The Concept of Zeal in A Society of Ignorance
belongs to a society of ignorance?
usually understood as being uneducated and uncultured. However, the ignorant people
depicted throughout this book are those who are ignorant about the religion of
Islam, about the infinite might and attributes of Allah who created them, and
about the Qur'an that has been revealed to mankind. Such people live according
to information imposed on them by a society full of misconceptions rather than
facts revealed in the Qur'an. Allah defines people of ignorance as those "whose
forefathers were not warned, so they are unaware."4
lives of people who are unaware of the Qur'an and have no knowledge of the real
nature of worldly life, the truth about death, and the after-death experiences
of Hell and Paradise are compatible with their ignorance. Consequently, the matters
that make them feel happy, eager and excited are based upon flawed and erroneous
People of ignorance are enthusiastic only about worldly goals
who took their religion as distraction and amusement and whom the worldly
As the verse suggests, people in a society
of ignorance are greatly deluded about the life of this world. Despite being aware
of its brief and imperfect nature, they prefer this temporary life to an eternal
life in the Hereafter because they expect to obtain worldly benefits more easily
and harbor doubts about the existence of the next world. This erroneous rationale
assumes that the world is within easy reach, while the Hereafter is far away.
It is, no doubt, a very shallow and irrational kind of reasoning. After all, man's
life in this world is confined to a very brief period of time. A lifespan lasting
six or seven decades, half of which is spent in childhood and the advanced years
of old age, is indisputably brief compared to the eternal life of the Hereafter.
Furthermore, even before the completion of those six or seven decades, one may
die for some reason. At any moment he may find his life, which he assumed to be
well in his hands, suddenly taken away, and may, at an utterly unexpected time,
find himself entering his eternal life in the Hereafter, although he had assumed
it to be very distant.
The heedless people of ignorance strive to make
the most of their worldly lives during this short period rather than earning Allah's
acceptance and His reward of Paradise. Consequently, the issues over which these
people show zeal are limited to the minor goals pertaining to this world. In fact,
the feelings they imagine to be enthusiasm and excitement are nothing but greed.
Passionately attached to this life, they feel great excitement towards everything
from which they expect to derive benefit and consequently, better living conditions.
Accordingly, people feel a great desire to become wealthy or to have a prestigious
status or career. In order to attain such a goal they make all forms of self-sacrifice
and willingly endure every hardship.
The daily lives of these people abound
with incidents that reveal their understanding of zeal. For example, to earn a
prestigious diploma, which would bring him recognition, a student may immerse
himself in books for years. Aware that this is conducive to success, he willingly
spends sleepless nights and avoids socializing, if necessary. A typical day begins
for him with an early morning commute and is spent in tremendous effort, which
he endures with pleasure. Yet, he would decline to make the same sacrifice to
help a friend since it brings him no perceivable worldly gain. What is underlined
here is that although the majority of people know how to accomplish a task with
zeal and enthusiasm, they will undertake it only if it serves their own interests.
They do not demonstrate the same ambition for something that would earn them the
pleasure of Allah, and show indifference if a worldly benefit is not forthcoming.
The mentality peculiar to ignorance, which is based only on worldly benefits,
can be portrayed with the following example. An executive whose company is on
the edge of bankruptcy devotes all his energy, wisdom, means and time to work
out the problem. But his employee does not feel the same eagerness to save the
company and thus is unlikely to find a good solution because he is not the person
who will suffer direct loss when the company goes bankrupt. As seen, worldly benefits
generally underlie the zeal and determination felt by members of ignorant societies.
The extent of benefit is often indicative of the degree of ambition felt.
The excitement of its members is but a temporary desire
of zeal peculiar to a society of ignorance is apparent in the fleeting nature
of worldly enthusiasm. People may experience a burst of interest and eagerness
towards a certain issue and then one day lose these feelings abruptly. In a society
of ignorance almost everyone has launched numerous projects enthusiastically.
Yet, they quit after a short while simply because of boredom and unwillingness
to continue. For example, most of those who desire to play a musical instrument
soon lose interest and quit their courses. Someone who is eager to help the needy
and immediately begins charity work may, before long, lose his zeal and stop the
work. Because such people do not really commit themselves to noble ideals, helping
the poor, doing good deeds or broadening one's horizons in any given subject prove
to be only passing whims. Living through the day, being able to meet their immediate
needs, and earning the appreciation of other people are often enough to satisfy
these people. Nothing beyond that point seems meaningful to them. This being the
case, they may occasionally give attention to some issues which are unrelated
to their own needs and concerns, but after a short while their interest is overcome
by boredom and monotony.
As long as a person believes his efforts will
bring him good and benefit, his zeal and enthusiasm never abate. Yet none of the
aims pursued by one who turns his back on the Hereafter is worthy of continuous
zeal. Encountering the slightest difficulty, failure or criticism, he may suddenly
feel tired and daunted and abandon his goal. Additionally, he may fall into despair.
Negative thoughts such as, "I took great pains to accomplish it but failed" draw
him into pessimism and dampen his enthusiasm.
A person who for years had
the ambition to become an architect may suddenly lose it once he encounters difficulties
in his drawing projects. Or a person interested in painting may lose all his interest
after a couple of tries. Often, the commitment of those who engage in voluntary
work with aid organizations is praised in newspapers and among friends. The pleasure
derived from doing charity work and the good feeling such voluntary work produces
may draw other people. However, those who engage in such charity work to earn
prestige in society may lose their interest after some time, and the only way
to keep their enthusiasm is to make their efforts known to the public and praise
them. That is, they have to receive a benefit, even a psychological one; otherwise,
even getting up early on weekends seems difficult and becomes a reason to quit
Believers, however, who consider engaging in good deeds
and helping people a means to attain the good pleasure of Allah, never lose their
enthusiasm. Encountering difficulties will not make them abandon their ideals.
On the contrary, aware that in the face of difficulties such work becomes more
precious in the sight of Allah, they derive more pleasure and feel more enthusiastic