Reclaiming the Discourse on Spirituality in Islam For Ramadan and Beyond

It was my pleasure to have been invited by Qurtuba Institute of ADAMS Center, in Virginia, to give a talk entitled “The Inner Dimensions of ‘Ibadah (Worship)“. In the following talk, I try to point out some of roadblocks and pitfalls associated with discourse on spirituality for Muslims today, particularly in the English-speaking world. I used a piece from John Dewey as a point of departure to help us truly achieve a more real and beneficial spiritual practice:

“When artistic objects are separated from both conditions of origin and operation in experience, a wall is built around them that renders almost opaque their general significance, with which esthetic theory deals. Art is remitted to a separate realm, where it is cut off from that association with the materials and aims of every other form of human effort, undergoing, and achievement.” — John Dewey, from Art As Experience.

Summer Reading List 2013

I was asked by several folks at the 2013 APRetreat what I have been and would be reading. These are the books I hope to read over the summer:

[1] Carolyn Steel’s, Hungry City: How Food Shapes Our Lives. [2] The Shallows by Nicholas Carr; [3] John Dewey’s, Art As Experience; [4] John Coltrane and Black America’s Quest for Freedom: Spirituality and the Music by Leonard Brown; [5] The Society of the Spectacle by Guy Debord; [6] John Abramson’s, Overdosed America: The Broken Promise of American Medicine; [7] Technopoly, by Neil Postman; [8] Eat To Live by Joel Fuhrman; [9] Living in the Labyrinth of Technology, by Willem H. Vanderburg; [10] Elizabeth Abbott’s, Sugar; [11] Driven To Distraction by Edward M. Hallowell and John J. Ratey; [12] The Good Food Revolution: Growing Healthy Food, People, and Communities by Will Allen; [13] al-Ittiqan fi ‘Ulum al-Qur’an by al-Suyuti; [14] Cultivating Food Justice: Race, Class and Sustainability, edited by Alison Hope Alkon and Julian Agyeman.

Extras

Spiritual Remedies with the Drexel MSA Week 3

Photo © Muhammad Sattaur

A note on texts and “tradition”:

“When artistic objects are separated from both conditions of origin and operation in experience, a wall is built around them that renders almost opaque their general significance, with which esthetic theory deals. Art is remitted to a separate realm, where it is cut off from that association with the materials and aims of every other form of human effort, undergoing, and achievement.” — John Dewey, from Art As Experience.

A note on “spirituality”:

“(Modern spiritual practices have prompted) a slow, yet irreversible move away from a spirituality that (is) theocentric towards one that is increasingly homocentric.” — Dr. Muneer Fareed.

“Aesthetic spirituality differs from religious spirituality in two significant ways: it emphasizes beauty rather than truth, and more importantly, replaces traditional forms of devotion with a philosophy that plays out in the public forum not as worship, but as art.” — Dr. Muneer Fareed. You can read the rest of Dr. Fareed’s article, Spirituality Without God, here.

What do you want to get out of all of this? A reminder on what this course is about. When trying to evaluate this, think of this quote::

إنما يعرف فضل الشيء بثمرته

“The excellence of thing is known by its fruit.” — Ibn al-Jawzi.

What are desires/Hawa and how do they direct our actions?:

اعلم أن الهوى يدعو إلى اللذة من غير فكر في عاقبته

“Know that desires call to rapturous delight without any consideration of its consequences.” — Ibn al-Jawzi.

كم شهوات سلبن صاحبها * ثوب الديانات والمروءات

“How many passions snatched from their companions – the garments of religion and virtue?” — Unknown poet.

Practical approach to improving our iman and spiritual nature – excerpts from The Willpower Instinct:

There is one way to immediately boost willpower: Slow your breathing down to four to six breaths per minute. That’s ten to fifteen seconds per breath— slower than you normally breathe, but not difficult with a little bit of practice and patience. Slowing the breath down activates the prefrontal cortex and increases heart rate variability, which helps shift the brain and body from a state of stress to self-control mode. A few minutes of this technique will make you feel calm, in control, and capable of handling cravings or challenges. Kelly McGonigalThe Willpower Instinct.

It’s a good idea to practice slowing down your breath before you’re staring down a cheesecake. Start by timing yourself to see how many breaths you normally take in one minute. Then begin to slow the breath down without holding your breath (that will only increase stress). Kelly McGonigalThe Willpower Instinct.

Exercise turns out to be the closest thing to a wonder drug that self-control scientists have discovered. Kelly McGonigalThe Willpower Instinct.

Green exercise is any physical activity that gets you outdoors and in the presence of Creation. The best news is that when it comes to green exercise, a quick fix really is enough. Shorter bursts have a more powerful effect on your mood than longer workouts. You also don’t have to break a sweat or push yourself to exhaustion. Lower-intensity exercise, like walking, has stronger immediate effects than high-intensity exercise. Kelly McGonigalThe Willpower Instinct.

McGonical’s insights on “green exercise” reminded me of many of the verses that God talks about in the Qur’an in reference to God’s majesty and power as Creator which often comes in the form of reflecting on God’s Creation:

إِنَّ فِي خَلْقِ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ وَاخْتِلَافِ اللَّيْلِ وَالنَّهَارِ وَالْفُلْكِ الَّتِي تَجْرِي فِي الْبَحْرِ بِمَا يَنْفَعُ النَّاسَ وَمَا أَنْزَلَ اللَّهُ مِنَ السَّمَاءِ مِنْ مَاءٍ فَأَحْيَا بِهِ الْأَرْضَ بَعْدَ مَوْتِهَا وَبَثَّ فِيهَا مِنْ كُلِّ دَابَّةٍ وَتَصْرِيفِ الرِّيَاحِ وَالسَّحَابِ الْمُسَخَّرِ بَيْنَ السَّمَاءِ وَالْأَرْضِ لَآيَاتٍ لِقَوْمٍ يَعْقِلُونَ

“In the creation of the heavens and earth, and the alternation of the night and day, and the ships which sail the seas to people’s benefit, and the water which Allah sends down from the sky – by which He brings the earth to life when it was dead and scatters about in it creatures of every kind – and the varying direction of the winds, and the clouds subservient between heaven and earth, there are Signs for people who use their intellect.”Qur’an, 2: 164.

“So I`ll leave the ways that are making me be what I really don’t want to be, leave the ways that are making me love what I really don’t want to love.” — Nick Drake.

Spiritual Remedies with the Drexel MSA Week 2

A note on texts and “tradition”:

“When artistic objects are separated from both conditions of origin and operation in experience, a wall is built around them that renders almost opaque their general significance, with which esthetic theory deals. Art is remitted to a separate realm, where it is cut off from that association with the materials and aims of every other form of human effort, undergoing, and achievement.” — John Dewey, from Art As Experience.

A reminder on what this course is about:

إنما يعرف فضل الشيء بثمرته

“The excellence of a thing is known by its fruit.” – Ibn al-Jawzi.

What are desires/Hawa?:

الهوى ميل الطبع إلى ما يلائمه ولا يذّم هذا المقدار إذا كان المطلوب مباحا

“Passions are the inclination of one’s natural character or disposition to whatever pleases it, and should not be vilified in as much as what is being sought is permissible.” – Ibn al-Jawzi.

وإنما يذم الإفراط فيه, فمن أطلق الهوى فلأن الغالب فيه ما لا يحل أو يتأول المباح بإفراطه

“However, that being said, passions should be disparaged when one is excessive in following desires. Things being what they are, when passions are criticized, it is either because the object or action is impermissible, or because people often interpret lawful means to excessive (unlawful) ends.” – Ibn al-Jawzi.

Virtues and Components of the Mind:

واعلم أن النفس منها جزاء عقلي فضيلته الحكمة

“Know that part of your soul possesses the virtue for wisdom.” – Ibn al-Jawzi.

ورذيلته الجهل

“And likewise possesses the capacity for ignorance.” – Ibn al-Jawzi.

Are you ever amazed at yourself, both in your capacity of good and bad, for intelligence and stupidity, for morality and depravity? Ibn al-Jawzi points to what God has said in Surah al-Shams:

ونفس وما سوها فألهمها فجورها وتقوها قد أفلح من زكها وخاب من دسها

“And (swearing) by the soul, which He made balanced: He inspired its depravity and its morality. The one who succeeds is the one who purifies it and the one who fails is the one who covers it up.” – Qur’an, 91: 7-10.

Interestingly enough, the verb dassa/دسّ can mean to cover up but it can also mean to poison something (دسّ السمّ لفلان).

وجزء غضبي فضيلته الحدة

“Another aspect is anger, of whose virtue is keenness.” – Ibn al-Jawzi.

For “al-hiddah”, we see the meanings of keenness, sharpness, but also of fury and irascibility.

ورذيلته الجُبن

“And its depraved attribute is cowardice.” – Ibn al-Jawzi.

وجزء شهواني فضيلته العفة

“And to that part which is lustful, its virtue is chastity.” – Ibn al-Jawzi.

ورذيلته إطلاق الهوى

“And its depraved attribute is unbridled passion.” – Ibn al-Jawzi.

فالصبر عن الرذائل فضيلة للنفس, بها يحتمل الإنسان الخير والشر

“And its depraved attribute is unbridled passion.” – Ibn al-Jawzi.

A note on “sabr”:

Sabr is commonly translated as “patience.” And while it certainly includes that component, the verb sa-ba-ra encompasses much more than that. Like many verbs, its meaning is reflective of its circumstance: To tie, to fetter, to shackle; to put up with. It also conveys the meaning to withstand something which you have no power to remove. In the Muslim context, it also means to show and express praise (hamd) and gratitude (shukr) in trials and adversity.

وَإِذْ قُلْتُمْ يَا مُوسَىٰ لَنْ نَصْبِرَ عَلَىٰ طَعَامٍ وَاحِدٍ فَادْعُ لَنَا رَبَّكَ يُخْرِجْ لَنَا مِمَّا تُنْبِتُ الْأَرْضُ مِنْ بَقْلِهَا

“And when you said, ‘Moses, we will not be tied down to just one kind of food so ask your Lord to supply to us some of what the earth produces – its green vegetables’…” – Qur’an, 2: 61.

أُولَٰئِكَ الَّذِينَ اشْتَرَوُا الضَّلَالَةَ بِالْهُدَىٰ وَالْعَذَابَ بِالْمَغْفِرَةِ ۚ فَمَا أَصْبَرَهُمْ عَلَى النَّارِ

“Those are the ones who have sold guidance for misguidance and forgiveness for punishment. How steadfastly they will endure (or shackled to) the Fire!” – Qur’an, 2: 175.

وَلَمَّا بَرَزُوا لِجَالُوتَ وَجُنُودِهِ قَالُوا رَبَّنَا أَفْرِغْ عَلَيْنَا صَبْرًا وَثَبِّتْ أَقْدَامَنَا وَانْصُرْنَا عَلَى الْقَوْمِ الْكَافِرِينَ

“When they came out against Saul and his troops, they said, ‘Our Lord, pour down steadfastness upon us, and make our feet firm, and help us against this kafir people’.” – Qur’an, 2: 250.

This last verse shows that sabr is something real and not simply an abstract notion, as God is asked to “pour” steadfastsness on to them.

A note on “habituation”:

  • Habit – the habits we have and the habits we’d like to form.
  • What affects the formation of our habits, in both positive and negative ways? What about the impact of technology?
  • “We become habituated to what we have and eventually not so interested, and soon dissatisfied, once again.” Bruno Cayoun, Mindfulness-Integrated CBT.
  • Piety can be habituated. Sin can be habituated as well.

Other Readings

  • The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal.
  • The Shallows by Nicholas Carr.
  • Mindfulness-Integrated CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) by Bruno Cayoun.

Inclining Towards What Is Good – A Khutbah

A note on texts and “tradition”:

“When artistic objects are separated from both conditions of origin and operation in experience, a wall is built around them that renders almost opaque their general significance, with which esthetic theory deals. Art is remitted to a separate realm, where it is cut off from that association with the materials and aims of every other form of human effort, undergoing, and achievement.” — John Dewey, from Art As Experience.

A note on “spirituality”:

وما تقرب إليّ عبدي بشيء أحبّ إليّ مما افترضْت عليه

“My slave does not draw closer to me with anything more beloved than by what I have made obligatory upon him.” – al-Bukhari.

The have passion is to incline to the good as well as the bad:

رَبَّنَا إِنِّي أَسْكَنْتُ مِنْ ذُرِّيَّتِي بِوَادٍ غَيْرِ ذِي زَرْعٍ عِنْدَ بَيْتِكَ الْمُحَرَّمِ رَبَّنَا لِيُقِيمُوا الصَّلَاةَ فَاجْعَلْ أَفْئِدَةً مِنَ النَّاسِ تَهْوِي إِلَيْهِمْ وَارْزُقْهُمْ مِنَ الثَّمَرَاتِ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَشْكُرُونَ

“Our Lord! I have settled some of my offspring by Your Sacred House in an uncultivated valley. Our Lord! Let them establish salah! Make the hearts of mankind incline towards them and provide them with fruits, so that hopefully they will be thankful.”Qur’an, 14: 37.

Continuing:

حُنَفَاءَ لِلَّهِ غَيْرَ مُشْرِكِينَ بِهِ ۚ وَمَنْ يُشْرِكْ بِاللَّهِ فَكَأَنَّمَا خَرَّ مِنَ السَّمَاءِ فَتَخْطَفُهُ الطَّيْرُ أَوْ تَهْوِي بِهِ الرِّيحُ فِي مَكَانٍ سَحِيقٍ

“Be people of pure natural belief in God, not associating anything else with Him. As for anyone who associates others with God, it is as though he had fallen from the sky and the birds had seized him and carried him away or the wind had dropped him in a distant place.”Qur’an, 22, 31.

Similarly:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا كُونُوا قَوَّامِينَ بِالْقِسْطِ شُهَدَاءَ لِلَّهِ وَلَوْ عَلَىٰ أَنْفُسِكُمْ أَوِ الْوَالِدَيْنِ وَالْأَقْرَبِينَ إِنْ يَكُنْ غَنِيًّا أَوْ فَقِيرًا فَاللَّهُ أَوْلَىٰ بِهِمَا فَلَا تَتَّبِعُوا الْهَوَىٰ أَنْ تَعْدِلُوا وَإِنْ تَلْوُوا أَوْ تُعْرِضُوا فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ كَانَ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ خَبِيرًا

“You who profess faith!, be upholders of justice, bearing witness for God alone, even against yourselves or your parents and relatives. Whether they are rich or poor, God is well able to look after them. Do not follow your own desires and deviate from the truth. If you twist or turn away, Allah is aware of what you do.”Qur’an, 4, 135.

A reminder on self-diagnosis:

إنما يعرف فضل الشيء بثمرته

“The excellence of thing is known by its fruit.” – Ibn al-Jawzi..

Continuing:

فإذا زادت شهوة المطعم صارت شرها فآذت

“However, if one’s appetite for food should increase unchecked it becomes gluttony, and thus harmful.” – Ibn al-Jawzi..

 Similarly, Ibn al-Jawzi adds:

وإذا زاد الغضب أخرج إلى الفساد

“And if anger is increase it will manifest a perversion.” – Ibn al-Jawzi..

One of the goals of tazkiyyah is to train your “nafs” to “feel the right action” instead of either being overwhelmed by troubling scenarios or reacting to every difficult encounter with a set of Sahih al-Bukhari.

The role of the ‘Aql:

(يعني العقل) يترك العاجل للآلج, وبه فضل الآدمي على جميع الحيوان الذي فقده

“(The mind) taught enabled man to relinquish this hasty life for The Next (to where you will tarry). For this reason, man has superseded all of the animals, who have been deprived of having it.” – Ibn al-Jawzi..

What are desires/Hawa?:

الهوى ميل الطبع إلى ما يلائمه ولا يذّم هذا المقدار إذا كان المطلوب مباحا, وإنما يذم الإفراط فيه, فمن أطلق الهوى فلأن الغالب فيه ما لا يحل أو يتأول المباح بإفراطه

Hawa is the inclination of one’s natural character or disposition to whatever pleases it and should not be condemned in as much as what is sought is permissible. However, it should be disparaged when one is excessive in following desires. That being said, when passions are criticized altogether, it is because either the object or action is impermissible, or because people often interpret lawful means to excessive ends.” – Ibn al-Jawzi..