Spiritual Activism Riad Saloojee

Spiritual Activism: The Ethics of Virtue

Surrendering to the Divine is what makes true freedom possible. It is freedom from the material and created that is found in nearness to Allah, says Shaykh Riad Saloojee.

The hallmark of the purification of the lower-self (nafs) is the freedom that the heart (qalb) will enjoy from all material and abstract created things, as well as the heart’s indescribable, ever-increasing joy in nearness to the Divine.

In loving surrender to the Divine is freedom from the vagaries of the slavery to all besides. In loving surrender to the Divine is lasting, permanent happiness beyond the temporary or transient.

Transforming Character

Proximity to the Divine produces innate change that reflects in words and deeds. Indeed, the most essential fruit of true spirituality is a transformation in my internal character, or khuluq. Without such change, my spiritual transformation is simply a claim, devoid of substance.

The Messenger, Allah bless him and give him peace, stated: I was only sent to perfect the most beautiful standards of character. Other texts emphasize that nothing is heavier on the scale of good deeds than virtuous character.

Indeed, virtuous character is so seminal in Islam that a well-known spiritual wisdom affirms: “All of spirituality is virtuous character, and the one that surpasses you in virtuous character surpasses you in spirituality.”

Attributes of the Heart

Character (khuluq) is the internal image or the attributes of my heart (qalb) – what I look like within; my interior form; my inner appearance, whether beautiful or ugly. As the lower-self is purified, and the heart (qalb) journeys in nearness to the Divine, it begins to value and embody the virtuous qualities beloved to the Divine and reflect those virtues in creation.

The beauty of the vertical relationship with the Divine – and Allah is exalted above all analogy – is now reflected in the horizontal relationship with creation through the values of loving-mercy, justice, equity, kindness, forgiveness, generosity, patience, wisdom, sacrifice, devotion, service and others.

Universal Islamic Values

These values are Islamic universals. They form the bedrock of our faith and are meant to apply in all times and in all circumstance: personal or political, solitary or social, in geniality or grumpiness, in poverty or poverty. Spirituality is meant to produce character traits (khuluq) that have reached a steady-state of permanent expression. This requires work and effort.

Through the discipline and purification of the lower-self, virtuous character slowly becomes our natural disposition. Its expression and actualization become less difficult and deficient, and more perfected and pleasurable.

No Public/Private Dichotomy

We are meant to be sincere and truthful in the expression of our values. There should be no dichotomy between our private and public lives. What good is an activist that promotes global welfare and equity but renders injustice to his or her parents, spouse or children?

What good is an activist that promotes values in public but is the last to practice them in private? What good is an activist that encourages sacrifice and humility but is burning aflame with the desire to seek name and fame?

The quest for virtuous character in whatever we do is a public activism in and of itself. Our hypocrisies, and the dissonance between our values on the one hand, and our words and deeds on the other, will not enjoy the pleasure and solicitude of the Divine and such efforts will be – surely and certainly – barren, arid and impoverished.


About the Series

This written series will pair with a new, forthcoming podcast, Spiritual Activism by Shaykh Riad Saloojee. He will present a paradigm for a spiritually-inspired activism that is what it was always meant to be: a vehicle for nearness to the Divine through genuine individual and social ethical change.

This series will comprise of seven discussions that explore the foundations of Islamic spirituality, the spiritual ethos that is the basis of all activism, the ailments of activism unhinged from spirituality, and an application of how spirituality must inform true environmental activism.


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