Is man nothing? Is having no ego called nothingness?

Details of the Question

All good things come from Allah. I am a sportsman; when I win a competition, am I not the real winner? Does it not make man feel like nothing? La ghaliba illallah, there is no victor except Allah; so, can man not be victorious or feel so? Does that mean we have nothing? How can a person live without ego? Did Allah not give man the perception and feeling of ego? Is it haram to use it?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

- Existence of a thing is something and using that thing is something else. Creation of evil is not evil, but using it evilly is evil. There is a wise saying we sometimes use; “there is no fault in existence, but there is misuse of it.”

For example, creation of fire is not a bad thing, but using it mistakenly wrong and be harmed by it is bad. Likewise, iron's creation is not evil; it is very good since it has lots of benefits. However, using iron and metals as a weapon to oppress and murder others is definitely evil.

- Like in these material elements, there is no manufacturing defect in spiritual equipment - related to the wise creation of Allah. However, man's misuse of them is a usage error. For instance,

- most of qualifications of man were created as a unit of measurement to Allah's attributes. The existence of those attributes, which are like characteristics, is connected to the center of ego/individuality.

That means ego/individuality was given to recognize Allah's attributes. From this point of view, there is no manufacturing defect.

However, using them in a way to elevate man to divinity, instead of using them as a tool to reveal Allah's holiness, is a misuse.

For example: Man cannot create anything in its real sense. He does not have any possessions. He is dependent in terms of everything and in all aspects. His existence is dependent on Allah's existence, his attributes are dependent on Allah's attributes and his deeds are dependent on Allah's deeds. That is, man is actually nothing. All of his attributes and faculties entrusted to him temporarily are only visible causes that exist only in appearance. It is shirk (polytheism) to attribute the real effect to other apparent; similarly, it is shirk to attribute the real effect to man.

Let us hear why ego was given to man from the expert of the issue:

“Since an absolute and all-encompassing thing has no limits or end, neither may a shape be given to it, nor may a form be conferred on it, nor may it be determined; what its quiddity is may not be comprehended. For example, an endless light without darkness may not be known or perceived. But if a line of real or imaginary darkness is drawn, then it becomes known. Thus, since God Almighty's attributes like knowledge and power, and Names like All-Wise and All-Compassionate are all-encompassing, limitless, and without like, they may not be determined, and what they are may not be known or perceived. Therefore, since they do not have limits or an actual end, it is necessary to draw a hypothetical and imaginary limit. The 'I' does this. It imagines in itself a fictitious dominicality, ownership, power, and knowledge: it draws a line. By doing this it places an imaginary limit on the all-encompassing attributes, saying, "Up to here, mine, after that, His;" it makes a division. With the tiny units of measurement in itself, it slowly understands the true nature of the attributes.” (Nursi, Sözler (Words), 536 - 537)

- So, it is not forbidden to use good attributes placed in human's inherent nature; on the contrary it is his duty. However, the color of the light in his intention that reflect different colors changes the nature of the things done. It converts diamond into coal and coal into diamond.

For instance, a person's victory “in a sports game and similar activities” has already elevated him. If he sees this as a grace from Allah, it does not harm his victory among people. It also makes him more valuable in the eye of Allah. On the other hand, if that person considers himself the source of the victory, he will not be elevated to a better place in the eye of people; besides, he will lose his value on in the eye of Allah.

That is to say, an intention and attitude knowing their boundaries makes one “earn a profit without loss”; a spoiled attitude not knowing its boundaries causes a “loss without profit”. Thus, with this intention, he cannot increase his popularity among people because of intention; besides, he can lose his value in the eye of Allah completely.

It can be said that the harmless road is always preferred to the harmful road.

Nevertheless, attributing some good deeds that appear to be belonging to man to Allah, the real owner of them is a sign of love and respect to Him. On the contrary, considering to own some skills, which are only some means/tools, and attributing them to one’s own self shows that one loves his own self. Besides, the real reason why man was given a strong feeling of love is to nurture love toward Allah. If man abuses that feeling of love and uses it for his own self, it means he attributes a kind of divinity to his soul and desires.

Anyway, your intense love for yourself and your soul is love for the Divine Essence which you misuse and spend on your own self. In which case, rend the egotism in your soul and show Him. All your loves dispersed through the universe are love given to you to spend on His Names and attributes. You have used it wrongly and you are suffering the penalty. For the penalty for an illicit, mis-spent love is merciless torment. (Sözler (Words), 359-360)

To sum up, he who regards himself as nothing exists; he who regards himself existing becomes nothing. So, we accept our nothingness, but via this path of nothingness, we reach existence and acquire value and worth.

“Also, do not say: "I am nothing. What importance do I have that the universe should purposefully be made subject to me by an Absolutely All-Wise One, and universal thanks required of me?" Because for sure you are as though nothing with respect to your soul and form, but from the point of view of duty and rank, you are an observant spectator of this majestic universe, an eloquent, articulate tongue of these beings so full of wisdom, a discerning reader of this book of the universe, a supervisor of these creatures full of wonder at their glorifications, and like a foreman of these beings full of respect for their worship.“ (Sözler (Words), 328)

Finally, it will be useful to pay attention to two points the Qur'an emphasizes:

a) Allah criticizes those who say, “I achieved this with my own knowledge and ability.”

“He said, "I was only given it because of knowledge I have." Did he not know that Allah had destroyed before him of generations those who were greater than him in power and greater in accumulation [of wealth]? But the criminals, about their sins, will not be asked.” (al-Qasas 28/78)

“And when adversity touches man, he calls upon Us; then when We bestow on him a favor from Us, he says, "I have only been given it because of [my] knowledge." Rather, it is a trial, but most of them do not know.” (az-Zumar 39/49)

b) Allah does not look with favor on those who trust in their own power in war:

Allah has already given you victory in many regions and [even] on the day of Hunayn, when your great number pleased you, but it did not avail you at all, and the earth was confining for you with its vastness; then you turned back, fleeing. (at-Tawbah 9/25)

c) Allah does not attribute success even to His angels:

“[Remember] when you asked help of your Lord, and He answered you, "Indeed, I will reinforce you with a thousand from the angels, following one another. And Allah made it not but good tidings and so that your hearts would be assured thereby. And victory is not but from Allah. Indeed, Allah is Exalted in Might and Wise.”  (al-Anfal 8/ 9-10)

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