A human being consists of two important elements – body and soul – and each of these elements has special needs. For example, in order for the body to grow, it needs food, medicine, exercises, etc. – and this is what many people put emphasis on these days. It is important to put stress on this part. However, the soul also needs the same care, if not more. The care of the soul is not by means of food, nor medications, or exercises, but through education, that connects one to the Creator through good deeds, sincerity, and perfection (ihsan). The dictionary definition of soul is, “The immaterial essence, animating principle, or actuating cause of an individual life.” Thus, human being cannot fully develop and reach the level of vicegerent, which God meant for them, unless both body and soul are developed. Since the development of body is covered extensively in the media and billions of dollars are spent on, we will discuss spiritual development that nourishes the soul.
Even though the general definition is similar on spiritual development in deferent religions and systems, however, the linkage between the two (body & soul) is greatly different. Some view that one cannot equally develop body and soul, and must attend to one at the expense of the other. Thus, one either has to be a secular, who focuses only on worldly materialism with injustice, tyranny, or lead an ascetic life, where normal life is against their spiritual development. Thus, in our society, it seems like we are in two camps: one, in which immorality, injustice, and greed are the base – upon which the majority of the world is based on. The other, is one, in which the individual withdraws him or herself from the society and everyday life. Both of these camps are wrong and against the nature of the world. Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Seven things will destroy us: wealth without work, pleasure without conscience, knowledge without character, business without morality, science without humanity, religion without sacrifice, politics without principles.” If we look at this quote, we will find seven opposing the other seven. Thus, the first seven pertains to body or derived from the physical activities, whereas the other seven pertain to the spiritual, inner self. In other words, the first seven are external, while the second seven are internal. Thus, achieving only physical development will lead to being materialistic and greedy; as the result, one lives only for his/her pleasure. By the same token, thinking only of inner self, and disconnecting from the rest of the world will end up isolated and ineffective. None of these life styles provide peace and balance, which are opposite of violence and extremism, which characterized our world today. The Islamic viewpoint on spiritual development is totally different from these two camps.
Allah said, “But seek, with that (wealth) which Allah has bestowed on you, the home of the Hereafter, and forget not your portion of legal enjoyment in this world, and do good as Allah has been good to you, and seek not mischief in the land. Verily, Allah likes not the Mufsidun (those who commit great crimes and sins, oppressors, tyrants, mischief-makers, corrupts).” 28:77.
Islam does not view spirituality separate from everyday life activities.
The word “Islam” comes from the Arabic root, silm, which means both peace and submission to the will of the Creator. Peace has several levels – internal peace and external peace. In the same token, there are individual peace and communal or collective peace, as the two interdependent. Thus Without internal peace, external peace will not be possible. Similarly, without individual peace, communal peace will not be possible as well. When an individual is peaceful to his or herself (internal), he/she will be peaceful to the rest of the society (external). Thus, spiritual development will make one to achieve peaceful life (external world) and is bonded with principles and ethics. Spiritual development brings internal peace, which leads to external peace. The society is made up individuals, who make families, families who make communities and communities who make society. If the individual does not have inner peace, or spiritually developed, they will not be able to create peaceful families who display compassion, love, respect, tolerance, and understanding. On the other hand, if the individual has inner-peace or spiritual development, he/she will create families who display compassion, love, tolerance, and understanding. Then, these families will create strong communities, which leads to creating a balanced society where universal humanity, perseverance, cooperation, unity, and justice are the norms.
How to Attain Spiritual Development in Islam
Islam is both a religion and a way of life, for it provides its followers step-by-step guidance for daily activities to attain spiritual development.
Iman (Faith): Belief in God, Angels, Divine Books, Prophets and Messengers, Day of Judgment and Devine Fate- affirming strongly in our hearts that this is the gateway entry for our spiritual development.
‘Ibadah (Worship): an act of devotion in all what we say and do including prayer, fasting, charity, pilgrimage with humility, sincerity, dedication, excellence, and constant supplication. This way, one realizes and actualizes his or her purpose in this world, which is to worship Allah, “And I (Allah) created not the jinns and humans except they should worship Me (Alone).” (51:56).
Taqwa (God-Consciousness): the obedience to the rules of Islam while avoiding forbidden, and abstaining from unsuitable things in life. Allah said, “O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who has) the most Taqwa from among you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).” (49:13)
Birr (Righteousness): living life that is good and beneficial that pleases Allah. God said ”It is not righteousness that ye turn your faces Towards east or West; but it is righteousness- to believe in Allah and the Last Day, and the Angels, and the Book, and the Messengers; to spend of your substance, out of love for Him, for your kin, for orphans, for the needy, for the wayfarer, for those who ask, and for the ransom of slaves; to be steadfast in prayer, and practice regular charity; to fulfill the contracts which ye have made; and to be firm and patient, in pain (or suffering) and adversity, and throughout all periods of panic. Such are the people of truth, the pious.” (2:177)
Ihsan (Excellence): perfection and excellence in everything we do – in words, deeds and thoughts, which means, doing things sincerely, completely, nicely, and correctly. Allah said, “Verily, Allah orders justice (‘Idli) and perfection (Ihsan) and giving help to kith and kin (family and relative)” (16:90).
Ikhlas (Sincerity): all we do and say must be sincere to God with intention. Allah said, “They were only ordered to worship Allah, making their din sincerely His as people of pure natural pure belief, and to establish the prayer and pay charity – that is the deen of the correct.” (98:5)
‘Ita’a (Obedience to Parents): after Allah and His messengers’ obedience, one has to obey his/her parents whether they are dead or alive, not only accepting their words and requests, but one would be available and ready for them before their request and need. Allah said, Your Lord has decreed that you worship nothing but Him, and that you be kind to parents. Whether one or both of them attain old age in your life, say not to them a word for contempt, nor repel them but address them in terms of honor. And, out of kindness, lower to them wing of humility, and say: My Lord! Bestow on them Your mercy, even as they cherished me in childhood”. (17:23-14))
Akhlaq (Character/Manners): have and display traits, habits and qualities of truthfulness, trustworthiness, honesty, keeping promises and secrets, integrity, courage, cleanliness, smiles, modesty, diligence, positive thinking as well as, displaying the etiquette of good appearance/dress, speech, eating, sleep, prayer, gratitude, serving, respecting and kind to all parents, teachers, elders, guests, and others as well. Also, avoid stealing, cheating, backbiting, cursing, envy, jealousy, show off, greed and hostility, ignorance and pride, selfishness, laziness, rudeness, misery, overeating, too much laughter, negative thinking, while controlling anger, repelling evil with good. Prophet (pbuh) said, “The best amongst you are those who have the best manners and character”.
Muhasaba (Honest Self Assessment): a process of looking at oneself (spiritual, time, education, family, skills, health, financial, values and identity, needs and interests, goals and priorities, others) asking critical questions, what did I (accomplish/fail last year, month, week, and day)? what do I need to change or keep next week, month and year (s) in order one to move forward for a better future? The prophet (pbuh) said, “The intelligent one controls himself and acts according to what is coming after death; while he who is weak and unable to control himself allows himself to indulge in his lower desires, asking Allah to fulfill his wishes.”
Education: it is a starting point and key foundation to move and accomplish on anything. It gives us the ability to understand our above obligations as it enables us to follow them in accordance with their appropriate rules. Allah said, “And of men and Ad-Dawab (moving living creatures, beasts, etc.), and cattle, in like manner of various colours. It is only those who have knowledge among His slaves that fear Allah. Verily, Allah is All-Mighty, Oft-Forgiving”. (5:28).
Other essentials to increase Spiritual Development: remembrance of Allah in every step that we take and everything we do physically or mentally; reading and reflecting upon the Quran; helping those who in need and specially, orphans, widows, elders, by all, food, cloth, shelter, knowledge and advice; invoking Allah more in all and every step we take; reflection upon the creation; having good friends; more education and reading as well as more voluntary deeds.
Humanity is passing through a critical stage in its development with so much conflict and violence going. We need to go back to faith and develop our physical and spiritual needs in a balanced way.