Spiritual Activism Riad Saloojee

20 – Idolizing the Means

Allah is the Cause of all causes, the Originator of means and ends.  Nothing exists except by His will and power.  This belief is a necessary truth of his Divine unicity (tawhid).

We seek nearness to Him by surrendering to His prescriptions and proscriptions and actualizing them in our lives.  This striving is our worship (‘ibadah).  Without practical surrender, internally and externally, our protestations of Divine love are hollow and meaningless.

Our striving is necessary. But it is not sufficient. Even as we strive, we must never lose sight of the fact that any change and movement, within us or in the world, are by His will alone. As a Prophetic text teaches: Whatever He wills, will be; and whatever He does not will, will never be.

It is in our nature to forget this reality. As we observe the positive consequences of our striving, we begin to attribute those results to our effort.  We perceive that we are the cause of the effect – especially when the effects are pleasing to us and come in quick succession.

Through this perception and experience of cause and effect, our hearts (qulub) gradually attach to the instruments of my action and detach from their awareness of the One who created them.  This leads me to construct an intrinsic and inherent power within those means. At a deeper, and truer level, this is akin to a type of worship of the means.

An indicator of this disease within me is that I become very frustrated when I don’t achieve what I work for. I am so conditioned to the results following my effort that, when they do not, I wilt within: anger, anxiety, resentment, doubt in the Divine, and even depression.

Were I unattached to the avenues of my action to begin with, I would have found tranquility whether the means produced their intended outcome or not.  I would have found tranquility in the Divine, the Real, the Permanent, and not in the vicissitudes of the finite. 

In instances where I am blessed with talents and successes, and when I do not pay enough spiritual attention to the reality of the Divine will, I will attribute my talents and successes to my ability.  This is the disease of self-admiration or vainglory (‘ujb).  I become infatuated with myself, self-centred and veiled from the Giver of the bounties Himself.

No matter what my accomplishments are, I am and will always be in a state of destitution to the Divine.  My reality is utter poverty on two counts: First, my essence before my creation was non-being; and second, I am in need of Divine sustenance in every moment of my existence.  If such sustenance were withdrawn, even momentarily, I would lapse, once again, into nothingness.

Incidental characteristics – good health, wealth, intelligence and status, for example – do not alter my original reality of poverty. Those conditions are merely temporary. They will pass; they cannot endure.

Tests and trials, as we are reminded by our saintly scholars, are there to remind me of my essential poverty and indigence to the Divine.

While we often conceive of trials as occasions of terrible want and constriction, it is the subtle trials of plenty and sufficiency that often pose more serious challenges.  And while we often conceive of trials as occasions of terrible material, social and political challenge, it is often the subtle trials of intellectual and spiritual challenges that are more dangerous to one’s faith.

Islamophobia is a challenge, for sure. But have I ever considered the certain, toxic effects of a spiritual disease such as self-admiration (‘ujb) – a disease that veils me from true, spiritual happiness and freedom?  And, if this is so – and it is – should the activist not devote at least as much energy to freeing herself from inner injustices to the Divine even as she strives to free others from outer inequities?

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 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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