A Lesson Taught by the Noble Messenger
One of the man-making methods of the Prophet of Islam, may God bless him and his Household, was to develop the spirit of self-assurance and self- reliance in his followers. In the shadow of the guidance and teachings of the Prophet, Muslims acquired a profound sense of self-confidence, a sublime courage, a firm determination, and superior ideals, instead of being swept away by ill-founded hopes and falling victim to ruinous appetites. They would continually seek God's support in all their actions and activities by paying continuous attention to the Source of all virtue.
One of the companions of the Prophet (S) was once faced with great hardship due to poverty. One day he felt that could not bear it any more and the cup of his patience was full. After consulting his wife he decided to visit the Messenger of God and tell him about his own destitute condition and ask him for help. Having made up his mind he went to the Prophet (s). However, before he could express what he had in his mind, he heard the Prophet (S) say: "We will not grudge our assistance to anybody who asks for help. But if one adopts self-reliance and abstains from making appeals of help to the creatures, God will fulfil his needs."
On hearing these words, he refrained from expressing his intent and returned home. However, his poverty and destitution made him impatient and the next day he set out again to see the Prophet (s) and carry out his resolve. But again he heard the Prophet (S) saying the same thing: "We will not grudge our assistance to anybody who asks for help. But if one adopts self-reliance and abstains from making appeals of help to the creatures, God will fulfil his needs."
This time also he abstained from expressing his need and returned home. However, as he saw no hopes of any relief coming, for the third time he went again to see the Prophet (S). This time the Prophet (s) again repeated the same words. However, on this occasion he had a feeling of strength and self-confidence on hearing the words of the Noble Messenger, may God bless him and his Household. He felt as if he had found the key to his problem. As he returned, he walked with steady and resolute steps. He went into deep thought. He told himself that he would no more make appeals of help to creatures of God. Rather he would rely on the eternal power of God and make the utmost use of his own God-given capacities. He prayed to God to assist him in the work that he was about to take up and make him self- reliant. Then he thought for a while about what he could do. He came to the conclusion that he should set out for the desert, gather firewood and sell it. He set out to carry out his decision. He borrowed an axe and set out towards the desert.
Every day he would gather firewood, carry it to the town, and sell it. He had a pleasant feeling of satisfaction that he was making an earning with his own work. Several days passed in this manner and he continued until he made enough money to buy his own implements and an animal to carry the firewood. After pursuing this occupation for some time he came to possess sufficient wealth and even bought several slaves.
One day the Messenger of God, may God bless him and his Household, saw him and said to him with a smile: "Didn't I tell you that we would not grudge our assistance to anyone who asks us for help. But if someone adopts self-reliance and abstains from appealing to creatures for assistance, God will fulfil his needs?" 5
Samuel Smiles, a well-known scholar, writes:
Self-confidence is the basis of every success and progress. Should the majority of people in a nation possess this virtue, it would become a great and powerful nation. The secret of its rise and power lies only in possessing this quality, because it strengthens one's determination which is weakened by dependence on others.
The help that a person receives from outside mostly weaken his power of perseverance and struggle; for in that case there is no reason for him to endeavour and make effort. This is specially true when the outside assistance goes beyond the bounds of necessity. At such times the mind becomes lethargic and the spirit of determination and the capacity for effort die in man.
The best laws and regulations give man the freedom in life to rely upon himself and to manage his own life. But men always think that it is laws which provide felicity and comfort, not their own conduct and effort.
If we look deeply, we will find that the vices that are attributed to a nation are actually the vices of a group of individuals. Should we want to check those vices by the means of laws, they will reappear somewhere else in another form1 until there is a basic change in the spirit and character of a nation. 6
'Ali, the Commander of the Faithful, may Peace be upon him, said:
One who can not raise himself and ascend to the ultimate height of which he is capable, will not be lifted by anything else. 7
One who fails to make effort due to negligence or laziness will find his state deteriorate and decline. 8
A Western thinker writes:
Nature suffers nothing to remain in her kingdoms which cannot help itself. The genesis and maturation of a planet, its poise and orbit, the bent tree recovering itself from the strong wind, the vital resources of every animal and vegetable, are demonstrations of the self-sufficing and therefore self- relying soul ...
But now we are a mob. Man does not stand in awe of man, nor is his genius admonished to stay at home, to put itself in communication with the internal ocean, but it goes abroad to beg a cup of water of the arms of other men ...
If our young men miscarry in their first enterprises they lose all heart. If the young merchant fails, men say he is ruined. if the finest genius studies at one of the colleges and is not installed in office within one year afterwards in the cities or suburbs of Boston or New York, it seems to his friends and to himself that he is right in being disheartened and in complaining the rest of his life. A sturdy lad from New Hampshire or Vermont, who in turn tries all the professions who teams it, farms it, peddles, keeps a school, preaches, edits a newspaper, goes to Congress, buys a township, and so forth, in successive years and always like a cat falls on his feet is worth a hundred of these city dolls. He walks abreast with his days and feels no shame in not "steadying a profession," for he does not postpone his life, but lives already. He has not one chance, but a hundred chances. Let a Stoic open the resources of man and tell men they are not leaning willows, but can and must detach themselves; that with the exercise of self-trust, new powers shall appear. 9
Although self-assurance is one of the biggest and most beneficial of moral virtues, one should be careful lest this merit is not confused with pride and self-esteem. That is because there is a world of difference between a realistic outlook and self-conceit. One who has a greater confidence in himself than his abilities would warrant, being inordinately impressed by them and having an exaggerated view of his talents, is a victim of pride and conceit. Such a person commits many errors as a result of the illusions of pride, relying as he does on his imagined extraordinary powers. By failing to see the difficulties involved in a task, or by overlooking them or failing to judge their real importance, he fails to equip himself properly in order to confront them. Accordingly, he cannot prove himself at the time of necessity and the test of his ability and expertise.
On the contrary, the realistic person is wary of consequences and has a natural and healthy optimism. He makes a careful judgement of his powers and capacities at the outset and does not trespass their limits.
5. Al-Kulayni, Usul al-Kafi, vol. 2, p. 139.
6. Samuel Smiles, Persian trans., E'timad beh nats, pp. 14-16.
7. Ghurar al-hikam wa durar al-kalim, p. 642.
8. Ibid., p. G98.
9. Emerson, "Self-reliance," cf. Commins & Linscott, The Social Philosophers (New York: Modern Pocket Library 1954), p. 406-409.
Adapted from: "Ethics and Spiritual Growth" by: "Sayyid Mujtaba Musawi Lari"
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