Disbelief makes people miserable, and it costs them their success and happiness in this life and the next.
“The Eighth Word” from the Risale-i Nur Corpus
بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم * ألله لا إله إلا هو الحيّ القيّوم * إنّ الدّين عند الله الإسلام *
In the Name of Allah, the Merciful, the Compassionate * Allah: There is none worthy of worship but Him, the Living, the Self-subsisting Sustainer1 * The true religion before Allah is Islam.2 *
If you wish to understand the true nature of this world and the human spirit present within it, the essence of religion and its great value for human beings, and that if not for the true religion, this worldly life would be a prison-cell…
If you wish to understand how the atheist who denies faith is the most unfortunate creature in creation, and that, يا اللّه ‘Oh Allah! ‘, and لا إله إلا اللّه ‘There is none worthy of worship but Allah’ uncover and solve the deep mystery of this universe, and save the human spirit from the darknesses3 – if you wish to understand all this, direct your attention to this short allegory. Listen!
Two brothers set out on a trip, one of them virtuous, the other corrupt – an allegory
Long ago, two brothers set off together, on a long journey. They advanced little by little, until they reached a fork in the road, where a man of very dignified bearing was standing.
‘Which of the roads is the better?’ they asked him.
‘Along the road to the right, commitment to upholding law and order is compulsory – but within that burden lies security and joy. On the road to the left is freedom and liberty. Yet in that freedom lies danger and misery. Now, it is for you to choose one, or the other!’ he said to them.
After they had heard this, the brother of good character took the road to the right, saying, توكّلت على اللّه ‘I trust in Allah’. He was content to adhere to law and order.
The impulsive brother of bad character had already chosen the road to the left, merely for the sake of the liberty to do as he pleased. Let us imagine how things will proceed for this man, walking, as he is, outwardly free of any burden, yet whose real situation is terribly heavy. On he went, travelling now across a valley, now ranging over a hill, until he entered an empty desert.
The corrupt brother jumps into a well
He suddenly heard a terrifying sound, and as he looked up he saw a ferocious lion springing out of the bush to attack him. The man, for his part, took to his heels – until he ran into a dry well, sixty feet deep. Out of sheer fright, he threw himself into it there and then. As he fell, his hands coincided with a tree in the middle of the well, and he grabbed onto it. This tree, growing out of the walls of the well, had two roots. Two mice haunted the roots, one black and one white, and they were doing their utmost to gnaw their way through them. The man looked up, and saw the lion waiting at the top of the well like a guard. He looked down and saw that a horrifying snake had raised its head thirty feet up, approaching his feet, with its mouth open as wide as the opening of the well. He looked at the wall of the well and saw that a number of harmful, stinging insects surrounded him. He then looked up to the top of the tree, and saw that it was a fig tree, but that – extraordinarily – it carried the fruits of many different trees, from walnuts to pomegranate.
The corrupt brother fails to recognise the metaphysical significance of what has befallen him
Due to his negative outlook and his foolishness, this man was not able to recognise that this was not an ordinary situation, and that it was quite impossible that all of these things should have happen by coincidence. He failed, then, to see the strange secrets inhering in these bizarre events. He failed moreover to recognise the existence of a very great Agent acting through these events.
Now, despite the crying and wailing of the heart, soul, and mind of this man at the extremely painful situation he found himself in, his evil-commanding self4 prompted him, in feigned ignorance, to start to eat the fruit of that tree, tricking him into thinking that he was simply in a garden as if nothing amiss was transpiring – blocking his ears from the cries of his heart and soul – when in fact some of those fruits were poisonous, and harmful.
In a Divine Tradition,5 Allah the Exalted says: أنا عند ظن عبدي بي ‘I am as My slave believes me to be’,6 meaning, ‘I treat my slave according to what he perceives me to be’.
In this way this unfortunate man imagined, due to his negative outlook and lack of intelligence, that what he was seeing was perfectly ordinary and that they were just as they appeared to be.
In the same way, he had always been treated according to his assumption, just as he was now being treated, and would continue to be treated. He neither died, thereby able to escape the situation he was in, nor really lived. In this way does he toss and turn in torment.
The journey of the virtuous brother
Let us now leave this ill-omened fellow to be tormented, and return to consider the other brother’s situation.
This blessed, sagacious man went on, yet he did not suffer as his brother had – for he had beautiful character, and he therefore spent his time contemplating beautiful things. He lived in beautiful hopes and dreams. He found comfort within his own self. Furthermore, he did not suffer from the exhaustion and hardship that his brother faced. For he knew order, accepted it, conformed to it – and therefore found that his life was made easy for him.
The virtuous brother enters a garden of good and evil but sees only good
He walked freely in safety and security, until he came into a garden. Therein were many flowers and fruits, beautiful and sweet. There were, however, also things there that were impure and ugly as a result of having not been taken care of. His brother had previously walked into a garden like this, but had occupied himself with gawping at the impure and ugly things, which had turned his stomach. As a result he had had to get up and leave without being able to rest even for a moment.
This man, however, following the principle that one should ‘always look on the bright side’, did not look at all at the impure, ugly things. On the other hand, from the good things, he benefited beautifully. Having rested himself fully, he left the garden and went on his way.
The virtuous brother falls into the well
He continued on until he walked – just as his brother had done – into a great desert. Suddenly, he heard the roaring of a lion – a lion about to attack him. He did become afraid, but not nearly as terrified as his brother had been, for he found solace in his positive outlook, and in the beauty of his thinking, ‘this desert has a ruler, and it is quite possible that this lion is a servant under the command of that ruler’. Still, he ran away until he ran into a dry well, sixty feet deep, with no water in it. He threw himself in, and like his brother, was able to catch onto the tree in the middle of the well. There he was, hanging in the air! All of a sudden he saw two animals cutting through the two roots of the tree. He looked up, and saw a lion, and he looked down, and saw a gigantic snake. He saw this very strange situation, just as his brother had. He too was startled, as his brother had been, except that his own alarm was a thousand times lighter than his brother’s – for his beautiful character had inspired him beautiful thinking, and beautiful thinking had shown him the bright side of all things.
For this reason, he now thought: ‘It seems that these strange things are connected to one another. They are acting according to a single command, and must therefore contain a hidden mystery.’
‘Yes’, he said to himself, ‘these things are merely occurring according to the command of a hidden ruler. In which case I am not alone! This hidden ruler looks at me, watches me and tests me. He invites and directs me to a particular destination, for a particular purpose’.
A type of curiosity came out of this sweet fear, and beautiful thinking. ‘I wonder who it is, who in this strange and marvellous way is testing me, and wants to introduce Himself to me, indeed clearly directing me to a particular purpose?’ Through this curiosity as to the identity of the owner of the deep mystery, love of him suddenly arose in his heart.
Out of that love grew a desire to uncover the deep mystery. That desire prompted the taking on of a beautiful spiritual state, in order that the owner of the deep mystery might be pleased, and his admiration won.
He looked up to the top of the tree and saw that it was a fig tree. Yet at its top, it carried the fruits of many thousands of trees. At this point his fear departed, disappearing completely. For he had arrived at a certainty that this fig tree must indeed be a type of list, an index, an exhibition. That hidden ruler, by way of a miracle and a deep mystery, must have pinned the exemplars of all of the fruits in his orchards and gardens upon the tree.
It appeared to him that he must have decorated the tree in the form of an indication of the foods that he had prepared for his guests – for otherwise a single tree does not bear the fruit of thousands of different types of trees.
The virtuous brother cries out to Allah
He then started to pray, until he was inspired with the key to the deep mystery, and he cried out, saying, ‘Oh ruler of these lands! I have knocked on your door, I have taken refuge in you, and truly I am your servant. All I want is that you be pleased with me; I am seeking after you!’
After he had finished this prayer, the wall of the well suddenly split open, and a door opened, onto a magnificent, pure and beautiful garden. Indeed, it was the mouth of the snake that had transformed into this door; the lion and the snake took on the forms of two servants, inviting him to enter. The lion even took on the form of a horse, obedient to his will.
The spiritual meanings of the differing states of the two brothers
O my lazy lower self, and O my imaginary friend! The both of you, come, so that we might compare the [spiritual] states of these two brothers, in order that we might learn and see for ourselves how good comes of good and evil of evil.
Observe how the unfortunate traveller down the path to the left is at every moment tremblingly expecting to enter the mouth of the snake. The fortunate friend, on the other hand, is invited to a beautiful, bright garden full of fruits. Look at how the unfortunate man’s heart is torn apart by a painful terror and a great fright, whilst the happy man witnesses and reflects upon strange and beautiful things, all of which are carrying a delightful lesson, a sweet fear, and a beloved knowledge.
Look moreover at how that unfortunate man is being tortured in loneliness, desperation and solitude, whilst our fortunate friend is taking pleasure in intimacy, hope and longing.
Look further at how the unfortunate man sees himself as a prisoner, exposed to the attacks of brutal animals, whereas the fortunate man is a dear guest, warmly received, enjoying the company of the strange and wonderful servants of the Generous Host.
Look moreover at how the unfortunate man hastens his torment by eating apparently delicious fruits that are in fact poisonous. For those fruits are after all nothing more than exemplars that one is allowed to taste – but only in order that one would then seek out their originals and their source, and become their customer. On the other hand, simply gobbling them up like an animal is not permitted. The fortunate man tastes, discerns the reality of the situation, delays eating them – and in fact takes pleasure in waiting.
The spiritual blindness of the corrupt brother caused him to create a delusional picture of reality
Look at how the unfortunate man wronged himself. As a result of his lack of insight, he managed to turn the truth itself, as stunningly obvious as daylight, as well as that radiant circumstance, into a totally dark delusion and a pitch-black hell for himself. He does not deserve pity, nor has he the right to complain to anyone.
For example: If a man was to be unsatisfied by the pleasure of kind hospitality in a beautiful garden amongst his loved ones in summer, and instead intoxicated himself with filthy liquors, imagined himself naked and hungry in mid-winter amongst brutal animals, and then cried out and wept, he would not be worthy of pity. He alone has wronged himself, thinking his loved ones vicious animals, and disdaining them. This indeed is the example of the unfortunate man.
The spiritual insight of the virtuous brother allows him to see the inherent beauty of the truth
The fortunate one on the other hand sees the truth – and after all, the truth is beautiful. Through his discerning the beauty of truth, he respects the perfection of the Owner of Truth. He therefore deserves his mercy. Out of all this the secret of the Qur’anic principle becomes apparent know that evil is from your own self, and good is from Allah.7
If you were to balance all of the other differences like these, you would realise that the evil-commanding self of the first man had prepared nothing less than a spiritual hell for him, whereas the beautiful intention and positive outlook of the other man, as well as the beauty of his character traits and thought, had made him receive immense good treatment and happiness, along with luminous virtue, and spiritual emanation.
Oh my own lower self, and oh you who listens with my lower self to this allegory! If you wish not to be that unfortunate brother, wanting instead to be he who was fortunate, then hearken to the Qur’an, and abide by its rulings. Adhere to it, and act according to its decrees.
The meaning of the allegory
If you have understood the truths contained within this allegory, then it is within your reach to understand its correspondence with the reality of religion, this world, human beings, and faith. I will now mention the most important ones and I will leave the extraction of the little ones to you:
Let us consider the two brothers – one of them is a believer’s spirit and a righteous8 man’s heart. The other is a disbeliever’s spirit, and an open sinner’s heart. Of the two roads, that to the right is the path of Qur’an and faith, whilst that to the left is that of disobedience and disbelief.
The garden along that way is the transient societal life of human society and civilisation. Therein, both the good and evil, the beautiful and ugly, and the pure and the dirty of things exist together. The intelligent man, then, is the one who lives by the principle that one should خذ ما صفا دع ما كدر ‘take that which is pure, and leave that which is polluted’, and then goes on, with a peaceful heart.
The desert is this earth, this world. The lion is death, indeed, the very moment of death. The well is man’s body, as well as his lifespan. That depth of sixty feet is a symbolic indication of the sixty years that are the average lifespan of a human being. The tree is the period of one’s life, and the substance of life. The two black and white animals are the night, and the day. The snake, the mouth of which is the grave, is the road of the Isthmus and the hallway to the Hereafter – for the believer, on the other hand, that mouth is a gate that opens from the prison onto a garden.
The harmful insects are the misfortunes of this world – yet for the believer, they are sweet Divine forewarnings, and Merciful instances of solicitude that ensure that he does not dive into the sleep of heedlessness.
As for the fruits on the tree, they are the blessings of the life of this world, which the Absolutely Generous has made into the form of a list and a reminder, and made resemble the blessings of the Hereafter, putting them into the form of samples, and calling customers to the fruits of Paradise.9
Unity in multiplicity and multiplicity in unity are signs of the Creator
The tree’s producing a huge variety of fruits – despite its having been a single tree – is a symbolic indication of the stamp of the Independent and Eternally Besought power, of the seal of Divine lordship, and of the insignia of the kingdom of Divinity. For ‘the creation of all things from a single thing’ – that is, His creation of all plants and fruits from the same earth, and creation of all animate beings from the same water, His creation of all animal organs from a single simple food, and along with all this, His ‘making every thing one thing’. That is, His creation of a particular flesh and weaving of a simple skin for the living according to the different species of food they eat is; that is, they are, like any of these marvellous crafts, the unique stamp, special seal and inimitable insignia of the King of beginningless and endless eternity, the Singular, the Independent and Eternally Besought. Yes, the making of a single thing all things, and the making of all things a single thing, is a token and sign special to the Creator of all things, and unique to the Almighty.
That deep mystery is the secret of the wisdom underlying creation, which is resolved through the secret of faith.
That key is:
يَا اَللهُ Oh Allah! لاَ إِلٰهَ إِلاَّ اللهُ There is none worthy of worship but Allah.
اللهُ لاَ إِلٰهَ إِلاَّ هُوَ الحَيُّ القَيُّومُ
Allah: There is no god but Him, the Living, the Self-subsisting Sustainer.
The transformation of the mouth of the snake into the gate to the garden points to the fact that the grave, although it is indeed meant for the people of misguidance and tyranny, is assuredly suffocating and irritating, like a dungeon of loneliness and forgetfulness, and a gate opening into a hole as tight as the stomach of a snake. For the people of the Qur’an and faith, on the other hand, it is a door opening from the prison of this world onto the garden of everlastingness, and from this sphere of examination onto the gardens of Paradise, and from the hardships of life into the mercy of the Merciful.
The vicious lion’s transformation into a cordial servant, as well as its transformation into a docile horse, points to certain truths about death. Although it is, for the people of misguidance, an eternal, painful separation from all of their loved ones, an exile from their false worldly heaven, and their entering into captivity within the dungeon of the grave, lonely and cut off; it is yet for the people of guidance and Qur’an a means of reaching their friends and loved ones, who have already departed to the other world. It is a vehicle for their entrance to their true homeland, and the station of their eternal happiness. It is an invitation to leave the prison of the world for the gardens of Paradise. It is awaiting the Merciful and Compassionate’s generosity in rewarding them for their service. It is, finally, being discharged from the burden of the vocation of this life, and an ending to the training and instruction of slavehood and examination.
To conclude – whoever makes this transient life his fundamental goal is necessarily in a spiritual hell, though he be in an apparent heaven. Whoever sincerely aims for eternal life will gain the happiness of both this life and the Hereafter. No matter how transient and difficult his life in this world is, because he sees that his life in the world is merely a waiting room of Paradise, he accepts it and endures it; and he thanks Allah in patience.
اللَّهُمَّ اجْعَلْنَا مِنْ أَهْلِ السَّعَادَةِ وَالسَّلاَمَةِ وَالقُرْآنِ وَالإِيمَانِ، آمين
اللَّهُمَّ صَلِّ وَسَلِّمْ عَلَى سَيِّدِنَا مُحَمَّدٍ وَعَلَى آلِهِ وَصَحْبِهِ بِعَدَدِ جَمِيعِ الحُرُوفِ المُتَشَكِّلَةِ فِي جَمِيعِ الكَلِمَاتِ المُتَمَثِّلَةِ بِإِذْنِ الرَّحْمَنِ فِي مَرَايَا تَمَوُّجَاتِ الهَوَاءِ عِنْدَ قِرَاءَةِ كُلِّ كَلِمَةٍ مِنْ القُرْآنِ مِنْ كُلِّ قَارِئٍ مِنْ أَوَّلِ النُّزُولِ إِلىَ آخِرِ الزَّمَانِ
وَارْحَمْنَا وَوَالِدينَا وَارْحَمِ المُؤْمِنِينَ وَالمُؤْمِنَاتِ بِعَدَدِهَا
بِرَحْمَتِكَ يَا أَرْحَمَ الرَّاحِمِينَ آمِين. وَالْحَمْدُ لِلهِ رَبِّ العَالَمِينَ
Oh Allah, make us from amongst the people of ultimate happiness and safety, and Qur’an and faith, Amin.
Oh Allah, send blessings and peace upon our Master Muhammad and his companions, by the number of all of the letters forming the words that are, by the permission of the Merciful, represented in the mirrors of the airwaves every time every word of the Qur’an is being read, by every reader, from the time of its first revelation to the end of time.
Have mercy on us, and on our parents, and all the believers, both men and women, by the number of these salutations.
Through your mercy, O Most Merciful of those who are merciful! Amin – Praise be to the Lord of the worlds.
1- Qur’an Aal-‘Imran 3/2
2- Qur’an Aal-‘Imran 3/19
3- ظلمات (dhulumāt) Darknesses: The plural usage reflects the Qur’anic ‘dhulumat’. Darkness, a symptom of fragmentary multiplicity, is never used in the singular in the Qur’an, whereas light, نور, nur, by nature pure, unitary and of Allah, is always in the singular.
4- Literally al-nafs al-ammārah bis-su النفس الأمارة بالسوء – the ‘self that commands to evil. See note 2.
5- حديث قدسي (hadith qudsi) – that is, a tradition related by the Prophet, upon whom be blessings and peace, that relates the exact words of Allah – although it is outside of the Qur’anic corpus, and included in normal collections of hadith.
6- Sahih al-Bukhari ‘The Book of the Divine Unity’ Chapter 15, No. 34
7- ما أصابك من حسنة فمن الله و ما أصابك من سيئة فمن نفسك That of good that has befallen you is from Allah; and what has befallen you of evil is from your own self
8- صالح (sālih) Righteous – a believer who purifies himself from all corruption by adhering to the Sacred Law.
9- See Qur’an al-Baqara 2/25 ‘Give the good news to those who believe and do righteous actions that they will have gardens beneath which flow rivers. When they are given fruit there as provision, they will say ‘this is what we were given before’ – but they had only been given a semblance of it …’