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When Knowledge of Evil Fails to Uproot Evil: Some Suggestions

When Knowledge of Evil Fails to Uproot Evil: Some Suggestions

The foregoing guidance is for those whose souls have not become rusted with evil. But what about those who know something to be evil, yet cannot give it up! For instance, they do not offer prayer even when they know that not offering prayers is a vice. Or, they commit murder even when they are convinced that murder is a vice. No detailed answer to this question is possible in this brief discourse. It could not be set down adequately even in a book of ordinary size. It is a vast subject. I can, therefore, mention only a few points bearing on the problem.

Such a person should accept the fact that rot has set in his soul and that there is in him an ingrained resistance to pursuit of virtue and avoidance of vice. This condition could be ascribed to the cumulative effect of evil actions done in the past.

Istighfar: Praying for forgiveness

The primary remedy lies in Istighfar–in seeking God’s forgiveness by invoking His attribute of covering up and forgiving sins. Istighfar has two aspects. In one, the sinner seeks divine forgiveness for the sins he has committed in the past, or prays to ward off sins to which he is a prey.

In the other, the person concerned prays to God that his tendency towards sin be suppressed altogether and not even a vestige of sin should touch him through His grace. It is in this sense that Prophets seek istighfar of God.

Deeper and deeper knowledge of God

One should have true knowledge with an enlightened understanding of divine attributes and allow them to envelope one’s soul and study them at close quarters and try to imbibe their true spirit. For instance, while contemplating His grace, one should recall the bounties one has received from Him and say: Why should I not give to His creatures that which He, His infinite grace has given to me? Such reflection would inspire him with resistance to evil and love of virtue.

Rejection on consequences of good and bad actions

One should reflect on the good consequences of virtue and bad consequences of evil. One should visualize how virtue ultimately yields good and vice harmful results. This would help one acquire knowledge of good and evil.

Taubah (Repentance)

The next step is Tauba, or repentance before God with an awakened conscience. Taubah means:

  1. Genuine remorse over past sins. This is a permanent state of the heart.
  2. Fulfilling the obligations that were left unfulfilled. For instance, to perform pilgrimage to the Kaaba if it has not been performed already. But neglect of prayer cannot be made good like this. For such default the only recourse left is to seek forgiveness of God.
  3. Seeking pardon of each person affected by the sinner’s defaults, such as God has caused to be forgotten.
  4. Doing compensatory favours to those who have suffered at one’s hands.
  5. Firm resolve not to commit an evil act again.

These are, in fact, the conditions precedent to Tauba which is granted only if these conditions are adequately fulfilled.

The Holy Prophet, peace be on him, has directed:

Takhallaqoo hi Akhlaqillah: Adorn yourselves with divine qualities.

One should not worry too much if the heart is not in it. One should persist in doing good as a duty. One should continue to be charitable, even if charitable acts hurt one. One should go on praying even when one is unable to concentrate. The important thing to remember is that duties must be performed with studied intent and without losing heart. The Promised Messiah — on him be peace — used to relate this story which I have also related a number of times.

A disciple once visited his spiritual preceptor and mentor and stayed the night with him. The preceptor spent a great part of the night in supplicating and at the end the disciple heard God’s response that the supplication was rejected. He was shocked, thinking that the preceptor was not a good guide since his prayers had been rejected although people came to him to request for prayers. However, he kept his counsel and said nothing. The next night the same thing happened. The preceptor prayed through the greater part of the night and received the same reply. The same performance was repeated the third night. Now the disciple could keep silent no longer and asked the preceptor: You have been praying for the last three nights. Every time you pray, God replies that your prayer shall not be heard. Why do you persist in offering the same prayer again and again? The preceptor replied: You do not know that I have been offering the same prayers for the last twenty years and I have not lost patience. You have heard the divine answer only three times and have lost hope. My business is to pray. It is for God to accept or not to accept. He is doing His will as I am doing my duty. It so happened that on the fourth night the divine response came: All the prayers you have made so far are granted. Thus a man’s duty is to continue to pray under all conditions and never give up. Not unoften, an act of external virtue initiates an inner process which gradually wipes out a person clean.

Should this too fail to help; resolutions are made and broken, a rise is followed by a fall, every effort meets with a reverse; it should be a fall, every effort meets with a reverse; it should be known for certain that a spiritual rot has set in and the heart needs a detailed and full remedial treatment. It should be realised that evil has triumphed and the sinner. His self-respect has died and he is like an animal who is led by the nose. His lower self has attained mastery over him and leads him with impunity. In such a case remedial treatment not on a short-term but on a long-term basis is needed. Before I proceed to outline this treatment I would like to point out the hitherto current philosophy of morals among the Muslims and the one expounded from the Ahmadiyya point of view. Ibn Mardweh, may Allah have mercy on him, is considered the founder of Muslim ethics. He wrote a regular treatise on the subject. After him, Ibn Arabi — may Allah have mercy on him — is considered the greatest thinker on the subject. He was followed by Imam Ghazali — may Allah have mercy on him — who wrote a compendium on the subject which runs into as many as four volumes. He is supposed to have pronounced the last word on the subject. I would like to throw some light on the subject to enable the student of today to appreciate the errors in the earlier expositions. In their own day, their views were valid, but today they need to be modified.

The basic difference between the moral philosophy of Al-Ghazali and the Ahmadiyyah moral philosophy is that the former emphasises negative values while the latter is essentially positive in character. This change in approach was brought about by the Promised Messiah — on him be peace. He pointed out that morals do not merely mean the absence of evil but also the presence of Good. It is not denied that self-control is a road to morality, but it is not the only road. While contemplating the philosophy of morals we cannot ignore certain factors some of which are as follows. God says:

I have created men, high and low, that they may worship Me. (51:57).

Again He says:

Those who prove fortunate shall be in the Garden, abiding therein so long as the heaven and earth shall endure, excepting that which thy Lord may will. This is a bounty which shall never be cut off. (11:109)

This shows man was created not for not doing certain things but for doing certain things. Hence our creation has a positive and not a negative purpose. Negation is at best a precaution. It means to remove the obstacles which stand in the way of the realisation of the ultimate goal. It is a means, never an end. If the purpose of man’s creation was no more than negation or extinction, where was the need for his creation? This purpose was being served better without his creation. The situation is similar to the one in Hindu Theology in which God is described as not-this and not-that. Man was created not to negate but to affirm, always accepting negation to be a means, never the end. Therefore, the real issue is what should man become, not what he should not become.

Secondly, it is agreed that the ego is like a horse. True, the horse has to be exercised. Within reasonable limits it has to be kept lean but not too lean; fit enough to ride yet not so unruly as to throw the rider. But have you ever seen someone who should have become a good horseman merely by starving the horse? Once during a journey, one of our party who was not much of a horseman, declared he would not ride unless a lean horse was procured for him. Accordingly a lean horse was brought. He appeared to be afraid of this horse too and wanted to know if there was no leaner horse available. Therefore, if a person does not know riding, he cannot learn it by starving the horse. Similarly it is a mistake to believe that by starving the ego, you can tame it or can make it obey your commands. You control the ego not by starving it, but by learning the art of controlling it.

Thirdly, it is no use denying that sin is the result not only of the domination of the ego but also of the death of the ego. For instance, shamelessness is caused by the death of the ego. In such cases the ego needs to be revived to enable it to function as required.

Thus the ego is like a horse. To make it function properly, sometimes it should be allowed to become lean and sometimes it needs to be fattened. It should neither be completely demolished nor should it be permitted to become too head-strong to obey.

The Promised Messiah’s approach to morals differs from Al-Ghazali’s in another respect also. The Promised Messiah — on him be peace — emphasised that the basis of faith is hope and anticipation. The Holy Quran does indeed say that faith lies between hope and fear but nowhere does it say that it lies between hope and despair. About despair, the Holy Quran even says:

O my sons, go ye and search for Joseph and his brother and despair not of the mercy of Allah; for none despairs of Allah’s mercy but the unbelieving people. (12:88).

The Holy Prophet — on him be peace — is reported to have said that God will treat His servant as he expects to be treated. Therefore, no system which breeds despair could be called Islamic. We should also be very watchful about fear. It must never exceed hope which should outweigh fear, Fear certainly is part of faith but is never as big a part as hope, Allah says:

I shall inflict My chastisement on those concerning whom I so determine; but My mercy encompasses all things. (7:157)

In the heart of the faithful, hope should, therefore, dominate over fear.

The heart of a believer is full of hope. He is afraid but not as much as he is hopeful. He is convinced that God will not be so harsh as to let him perish. In truth he is afraid not because he doubts God’s mercy but because of his own faults. His hope proceeds from his faith in divine grace. Is it not true that our faults appear insignificant when compared to the grace of God? In other words, if a believer fears God because of his Self-Sufficiency. If he fears God because of his own weakness, let him not forget that Allah’s might is overwhelmingly greater than his weakness. In either case, hope reigns supreme, for the source from which it springs is stronger than that of fear.

But it must be remembered that hope is for those who submit, not for those who rebel. You cannot continue doing whatever you please and yet hope to win God’s grace; for that would be rebellion and there can be no hope for the rebellious. Indeed hope is only for those who submit.

Also remember, the believer fears God not because he is not sure he will not be able to perform a certain action or that he will be punished if he does not perform it. He is afraid because he is not too sure if the course he is following will really lead him to success. Nor does he fear because of his failure to act in a certain manner and of the consequent punishment. He is afraid that he will not be able to win divine grace if he fails to perform the action as God expects him to do.

In short, Islamic mysticism is based on hope and fear, hope being the dominant factor. Positive forces are released only by hope. Fear can generate nothing more than negative forces. Since the real purpose of man’s creation is to generate the love of God, that can be done only by hope. Fear can at best ward off sins. Islam seeks to dispel fear. We have seen that the Holy Quran assures us:

My mercy encompasses everything. (7:157).

Then the Holy Prophet — on whom be peace — clarified the position still further. He said that cheering dreams proceed from God and frightening dreams proceed from Satan. Since the impact of dreams on the mind is undeniable, he warned that we should not be afraid of frightening dreams since their source is satanic. This certainly does not mean that every dream of that kind is satanic as Prophets too have such dreams. The idea is that if there is a multiplicity of dreams of this kind, to the total or near total exclusion of hope-inspiring dreams, it should be presumed that they are satanic in nature. Thus the Holy Prophet — on him be peace — sought to remove fear from the hearts of the faithful. There is, however, the risk that a person who dreams such dreams, may have a true dream for once and dismiss it to his loss as satanic. The Holy Prophet — on him be peace — has also pointed the way out. He said: When a believer happens to experience a dream of this nature, he should turn over to his left side and spit out and recite: La haula wa la quvvata illa billah (There is no security against ill and no strength to achieve good except through Allah).

The point he has made is a subtle one. When we spit at something, actually or figuratively, we mean to reject it as unworthy of our attention. By his advice, to spit out, the Holy Prophet — on him be peace — has inspired the faithful with courage and hope. There is every possibility that among many such dreams one may on occasion be true. The recitation taught by him is, therefore, very significant, in so far as it provides an occasion to seek divine forgiveness and strengthen trust in God. The symbolic rejection safeguards against the evil effects of satanic dreams. Similarly the recitation of Lahaul shields us from the consequences of divine warning. By reciting “Lahaul,” we completely surrender ourselves to God and thus escape His wrath. This two-fold treatment should dispel all fear. Behold, how beautifully the Holy Prophet — on him be peace — has secured the faithful against surrendering to fear.

This brief exposition would mark the difference between Al-Ghazali’s view and the view of the Promised Messiah (Peace be on him).

Now I shall revert to the appropriate remedies for the treatment of those who are spiritually sick and are incapable of moral action having failed despite effort. But let me first remove one misconception. It may be asked: If such persons are incapable of right action, what benefit could such remedial advice bring them?

First, unless and until, right action becomes a physical impossibility, salvation lies in trying and continuing to try to do right. In case such action does in fact become a physical impossibility, purity may be achieved without action. For example, the insane are incapable of performing moral actions. For such, the Holy Prophet — on him be peace — has said there will be provided opportunities.

Actions are of two kinds: those that can be performed in all conditions, and those that cannot be performed in certain conditions of the heart. The latter category are related to thought and emotions. The former are never impossible, for they are external in nature. For instance, no one can say that he or she cannot perform the external act of prayer. But a person could no doubt say that it is not possible for him to banish illicit love from his heart. Thus there are these two categories of actions, those involving the emotions, and those not involving the emotions.

We know how physical ailments are treated. When the doctor prescribes physical exercise for a weak patient who is unfit to do any work, does he tell the doctor how can he take exercise being unfit to do any work? He does not say this because there is a difference between the work which he is unfit to do and the exercise the doctor prescribes. Both require effort but one is within his capacity while the other is not. Even to augment physical energy, action is needed. A patient who is too weak to get up and is permanently bedridden would naturally be prescribed exercise consistent with his condition. May be the doctor would only prescribe massage. When he gains some strength, he would be able to sit up and when he is a little stronger he would stand up.

The same obtains in the spiritual sphere. A spiritual patient also begins with minor actions and progressively rises to higher levels. If a student finds the 10th class reader too difficult, he is advised to study the 9th class reader. He cannot say: Since I cannot read the 10th class reader, how can I read the one meant for the 9th class? In the spiritual sphere also progress is made from lower to higher levels of action.

Such cases need special remedial treatment which I shall outline presently. But preliminary measures have to be taken which I have already mentioned and which are as follows:

  1. Acquisition of thorough knowledge of right and wrong, virtue and vice.
  2. Knowledge of appropriate use of each.
  3. Self-examination.
  4. Frequent recourse to Istighfar.
  5. Effort to acquire cognition of God.
  6. Reflection over the consequences of good and evil actions.
  7. Effort to reflect divine qualities.

I shall now outline principles of treatment of such cases. Without doubt, such a person is spiritually sick. Sickness cannot be treated without proper diagnosis. The patient should first determine what is his ailment. Then he should ask himself what does he wish to achieve. The answer is likely to be twofold: purity of heart and reform of conduct. The former is related to the love of God. The sickness of the heart signifies the extinction of the capacity to love. I have related a vision of mine on a number of occasions. I saw Jesus — peace be on him — standing on a raised platform. He looked like a child and raised his hands towards heaven. I also saw his mother Maryam — on her be peace — descend from above and stand on a higher portion of the platform. Then she took a step downward and Jesus raised himself a step and leaned towards Mary. In response, she too leaned over him. At that instant, the following words issued from my mouth: Love creates love.

Thus love creates love; but love is inspired by:

  1. Beauty.
  2. Benevolence.

Now imagine a person who witnesses the beauty of God, reflects over His attributes, receives His gracious favours and is conscious of God’s relationship with him but fails to respond with love. He would be like a child who does not love his mother. The capacity to love has died within him. He is like a sick person who cannot tolerate medicine or nourishment as his stomach is out of order. The first step towards his restoration to health would, therefore, be to tone up his stomach. The same thing is true of one who is spiritually sick. His emotions should be stimulated. As an overt act induces an inner reaction, let him assume an attitude of humility and entreaty, at least externally. In his prayers let him put on a pitiful expression even artificially; for even such action induces a corresponding state in the mind. This is illustrated by the case of an American principal of a college, who had been a brilliant student but proved an utter failure as principal. He consulted a psychologist who told him his failure was due to his excessive leniency, which prevented him maintaining discipline. He was advised to simulate sternness and look tough with set jaws and compressed teeth. He followed the advice and within a short time he came to be known as a most successful principal.

If a coward starts strutting about he would develop courage and bravery. Soldiers are trained along these lines. They have to practice marching with their chests pushed out and their chins aloft. This develops their courage.

The first remedy, therefore, is that he who suffers from a default should artificially induce the corresponding quality; this would equip him with that quality. To develop love, he should make manifest an attitude of love. For instance, his handshake should be firm and fervent. When a visitor wants to leave, he should insist on his staying on, even though he should desire his departure. When his behaviour begins to exhibit the external signs of love, he would gradually develop the faculty of love. He would then begin to love God also, which he could not do before, because, he had lacked the faculty of love altogether.

He should also intensify his love for his parents and children. This is the love which the Sufis have described as majazi or reflective love, true love being the love of God. It is in this sense that mystics called it reflective love. They meant to emphasise and intensify this kind of love as it was legitimate love. Later the meaning of this term became corrupted. Majazi or reflective love does not mean to fall a prey to love that is not permissible and lawful. It means loving intensely those relatives whom one may love legitimately. This will augment the faculty of love and foster the love of God.

The second factor in spiritual reform is improvement in the quality of action. In this context it should be remembered that action is directed by the will. One determines to do. One determines to do something and does it. The helplessness of a person who wishes to do something but finds himself unable to do it may derive from one of three causes.

  1. He may have lost control over his will. His ego may have become too weak to effectively rule over his will. The ego is the master and the will is its agent. The master has become too weak to direct the agent to have something carried out, and fights shy of the agent. The agent thus becomes lax in requiring performance.
  2. The ego or the master is not weak, but the will or the agent is sick and has lost control over the emotions which are like servants of the will. When the agent falls ill, the servants become lax and refuse to obey. In other words, the communication between the ego and emotions is impaired.
  3. Something intervenes between the will and the emotions. The will, the power to direct and the emotions are ready to obey, but communication between the two is interrupted. Either the intervening distance has become too great, or some other hindrance stands in the way and the orders of the will do not reach the emotions. Thus sinfulness and lack of virtue could mean:
    • Weakness of the ego, or
    • Weakness of the will, or
    • Some intervention which nullifies the control of the will over the emotions. For instance, a smoker may have the will to give up smoking but when he sees the pipe, he cannot help himself and succumbs to his habit.

I shall now point out the factors which help foster the ego and strengthen the will.

  1. The wish to survive. Every animate wishes to survive. Try to kill a small insect. Note how it tosses and twists. This shows it wants to live. The spiritual patient should know that if his sickness is prolonged, he would die. He should, therefore, strengthen his will to survive, which is a natural urge and can be fostered by reflection.A smoker drifts towards a smoker and a wine-bibber seeks like company; but in face of mortal danger all this is forgotten and shunned. It is the wish to survive which overcomes all weaknesses.
  2. Along with the will to survive, the will to crush all opposition should be fostered. This is a corollary of the wish to survive. Survival is not possible unless the will to overcome all opposition is strengthened. This can be done by constant reflection that every obstruction will be swept aside.
  3. The third method of strengthening the ego is to foster the determination to achieve whatever may be needed. There should be concentration on whatever may appear difficult to achieve. This would boost the ego.
  4. The capacity of resisting whatever may be harmful should be fostered.
  5. Steadfastness would be fostered. This too nourishes the ego. Steadfastness may be difficult to attain in all cases, and in some it may appear impossible, but it should not be ignored. Steadfastness in some situations, would foster steadfastness in others. This should help to buttress the ego.
  6. Prudence. This too results from the urge of survival. Due consideration of all aspects of a situation would promote self-control and the capacity to keep a secret, and would stimulate wisdom and the sense of expediency. The ego would consequently become stronger.
  7. Mental effort to promote caution, alertness, cleverness and farsightedness would also help to foster the ego.
  8. Aversion to being praised, and refusal to listen to it, would strengthen the ego. Praise slaughters the ego like a sharp knife. The Holy Quran expounds this beautifully. It says:Imagine that those who exult in their deeds and love to be praised for that which they have not done are secure from punishment. They shall suffer a grievous chastisement. (3:189)Such people readily believe what others say in their praise, but do not pause to consider whether they have truly done anything praiseworthy. They do not perform much and rest content with whatever little they happen to have done. They are eager to believe what others say in their praise. They dwell in a fool’s paradise of false praise. Thus aversion to praise strengthens the ego.
  9. Development of self-respect. There should be intolerance of every type of ignominy and disgrace. Why should evil be ascribed to me? This ego is roused and is lifted up which rises in revolt and gets things done by the will.
  10. Development of dignity: Do not get involved in what is none of your concern. To put one’s finger in every pie is the sign of puerility. It spells the death of the ego.
  11. Generate hope. Be ever hopeful. This also fosters self-respect. Continue to be optimistic. This promotes self-confidence.
  12. Cheerfulness and good humour. They are invigorating. Worry saps vitality.

Some of these may be difficult to put into effect. But if a person were to follow at least some of them, he would soon perceive an accession of strength. All these exercises are mental. Their practice will help promote the development of the mental powers which control the will. The best method would be for one to ponder over the true status of man which I have expounded. This would soon be perceived to reinforce the ego.

But an unduly inflated ego has its own drawbacks. It may lead to sinfulness. It is like a cruel master who is given to beating his servants unnecessarily. Its cure lies in thinking about God’s Self-Sufficiency. Such a one should pause and reflect: If my ego persists on punishing every minor fault of others, what would happen if God were to call me to account for everything? Whatever I have is a bounty of God; I am not its owner. I am only a trustee and I shall be called to account for the way in which I discharge this trust. I should not, therefore, be unduly critical of others.

If the ego is built up, or, is already strong, but the difficulty lies with the will or the intervening obstacles between the ego and the will, the following treatment would be appropriate:

  1. Let external conduct be put in accord, even artificially, with what is desired internally, thus inducing a corresponding inner reaction. The Promised Messiah — peace be on him — has laid great stress on this.
  2. Concentrating attention on God. This is essential for success. All thinking should flow in one direction only and every conception beside that of God should be obliterated from the mind. The Holy Quran says:

    We cite in evidence those who pursue their efforts vigorously. (79:2)

    This means that those who seek success in an enterprise, become wholly immersed in it. They direct their thinking in such manner that the particular enterprise becomes their goal, and they cease to be aware of anything else. When a project occupies the whole expanse of the mind then alone can success be achieved in it. When a person who is a habitual liar makes up his mind to give up lying, he will succeed only if he concentrates every moment on the idea that he must not tell a lie and must give up lying altogether.

    Repeated and constant thinking on a particular subject generates an inner strength. But such strength is subject to a risk; it can go berserk and run out of the control of the will. Many people complain that their thoughts wander during prayer and they seek a remedy. This means that their faculty of thinking has run amok. They concentrate on something other than God. They seek to direct their attention on God, but their attention runs away after something else. It is wrong to think that such people cannot concentrate. They can concentrate, but their trouble is that their attention is not under the control of their will. It has broken loose and become independent. It strays and wanders. In such a situation effort should be made to bring it under the control of the will. How can this be done? I will discuss this point later. I would, however, make one suggestion here. Those people whose attention wanders during prayer should not consciously try to concentrate. They should pray just as they do other normal things. This would bring relief from their condition.

  3. Constant exercise of will-power. Determination that an action embarked upon will be continued regardless of any obstacles that might be encountered. But will-power is not always adequate and strong. A person resolves to perform an action but then falters. Will-power has, therefore, to be strengthened. For this purpose I suggest a “tonic” which is composed of as many as fourteen ingredients, which are called from the Holy Quran and the traditions of the Holy Prophet — on him be peace:
    • Repetition of and reflection upon the verse of the Holy Quran:

      I have created men, high and low, that they may worship me. (51:57)

      God says I have created man for the sole purpose that he should worship Me and thus be My true servant. Man should, therefore, think along the following lines. God has created me for nearness to Him. His purpose cannot be frustrated. I shall become His true servant; it is not possible that I should fail of this purpose, He should not imagine that he cannot accomplish anything. He should conceive as if God has taken hold of him and urges him to action. The mystics call this Muraqbah, deep reflection. But it does not mean mere passive thinking. It means repeated reflection and conviction that God having created him for becoming His servant, he could not possibly become anything else.

    • Reflection on the purport of the verse of the Holy Quran:

      Surely, We have created man in the best mould. (95:5)

      He should reflect: God has invested me with the best faculties. Whatever good can be achieved by any other person can be achieved by me also. The attainment of the highest status is possible for me also. Then how can I fall? He should concentrate on this and revolve it in his mind frequently.

    • He should reflect on the verse:

      Assuredly We have created man and We know well what kind of doubt his mind throws up. We are nearer to him than his jugular vein. (50:17)

      His line of thinking should be: God has created me, and He knows the subtlest doubts that rise in a person’s mind and distract it. But God is closer to man than his mind, and can instantly resolve the doubts that rise in his mind. God has comforted man in this verse by reassuring him that he has nothing to fear from doubts, as the means of resolving doubts is closer than that which prompts doubts.

    • He should reflect on the verse:

      True honor belongs to Allah and to His Messenger and the believers; but the hypocrites know it not. (63:9)

      He should reflect: I am a believer and a believer cannot possibly be vanquished. How is it possible, then, that my will should not prevail? He should repeat it over and over until the will over-powers the ego.

    • He should reflect over the verse:

      Surely, thou shalt have no power over My true servants, barring such of the erring ones as choose to follow thee. (15:43)

      God says that Satan has no control over God’s servants. I am His servant. How is it possible that evil should hold sway over me?

    • He should reflect on the verse:

      Hearken, the friends of Allah shall certainly have no fear, nor shall they grieve. (10:63)

      I fear no one except God. I am a believer; and a believer has no fear except the fear of God.

    • He should reflect over the verse:

      We are your friends in this life and in the Hereafter. (41:32)

      He should reflect: Angels descend upon believers and assure them: We are your helpers; then why should you worry.

    • He should reflect on the verse:

      Despair not of the mercy of Allah; for none despairs of Allah’s mercy save the unbelieving people. (12:88)

      He should think thus: Difficulties cannot make me despair. Despair is death which I am not prepared to accept. If the will does not obey, I will not rest until it does.

    • He should reflect on the verse:

      O soul at rest, return to thy Lord, thou well pleased with him and He well pleased with thee. So enter among My chosen servants, and enter My Garden. (89:28-31)

      I am at peace and boundless possibilities are open to me. Why should I lose heart when God is with me and directs me to enter His everlasting paradise.

    • He should reflect on the divine promise that a believer shall be held in honour in the world and that he shall not suffer disgrace. This too fosters will-power.
    • He should reflect on the verse:

      He has subjected to you whatsoever is in the heavens and whatsoever is in the earth; all of it. In that surely are Signs for a people who reflect. (45:14)

      He should reflect that all failure results from greed and avarice. But he has no cause to be greedy for God has already provided everything for him.

    • He should reflect on the verse:

      Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah. Those who are with him are unyielding towards the disbelievers, compassionate towards one another. (48:30)

      He should reflect: Evil thoughts, designs and stimuli cannot enter my heart. I belong to the people concerning whom God has said that they are not influenced by the disbelievers; they can be influenced only by those who believe.

    • He should remind himself repeatedly of the verse:

      O ye who believe, be mindful of your duty to Allah, and keep company with the righteous. (9:119)

      and should reflect on the saying of the Holy Prophet, peace be on him: He who keeps company with the righteous does not encounter ill fortune.

      He should reason: Good designs that take shape in my mind influence others. God admonishes us to keep company with the righteous. If I cannot influence any one for good I cannot be a believer.

    • Finally he should reflect on the following verse which relates to the Holy Prophet — on him be peace:

      We granted not everlasting life to any human being before thee; then if thou shouldst die will they live on forever. (21:35)

      This life being transitory, not a moment of it should be wasted.

    These fourteen items would help strengthen will-power so that it can control feelings and emotions, but it is necessary to ponder them fully and deeply.

  4. The fourth measure to strengthen the will and to remove the obstacle in its way is to launch an all out attack on the very first day against the fault that has to be got rid of. When an army attacks, it starts the attack in full strength. The same should be done in fighting an evil. One’s full strength should be employed against the evil that has to be vanquished.
  5. One should cultivate the habit of practicing the virtue which one is seeking to acquire; and should cultivate the opposite of that which one seeks to discard. For instance, if one is apt to lose one’s temper one should cultivate urbanity.
  6. The habit of thinking and reflection should be cultivated and haste should be eschewed. This would provide a safeguard against evil habits. Such habits take advantage of haste and retreat before reflection and deliberation.
  7. When it is resolved to do or not to do something all the pros and cons should be deliberated upon systematically so that a complete picture is impressed upon the mind. This would facilitate the doing of that which is desired and the discarding of that which should be eschewed.
  8. Occasionally that which is lawful and desirable should be voluntarily given up so that the habit of acting against his wishes may be cultivated. For instance, a person who suffers from the habit of stealing and is unable to discard it, should on occasion refrain from that which is lawful and desirable. He should sometimes keep awake when he wants to sleep, or abstain from eating something he much desires to eat. In this way he will strengthen his will. Hazrat Ali — may Allah be pleased with him — has said:

    I learnt to recognize God through the repeated frustration of my resolves.

    This means that he made certain resolves but failed to carry them out. He resolved again, and again he failed. But he persisted and refused to be discouraged and did not yield to frustration, until he found God. If he had stopped short after the first failure he would not have met God.

  9. One should examine one’s ego repeatedly like a physician who checks up on his patient over and over again.
  10. One should aim high and not be content with anything less. He who aims at the highest achieves something worthwhile, and becomes the master of his ego.
  11. Besides all this is recourse to prayer. When one’s own effort fails, one needs external help. The first stage is one’s own effort which is internal help. The external help one should invoke is divine help. One should make one’s own effort and also pray to God for help. One should supplicate that one is trying to do whatever one can; but one can succeed only if God helps one. This may be illustrated by a story. A saint had a disciple who was devoted to mysticism which he had studied for a long time under the guidance of the saint. The saint enquired from him whether Satan was found in his part of the country. The query surprised the disciple who countered with: Is there any place which Satan does not frequent? The saint asked: What will you do if Satan should attack you when you return home? The disciple answered: I shall fight Satan. The saint said: Granted that you will fight Satan and make him flee. But what will you do if he returns and renews his attack when you try to turn to God? The disciple submitted that he would again fight. The saint said: If you keep fighting Satan all the time, when will you be able to turn to God? The disciple was non-pulsed and requested the saint to guide him on the point. The saint said: If you go to visit a friend and his dog worries you what would you do? The disciple submitted that he would beat the dog with a stick and scare it away. The saint asked what would he do if the dog were to return and worry him again. The disciple answered that he would call the dog’s master and request him to restrain the dog. The saint said: Very true. You should follow the same method in combating Satan. You should supplicate God: I want to come closer to you but your dog — Satan — does not let me approach you. You alone, Lord, can keep him off me. Thus one sure means of avoiding evil is prayer to God. One should pray: God, I am doing my best to ward off evil, but I cannot succeed unless you help me.

I have received a query concerning the suggestion that we should aim high. A friend asks whether it is permissible to entertain colourful wishes. To my mind, it is not desirable to indulge in this kind of wishful thinking. For example, the Promised Messiah — on him be peace — has said that we should not hanker after divine revelation. Loftiness of aim or ideal is to be distinguished from wishful thinking and aspirations. Greed means to crave and run after fanciful desires, but a goal or aim is determined after due consideration and is followed by diligent effort for its realisation. One who is given to wishful thinking is like a beggar, but one who fixes his goal and strives for its realisation, does not beg but fights for a cause.

The same is true of the wish to receive divine revelation. Revelation is a bounty and a feast from God to His servant. No one would like to visit a friend in order to partake of a feast to which he has not been invited. That would be considered undignified. But if one visits a friend in order to meet him and the friend entertains one that is fit and proper. Such is the case with revelation. A servant prays to God for nearness to Him and a high spiritual status. When he attains such status, he begins to receive revelation. But if a person hankers after divine revelation that would mean that he is greedy for the feast, but has no urge to achieve nearness to God. Thus it is not proper to entertain eagerness for receiving revelation.

To revert to the topic in hand, if a person, despite putting into practice the directions that I have outlined, is not able to avoid evil and pursues virtue with increasing success, he should realise that the malady from which he is suffering is more physical than spiritual. He should know that there is something wrong with his nervous system. He should consult a competent physician. If medical advice is not available, he should follow the following fourfold regimen:

  1. Physical exercise.
  2. Stoppage of all mental work.
  3. Proper diet.
  4. Try to feel relaxed and keep cheerful.

It should be remembered that in many cases spiritual maladies are occasioned by imagination like physical illness. This is confirmed by my own experience. When I started studying medicine, I began to feel as if I was suffering from every disease which I tried to study. But a medical student told me that their teacher had warned them against such a phenomenon. I would, therefore, urge you to avoid falling into the mistake of imagining that you suffer from every spiritual ailment that you happen to contemplate. This reminds me of the story of a teacher who was a hard task-master. On one occasion his students decided to take a holiday. One of them proposed that if they would cooperate with him, he would procure them a holiday. They agreed. Whereupon he approached the teacher and with concern in his voice enquired whether the teacher was feeling well. The teacher told him to shut up and attend to his work. But the student persisted and told the teacher that indeed he looked somewhat pale. The teacher was furious and gave the student a bit of his mind. He was soon followed by another student who made the same enquiry from the teacher. He too was rebuked, albeit, with a little less vehemence. He was followed by yet another student who in turn was followed by still others repeating the same enquiry and voicing the same concern. When the seventh student approached, the teacher admitted that he was, in fact, feeling a little out of sorts but admonished the students that they were harping on his indisposition unnecessarily. When the fifteenth or sixteenth student enquired about his health, the teacher confessed: Yes, I do feel a little feverish. Let me, therefore, take a little rest. By the time he was able to lie down in bed, he had actually developed fever. He had already allowed the class to leave. The story goes that the students on reaching home, suggested to their parents to visit the teacher and enquire about his health. Some of them repaired to his house to express their sympathy and concern. The teacher became convinced that he was seriously ill, so much so, that he rapidly grew worse and eventually died. This may only be a story but it has some truth in it. Modern western research shows that since the multiplication of patent medicines, the number of diseases has shot up. Exaggerated claims are made about these medicines. Each medicine is advertised as a panacea for a host of ills. The reader is easily led to believe that he is suffering at least from one of the listed diseases for which the medicine claims to provide a ready cure and he procures the medicine. His lively imagination then makes him actually ill. Therefore, one must not submit to imagination.

Another matter that needs to be attended to, and which is of national and communal concern, giving currency to the notion of widespread corruption. There are people who are addicted to slander and spreading scandals about others. For instance they would declare: Everyone here is vicious and a crook. In the beginning, some people protest against the calumny and try to stamp it out; but gradually their protests become milder and they adopt a passive attitude. In the end they too begin to give credence to the calumny. So pay no heed to such derogatory propaganda else the evil will also infect you. The Holy Prophet — on him be peace — has said: He who ascribes an evil to others himself comes to suffer from it. Nations perish because of this evil. It is your duty to restrain those who spread scandals. A scandal-monger should be challenged to name the guilty person and furnish particulars, instead of condemning the entire nation or community. The Holy Prophet — on him be peace — has said: A person who condemns the nation on account of an evil from which it is alleged to suffer is the one who gives currency to the evil. To denounce people as vicious, makes them vicious. Such slanderers are national enemies. They should be opposed and resisted. They should not be permitted to spread obscenity and calumniate the nation. On the other hand, it is also true that a nation that becomes heedless also perishes. The correct method, therefore, is to bring each alleged evil to the notice of the proper authorities. If, on investigation, the report is found to be well-founded, it is for the authorities to take appropriate steps to combat the evil.

When I prepared the notes for this address I had to revise my original estimate that one meeting would suffice for the address and came to think that it would take two days to complete it. But at the end of the second day, I find that there are forty points which still remain to be discussed. If God so wills, they may be incorporated in the printed version or they may be discussed on some other occasion. These forty points deal with the question: How to become virtuous?