Spiritual Therapy in Islam
Spirituality has become a hot topic that many in the west are discussing, probably even more than eastern countries. Even though it may seem the opposite, since many eastern countries live in different spiritualties, even if they didn’t speak about it. Many philosophers, religions, cults, etc. try to explain the connections that relate our body, mind and spirit to this life and God Almighty. On the other side of this, stands the postmodern philosophy which considers life to be nothing but mere nonsense, and, therefore, religions as old fashion or compiled myths. Postmodernism is enforcing new standards and a completely new life system that concentrates on entertainment, body pleasures and shallow personal benefit.
But man is man, whether from the East or West, and no matter the modernity surrounding him. He is still the same man that was created, with the same pure innate instinct which Islam calls fitra.
Fitra is the pure physical and spiritual instinct God Almighty created us in. Going against the fitra, actually means going against the system that God Almighty created in you, and therefore causing unbalance in your physical, psychological and spiritual life and your relationship to God Almighty.
Most philosophies and religions consider that body and soul develop at each other’s expense. Therefore, they consider that spirituality can only be obtained by denying the physical needs and mortification of the flesh, and that world activity or modern life arrests spiritual elevation. The result of this was people seeking spirituality by denying their physical needs, family needs, community needs and participation in developing their community.
On the other side of this philosophy are people racing to find pleasures in any way possible, even if it contradicts the pure fitra they were created in. It even went so far as comparing himself with animals rather than being noble humans that are gifted with mind and other abilities. For this group, pleasure was made as a goal, whether that was wealth, fame, ownership, sex, etc.
The concept of spirituality in Islam compared to spirituality in other religions and ideologies
Islam’s concept of spirituality goes beyond the dualism of spirit and matter and considers it as the core concept of being Muslim and the reason of life. It is of high importance to not detach or distance spirituality from the fundamental ontological questions: how did we come to this world, and why, and where we are going? Spirituality should be part of the answer to these questions. It should not be a short way to run away from these questions or from personal trouble. It should be in the core of our understanding of this life and what comes after it.
Spirituality is within you
Prophet Mohammad peace be upon him said: “every new born is born with a pure state of creation (fitra) (i.e. feeling the existence of a supreme being behind life, and feeling that there is something behind this life), but his parents make a Jew, or make him a Christian, or make him a Zoroastrian.” Narrated by Muslim, hadith no. 2568, (Also, see Quran 7: 172)
Your environment has its impact in shaping your perception about life and the understanding of God, but everyone has the instinct (fitra) deep inside themselves that makes him question the reason to life, death and what’s behind this creation. These are questions that prophets and Messengers were sent to reveal to us the answers. Man’s powers are limited to find deep explanations beyond what he hears, sees and feels. Science has explained to us how some of things around us function, but not why they were made to function that way, and it can never also explain who made them function that way. Science concludes that this world is so complex that there is no way it can form and create itself. As our mind has discovered that zero plus zero never equals but zero. Our mind is the core of the combination of understanding life and God Almighty, which is why Quran is always speaking to man’s mind and asking him to think about the complexity of the different creations around him, and how it can never be formed on its own, but by a Magnificent creator.
Beware of life pacifiers
Although man has the fitra to question his existence to relate to his reality and the reality of life, he also has the capability (called nafs) of pacifying himself away from his fitra demands. Pacifiers act as entertainments, which man finds temporary pleasure in, such as money, friends, music, sexuality, looks, children, and the list goes on and on…
Man is a vicegerent in this world, and was created in the best way for the fulfillment of this responsibility. The body was created with a sole object (i.e. the soul/ spirit) in order to function for the fulfillment of this responsibility. The body does not function without the soul, and the path for the soul development is in both soul and body.
Islam and Asceticism
Islam rejects living away from your responsibilities and proposes methods for elevating your spirituality, not outside this world but within life and your responsibilities.
Understanding spirituality in Islam (tazkiya)
Perceptions of life and its surroundings (faith) along with intentions determine your heart’s action. Your body and mind only react to your heart’s action. This makes spirituality inseparable from how you perceive the world around you, and later how you act in it, and towards it.
In order to gain spirituality, Islam focuses on the heart and ones’ understanding of this world, and considers that God Almighty is the One behind this life, and that He had created man to worship Him alone. Worship in Islam, is a comprehensive word to mean more than ritual, and includes acting upon God Almighty’s standards. His standards are to preserve the fitra (pure natural creation) from going astray, or becoming a victim to world pacifiers to gain close relations to God Almighty.
What is to be attained through spirituality?
Through spirituality, success can be achieved in this life, by balancing the different needs, which God Almighty set the standards for, so that we may preserve a healthy life. Spirituality also leads to sucess in the hereafter with the reward of paradise. In the Quran, Allah Almighty says (Translated 79:40-41): “As for he who fears the standing before His Lord and prevents his nafs (lust and inner motive for going after temporary pleasure) from fulfilling its desire, paradise is his abode”.
What is the criterion for spiritual development?
Every Muslim must use all of his capacities for the sake of God Almighty, and fulfill all duties with sincerity and obedience to Him alone by doing things as He had ordered, in the manner that He had ordered it to be done.
Spiritual actions are not separated from materialistic or physical actions, but are connected to each other. So your actions affect your spirituality, and your spirituality affects your life and psychological balance, such as your happiness, tranquility and inner peace. To attain inner peace (Islam), one must do jihad of the nafs (control his lust and inner motives) from enslaving him, in order to submit to God Almighty alone (Islam). This is where the name Islam comes from, that is: attaining inner peace by submitting to God Almighty alone.
Islam sets pathways for attaining spiritual development and calls spiritual denouncers as sins, and the obligatory things as spiritual elevators. It must be noted that spiritual elevators are affected by spiritual denouncers. Therefore, one may find spiritual elevators as hard to apply if he has not worked on his spiritual denouncers. And since prevention is better than remedy, Islam orders Muslims to consider spiritual denouncers before considering spiritual elevators. The prophet (peace be upon him) said, “If I order you to leave something, then stay away from it, and do as much as you can of what I ordered you to do”, narrated by Bukhari (7288) and Muslim (1337).
Spiritual denouncers, and addiction to them, have different capacities to damage the heart. The larger the damage it causes to one’s personal or community spirituality, the stronger Islam’s stance is in ordering one to abstain from it. The stronger the addiction if one were to commit it, the stronger of a spiritual denouncer it is. The scale of forbiddance is based on the strength of that spiritual denouncer. The stronger that spiritual denouncer and the longer time one spent committing it, the more spiritual effort (jihad of the nafs) is required.
The scale of major spiritual denouncers (major sins):
– Harming the community’s spirituality is considered a larger spiritual denouncer than the individual’s. Making the worst spiritual denouncers are those that harm the communities’ or the individual’s: faith, life, mind, chastity and wealth.
- Harming in faith by bringing confusion to people’s faith and trust in God Almighty
- Harming in life by killing or threatening to kill and terrorizing the communities
- Harming in mind by intoxicating it through alcohol, drinking or drugs
- Harming in chastity by rape, adultery, fornication or any sexual relations that contradict the system God Almighty had created it for.
- Harming in wealth by stealing or destructing others possessions.
– Minor spiritual denouncers are things that, at many times, may lead to major spiritual denouncers, but usually affect the individual’s spirituality. Those spiritual denouncers are in the individual’s actions that affect the heart gradually.
– Sight spiritual denouncers, such as looking at the illicit things
– Hearing spiritual denouncers, such as listening to the wrong things that program one’s heart and mind to wrong things.
– Tongue spiritual denouncers, such as gossiping, and lying.
– Eating and drinking also have their impact on our spirituality, which is why Islam considers some foods or drinks – such as eating carnivore animals, or pork or alcohol – as major spiritual denouncers.
Stages of spirituality
Not all people or even Muslims are on the same level of their spirituality, which is why there are different levels, to help one test himself on.
- Islam: which is believing that there is no God worthy of worship but One God.
- Eman: increases with obedience to God Almighty and decreases with committing spiritual denouncers.
- Taqwa: stays away from spiritual denouncers at all times.
- Ihsan: attained highest excellence in his faith and spiritual elevators in ritual, words, actions and thoughts, to the point that he lives all his life as if he sees God Almighty.
Abstaining from spiritual denouncers is not enough, but is a major key to attaining spiritual therapy (tazkiya), in order to take the steps to go up the spiritual elevators. Islam connects between faith and action, therefore strong faith stands with strong actions that base from faith and sincerity to God Almighty alone.
The prophet (peace be upon him) said, “Faith is seventy and a few categories, the highest and best of it is submitting to God Almighty alone, and the lowest of it, is removing harm from roads” narrated by Muslim.
The essence of all spiritual elevators is sincerity to God Almighty, even if the action was a normal action as sleeping, playing with one’s children, or even having a romantic time with his wife.
- Major spiritual elevators are performing the pillars of Islam
– Believing in one God Almighty
– Praying the five obligatory prayers. Other prayers are offered at other times to enhance one’s spirituality through ritual.
– Fasting to enhance self-discipline and training to leave spiritual denouncers for the sake of God Almighty
– Charity trains a Muslim to balance his love for wealth and life and trains him to sacrifice himself for others.
– Pilgrimage trains Muslims for universal spirituality, Muslim brotherhood and humility
Other forms of spiritual elevators include:
- Contemplation through remembering the greatness of God Almighty, and the bounties He had blessed us with.
- Recharging ones soul by mentioning the name of God Almighty, and invocating Him, and seeking His forgiveness, not just by heart, by literally mentioning it.
Finally, I ask Allah Almighty to bless us with faith, and increase our levels in spirituality. Ameen!
Written Shaykha Aysha Wazwaz
Founder of Gems of Light (nonprofit organization) www.gemsoflight.com
PhD Candidate Jinan University/ Lebanon
M.A Contemporary Islamic Studies/ Alquds University
B.A Islamic Jurisprudence/ Alquds University.