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Spirituality In Islam


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What is spirituality?—or rabbaniyat, to use the Qur’anic term. It is the elevation of the human condition to a plane on which the mind is focused on the higher, non-material realities of a godly …

What is spirituality?—or rabbaniyat, to use the Qur’anic term. It is the elevation of the human condition to a plane on which the mind is focused on the higher, non-material realities of a godly existence. The opposite of spirituality is materialism, a course followed all too often in this world. One who takes this course, giving all his attention to worldly things, or to put it another way, who centres his attention on mere appearances, is regarded as being materialistic. Conversely, one who rises above material things or appearances, who finds his focus of interest in non-material things, is regarded as being spiritual or godly. The latter is one who obeys the injunction of the Qur’an: “Be devoted servants of God” (3:79) or, alternatively, “O people, be godly servants of Allah.”

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  • 1. Spirituality in Islam Table of ContentsTABLE OF CONTENTSTable of Contents................................................................2Spirituality in Islam............................................................3 The Universe—A Source of Divine Inspiration ...........7 A Personal Experience....................................................8 ~2~
  • 2. Spirituality in Islam Spirituality in IslamSPIRITUALITY IN ISLAMWhat is spirituality?—or rabbaniyat, to use theQur’anic term. It is the elevation of the humancondition to a plane on which the mind is focusedon the higher, non-material realities of a godlyexistence. The opposite of spirituality ismaterialism, a course followed all too often in thisworld. One who takes this course, giving all hisattention to worldly things, or to put it another way,who centres his attention on mere appearances, isregarded as being materialistic. Conversely, onewho rises above material things or appearances,who finds his focus of interest in non-materialthings, is regarded as being spiritual or godly. Thelatter is one who obeys the injunction of the Qur’an:“Be devoted servants of God” (3:79) or,alternatively, “O people, be godly servants ofAllah.”To understand what constitutes materialism,imagine that you come across a palatial house, orsee an attractive car being driven along the street. Ifa strong desire is kindled within you to have suchthings in your possession, that is a clear indication ~3~
  • 3. Spirituality in Islam Spirituality in Islamthat materialism is a major motivating factor inyour life. One who sees the same things, butremains unaffected by the notions of luxury thatthey convey, and therefore feels no desire to acquirethem, lives in a more rarefied sphere in whichmaterialism plays no part. He sees no attraction inthe lesser world of material appearances, beingengrossed in the higher realities of the supremelyspiritual life. The truly non-material person is neverinfluenced by superficialities: his soul exists at tooprofound a level of spirituality.This is true, and without any exaggeration. Thosewho live for worldly pleasures believe thatgratification cannot be had except from materialthings. But this thinking is due to sheer ignorance.Worldly pleasure being the only thing they haveexperienced, they imagine that for enjoyment theymust depend solely on material things. Had theyexperienced spiritual pleasure, they would certainlyhave forgotten material pleasure. The pleasure to bederived from material things is limited in natureand very short-lived. Whereas spiritual pleasuremay be eternally savoured. ~4~
  • 4. Spirituality in Islam Spirituality in IslamEating tasty food certainly gives us a sense ofenjoyment. But it is only when the experience ofeating such food results in an outpouring ofthanksgiving to God that our pleasure knows nobounds. Travelling in a modern car is alsoenjoyable, but the pleasure which comes from adeep perception of reality, —i.e. the apprehensionof the indescribably unique power of God asmanifested in the world in the form of cars,aeroplanes and all the other modern amenitiescreated for man’s comfort—is far superior to thatwhich one experiences while travelling in aluxurious automobile.The materialistic person can find pleasure only insomething which he or she actually experiences. Butthe spiritual person lives on a higher plane. Forhim, even seeing things in another’s possessionoccasions an outpouring from the innermostrecesses of his heart of his gratefulness to God.Another’s material pleasure transforms itself into aspiritual pleasure for him as well. A materially-minded person sees only the creature, while aspiritually-inclined person sees the splendour of theCreator through the creature. And it is obvious that ~5~
  • 5. Spirituality in Islam Spirituality in Islamthe spiritual riches accruing from the discovery ofthe Creator cannot be gained in the discovery ofmere objects of creation.Furthermore, in the spiritual world there is no greatdifference between comfort and deprivation. Whatone gains from experiences of material pleasure isof far less value than what one gains fromexperiences of deprivation. The tears of painflowing from an aching heart gives far greatersatisfaction than the laughter of happiness. Thegreatest source of pleasure is in the remembrance ofGod. It is this reality which finds expression in thefollowing verse of the Qur’an: “It is only in theremembrance of God that hearts are comforted.”(13:28)Here comfort means not just the temporary solaceto be found in everyday convenience, but the realcomfort with its implications of peace of mind thatcan stem only from God Almighty. Man by natureis an idealistic creature. Anything short of ideal canattract only fitful attention from him, whereas trueand lasting comfort can be achieved only throughthe Perfect Being. ~6~
  • 6. Spirituality in Islam Spirituality in IslamExisting at the level of materialism is likedescending into animality. Materialism is, in otherwords, a form of shallowness. The real man is onewho discovers the secret of living on the elevatedplane of spirituality. If in materialism there is thepleasure of laughter, in spirituality there is thepleasure of pain. If materialism is to live a life oflimitations, spirituality is to live in limitlessness.THE UNIVERSE—A SOURCE OF DIVINEINSPIRATIONThe universe has been fashioned by God in a waythat it may become a source of spiritual inspirationfor man. According to the Qur’an, it is the quality oftawassum (15:75) that enables one to find inspirationin the universe. What is tawassum? It is the ability tounderstand the signs of nature. That is, to observethe phenomena of the universe in order to drawlessons from them and receive spiritualnourishment from physical events.Tawassum is, in a sense, a matter of conversion, on aparallel with grass entering the body of the cow andthrough a natural process being transformed intomilk. Similarly, the truly religious person is like a ~7~
  • 7. Spirituality in Islam Spirituality in Islamdivine industry. He is able to convert physicalevents into spiritual lessons. He extracts spiritualnourishment from material things.The distinguishing feature of the wise peopledescribed in the Qur’an is that, they continuouslyderive such sustenance from their environment,thus maintaining their intellectual and spiritualwell-being. This is elaborated upon in the Qur’an asfollows:“In the creation of the heavens and the earth, and inthe succession of night and day, there are signs formen of understanding; those that remember Godwhen standing, sitting, and lying down, and reflecton the creation of the heavens and the earth(saying): ‘Lord, You have not created these in vain.Glory be to You! Save us from the torment of thefire, Lord.” (3:191)A PERSONAL EXPERIENCEIt was Thursday morning, 17th June 1999. I was inManchester, England, staying in the house of anArab Brother Alaref Ahmad. While I was sitting inmy room on the upper floor, I heard a gentle knock ~8~
  • 8. Spirituality in Islam Spirituality in Islamon the door. When I opened it, I found a child ofabout five years of age. It was Qanita, the first-borndaughter of Brother Alaref. She asked in allinnocence and gentleness, “Do you need anything?”(turidu haja). Perhaps it was her mother who hadsent her, and although this was a simple question, Iwas quite overwhelmed by this innocent voice; tothe extent that I could not utter a single word inreply. This was a normal incident, but in my mind,it became transformed into a supra-normal event.Children are like the flowers of God and littleangels. I felt as if God Himself had sent me an angelto discover and meet my needs.At this moment, a famous hadith came to mind:“Your Lord descends to this worldly haven everyday, looks at His servants and says, ‘Is there anyonewho has a need and asks Me, that I may give it tohim?’” (Muslim).‘Do you need anything?’ was a short question thatcame from an innocent soul, but it was enough tocause a great revolution in my inner being; referredto by modern scholars as ‘brainstorming.’ ~9~
  • 9. Spirituality in Islam Spirituality in IslamFor a while, I felt that I could see the whole of theUniverse on the screen of my mind. This was agreat spiritual experience which could not beexpressed in human words. In the beginning, itseemed as though God, through a little angel, wassaying, “O my servant, do you need anything?”Then, the matter extended to include the wholeUniverse with its Heavens and its Earth.In fact, it was only a little girl at the door of myroom, asking, “Do you need anything?” but in itsextended sense, it was as if the whole Universe wasasking the same question.The vast Heaven was saying, “Do you need ashelter? Here I am to provide you with one, becauseGod has ordered me to do so.” The gleaming sunwas saying, “Do you need light? I am here tosupply it and transform your darkness into light.”The majestic mountains were announcing, “Wouldyou like to be on the highest level in all humanity? Iam here at your service to help you attain that highposition.” The flowing water in the river-beds wasmurmuring, “Do you want to have a spiritual bathto purify your soul? I am here to offer you that.” ~ 10 ~
  • 10. Spirituality in Islam Spirituality in IslamAnd the gusting wind was asking, “Do you want totour the Universe to see the wondrous signs ofGod? Here is my back for you to ride on to embarkon such a Divine journey.” The trees werewhispering, “Would you like to have a personalityas radiant as ours? We are here to make your wish areality.” The fruits on their branches and the cropsin their husks were declaring, “If you cravenourishment for your intellectual and spiritual life,we are here to provide you with it.”While this reel was playing in my mind, I heardbirds chirping, “O servant of God! Here is goodnews for you: If you have a need, then God hasmade the whole Universe to serve your needs. Godis so generous that He has created the whole of theUniverse to be at your service, day and night. Inaddition to this, if you show thankfulness to God,He will give you what is greater than all of this —Eternal Paradise in which there will be “...neitherfear nor grievance” (6:48).Then, the following Qur’anic verse came to mind:“And He gave you all that you asked for” (14.34).This means that whatever is needed for Man to live ~ 11 ~
  • 11. Spirituality in Islam Spirituality in Islama good life on this Earth has been prepared inadvance by God, directly and indirectly. Horses, forinstance, were directly created; whereas aeroplaneswere provided indirectly. The travelling of the voicethrough the air is an example of direct provision,while its transmission by means of electronicequipment is a form of indirect provision. Perhaps,this is what is meant by the following Qur’anicverse: “And (He has created) horses, mules anddonkeys for you to ride, and as an adornment. AndHe has created (other) things which are beyondyour knowledge” (16:8).God Almighty says, “O you who believe! Eat of thegood things that We have provided for you. And begrateful to Allah, if it is Him you worship” (2:172).This means that God Almighty has createdeverything, imaginable and unimaginable; greatand small, in the most perfect form. Then, He gaveall this free to Man. The only price to be paid forthese endless blessings is thankfulness; it is Mansrecognition, from the depths of his heart, that Godis the Giver and Man the receiver. ~ 12 ~
  • 12. Spirituality in Islam Spirituality in IslamThe Qur’an mentions as examples of God’sbeneficiaries the people of Saba.’ God Almightygave them a sign in the, “two Gardens to the righthand and to the left; (and it was said to them:) ‘Eatof the provision of your Lord, and be grateful toHim: fair is your land and Oft-Forgiving is yourLord’”(34:15). This means that if Man pays theprice—that is, gratitude—then not only will he beallowed to avail of these blessings, but moreimportantly, he will also be rewarded with eternalParadise, which is a perfect version of this presentimperfect world of God.God Almighty bestowed upon Man all thesematerial things which man needs if he is to live agood life on this Earth. All these things are silentlyconveying the following message: “O Man! Are youseeking something greater than all this? Do youwant spiritual peace in addition to material peace?Do you want a world of perfection after thisimperfect world? Would you like to taste theblessings of God in the world of eternity after youhave tasted them in this ephemeral world? Do youwish to have all these comforts as a blessing in theworld to come, after you have had them as a trial in ~ 13 ~
  • 13. Spirituality in Islam Spirituality in Islamthis transient world? Would you like to realize yourfull potential after experiencing the limitation ofyour capacities in this present world?”God created a perfect and complete world as aneternal abode for Man. Then, He wanted to knowwho was worthy of inhabiting that eternal world.For this purpose, He created the time-bound andimperfect abode in which we are now living. Thislife, therefore, is only a test. Man is constantlyunder the observation of his Lord. With everyutterance and movement, Man is writing his owneternal destiny. One who, during his pre-deathperiod proves himself through his conductdeserving of that world will, in his post-death-period, be rewarded with admission into it. Others,however, will be flung into the Universal junkyard,that is Hell, condemned for all eternity. So, they willlose both worlds, the present incomplete world aswell as the next, perfect and everlasting world.God has revealed Himself in two books—theQur’an and the Universe. The Qur’an is a literalversion of Gods word, while the Universe, ornature, is a practical demonstration of it. These two ~ 14 ~
  • 14. Spirituality in Islam Spirituality in Islamare the basic sources of spiritual inspiration for aman who seeks to live a life according to the divinescheme.This dual source of divine inspiration is mentionedin the Qur’an in the following verse: “God is Hewho raised the Heavens without visible supports,then He ascended the Throne. He has compelled thesun and the moon to be of service, each pursuing anappointed course; He controls the affairs (of theUniverse); He makes plain His revelations, so thatyou may be certain of the meeting with your Lord”(13:2). So, the Qur’an is like a guidebook. It preparesthe mind so that one may properly understand theUniverse and live in it as desired by God.So, a mu’min (true believer) has precisely that kindof prepared mind. When he sees the Universe withits various parts functioning in an absolutelycoherent manner, he will spontaneously say: “Thereis no god but the one God!” and when he examinesit, he will find that there are so many complexhappenings in its vastness. Nevertheless, he findsthat every part of the universe is highly predictable.With this discovery, he realizes that it is as if God ~ 15 ~
  • 15. Spirituality in Islam Spirituality in Islamwas suggesting that he himself should have apredictable character. When he observes that thevarious parts of the Universe function with absoluteharmony, he realises that, in like manner, he shouldlive in complete harmony with society; withouthatred for or malice towards anyone. When he seesthe events of the universe always proceedingtowards a meaningful result, he realises that man’slife, too, must have a meaningful end. Thus heexclaims: “O our Lord! You have not created (all)this without purpose. Glory be to You! Give ussalvation from the torment of Hellfire!” (3:191).In brief, the universe is a manifestation of theAttributes of Almighty God. Hence, it is a source ofspiritual nourishment for those who want to lead adivine life on earth. For them, the whole universebecomes a great means of their reaching spiritualperfection. This spiritual development continuesincessantly throughout their earthly life. As theultimate result of this life-long developmentalprocess, they attain that degree of spirituality whichthe Qur’an calls the ‘Rabbani soul.’ It is such as thesewho, in the life Hereafter, will be told by their most ~ 16 ~
  • 16. Spirituality in Islam Spirituality in Islamcompassionate Lord: “Dwell in Paradise; you shallhave no fear, nor shall you grieve.” (7:49)There is nothing mysterious about spirituality inIslam. It is rather the direct result of the kind ofintellectual development that takes place when abeliever ponders over the Creator and His creation:he gains something in the process that may betermed spirituality. The source, therefore, of Islamicspirituality is perusal and reflection rather than anysort of mysterious exercise.That is why the Qur’an rejects asceticism(monasticism), referring to it as a bida‘a (innovation)in religion which God did not prescribe for people.(57:27)From the Qur’an we learn that, in the very creationof the universe, the signs of God lie hidden allaround us. A person who is in a state of keenawareness when he reflects upon the things of theworld comes to see the Creator in the creatures. Themeaning of the creation of the Universe is laid barebefore him. Ultimately, the universe becomes apermanent source of spiritual inspiration. He iscontinuously nourished by it during his worldly ~ 17 ~
  • 17. Spirituality in Islam Spirituality in Islamexperience, and his observation of the universeawakens in him latent divine qualities.The result of this observation and contemplation ofthe universe does not result in his shunning normallife. Far from withdrawing from the world, he livesin it, participating in all its activities; yet despite hisinvolvement, he remains aloof. That is to say,although he fulfills all his duties andresponsibilities, his heart is not attached to worldlyaffairs. He appears to live in the world, but hestands apart from it. Thanks to this state of hisheart, he acquires tremendous spiritual gains. TheProphet Muhammad, may peace be upon him, saysof such individuals: “God plants wisdom in the heart of one who shows disinclination for the world.”There is life for man in spirituality: this is indeedthe real life for man. ~ 18 ~