“The recompense for an injury is a proportionate injury [an eye for an eye];
but whoever forgives and makes peace, his reward rests with God...
Whoso bears injuries patiently and forgives, that surely is something to aspire to.”
“The best of you are those who have the most excellent morals.”
—The Prophet (Bukhari, 61:23)
“Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”
(First, please see this.)
Noah and the Flood
What would be a Sufic approach to ethics?
Let us start by reviewing a recent movie: Noah (2014). With a budget of $125 million, and a worldwide gross of almost three times that amount, it was one of the more acclaimed movies of that year. Christian and Jewish authorities generally praised the film. And yet, some aspects of the movie went unremarked:
These points highlight the fact that in the West today, we have lost the script. Not only have we lost track of the most basic facts, but we are clueless as to what is morally right or wrong. In short, we have lost our moral compass. This one movie is enough to reveal that.
Good and evil
Let us try to understand the existence of good and evil by recourse to Master Kayhan’s words:
You are not to regard good and evil as the same. You’re not to see them as equal. We’re not going to merge them, we’re going to distinguish between them. God says, ‘Both good and evil are from Me.’ But He further says, ‘Follow the good.’ He doesn’t say: ‘Follow the evil.’ God says, ‘I created both good and evil. If you follow the good, you will come close to Me. If you follow the bad, you will obey the ego/the Base Self. Don’t hold Me responsible later on.’ He distinguishes between the two, He doesn’t hold them the same. God says, ‘I’ve informed you of good and evil. If you obey the self and Satan, don’t blame Me, because I’ve told you about good, evil and everything.’
(The Teachings of a Perfect Master (TPM) (2012), pp. 85-6. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations from Master Kayhan in this article are from that book.)
Seven Hells, Eight Heavens
We frequently confuse the purpose of religion. The Prophet said: “I have been sent for the purpose of perfecting good morals.” (Ibn Hanbal, No: 8595) He also said: “The most perfect of the believers in faith is the best of them in moral excellence, and the best of you are the kindest of you to their wives.” (Tirmidhi, 12:11) So one of the main purposes of religion is to instill good morals in us, so that we can live together in peace with each other during our brief stay on earth.
In a pamphlet titled “The Secret That is Love,” Master Kayhan gave a concise summary of the main principles of morality:
Islam is based on eight principles. These are referred to as the eight gates of Heaven:
1. Compassion, kindness and affection.
7. Knowing one’s poverty and weakness.
8. Giving thanks to God.
Without these, there is no peace, happiness or Paradise in either world…
All the virtues and merits in the world are encompassed by these traits. This is why they have been called the eight gates of Heaven. Those who possess them live in Paradise even while in this world.
As for the seven circles of Hell, the following are the traits that open their gates:
5. Backbiting [gossip].
All the evil traits and manners in the world are, in turn, contained in these.
The latter are all traits of the Base Self (nafs al-ammara). A hero is a person who vanquishes a villain. The Base Self is such a formidable foe that those who have overcome it rightly deserve to be called “superheroes.”
Of the gates of Hell, let us focus on two: anger and gossip.
Anger: An Example of Unacceptable Morals
Anger is a prime example of blameworthy ethics (akhlaq al-zamima).
The Prophet said: “If any of you gets angry, s/he should stay silent.” (Ibn Hanbal, Musnad, 1/329; see also Sahih al-Jaami‘, 693, 4027)
There. That’s all. Now how many of us can claim we live up to that? There’s a Turkish proverb: “Who rises in anger, subsides in loss.” And this is a very good explanation of the Tradition just cited.
When we’re angry, we are much more prone to be unjust or disproportionate. Even if you say something entirely inoccuous like “God bless you,” the very words come out like a growl. And this only fuels flames on the other side.
We get angry because we think we’re right. And we may very well be right. But anger causes us to do things that immediately place us in the wrong. Others can then freely exploit the mess we have made.
This does not mean that response is unnecessary. Wait, rather, until your anger has cooled off. Then you can start thinking about dealing with the situation constructively, peacefully, proactively. There are many ways of saying or doing things. Only keeping a cool head can provide the best solution.
Someone may say: “But what about combat? Are we supposed to stay calm there, too?”
In a fight, the lives of both sides are on the line. Level-headedness in combat is more necessary than ever. For anger will cause you to make mistakes, and will give your opponent a weakness, an opening to be exploited. Emotion compromises conduct and puts you at a disadvantage. You cannot put up a worthy fight if you are overcome by anger (“emotion, however righteous, can be the enemy of analysis”—Robert Kaplan). That is why the Prophet again said: “The true wrestler is one who controls himself when he gets angry, not one who throws his opponent to the ground”—that is, one who reins in his Base Self. And that’s really what it’s all about—us versus our Base Self. Vanquish it, and your chances of success are greatly improved. I’m not saying it’s easy, but in this world of trials, that’s what we have to do.
This would be the point to remember the performance of Ali during the Battle of the Ditch. When he was fighting an opponent, as he was about to deal the final blow, the man spat in his face. Ali withdrew, lowered his sword, and said: “Stand up. We must repeat the fight.”
The man was shocked: “Ali, what’s going on?”
“At first, I was fighting you for the sake of religion. But as soon as you spat in my face, my Base Self rose up and interfered. If I killed you under those circumstances, I would have been doing it for the sake of my own ego and not for religion. Therefore, we must fight again.”
Now none of us are the Prophet, and none of us are Ali. True. But the Prophet and Ali were setting these examples for us. How many of us can claim that we’re following in their tracks? Are we sure that we’re acting for religion and not under the command of our Base Self?
In order to make things more comprehensible, let me explain the concepts of Sufism using the terminology of psychologist Carl G. Jung. Jung called the Base Self “the shadow.” The basic characteristic of the shadow, Jung said, is to project its own perceived darknesses and shortcomings onto someone else. So in reality, we (both sides) are not fighting our opponents, though of course apparently, we are. We are actually shadow-boxing with our mirror image, where each side is the other’s mirror.
As the comics character Pogo put it:
This is what we must put an end to. We are all victims of our Base Selves, our shadows. The beginning of the end starts when we stop projecting our own evil onto the other side. Then we can begin to make peace.
We are all created equal. We are all brothers and sisters, descended from the same father, the same mother (Adam and Eve). More than half a century ago, two great men, the physicist Albert Einstein and the philosopher Bertrand Russell, issued the Russell-Einstein Manifesto. That tract ended with the words: “Remember your humanity, and forget the rest.” What does the Buddhist Dhammapada say: “Hatred does not cease by hatred. Hatred ceases by love.” And, please remind me—who was it, exactly, that said: “Love your enemy”?
If we can do that—and by “we” I mean all sides—we may be surprised to discover, in the old adversary, a friend.
Gossip, or backbiting, is another example of immorality. Of it, the Koran says: “Do not spy on, nor backbite one another. Would any of you like to eat the flesh of your dead brother [or sister]? You would find it abhorrent” (49:12). In other words, it’s that bad. Similarly, a Tradition of the Prophet states: “Do not gossip. If your brother/sister has that attribute, it is backbiting. If they do not, it is slander.” We in the West have little appreciation these days of how dangerous gossip can be. But considering that backbiting can even end in loss of life, it is nothing to be trifled with.
One of the greatest dangers of gossip is that disinformation tends to get enhanced. Put another way, information entropy increases. “That’s John’s new dog” may, at a remove of 6 or 7 persons, be transformed into: “They say you’re a dog, John!” Sometimes one starts a rumor, and in time, it comes back in such a form that one has to believe it oneself. The best action, then, is not to initiate a rumor, and not to gossip at all.
Eight Points in Thirty Years
On one occasion, the Master drew a parallel between the Eight Gates of Heaven listed above, and the eight points that a pre-Islamic poet, Hatim al-Taʾi, said he had learned from his teacher in thirty years. Hatim was mentioned in some Traditions of the Prophet.
Hatim tells his teacher, ‘I learned eight points from you in thirty years.’‘What a pity,’ he replies. ‘What are they?’ He tells him. His teacher exclaims, ‘I swear to God that everything I have taught is within these Eight Doors.’ If you fall into the sea, grab hold of one of these eight as a lifesaver, a piece of driftwood. If you do all eight of them, you’re in heaven already.
[The eight points of Hatim were: (1) Loving things that will survive one’s death (good works, worship). Making virtues one’s friends. (2) Combating one’s self. Controlling the self until it obeys God. (3) Opening one’s heart to the love of God. Dedicating one’s most prized possessions to God. (4) Piety and fear of God, which are the most valuable things in God’s sight. To rise in intelligence and morality. (5) Freedom from jealousy. (6) To know that the devil, rather than other human beings, is one’s true enemy. To become friends with everyone.(7) Not to worry about sustenance. To stay clear of what is Unclean/Illicit. (8) Trust in God, and God alone.] (p. 381.)
The Four Poles
The concept of the Four Poles goes back a long way in Sufism: “Like the sun, the sage shines on all the world; like the earth, he bears the good and evil of all; like water, he is the source of life for every heart; and like fire, he gives his warmth to all and sundry” (Sari (Sirri) Saqati, 769–867 AD).
Fire can also be replaced with the night. Master Kayhan regarded these as the four poles of ethics. A Sufi saying neatly summarizes exemplary conduct:
In loving kindness, be like the sun;
In generosity, be like water;
In humility, be like the earth;
In hiding the faults of others, be like the night.
To elaborate, the sun shines alike on a piece of dirt and on a rose; it bestows its light and warmth on everything. Water makes no distinction in providing life for all. The night hides all shames from view. The earth, despite being constantly trampled underfoot, yields its fruits to everyone without discrimination. We have an example here of “turning the other cheek.”
The Prophet asked his cousin Ali: “If someone wronged you, made you angry, what would you do?” Ali replied: “I would do good to them.” “And if they repeated it?” “Again, I would do good.” “And if they wronged you again?” “I would again do good.” The Prophet said: “If I had asked Ali fifty times, he would have repeated the same answer.” In a variant, Ali says in his third reply: “I would do such a good that they would be ashamed to do it again..”
As the Master explained:
Four, five poles: the sun, God created it first, billions of years ago. Earth, I’m stepping on it with my foot. Water, there’s no life without it. We cleanse ourselves with it, it doesn’t say, ‘What are you doing?’ Earth – you go somewhere, you obey the call of nature. You see a flower, a fruit, you pick it, earth doesn’t object to you. Air, we can’t live without air. Night – Kuddusi Baba calls it a ‘Coverer,’ a coverer of shames. If it were day all the time, humans and animals would all go crazy. If it were night all the time, nothing would get done.
These are attributes of Compassion. They belong to human beings, to animals, to everyone. If America were to say, ‘The sun is ours,’ it wouldn’t do.
None of them could exist without the sun. It is totally different. When applied to human beings, the sun is the intellect. It is knowledge, it is life. Night is heedlessness. Water is reproduction: ‘I created you from a drop of water.’ The Divine Name of ‘the Living’ is upon it. [God created all living things from water (21:30).] Earth is the body.
The sun, water and earth are three poles. Whoever takes on one of these enters the domain of the Perfect Human. He becomes a giver, not a taker. All three are givers, they’re not stealers! They’re all givers.
Water is a giver, earth is a giver, the sun is a giver. Life can’t exist without any of them. Let us not protect ourselves. Let us give to the neighbor, to the government. To the stranger. He’s shooting at us, but in his moment of need, let’s give.
Be like the sun. Be like a river. Be like earth. Be like the night. The earth bears the burden of the rest. It bears what nobody, no prophet, no pharaoh bore. You know what I call the earth? Perfect Human! (p. 79-80.)
(This would be the right place to speak about the “Peace Prayer” of Saint Francis. But since this article is already too long, and since I have dealt with that earlier in any case, interested readers are directed here.)
The Articles of Faith
The Islamic Creed has six articles of faith. People repeat it from rote memorization. Yet few pause to consider the meaning of it all. The Master helped us to understand what the Creed is there for:
[Faith] In His Angels – God’s angels exist. God alone knows their number.
Angels don’t get sick. They are in God’s service. But do you possess the ethics of angels?
Angels exist. So what? What of it to us?
Can we take on their ethics? How many of their morals do you have? We fast for a month, that month is angelic morality. When one is separated from food, drink and lust, that is the morality of angels. What we need is their beautiful morals, do you have them?
In His Books – Books. Do you believe in the Quran? Do we believe in the Four Books and the Hundred Pages? We all say ‘Yes.’
How are you with its conditions? Can you practice its precepts? Which of these Verses have you embodied? Have you taken on the morals of one or two, are you following them? Ethics. Character traits. Remember what Aisha said: ‘The Prophet’s morality was the morality of the Quran.’
In His Messengers – All prophets plus the Prophet, who is the light of our eyes, the joy of our hearts. That Prophet whom you love very much, how do you stand with his ethics? How many of his morals do you possess? This is the point: to moralize ourselves with the morals of the Messenger.
The Day of Judgment and the rest, you can keep. (pp.101-2.)
The Example of Abraham
Abraham is a good example of the traits for which God loves people. Abraham is called “Patriarch” because he was the forefather of prophets, from Isaac to Jesus and from Ishmael to Mohammed. The Koran, however, uses a different term. It calls Abraham an “(intimate) friend of God:” “God took Abraham for a friend” (Ibrahima halilan, 4:125; see also 2 Chron. 20:7, Isa. 41:8, James 2:23).
To what does Abraham owe this distinction? This is also hinted at in other sacred verses.
These, then, are some of the moral traits that enable intimacy with God. Sufis strive to become “true friends” (sing. wali, pl. awliya) of God by adorning themselves with these and other ethical traits.
In the above, special attention should be paid to purity of the heart. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8).
This is also evidenced in the case of David. God called David “a man after My own heart” (Acts 13:22) because he had a perfect (salîm) heart (1 Kings 11:4, 15:3). This is why God says to David: “David, We have made you a vicegerent on earth” (38:26)—the only person to be so addressed in the Koran.
The intentions of the heart are what matter: “Actions are judged according to intentions” (Bukhari, 1.1.1, 1.2.51). “People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7). “God does not judge you according to your bodies and appearances, but He looks into your hearts and observes your deeds” (Muslim, 6220, 6707).
On one occasion, Master Kayhan enumerated some traits to explain why his own Master had chosen him:
This last item is, in fact, the secret to finding the Holy Grail, as I indicated in the same book (TPM). It is thanks to this fact that, ten years after a psychologist told him: “You want to help people,” someone I know likewise found himself in the presence of the Master.
How to find the Holy Grail
As mythologist Joseph Campbell put it, “The key to the Grail is compassion, ‘suffering with,’ feeling another’s sorrow as if it were your own. The one who finds the dynamo of compassion is the one who’s found the Grail.” In this context, the Grail is a symbol for compassion (rahma, marhama).
Once there was a boy who wanted to be king, and in a trial of ordeals he spent a night alone in a forest. Lucky boy that he was, the holy vision of the Grail, the symbol of Grace, appeared to him. A voice told the child: ‘You will be the Grail’s Guardian. It will heal men’s hearts.’ But the boy, blinded by the prospect of a life full of power, beauty and glory, could only think of the omnipotence the Grail would confer on him. In this state of mind he touched the Grail, which seared his hand and disappeared.
From that day the boy is wounded, both materially and spiritually. He grows to be a young man, a king, but he is sullen and listless; life has no meaning, no purpose. His knights return empty-handed from every search for the Grail. One day, as he lies dying, he is offered a drink by another person. His wound is healed. He looks at the cup, and recognizes it as the Holy Grail. He asks: ‘How were you able to find the Grail, which neither I as king, nor my knights have ever been able to?’ The person replies: ‘I did not know you were a king. I only saw your suffering.’ It is he who has become Guardian of the Grail.
Thus the Grail will not be found by those who search for it out of selfish desire. It is again compassion, the urge to help others in need, that will cap our spiritual quest. Such power is entrusted only to those who are willing and able to give, not those who will block or misappropriate it. (p. 20.)
The Prophet is the “example to be emulated.” The Koran has instructed him to say: “If you love God, follow me. Then God will love you and forgive your sins” (3:31). He has also said: “Adorn yourselves with the ethics of God,” like he himself has been adorned. This means to clothe oneself in the ethics that God’s Divine Names call for. As the Master elaborated:
One Name of God is ‘the Just.’ Let us love justice.
Another Name of God is ‘the Truth.’ Let us always be true.
Another Name is ‘the Sublime.’ Let us always be cheerful and good.
Another Name is ‘the Healer.’ Doctors are in this one.
Another Name is ‘the Judge.’ The judges are here.
The people of the West possess our ways. A bath in every home for cleanliness, hot water, cold water. If everyone sweeps his doorway, the whole city will be clean. If one takes an Ablution five times a day, one will have entered flowing water five times. They’re doing [in the West] what we ought to be doing. (p. 88.)
With each Godly ethic we adorn ourselves with, one more obstacle between us and God is removed, and we are one step closer to communion with God. Ethics (akhlaq) is also translated as “dispositions” or “character traits.” This means that ethical behavior should not just be second nature to us, but should become our first nature. It shouldn’t just slide off us under adverse circumstances. It should be our immediate response, our automatic reaction, to all events, whether favorable or otherwise.
Anyone who strives to perfect their ethics and courtesy will find God in close proximity. God says: “Whoever draws near to Me by a hand’s breadth, I will draw near to them by an arm’s length. Whoever draws near to Me by an arm’s length, I will draw near to them by a fathom. Whoever comes to Me walking, I will come to them running.” (Bukhari, 9.93.627)
This Holy Tradition shows that the first move always has to come from us. This is also reflected in the Verses: “God does not change the lot of a people until they change what is in their selves” (8:53, 13:11). In return, God’s response will be in excess of our actions, for God is the Generous.
An Example of Praiseworthy Conduct
Master Kayhan once provided an instance of exemplary ethics from the days of his discipleship:
Forty-five or fifty years ago, I went to visit Hajji Efendi. I was at a distance of four or five hours. He asked,‘Why did you come?’ I didn’t say. I didn’t tell him, ‘Let me carry you on my back,’ I’m still lamenting that.
That day I made a bridge over a brook for ants to cross. I took down a thirsty turtle from a wall. I saw that a snake was trying to swallow a frog by a riverside. It wouldn’t do to kill the snake, and it wouldn’t do to leave them like that. The snake is swallowing the frog, I bore down on the snake’s neck with a shovel. It didn’t release it. It wrapped its tail around the handle of the shovel as far up as my hand. Then it saw that it was in danger and let go of the frog, which escaped. I didn’t want to kill the snake, so I threw it away together with the shovel.
I went to Hajji Efendi. He asked, ‘Where were you?’ ‘I took a look at the water,’ I said. He smiled and said, ‘Bravo, you’ve done a good trade.’ He didn’t say anything else. ‘Go and fetch me a glass of water,’he said. (pp. 450-51.)
Here we see how a sage or saint would act under tough circumstances. Most of us would not have hesitated to kill the snake. Yet the Master spared its life, at the same time resolving the situation and freeing the frog. This is what may definitely be called a “win-win” solution for all sides.
To be continued...
The Dark Tower
If we need any proof that something is seriously wrong with our current perception of religion and ethics, we need look no further than Stephen King’s series of eight novels, The Dark Tower (1982-2012). (The first novel can be predated to 1978, and King himself dates the project back to 1970.)
In the cosmology of The Dark Tower, God created the universe and an infinite number of alternate universes (inspired by the Everett-Wheeler-Graham, or EWG, interpretation of quantum physics). These can be accessed through portals called “thinnies,” where the boundaries between alternate universes become thinner than usual. The Dark Tower is a building that holds these in place, and serves as a microcosm for all the multiple realities.
(Warning: massive spoiler ahead. If you don’t want it, skip to the following section.)
As Wikipedia summarizes it, the ending is as follows:
the story resumes with Roland stepping into the Dark Tower. He realizes that the Tower is not really made of stone, but a kind of flesh: it is Gan’s physical body.
Who is Gan? In the Dark Tower cosmology, Gan (short for God-man, or Jesus?) is God.
As he climbs the steps, Roland encounters various rooms containing siguls or signs of his past life. When he reaches the top of the Tower, he finds a door marked with his own name and opens it. Roland instantly realizes, to his horror, that he has reached the Tower countless times before. He is forced through the door by the hands of Gan and transported back in time to the Mohaine desert, with no memories of what has just occurred... Roland hears the voice of Gan, whispering that, if he reaches the Tower again, perhaps this time the result will be different; there may yet be rest. The series ends where it began in the first line of book one: “The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.”
The following will concentrate not on the literary merits or entertainment value of the series, but only probe its mystical/mythological implications.
"The Dark Tower," S05E06 (2012) of the BBC TV series Merlin; pillar of light
We thus see that some of our key concepts have become inverted: light has become darkness, God has become a devil (a notion that traces back to Gnosticism, a Christian heresy), and we are in a situation of—as Sartre called his play—“No Exit” (or escape) from the prison, with no possibility of salvation.
And it cannot be otherwise, for as Colin Wilson pointed out, ever since about 1800, western literature has been a literature of despair. It is no coincidence that this began with the age of “loss of faith.” Jean-Paul Sartre himself lamented:
God is silent and that I cannot possibly deny – everything in me calls for God and that I cannot forget… As a matter of fact, this experience can be found in one form or another in most contemporary authors; it is the torment in Jaspers, death in Malraux, destitution in Heidegger, the reprieved-being in Kafka, the insane and futile labour of Sisyphus in Camus.
Wilson noted that western philosophy is afflicted with a needless “pessimistic fallacy”—that life is meaningless and not worth living:
This is what has happened to Western civilisation over the past two centuries. It explains why so many distinguished artists, writers and musicians have taken such a negative view of the human situation.
Elsewhere, Wilson said: “This pessimism is lying across modern civilisation like some enormous fallen tree and somehow we’ve got to get a bulldozer and shift it out of the way.”
And for this, we need a rejuvenation of our morals, our ethics. Wilson again: “We’ve got to, like [H.G.] Wells said, build a stronger civilisation. Now is the time for change.”
What Is Common To Both Prophets And Saints
The prophets and saints are mostly known and admired for their miracles or miraculous deeds, respectively. But that is not the reason for their importance. After all, “the devil himself is a miracle worker.”
First, we have to go back to Square One and ask: what is religion?
This goes beyond the Ten Commandments. “Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal,” and so on, are preliminaries. They are necessary, but not sufficient. Beyond that, there is “courtesy” (adab, as the Sufis call it), which is a much more refined level of ethics. It combines kindness and gentleness, tolerance and acceptance, compassion and mercy. As the Sufi saying goes:
Courtesy is a crown
But the “Two Goldies” are enough for a start:
And this is where the prophets and saints come in. They are luminaries who have perfected their ethics to such a degree that God has set them up as role models for human beings. They are superheroes in the sense that they possess superior ethics.
The internal state of a prophet, a saint, is known only to themselves. It cannot be understood or fruitfully discussed by outsiders. But “what is in a jug oozes out of it”—you can tell whether it’s full of vinegar or honey. (Even a black hole, from which nothing is supposed to escape, “emits” Hawking radiation.) The internal state is reflected in outward behavior. The more accomplished a prophet or saint, the more refined their conduct and courtesy.
Master Ahmet Kayhan was very specific about the importance of ethics:
Morality is the foundation. There are Five Pillars of Islam. There are Six Pillars, the first is ethics. Prayer, being a Muslim, and so on are things you do for yourselves. What I need is morality. To feed the hungry, to give to the poor. (p. 85.)
The Prophet says, ‘I was sent to perfect your ethics.’ Not other things, only morality. He doesn’t say ‘your education, your medicine, your technology.’ ‘A mighty morality’ [68:4], the Quran says regarding him… The big thing is ethics.
The Prophet says: ‘Seek knowledge, even if it be in China.’ But he doesn’t say ‘I came to you to complete knowledge,’ he says ‘I came to complete ethics.’ Knowledge is necessary, but morality is important. Morality is important. (p. 86.)
Serve humanity, especially when you’re young. ‘When you dress and feed the poor, when you visit a sick person, you do it to Me.’ Your Fasting and Prayer belong to you. Don’t step on an ant knowingly. Do not consciously step on a weed, that weed is your life and soul. Get along well with your children. Don’t break anyone’s heart. Whoever doesn’t know, win their heart. (p. 92.)
God asks Moses: ‘O Moses, what have you done for Me?’ Moses replies: ‘I Prayed, I worshiped.’ ‘O Moses, those are for you. Did you visit a sick person for Me? Did you heal the sick? Did you feed the hungry? Did you clothe the poor, the naked, the shivering? Did you alleviate anyone’s sorrow for My sake? Did you reconcile people offended with each other? Did you keep vigil all night and invoke [My Name]? Those are for Me, worship is for you.’ (p. 280.) (Compare Matt. 25:34-45—“What you did to the least of these, you did it unto Me.”)
In Part 1, Master Kayhan explained the difference between good and evil. In the following quote, we find him approaching the issue from a slightly different angle:
There is both good and evil. If you abandon the good and choose the evil, you will be in error.
Good and evil are from God. He’s left all doors open for the good. For the evil, He says, ‘Close the doors. I am able not to create evil. I created evil so that you may look at evil and choose the good, may obey the prophets. I could have created you without evil, without sin. But you would be like angels. You would lack the honor of being human, the honor of being Muslim. I have created good and evil. If you desire evil, that belongs to you, don’t hold Me responsible. I gave you evil, but I also gave you the information: ‘This is evil, don’t do it.’ Don’t hold Me responsible later on.’ Be wary of Sufism. ‘That’s from Him, that’s from Him, too’ – no. You are to open the gates of good and close the gates of evil. (p. 162.)
The struggle against the Base Self is unwittingly portrayed from time to time in TV series and science-fiction movies. A recent example of this is Insurgent (2015), where the heroine, Tris, joins battle against herself in a virtual reality simulation, before her Base Self explodes into smithereens. Similarly, Jon Snow shatters a dreaded White Walker in Game of Thrones, S05E08.
The Good and the Beautiful
In Islam one hears people speaking of “good ethics” (akhlaq al-hasana). Now the word hasan means not only “good,” but also “beautiful.” This means that we can speak of an aesthetics of ethics. Any action that is ethical also has beauty to it, which is why we can speak of “admirable conduct.”
Aesthetics, however, are subjective, or so we have been led to believe. They change from person to person. So is there any means whereby we can be sure of the objective value of aesthetics? There is. Anything that is favored in the sight of God is objectively beautiful, objectively admirable. For God is the Absolute, Whose views also give us an absolute reference point, rather than a merely relative one. Consider these words of the Master:
An acquaintance who comes here gave the following account:
One day when he was going somewhere, he saw a woman rummaging through a garbage can. The woman took away a putrid chicken she removed from the garbage can. He began following her to see what she would do with it. She went to a shantytown and entered one of the hovels. The man covertly began to watch what would happen from a window.
The woman cooked the chicken, then fed her children with it. After waiting a while longer, the man knocked on the door. The woman opened the door and said, ‘Yes, uncle?’ Without mentioning that he had followed her, the man said that he was passing by and wondered who lived there. He thus certified the woman’s poverty in this way as well.
After he left, he went straight home. He took the five hundred thousand Liras he had been saving for Pilgrimage in the near future and returned to the woman’s home. He didn’t speak of the difficulties with which he had saved the money. He said, ‘I’m very rich. Take this money, I have lots more.’ He placed it in the woman’s hand.
That night he saw the Prophet of God in his dream. Our Prophet thanked him and gave him great news: ‘You’ve won the merit of a thousand Pilgrimages,’ he said. (p. 154.)
The Hebrew Midrash relates how Moses, while tending Jethro's flock, carried a lamb that had strayed back to the flock on his shoulders because it was tired. For this act of kindness, God made him a shepherd over his people.
The Prophet of God said, “A prostitute was forgiven by God, because, passing by a panting dog near a well and seeing that the dog was about to die of thirst, she took off her shoe, and tying it with her head-cover she drew out some water for it. So, God forgave her because of that.” (Bukhari, 4.54.538)
The Master elaborated on this:
There are some groups now that say, ‘Don’t buy or eat the bread of one who doesn’t do the Prayer,’ and so on. After a battle outside Medina, the Prophet asked: ‘Two persons, one is a Muslim, the other is an infidel or a Christian. They both ask for water. Who do you give it to?’ ‘We give it to our brother,’ they say. Omar asks: ‘What do you say, Prophet of God?’ ‘First to the enemy, if he’s dying. If possible, divide in two and give half to your brother first.’ First to relatives, then to those more distant. The attribute of Compassion. (p. 306.)
Here is how the decree of “a hundred lashes for fornication” was carried out by the Prophet:
And He treated Job kindly in the oath he had made, when he swore during his illness to beat his wife with a hundred lashes if he recovered. So when he recovered, God ordered him to take a bundle of  rushes and to strike his wife with it [once] (38:45). So God expiated his oath with the easiest thing for him and for her. We still have this authorization (to act gently in fulfilling oaths). It has been related that the Prophet was brought a weakling who had committed adultery with a slave girl. So he said, “Take the branch of a date tree containing a cluster of one hundred stalks, and strike him with it once.” (Naqsh, p. 34.)
I’ve come to improve, not to kill
The Prophet was with his Companions. A man passed by him. He said:‘Fear this man who has no fear. There are hypocrites among you.’ Omar said: ‘Let me kill him with one blow.’ He replied, ‘No. I didn’t come to kill, I came to reform. That man is a Muslim externally but he hasn’t been able to digest it, he’s not a Muslim on the inside. He’s a hypocrite, he’ll cause you to fight among yourselves. I didn’t come to kill, I came to edify.’ (p. 305.)
At the Battle of Uhud, when his tooth was broken by a stone, he prayed: “My Lord, forgive my people, for they do not know." (Muslim, 19.4418 or 2/108; Bukhari, 3477.)
When the Prophet and his foster son Zayd were stoned and driven away from Ta’if by mocking and jeering crowds, the Archangel Gabriel came to him and said that if the Prophet so wished, he would decimate the town. The Prophet refused. Instead, he prayed to God: “I complain to you of my weakness, my lack of resources and my lowliness before men. Most Merciful, ... I take refuge in the light of Your countenance... I wish to please You until You are pleased. There is no power and no might save in You.” For his fortitude and endurance, he was rewarded with the Ascension (miraj) upon his return to Mecca.
If you want to know the true intentions of a person, look at what he does when he is in a position of unassailable power, not when he is weak. The Prophet was at that peak when he conquered Mecca in 630 AD. He gathered all his vanquished enemies and addressed them: “What do you expect me to do to you?”
They replied: “We believe you will do good by us.”
He said: “My situation and yours will be the same as Joseph and his brothers. As he said to his brothers, I say to you: ‘No reproach will be on you today. May God forgive you, He is the most Merciful of the merciful.’ [12:92] Go, you are free.”
And he allowed them to go scot-free.
Only, to the two persons who had killed his uncle in an earlier war and had eaten his liver raw, he said: “Don’t let me see you again. I can’t stand the sight of you.”
Don’t embarrass people
The Qurayshites around the Prophet drank alcohol. He said, ‘Don’t speak ill of them because they drink.’ He regarded the drunkard with mercy.
There was a bedouin Arab tribe chieftain. That tribe had faith, they had recited the Word of Witnessing. He said, ‘Let me go and see the Messenger of God.’ He came, he asked, they said, ‘He’s in the Mosque.’ He went over and introduced himself: ‘I’m from such-and-such a tribe. I’ve come to see you.’ He said, ‘Sit down.’ There are lots of townspeople and strangers in the Mosque, he’s listening to their troubles, he’s making inquiries.
The man began to fidget, he had to obey the call of nature. He said ‘Excuse me,’ the Prophet said ‘Okay,’ but he didn’t say what his problem was. He went to a corner of the room and relieved himself. They’re tribespeople, they don’t know any better. The Companions are upset, the Prophet of God looks, the smell spreads all over the place, he signals them: ‘Don’t say a word,’ he says. That man comes and takes his earlier place.
The Prophet cuts it short, ‘Come on,’ he says, ‘let’s talk outside.’ Without giving that man the slightest hint. They get up, they step outside, he says: ‘Give me a dustpan, a broom and some water.’ ‘Messenger of God, let’s …’ ‘This is my guest. He came for me.’ They insist, he says ‘No. You go out, too.’
He takes the excrement, throws it outside, digs the ground, covers it, smooths it over, then comes over to them. The Companions are again amazed.
They talk outside, he sees him off, gives him some money, ‘Goodbye.’
Three years later he comes again. The same man. They were sitting in the Mosque again, he greets them. He sits down in propriety and courtesy. Religion, good manners have spread everywhere.
He kneels, after inquiring how he is: ‘Messenger of God, with your permission I’d like to kiss your hand.’ ‘Why, what for?’ ‘I came to you once, and did such an unseemly act. Please forgive my error.’ ‘No, no, no. Good for you, good for you.’ (p. 306-7.)
The Two Doors
Paramount among ethical principles, and the only sure-fire way of cornering the Base Self, is to shut the Two Doors of Illicit (extramarital) Sex and Illicit Gain. In the Ten Commandments, these correspond to “You shall not commit adultery” and “You shall not steal.”
As in other matters, the Prophet set the example for these two cases. Master Kayhan related that when the Prophet was presented with a slave girl named Maria by Muqawqis, the ruler of Egypt, he made their relationship official by marrying her on the spot, since it would not do to reject the gift. Again according to the Master, when he and his foster son were stoned and driven from Ta’if, they took refuge in a private orchard. The gardener, who was a Christian, took pity on them and offered them some grapes. Yet, although they were tired, hungry and thirsty, the Prophet would not accept the offering until the matter had been cleared with the actual owners of the orchard. In his famous biography of the Prophet, Martin Lings provides the following additional information: the gardener was so affected by the Prophet's conduct and speech that he began to kiss the Prophet's hands and feet. When queried by his owners regarding this, he answered: “There is nothing on earth better than this man. He has told me things that only a prophet could know.” Centuries later, Ottoman soldiers marching through Europe would still follow the Prophet's example by tying pouches of money to the branches of vines from which they had taken grapes.
We in the West have no inkling today of how important these two restrictions are. Their deceptive simplicity prevents us from recognizing that the Base Self can be brought under control only by stringently observing them. Yet they are the two pillars that mark the beginning of the royal road to self-purification. This tip will serve you well, even if you're a confirmed atheist who observes nothing else in life.
The Prophet had earned the trust of his citizens so much that his nickname was “Mohammed the Trustworthy.” His friends and his enemies alike had placed many precious articles in his trust. On the eve of his emigration from Mecca, he gave these all to his cousin Ali, and told him: “After I’m gone, return all of these to their owners.” The day after the departure of the Prophet, Ali went to the Kaaba and called out: “Whoever entrusted anything to the Prophet, let them come and receive their trust from me.” And he distributed all the items back to their owners.
The Rights of Others
This includes not only human rights, but the rights of women, children, animals, and even plants—the rights of all creatures. God says, “I will forgive infringements against me, but don’t come to me with infringements against the rights of others—you have square it with them while you and they are still in the world.” Among Moslems from Turkey (about whom I can speak), this precept takes precedence above all others, even including mandatory worship. A person may not be religiously observant, may not even do the Five Daily Prayers, but everyone tends to watch out about this.
The Rule of Law
Fairness, or justice, is one of the indispensable foundations of ethics. Societies that uphold the rule of law are able to thrive.
The stern and sometimes severe caliph Omar was renowned for his justice. Here is what the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia has to say about him:
When Omar’s governor [of Busrah] desired to build a mosque, the site of a Jew’s house appeared to him to be suitable for the purpose. In spite of the objections of the owner, he had the dwelling torn down, and built the mosque in its place. The outraged Jew went to Medina to tell his grievance to Omar, whom he found wandering among the graves, poorly clad and lost in pious meditation. When the calif had heard his complaint, anxious to avoid delay and having no parchment with him, he picked up the jaw-bone of an ass and wrote on it an urgent command to the governor to tear down his mosque and rebuild the house of the Jew. This spot was still called “the house of the Jew” up to modern times...
It may also be worthwhile to quote from the 2007 edition of the Encyclopaedia Judaica:
Jewish tradition regards Omar as a benevolent ruler and the Midrash (Nistarot de-Rav Shimon bar Yohai) refers to him as a “friend of Israel.” According to Tabarī, a Jewish sage told Omar that he was destined to become the ruler of the Holy Land. Omar has been described as the author of the rules discriminating against minorities in Muslim lands (see *Omar , Covenant of), but this allegation does not stand up to scientific investigation.
As can be seen, an act of kindness and justice receives universal praise, regardless of religion. Jewish people still praise the Ottomans for accepting them when they were expelled from Spain by Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492. And the Irish still thank the heirs of the Ottomans (the Turks) for rushing to their aid during the infamous Irish Famine in the 19th century. Certainly the Ottomans did not do these things expecting to be praised in return. But a good deed is its own reward. As the Turkish Sufi poet Yunus Emre says:
If you visited a sick one...
If you tended their wound...
If you just once did good...
[The recompense is] a thousand for one, not less.
Sufi saints are the followers of the Prophet in everything they do, to the extent of their ability. The following example is given regarding one of the earlier Sufis, Dhul-Nun al-Misri:
One day he was sailing with his disciples in a boat on the River Nile, as is the custom of the people of Egypt when they desire recreation. Another boat was coming up, filled with merry makers, whose unseemly behaviour so disgusted the disciples that they begged Dhul-Nun to implore God to sink the boat. Dhul-Nun raised his hands and cried : “O Lord, as You have given these people a pleasant life in this world, give them a pleasant life in the next world too!” The disciples were astonished by his prayer.
When the boat came nearer and those in it saw Dhul-Nun, they began to weep and ask pardon, and broke their lutes and repented unto God.
Dhul-Nun said to his disciples: “Isn’t this better? A pleasant life in the next world is repentance in this world. You and they are all satisfied, without harm to anyone.” He acted thus from his extreme affection towards the [people], following the example of the Prophet, who, notwithstanding the ill-treatment which he received... never ceased to say: “O God, direct my people, for they know not.”
(Hujwiri, “Revelation of the Veiled” (Kashf al-Mahjub), p. 101. Edited slightly.)
(A similar story is related of Maruf Charkhi.)
May God grant us all superior ethics, worthy of the prophets and the saints. Let the Master again have the final word:
Love, love one another. Love one another for God. There is no other salvation.
Be thoughtful of others. Be thoughtful of everyone and everything. If you see a sick person on the bus, give him your seat. Prayer alone won’t do, these are all Prayer. Don’t disturb anyone. Always be the one who is disturbed.
Work, give something to humanity. (pp. 54-55.)