Spiritual Activism Riad Saloojee

15 – The Enemy Outposts in Your Head

We have established the foundations for Islamic spirituality and saw how that spirituality may be projected upon the realm of activism through a deeper understanding of the concept of vicegerency (khilafa) and its realization of the Divine Names and Attributes.  Continuing along this line of inquiry, we enter a new field of discussion: the ailments of activism. 

Our method thus far has been to examine everything at its first-principle level.  To understand activism, we needed to understand Islamic spirituality; to understand Islamic spirituality, we needed to wrap our minds around the material and non-material dimensions of the human identity – in particular an examination of the lower self (nafs); and now, to explore the ailments of the lower self (nafs), we need to understand their root causes.

Understanding the root inclinations of the lower self (nafs) will allow us to understand its ailments and to more profoundly appreciate the perils and pitfalls of activism.

The lower self (nafs) has two core inclinations: shahwa, its carnal desires, and hawa, its intellectual, philosophical and ideological caprice.  These two drives define the lower self.

Carnal desires (shahwa) are just that.  They are the physical drives within us that arise within the lower self (nafs) due to our material existence and connection to the world. They are the drives of eating, sleeping, sensual pleasure and others.  Some of these desires are permissible, even obligatory, others recommended, others reprehensible, and yet others forbidden.  We are discussing more essentially the latter, that is, those forbidden and prohibited.

Our intellectual, philosophical and ideological drives (hawa) are those inclinations within the lower self (nafs) that run counter to the Divine will, expressed in the Divine communication of wahi, in the Qur’an and the teachings of the Messenger (Allah’s choicest peace and salutations be upon him). Whenever I hold a view, idea, notion, philosophy or intellectual inclination that is contrary to the Divine will, this is hawa and the inclination of my lower self (nafs). This inclination is neither in reality rational nor spiritual. It is only an expression of the propensity of a lower self (nafs) yet to be refined or reformed.  And I must know this.

Both desires of the lower self (nafs) are deadly to my material and spiritual existence.  They are impediments to my journey to the Divine.  They are obstacles to the achievement of the true freedom of the heart (qalb) and its happiness.  Both drives are precisely what the purification (tazkiya) of the lower self (nafs) is meant to cleanse.

Of the two, the deadlier is hawa, or intellectual caprice. Why? For many reasons.  It is more subtle, more difficult to detect, easier to rationalize away, and at many times the justification and perpetuation of the shawha or carnal desire itself. For example, reasoning and believing the imbibing of intoxicants to be beneficial justifies its perpetuation and therefore its harms, makes one blind to reject any valid counter-arguments, veils one from being self-critical and renders the possibility of remorse and repentance very difficult.

It is through the gates of one and both of these drives that other spiritual ailments find their expression. The practice of gluttony and licentiousness, for example, are driven by carnal desires (shahawat); pride and self-aggrandizement, on the other hand, come from intellectual caprice (hawa).

From this basis, we can now begin to speak with greater depth about some spiritual ailments that are the bane of our activism – surreptitiously, and most often unbeknownst to us. As someone once noted: You cannot fight an enemy that has an outpost in your head. But, more precisely for our purpose – heart.


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.


For more podcasts by SeekersGuidance, visit SeekersGuidance.org/podcasts .