Is religion necessary for humanity?
In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate
God, there is no god but He, the Ever-Living, the Self-Subsistent.
An allegory to understand the nature and the worth of religion to man
To understand the world and the spirit of man in it; to understand the nature
and the worth of religion to man; to understand how, if there were not the True
Religion, the world would become the darkest dungeon and the unbeliever the
most unfortunate of creatures; to grasp why it is that belief in the existence
and Unity of God and reliance upon Him open the secret sign of this universe
and saves man�s soul from the darkness�read this allegory:
Once upon a time, there are two brothers who set off on a long journey together.
One is self-indulgent and clever. The other is self-disciplined and wise. After
a while they come to a fork in their road where they see a wise old man. They
ask him which way to take. He tells them that the right fork requires obligatory
observance of the law which governs that road, but that this burden of observance
brings with it a certain security and happiness; while the left fork promises
a certain kind of freedom it represents also certain danger and distress. �Now
the choice is yours,� says the old man.
On hearing this, the well-disciplined brother takes, in reliance upon God,
the right fork saying that he accepts dependence on law and order. The other
brother takes the left fork just for the sake of freedom. Seemingly, he is comfortable
but in truth he feels no tranquility inside. He reaches a desert. Suddenly he
hears the terrible sound of a beast, about to attack him. He runs away and,
happening to come across a waterless well sixty meters deep, jumps into it.
Half-way down, his hands meet a tree growing out of the walls of the well. He
clings on to it to save himself from falling further. The tree has two roots.
Two rats, one white and the other black, are gnawing away at them. The man looks
up and sees that the beast is waiting at the top of the well. He looks down
and there is a horrible dragon almost at his feet, with its large mouth gaping
to receive him. Having time to do so, the man looks more closely at the wall
of the well and notices that it is all covered with laboring insects. He looks
again at the tree. It is actually a fig tree but it is a miracle of a tree in
that it has a great variety of fruits growing on it, such as walnuts and pomegranates.
There, hanging in the well, he cannot understand that all that has happened
to him is in any way special or meaningful, that the scene and the events in
it cannot be merely coincidental. That there should be, must be, some secret
to it all, that behind the scene and the events there must stand an arranger
and doer of all�none of this, alas, even occurs to him due to his lack of reasoning.
Now, although this man is inwardly distressed about this situation and his
spirit and heart are complaining, his evil-commanding self pretends to itself
that there is nothing to complain about and so he pays no attention to the weeping
of his heart and spirit. The man pretends to himself that he is in a garden,
having a nice time, starts eating all kinds of fruits�for free�but some of which,
it will turn out, are poisonous and harmful to him to consume in this way.
In a sacred tradition (a saying from the Prophet, the wording of which belongs
to the Prophet but the meaning to God) God says, �I
will treat My servant in the way he thinks of Me.� This wretched man
in the well sees every event that befalls him as no more than itself, as having
no further weight or significance�and, for him, so it is. He does not die but
he does not live well either. He persists merely, in an agony of suspense.
Let us now recall the other brother. He is the wiser of the two and, because
well-disciplined, not suffering anxieties. He always thinks of the good, affirms
the law, and feels himself to be secure and free within it. Whenever, on his
journey, he enters a garden and comes across, besides lovely flowers and attractive
fruits, ruined or ugly things in it, he is able to turn his mind to that which
is good and beautiful. His brother cannot and does not do the same; he has concerned
himself with evil and therefore cannot find ease in such a garden. The wise
one lives according to the saying, �Look on the good side of everything,� and
is therefore generally happy with everything.
On his way he too reaches a desert, just as his brother did, and a beast
shows up. He too is afraid but not as much as his brother, because he is sure
that the beast must be in the service of a certain master. This disciplined
man also jumps down a well that happens to be there and, halfway down, catches
hold of the branches of a tree. He too notices a pair of rats gnawing at the
two roots of the tree. Looking down, he sees the dragon and, up above, the beast
still waiting for him. Just like his brother, he finds this suspense a strange
situation to be in. But because he is wise and self-disciplined, he infers that
all these strange happenings are arranged by someone and constitute a sign.
He thinks he is not alone and that he is being watched and examined by someone.
He understands that he is being directed and guided in some way as a test and
for a purpose.
He is curious about the one who arranged all these events and asks, �Who
is it that desires to make me know him?� Even in his curiosity he is patient
and self-disciplined, and so this curiosity arouses in him a love for the owner
of the sign. This love, in turn, builds in him the desire to understand the
sign and meaning of these events and the will to acquire good qualities that
will please the owner of the sign.
He observes that the tree from which he is suspended is a fig tree but one
that bears almost every kind of fruit. He is no longer afraid; he understands
that this tree is actually a sort of catalogue of samples of the fruits belonging
to the unseen owner, which the owner has prepared for his guests to his garden.
Otherwise, one tree would not bear so great a variety of fruits as this one
does. He starts to entreat earnestly and, as a result, the key to the secret
is inspired in him. He declares:
�O owner of all this scene and these events, I am wholly in your hand. I
take refuge in you and I am at your service. I desire your approval and I desire
to know you.�
Following this prayer, the wall of the well unexpectedly parts and a door
opens onto a wonderful, pleasant garden. Indeed, the dragon�s mouth has been
transformed into the door, and both the dragon and the beast become two servants
inviting him in. The beast even changes into a horse for him to ride on.
And so, O my lazy soul, and O my imaginary friend! Let us now compare the
positions of these two brothers, so that we can see how good brings good and
evil brings evil:
The interpretation of the allegory
The unfortunate traveler who took the left way, the way of self-trust and
self-willed freedom, is about to fall into the mouth of the dragon; he is continually
anxious. He suffers loneliness and considers himself a prisoner facing the attacks
of wild beasts. Furthermore, he adds more to this distress, eating apparently
delicious but actually poisonous fruits which are only presented as samples,
not intended to be consumed for their own sake but to persuade the consumers
to seek out the originals and become customers of them. This unfortunate one
changes his day into darkness; he himself does injustice, changing his situation
into a hell-like one, so he does not deserve pity, nor does he have the right
to complain to anyone.
In contrast, the traveler who took the right way is in a fruitful garden
with servants all around him. He studies every strange and beautiful incident
in fearful awe, and sees himself as an honored guest, taking pleasure in the
strange and beautiful servants of his generous host. He does not eat up the
fruits on the fig tree. Rather he only samples them and, understanding the reality,
he postpones the pleasure of eating them up and enjoys the anticipation.
The other is just like a man who denies his favored situation in a summer
garden surrounded by friends, and instead, by making himself drunk with foul
intoxicants, imagines himself to be among wild beasts in winter time, and complains
thereof. He does himself injustice and insults his friends, so deserves no mercy.
The brother who took the right way, the way that accepts trustingly what is
given and observes the law, sees and accepts the whole reality and for him it
is beautiful. In doing this he respects the one who possesses reality, and that
is why this brother is deserving of mercy. By this we may understand, at least
in part, the meaning of the Qur�anic decree, �Whatever
of good befalls you is from God, and whatever ill befalls you is from yourself.�
When we reflect upon the differences between the two brothers we see that
the inner-self of one prepared a kind of hell-like situation for him, corresponding
to his own attitude to reality. The other�s potential goodness, positive intention
and good nature led him to a very favored and happy situation.
Now, I say to my own inner-self as well as to the inner-self of anyone who
has read thus far:
�If you desire to be like the luckier of the two brothers, follow the guidance
of the Qur�an.� The details of the allegory could be explained at very great
length, but the gist of it, roughly, is this:
There are two ways before everyone
One of the brothers is a believer who is good-hearted and the other is a
blasphemous unbeliever. Of two ways, the one on the right is the way of the
Qur�an and faith, whereas the other is the way of unbelief and rebellion. The
garden on the way is human society and civilization, which has in it both good
and evil, cleanliness and pollution. The sensible person is he who acts according
to the rule: Take what is clear and pleasant, and leave what is turbid and distressing,
and goes on his way with tranquillity of heart.
The desert in the story is the earth, and the beast that turns up unexpectedly
is death. The well is the life of man, and sixty meters in depth is our average
life span corresponding to sixty years. The tree in the well is life itself;
the two rats gnawing its roots are day and night. The dragon in the well is
the grave opening onto the Hereafter and, for a believer, becomes a door to
the Garden. The insects on the walls of the well are the troubles people face
on this earth. However, these troubles are but gentle warnings from God for
a believer, to prevent him slipping off into the sleep of heedlessness. And
the fruits on the tree, as we have already indicated, are the bounties of this
world presented as samples from the blessings of the Hereafter, inviting customers
towards the fruits of Paradise.
(There is only one tree in the well but there are various fruits on it. This
shows the seal of Divinity Whose unique virtue is �to create everything out
of one thing� and �to change everything into one thing.� He makes various plants
and fruits from one soil only, creates all living things from one drop of water,
and nourishes and sustains alike all living things but through diverse kinds
To return to the allegory, the sign shows the secret will of God in creating.
This sign is opened with faith and the key is: O
God, there is no god but God; God, there is no god but He, the Ever-Living,
For one of the brothers, the mouth of the dragon changes into a door to the
Garden. This is a sign that for the other, as for all unbelievers, the grave
is the door to a place of trouble, the belly of a dragon. For believers, however,
it is the door to the eternal Garden, which is the blessing of God for the faithful
followers of the Qur�an.
The beast changes into an obedient servant, a disciplined and trained horse.
This means that, for unbelievers, death is a painful detachment from loved ones,
a kind of imprisonment after leaving (for them) the paradise-like earth. For
believers, on the other hand, it is a means of reunion with the friends and
companions who have already gone to the Hereafter. It is like going into their
eternal home of happiness. It is for them a formal invitation to pass into the
eternal gardens from the prison of the earth. It is an occasion to receive the
wage which will be bestowed out of the generosity of the Most Compassionate
and Merciful One for services rendered to Him, and a kind of retirement from
the burden of life.
In sum, the one who chooses the transient life as his aim puts himself into
Hell even though he stays in what appears to him paradise on earth. By contrast,
the one who aims at the eternal life will find peace and happiness in both worlds.
Despite all troubles, he still thanks God and will patiently conclude his stay
on the earth which, as he properly comes to understand, is merely a waiting
room opening up to heaven.
O God, make us among the people of happiness, salvation, the
Qur�an, and faith! Amen. O God, bestow peace and blessings upon our master Muhammad,
and upon his family and Companions, to the number of all the letters contained
in the words of the Qur�an, reflected by leave of the Most Compassionate One
in the waves of the sounds of each word recited by reciters of the Qur�an from
its first revelation to the end of time, and have mercy on us and on our parents;
and have mercy on all believing men and women to the number of those words,
through Your Mercy, O Most Merciful of the merciful. Amen. And all praise be
to God, the Lord of all the worlds.