A lunatic is the only person who enjoys total freedom. A sane person is governed by his common sense which is rather like a ‘tether or strap that binds him’. This is reflected in the Arabic word aql ‘mind’ which refers to the rope with which a camel is tied. The word hikmah, meaning wisdom, is similar, in that it is also derived from the meaning of a tether. The word ‘civilization’ also reflects the meaning of such a bond or tether, in that it places limits on your conduct in everyday life. It prescribes respect for the rights of others and for the accepted conventions, traditions, etc., of a society. ‘Justice’ is another concept that has the same implication, because it fixes a limit on your freedom with regards to the freedom of your neighbour.
The self is constantly being tempted since what is alluring is always attractive. For example, you may enjoy listening to and taking part in gossip, hearing about what people have or haven’t done, and you may derive a vicarious pleasure in it, because you feel that you are better than the person whose weaknesses are being exposed. In the same way, theft may be considered as fun, as it’s an easy and effortless way of bringing in money. The self may find committing adultery an enjoyable way of satisfying its desires. Cheating in an examination helps the person to pass it, without having made an effort. The self may want to shirk its duties, thus becoming lazy and lethargic. But if you really stop and think, you will find that this short-lived freedom is not worth the trouble, because in return you will have to bear the consequences of your misdeeds for a long time.
How would a person feel, if he was asked to sign a legal contract granting him whatever he wanted to satisfy his wildest dreams, for a year: he could live in whatever country he chose, and have as many love affairs as he wanted. Imagine that contract stated that nothing would be forbidden but it also stipulated that at the end of the year he would be hanged. Wouldn’t he say “No pleasure lasting for a year is worth being hanged for!”? Wouldn’t he realise that as soon as the noose was tightened round his neck he could not take any of these sources of pleasure with him? Wouldn’t he understand that even though the pain of being hanged may only last for a minute, the torture in the life hereafter would never come to an end? There can hardly be anyone in the world who has not sinned at some point in their life, and enjoyed committing that sin. The least of all sins might be the reluctance to get up and perform the dawn prayer.
If we stop and think about all the pleasures we might have enjoyed ten years ago and then ask whether we are left with any of those pleasures now, what’s the answer?… Nothing! To perform any duty is always hard and causes some discomfort. For example, the duty of fasting during the month of Ramadan means we Muslims have to suffer feelings of hunger and thirst. But what effects are we feeling now from those sufferings? What is left of the hunger pangs we underwent during the month of Ramadan ten years ago? The pleasures of sin may have vanished, but the punishment remains. Whereas the pains and sufferings undergone for the sake of performing duties have disappeared, but the reward stays with us.
What consequences await us at the hour of death from all the pleasures we enjoyed and the sufferings we underwent? Deep down in our hearts we always want to repent and return to the path of God, but we put it off and play a waiting game. For example I used to tell myself that I would repent and follow God’s way after performing Hajj. I would perform Hajj regularly, but I still didn’t repent! My fortieth year and my sixtieth years went by and I still hadn’t repented. This does not mean that I have been leading a life full of sin all these years. Not at all, thank God. But that example just shows that man wants to lead a good life, but he keeps finding excuses to put it off. He thinks he has plenty of time ahead and can therefore afford to vegetate – until, all of a sudden, he is struck by death. I myself have had two near death experiences, and this made me repent every moment I had wasted in acts of disobedience to God, and this feeling of repentance persisted for several months and during that time I became a good person. Later on though, I became involved yet again in the rough and tumble of life – and forgot about death.