09 – Activism in the Spiritual Envelope

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.

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 Unicity (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. 

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 virtue 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.

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.


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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