Spiritual Activism: Penny-Wise, Pound Foolish
Wisdom is not knowing good and bad but knowing the best good and worst bad – discerning the subtle shades of benefit and welfare in both the secular and spiritual world, says Shaykh Riad Saloojee.
No action of the Divine is irrational — though it might be supra-rational. Nothing that the Divine does is in vain or without purpose. All of Allah’s actions realize welfare and benefit, even though the human intellect is at times unable to perceive the comprehensiveness or subtlety of His wisdom.
One of the Names and Attributes of the Divine is the All-Wise (al Hakim). The root word connotes the meanings of excellence and perfection, decision and judgement, wisdom and balance.
Wisdom and Inner Character
Human wisdom is a reflection of this Divine name. Wisdom is an inner character (khuluq) drawn from the All-Wise. At our created level, wisdom is to act purposefully to realize benefit or welfare. It comes with a careful consideration of the probable or certain outcomes of words and deeds, and then acting in a manner to best realize those benefits.
Wisdom is thus a special gift. It requires intellectual, emotional, spiritual and life maturity that provide a discerning sensitivity to time, place, personality, context, and consequence. The Qur’an states that it is a tremendous bounty and blessing: “He gives wisdom to whomever He wills. And whoever is given wisdom, is certainly given much good. And only people of understanding will pay heed.” (Qur’an 2:269) Only people of wisdom will truly know the value of wisdom!
Knowledge is not a means in itself. Knowledge without proper application is not only without benefit but harmful. Energy and dynamism is also not an avenue in itself. Energy and dynamism unchanneled is without benefit and also harmful. For both knowledge and energy to be harnessed properly, to be projected onto social reality in way to secure benefit and welfare, wisdom is indispensable.
Wisdom Is Needed to Steer and Navigate Activism
As wisdom begins to grow into an inner character, it impacts activism in manifold ways. First, the events and challenges in life are not seen anarchically. By this, I mean that the spiritual core of an activist always knows that the Divine acts purposefully and intentionally — and that nothing, no matter how bleak, is without wisdom. This works to ground one away from existentially anxiety, depression and doubt.
Second, a heart that draws from Divine wisdom, knows that everything is interconnected and acts accordingly. The scholar and poet, Mawlana Rumi, Allah be pleased with him, coins the story of an ant who is walking on a rug and sees nothing of its beautiful, intricate and interconnected tapestry – visible only from a dimension higher above.
Working to the Divine Plan
The activist working on the ground, who has his or her heart in a higher spiritual dimension, knows that everything in existence is indeed connected by the wise, Divine creative plan. He or she will not become easily impatient or hasty. They will remain composed and calm – and only act in ways that are deliberate, careful and considerate.
Third, once we recognize that wisdom is a Divine gift, we become more cognizant of the importance of taking the consultation and advice of those who have lived longer, seen more, and know and experienced more of the Divine.
Our individual, atomistic personality becomes readier to receive advice from others who are able to render decisions based on a confluence of their intellectual, spiritual, emotional and life maturities. Their eyes see clearer. Without their input and assistance, it is sometimes the blind leading the blind.
And lastly, wisdom teaches us that life is not about absolutes. Life decisions are usually not black or white. One of the great scholars of our Islamic legacy reminds us that wisdom is not knowing good and bad but knowing the best good and worst bad.
Wisdom is about the subtle shades of benefit and welfare in both the secular and spiritual world. Perhaps that is why it is such a rare and precious commodity.
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.