Spiritual Activism Riad Saloojee

23 – Knowledge That Truly Empowers

In the next series of discussions, we will be looking at a number of means to help protect us, and our activism, from the ills within us. Today’s discussion concerns knowledge (‘ilm).

Knowledge (‘ilm) is light.  It is the energy that propels us to journey in nearness to the Divine.

Allah is not worshipped with ignorance. Our Islamic tradition emphasizes knowledge.  The Qur’an speaks abundantly about knowledge as do the Prophetic texts.  And many of us have committed those texts to heart. But have we taken them to heart?

We are told that seeking knowledge is mandatory upon the believer; that those who know cannot be compared with those who do not know; that Allah eases a path to Paradise for the one who seeks knowledge; and that Allah raises those who have knowledge in degrees of nearness to Him.

Knowledge has different levels. The first level of knowledge that I must know are the essentials. Knowledge of the pillars of faith – of Allah, His Messengers, His angels, His Books, the Last Day of Judgement and the Divine Decree – inform me of the context and environment of my existence. These pillars provide me with my map of life. Without them, I will not understand my world or how to navigate within it.

Then comes knowledge of the pillars of Islam: the testimony of faith (shahadah), prayer (salah), zakah, fasting (sawm) and pilgrimage (hajj). They are my response to the constants of the environment that I find myself in.

Other knowledge is also obligatory. This includes the knowledge that I need to know depending on my circumstances.  A social or political activist, for example, needs to know the Divine norms and guidelines that connect to his or her activism. Knowledge precedes action.

What about knowledge of Islamic spirituality? How important is this knowledge for all Muslims, including the activist?

Contrary to much popular perception, spirituality is not an optional field of study. Having a conscious awareness of the Divine (taqwa) that leads to obeying His commands and refraining from His prohibitions is mandatory. Hell is not an option for the believer. And what is necessary to attain something mandatory is mandatory itself.  Therefore, knowledge of the diseases of the heart and the means to protect oneself from them is essential knowledge.

Knowledge is to be lived. Our current paradigm of Islamic studies places a premium on knowing. Very little emphasis, if any, is placed on practicing what we know.  But we don’t learn to learn.  Knowledge is not an academic exploration. We learn to practice. To do. Knowledge without practice is neither empowering nor transformational. On the contrary, it is a path to self-delusion (ghurur) and arrogance (kibr).

The Satan (Shaytan) was one of the most knowledgeable of all creation.  But where did his knowledge take him?

The Qur’an does not say that we will enter Paradise and be rewarded for our knowledge alone.  Rather, it always couples those who believe and practice what they know. 

Knowledge does empower. But knowledge must be understood in a qualified sense: It must be the right knowledge; and it must be practiced. Only this knowledge is beneficial to us. We need a regular diet of this type of knowledge.

The Messenger ﷺ prayed to Allah to protect him from knowledge that does not benefit and a heart that does have reverent awe of the Divine. From this subtle juxtaposition, we learn that not all knowledge empowers.  But the right kind of knowledge does, indeed, empower us with a spiritual connection to 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.


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