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Spirituality in Modern Civilization

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We have been asked to address the topic of “Spirituality in Modern Civilization.” Such topics are typically chosen by professors who find such combinations of concepts catchy, flashy and even a little spicy. However, when I hear the term “modern civilization” bandied about, I often wonder what it really means. After all, did people in the past consider themselves backwards, out-of-date, ancient, or behind the times? Did they consider their time uncivilized, looking towards our era as one in which they would finally be “modern?” Was not the time of our Prophet (s) also a “modern” one for those who were blessed to live during it? I propose that “modernity” exists in every era, depending on the circumstances of the time, and thus can be applied equally to each of them as well.

Defining Modernity

By limiting our view of modernity to the present era, we assume that previous generations were inherently discontent with their way of life. Why should this be so? Consider the amenities of water and fire. In the past people needed to go far to procure wood for fire and water to drink. They did not have a tap to get water from. For them, modernity might have meant that they had access to water at a short distance instead of having to travel for miles. Those in the Stone Age, too, considered their time to be “modern” also, as they were living in caves and using utensils carved from stones – a vast improvement over living in the wilderness with no shelter and no utensils. At least they had chairs of stone to sit on, a pot in which to cook and animal skins to keep them warm.

So, it is not only the twenty-first century or twentieth century that is modern; previous centuries were also modern in their own context. And, in many of them, Islam played a remarkable role in achieving what was then considered “modern.”

The Need for Spiritual Treatment of Psychological Illnesses

Today, “modern” psychology has recently concluded that despite recent impressive advances in technology, means of production and availability of knowledge, human beings are now more out of tune with their own selves and more susceptible to damaging conditions such as neuroses, depression and other psychoses. They are also afflicted by a host of societal illnesses that seem, in many ways, unique to the “modern” era. Thus, many Western psychologists and social scientists have come to realize the importance of what they are now calling the “spiritual” aspect of the human psyche.

In doing so, they have discovered that spiritual discipline is essential in rectifying the negativity and psychoses inherent in every human being. This has led to a new emphasis in the West on treatment by spiritual means, with a focus on meditation, contemplation, seclusion and various other metaphysical exercises that are designed to assist the individual struggling with the darker aspects of his or her inner-self. Huge movements have evolved in the West, all focused on the use of spiritual discipline to treat serious psychological illnesses.

Contemporary psychology has come to view each of these illnesses as a disorder of the self that, if left untreated, eventually come to dominate the personality of the individual.

However, even with this new awareness of the spiritual dimensions of mental illness and the development of novel ways of treating such disorders, we find that such diseases of the psyche continue to spread. Moreover, we are witnessing a growing deterioration of good conduct and ethical behavior throughout our “modern” societies. Wherever you turn, you find people increasingly overcome by anger, greed, cowardice, jealousy and the other 17 major vices. These evil traits lead to harmful actions, such as lying, cheating, stealing and even violence.

These negative character traits continue to spread because all the individual therapy, group therapy and expensive treatment programs amount to nothing in the face of a world filled with unbalanced egos that – due to constant over-indulgence in material pleasures - have grown out of proportion to people’s true natures. The mental health professionals tasked with treating what must be seen as a spiritual epidemic are like one man trying to stop the flow of a mighty river.

Unbridled love of this worldly life, unbalanced by moral or ethical principles, leads to an excess of desire, jealousy and envy. Envy leads to anger, and anger - when it spirals out of control - leads to aggression, violence and tyrannical behavior. Eventually, this can lead to disobedience and outward manifestations of misbehavior which directly harm others. This is true whether the individual is a common person, an educated person or the leader of a nation. If ignored, such aspects of the individual can grow, and like a cancer, spread to other aspects of the psyche, eventually destroying the individual’s positive characteristics and leading him or her further into destructive patterns of behavior.

This is observed today in every level of society, to such a degree that many societies are spending massive amounts of money and resources in order to come to grips with these personality disorders that are manifesting on a large scale in their communities, towns, provinces and ultimately throughout the nation.

When this sort of psychic breakdown occurs in a leader, these bad traits are further amplified by his power to assert control and impact the lives of those around him and under him. Such negative character traits in a leader thus have momentous impact. Exacerbated by the often intense circumstances of governmental affairs, the challenges of statecraft and the pressures of the political scene, these manifestation of these traits can lead to harmful acts.

That Elusive Term “Spirituality”

What, then, is this concept described by the word “spirituality?”

Spirituality is something that most people believe is beyond our grasp, something dubious in need of both verification and clarification. Everyone understands when you use the term “Islam,” but when you say “spirituality,” everyone becomes hesitant. People exclaim, “What is that? We never heard about spirituality!” They forget, or perhaps were never aware, that Allah ¹ mentioned this concept in Sūrat al-Kahf, as I will explain in detail later.

Take the example of a room like this one. In it, you have ordinary white lights that provide illumination, but nothing more. If you look at a theater stage, you will see that they have many different colors of lights – red, blue, green and other hues. Together, these are able to create a colorful scene that evokes a mood. If you put these lights in motion, it becomes even more scintillating. If you add neon lights and lasers, you can create a magnificent light show.

Our entire religion is called Islam. But you can decorate your Islam with various aspects which the Prophet Muhammad (s) showed us in order that it becomes colorful, polished, decorated and even magnificent. The religion itself is carrying within it all sorts of different effects that give it beauty, splendor and magnificence.

Let us take an example from the Qur’ān. Speaking generally, Allah says of His servants:

وَإِذَا سَأَلَكَ عِبَادِي عَنِّيفَإِنِّي قَرِيبٌ

When My servants ask thee concerning Me, I am indeed close (to them)[1]

At a higher level are those servants who strive to improve their personality, whom Allah describes by their different attributes. These attributes are like the colored spotlights on a stage, each giving new and different effects:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اتَّقُوا اللَّهَ وَآمِنُوا بِرَسُولِهِ يُؤْتِكُمْ كِفْلَيْنِ مِن رَّحْمَتِهِ وَيَجْعَل لَّكُمْ نُورًا تَمْشُونَ بِهِ وَيَغْفِرْ لَكُمْ وَاللَّهُ غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ

O ye who believe! Remain conscious of Allah, and believe in His Prophet, [and] He will grant you doubly of His grace, and will light for you a light wherein you shall walk, and will forgive you [your past sins]: for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Dispenser of grace. [2]

Then Allah goes on to describe an even higher level:

وَعِبَادُ الرَّحْمَنِ الَّذِينَ يَمْشُونَ عَلَى الْأَرْضِ هَوْنًا وَإِذَا خَاطَبَهُمُ الْجَاهِلُونَ قَالُوا سَلَامًا

And the servants of ((Allah)) Most Gracious are those who walk on the earth in humility, and when the ignorant address them, they say, “Peace!";[3]

There are servants who when you look at them you say, “There is so much light on his face,” or “That one is so generous, always helping the poor,” or “That one has such perfect good conduct and manners.” Allah describes Himself by means of different Names and Attributes. Similarly, His servants can be described by different characteristics. Islam is not like a plain bowl. Rather, it is like a decorated vase - one that, when you look at it, you cannot help saying, “Oh! That is very nice.”

In Surat al-Kahf, Allah mentioned,

وَاصْبِرْ نَفْسَكَ مَعَ الَّذِينَ يَدْعُونَ رَبَّهُم بِالْغَدَاةِ وَالْعَشِيِّ يُرِيدُونَوَجْهَهُ وَلَا تَعْدُ عَيْنَاكَ عَنْهُمْ تُرِيدُ زِينَةَ الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَاوَلَا تُطِعْ مَنْ أَغْفَلْنَا قَلْبَهُ عَن ذِكْرِنَا وَاتَّبَعَ هَوَاهُ وَكَانَأَمْرُهُ فُرُطًا

And keep thy soul content with those who call on their Lord morning and evening, seeking His Face; and let not thine eyes pass beyond them, seeking the pomp and glitter of this Life; nor obey any whose heart We have permitted to neglect the remembrance of Us, one who follows his own desires, whose case has gone beyond all bounds.[4]

What Allah is saying is: “O Muhammad! Keep patient with those who gave themselves up to Me, that are doing the work of da¿wah – outreach and education. In the day they perform this work in public and at night they are doing da¿wah by sitting behind your home, O Muhammad, and praising Me and worshipping Me, calling upon Me with all My Holy Beautiful Names and Attributes. So, O Muhammad, give them a glance, give them a boost and do not ignore them when you go out of your home on the way to Fajr prayers.”

Those were workers during the day and during the night. Such people are needed in order to give more attention to Islam in its perfection. Thus, those who spend their time in seeking Allah’s Face are mentioned with such high regard.

Treating the Illnesses of the Psyche

Islam has always given great consideration to treating the disorders of the self, to the point that the Prophet of Islam, Sayyidina Muhammad (s), indicated that self-purification is one of the most essential aspects of the faith:

أخوف ما أخاف عليكم الشرك الأصغر ، فسئل عنه؟ فقال:الرياء

He said: What I fear most for my Community is the hidden polytheism.” They asked about it and he said, “It is ostentation (ar-rīyā).”[5]

What is meant here is that the Prophet (s) did not fear for his community returning to idolatry or unbelief, but rather his greatest fear was that the hidden shirk, about which the Prophet (s) is reported to have said, “Association with Allah (shirk) is stealthier in this community than creeping ants.” In this, we see that the Prophet (s) feared for his community not the outward polytheism of idol-worship, for he was informed by Allah that his community was protected from that forever.[6] What he feared was the secret polytheism, which is to do something for the sake of showing-off.[7]

Returning from a military campaign against aggressors who sought to exterminate the community of believers, the Prophet (s) said to his Companions:

قدمتم خير مقدم، وقدمتم من الجهاد الأصغر إلى الجهاد الأكبر: مجاهدة العبد هواه

We are now returning from the lesser Jihād to the greater Jihād, the Jihād against the self.[8]

By this, the Prophet (s) meant that, while they had struggled against enemy aggressors, they were still faced with the challenge of fighting the lower ways of the inner-self. First, one must cut down vanity and make the inner-self prostrate, for one who truly submits to his Lord can no longer submit to his self. Once that state is reached, only then is prayer purely for Allah.

In the time of the Prophet (s), the lesser jihād was taking place without a name. People were learning how to wage it from the Prophet (s)’s own righteous behavior. Today, it is becoming a name without any meaning. We find many who speak of spirituality, but in reality there is no one trying to achieve it in their lives. In the time of the Prophet (s), it was a concept without a name and today it is a name without a reality.

The Sahaba were practicing that reality. If one delves into the religion, we find that the Prophet (s) divided religion into three fundamental categories: Islam, Imān and Iħsān. The first part is what Sayyidina Jibrīl described when he came to the Prophet (s) in the form of a human being, dressed in clean white clothes and in front of all his Companions began to ask him about the religion.[9]

If Imān and Iħsān are not important what need did the Prophet (s) mention them? He described Islam as five pillars. Everyone is familiar with these: The two professions of faith, prayer, fasting, charity and hajj. But he did not stop there. He also mentioned Īmān, faith, thus demonstrating that there is another aspect of religion - belief. He wanted the Companions to know that not only must they accept his prophethood, but also that of those who came before him. He wanted them to have al-Imān bi ’l-ghayb, belief in the unseen – to accept the concept of not seeing yet believing. That is something very difficult. Today, people say, “We cannot believe in something we do not see. Without scientific discovery we cannot believe.” This is a lower level of Imān. Furthermore, he told them to believe in the angels, in the other holy books, in the Afterlife and in Destiny. All of these are unseen.

We see then that Islam, the first component of the religion, is external and empirical: Shahada is pronounced; Šalāt is performed; šawm is experienced; Hajj is undertaken. Thus, the five pillars are physical concepts. Imān, however, is a non-physical concept that requires belief without seeing.

Consider this concept in light of our understanding of physics. Every atom consists of a mass, the nucleus, and electrons spinning around it, which are energy. Similarly, a person has a body and soul, mass and energy. You cannot see the soul, the energy, but can you see the body, the mass. So:

atom = mass + energy

person = body + soul

الدين = اسلام + أيمان

Religion = Islam (physical performance of worship) + Imān (the spiritual dimension of the religion that cannot be seen.)

Everything consists of these two elements as shown in the hadith of Sayyidina ¿Umar. Therefore, if you are able to perform the five pillars of Islam and fulfill the six pillars of Imān, you attain perfection, Iħsān. If you balance the equation of the body and spirit, (i.e. mind and soul), it means you achieve health which is perfection in the dimension of the body and in the dimension of the spirit.

That is: Islam + Imān = Iħsān.

The Prophet (s) is giving us this equation: Iħsān is to worship Allah as if you are seeing Him, and if you are not seeing Him, He is seeing you. You cannot see Allah ¹ but you can see His manifest signs.  This means that, if you are able to balance the daily prayers and obligations that Allah ordered you to do, together with the spiritual struggle against the self, you will be able to see His Signs. That is why Allah said in Holy Qur’ān:

سَنُرِيهِمْ آيَاتِنَا فِيالْآفَاقِ وَفِي أَنفُسِهِمْ حَتَّى يَتَبَيَّنَ لَهُمْ أَنَّهُ الْحَقُّ

Soon will We show them our Signs in the (furthest) regions (of the earth), and in their own souls, until it becomes manifest to them that this is the Truth. [10]

In his time the Prophet (s) did not explain the scientific signs to his Companions. He only explained the principles and discipline of Islam because, at that time (in what was their “modern” style of life), life revolved around agriculture and animal husbandry, medicines were herbal or Prophetic, and they lived in homes of mud or tents. Since that era was incapable of understanding what we see in ours, the Prophet (s) only mentioned these signs in general terms without explanation. He wanted the people of later times, who possess the capacity and knowledge, to recognize the greatness of Holy Qur’ān and hadith through their scientific discoveries.

That is why today we see ¿ulamā are finding many scientific discoveries in the Holy Qur’ān and hadith. Such discoveries are the reason some people in the West to convert to Islam. Allah seeks to guide people - through any means - and one of them is through their science and technology.

If someone cleanses himself by eliminating all his internal negativity and ruinous traits he will be able to reach a level of purity of heart wherein he becomes subtle in his very being and in direct receipt of heavenly support because of the spotless qualities he attains. This is mentioned in Qur’ān:

قَدْ أَفْلَحَمَن زَكَّاهَا

Truly he succeeds that purifies it [11]

This is why Allah says you are not a believer until you love Allah more than you love anyone:

قُلْ إِن كَانَ آبَاؤُكُمْوَأَبْنَآؤُكُمْ وَإِخْوَانُكُمْ وَأَزْوَاجُكُمْ وَعَشِيرَتُكُمْ وَأَمْوَالٌاقْتَرَفْتُمُوهَا وَتِجَارَةٌ تَخْشَوْنَ كَسَادَهَا وَمَسَاكِنُ تَرْضَوْنَهَاأَحَبَّ إِلَيْكُم مِّنَ اللّهِ وَرَسُولِهِ وَجِهَادٍ فِي سَبِيلِهِفَتَرَبَّصُواْ حَتَّى يَأْتِيَ اللّهُ بِأَمْرِهِ وَاللّهُ لاَ يَهْدِي الْقَوْمَالْفَاسِقِين

This is also mentioned in the hadith of the Prophet (s):

حَدَّثَنَا مُحَمَّدُ بْنُ الْمُثَنَّى، وَابْنُ، بَشَّارٍ قَالاَ حَدَّثَنَا مُحَمَّدُ بْنُ جَعْفَرٍ، حَدَّثَنَا شُعْبَةُ، قَالَ سَمِعْتُ قَتَادَةَ، يُحَدِّثُ عَنْ اَنَسِ بْنِ مَالِكٍ، قَالَ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم ‏"‏ لاَ يُؤْمِنُ اَحَدُكُمْ حَتَّى اَكُونَ اَحَبَّ اِلَيْهِ مِنْ وَلَدِهِ وَوَالِدِهِ وَالنَّاساَجْمَعِينَ

None of you believes until he loves me more than his children, his parents and more than every human being[12].

He will be considered a lover of the Prophet (s) when he loves the Prophet (s) even more than his very self, as in the hadith of Sayyidina ¿Umar ¦:

وقد قال له عمر رضي الله عنه انك احب الي من كل شيء الا نفسي، قال لا يا عمر فلما قال عمر رضي الله عنه والله لانت احب الي من نفسي قال الآن يا عمرتمّ أيمامك.

¿Umar ¦ said, “You are more beloved to me than all things except myself.” The Prophet (s) said, “No, O ¿Umar.” ¿Umar then said, “By Allah you are more beloved to me than my own self,” the Prophet (s) replied, “Now, O ¿Umar you have completed your faith.”

It was also related from Anas that the Prophet (s) of Allah said:

عَنْ اَنَسِ بْنِ مَالِكٍ، قَالَ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّه صلى الله عليه وسلم ‏"‏ كَمْ مِنْ اَشْعَثاَغْبَر ذِي طِمْرَيْنِ لاَ يُؤْبَهُ لَهُ لَواَقْسَمعَلَىاللَّهلاَبَرَّه مِنْهُمُ الْبَرَاءُ بْنُ مَالِكٍ ‏"‏

How many a ragged dusty person possessing only the tattered clothes on his body, given no importance by anyone, if he were to swear an oath by Allah, Allah would fulfill it.[13]

The Prophet (s) used the phrase “ash¿ath aghbar,” a ragged, dusty person, meaning someone to whom no one gives attention nor believes could ever be favored by Allah’s Grace, saying that he may be the one who reached the level of sincere love to Allah, love to His Prophet (s) and love to the Community.

When one achieves this level, one will love all human beings. Love emerges when one is able to eliminate the 17 major ruinous traits that bind the human self, as Islamic scholars of the science of self-purification and struggle (tazkīyya wa mujāhidat an-nafs) have derived from the Qur’ān and the Sunnah. By means of the 13 forms of jihād, entailing the struggle against the self, an individual may be able to eliminate these ruinous character traits until he achieves a state of purity and perfected character.

Among the 17 primary aspects of the human psyche that need treatment in order for Allah’s servant to attain a level of purified character are:

o Anger (ghaļab)

o Love of the world (ħubb ad-dunyā)

o Malice (ħiqd)

o Jealousy (hasad)

o Pride (kibr)

o Vanity (aƸama)

o Showing off (rīyā¿)

o Depression(al-ghamm)

and the 800 prohibited actions (al-manhīyat).

These characteristics, as has been shown today in psychology, are in fact each a disorder of the self, which if left untreated, eventually come to dominate the personality of the individual. When this happens the person will become subject to the dangerous aspects of these traits.

So, the importance of purification in the modern era as in the past, is to purify the self, to struggle against the ego through jihād of the self, through the 13 characteristics of jihād mentioned by Ibn Qayyim al-Jawzīyyah in his Zād al-Ma¿ād, and through this struggle attain the level of enlightenment.

At that time the servant of Allah will be in accordance with the Prophet (s)’s saying:

عَنْ أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ قَالَ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ إِنَّ اللَّهَ قَالَ مَنْ عَادَى لِي وَلِيًّا فَقَدْ آذَنْتُهُ بِالْحَرْبِ وَمَا تَقَرَّبَ إِلَيَّ عَبْدِي بِشَيْءٍ أَحَبَّ إِلَيَّ مِمَّا افْتَرَضْتُ عَلَيْهِ وَمَا يَزَالُ عَبْدِي يَتَقَرَّبُ إِلَيَّ بِالنَّوَافِلِ حَتَّى أُحِبَّهُ فَإِذَا أَحْبَبْتُهُ كُنْتُ سَمْعَهُ الَّذِي يَسْمَعُ بِه وَبَصَرَهُ الَّذِي يُبْصِرُ بِهِ وَيَدَهُ الَّتِي يَبْطِشُ بِهَا وَرِجْلَهُ الَّتِي يَمْشِي بِهَا وَإِنْ سَأَلَنِي لَأُعْطِيَنَّهُ وَلَئِنْ اسْتَعَاذَنِي لَأُعِيذَنَّهُ وَمَا تَرَدَّدْتُ عَنْ شَيْءٍ أَنَا فَاعِلُهُ تَرَدُّدِي عَنْ نَفْسِ الْمُؤْمِنِ يَكْرَهُ الْمَوْتَ وَأَنَا أَكْرَهُ مَسَاءَتَهُ

My servant continues to approach Me through voluntary worship until I love him. And when I love him I will be the ears with which he hears, I will be the eyes with which he sees; I will be the tongue with which he speaks, I will be the hand with which he acts, and I will be the foot with which he walks[14]

Not only must individuals go through these stages of self-struggle and purification, but the society, the nation and the Ummah must go through them as well. Spirituality is essential for such self-improvement.

One can draw an analogy between the disheveled person mentioned in the earlier hadith, al-ash¿ath aghbar, and the Muslim Ummah today. That impoverished, yet sincere, person trying to reach the level of perfected character is similar to the Community today. If the Community will engage in the same struggle of self-purification, it will achieve the same level of development. At that time, the Community will be as in the early days of Islam, when its purity and integrity allowed it to develop, expand, improve and build - so much so that it became the center of the world, the fount of civilization and the beacon of knowledge and science.

Then, the Muslim Ummah achieved the ideal of the model city, al-Madīnat al-fāļilah, described by al-Fā¿rābī. This was the implementation of the example of the Madīnat an-Nabī (s) on a global scale, establishing the principles of a model state where people lived in the highest level of discipline, responsibility and excellent moral conduct. In such a Madīnat, everyone keeps respect for the other. No one seeks to dominate the other. Rather, all seek the greater good of the community under inspired leadership. Women have their role, equal as partners, with the role of men, each working in their specializations to the highest level of perfection. People of differing races and beliefs are able live together in harmony, just as in the time of the Prophet (s). In his city, Zoroastrians, Jews and Christians lived in peace and harmony with Muslims and in unity with them. From that unity comes community, and from community comes communion, relationship with the Divine.

Stations in Nation-building

Before a society will change, the leaders of the community must change, for Allah said:

إِنَّ اللّهَ لاَ يُغَيِّرُ مَا بِقَوْمٍ حَتَّى يُغَيِّرُواْ مَا بِأَنْفُسِهِمْ

Verily never will Allah change the condition of a people until they change it themselves (with their own souls).[15]

When the leaders, they will spur a societal change in which the society will be able to engage in an internal social, psychological and cultural invigoration and self-examination. Through this, cross-fertilization will occur between different strains and currents in the nation opening the minds and hearts to new ideas and creative thinking while remaining within the broader guidelines of the Shari¿ah. This process is not aimed at building castles in the air consisting of speculative theories and postulates, but to implement the knowledge learned in an integrated manner so that it becomes part and parcel of the individual, community, society, nation and finally the Ummah as a whole. This cannot be done purely by study, just as one cannot become a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer or an Islamic scholar without training in the real and practical implementation of theory. Rather, this process requires an erudite and qualified teacher who will not only teach the precepts, doctrine and principles of the science of self-purification, but will serve as an exemplar, role model and most importantly provide practical training and guidance in the implementation of the teachings of his discipline.

We are beginning to see such leadership today in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, where King Abdullah has increasingly opened society to further debate and provide the opportunity for cross-cultural and cross-school dialogue. Rather than imposing a single monolithic view, King Abdullah has begun laying the groundwork for a long-awaited change in his nation’s approach to social, political, ideological and religious thinking that bodes well for its further integration into the world. Such steps as opening up inter-sectarian dialogue between scholars of different schools, increasing freedom of the press and civil debate, instituting the democratic process at the municipal and regional levels of government, opening civic society to women’s participation and increasing their participation in local government and social causes, reforming the jihādists through different remanding programs all serve to enhance societal reform in Saudi Arabia.

If a society is focused on fixing internal issues, then that society will be deeply engaged in self-improvement and societal transformation, rather than spending its time seeking to blame external causes for its problems. This allows the transformation of societal energies from externally destructive to internally constructive, and engages the members of society and its leadership in productive debate. By such means, much of the rhetoric which extremist members of the society use to draw the youth into their organizations can be impeded from the outset, for the youth will already be industriously engaged in self-improvement, societal improvement and constructive work whose benefits are rapid and whose progress can be observed.

In contrast, those regimes that turn away from spirituality become morally bankrupt and eventually fail. If we look at the history of the past centuries, we see those regimes that tried to find guidance from material and legalistic principles with no reference to spirituality ultimately found themselves lost. Eventually, they failed and collapsed. This stands in stark contrast to those regimes that have tried to cling, however loosely, to the spiritual, moral and ethical principles behind their founding.

Take, for example, the case of the Soviet Union. At one point, it was a great superpower. It acquired the power to transform itself from a poor nation to one of the greatest military and industrial nations in world. However, because it lacked any spiritual foundation it collapsed, and became as if it had never existed.

However, those regimes which are built on a moral and ethical foundation are successful, prosperous and able to move forward without the dislocating stresses often associated with technological progress.

When leaders emerge in society, either by election or by selection, we see they are successful when their decisions are guided by moral principles, not simply by material concerns. If the latter take precedence, the regime will descend to the lowest degree of morality - to the point it begins to impact the youth. This is particularly true when leaders are corrupt, engaged in underhanded activities such as cheating, lying and bribery. In this way, whole societies are corrupted.

The Prophet (s) said:

اَلاَ وَاِنفِيالْجَسَد مُضْغَةً اِذَا صَلَحَتْ صَلَحَ الْجَسَد كُلُّهُ وَاِذَا فَسَدَتْ فَسَدَ الْجَسَد كُلُّهُ اَلاَ وَهِيَ الْقَلْبُ

There is in the body a small flesh, if it is clean and pure the whole body will be clean and pure and if it is not, and it is contaminated, then the whole body will be contaminated, and that is the heart.[16]

In this pithy sentence, we find manifold meanings. The heart here can be taken to symbolize society’s leadership, for if it is good, the whole society is good, and if it is tainted, the whole nation will be corrupt and degenerate. The Prophet (s)’s description here is comprehensive, for it encompasses both the individual and society. Morality and good behavior are essential in society, as they empower relationships embodying the highest level of dignity and respect between the citizens and their leader.

In contrast, a society devoid of spirituality is like a body without a soul. It is dead. It is like an engine with no fuel; it becomes nothing but scrap metal. However, with the soul, the body keeps running well, like an engine given high-octane fuel. So, spirituality is for the soul as fuel is for the engine. Just as the body has its nourishment through food, the soul itself has its own source of nourishment, which is good manners. That is why spirituality is very important for leadership and society as a whole.

The Reformist Calls for “Jihad”

Today the slogan used on lips of every “reformer” or social activist is “jihād.” Everyone today speaks of jihād. And while we, as scholars and leaders, know that jihād is a wājib, and is even regarded as the sixth pillar by a minority of scholars, few take the care to examine this concept in detail. So, let us first determine the definition of jihād.

One can find countless interpretations of this term which differ from its true spirit and the meaning that Allah intended it in the Holy Qur’ān and in the narrations of the Prophet (s). On the contrary, people use the term Jihād in this time in a way that suits their own whims without realizing the damage that they are causing Islam and Muslims.

What is meant by Jihād? The concept of “holy war” does not occur in the term Jihād, which in Arabic would be al-ħarb al-muqaddasah, in fact this concept cannot be found anywhere throughout the entire Qur’ān. Jihād in the classical sense does not simply mean war. In fact Jihād is a comprehensive term which traditionally has been defined as composed of fourteen different aspects, only one of which involves warfare.

Jihād in its meaning is ¿to struggle¿ as a general description. Jihād derives from the word juhd, which means at-ta¿b, fatigue. The meaning of Jihād fī sabīlillāh, struggle in the Way of Allah, is striving to excess in fatiguing the self, to exhaust the self in seeking the Divine Presence and in bringing up Allah’s Word, all of which He made the Way to Paradise.

For that reason Allah said:

جَاهِدُوا فِي اللَّهِ حَقَّ جِهَادِهِ

And strive hard (jāhidū) in (the way of) Allah, (such) a striving a is due to Him;[17]

It is essential to understand that under the term jāhidū come many different categories of Jihād, each with its specific context. The common understanding of Jihād to mean only war is refuted by this tradition of the Prophet (s):

حدثنا ‏ ‏عبد الرحمن بن مهدي ‏ ‏عن ‏ ‏سفيان ‏ ‏عن ‏ ‏علقمة بن مرثد ‏ ‏عن ‏ ‏طارق بن شهاب ‏ ‏أن رجلا سأل رسول الله ‏ ‏صلى الله عليه وسلم ‏ ‏وقد وضع رجله في ‏ ‏الغرز ‏ ‏أي الجهاد أفضل قال كلمة حق عند سلطان ‏ ‏جائر

A man asked the Prophet (s) “Which Jihād is best?” The Prophet (s) said, “The most excellent Jihād is to say the word of truth in front of a tyrant.”[18]

The fact that the Prophet (s) mentioned this Jihād as “most excellent” means that there are many different forms of Jihād.

Ibn Qayyim’s Fourteen Categories of Jihad

Islamic scholars, from the time of the Prophet (s) until today, have categorized Jihād into fourteen distinct categories. Jihād is not simply the waging of war, as most people today understand. War in fact, or combative Jihād, according to many scholars, is only one of fourteen different categories of Jihād.

In his book Zād al-Ma¿ād, Ibn Qayyim al-Jawzīyyah divided Jihād into fourteen distinct categories:

Jihad Against the Hypocrites

1.1. By heart

1.2. By tongue

1.3. By wealth

1.4. By person

Jihad Against the Unbelievers

1.5 By heart

1.6 By tongue

1.7 By wealth

1.8 By person.

Jihad Against the Devil

1.9 Fighting him defensively against everything of false desires and slanderous doubts in faith that he throws towards the servant.

1.10Fighting him defensively from everything he throws towards the servant of corrupt passion and desire.

Jihad of the Self (jihad an-nafs)

1.11That he strives to learn guidance and the religion of truth which is there is no felicity or happiness in life or in the hereafter except by it. And when he neglects it, his knowledge is wretched in both words.

1.12That he strives to act upon it after he has learned it. For the abstract quality of knowledge without action, even if he commits no wrong, is without benefit.

1.13That he strives to call to Allah and to teach it to someone who does not know it. Otherwise he will be among those who conceal what Allah had revealed of guidance and clarity. His knowledge doesn¿t benefit him or saves him from Allah’s penalty.

1.14That he strives with patience in seeking to call to Allah. When the creation harms him he bears it all for the sake of Allah.[19]

Ibn Rushd’s Four Divisions of Jihad

Ibn Rushd, on the other hand, in his Muqaddimah, divides Jihād into four kinds:

1. Jihād of the heart

2. Jihād of the tongue

3. Jihād of the hand

4. Jihād of the sword[20]

Jihad of the Heart – the Struggle against the Self

The Jihād of the heart is the struggle of the individual with his or her own desires, whims, erroneous ideas and false understandings. This includes the struggle to purify the heart, to rectify one’s actions and to observe the rights and responsibilities of all other human beings.

Jihad of the Tongue – Education and Counsel

He defines Jihād of the tongue as:

To commend good conduct and forbid the wrong, like the type of Jihād Allah ordered us to fulfill against the hypocrites in His Words, “O Prophet (s)! Strive hard against the unbelievers and the hypocrites”[21].

This is the Jihād the Prophet (s) waged in struggling to teach his people. It means to speak about one’s cause and one’s religion. This is known as the Jihād of Education and Counsel.

Allah first revealed:

اقْرَأْ بِاسْمِ رَبِّكَ

Read in the name of Thy Lord![22]

The first aspect of Jihād of Education is through reading. Reading originates with the tongue.

يَا أَيُّهَا النَّبِيُّ جَاهِدِ الْكُفَّارَ وَالْمُنَافِقِينَ وَاغْلُظْ عَلَيْهِمْ

O Prophet! strive hard [jāhid] against the unbelievers and the Hypocrites, and be firm against them.[23]

Jihad of the Hand – Development of Civil Society and Material Progress

Jihād of the hand includes the struggle to build the nation through material development and progress, including building up civil society, acquiring and improving every aspect of technology and societal progress in general. This form of Jihād includes scientific discovery, development of medicine, clinics and hospitals, communication, transportation, and all necessary underlying infrastructure for societal progress and advancement, including educational institutions. Building also means to open opportunities to the poor through economic programs and self empowerment.

Another aspect of Jihād by Hand is through writing, for Allah said:

الَّذِي عَلَّمَ بِالْقَلَمِ عَلَّمَ الْإِنسَانَ مَا لَمْ يَعْلَمْ

He taught by means of the pen, taught mankind what he did not know.[24]

The meaning writing includes the use of computers and all other forms of publication.

Jihad of the Sword – Combative War

Finally Jihād of the hand includes struggle by the sword (Jihādun bis-sayf), as when one fights the aggressor who attacks you in combative war.

Refinement of Jihad an-Nafs into an Islamic Science

Given the above definition of Jihād, we see that of its fourteen aspects, only one involves raising the sword. The remaining thirteen all have to do with either struggle of an individual with his inner state, or the struggle of society as a whole in seeking reform and improvement.

As such, major aspects of Jihād have been generally classified as Jihād an-Nafs, the mortal struggle against the self, and it it this broad topic we will address today as we look at the need of spirituality in creating a society that is capable of not simply existing but in striving to reach a state of perfection, Iħsān.

Devoted and sincere scholars of spirituality performed the great service of calling the Ummah to remembrance of its proper heritage as framed by the Qur’ān and set out in the Prophet’s Sunnah. These individuals, in time, came to be known by the name of šafā, a word derived from the Arabic šafā¿a which means “to purify,” because of the assiduousness with which they applied themselves to holding firmly to the Sunnah and employing it to purify their character from all defects in behavior and morality.

Following the tradition of the Companions of the Prophet (s) who used to frequent his company named Āhl aš-Šuffa ("the People of the Bench"), the practitioners of this regimen lived a communal life. Their dwelling-places were the mosque-schools (zawāya), border forts (ribāţ), and guest-houses (khāniqah) where they gathered together on specific occasions dedicated to the traditional festivals of the Islamic calendar (¿id), the fast of Ramadan and other occasions of note. They also gathered on a regular basis in associations for the conveying of knowledge (suħba), assemblies to invoke the names of Allah and recite the adhkār (plural of dhikr, “remembrance") inherited from the Prophetic Tradition, and circles of study in Islamic law. Yet another reason for their gathering was to hear inspired preaching and moral exhortations (wi¿az).

The Schools of Purification (tazkiya)

We know for example, that in the first century after the Hijra, renunciation of the world (zuhd) grew as a reaction against worldliness in the society. Derived in principle from the order of Allah to His Righteous Prophet (s) to purify people [Qur’ān 2:129, 2:151, 3:164, 9:103, 62:2], the practitioners of this way clove firmly to the Prophetic way of life as it was reflected in the lives of his Companions and their Successors, in the ways they employed to purify their hearts and character from bad manners and to inculcate in their own selves and in those around them the manners and upright moral stature of the Best of Mankind, the Prophet Muhammad (s).

Through slow evolution, this regimen ended up as a school of practical thought and moral action endowed with its own structure of rule and principle. This became the basis used by scholars of the spiritual discipline to direct people on the Right Path. As a result, the world soon witnessed the development of a variety of schools of purification of the ego (tazkīyat an-nafs). Such thought, as it spread everywhere, served as a dynamic force behind the growth and fabric of Islamic education. This tremendous advance occurred from the first century after the Hijra to the seventh, in parallel with the following developments:

· Development of the bases of fiqh (Law and Jurisprudence), through the Imāms;

· Development of the bases of ¿aqidah (System of Belief) through al-Ash¿ari and others;

· Development of the science of  hadith (Sayings of the Prophet (s)), resulting in the six authentic collections and innumerable others;

· Development of the arts of nahu and balāgha (Speaking and Writing Arabic).

Ţarīqat or “path" is a term derived from the hadith of the Prophet (s) ordering his followers to follow his sunnah and the sunnah of his successors. The meaning of sunnah is “path,” “way,” which is also the meaning of ţarīqat referred to in the Qur’ānic verse:

وَأَلَّوِ اسْتَقَامُوا عَلَى الطَّرِيقَةِ لَأَسْقَيْنَاهُم مَّاء غَدَقًا

Had they kept straight on the path (ţarīqat ), We would have made them drink of a most limpid water."[25]

Ţarīqat thus came to be a term applied to groups of individuals belonging to the school of thought pursued by a particular scholar or “shaykh,” as such a person was often called.

Though these shaykhs applied different methods in training their followers, the core of each one’s program was identical. The situation was not unlike what we find in faculties of medicine and law today. The approach in different faculties may be different, but the body of law, the state of art in medicine remains essentially the same everywhere. When students graduate from these faculties, each student bears the stamp of its character. Yet, none are considered less a lawyer or doctor because their respective affiliations differ.

In a similar way, the student product of a particular shaykh will bear the stamp of that shaykh’s teaching and character. Consequently, the names given to various schools of Sufi thought differ according to the names and the perspectives of their founders. This variation manifests itself in a more concrete fashion, in the different supererogatory devotions, known as awrād, aħzāb or adhkār, used as the practical methodology of spiritual formation. Such differences, however, have nothing to do with the religious principle. In basic principle, the schools of spiritual purification are essentially the same.

Identifying the Ruinous Traits

The regimen under which individuals undertook the path to Allah, was a finely-honed itinerary which charted the course of inward and outward progress in religious faith and practice (dīn). Its first step is to set forth in greater jihād, by fighting the seventeen enormities of the self which we will enumerate here in brief.

Anger (al-Ghadab)

وَالْكَاظِمِينَ الْغَيْظَ وَالْعَافِينَ عَنِ النَّاسِ وَاللّهُ يُحِبُّ الْمُحْسِنِينَ

Those who control their wrath and are forgiving toward mankind; Allah loveth the good.[26]

A man said to Prophet Muhammad (s), “Advise me.” He replied, “Do not become angry.”[27]

Anger is the worst of all seventeen of the ruinous traits. It may easily be said that anger is the source from which the others flow. That is why, in the path of spiritual development the levels of attainment are indicated by the reaction of testing with anger.

In the state of anger, one loses the ability to listen to reason, follow good judgment or accept advice. That is why the Prophet Muhammad (s) said to his dear companion Abū Bakr aš-Šiddīq ¦, “Anger is a form of unbelief.”

Love of This World (Hubbud-Dunya)

Jesus Christ ¡ said:

The love of this world is the root of every sin.[28]

Those who are in love with this world find it is the cause of troubles and disasters. A poet once wrote, “This world is a carcass, a rotten piece of flesh thrown in the street. Those who pursue it are scavenging dogs.” Those who love this world and spend their time seeking more of it, are like scavengers running to devour a carcass. This is the view of a sincere person, who is in full pleasure with his Lord’s service and happy with his devotions. For such a person, to glorify and worship Allah sincerely, to give charity and to build a life in the hereafter is preferable. He prefers to spend time remembering Allah and reminding others of Allah, than to be acquiring a portion, however small, of this world’s glittering life. In spiritual discipline, holding on to anything that is more than you can eat today—even the sustenance that you keep for tomorrow—is considered evidence of love for this world. Therefore it is better to offer it in the Way of Allah. If you possess more than today’s sustenance, such excess is permissible if you give some of it in Allah’s Way.

Many illustrious companions of the Prophet (s) were quite wealthy, including Sayyidina Abū Bakr ¦ and Sayyidina ¿`Uthman ¦. Allah gave them wealth because they did not waste it; they knew the value of wealth and preserved it. Their example was one of discipline. Allah grants wealth to His pious sincere servants because they employ it in useful and productive ways.

To protect yourself from the love of this world, do not look at what others have; it is not your concern. Look at yourself and what you have. You are going to answer to Allah for that, not for others.

Malice (al-Hiqd)

ولا تباغضوا

The Messenger of Allah (s) said:

Do not have malice for one another. [29]

And the cure for this negative trait, he related in another Tradition:

Whoever looks at his brother with love, no malice will exist in his heart.[30]

A community following the Way of Allah—the way of the Prophet Muhammad (s), the Companions and the righteous—never develops destructive intentions, because in such an ideal community, everyone seeks the Straight Path. However, when someone yields to their lower self and lusts after what someone else has, they develop hatred and the intention of harming. Thus malice is something that is cultivated, as opposed to mere feelings of dislike that arise involuntarily at times.

Allah commanded Moses ¡ to speak a gentle word to Pharaoh. Allah sent Moses ¡ to show Pharaoh that he was wrong, yet, when Pharaoh rejected the Truth, Moses ¡ did not raise the Children of Israel against him.

Through these events, Moses ¡ taught us that we must not harm out of hatred—even hatred for an aggressor. Moses ¡ challenged Pharaoh by means of knowledge and faith.

Jealousy (al-Hasad)

حديث أبي هريرة رضي الله عنه قال: قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم : لا تحاسدوا, ولا تباغضوا, ولا تجسسوا, ولا تحسسوا, ولا تناجشوا, وكونوا عباد الله إخوانا

The Prophet (s) said:

Do not envy one another, do not hate each other and do not slander one another. Be servants of Allah, brethren altogether.[31]

Aspiring to have the same good another possesses is envy, while desiring to see it removed from him is jealousy. Because jealousy is the trunk of a great tree among the negative characteristics, human beings need Allah to protect them from it.

An example of this is the cause of the first murder when Cain killed Abel as related in the Holy Qur’ān:

وَاتْلُ عَلَيْهِمْ نَبَأَ ابْنَيْ آدَمَ بِالْحَقِّ إِذْ قَرَّبَا قُرْبَانًا فَتُقُبِّلَ مِن أَحَدِهِمَا وَلَمْ يُتَقَبَّلْ مِنَ الآخَرِ

Recite to them the truth of the story of the two sons of Adam ¡. Behold! they each presented a sacrifice (to Allah): It was accepted from one, but not from the other.[32]

The Qur’ān relates:

قَالَ لَأَقْتُلَنَّكَ قَالَ إِنَّمَا يَتَقَبَّلُ اللّهُ مِنَ الْمُتَّقِين لَئِن بَسَطتَ إِلَيَّ يَدَكَ لِتَقْتُلَنِي مَا أَنَاْ بِبَاسِطٍ يَدِيَ إِلَيْكَ لَأَقْتُلَكَ إِنِّي أَخَافُ اللّهَ رَبَّ الْعَالَمِينَ

Said the latter [Cain]: “Be sure I will slay you.”

"Surely,” said the former [Abel], “(Allah) does accept of the sacrifice of those who are righteous.

If you do stretch your hand against me, to slay me, it is not for me to stretch my hand against you to slay you: for I do fear Allah, the Cherisher of the worlds.”[33]

Beyond physical violence, the worst way to destroy humanity is through black magic.

Practitioners of this dark art even tried to perform black magic on Prophet Muhammad (s) This was the cause for the revelation of the Chapter of the Daybreak, for although the Prophet (s) was divinely protected, Allah wanted us to learn about this dark practice, to be aware of it, to be protected from it and to guard against it for black magic is one of the darkest forms of mischief. Such mischief proceeds from jealousy, the jealousy one person harbors for another.

The Prophet (s) said:

الحسد ياكل الحسنات كما تاكل النار الحطب؛

Jealousy consumes good deeds just as fire consumes wood.[34]

According to the pious scholars of the Ummah, the way to eliminate jealousy is to observe the voluntary Prayers of the Night Vigil made before the morning prayer (Šalāt al-Fajr).

Vanity (al-Ujb)

إِنَّهُ لاَ يُحِبُّ الْمُسْتَكْبِرِينَ

He [Allah] loves not the proud.[35]

In a Qudsī hadith Allah says:

قال الله تعالى في حديث قدسي:” الكبر ردائي, و العظمة ازاري, فمن نازعني في واحد منهما, رميته في جهنم و لا ابالي

Pride is My cloak and Greatness is My covering. Whoever competes with Me regarding them, I shall cast them into the Hellfire, and it will not concern Me.[36]

Vanity is a dangerous attribute. Today, children are constantly taught, “Be proud of yourself.” Someone who is proud sees himself or herself as the strongest, the prettiest, the smartest, the fastest, the best. They think they can achieve what no one else can. This teaching instills unbridled independence, and encourages the belief that one knows better than everyone else. It also prompts them to reject advice, as they are told that their own thinking is sufficient and superior. This in turn leads to arrogance about which Allah said:

فَلَبِئْسَ مَثْوَى الْمُتَكَبِّرِينَ

Evil indeed shall be the abode of all given to arrogance.[37]

In the time of the Prophet (s), a group of people known as the People of the Bench, Ahl as-Suffah, used to sit morning and evening behind the house of Prophet (s) reciting Qur’ān, remembering Allah and praising the Prophet (s). ¿Abd Allah ibn Mas¿ud related:

A group from among the Quraysh passed by the Messenger of Allah (s) while Šuhayb, Bilāl, ¿Ammār, Khabāb ² and other poor Muslims were with him. They said to the Prophet (s), “O Messenger of Allah (s), have you chosen this class of people from among your entire followers for your closest ones? Get rid of them and perhaps if you do that we may follow you.

It is then that Allah revealed:

وَلاَ تَطْرُدِ الَّذِينَ يَدْعُونَ رَبَّهُم بِالْغَدَاةِ وَالْعَشِيِّ يُرِيدُونَ وَجْهَهُ

Send not away (O Muhammad), those who call on their Lord morning and evening, seeking His face.[38]

Arrogance is to regard oneself higher than others. Allah says, “Come to Me, My servant, with humility. Do not be full of arrogance (mutakabbir). I am the One Who gives titles.”

Honor, respect and dignity are for believers, but supremacy and superiority are only for Allah. No one else may be al-Mutakabbir, The Imperious.

The Prophet Muhammad (s) went on the Night Journey and Ascension into the Presence of Allah, closer than any human being has ever reached in the Divine Presence. When he returned, he never boasted or tried to exalt himself; he only said, “O my Lord, I am Your servant (¿abd-Allāh)!” He was happy to be known as Servant.

سُبْحَانَ الَّذِي أَسْرَى بِعَبْدِهِ

Praise be to Allah who took His servant to His Presence.[39]

The Prophet (s) said, “The best moment in all my life, from beginning to end, is when Allah called me Servant!” So we find in this superb example of humility that the Prophet (s) is happiest to be a slave of Allah.

Contrast this exemplary manner with Satan’s, who replied to Allah when Allah ordered him to bow before Adam ¡:

قَالَ أَنَاْ خَيْرٌ مِّنْهُ خَلَقْتَنِي مِن نَّارٍ وَخَلَقْتَهُ مِن طِينٍ

I am better than Adam! You created me from fire and Your created him from mud.[40]

We must know our level as servants. To regard yourself as great is an indication that Satan is entering your veins.

The cure for arrogance is in hunger. When you are hungry, you not only weaken, you lose your arrogance. If you are facing starvation, you eat anything you find. You quickly become humble. For that reason the companions of the Prophet (s) came to him and showed him their bellies, tied on them was a stone. The Prophet (s), always the foremost in piety, revealed his stomach and they saw not one stone, but two.

Ostentation (al-Riya)

فَوَيْلٌ لِّلْمُصَلِّينَ الَّذِينَ هُمْ عَن صَلَاتِهِمْ سَاهُونَ الَّذِينَ هُمْ يُرَاؤُونَ

Ah, woe unto worshippers who are heedless of their prayer; those who want but to be seen of men, But refuse even neighbourly needs.[41]

Prophet Muhammad (s) said:

Allah does not accept an action if there is any quantity of show in it.[42]

In the time of the Prophet (s), a certain Companion liked to help people, but he also liked everyone to know that he did such good deeds. Concerning this, Allah revealed the last verse of the Chapter of the Cave:

قُلْ إِنَّمَا أَنَا بَشَرٌ مِّثْلُكُمْ يُوحَى إِلَيَّ أَنَّمَا إِلَهُكُمْ إِلَهٌ وَاحِدٌ فَمَن كَانَ يَرْجُو لِقَاء رَبِّهِ فَلْيَعْمَلْ عَمَلًا صَالِحًا وَلَا يُشْرِكْ بِعِبَادَةِ رَبِّهِ أَحَدًا

Say: I am only a mortal like you. My Lord inspires in me that your Allah is only One Allah. And whoever hopes for the meeting with his Lord, let him do righteous work, and make none sharer of the worship due unto his Lord.[43]

Al-ĦāfiƸ Jalāl al-Dīn as-Suyūţī interpreted this verse in this manner:

Allah is saying, “If you are requesting to come to Me, to be in My Paradise on Judgment Day, you must do a good work, but that good work must not be accompanied by ostentation. Do not attribute that work to yourself, but to Me, as something which I granted to you personally.”

The reason for revelation of this verse was that one of the Companions was in the habit of doing good things and afterwards saying to the Prophet (s), “I did this! I did that!” He sought recognition. Then Allah revealed this verse.[44] By doing so, Allah is saying, “O Muhammad! Tell him that if he wants to do something good, let him do it, but make it purely for Allah, not for recognition for himself. It must be purely for Me.”

Depression (al-Ghamm)

فَرَجَعْنَاكَ إِلَى أُمِّكَ كَيْ تَقَرَّ عَيْنُهَا وَلَا تَحْزَنَ

So We brought thee, (O Moses), back to thy mother, that her eye might be cooled and she should not grieve.[45]

A Prophetic Tradition states:

Verily Allah, The Glorious and Majestic, by His wisdom and exaltedness created ease and comfort in contentment and certainty; and He created depression and fear in doubt and discontent.

Worrying is external. For the one in whom depression thrives, this negative characteristic penetrates deep into the recesses of the physical body, into the veins and heart. Such a person feels depression in every part of the body and prefers to be alone rather than see anyone.

A depressed person wishes that time would again fly, but, on the contrary, minutes seem like hours, hours like days and days like weeks. Usually, people who lack useful outlets for their energies and feel unfulfilled are subject to these feelings. People who suffer from depression tend to sleep all day and stay awake at night, which allows them to avoid others. At night they engage in frivolous activities that they find entertaining, such as watching television, playing video games or some other pastime that gives them pleasure.

Depression can only be cured by finding a useful outlet for one’s energy, directing it to good works, thereby lifting the cloud of darkness which begin to cover the one who has forgotten to praise Allah and remember Him. The first step in eliminating depression is to find pious sincere believers with whom one can spend time and seek comfort in observing their good character.

The Eight Hundred Forbidden Acts (al-Manhiyat)

الَّذِينَ يَجْتَنِبُونَ كَبَائِرَ الْإِثْمِ وَالْفَوَاحِشَ إِلَّا اللَّمَمَ إِنَّ رَبَّكَ وَاسِعُ الْمَغْفِرَةِ

Those who avoid great sins and shameful deeds, only (falling into) small faults, - verily thy Lord is ample in forgiveness.[46]

There are 500 acts that the Prophet (s) ordered us to do (mā¿murāt) and 800 acts that the Prophet (s) forbade us (manhīyāt) from doing.

The Prophet (s) said:

To leave an atom’s weight of Allah’s prohibitions, is more lovely to Allah than the worshipping of all sentient beings.

To leave one forbidden act for the sake of Allah, is equivalent to performing all 500 of the ordered actions because to leave one forbidden act is extremely difficult for the ego.

A great spiritual teacher, al-Qushayri, noted that, of the 800 forbidden acts mentioned in the Holy Qur’ān, 477 are grave ones (min al-kabā¿ir). He mentioned further that if a person can eliminate the sixteen reprehensible characteristics that we have explained in the preceding sections, it becomes easy to avoid indulging in the the remaining forbidden acts. Thus the 800 forbidden acts are considered one among the seventeen ruinous traits. We intend to describe these in further detail in another volume in the future.

As step three of the next section, in seeking purified character, the servant must address this ruinous trait with the treatment of self-accounting, muħāsabah. This method requires the servant to keep a journal, and note down every bad character trait that he observes in himself. These are traits that only he possesses, for no two individuals are the same. When that journal if finally completed, it will detail a number of the 800 forbidden acts that individual possesses in his or her personality.

The Ten Steps of Spiritual Development

There are ten steps which make up the discipline of turning away from the seventeen ruinous character traits and setting forth on the path of self-discipline and spiritual attainment. They are:

Standing Up for Truth (al-Istiqāmah)

Repenting (at-Tawbah)

Auditing (al-Muħāsabah)

Turning Humbly to Your Lord in Surrender (al-Inābah)

Contemplating Deeply (at-Taffakur)

Remembering Your Subconscious (at-Tadhakkur)

Holding Fast (al-¿Itisām)

Running to Allah (al-Firāru il-Allāh)

Training (at-Tamrīnu wa ’t-Tadbīr)

Listening (al-Istima¿)

We will briefly address four out of the ten steps in order to get a feeling for these vital steps in self-development and purification.

Standing Up for Truth (al-Istiqamah)

قُلْ إِنَّمَا أَعِظُكُم بِوَاحِدَةٍ أَن تَقُومُوا لِلَّهِ مَثْنَى وَفُرَادَى ثُمَّ تَتَفَكَّرُوا مَا بِصَاحِبِكُم مِّن جِنَّةٍ إِنْ هُوَ إِلَّا نَذِيرٌ لَّكُم بَيْنَ يَدَيْ عَذَابٍ شَدِيدٍ

Say: “I do admonish you on one point: that ye do stand up before Allah,- (It may be) in pairs, or (it may be) singly,- and reflect (within yourselves): your Companion is not possessed: he is no less than a warner to you, in face of a terrible Penalty.”[47]

To stand up for Allah means to stand up for Truth against falsehood. Who is standing up for Truth against falsehood today? Before looking at others to judge them, stand for Truth against the wrong within. Fight against the devil in yourself. Stand for Allah against Satan, because Satan is always there, gossiping in your heart. To stand for The Merciful means to keep your eyes open and to be aware of all that is within yourself. This leads to self-realization.

Awareness counters heedlessness. If someone is heedless, he is careless of consequences, unaware of the results of his actions. You should be aware constantly, keeping your defenses up. What is the spiritual weapon of a believer? Ablution.

The Prophet Muhammad (s) said:

Ablution is the weapon of the believer.[48]

Repenting (at-Tawbah)

We are still beginners, trying to find our way on a long journey. It is a long journey because it is full of obstacles. Something full of difficulties always seems long. Time passes quickly if you entertain yourself, but someone busy with work sees the time leading up to his vacation as unending. The journey of self-realization is long, but at its end you will reach true happiness, feeling the pleasure of Allah’s remembrance, dhikrullāh. Know that, until you reach your goal, you will face many obstacles.

When you want to repent, Allah will remove you from the list of oppressors.

وَمَن لَّمْ يَتُبْ فَأُوْلَئِكَ هُمُ الظَّالِمُونَ

And those who turn not in repentance, such are evil-doers.[49]

Do not despair of Allah’s mercy. Allah will forgive; Allah is Most Great. Allah says in the Holy Qur’ān:

قُلْ يَا عِبَادِيَ الَّذِينَ أَسْرَفُوا عَلَى أَنفُسِهِمْ لَا تَقْنَطُوا مِن رَّحْمَةِ اللَّهِ إِنَّ اللَّهَ يَغْفِرُ الذُّنُوبَ جَمِيعًا إِنَّهُ هُوَ الْغَفُورُ الرَّحِيمُ

Say: “O my Servants who have transgressed against their souls! Despair not of the Mercy of Allah, for Allah forgives all sins. He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.”[50]

And in another verse:

وَمَا أَرْسَلْنَا مِن رَّسُولٍ إِلاَّ لِيُطَاعَ بِإِذْنِ اللّهِ وَلَوْ أَنَّهُمْ إِذ ظَّلَمُواْ أَنفُسَهُمْ جَآؤُوكَ فَاسْتَغْفَرُواْ اللّهَ وَاسْتَغْفَرَ لَهُمُ الرَّسُولُ لَوَجَدُواْ اللّهَ تَوَّابًا رَّحِيمًا

. If they had only, when they were unjust to themselves, come unto thee (O Muhammad) and asked Allah’s forgiveness, and the Messenger had asked forgiveness for them, they would have found Allah indeed Oft-returning, Most Merciful.[51]

When you realize that you are a sinner with problems, you also realize that you need an intercessor—someone who is more sincere—to take you by the hand. The most sincere, the best intercessor, is the Prophet Muhammad (s).

Auditing (al-Muhasaba)

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اتَّقُوا اللَّهَ وَلْتَنظُرْ نَفْسٌ مَّا قَدَّمَتْ لِغَدٍ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ إِنَّ اللَّهَ خَبِيرٌ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ

O ye who believe! Fear Allah, and let every soul look to what (provision) he has sent forth for the morrow. Yea, fear Allah, for Allah is well acquainted with (all) that ye do.

This verse shows that the soul, not the body, has to prepare provision for the next life. That is why you must begin keeping track of all your negative issues. This can only be done by taking up the weapon of the pen against your enemy, the ego.

How do you audit yourself?

¿Umar ibn al-Khaţţāb ¦, the second caliph of the Prophet (s), said:

Judge yourselves before you are judged; and weigh your actions in the balance before they are weighed; When you are brought to account tomorrow, it will be much easier for you if you have already brought yourself to account today[53]

This step involves auditing yourself by keeping a journal of your deeds, much as the Recording Angels are doing. Once you begin noting down the wrong actions that you do throughout the day, you will end up with a journal full of negative issues. Those who do not take account cannot repent.

People take their beads and make remembrance of Allah, dhikr. However, the correct way is not to do dhikr first. The correct way is to eliminate your mistakes first. To recite Allah’s Name “Allah, Allah” 5,000 times may take fifteen minutes. To rcite the holy words, “There is no diety except Allah—Lā ilāha il-Llāh” 1,000 times may take seven minutes. Such practices are simple, but what is truly difficult is to prevent yourself from looking at what is forbidden. Grandshaykh ¿Abd Allah ق said that if you see something wrong once, it is not written against you; however, the second look is forbidden. If you see something wrong, look away and say, “O my Lord, that is prohibited.” This is far better than doing 500 obligations. Leaving one forbidden thing is more valuable to Allah because it is stepping on your ego and leaving a sin for His sake. It is very difficult to leave something that you desire, that the ego wants, yet this is what we need to do.

Do not leave dhikr; but also work every day to eliminate your sins. For each one that you have counted, you have to say, “Astaghfirullāh—I repent, and I am not going to repeat that sin.”

Turning Humbly to Your Lord in Surrender (al-Inabah)

وَأَنِيبُوا إِلَى رَبِّكُمْ وَأَسْلِمُوا لَهُ مِن قَبْلِ أَن يَأْتِيَكُمُ الْعَذَابُ ثُمَّ لَا تُنصَرُونَ

Turn ye to our Lord (in repentance) and bow to His (Will), before the penalty comes on you: after that ye shall not be helped.[54]

The seeker who has stepped forth on the way to find truth and reality needs a guide to open that way, to lead him to the presence of the Prophet (s). The second step is to become aware of your shortcomings, and then you must repent and account for your actions. The fourth step is to turn humbly in surrender to your Lord—the essence of Islam.

Surrender is what your Lord wants from you. This step, of turning back to Allah (al-ināba), in itself becomes a turning point in your life. This turning point starts with entering into Islam fully without mixing it with sins. Allah says:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ ادْخُلُواْ فِي السِّلْمِ كَآفَّةً وَلاَ تَتَّبِعُواْ خُطُوَاتِ الشَّيْطَانِ إِنَّهُ لَكُمْ عَدُوٌّ مُّبِينٌ

O ye who believe! Enter into Islam whole-heartedly; and follow not the footsteps of the evil one; for he is to you an avowed enemy.[55]

Once all ten of the steps of self-discipline and spiritual advancement are accomplished, the servant will begin to approach the Divine Presence, in much as was described in the hadith earlier:

And when I love him I will be the ears with which he hears, I will be the eyes with which he sees

Conclusion

For certain government posts, you require security clearance. Without such clearance, you may only access unclassified areas. High-level government jobs require high levels of clearance. Applicants must be examined carefully before receiving this high-level clearance. Their family history and criminal records are examined, along with anything else that might make the candidate a risk. This information affects the level of clearance they are eligible to receive. Depending on the level of clearance, this research might go back as far as the age of five years.

The same is true in spirituality. When the pious servant has achieved these ten levels, he is cleared to access classified materials. At that time, the servant can access the powers of the heart - powers that are found in the heart of every human being without discrimination. Until you access them, these six powers are blocked by the ego.

The tyranny of the self is able to oppress you. All of this power that Allah put in your heart becomes suppressed in a small and narrow place, due to the very high pressure of selfishness and satanic influence. The pressurized place that holds these powers is a black clot in the heart.[56] When you have achieved clearance through progress, that place becomes easy to open. When that pressurized clot is opened, it is like a volcano that erupts, spreading love everywhere.

On the Day of Promises, when Allah asked the assembled souls, “Am I not your Lord?” they answered, “Yes!” You do not remember it now, but Allah took from us a covenant, an oath. What you accepted on that day was recorded.

إِنَّا عَرَضْنَا الْأَمَانَةَ عَلَى السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ وَالْجِبَالِ فَأَبَيْنَ أَن يَحْمِلْنَهَا وَأَشْفَقْنَ مِنْهَا وَحَمَلَهَا الْإِنسَانُ إِنَّهُ كَانَ ظَلُومًا جَهُولًا

“Lo! We offered the trust unto the heavens and the earth and the hills, but they shrank from bearing it and were afraid of it. And man assumed it. Lo! he hath proved a tyrant and a fool.”[57]

When you climb up to reach the Reality of Guidance, you can see what kind of oath you took. At that time you will be one of those described by:

مِنَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ رِجَالٌصَدَقُوا مَا عَاهَدُوا اللَّهَ عَلَيْهِ

Among the believers are men who have [always] been true to what they have vowed before Allah.[58]

That will be your journey to your reality. Then Allah will dress you with guidance, and grant you permission to assist others. Until then, you are like a toy that speaks, like a parrot, as are today’s scholars and lecturers. That is not guidance. Guidance is only for the pious servants (šālihīn) of Allah.

When you make the migration from bad desires and traits to good character and manners, when you achieve the highest level of moral virtue, you attain the power of spiritual ascension and self-realization. At that point, your ego stands at its limit, not transgressing the bounds of morality and manners. Wonders will be opened for you at that time. However, when you reach that level, do not pretend that such power or vision belongs to you; in reality, it is from Allah.



[1] Sūratu ’l-Baqarah [The Heifer], 2:186

[2] Sūratu’l-Ħadīd [Iron], 57:28

[3] Sūratu ’l-Furqān [The Criterion], 25:63

[4] Sūratu ’l-Kahf [The Cave], 18:28

[5] Al-Ħākim in al-Mustadrak (authentic).

[6] The Prophet (s) said, “I do not fear that you will become polytheists after me, but I fear that, because of worldly interests, you will fight each others, and thus be destroyed like the peoples of old.” Bukhārī and Muslim.

[7] The Prophet (s) could never associate anyone with Allah, for he is Allah’s most perfect servant. Nonetheless he was told to say: I am but a man like yourselves, but the inspiration has come to me that your Allah is One Sūratu ’l-Kahf [The Cave], 18: 110.

The Prophet (s) showed his simplicity and humility by saying, “I am a human being like you, but Allah is sending His revelation to me.” Although the Prophet (s) remains always—then and now—in Allah’s Presence, even in this unequaled privilege he is utterly humble and devoid of arrogance, considering himself “like you,” where that expression included all human beings seeking the means of coming closer to people, in order to make them familiar and eventually open their hearts to the truth.

[8] Ghazālī, in the Iħyā’. Al-¿Irāqī said that Bayhaqī related it on the authority of Jābir and said: There is weakness in its chain of transmission. According to Nisā’ī in al-Kunā is a saying by Ibrāhīm ibn Ablah.

[9] The faith of Islam, consists of three levels, as described by the Prophet (s) in the famous Tradition of the Archangel Jibrīl, where ¿Umar ¦ related:

While we were sitting with Allah's Messenger (s) one day, all of a sudden a man came up to us. He wore exceedingly white clothes. His hair was jet-black. There was no sign of travel on his person. None of us knew him. He went to sit near the Prophet (s), leaning his knees against the knees of the Prophet (s) and placing his hands on his thighs.

He said, “O Muhammad! tell me about Islam (the stage of Submission).” Allah's Messenger (s) said, “Islam is to bear witness that there is no Allah but Allah, and that Muhammad (s) is the Messenger of Allah; to perform the prayer; to pay the poor-tax; to fast during Ramadan; and to make the pilgrimage to [Allah’s] House if you are able to go there.” The man said, “You have spoken the truth.”

We wondered at him; how could he be asking the Prophet (s) and confirming him at the same time?

Then he said, “Tell me about Imān (the stage of Belief).” The Prophet (s) said, “Imān is to believe in Allah, His angels, His books, His messengers, and the Last Day; and to believe in Destiny, both its good and its evil.”

The man said, “You have spoken the truth. Now tell me about Iħsān (the stage of Excellence of character).” The Prophet (s) replied, “Excellence is to worship Allah as if you see Him, for if you do not see Him, He certainly sees you.”

..Then he left and time passed. Later he [the Prophet] said to me, “O ¿Umar, do you know who that was asking questions?” I said, “Allah and His Messenger know best.” He said, “He was none other than Jibrīl. He came to you to teach you your religion.” Narrated by Muslim.

[10] Sūrah Fuššilat [Explained in Detail], 41:53

[11] Sūratu ’sh-Shams [The Sun], 91:9.

[12] Muslim, Aħmad and Ibn Dāwūd.

[13] Sunan at-Tirmidhī, 4227.

[14] Bukhārī.

[15] Sūratu ’r-R¿ad [Thunder], 13:11

[16] Saħīħ Muslim, #4178.

[17] Sūratu ’l-Ħajj [The Pilgrimage], 22:78

[18] Musnad of Aħmad. Similar aĦadīth are narrated in Abū Dāwūd and Tirmidhī.

[19] Ibn Qayyim al-Jawzīyyah, Zād al-M¿ad.

[20] Muqaddimah, Ibn Rushd (known in the Western world as Averroes), p. 259.

[21] Sūratu ’t-Tawbah [Repentance], 9:73

[22] Sūratu ’l-¿Alaq [The Clot], 96:1

[23] Sūratu ’t-Tawbah [Repentance], 9:73

[24] Sūratu ’l-¿Alaq [The Clot], 96:4,5

[25] Sūratu’l-Jinn, 72:16

[26] Sūrat Āli ¿Imrān [The Family of ¿Imrān], 3:134.

[27] Bukhārī.

[28] Īmām Aħmad.

[29] Ibn Mājah and Musnad Aħmad.

[30] Related by Ibn ¿Abbās.

[31] Bukhārī, Muslim, Ibn Mājah and Musnad Aħmad, with additional wording, “and it is not permitted for a Muslim to cut off his brother over three days

[32] Sūratu ‘l-Mā’idah [The Spread Table], 5:27.

[33] Sūratu ‘l-Mā’idah [The Spread Table], 5:28.

[34] Abū Dāwūd, Ibn Mājah with additional wording “and charity extinguishes sins like water extinguishes flame; prayer is the light of a believer and fasting his protection from the Fire.

[35] Sūratu ’n-Nahl [The Bee], 16:23.

[36] Abū Dāwūd.

[37] Sūratu ‘n-Nahl [The Bee], 16:29.

[38] Sūratu ’l-An¿am [Cattle], 6:52-53.

[39] Sūratu ‘l-Isrā [The Night Journey], 17:1.

[40] See Sūratu ‘l-¿Arāf [The Heights], 7, 12 and Sūrah Šād, 38:76.

[41] Sūratu ‘l-Ma¿ūn [The Orphan], 107:4-7.

[42] Īmām Ghazālī, Iħyā ¿Ulūm ud-Dīn (Revival of the Religious Sciences).

[43] Sūratu ‘l-Kahf [The Cave], 18:111.

[44] Al-Ħākim in al-Mustadrak.

[45] Sūrah ŢāĦā, 20:40.

[46] Sūratu ‘n-Najm [The Star], 53:32.

[47] Sūrah Šabā [Sheba], 34:46.

[48] Arabic: Al-wuļū silāħ ul-mu’min.

[49] Sūratu ‘l-Ħujurāt [The Private Apartments] 49:11.

[50] Sūratu ‘l-Zumar [The Groups], 39:53.

[51] Sūratu ‘n-Nisā [Women], 4:64.

[52] Sūratu ‘l-Ħashr [The Gathering], 59:18.

[53] Aħmad and Abū Nu¿aym.

[54] Sūratu ‘z-Zumar [The Groups], 39:54.

[55] Sūratu ‘l-Baqarah [The Heifer] 2:208.

[56]There are jewels in man which have influences on him. The jewel of awe and marvel, the finest of these jewels, is in the center of the human heart. It is where the essence of the being is hidden, a store of energy and power. In that Dārk hidden place many an unknown secret is keptThat spot in the center of the human being, in his heart, isa black spot.” (Ibn ¿Arabī, Divine Governance of the Human Kingdom, translated by Shaikh Tosun Bayrak, Fons Vitae, 1997, page 180).

[57] Sūratu ‘l-Aħzāb [The Confederates], 33:72.

[58] Sūratu ’l-Aħzāb [The Confederates], 33:23