Spiritual Activism Riad Saloojee

18 – A Heart Co-opted

To associate partners or equals with the Divine (shirk) is the antithesis of Divine unicity (tawhid).

This association is the sin of all sins, the ultimate criminality.  It is the unforgivable sin in the sight of the Divine.

It is unforgivable because it is the pinnacle of ingratitude: a denial of the source of your existence and every virtue and grace. Moreover, it is a pronouncement to the cosmos and every existent thing that their existence is vain, purposeless and useless.

Ostentation or show-off (riya’) is termed by the Messenger (Allah’s choicest peace and salutations be upon him) as the minor association (al-shirk al-asghar). Ostentation (riya’) is forgivable.  But it is included within the rubric of Divine rejection to indicate the severity of its disease. 

Ostentation (riya’) is when the heart (qalb) harbours an ulterior motive in its act of nearness to the Divine. That is, to seek a benefit from other than the Divine through worship. Such benefit could be material or non-material like status, prestige and power. Ostentation (riya’) uses faith for finite gain. Ostentation (riya’) is the opposite of sincerity and truthfulness (ikhlas and sidq).

It is termed the minor association to indicate its subtlety. The Messenger (Allah’s choicest peace and salutations be upon him) stated that ostentation (riya’) was the greatest thing that he feared for Muslims, and that it was more imperceptible than “the crawling of an ant.”

Ostentation (riya’) has every relevance for our activism. As we have learned, there is no dichotomy between spirituality and activism.  For the true Muslim activist, activism is a spiritual activity – an act of worship (‘ibadah) to draw nearer to the Divine by living and projecting His Names and Attributes into the public realm.

Any venture into the public space usually brings me face-to-face with the challenges of power, influence, acclaim, recognition, praise, leadership, resources, competition, agenda-setting, networking, coalitions.  And it is utterly inadequate to advise me to simply “fix my intentions” or “be sincere,” as though the act of continually re-orienting to the Divine in the face of such tremendous inner challenges could be accomplished by the reprise of a phrase.

No. As we have seen, without a process of inner purification (tazkiya), the lower self (nafs) will simply imprint its own inclinations onto our heart (qalb) and its will. Without care and attention to the root causes of the nafs’ attachments, I will get nowhere fast. 

Here, the activist who genuinely wants to seek the Divine cannot but pause in fear. The spiritual taint of ostentation (riya’) nullifies or defiles good works because they are directed to other than the Divine. Whatever might be ventured, nothing is gained.  I’ve only travelled backwards, away from the Divine.

What good is the sweat, blood and tears if, in the end, I have only ruined my soul and gained nothing of Divine nearness?  And this is far from being a call to non-action, as some might perceive it or want to perceive it.  It is rather a call to action.  We have already established the importance and nobility of a spiritual activism.  We cannot afford to chart a path in our activism that does not grant an essential primacy to the purification of our selves (tazkiya) and the cultivation of beautiful character (akhlaq).

For in the end, the essential value of everything we do, big or bantam, rests only on the answer to a single, simple question: Did my heart (qalb) do it truly for Him?


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 .