We see that the religious notion of chivalry (futuwwa) is taken in an extensive frame with different definitions from past to present. Considering the conditions of our time, what is chivalry and what are its characteristics?
The word futuwwa, or chivalry, is derived from the word fata, which means young man. It denotes to have sound faith, treat others kindly, devote oneself to living for others, undertake duties for serving humanity without any considerations of primacy, make sacrifices for the sake of sacred values, persevere in the face of crazing flow of time and show active patience, stand up to every kind of evil by taking conditions of the time into consideration and without being unreasonable or illogical, and not panic or shake when confronted with troubles and torments life brings.
One of the hadiths reads: “There is no chivalrous man like Ali, and no sword like Zulfiqar.”1 It draws attention to the fact that Ali ibn Abi Talib was a hero who represented chivalry in every way. Actually, Ali ibn Abi Talib was not the first who deserved to be called chivalrous since futuwwa dates back to far earlier periods. Every one of the Prophets can be seen as a significant representative of chivalry on a very lofty level, since they did not live for themselves but for the cause they were devoted to. Some Prophets only had a few followers. And some had no followers at all. However, they continued their mission unwaveringly without complaint.
Seeing Success as God’s Grace
The Prophets’ carrying out their mission in the best possible way, complying with the requirement of causes and keeping up acting sensibly, taking perfectly strategic action in every condition, and seeing consequent success as God’s grace in spite of everything constitute an important profundity of their chivalry. Being fervently dutiful at the beginning and enjoying the gratification of having completed one’s duty in the end is a significant indication of the spirit of chivalry. In other words, it is a very important principle of conveying the divine teaching to continue without giving in to disappointment and hopelessness, and to hold the consideration of being thankful to God for He enabled them to carry out their duty, even without people sometimes accepting the message. Furthermore, He did not take away this honor by discharging them from their duty. The true representatives of the spirit of chivalry kept on fulfilling their mission, even if they risked crucifixion. They disregarded the pressures and intimidations of those in power, did not worry about their lives, and always kept walking on the righteous path. In spite of severe oppression by the Romans, Jesus the Messiah did not hesitate risking his life, turned people’s attention to the next world, and then ascended to heaven. In this respect, it can be said that the spirit of chivalry Jesus represented served like a launcher for his ascension to heaven.
The story of Moses and his young companion meeting Khadr, as narrated in the Qur’anic chapter of Kahf, points out another dimension of chivalry. Accordingly, an important profundity of true chivalry is transcending the narrow forms of physicality and journeying into the immensities of metaphysics; it is an ascension from animal life to the realm of the heart and spirit, subsequently continuing that journey. Even though the physical dimension does not cease to exist on that level of life and continues within vital necessities, wishes and desires of the animal side are given secondary importance. For this reason, another important lesson we learn from the parables about the subject is that believers should not suffice by knowing sciences of the physical world; they should also try to gain insight into spiritual secrets by activating their heart and spirit in the true sense.
Devotion and Chivalry
One of the most important aspects of chivalry is keeping up a spirit of devotion. Namely, being devoted to one’s sublime cause and pushing aside all other considerations. Truly devoted souls must think that their essential duty is to glorify the Name of God on this earth. Actually, as it was mentioned in other talks, the Name of God is already glorified in its essence; however, efforts must be made for conveying the truth to everyone. People devoted to their cause are supposed to pursue this ideal in all of their feelings, thoughts, initiatives, and actions; they must entreat God Almighty so that He makes them steadfast on this path. Devoted souls must be full of the zeal to offer others true life so as to virtually forget the way to their home and the faces of their children. Let it not be misunderstood, however, that fulfilling one’s responsibilities as much as possible—unwillingly or not—toward family members is essential to this path.
Chivalry and Being Upright
In addition to devotion, another very important aspect of chivalry is keeping up an unwavering course. In the face of all adversities one must be able to stand upright and say, as a Sufi poet did, “I may be suffering from misfortunes, or enjoying Your grace; They’re equally pleasant to my soul; Your grace and wrath are both welcome.”2
What I mean by standing upright is not panicking, not toppling over, and not abandoning one’s duty against all odds. He who becomes a believer is—like the shape of a question mark—always bowing before God; then, complete that shape into a horseshoe and prostrate. This is the state of the greatest proximity to God Almighty. Thus, these two points should not be confused.
Real Chivalry Is Nullifying Oneself
In addition to displaying this kind of performance and attaining such an ideal state, the greatest difference of the volunteers who serve faith is that they do not consider themselves apart or to have primacy. Those who see the chivalrous volunteers will probably describe them as “archetype of virtue,” but even that would not suffice in describing them. Truly chivalrous people have such spiritual profundity that even if their body is cut into pieces, they will not give up the path to God. In spite of being so brave, what befalls them is to establish the consideration of not having any primacy or superior sides in comparison to others as a deeply ingrained idea in their souls. The idea of having primacy should not even cross their minds, and when it accidentally does, they should turn to God in repentance as if they committed a great sin. As for all the good works realized by their hands, they think that what happens before their eyes is the germination of the seeds others sowed previously—the emergence from the soil and shooting buds, with every bud giving thousands of grains—and they see everything as the outcome of sincere efforts of those who preceded them without taking any personal pride and assuming primacy. Laying claim on this beauty means both violating others’ rights and disrespecting God.
Chivalry necessitates forgetting one to be wiser, older, more experienced, etc. These factors or complimentary remarks by others may sometimes evoke a sense of superiority in a person. On the other hand, having manners requires a respectable form of address toward people who started serving faith long before us. Observing a measured code of respect toward seniors is a means of maintaining better coherence between individuals, given that this is done without exaggerating the matter by calling them a saint or a savior and without evoking dislike in other circles with an assumption of superiority for belonging to a certain religious group. However, if people showing respect fail to adopt the idea of inherently being inconspicuous, then they risk danger of feeling flattered. For example, some of them might say, “I am sixty years old now, and so many people treat me with respect, seeing me as their teacher. Therefore, I am a worthy person.” This dangerous thought might cause a person to lose balance and be ruined. Utilizing one’s experience at work is a responsibility, but that is a different issue. When compliments for one’s experience or mental powers turn into a consideration of primacy and domineering behavior toward others, it is nothing but a blatant transgression of one’s limits.
The Must of Chivalry: Humility
There is a saying by Ali ibn Abi Talib telling us to live among others as one of them. This gives us a very important criterion. If we wish to be adorned with the virtue of chivalry, we need to go unnoticed like an ordinary person. In my humble opinion, this is a very important depth of true chivalry and a very important discipline. I did not have the chance to meet Bediüzzaman Said Nursi. However, from what I heard from his students, despite the fact that he was the person they were deeply indebted to, he never had an air of primacy. He always referred to himself as “your brother,” and explained his approach as follows: “The basis of our way is brotherhood. My relation with you is not like that between a father and children or a Sufi sheikh and his disciples. It is rather a relation between brothers. At the very most, my position of teaching may have some part in it. Our philosophy requires the closest friendship. Close friendship requires being the best, most self-sacrificing friend, the most appreciative companion, and the most magnanimous brother or sister.” The relationship between the noble Prophet and his Companions teach us important lessons as well. As the Companions got to know the Messenger of God, peace and blessings be upon him, better and realized what the dues of being near him is, they behaved so respectably with most refined manners toward him. For example, Abu Bakr, may God be pleased with him, was a person God rendered a paragon of virtue, who gave fascinatingly powerful sermons, who even moved the polytheists when he recited the Qur’an. Still, he entered to the presence of the noble Prophet so humbly and he was so careful near the Messenger of God that you would think he was afraid of startling a bird on his head. I think if the words he uttered in the presence of the beloved Prophet are to be compiled, they will not amount to more than two hundred. Then, who was the person shown so much respect? Even though the relevant Hadith Qudsi is open to criticism in terms of hadith authentication methodology; all Muslim saints agree that he is the person for whose sake the universe was created, since he is the unique guide at reading the universe like a divinely authored book, as well as understanding the Qur’an, which teaches the principles of religion. Being respectful toward such a guide was the duty of the Companions, and that respect was his deserve. When the Pride of Humanity set foot somewhere, even rotten bones in the earth stood up. However, when the Companions stood up for him, as Persians did for their authorities, he told them not to. In the same way, he did his own work; perhaps he prepared his own meals when necessary, washed the dishes, and prepared his bed. If he had allowed them, the people in his household would have done everything for him and never let him do a thing. However, the noble Messenger of God, may the most excellent benedictions and the best blessings be upon him, did not let that happen and did his own personal chores; greatness in great figures lies in their modesty, humility, and humbleness. As for trying to look great, it is a complex of little people. Putting on an air of superiority to demand respect from others is not appreciated. The Messenger of God, millions of peace and blessings be upon him, never adopted anything that would not become him. Everything he did became him so much that even celestial creatures admired his virtues. To conclude, like other virtues, his example represented chivalry in the best way with all its depths and immensities.
1. Dhahabi, Mizan al-Itidal, 5/390. Zulfiqar is the name of a famous sword that Ali ibn Abi Talib used.
2. Ibrahim Tennuri.