The very first thing that we need to do is to acquire proper beliefs and a proper understanding of the world. If you want to be a good businessman you must know the market and the people who are in the same business. You need to know the present situation, future possibilities and the factors that work in that particular business.
If we want to be successful in this world we must know Who is the One who has control here. If we need to get permission to start a business we should know where to go to get that permission. In the same way, if we want to start a spiritual ‘business’ we should know from where to get permission. We should know what laws and regulations apply and should be observed. We should know what provisions are provided and what kind of loans and grants might be given to us.
Sa‘di, a famous Iranian poet who wrote Golestan and Bustan, tells a beautiful story. He says that once a person went to do some business in another country. He realized that in that country the bell which they used to hang in the public bath-houses was very cheap to buy. For example, if the bell would have cost $100 in his country then in that country it cost only $1. So he sold all his goods and with whatever money he had, he purchased maybe a thousand bells. Then he expected to return to his country and generate $99 profit on each bell.
So he transported all these bells back to his home town. However the problem was that there were only two or three bath-houses in his town and so no-one wanted to buy the bells. No-one was interested, even when he offered them at half price. So he lost all his capital and became bankrupt because he did not know which were the right kind of goods that would be purchased in his country.
Many people are like this and invest in things in this world which will be of no value in the hereafter. We invest our life, which is the most valuable ‘capital’ that we have been given, in things which, when we arrive in the hereafter, we will be told were pointless and thus we had wasted this ‘capital’.
Hence we need to have faith and to know the way in which our life in this world can secure our happiness in the next world. We must have correct beliefs and we should be especially careful to understand the connection between our life in this world and our life in the hereafter. About one third of the Glorious Qur’an talks about the hereafter. There is so much emphasis on it to teach us that the eternal life is the thing for which we must really prepare ourselves.
Another useful parable can be found in hadiths. There is an example in the story of the person who worshipped day and night: one day an angel passed by, thinking that with such dedication, this person must have a very high status.
When the angel went close to him, he realised that the person did not have proper understanding of God, as he said “I wish you had a donkey so I could feed him in my field, as I have lots of grass here”. This person saw God like a human being, who has a donkey. This kind of faith is not rewarding, and so aqidah is the first certainty that needs to be secured. We must make efforts to gain proper understanding of God the Creator, His position in this world, the belief in Unity, Prophethood, and Resurrection.
Therefore, first we should have correct beliefs, but not the kind of beliefs that we normally learn and can only repeat in a parrot-like fashion. It must be the kind of belief that we have completely absorbed into our very being so that if we say that there is only One God, then our whole body and soul would declare that we are monotheist.1
1 Being a good, kind and caring person is necessary but not sufficient to attain a place in heaven: we must also have faith. If people are good in their dealing with others, and have no faith, there is no chance to go to heaven: maybe they will not be sent to Hell, or their punishment will be reduced, but there is no way of attaining heaven. To believe in God, as the One and only Creator is a necessary and fundamental belief.