Spiritual Activism Riad Saloojee

03 – The Me in the Mirror (rebroadcast)


When I proclaim, “I love,” or “I want,” or “I know,” or “I believe,” what component of my complex identity is speaking?  What is the spiritual-psychological process that produces my value-statements, emotional affirmations and the alignment of my will. Who is the “I” in the me? Who is the me in the mirror?

The human identity is a compound reality. There are other elements, beyond the heart (qalb), that constitute the human identity.  The most critical to examine for the purpose of understanding the spirituality of activism is the lower self (nafs).

The nafs, or lower-self, is that human faculty that is connected with the pursuit of either carnal desires (shahwa) or intellectual or ideological caprice (hawa).  The lower self (nafs) is the seat of all our egotistic potentialities.  It is the locus of legal responsibility before the Divine. Without a lower self (nafs), we would be angelic.  After careful analysis of the primary texts, scholars have divided the realities of the lower self (nafs) into four:

The cattle-like animal selfthe lower self (nafs) that finds its ultimate pleasure in materialistic and hedonistic pursuits of eating, drinking, entertainment and sexual pleasure (See, for example, Qur’an 25:44);

The predatory-self – the lower self (nafs) that finds its satisfaction in hegemony over others through violence and aggression. (Some texts in the Prophetic Traditions (Sunnah) speak of people with “hearts like wolves.”);

The Satanic or devil-like self – the lower self (nafs) that achieves its happiness in duplicity, arrogance and self-glorification. (Some texts in the Prophetic Traditions (Sunnah) speak of people with “hearts like “Shayatin” – or Satans).

The angelic self – the lower self (nafs) that finds its contentment in the remembrance and worship of the Divine.

These four attributes are what constitute my inner reality, my inner image or my inner character. My lower self (nafs) is either one of these or a permutation of them in different proportions.  For example, I could be part cow-like, part-Satanic and part-angelic.

The type of lower self (nafs) that I have is the consequence of my life’s choices and actions.  I have moulded myself. I can gauge my lower self (nafs) by the pursuit of its pleasures and delights. Where, for example, are my energies, resources and time devoted? Ultimately, we devote the capital of our life to those pursuits that bring us happiness.

Without an understanding of my lower self (nafs), which is the reality of my inner character, I will never be able to truly understand myself: how I perceive the world; my thoughts and feelings; why I want what I want; my actions and reactions.  And without this knowledge, I will not be able to begin the transformation, in myself and in my world, both within and without.

There is no inherent disconnect or contradiction between Islamic Spirituality and social or political activism.  In fact, Islamic spirituality is not only relevant but essential to all forms of activism.  This podcast with Shaykh Riad Saloojee will present a paradigm for a spiritually-inspired activism where activism achieves 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 will explore 1. The foundations of Islamic spirituality; 2. The spiritual ethos that is the basis of all activism; 3. The ailments of activism unhinged from spirituality; 4. The laws that govern activism; 5. The importance of “inner,” spiritual activism for beneficial “outer” activism; 6. Vignettes from Prophetic activism; and 7. An application of how spirituality must inform true environmental activism.


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