Spiritual Activism: Laboring With Love

Any and all activism that is bereft of merciful love or loving mercy is not Islamic and can never be, says Shaykh Riad Saloojee.

Why do Muslims, when asked whether God is love, respond with, “No. He is Merciful?” Rahmah in Arabic is not mercy. Rahmah has the meaning of merciful-love or loving-mercy. The word rahmah is derived from a root which denotes the womb.

We would never describe the mother’s relationship to her child as based on mercy, or mercy primarily, but rather a loving-mercy or merciful-love. As for Allah being love itself, He is – He is Al Wudud, or the Loving.

The Subtleties of Loving-Mercy

In the Qur’an, Allah introduces Himself firstly as Al Rahman and Al Rahim. Among the most common linguistic interpretations of the subtlety between these names – for both share in the root of rahmah, or loving-mercy – is that Al Rahman refers to the loving-mercy of the Divine for all creatures, without exception. And Al Rahim is a special mercy reserved for those who love and obey him.

Islam teaches that Allah’s loving-mercy encompasses all things (Qur’an 7:156). There is nothing existent that is deprived of the Divine manifestations of His loving-mercy. All are enveloped within it: believer, disbeliever, obedient, disobedient.

A famous Prophetic Tradition states that Allah declares: “Certainly, my mercy supersedes my anger” (Bukhari). We are not ruled exclusively or primarily through Allah’s Name, the Infinitely-Just (Al ‘Adl). If we were, if we were tasked with a standard of care befitting of Divine justice, we would be incapacitated and fail.

Activism as an Act of Love

None of our intentions, words or acts would meet the measure of Infinite Beauty or Majesty. Allah reminds us that if He would hold human beings to account for their injustice, He would spare none on this earth (Qur’an 16:61). But rather, He rules and administers through His loving mercy.

The Messenger, blessing and peace be upon him, is described in one verse as a loving-mercy to the worlds using the verbal noun rahmah and not an adjective – meaning, as an ultimate emphasis, that he was loving-mercy embodied (Qur’an 21:107).

Consequently, it must also be for the vicegerent of the Divine. Of the most principle Divine Names to be embodied, internalized and actualized are those pertaining to the Divine’s loving-mercy.

All activism is an act of love. A Muslim does not delight in the suffering of anyone, at any dimension of suffering, whether individual or collective, secular or spiritual. A Muslim is always desirous and solicitous of the welfare of others, and strives to provide relief to others, in both their here and Hereafter.

A Tempered Sense of Justice

Any activism bereft of mercy is not Islamic and can never be — no matter what the interpretation, legal justification or rationalization of justice. This last point is critical. For if our justice is not tempered and overseen by our loving-mercy, we will undoubtedly fall into injustice. An obsession with justice and only justice will eventually turn us tyrannical in ways that are imperceptible and inconspicuous. An eye for eye makes everyone blind.

How often does our activism rebound on us? History is replete with examples of victims who turned into victimizers, oppressed who became oppressors, and those who exacted justice, without or at the expense of mercy, and became mercenary.

When our inner character is imbued with the beauty of the Divine Names of loving-mercy, we never lose sight of our own histories: Imagine, if the Divine dealt with us with Infinite Justice, we would never have been given the respite to learn and change. Someone infinitely greater forgave our trespasses. And, we should too invest our optimistic hope in others, to the greatest extent possible.


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.


Previous Posts

 

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.


Previous Posts

 

Spiritual Activism: Justice Now!

The discourse of activism is often framed through the lens of seeking justice. But what is justice? asks Shaykh Riad Saloojee.

In our Islamic understanding, one of the Names of the Divine is the Infinitely Just, or Al ‘Adl. As we have mentioned previously, Allah possesses Names of Majesty and Rigor (jalal), which signify power, might and strength. And He possesses Names of Beauty and Benevolence (jamal). His name, the Infinitely Just, is a name of Divine Majesty and Rigor.

Justice is to give everything its due right, measure and proportion. In the Qur’an, this is exemplified by what Allah terms the balance: “He has raised the heavens and placed the balance – that you do not transgress the balance (55:7-8).”

Allah is the Infinitely Just. He commits no oppression or injustice, major, minor, or infinitesimal. His actions, commands and decrees are always just and equitable. An inductive analysis indicates that justice (‘adl) is a universal constant that infuses every aspect of the Islamic theology, legal code and spirituality.

The Realization of Justice

As vicegerents of the Divine, we are meant to embellish our inner character with justice in its most penetrating, nuanced and unique manifestation. The Divine exhorts us: “O you who have believed, stand persistently for justice, witnesses for Allah, even if it be against yourselves, parents and relatives. Whether one is rich or poor, Allah is more worthy of both. Follow not your personal inclinations and drives that you swerve from justice” (4:135).

The verse indicates that the impediments to the full external realization of justice and equity are internal – within our lower-selves. Social phenomena are the collective projections of our inner states.

Where injustice exists, it is due to the socialized or institutionalized projection of the states of our inner selves. Because of this, the verse first addresses the injustice hidden in the subtle and not-so-subtle drives and impulses within us.

Justice Begins With the Divine

Then, the verse addresses us to stand for justice in the midst of filial relationships that cause us to be partisan. And finally, the verse widens the circle to encompass economic or social stratification and, by implication, all other social relations.

We see then that the value of justice in our tradition is truly universalized. Oftentimes, our discourse frames justice in purely political terms. But justice cannot be restricted to either the personal or the political, or both. Its reach is farther.

As a Divine Name manifested in our inner character, justice must permeate every aspect of our lives, beginning from our relationship with the Divine. If we do not seek justice in our relationship with the Divine, how can we hope to realize justice with His creation at large?

Justice and the Web of Our Existence

Justice is interconnected in the web of our existence. It must be expressed in the personal, spiritual, intellectual, emotional, moral, family, social, economic, political, local, national and international dimensions.

To restrict its scope is the very definition of injustice and a feature of the caprice and arbitrary motives of my lower-self. In fact, the seeds of a sincere, sacred and sanctified justice begin with self-critique, stepping away from my lower self, interrogating its selective justice and its rationalizations of its selective justice.

Practically speaking, it is inconceivable, and spiritually and intellectually dissonant, that an Islamic activist, taking inspiration from his or her faith, does not pray or respect the letter and spirit of the Sacred Law.

Where is the “Islam” in our Islamic activism? Where is our personified loving surrender to the Divine that is connoted and denoted in the word “Muslim?”


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.


Previous Posts

 

Islam and Muslims in Academia – Dr Munir Jiwa

Dr. Munir Jiwa discusses the national frames through which Islam and Muslims enter discussions and debates in the public sphere and the particular ways these impact the study of Islam and Muslims in academia.

He offers a critique of secular and liberal norms and how both the Euro-American left and right, inside and outside academia, selectively create and reproduce an index of “good” and “bad” Islam, Muslims, and Islamic Studies.

Content Outline:

0:0:0 Assalam Alaykum (Safir Ahmed)
0:01:48 Speaker’s Introduction
0:03:59 Assalam Alaykum/How We Do Islamic Studies (Dr. Munir Jiwa)
0:07:14 How We Think About Islam and Muslims Across History and Academia
0:11:00 Calendars, and Timing
0:13:46 What is Secularism: Ideally and Politically
0:18:34 Personal Experience in the Realm of Academia
0:21:39 The Five Media Pillars of Islam
0:22:13 (I) 9/11 as an Introduction to Islam
0:25:46 The History of Secular Violence
0:27:17 (II) Islamic Violence vs Secular Violence
0:30:19 (III) Women and Gender
0:33:14 Colonial Feminism and the War in Afghanistan
0:35:54 Are Muslims Liberal Enough
0:39:47 (IV) Islam in the West, Do They Belong
0:42:26 (V) The Middle East
0:43:42 An Analysis of of How These Pillars Get Unpacked in Real Settings
0:46:39 Islamic Theology and Objectivity
0:50:07 A Paragraph on Good Muslim, Bad Muslim***
0:51:22 Liberal Norms and Islam
0:54:05 Conclusion
01:00:32 Closeout Comments (Safir Ahmed)

Comments, Questions and Answers

01:03:07 Question 1: How do you begin to create new frames for Muslims and Islam rather than challenge the existing ones?
01:09:00 Question 2: Can you speak more on the departmental divisions that push Islam to the side of traditional Western academic institutions and the best way to navigate Islamic studies in an academic environment?
01:14:21 Question 3: Much of you talked about is in relation to modern nation-states, can you speak to this idea applied to nation building projects? Do you see any similarities in framing for unestablished nations?
01:19:10 Question 4: As a non-Muslim who is being made aware of these frames but still watches a lot of TV, what’s the fundamental things I must ask myself when consuming media about Islam and Muslims?
01:23:17 Question 5: Looking at the dominant frameworks that you speak of, how does one accept the framework of the dominant knowledge producing force and how, within that, do we look at different rhythms that work for other societies? How do we interpret those frameworks?
01:35:12 Question 6/7: In a world where there are sectarian wars between Sunnis and Shias, what role does religion play to unite us? (Q7) What inspirations can we draw from to be beautiful and share beauty knowing that it may end up in a violent frame?



With gratitude to our Content Partner,
Zaytuna College.


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Spiritual Activism: Activism in the Spiritual Envelope

A social activist who wishes to produce true change must fully internalize and actualize the values inherent in the Divine Names of Allah, says Shaykh Riad Saloojee.

At this point, the intersection between activism and Islamic spirituality, and therefore our paradigm of spiritual activism, should stand out in sharp relief.

As a summary, we can connect the dots as follows:

  • The purpose of human creation is the realization of loving submission (‘ubudiyyah) to the Divine.
  • The locus of this loving surrender is the spiritual heart (qalb), which is the seat of normative perception, experience and will.
  • The heart is profoundly influenced by the lower-self (nafs), whose reality can be materialistic, hegemonic, Satanic or angelic.
  • The nature of the lower-self (nafs) determines the orientation of the heart.
  • The heart in turn commands the intellect (‘aql) to rationalize and execute its commands; and the intellect (‘aql) commands the limbs and senses to act.

Defining Activism

As the heart (qalb) grows in spiritual awareness and nearness to the Divine, we realize the purpose of our creation: to be the vicegerent of the Divine by adorning our hearts with Divine Names and Attributes to the most perfect extent possible at our human level.

These qualities are our inner character (akhlaq). Our inner character is a necessary and essential consequence of our spiritual quest – the deeper our spirituality, the more constant and anchored our inner character. We now stand poised to offer a definition of what is spiritual activism.

Spiritual activism is the experiential, practical realization of Divine Oneness (tawhid) in the Names and Attributes of the Divine, manifested within our inner character at our human level, externalized in our words and deeds, and projected onto the social realm in an attempt to transform it accordingly.

Universal and Divine Values

True activism cannot be divorced from its spiritual Divine origin or inspiration in both means and ends. The metaphorical vertical relationship with the Divine is what gives meaning and value to our horizontal relationships, individual and social, with creation.

Indeed, only when activism operates within this spiritual envelope — at every instant, at every level — is it a means of worshipful surrender to the Divine and a means of true freedom and liberation for oneself and others.

It is worth noting that the normative, universal values of our tradition are not novel. If we reflect carefully, we will realize that every beautiful universal value is in reality an expression of a Divine value.

And that every such value is a remnant of the teachings of the Emissaries and Messengers of the Divine. While the Divine lineage of these ethical constants may have been forgotten, their source nonetheless is the Divine.

The Spiritual Paradigm

This, then, are the first-principles of a paradigm of spiritual activism. The details of activism will flow from these principles naturally and consequentially. The first of these details that we will discuss is a selection of Divine Names and Attributes that have particular relevance to social activism.

Allah is the Lovingly-Merciful, the Source of Peace and Security, the Infinitely Just, the Wise, the Patient, the Trustee. A social activist who wishes to produce true change must fully internalize and actualize these values.

In the spiritual realm, not to be adorned with these attributes, to be deficient in them, is to be maligned with their opposite. When we are not adorned with these attributes, our activism is a recipe for failure.

For I act either with a heart connected in agency for the Divine. Or I act as the proxy of my lower-self and its base biddings.


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.


 

Spiritual Activism: The Activist as Vicegerent

You were created to be the viceregent of Allah in this realm. Your success in this realm and the realm to come rests on the degree to which you realize this, says Shaykh Riad Saloojee.

In a very august assembly, in the presence of beings created from pure light, Allah announced that He was going to create a vicegerent or representative (khalifa) on earth. You are that steward, that vicegerent, that representative.

Our real home is Paradise. We were born to die and journey back home — but only if we are successful in embodying the meaning of being the vicegerent (khalifa) during our brief sojourn on earth. Our success, both here and in the Hereafter, rests on this.

Duties of a Viceregent

What does being a vicegerent entail? In the case of any vicegerency or representation, there are two parties. And the party that assigns or appoints a vicegerent or representative does so using criteria of value, that reflect, especially in cases of personal representation, their ethos and normative principles.

The representative or vicegerent is meant to reflect those in his behavior – their autonomy circumscribed, in a sense, by the normative envelope which confers upon them their role and distinction.

We are the representatives and vicegerents of the Divine, God, Allah himself. And the most powerful and congruous explanation of our vicegerency is that we are meant to represent His Names and Attributes to the greatest extent possible at our human level.

Living Allah’s Names

Allah is Infinite in His essence, Names and Attributes, and actions, without compare or similitude. We can never actualize the perfection of His qualities. But we can adorn ourselves, internally and externally, with His Names and Attributes to the extent permitted by the finitude of our human reality.

Allah is the All-Knowing, the All-Wise, the Generous, the Giving, the Lovingly-Merciful and the Source of Peace and Security – among His Names of beauty and majesty. We, too, are meant to embellish our character (khuluq) and become knowledgeable, wise, generous, giving, lovingly-merciful and the giver of peace and security to others.

We are taught by our spiritual tradition that we can adorn our character with each of Allah’s Names and Attributes.

The Foundation of Virtue

The fulfillment of the aim of truly becoming Allah’s representative is another lens to understand the basis of Islamic spirituality: the purification of our lower-selves to adorn our hearts with Allah’s Names and Attributes, which are the foundation of all virtuous character (khuluq).

It is through this understanding of vicegerency (khilafa) that we see once again the primacy of inner character as the reality of our earthly mission. In this envelope, all activism must be firmly situated and sealed. I must never divest myself of this normative vicegerency in any sense, and in any field of life’s endeavours.

Collective Viceregency

And as we are meant to be the individual vicegerents of Allah on earth, so too must we as a community become a collective vicegerent of the Divine. For what is activism and advocacy except the social projection of Allah’s Names and Attributes upon society at large leading to both inner and systemic transformation.

This intellection of the human role is far more ennobling and substantial than an activism shorn of Divine spirituality, founded on the limiting and crude supposition that we are merely material beings, and political ones at that – when your life and mine was in every way meant to reflect nothing less than the beauty and majesty of the Infinite.


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.


Previous Posts

 

Deconstruction or Deen – Imam Zaid Shakir

Imam Zaid Shakir delivers a profound sermon about recent insults upon the Prophets, peace be upon them, and forces of deconstruction tearing apart families and society as a whole.

Don’t Believe the Hype

Imam Zaid Shakir’s speaks on the immaturity of character that leads to the breaking up of Muslim families, due to the neglect of inherent responsibilities in act and word.

He then makes note of how it is now possible and even acceptable to say things about the Prophets, peace be upon them, both unbecoming and in contradiction of the Deen as it has been passed down to us.

The dangers in not understanding and embracing known truths in favor of complete freedom of interpretation without sound foundations are laid bare.

The embrace of philosophical attitudes of deconstruction where nothing is sacred but the self and its proclivities leave us in a wasteland.

Reconstruction is the Remedy

Imam Zaid then poignantly reminds us that the remedy of our societal and communal ills lies not in deconstruction but in revivification — in a sincere return to the Straight Path.

Imam Dawud Walid says: “Imam Zaid’s khutbah about secular liberalism and Western feminism’s unintended consequences needs to be discussed in every masjid and MSA in the West.”

May Allah protect him and all of our teachers and guides.

This Khutbah was delivered at the Muslim Community Center – East Bay (MCC East Bay) in Pleasanton, California on Friday, March 23, 2018.


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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.


Previous Posts

 

Spiritual Activism: Runaway Rationality

The intellect can be blinded by the passions. Only a cool and collected heart keeps the passions in check and commands the intellect to good, says Shaykh Riad Saloojee.

I am not a disembodied intellect (‘aql). My intellect (‘aql) functions within the Divinely-crafted, holistic system composed of my heart (qalb), lower-self (nafs) and senses (jawarih). It does not function independently from these other elements that constitute my human reality.

What is this relationship exactly? To put it as succinctly as possible, the intellect (‘aql) is the executive officer of the heart (qalb). It rationalizes, plans and executes the dictates of the heart (qalb). Once the heart resolves on a matter based on its perception and emotional drives, the intellect (‘aql) directs the senses to effect the edict.

The Qur’an often mentions the intellect (‘aql) in the context of the rational perception of the heart (qalb): “They have hearts that they do not reason with” (7:179) and “Do they not travel in the land and have hearts that they reason with” (22:46).

A Critical Point

Although the decision maker is the heart (qalb), we established previously that the heart (qalb) is strongly affected by the identity of the lower-self (nafs) in one or a permutation of its four realities: cow-like, predatory, Satanic or angelic. Therefore, the wild card in the spiritual equation that exists between the heart (qalb), lower-self (nafs), intellect (‘aql) and senses (jawarih) is the lower-self (nafs).

If the lower-self (nafs) is angelic, the heart (qalb) will take on its angelic identity. If the lower-self (nafs) is cow-like, predatory or Satanic, the heart (qalb) will be influenced by those tendencies in its perception, experience and will, and the heart will subsequently command the intellect (‘aql), who will direct the senses and limbs (jawarih) to speak and act.

What Drives the Intellect

The link between the intellect (‘aql) and the lower-self (nafs) should now be apparent. When traced back to their source, the rationalization, planning and execution function of the intellect (‘aql) in its normative extension reflects the propensities — carnal or ideological — of the lower-self (nafs).

My intellect is not autonomous. Pure rationality in matters of normative judgement is a fiction. As a David Hume once noted: “Reason is … the slave of the passions and cannot pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.” What drives many of my decisions is the spiritual maturity or lack therefore of my lower-self (nafs).

Conflicts of Interest

Consider some examples. Why do rocket scientists not believe in God? Why do I not accept clear and rational truth presented to me when it conflicts with a self-interest that I perceive? Why do I rationalize my errors with argument when I know, deep down, that I am wrong?

Why do I insist on certain strategic decisions in advocacy and activism that are inconsistent when studied more closely under the illuminating light of the Sacred Law? And why do I jettison expressions of spirituality that necessitate closer scrutiny and discipline over the drives of my lower-self (nafs)?

These questions, and many more, can often be understood with greater clarity once I become more spiritually mature and self-reflective about the interconnectedness of my intellect (‘aql) to my lower-self — and once I acquiesce and commit to my own spiritual evolution and refinement. And there is nothing more rational than that.


Previous Posts

Spiritual Activism: Identifying My Politics
Spiritual Activism: The Me in the Mirror
Spiritual Activism: Uniting Soul, Mind and Body
Spiritual Activism: A Bleeding Heart


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.

Spiritual Activism: Identifying My Politics

To identify your politics, you must first discern the reality of your desires and impulses, aims and actions. For if your essence is a function of these things, then the underlying reality or nature of your self must be known, says Shaykh Riad Saloojee.

Who I am in essence is really a function of my impulses, aims and actions. It is my essence that defines my politics. My lower self (nafs) is either one or a combination of four realities: a cow, a wild-dog, a devil (Shaytan) or an angel (malak).

When my energies and drives are primarily directed to hedonistic pleasures, my lower self (nafs) is cow-like. When they are directed to the hegemony of hurt and violence over others, I am a wild-dog. And when they are directed to duplicity, arrogance and seeking self-aggrandizement, I am a devil. However, when they are devoted to pursuit of the Divine, I am angelic.

Many profound implications arise from this self knowledge. My perception of the environment around me, the values I seek, the activism I employ and my actions and reactions are all conditioned by my inner realities. Let us look at each in turn.

Inner Realities and Outward Politics

First, our environments are in essence the aggregate of the realities of our lower selves (or nufus) and their pursuits of pleasure. At the level of the family, neighborhood, province or international arena – whether social, economic or political in dimension – the preferences, culture and actions of our collective being really tell the tale of the reality of our individual inner selves.

Second, the value of happiness is relative depending on the type of lower self (nafs) that I have. The lower self pursues happiness commensurate with its nature. The cattle-like, predatory and Satanic self only pursues the acquisition of that which guarantees its pleasure. But the truest, lasting happiness is the angelic happiness of seeking the Divine, the Infinite in Beauty and Majesty, and actualizing Divine values and virtues that are necessary for a meaningful and dignified life.

Third, the change of the lower self (nafs) is the core and the key of any real, profound social change. One could argue that the common, underlying dimension of all types of activism lies in transcending the three self-centred, limiting realities of the lower self, individually and collectively, to produce social change with the deepest foundation and longevity.

Fourth, social transformation without genuine, authentic transformation of individuals is a mirage, a tree without roots, pie-in-the-sky. As I struggle to produce change in society-at-large, I should never neglect to focus in parallel on my individual, internal change. If I do not change, or am not in the process of changing, my efforts are in vain.

A Sincere Change of Heart

My change will require a constant and sincere effort. For my heart (qalb) to truly be free in its perception, experience and will, it must be free from the impact and grip of the lower self (nafs). And to free my lower self (nafs) from its cattle-like, predatory and Satanic proclivities is no easy task.

But it is a necessary undertaking for without the creation of an angelic lower self, the heart (qalb) will always be the prisoner of the lower self (nafs). Limited in its perception, suffocated from experiencing the Divine and Divine values, and fettered in its resolve and will to seek and strive for the virtuous.

It is only through the purification of the lower self (nafs) that the heart (qalb) will attain its freedom and true happiness in attachment to the Divine. And this is precisely the subject and quest of Islamic spirituality. This is precisely what is needed for activism of any kind.


Previous Posts

Spiritual Activism: The Me in the Mirror
Spiritual Activism: Uniting Soul, Mind and Body
Spiritual Activism: A Bleeding Heart


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.