The Second Word (Part 2)
NOTE: The passages in italics are from Bediuzzaman’s book and the commentaries below them are my own.
The other was God-knowing, worshiper of God and thinker of truth with good manners, so that he fell into a much pleasant country in his perspective. Now this decent man sees a general cheerfulness in the country he enters. Everywhere [are] places of dhikr in a happiness, a merriment, an overwhelmingness and joy. Everybody seems a friend and relative to him. In the whole country, he sees a celebration of a general discharge [from work] with hurrays and thanks. Also, he hears a drum [and] a musical sound for enrollment into the army with cheerfulness and exclamations of “Allah is the Greatest” (Allahu Akbar) and “There is not God but Allah” (La Ilaha Illa Allah). In the place of suffering for both his and the general public’s pain as the former unfortunate one, this pleasant one is cheerful and comforted by the cheerfulness of both himself and that of the general public. Also, he obtains a successful business. He thanks Allah.
He then turns, comes across the other man, understands his situation, [and] says to him “Look you have become mad. The ugliness within you must have reflected on your outer world so that you have thought of laughing to be crying, discharge [from work] to be pillage and looting. Come to your senses. Cleanse your heart. So that this troublesome curtain will be lifted from your view, [and] you may see the truth. Because the country of such an utmostly just, merciful, caring, powerful, orgainized, and compasionate ruler, and a country that visibly shows signs of development and perfection to such a degree cannot be in the form that your thought has shown [to you].” Then that unhappy one comes to his senses, repents, [and] says “Yes, I had become mad from drunkenness. May Allah be pleased with you as you saved me from a hellish state.”
Everything in this universe is created in the best form and sustained with the utmost care and mercy. It is only in exceptional cases that divine mercy may not be apparent to the casual eye. We may at times find ourselves in hardship or may observe others suffering from calamities. How does a believer view such scenarios?
Firstly, every being was given a fixed status from the start of their creation. They do not have the capacity to improve themselves and rise to a higher status before God. Humans and jinns are an exception to this rule. By giving us free will, God has offered us an opportunity which no other creature was offered. He has enabled us to to choose right from wrong and thus to develop ourselves and rise in status. However, in order for us to utilize our free will and choose right from wrong, we have to be tested. Hence, there is a certain beauty behind calamities however rough they may seem. They last only temporarily but offer an everlasting blessing. Essentially, this world was created to be a field of examination; the permanent reward for the choices we make will be given to us in the afterlife.1
Secondly, a world with no hardship would limit our understanding of God and His names and attributes. Such things as poverty, illness, weakness and so on would not exist in a “perfect” world. The absence of poverty would imply that everybody possesses the same amount of wealth. Since everything is best understood through its opposite, the absence of poverty would limit our understanding of the concept of wealth/poverty. This would in turn limit our understanding of what it means for God to be The Sufficient (al-Ghani). Similarly, the absence of weakness would limit our understanding of God’s power. Also, with the absence of illnesses, we would not be able to understand what it means for God to be The Healer (al-Shafi) since we would not feel the need for God to heal anything, and so on. We would thus have a very limited understanding of who our Creator really is.
Finally, our viewpoint of what constitutes as a calamity is based on our self-centeredness. Volcanic eruptions, for instance, may be viewed as a calamity. However these eruptions bring many benefits to the earth and play a vital role in the environment. When looked at the whole picture, the benefits far outweigh the suffering. The reason it is classified as a calamity is because we often fail to see the whole picture and, due to our self-centeredness and pessimism, focus only its the negative immediate effects on the people.2
The more our ego increases, the more we focus only on ourselves forgetting the whole picture. Due to our pessimism, we are only able to see the negative sides to such events. As faith in God increases, these feelings begin to dissappear. In the place of submitting to our ego, we submit to God and His will. Our individual personal desires become less important to us.
1 The Twelfth Letter, Your Second Question
2 The Words, The Eighteenth Word, Second Point