Dear my niece,
At this moment, my sister, or your mother, is struggling to give birth to you in the hospital. Your father is there, too, supporting her with his prayers and words.
I am here in my bedroom, unable to do anything except offering my supplication to God that both you and your mother will be safe and sound. I intended to go to the hospital, but was advised not to. I also think I don’t need to be there: I won’t be of much help. Thus, I stayed at home, did the taraweeh prayer, and had an Islamic discussion with my housemates. We ended our halaqa with a prayer, and I believe everyone was asking God that you would come to this world safe and sound.
O my niece who has not yet been named! I look forward to meeting you. I look forward to watching you enjoying the warmth of the sunlight, the chilliness of the breezes, and the wetness of a water droplet. I look forward to showing you my favorite things in the world – sunflowers, the blue sky, ice-cream, hot chocolate, books and so on. I look forward to watching you exploring this beautiful world, getting to know many Names/Attributes of God.
O my niece who has not yet been named! I can’t wait to tell you that your parents really love you and are willing to do anything for you. One day I will share with you your mum’s messages, which are filled with worry and anxiety about your health. I will tell you how she prays for you every night, how she follows every kind of diet recommended by the doctors to ensure that you will be born healthy and strong, and how she keeps talking about you when she’s with me. I want you to know that you are a blessed child, that you are the hope of your parents, and that you always have a home to return to.
O my niece who has not yet been named! I can’t wait to tell you that life is not always easy. There will be obstacles, difficulties and hardships; some people will oppose and hurt you; and for certain you will have to experience some sort of losses. But don’t be discouraged! Remember that you are a visitor in this guest house, Whose true owner is none but God. Thus, rely on Him, seek help from Him, and say “He is the Lord of the World, and to Him everything returns”. By doing so, inshaAllah you will stay strong, determined, sincere and patient to overcome all the challenges of your life.
O my niece who has not yet been named! Remember that when you face challenges, pray to God and trust Him. When you are happy, pray to God and thank Him. When you despair, pray to God and ask for His Clemency.
O my niece who has not yet been named! I know that your parents must have a lot of expectations for you. But I also believe what they want most is that you will grow up as a devoted servant of God – a grateful, compassionate and courageous human being. We cannot decide your fate and your journey of faith, but we will try to give you all the knowledge that we have.
But for now, my niece, please come to this world, safe and sound.
Today my housemate and I read “The Four Significant Truths” from the Epitome of Light, The Risale-i Nur Collection, written by Said Nursi.
So far we have only covered the two first truths. Here are some of the things I learn from the reading and discussion.
1. The Ego can be a means to understand Allah.
When we talk about the human ego, we usually think of it as a hindrance to belief. The ego has been associated with heedlessness and arrogance, which can cause a person to deny the existence of God. In the first truth, Said Nursi also re-warns of this fatal nature of the ego, which, according to him, misleads people to suppose that they own themselves. To challenge that arrogant claim, Said Nursi powerfully proves that the ego and the bodies neither form themselves nor are the results of chances and randomness.
It is not adverse for me to grasp this point, as I have always been aware that I have little control over the formation and operation of my body. For example, I can’t regulate how my heart beats, how my blood flows, how the particles in my body move. In other words, all the so-called involuntary movements in my body demonstrate that I do not own my body, but it is entrusted to me by God, a gift that I need to look after and treasure.
However, I think what I find most interesting about the first truth is Nursi’s explanation of the function of the ego:
‘the Almighty has given [man] ego so that, taking as a measure or means of comparison, he might comprehend the attributes of Divinity’ (Nursi 1999, 99).
Here, Nursi suggests that the ego is also actually a ‘gift’ from God to human beings. It is one of the keys for us to understand our Creator; it is a ‘measure’ that through which we can have a glimpse of our Creator’s attributes.
The ego is all about ownership and independence. When we say things like “This is my house”; “I draw this painting”, “this is my body”, we are manifesting the essence of the ego. When two countries are fighting over the territory of a land, we are also manifesting the attribute of the ego. And when we are hurt by the fact that something we do or make is not acknowledge or recognised, we are also manifesting the nature of the ego. In short, the desire for ownership and independence is there because God gives us the ego.
But why?The answer lies in the word ‘a measure’ in the above quote. God gives us a sense of ownership and independence so that we can comprehend God’s Names as The Absolute Ruler, The Absolute Owner, The Absolute Independent Lord of the worlds.
How can we understand what it means to be the Absolute Ruler if we do not even know what it is like to own, control and govern something?
How can we understand kingship if we do not desire to be the kings? How can understand the Most Powerful, the Most Independent if we don’t even know what it is like to have power and to be independent?
Just as God creates the world to reflect His attributes such as Mercy and Wisdom, He gives human beings the faculty of ‘ego’ to taste the attribute of Lordship and understand the humiliation a King faces when His works are not acknowledged and appraised. Think about if somebody steals your painting and claims it’s hers/his, how would you feel? Angry and disappointed? Then you would have a sense of how disappointed the Lord of the Worlds must have felt when his glorious works were denied and treated without appreciation.
The ego therefore is not an obstacle. It is actually a great tool to comprehend the attributes of God. It only becomes dangerous when we, believing that we are powerful and independent, oppose God’s commandments and His decree.
2. To silence the nafs, remember the transience of life.
In the second truth, Said Nursi addresses the ‘evil commanding soul’ (the nafs). He emphasises the fact that ‘our world is unsound and subject to decay’ (p.101), whist our bodies are not ever-lasting, because they are composed of ‘transitory’ elements themselves. Thus, in a sense, our life can be seen as being ‘between two graves’ (p.101) – the graves of our ancestors, and the graves of our ‘future self’.
Reading that, I do feel that my nafs has been slapped. The desire for worldly recognition, and the worries about livelihood, permanent residency and marriage suddenly dissipate, and instead I see the reality: I have endless needs, but my doom’s day (death) is closer than ever. I don’t have time to be distracted and to wait for another day.
The nafs likes immediate pleasures and passion. It loathes patience, disciplines and submission to God. To distract us, the nafs often persuades us that we have a lot of time.
Thus, to silence the nafs, we must prove that this is not the case. And that’s when the unexpected and creeping nature of death is a great reminder. It reminds us that our hearts love eternal pleasures that this transient and decaying world cannot satisfy, so it’s better to invest in the eternal happiness of the Hereafter.