M. Fethullah Gulen
Endeavor (ghayra) literally means making every effort of concern, and being alert in striving to preserve chastity, honor, and esteem. It signifies being on the alert in respect of religious prohibitions. God is limitless in His concern for the purity of His servants and is infinitely pleased with the care they show and the endeavors they make in preserving it. For this reason, He has made some things, including indecencies and evil acts in particular, unlawful. So His servants, at least, must respond to His concern by being as careful as possible not to commit such acts. This is endeavor (ghayra); in this lies a person’s honor.
In order to remind us of this point, God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, said: “Do you wonder at the degree of Sa‘d’s concern? I am more concerned than Sa‘d, and God is more concerned than me.” Concern requires fulfilling with great zeal whatever God likes and orders and being as determined as possible not to commit whatever He dislikes and forbids. It also requires loving from the bottom of one’s heart the Essence, Attributes and Names of the Necessarily Existent Being, and doing one’s utmost so that He may be loved also by others, and preferring relationship with one’s Lord to everything in the world and the Hereafter. In expressing these last two points in particular, the following verse of a saint is highly significant:
I wish all the people of the world love Him Whom I love,
And all that we speak about would be the Beloved.
If the endeavor required is the assumption of a determined attitude not to commit evil and therefore related to God’s absolute dislike of such acts, then this would mean that one must adopt a manner that belongs to God. He who was the voice of truth, upon him be peace and blessings, said: There is no one more concerned than God. It is because of His concern that He has prohibited all indecencies to be committed, whether in public or secretly. This draws attention to the Divine source of concern and endeavor. By saying, God displays concern, and a believer also displays concern. God’s concern is for the prohibited acts that His servant may commit, he reminds us of the mutuality of concern and the ardent endeavor that is required by it.
The scholars of truth have interpreted concern and endeavor in two ways:
- Recognizing no alternative or rival to the All-Beloved.
- Fixing all of one’s attention on the All-Beloved and trying to outdo all else in loving Him.
However we want to understand endeavor, whether it be resisting corporeal desires and trying to lead our lives on the horizon of the heart and the spirit, or waging war against evil morals and establishing a way of life formed of good morals or virtues, or feeling in our hearts that we belong to Him exclusively—all these are among the principal elements which will bring us up to the level of true humanity. They are a response to God Almighty’s infinite concern for His servants. God’s concern is that He does not leave His servants forever vulnerable to others’ sense of what is fair, just and right, and He honors them with exclusive loyalty and servanthood to Him, and He does not throw them into the humiliation of subjection to false, imaginary deities. In response to this, the required concern of His servants is, in the words of Mawlana Jami‘, the craving for One, the invoking of One, the seeking of One, the seeing and following of One, the knowing of One, and the mentioning of One.
Some view endeavor as the initiates’ making Him their unique concern, their sole hope of contentment, and excluding all else other than Him from the sphere of their efforts which must be directed toward Him alone and exclusively. It has been regarded as the manifestation of the state in which some who sigh for the All-Beloved from whom they are separated are. The initial verses of the Mathnawi by Jalalu’d-Din Rumi sound like melodies of such endeavor and longing:
Listen to the flute, how it recounts;
it complains of separation.
I seek a bosom split in parts by separation,
so that I can explain to it my painful yearning!
Whoever has fallen far from his origin,
longs for the day when he will be reunited with the Beloved.
Those who have made serious endeavor with utmost concern have treated the subject of endeavor in three degrees:
The first consists of the endeavor that is practiced and known by regular, profound worship of God, by those who embroider their lives with the threads of piety and righteous deeds. In order to become perfected, they exert such endeavor that even a single, slight error is enough for them to suffer pangs of conscience for a life-time.
The second degree of endeavor is practiced by those who have set their hearts on God, the Ultimate Truth, exclusively, who go from state to state, who travel from love to pleasure and thereon into deeper and deeper yearning. They make every endeavor to please Him and, as stated in the verse, To whatever direction you turn, there is the “Face” of God (2:115), they always turn to Him with all their faculties and under all circumstances, and are on the alert against letting their eyes slide to another beloved. They always try to find Him in any corner of their hearts for special meetings, as mentioned in a hadith, I have a special time with God. They regard it as the greatest disrespect for time to fail to spend even a moment in knowing and pleasing Him. They tremble with the threat, This is because you exulted on earth without right, and you behaved insolently! (40:75), and they hear with eagerness the Divine call, Eat and drink at ease as reward for your deprivations and sacrifices in past days! (69:24) resounding all the time at different pitches.
The endeavor of those endowed with true knowledge of God, which is the third degree, is always to pursue deeper and deeper knowledge of Him, saying, We have not been able to know You as knowing You requires. They glimpse unbelievable beauties and sometimes keep what they have witnessed concealed, even from their own eyes, in jealousy. Sometimes they bemoan this world as being a place where He cannot be seen and complain of their eyes, in that they are unable to see Him and belittle their own being as they cannot keep concealed their special relationship with the All-Beloved and His special favors to them. Like a compass, they are always sensitively poised and agitated until they reach the day of final, eternal reunion with the All-Beloved, a day when they will acquire steadiness.
O God, I ask for (Your) forgiveness and endeavor (to please You)! O God, guide us to what You love and are pleased with! And bestow blessings and peace on our master Muhammad Mustafa (the chosen one).