08 – The Activist as Vicegerent

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.

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 behaviour – 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.

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 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.

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.

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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