Question: Could you elucidate the meaning of the phrase, “deepening in religious feeling and thought”? How is it possible to attain such a lofty goal?
Answer: Religious feeling and thought begins with instillation, and then it is adopted by imitation. The final step is, hopefully, the continuation of religious feeling and thought as a second nature.
When the childhoods of most Muslims are studied, it will be seen that basic religious knowledge about belief in God, angels, scriptures, the Prophets, the Day of Judgment, and Divine Destiny, as well as the essential requirements of religion, such as the proclamation of faith, the daily prayers, fasting, prescribed alms, and Hajj, are instilled in us, and that we begin by imitation and then adopt these practices in the long run.
The Scholars of Islamic Theology (Kalam) said that even belief gained through imitation will save a person. They established this by writing, “faith by imitation is acceptable.” Although they said so, in order for a person’s faith to survive against storms of denial and deviation, these considerations adopted by imitation need to be supported later on with meaning, be based on a sound foundation, and must be insightfully internalized by the person. Although imitation does serve a function as a beginning for the theoretical aspects of faith, gains through imitation only become permanent through verification.
For example, our parents instilled in us the first theoretical pieces of information about God’s existence and unity. However, what we are supposed to do later on is to be able to distill the same truth from every object and phenomenon created in this universe. Just like a scientist trying to obtain a result through laboratory analysis and research, one must have a strong faith in this issue—to the degree of saying, “Even if they make some fifty contrary claims, this is the truth. I may have doubts about the mathematical certainty of whether two times two equals four; however, I do not have the slightest doubt about matters of faith.” We must have a sound faith, which will not be shaken even in the face of an earthquake that measures a ten on the Richter scale.
What Is Obtained through Imitation Is Entrusted to Our Further Willful Efforts
So what are the necessary things to do in this respect? First, we must see these values we inherited from our ancestors, and acquired from the cultural environment in which we were raised, as entrusted to us, and we must frequently check on how solid their foundation is. We must say to ourselves, “Let us be vigilant about not losing these values!”
For the sake of placing them on sounder ground, we need to consolidate the essentials of faith with inquiries such as, “Are there any cracks or breaks in this ground of thought? If yes, what do we need to do against them?”
Most of us were born into a Muslim family and were raised in an environment where Islam is practiced; where adhans from minarets rang all around, and where mosques resonated with Qur’anic recitations and sermons. Thus, God Almighty granted us the opportunity to acquire these truths theoretically. What falls to us is to not be content with minimal effort, not leaving important gains in their rudimentary state, and making constant efforts for the sake of advancing them further. An attitude or behavior to the contrary indicates ingratitude and disrespect toward that trust.
Given that God Almighty blessed us with their theoretical aspect and entrusted their practice to our willpower, then we must seek to give these trusts their due by striving in this respect.
The Road to Verification and Levels of Certainty in Faith
The concepts of certainty based on knowledge (ilm al-yaqin), certainty based on seeing (ayn al-yaqin), and certainty based on direct experience (haqq al-yaqin) may serve as projectors shedding light on the road from imitation to verification.
Certainty based on knowledge means analyzing phenomena under the illuminating rays of knowledge, distilling out the wisdoms and meanings in Creation, and thus attaining knowledge of God to the degree of being able to prove the truths of faith with their evidences and proofs. Such a reading, studying, analysis, and synthesis will serve as a protective shield against the doubts, suspicions, and devilish whisperings to be cast in our minds by adversaries of faith about what we obtained through imitation. As for certainty based on seeing, it means directly seeing the meanings of those theoretical facts in a doubt-free fashion, and the person rendering all of his or her faculties witness to those truths.
The point that needs to be noted here is that seeing is different from looking. Seeing is more intense than merely looking. If you are blessed with “seeing,” then during a walk in nature you behold your surroundings in such a way that you feel like kissing the trees, running from one to another. This is because you feel enraptured by “seeing” manifestations of the Divine Names in each of their faces. Those who open a door to the horizons of certainty based on seeing view thousands of manifestations of the Divine Names in every being, and voice their rapture like Niyazi Mısri did:
“I used to think that in this world nothing amicable to me has remained.
When I abandoned my self, I saw that nothing but God has remained.”
It seems this way when a person abandons himself: He begins to see manifestations of God in everything; then he becomes enraptured with a state of spiritual immersion, stupor, and passion, and melts into that sea.
“No manifestation of Yours, while I appear on the screen;
My disappearance is the condition for Your emerging!”
As it is expressed in this couplet, when a person lets his being melt before the true being, that person begins to push a door open to the horizons of certainty based on direct experience.
As a matter of fact, we do not know whether a person can attain such a level of certainty in this world just by spiritual journeying. Concerning this issue, as Imam Rabbani said in his Letters, this is not possible; at another place, he stated that it can happen to some extent. By evaluating these two considerations together, it is possible to say that a shadow of this truth may perhaps happen in this world, but its genuine truth will be manifested in the Hereafter. When Divine Power will be more dominantly manifested than Divine Wisdom, the real truth of certainty based on direct experience will also be manifested and a person will experience this truth with all of its dimensions according to his own horizons.
One Who Asks from Him Will Not Be Let Down
Verifying guides tried to explain with examples the levels of certainty, which we will briefly state. For example, some expressed that believing in fire theoretically by knowing that it burns, cooks, and gives light while ablaze is certainty based on knowledge. On the other hand, directly looking at the fire in a stove and witnessing with one’s own eyes that fire gives off heat and light is certainty based on seeing.
As for certainty based on direct experience, they gave the example of a pair of tongs used in that stove and which have turned red like fire, to the degree of not being told apart from the fire. Thus they tried to make the issue more understandable.
At this final point, there is neither you nor me; there is only He, the Almighty One. At that point, a person feels ashamed to say “I,” but only says “He” and breathes Him only.
Then like an insatiable journeyer asking for more, one must run from one range to another. To put it in an oft-repeated phrase: it is necessary to relate every issue to talk of the Beloved, and thus think about Him every day with fresh acquisitions, and make Him once more the subject of a lively discussion, one which will make us say, “Praise be to God, today it is as if we recognized our Lord anew on the horizons of knowing Him. We mentioned the noble Prophet once more and felt a deep sensation of yearning, down to the bones of our nose.”
On hearing his name, we should say, “Oh, let me be a sacrifice for you.” We should be filled with wondering when we can realize this sweet gathering again, with a feeling of ribat—loyalty to Islam. Thus, a person can gain the opportunity to let seconds of his life gain the worth of years. A person’s passing those sweet times with a wish for reaching Him and always keeping Him vivid in his memory will turn seconds, milliseconds, and even centi-seconds into worship, and render that person a seeker of eternity. Given that every human is a candidate for eternity and the Eternal One, then—God knows best—being able to attaining them is possible through living in accordance with these considerations.
May God render His help a companion to us on this path. Those who ask for their wish from Him will never be let down halfway. And if we ask for our wishes from Him, He will definitely grant our wishes, maybe today, maybe tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow. Muhammed Lütfi Effendi of Alvar put it so beautifully:
If You truly love the Lord, do you think He will not love you?
If you seek His good pleasure, will He not let you have it?
If you go near His door, ready to offer all you have,
and serve as He ordered, will He not reward you for it?
 Taftazani, Sharhu’l Maqasid, 2/264.
This text is the translation of “Dinî Duygu ve Düşüncede Derinlik.”