Does a person forget himself?
It’s kind of strange to forget yourself, isn’t it? Especially nowadays.
In a time when individuality and egocentrism are at the forefront, how can someone who cares about himself, takes selfies and always tries to be in the spotlight, forget himself? Does someone who is subjected to promptings such as ‘you are important, you are special, you are unique, you are very valuable’, forget himself? Is it possible for someone who realizes himself, lives his life to the fullest, freely chases his dreams to forget himself? In fact, don’t the people of today constantly invest in themselves? Aren’t we always making future plans? Aren’t we working day and night in an effort to prepare a better life and a better future for ourselves and our children? Aren’t we sweating for the career we want to achieve? And yet, how can one forget himself? Isn’t it so strange to put yourself at the center of life and forget yourself while constantly thinking about yourself?
Let’s change these questions and ask them like this. Does one forget Allah while putting himself in the center of life and constantly thinking about himself? I guess many of us answer this question as “Yes, unfortunately we forget!” As a matter of fact, there is not much difference between these two questions that seem different from each other. So the question “Does one forget himself?” has almost the same meaning as the question “Does one forget Allah?” Because whoever forgets Allah also forgets himself. In fact, forgetting yourself is a result of forgetting Allah. The Quranic verse “And do not be like those who forgot Allah, so He made them forget themselves.” warns us very strikingly. (59:19)
What is a Human?
To forget about yourself means, in the most general sense, forgetting that you are “human”, and more precisely, forgetting “the meaning of being human”. The concept of “human” is the key point to be emphasized. What we mean by the word ‘human’ is not its biological existence; it is its being the place of manifestation of all the Names and attributes of Allah Almighty with soul, mind, consciousness, conscience, emotions and feelings, abilities and capabilities, and its having a meaning that can include the universe. Human is human in these aspects. Only by being aware of these meanings it carries, one becomes aware of his humanity. And he can live like a human only when he realizes his humanity. The human being who considers himself only made up of biological existence is actually unaware of his humanity; and therefore it is not possible for him to live a life suitable for humanity. Realizing these meanings that a human carries is only possible through faith.
“Faith makes human into human” (Sözler, p.107) This word of Imam Bediuzzaman Said Nursi is so striking that it tells us that being a human is a qualification that must be acquired and that this qualification of humanity can only be achieved through faith. Yes, humanity becomes humanity through faith. (ibid. p.107) As the faith reaches perfection, humanity reaches its perfection. The weaker the faith, the weaker the humanity in that proportion. It even comes to such a point that the person who loses his faith loses his human qualities; his life remains an animal life; sometimes it becomes a very helpless monster animal.
Man is precious only when he is attributed to Allah. It is Allah Who creates man in the most beautiful way (95:4), breathes into man from His own soul (32:9), makes man honorable (17:9), makes His angels prostrate to man (2:34), makes man the caliph of the earth (6:165), creates everything on the earth for man (2:29), makes the earth obedient to man (67:15), puts night and day, sun and moon into service of man (16:12), gives all those in the heavens and the earth to man’s command (45:13), prepares for man the gardens of paradise beneath which rivers flow (16:31), invites man to the paradise (2:221) and creates man only to worship Himself (51:15). A person who forgets himself also forgets his connection with Allah, and that contact is thus cut off.
What remains of a human, whom Allah bestowed with such value and honor, when his connection is cut off from Allah? Can a person who lives unaware of his Lord, Who esteem him this much, and who is unaware of the values he carries be called human in the true sense? Can those who are not aware of their humanity live like a human? Doesn’t the Quran say to us “Those are like livestock; rather, they are more astray”?
When a person forgets himself, it is not only himself who becomes worthless. In fact, in his eyes, other people, living things, inanimate things, events, the world and the universe also become worthless. A person who forgets his connection with Allah also forgets that it is Allah Who creates and manages everything. Therefore, everything is worthless in his eyes. We can also say this: Since the value of a person who forgets himself is only as much as his material body, he values everything only as much as their substance.
The Tragedy of Forgetting
It is stated that the word ‘insan’ [human] comes from ‘nisyan’ [oblivion]. (Mesnevi-i Nuriye, p.227) The biggest disaster for man is to forget Allah, said the elites. Because forgetting Allah has two dreadful consequences. First, Allah makes one forget himself. Second, Allah forgets that person, that is, He deprives him of His mercy and grace. (9:67) Both of these consequences are the greatest disaster for man.
Forgetting is in a way a tragic situation. Because he who forgets does not know that he forgets. He is not aware of his condition at all. He needs to be warned and awakened. Whenever he is reminded, he realizes and remembers what he forgot. Maybe that’s why “religion is advice”. (Sahihu’l-Bukhari, Iman, 42) After all, our Prophet (asw) was sent to humanity as an advisor. “So remind, (o My Beloved, o Muhammad); you are only a reminder.” (88:21) People always need advice, warnings, reminders, and someone who reminds them of what they have forgotten. It is for this reason that it was decreed that ‘let there be from you a nation inviting to good, enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong’. (3:104) According to the Islamic scholars, advice is farḍ al-kifāya (a communal obligation). The Prophet (asw) stated that one of the rights of a Muslim over a Muslim is to give advice to his face or to ask for his goodness in his absence. (Jami‘ at-Tirmidhi, Adab, 1)
As a matter of fact, forgetting is involuntary, it does not make people responsible. The verse, “Our Lord! Don’t hold us responsible if we forget or make a mistake.” (2:286) is actually giving the good news that forgetting will not make people responsible. Our Prophet (asw) said, “Allah has forgiven, for me, my ummah’s mistakes and forgetfulness, and what they are forced to do.” (Sunan Ibn Majah, Talaq, 16) This noble Hadith states that a sin committed by forgetting will be forgiven. But the issue of forgetting we discuss is different from the forgetting expressed here (in the verse and hadith). Forgetting yourself is not a forgetfulness that removes responsibility; it is a forgetfulness that occurs by closing one’s eyes to the truth, pursuing egoistic desires, and eventually plunging into heedlessness. Since man himself forms the illegitimate ground that leads him to heedlessness, it is he who is responsible for the consequence.
Let’s Come To Ourselves!
The world is a place of test for human beings. The world has a face that deceives people. The lowerself and the satan constantly occupy us with this face, trying to cause us forget ourselves and seek pleasure and indulgence. Especially today’s world seems to have been designed to make people forget themselves and Allah. It flows at a rapid pace that does not allow thinking and remembering. Emotions and sensual desires are stimulated so much that the mind is defeated and cannot execute its judgment. In this turmoil, we roll off without having time to stop and think and remember. But we have to stop and think, remember and find ourselves by looking for answers to the questions such as where do I come from, what do I do in this world, where do I go, who am I, who sent me to this world. Of course, we have to do it before entering the grave!
The Psychology of Forgetting
Making some points about forgetting and remembering ourselves and talking about it is the easy part. Forgetting yourself is such an insidious danger that even while making these points, there is always the possibility that we forget ourselves and keep our ego out of them. The main thing here is to turn and be able to look closely within ourselves, at our conscience.
I wonder if I forget myself! Or how much do I forget? Is there a sign, any indication of this? Yes, there is. The foremost and unfailing indicator of this is our conscience. “Rather, man, against himself, will be a witness, even if he presents his excuses” says the Quran. (75:14-15) It is necessary to be often alone with our conscience and listen to its voice.
So, how can we realize that we forget ourselves in our daily life, or what happens when we forget ourselves? (Since the destruction of thoughtlessly entering into sins and harams is already known, we leave that issue aside.)
Earning a living, the labours of the world, worldly goals and ideals, constant concern with worldly matters, indulgence in comfort and luxury, and many other similar things are causing us, without realizing it, to forget Allah and therefore ourselves. When we begin to forget ourselves, we still listen to advice, but we do not do it for ourselves. We listen to them for others. Because we always see the faults of others, not ourselves’. We might learn knowledge, but the knowledge we learn will not help us. We might know a lot, but when we forget ourselves, we will be like a donkey who carries volumes of books. (62:5) We learn knowledge to tell others, to be respected, to speak well, or for other worldly purposes. We see death, but we do not take lesson. We exclude ourselves even when we say ‘it is the transient world, everyone is going to die’. When we are asked to worship, we turn our heads away and avoid the labour and burden of worship. When a service for Allah is requested, we lie low and slip away. But when it comes to worldly interests, sensual pleasures, position of authority, fame, money etc., we run ahead to get them.
Since forgetting ourselves is forgetting our essence, we first forget that we are limitlessly powerless and poor. We forget that a Being with infinite power creates and keeps us alive. We fail to keep in mind that we are slaves (‘abd). We think that we are the owners of ourselves. We get the mistaken impression that we manage and sustain our lives with our own strength. This state prevents us from praying; we do not or cannot pray. Not to pray or not being able to pray is one of the greatest proofs that we forget ourselves and that we are unaware of our essence. “Say (O My Messenger), ‘What would my Lord care for you if not for your supplication?’” (25:77). By saying this in the Quran, does not our Lord clearly express how our forgetting our humanity and thus not praying makes us worthless?
Examples that describe the situation of a person who forgets himself can be increased and numerous examples can be given. Let the examples mentioned above be enough. Note that when we forget ourselves, we actually lose the core, spirit, origin, meaning and essence of every matter.
Allah Almighty declares that He sent us to the world to test us. (2:155) We will stay in the world for a short time, fulfil our duties and continue our lives eternally in the eternal realm. How our eternal life will be like depends on our brief life in the world. There is only one goal for us to live here, and that is to please Allah. This being the case, isn’t forgetting Allah and ourselves the worst disaster for us? Could there be a greater calamity and destruction for man than forgetting himself that would ruin his eternal life? Isn’t the only remedy to get rid of this great disaster our trying to gain the consent of our Lord without forgetting our humanity and living as required by this humanity, without being deceived by the deceitful face of the world that cause one to sleep and forget?
Yes, it certainly is. It will be useful to pay attention to a few important points in order not to forget ourselves and to be successful in the endeavor of perfecting our humanity.
First of all, the greatest power in the hands of man is his prayer, his supplication to his Lord. The supplication, which our Prophet (asw) described as the essence of servitude, should not be abandoned. (Jami‘at-Tirmidhi) It is a necessity of our humanity to open our hands, express our weakness and take refuge through supplication. It brings people closer to Allah, beautifies their humanity and gives them perfection.
On the other hand, reading the Quran, which is the word of our Lord and addressing us, His servants, and trying to understand its meaning should be an aim of our life. Because the greatest indicator of the value our Lord gives to human beings is the Quran.
Following the Sunnah
Undoubtedly, the most perfect person is Muhammad Mustafa (alayhissalatu wassalam). Getting to know him and trying to resemble him will also improve our humanity. Resembling him is possible by living his Sunnah.
It is very important that just as human beings are obliged to recognize and get to know Allah, they are also obliged to know themselves. We all know very well the lines of poety from Yunus: “Knowledge is to know knowledge / Knowledge is to know your self / You do not know your self / What kind of knowledge is that you have”. A knowledge that does not inform of or introduce human to himself has no value. Therefore, we should try to read and benefit from the works of knowledge that introduce both our Lord and our humanity. As the life of the world continues, there will always be reasons that will make us forget ourselves. Therefore, the study of reading and benefiting from the sciences and books of faith should be continuous. Until the end of our lives…
Risale-i Nur Corpus
At this point, there is a magnificent masterpiece that describes both Allah and ourselves: the Risale-i Nur Corpus (the Book of Light). From the very first lesson, it teaches us that we are infinitely weak and poor and that we should act on behalf of a Being with endless power and mercy, and teaches both our own essence and our Lord to Whom we will apply. The Risale-i Nur not only teaches the truths of faith from beginning to end, but also constantly introduces us to ourselves, teaches our essence, and informs us of our humanity. It shows the connection and bond between us and Allah. Constantly reading and making use of this corpus will change the color of our lives.
Circle of friends
One of the important points is that we should pay attention to our circle of friends. Our Prophet (asw) said, “A man follows the religion of his friend.” (Sunan Abi Dawud) He warned us about this issue. It is essential to try to stay away as much as possible from friends who do / will cause us to go into heedlessness by constantly invite us to the worldly things. The circle of friends who invite to the world and to sensual pleasures and thus cause to forget our main duty is a great calamity for man. We have to give importance to having a circle of friends that remind us of Allah, mirror our humanity, and advise us when necessary. It is also necessary to pray for it – to have such a circle of friends. Good friend is one of the greatest blessings for man. Our Prophet (asw) said, “The best of friends is the one who helps you when you remember Allah and reminds you when you forget Him.” (Jamiu’s-Sagir) Human beings take the shape, color and odour of the circle they are in. It is an invaluable blessing to be included in a good circle of friends, to form conversation groups and to acquire each other’s good and beautiful states.
Another thing we can do is to put around us, at home or workplace, some words, verses, hadiths, or some sayings that remind us of Allah and our essence, that affect us, and touch our soul and heart. For example, Imam Bediuzzaman mentions a painting hanging in his room. He says that he looks at it every morning and evening and takes his lesson. (Sözler, p.126) The word on that painting is this: “If you want a friend, Allah is enough. If you want a companion, the Quran is enough. If you want goods, contentment is enough. If you want an enemy, lower-self is enough. If you ask for advice, death is enough.” What an effective lesson, isn’t it? It would be beneficial to have such effective lessons before our eyes too.
Salah and Worships
Paying attention to acts of worships, especially the Salah, doing our obligatory duties, remembering and thinking about death a lot, avoiding harams and sins, observing the consent of Allah in every action – in short, striving to live as a conscious Muslim, let alone forgetting Allah and ourselves – will hopefully be means of perfecting our humanity, winning the consent of our Lord and becoming worthy of Paradise.
In short, Islam is the supreme humanity. (Mesnevi-i Nuriye, p.206) It contains the greatest, most perfect and most comprehensive state of humanity. Staying within the circle of Islam keeps us within the circle of humanity. As our share of Islam increases, our share of humanity also increases.
May our Lord, with His favor and grace, grant us all to be a perfect human being! Amin.