Question: What should an appropriate attitude be towards those who envy us and cannot stomach our achievements?
Fethullah Gulen: First of all, it needs to be known that not being able to stomach others’ merits is a serious spiritual illness. The example of Satan’s attitude towards Adam and his later going completely astray is the most striking example of just that. Considering the words of Satan in different verses of the Qur’an, it is seen that he is a creature that knows God. But in spite of that, he refused to prostrate himself before Adam for the sole reason of his jealousy and not being able to stomach God’s honoring Adam. While mentioning Satan’s disobedience to the Divine command, the Qur’an uses the word “aba” (refused), which denotes insistent refusal. That is, he was insistent at his haughty refusal to prostrate himself before Adam. Since he was full of grudge and hatred, this prevented him from seeing goodness and thinking positively. Had it been easy to overcome jealousy and inability to stomach others’ merits, Satan’s end would probably not be so pitiful. Perhaps, realizing Adam’s relation with the Almighty Creator and the angels’ respect for him would bring Satan to his senses. However, that poor victim of jealousy fell headlong and is still falling. It is narrated in a parable that Satan once asked God Almighty, “You forgive so many people, should my punishment and suffering not be over?” God Almighty reminded him of the first test that he failed, “Go and prostrate yourself before the grave of Adam. Then I will forgive you.” However, Satan was totally seized by his jealousy and inability to stomach Adam’s merits once again that he continued his refusal and denial. Jealousy has such a compact potential for evil that Satan threw himself headfirst into disbelief.
From Jealousy to Fratricide
On the other hand, God Almighty relates the parable of Adam’s two sons in the chapter al-Maedah of the Qur’an (5:27–31), in order to show where jealously and inability to stomach others’ merits can destroy a person. Although the names of the two sons are not specified in the Qur’an and the Tradition of the noble Prophet, earlier scriptures refer to them as Cain and Abel. They were born into a family blessed with Divine revelations, which was also a nucleus for the final Prophet. One of these two sons, whose father was mentioned as “the pure servant of God,” was an unfortunate one who could not stomach the merits of his brother and turned so furious as to kill him in the end.
When we review history, we come across many examples of this kind. The lesson to extract from these is that jealousy caused many people to fall. Grudge and jealousy even caused some people to be antagonistic toward the Pride of Humanity, who would not hurt anybody in the slightest degree. At one instant, Abu Jahl confessed this truth with the following words, “All that he conveys is true. He does not lie; we have never witnessed that. However, his tribesmen (Banu Abdul Muttalib) already said, ‘We have the honorable duties of giving Zamzam water to pilgrims, keeping custody of the keys of the Ka’ba, and offering food to pilgrims.’ If they say now, ‘The Prophet has appeared from among us,’ I cannot stand that!”1 Until the day he met his end at the Battle of Badr, that unfortunate one spent all of his days in enmity towards the Messenger of God, and then drifted to eternal perdition in the vice of his jealous grudge. He could perhaps be granted Divine forgiveness if he had said even as late as a few minutes before his death, “Until this moment, I have always been trying to destroy what you built up. But now, I am asking for forgiveness,” and then accept faith. However, he was absorbed in a jealous grudge, arrogance and envy even during his death throes. Let us give it a thought; his inability to stomach others’ value was like an inauspicious iceberg not melting even in the significant atmosphere of the Messenger of God.
Not even a Ladder to Paradise
Some people might entirely object acts of benevolence for the sole reason that they did not personally take part in initiating, planning, and realizing these initiatives, no matter how significant, beneficial, and beautiful they could be. For example, in recent years, Language Olympiads have been held in Turkey with students from four corners of the world. The organization is realized by devoted teachers, selfless tutors, and philanthropic people of Anatolia; it is a fruit of the concerted efforts of so many self-sacrificing souls. This organization does not only stand for teaching language, but also for sharing significant values. The values of a deep-rooted spiritual heritage are presented for others to see, without missionary like intentions or imposing things on any of the contestants or audience members. Every language carries with it the culture and world of thought it is based on. People of Turkey did not achieve an organization of such success, even in their most prosperous periods. Now, at a time of economic crises, philanthropic souls of Anatolia face variations of possible difficulties, send help to different areas, and carry out a very important service by the grace of God. However, still you see that some people of the same land express their uneasiness by remarking that the concept is exaggerated. At another instance, a columnist makes an accusation and defines all those altruistic services as mere show. Although the educational activities are realized through so much suffering and troubles, some cannot find acceptance towards these and attempt to discredit them in many different ways. Some even take jealousy to the degree of wishing to destroy all these acts of goodness. Sometimes, this feeling causes them to make groundless accusations and complaints to the authorities in different countries, with an intention to eliminate the services. Even “jealousy” is too innocent a term for such a degree of loath and grudge. I think the word “envy” could petition to be excluded from a relevant glossary; such a destructive spirit can only stem from animosity toward faith. Those people do not show their true face and it would be too unmannerly for us to label them hypocrites. But their souls are seized by such malignant feelings that even if you offer them a ladder to Paradise, they will do everything to destroy that blessed ladder.
Stomaching the Inability to Stomach
In sum, we need to take into consideration that such negative attitudes are always present. Not only those hostile to faith, but even those who supposedly share the same feelings, thoughts and teachings with the volunteers, will present their jealousy and inability to stomach the achievements from time to time. The becoming response for us is to stomach these as an outcome of human nature and embrace everyone despite this factor. Ideal believers are described in the Qur’an (Al Imran 3:134) as ones who are ever-restraining their rage (even when provoked and able to retaliate), and pardoning people their offenses. Accordingly, you should swallow your anger, forgive people, and even if you meet some evil, you should leave this evil one sided by not responding in the same way. If a vehicle crashes into a stationary one, the damage will be halved. However, when two vehicles crash into one another with speed, both will be compressed into a heap of metal. In the same way, you can halve the damage by leaving vice on its own; you must condemn the jealousy and intolerance of the adversaries to melt the vices away.
On the other hand, for the sake of overcoming such problems, you must help others around you by showing them the ways to deepen their faith, emphasize the importance of sincerity (ikhlas) and brotherhood, and constantly rehabilitate them with circles of religious talks. Thus, you must struggle to help them realize annihilation (in the Sufi sense) of their carnal soul and arrogance, and then take wing in their spiritual life to the horizons of Baqa Billah (Subsistence with God).2 Our religious talks must be revising our relations with God, whether we stand where we should or not, and whether we are in line with the Qur’anic teachings in terms of our world of thoughts. We must be rekindled with “Talk of the Beloved,” to become revitalized and reinvigorated. Issues such as founding schools or universities in various countries are too simple in comparison to this notion. When matters are seen from this perspective, it is more possible to spot our shortcomings. Since we do not constantly burn to engage in the Talk of the Beloved, we don’t bring up the subject of God and His Messenger, peace and blessings be upon him, all the time, and we do not keep trying to orient others toward sound faith, we fail to seal up the mouth of the green-eyed monster that is unable to stomach others’ merits. Since we fail to do that, this monster is making Muslims talk in an unbecoming fashion and is pushing them to unbecoming behaviors.
1. Ibn Ishaq, As-Sirah, 4/191
2. “Baqa Billah” is covered as an entire chapter in the second volume of Gülen’s The Emerald Hills of the Heart: Key Concepts in the Practice of Sufism, New Jersey: Tughra Books, 2010.
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