waves of darkness.
Then, I looked down over the edge of the bridge and I imagined I was seeing a very deep precipice.
In that dreadful darkness, I had recourse to my torch. Through its dim light a very dreadful scene was shown to me. All along the length of the bridge, such horrible dragons, lions and monsters appeared that I wished I had not had that torch. Whichever way I directed it, I got the same fright. “This torch brings me only trouble,” I exclaimed, and I angrily cast it to the ground and broke it. Then, all of a sudden, the darkness disappeared and everywhere was illuminated; it was as if I had switched on a huge light by breaking my torch, and I saw everything in its true nature.
I discovered that the bridge was, in reality, a highway on a smooth plain. The huge tomb on the right was a green, beautiful garden in which the assemblies of worship, prayer, glorification and discourse were being held under the leadership of illustrious persons. The scenes on the left which I had previously imagined to be turbulent, stormy, frightening precipices, now appeared as a banqueting hall, a shaded promenade, a very beautiful resting place behind lovely mountains. I realized that what I had imagined to be horrible monsters and dragons were, in fact, once domesticated animals such as camels, sheep and goats. “Praise and thanks be to God for the light of belief,” I said, and then awoke reciting the verse,
God is the Protecting Friend of those who believe. He brings them out of the layers of darkness into the light. (2:257)
Those two mountains that I saw in my imagined vision are, in reality, the beginning and the end of this life and the life between death and the Resurrection. The bridge is the life-span, between the two phases of the past (on the right) and the future (on the left). The torch is man’s conceited ego that, relying on its own achievements, does not heed the Divine Revelation. What had looked to me first to be monsters are the events of the world and the extraordinary creatures in it.
Self-confident ego in the darkness of misguidance
Thus, the person who has fallen into the darkness of misguidance and heedlessness because of his confidence in his own ego resembles me in the former state—in the dim light of a torch. With his inadequate and misguided knowledge, he sees the past as a huge tomb in the darkness of extinction; he sees the future as a stormy scene of terror controlled by coincidence or chance. The torch shows him events and creatures which are, in reality, subjugated to the All-Wise and the All-Merciful and, in submission to His Decree, fulfill specific functions and serve good purposes, as harmful monsters. Thus he is the one referred to in the verse:
As to those who do not believe, their protecting friends are false deities. They bring them out of light into layers of darkness. (2:257)
If, however, such a man is favored with divine guidance and so belief enters into his heart, and his Pharaoh-like ego is broken, if he listens to the Book of God, then he will resemble me in my later state. All of a sudden the whole of the universe will be filled with Divine Light, demonstrating the meaning of the verse,
God is the Light of the heavens and the earth.
He then sees through the eye of his heart that the past is not a huge tomb, rather each past century is the realm of authority of a prophet or a saint. The purified souls, having completed the duties of their lives, (that is, the duties of worship), with the words, God is the Greatest! on their tongues, flew to higher abodes on the side of the future. He looks to his left. Through the light of belief, he discerns, behind the mountain-like revolutions of the intermediate world [the world between this one and the next] and the next life, a feasting place set up by the All-Compassionate One at the palaces of bliss in the gardens of Paradise. He has the conviction that the storms, earthquakes, epidemic diseases, and the like serve for a specific function, just as he understands spring rain and winds, for example, in spite of their apparent violence, as serving many agreeable purposes. Even death, in his view, is seen as the beginning of eternal life, and the grave as the gateway to eternal happiness.
Belief is both light and power. Whoever attains true belief can challenge the whole universe and, in proportion to the strength of his belief, be relieved of the pressures of events.
Belief is both light and power. Indeed, whoever attains true belief can challenge the whole universe and, in proportion to the strength of his belief, be relieved of the pressures of events. Relying on God, he travels through the mountainous waves of events in the ship of life in complete safety. He voyages through the world comfortably until his last day, since he has been relieved of his burden by entrusting it to the Power of the Absolutely Powerful One. The grave will be a resting place for him, after which he flies to Paradise to attain eternal bliss. By contrast, if he does not rely upon God, not to speak of flying, the weight of the worldly life will force him down to the lowest of the low. Belief, therefore, consists of the affirmation of Divine Unity, which requires submission to God, and submission requires reliance upon God, and that reliance yields happiness in both worlds.
The meaning of reliance on God
Such reliance upon God should not be misunderstood: it does not mean ignoring cause and effect completely. It means, rather, that one should think of causes as a veil to the hand of Power: in observance of them one seeks to act in compliance with Divine Will, which is a sort of worship in action. That desire and seeking is, however, not sufficient to secure a particular effect. The achievement, we must understand, in accordance with right belief, is to be expected only from God, the All-Mighty: we believe in Him as the sole producer of effects, and therefore we should be always grateful to Him.
The likeness of one who trusts in God and of one who does not is in this way:
Once two men boarded a ship with heavy burdens on both their heads and backs. One of them put his burden on the deck immediately after they boarded the ship, and sat on it in order to watch over it. But the other, both stupid and arrogant, did not put his burden down on the deck. He was told to unburden, to relieve himself, of his heavy load but he answered: “No, I will not leave it, as it may be lost. Anyway, I am strong enough to carry it.” He was told again: “But this reliable royal ship which is carrying you and us is even stronger, and can hold it better. You will most probably get tired, feel dizzy and fall into the sea together with your burden. Your strength will fail. Then with your doubled back and brainless head, you will no longer be able to bear that burden which is getting heavier every moment. Besides, if the captain sees you in this state, he will either say that you are insane and expel you from the ship or he will think, “That man is an ingrate or even a traitor. He does not trust or suspects our ship, and makes light of us,” and he will order you to be put in prison. Also, you will be marked out and made fun of by everyone. To the perceptive, your vanity reveals your weakness, your arrogance reveals your impotence, and your pretension betrays your humiliation: as a result, you have become a laughing-stock—look, how everybody is laughing at you!
These words were enough of a warning for that poor man. He put his load on the deck, sat on it, and said to his companion: “May God be pleased with you! I have obtained relief; more, I have been saved from imprisonment and becoming a laughing-stock.”
Now, man, who does not put his trust in God! Come to your senses, as did the man in the parable, and put your trust in God so that you may be delivered from begging from the whole creation and trembling in fear in the face of each happening. You will also be delivered from self-conceit, from being ridiculous, from the pressures of this life and from the torments of the Hereafter.
By Bediuzzaman Said Nursi