If you want to understand this world, and man’s spirit within the world, and the nature and value of religion for man, and how the world is a prison if there is no True Religion, and that without religion man becomes the most miserable of creatures, and that it is “O God!” and, “There is no god but God” that solve this world’s talisman and deliver the human spirit from darkness, then listen to and consider this comparison:
Long ago, two brothers set off on a long journey. They continued on their way until the road forked. At the fork, they saw a serious-looking man and asked him: “Which road is good?” He told them: “On the road to the right one is compelled to comply with the law and order, but within that hardship is security and happiness. However, on the left-hand road there is freedom and no restraint, but within its freedom lie danger and wretchedness. Now, the choice is yours!”
After listening to this, saying, “I place my trust in God,” the brother with a good character took the right road and conformed to the order and regulations. The other brother, who was immoral and a layabout, chose the road to the left just for the lack of restrictions. With our imaginations, we shall follow this man in his situation, which was apparently easy but in reality burdensome.
Thus, this man went uphill and down dale until he found himself in a desolate wilderness. He suddenly heard a terrifying sound and saw that a great lion had come out of the forest and was about to attack him. He fled. He came across a waterless well sixty yards deep, and in his fear jumped into it. He fell halfway down it where his hands met a tree. He clung to it. The tree, which was growing out of the walls of the well, had two roots.
Two rats, one white and one black, were attacking and gnawing through them. He looked up and saw that the lion was waiting at the top of the well like a sentry. He looked down and saw a ghastly dragon. It raised its head and drew it close to his foot thirty yards above. Its mouth was as big as the mouth of the well. Then he looked at the well’s walls and saw that stinging, poisonous vermin had gathered around him. He looked up at the mouth of the well and saw a fig tree. But it was not an ordinary tree; it bore the fruit of many different trees, from walnuts to pomegranates.
Thus, due to his lack of thought and foolishness, the man did not understand that this was not just some ordinary matter, these things were not here by chance, and that there were mysterious secrets concealed in these strange beings. And he did not grasp that there was someone very powerful directing them. Now, although his heart, spirit, and mind were secretly weeping and wailing at this grievous situation, his evil-commanding soul pretended that it was nothing; it closed its ears to the weeping of his heart and spirit, and deceiving itself, started to eat the tree’s fruit as though it was in a garden. But some of the fruit was poisonous and harmful. Almighty God says in a Divine Hadith: “I am according to how my servants think of Me.”
Thus, through his foolishness and lack of understanding, this unhappy man thought what he saw to be ordinary and the actual truth. So that is the way he was treated, and is treated, and will be treated. He neither dies so that he is saved from it nor does he live – he is in such torment. Now we shall leave this ill-omened man in his torment and return, so that we may consider the situation of the other brother.
This fortunate and intelligent person went on his way, but he suffered no distress like his brother. For, due to his fine morals, he thought of good things and imagined good things. Everything was friendly and familiar to him. And he did not suffer any difficulty and hardship like his brother, for he knew the order and followed it. He found it easy. He went on his way freely and in peace and security. Then he came across a garden in which were both lovely flowers and fruits, and since it was not looked after, rotting and filthy things.
His brother had also entered such a garden, but he had noticed and occupied himself with the filthy things and they had turned his stomach, so he had left it and moved on without being able to rest himself. But this man acted according to the rule, ‘look on the good side of everything,’ and had paid no attention to the rotting things. He had benefited a lot from the good things, and taking a good rest, he had left and gone on his way.
Later, also like the first brother, he had entered a vast desert and had suddenly heard the roar of a lion that was attacking him. He was frightened, but not as much as his brother. For, because of his good thoughts and positive attitude, he thought to himself: “This desert has a ruler, and it is possible that this lion is a servant under the ruler’s command,” and found consolation. But he still fled until he came across an empty well sixty yards deep. He threw himself into it. Like his brother, his hand clasped a tree halfway down and he remained suspended in the air. He looked and saw two animals gnawing through the tree’s two roots. He looked up and saw the lion, and looked down and saw the dragon. Just like his brother he was seeing a most strange situation. He was terrified like him, but his terror was a thousand times less than his brother’s. For his good morals had given him good thoughts, and good thoughts show the good side of everything. So, because of this, he thought as follows:
“These strange happenings are connected to someone. Also, it seems that they are acting in accordance with a command. In which case, these matters contain a talisman. Yes, everything is happening at the command of a hidden ruler. Therefore, I am not alone; the hidden ruler is watching me, he is testing me, he is impelling me somewhere for some purpose, and inviting me there. A curiosity arising from this pleasant fear and these agreeable thoughts prompt me to say: I wonder who it is that is testing me, wants to make himself known, and is impelling me for some purpose on this strange road.”
Then, love for the owner of the talisman arose out of the desire to know him, and from that love arose the desire to solve the talisman. And from that desire arose the will to acquire good qualities which would please and gratify the talisman’s owner. Then he looked at the tree and saw it was a fig tree, but it was bearing the fruits of thousands of trees. So then all his fear left him, for he understood that for certain the fig tree was a list, an index, an exhibition. The hidden ruler must have attached samples of the fruits in the garden to the tree through a miracle and with a talisman and must have adorned the tree in a way that would point to each of the foods he had prepared for his guests. For there is no other way a single tree could produce the fruits of thousands of different trees. Then he began to entreat that he would be inspired with the key to the talisman. He called out:
“O ruler of this place! I have happened upon you and I take refuge with you. I am your servant and I want to please you. I am searching for you.”
After he had made this supplication, the walls of the well suddenly parted, and a door opened onto a wonderful, pleasant, quiet garden. Indeed, the dragon’s mouth was transformed into the door, and both it and the lion took on the forms of two servants; they invited him to enter. The lion even became a docile horse for him.
O, my lazy soul! And O my imaginary friend! Come! Let us compare the position of these two brothers so that we can see how good comes of good and evil comes of evil. Let us find out.
Look, the unhappy traveler on the left road is all the time trembling with fear waiting to enter the dragon’s mouth, while the fortunate one is invited into a blooming, splendid garden full of fruit. And the unfortunate one’s heart is being pounded by an awful terror and grievous fear, while the fortunate one is gazing at and observing strange things as a delightful lesson, with a pleasant fear and loving knowledge. Also, the miserable one is suffering torments in desolation, despair, and loneliness, while the fortunate one is enjoying himself, full of hope, longing, and a sense of belonging.
Furthermore, the unfortunate one sees himself as a prisoner subject to the attacks of wild beasts, while the fortunate one is an honored guest who is on friendly terms and enjoying himself with the strange servants of his generous host. Also, the unhappy one is hastening his torments by indulging in fruits that are apparently delicious but in fact poisonous. For the fruits are samples; there is permission to taste them so as to seek the originals and become customers for them, but there is no permission to devour them like an animal. But the fortunate one tastes them and understands the matter; he postpones eating them and takes pleasure in waiting. Moreover, the unfortunate one is wronging himself. Through his lack of discernment, he is making truth and a situation that are as clear and bright as daylight into a dark and oppressive fear, into a hellish delusion. He does not deserve pity, nor does he have the right to complain to anyone.
For example, if a person at a pleasant banquet in a beautiful garden in summer among his friends makes himself drunk through filthy intoxicants, then imagines himself hungry and naked in the middle of winter among wild animals and starts shouting out and crying, he does not deserve to be pitied; he is wronging himself, and he is insulting his friends by imagining them to be wild beasts. Thus, the unfortunate brother is like this. But the fortunate one sees the truth. And the truth is good. Through perceiving the beauty of the truth, the fortunate brother is being respectful towards the truth’s owner. So he deserves his mercy.
Thus, the meaning of the Qur’anic decree: “Know that evil is from yourself, and good is from God”1 becomes clear. If you make a comparison of other differences, in the same way, you will understand that the evil-commanding soul of the first brother has prepared a sort of hell for him, while the good intention, goodwill, good character, and good thoughts of the other have allowed him to receive abundant bounty, experience true happiness and prosperity, and display shining virtue.
O my soul! And O you who is listening to this story together with my soul! If you do not want to be the unfortunate brother and want to be the fortunate one, listen to the Qur’an, obey its decrees, adhere to them, and act according to them.
If you have understood the truths in this comparison, you will be able to make them correspond to the truths of religion, the world, man, and belief in God. I shall say the important ones, then you deduce the finer points yourself.
So, look! Of the two brothers, one is a believing spirit and a righteous heart. The other is an unbelieving spirit and a depraved heart. Of the two roads, the one to the right is the way of the Qur’an and belief in God, while the left one is the road of rebellion and denial. The garden on the road is man’s fleeting life in human society and civilization, where good and evil, and things good and bad and clean and dirty are found side by side.
The sensible person is he who acts according to the rule: ‘Take what is pleasant and clear, and leave what is distressing and turbid,’ and goes on his way with the tranquillity of heart. As for the desert, it is the earth and this world. And the lion is death and the appointed hour. The well is man’s body and the time of his life, while its sixty-yard depth points to the normal lifespan of sixty years. And the tree is the period of life and the substance of life. The two animals, one white and one black, are night and day. The dragon is the road to the Intermediate Realm and pavilion of the hereafter, whose mouth is the grave. But for the believer, that mouth is a door opening from a prison onto a garden. As for the poisonous vermin, they are the calamities of this world.
But for the believer, they are like gentle Divine warnings and favors of the Most Merciful One to prevent him slipping off into the sleep of heedlessness. The fruits on the tree are the bounties of this world which the Absolutely Generous One has made in the form of a list of the bounties of the hereafter, and both as examples of them, and warnings, and samples inviting customers to the fruits of Paradise.
And the tree producing numerous different fruits despite being a single tree indicates the seal of the Eternally Besought One’s power, the stamp of Divine dominicality, and the signet of the sovereignty of the Godhead. For ‘to make everything from one thing,’ that is, to make all plants and fruits from the earth, and create all animals from a fluid, and to create all the limbs and organs of animals from simple food, together with ‘making everything one thing,’ that is, arts like weaving a simple skin and making flesh particular to each animal from the great variety of foods that animals eat, is an inimitable stamp and seal peculiar to the Ruler of Pre-Eternity and Post-Eternity, Who is the Single, Eternally-Besought One. For sure, to make one thing everything, and everything one thing is a sign, a mark, peculiar to the Creator of all things, the One Powerful over all things.
As for the talisman, it is the mystery of the purpose of creation that is solved through the mystery of belief. And the key is “There is no god but God,” and, “God, there is no god but He, the Ever-Living, the Self-Subsistent.” The dragon’s mouth being transformed into the door into the garden is a sign that, although for the people of misguidance and rebellion the grave is a door opening, in desolation and oblivion, onto a grave distressing as a dungeon and narrow as a dragon’s stomach, for the people of the Qur’an and belief, it is a door which opens from the prison of this world onto the fields of immortality, from the arena of examination onto the gardens of Paradise, and from the hardships of life onto the mercy of the All-Merciful One. The savage lion turning into a friendly servant and a docile mount is a sign that, although for the people of misguidance, death is a bitter, eternal parting from all their loved ones, and the expulsion from the deceptive paradise of this world and the entry in desolation and loneliness into the dungeon of the grave, for the people of guidance and the Qur’an it is the means of joining all their old friends and beloved ones who have already departed for the next world, and the means of entering their true homeland and abode of everlasting happiness. It is an invitation to the meadows of Paradise from the prison of this world, and a time to receive the wage bestowed out of the generosity of the Most Merciful and Compassionate One for services rendered to Him, and a discharge from the hardship of the duties of life, and a rest from the drill and instruction of worship and examination.
In Short: Whoever makes this fleeting life his purpose and aim is in fact in Hell even if apparently in Paradise. And whoever has turned in all seriousness towards eternal life receives the happiness of both worlds. However difficult and distressing this world is for him since he sees it as the waiting room for Paradise, he endures it and offers thanks in patience.
O, God! Appoint us among the people of happiness, safety, the Qur’an, and belief. Amen. O, God! Grant peace and blessings to our Master Muhammad, and to his Family and Companions, to the number of all the letters of the Qur’an formed in all its words, represented with the permission of the Most Merciful One in the mirrors of the airwaves on the recital of each of those words by all the Qur’an’s reciters from its first revelation to the end of time, and have mercy on us and on our parents, and have mercy on all believing men and women to the number of those words, through Your mercy, O Most Merciful of the Merciful. Amen. And all praise be to God, the Sustainer of All the Worlds.