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XI) A Man’s Desire to Know, What you Should Tell Him and Not Tell Him, and How to be Praised and Renowned


325. There are longings from which hardly anyone is exempt, except a man whose thoughts are completely vile or one who has trained himself by a perfect system of discipline and has completely tamed the power of his angry soul. In order to cure the avid desire that the soul feels to seize information that one wants to conceal from it or to see an object that one wants to hide from him, you should think of all the things of the same kind which escape him in places where he has not been, let alone the most distant areas of the earth. If the person worries about them he is completely mad and totally lacking in reason. [On the other hand] if he is not worried about these other things, is the thing hidden from him not the same as these things that do not worry him, absolutely identical in fact? He should multiply the arguments directed against his passion, and he should speak to his soul with the voice of reason, “O my soul, if you did not know that there was something there being hidden from you, do you think that you would worry about getting to know it?” There is no doubt that the answer would be “No.” Then he should say to his soul, “Act as if you did not know that there was something there being hidden from you. Then you can relax and you will be able to drive away your anxiety and calm your painful agitation and your hateful greed." These are numerous victories, considerable gains, and noble ambitions to which a wise man aspires and which only someone totally lacking disdains.

326. As for the man who has the ambition and the obsession to spread his fame to every country and to be remembered throughout the centuries, let him reflect and say to his soul: “O my soul, if you were gloriously famous in all the countries of the world, for all eternity and to the end of time, but if I was not told about it about it and if I knew nothing about it, do you think I would be happy or satisfied about it, yes or not?” There is no doubt that the answer would be “No”, for any other answer would be impossible. Having convinced himself of this truth, the man must understand that when he is dead he will have no possibility of knowing whether he is famous or not. Moreover he would not know while he was still alive if nobody told him.

327. He should also consider two important points. First, that there have been in earlier times a great number of virtuous Prophets and Messengers of God – God grant them His blessing – of whom nobody on the surface of the earth remembers the name, nor any trace, nor any memory, nor their history, nor the slightest thing about them.

328. Secondly, there have been, among the good and virtuous men who were the companions of the Prophets in ancient times, ascetics, philosophers, scholars, excellent men, kings of nations which have disappeared, founders of cities which are now deserted, courtesans of princes whose history has also not come down to us. Nobody knows anything about them nowadays and nobody has the slightest knowledge that they existed. Has that fact harmed any of them that were virtuous? Has it diminished their merit, destroyed their good deeds, has it lowered them in the eyes of their Almighty Creator? Let me tell anyone who did not already know it that there does not exist anywhere in the world the smallest scrap of information about any of the earthly sovereigns or the ancient generations who preceded men’s historical knowledge, which begins with the kings of Israel. And everything that we know of the history of the sovereigns of Greece and of Persia does not go back further than two thousand years. Where is the remembrance of the men who peopled the earth before them? Is it not, in fact, totally wiped out, disappeared, vanished, forgotten?

This is why the Almighty has spoken of “Messengers of whom We have not told you the history at all” [Qur’βn 4:164] and God also said: “Many centuries in between,” [Qur’βn 25:38] and God also said: “Those who came after and who are known only to God” [Qur’βn 14:9]. Even if the memory of a man persists for a short period of time, would that in itself make him any different from those who lived in olden times in nations that have disappeared and of which the memory also persisted a short while before being completely lost?

329. We should also think of those who were famous for their good deeds or their bad deeds; did their fame raise them one single degree in the sight of God? Did it win them a reward that they had not already won by their actions during their life?

330. Since this is so, the desire to be famous is nothing but the desire for something absolutely senseless and useless. On the contrary, a wise man should aspire only to multiply his virtues and good deeds, which make the one who applies himself to them merit a good reputation, praise, commendation and a praiseworthy reputation which will bring him nearer to his Creator and will be useful in remembering him to the Almighty. He will keep himself in this beneficial state and will never be lost for all eternity; assistance is from God.

331. Gratitude towards a benefactor is a necessary obligation. To fulfill it, you should at least render to him the good that he had done to you, and more. Afterwards you should show interest in his affairs, protect him as much as possible, keep faithfully to promises you have made him, in his life or after his death, and to his relations, both distant and close. Thus you should continue to show affection to him, to give him advice. You should make his good qualities known truthfully and you should conceal his faults. [These obligations lie upon you] for the rest of your life and should be handed down to your descendents and to those you love.

332. However, it is no part of gratitude to assist someone is committing sin and not to advise him in the cases where he doing himself harm in this world and the next. On the deceiving him, denying his benefactions, acting unjustly in his respect and failing to recognize his goodness. Moreover, the goodness and benefactions of God towards each one of His creatures are much more considerable, more longstanding, more salutary than those of any other benefactor. Indeed, it is the Almighty who has opened our eyes to see, who has pierced our ears to hear, it is He who has granted us the other excellent senses and has endowed us with speech and discernment, two benefits by grace of which we have been made able to hear His words. He has subjected to our service everything which exists in the skies and upon the earth – stars and elements – and has placed none of His creatures above us, except only His holy angels, the inhabitants of the heavens. What are the gifts of men compared with these! Anyone who imagines that he is thanking a benefactor by helping him to do evil, or by taking his side when he should not, would be denying the gifts of the greatest of his benefactors, whose gifts he would be failing to recognize. He would not be rendering thanks to Him to whom all thanks truly belong, he would not be praising Him who is the essence of praiseworthiness, that is to say, Allβh the Almighty.

Anyone who steps between his benefactor and evil, leading him back to the bitter truth, would be showing true gratitude and would be fulfilling perfectly his obligation towards him. Praises be to God at first and at last and in all circumstances!

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