Issue 103 / January - February 2015
M. Fethullah Gulen
The realization of every lawful desire without hindrance, freedom from any pressure, confinement, or subservience, the right to elect, to be elected, and to enjoy certain basic rights in political life - these are some of the definitions of "freedom," which has become one of the most widely discussed concepts in the recent history of thought and law.
The basic freedoms of humanity that range from personal rights to political and general ones - such as the freedom of belief, worship, thought, the freedom to have a family, to work, to own personal property, the right of freedom of expression and association, of electing, and being elected, etc. - are not among the subjects to be discussed in "Emerald Hills of the Heart." However, they have always been regarded as among the most important matters in human history.
Being the most fundamental and vital dimension and the most important human faculty, namely free-will, which is considered an important pillar of conscience, freedom (hurriya) is one of the most valuable gifts of God to humanity. This great gift has been defined in Islamic literature as an individual's assertion and enjoyment of his/her basic rights. However, in order to fully perceive freedom one must be able, to some extent, to perceive its opposite. This opposite is the individual's dependence on others for the enjoyment of those rights, which is a form of servanthood. It is God Almighty Who grants these rights to humanity, so a person has no right to change or sell them or transfer them to others. Those who commit such a sin, that is, change or sell their fundamental rights or transfer them to another, have lost their humanity to a certain extent and will be held accountable before God for that loss. Such an action shows, first of all, disrespect for human values, and those who commit such disrespect cannot be conscious of their existence, and those who are not conscious of one's existence have no relationship with the truth and no share in the love of and servanthood to God.
In short, it cannot be asserted that those who do not recognize God, Who is the Truth and the source of human rights, are free in the sense that they are conscious of human rights, nor can those who have not been able to free themselves from slavery to others than God be free in the real sense of the term.
What we have so far said about freedom is only by way of introduction to the freedom that is one of the emerald hills of the heart.
The freedom inherent in Islamic Sufism, being one of the most significant fruits of austerity, is that a person does not submit or bow to any power other than God, indicating thereby that the heart of that person has become a clear mirror receiving and reflecting the manifestations of God. The person who has reached this point on the way to God through austerity and by God's special help, severs inward relation with all things and beings other than God, and with emotions pulsing with freedom, heart beating joyfully with a yearning for freedom, and having broken all the restrictions around the selfhood, that person sets for him or herself this single goal and, in the philosophy of the respected saint Harith al-Muhasibi, weaves the tissue of his or her thought with the threads of the hereafter.
True freedom is attainable only by freeing one's heart from worldly worries and anxieties about the things of this world, and so being able to turn to God with one's whole being. In order to express this reality, the leaders of the Sufi way say: "Child, undo the bonds of servanthood and be free; how much longer will you remain enslaved to gold and silver?" The answer of Junayd al-Baghdadi to those who asked him what freedom was, "You can taste freedom when you are free from all bonds other than slavery to God" also expresses the essence of freedom.
If freedom is directly proportional to sincere devotion and servanthood to God Almighty, and it is, then it is not possible to assert that those who live their lives under the direction of others are really free. In this respect, the following anonymous couplet speaks significantly:
If you would like to beat the drum of honor,
Go beyond the wheel of the stars;
As this circle filled with rings is a drum of humiliation.
True freedom is necessary in order to be a perfect servant of God. The measure of a person's true freedom is servanthood to God. Those who cannot realize servanthood to God can neither be free nor attain human values in their full reach and meaning. Such people can never be saved from corporeality and sensuality so as to reach the achievable horizon of spiritual life with a "sound heart," nor can they feel the essence of human existence in the depths particular and special to it.
People who spend their life in the captivity of worldly considerations grow in arrogance in the face of the blessings granted to them. Instead of becoming more thankful to God, they attribute to themselves whatever achievement God has enabled them to realize, and are disappointed time after time when they fail, and shiver with the fear of losing whatever advantages they have accrued-such unfortunate people have no share in freedom, even if they are as kings in the world.
As long as the heart sets itself upon various goals, loved ones, and ambitions, it can never taste freedom. How can those be free who are constantly worrying about how to hold onto or pay back the goods they expect from others, who have mortgaged most of their life's energy to others in return for worldly interests and bodily pleasures?
It is a great trial, one that leads to perdition if one wanders in the whirl of physical considerations and is confined to worldly aims with a heart attuned to worthless, fleeting objects. By contrast, it is a great favor from God upon those whose inner world He has sealed off from the many attributes of the ephemeral world that attract the carnal self; it is a great favor from God that He cuts away the relation of the heart with the world. For that relation is a form of bondage, and that cutting away is a bridge by which humanity is able to reach true freedom.