Muslim Spirituality – al-Hikam #1


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Taj al-’Arus al-Hawi li Tahdhib al-Nufus by Ibn ‘Ata Allah al-Sikandari (al-Iskandari)

The Bride-Groom’s Crown Containing Instructions on Refining the Self

“The master of nature is vainly believed to be an adequate substitute for self-mastery.” – Reinhold Niebuhr

In his work, Sufism For Non-Sufi’s, Dr. Sherman Jackson writes,

“…part of Islam’s essential struggle from the very beginning was to identify good, substantively sound spirituality and distinguish it from and elevate it over bad, misguided spirituality. In sum, not all spirituality was or is good.” – Sherman Jackson

What is the function or purpose of spirituality from a Muslim perspective?

  • Inspire us: to do good, to do self-help, in all things which inspiration is required.
  • Elevate our morals: the world pulls at us asking us to merely adapt, not to transform.
  • Imbue us with “devotional confidence and resolve” to connect with God, worship God and put God front and center of our lives.

Spirituality and antinomianism:

  • “one who holds that under the gospel dispensation of grace the moral law is of no use or obligation because faith alone is necessary to salvation”;
  • one who rejects a socially established morality;

Spirituality in the Muslim tradition should also perform two functions:

  1. Affirm the supernatural.
  2. Eschew the superstitious.

Hikam #1

من علامة الاعتماد على العمل نقصان الرجاء عند وجود الزلل

“Amongst the signs of leaning on one’s own handiwork of deeds is the loss of hope in the presence of mistakes.”

“Amongst the signs of relying on deeds is the loss of hope in the presence of mistakes.”

The Role of Rationalism in Immorality and Sin

Proponents of rational thought often look down their noses at religious thinkers because of the latter’s reliance on tradition and revelation in the realm of moral thought. What they may find interesting is reason’s role in immorality and sin.

“Immorality and sin for Niebuhr are not, of course, the same thing. Sin is the more inclusive concept and immorality is only one aspect of sin. But Niebuhr’s major statements concerning sin apply equally well to his view of immorality. Thus, immorality, like sin, is for Niebuhr fully a spiritual phenomenon. This means that immorality is not necessarily irrational. Reason can be intimately involved in the immoral act. In the last analysis, according to Niebuhr, immorality involves an act of the will that is neither rational nor irrational. This is not to suggest that immorality cannot be explained and does not have certain preconditions. Among these preconditions is the fact of man’s finitude, especially as this takes form in his capacity to die. Man’s mortal nature furnishes the occasion for immorality, as Niebuhr says. But neither mortality nor finitude necessitate immorality. Both sin and immorality are the result of free choice for Niebuhr. In this sense, they are not ‘necessary.’ “

Indeed, many arguments are entertained in the Qur’an regarding idol worship, associating partners, rejecting revelation, and all forms of immoral and indecent behavior.

يَسْأَلُونَكَ عَنِ الْخَمْرِ وَالْمَيْسِرِ ۖ قُلْ فِيهِمَا إِثْمٌ كَبِيرٌ وَمَنَافِعُ لِلنَّاسِ وَإِثْمُهُمَا أَكْبَرُ مِن نَّفْعِهِمَا

“They will ask you about alcoholic drinks and gambling. Say, ‘There is great wrong in both of them and also certain benefits for mankind. But the wrong in them is greater than the benefit.’ ” Qur’an, 2: 219.

For those who claim the Qur’an does not use or address reason, they simply have decided not to look for it. However, their main objection is that Revelation ultimately trumps reason (this can be found in the writings of al-Ghazzali and others). And while Revelation supersedes reason, it does not disallow it from the human decision making experience, moral, religious or otherwise. It simply seeks to put it in its place.

From Ronald M. Green’s Niebuhr’s Critique of Rationalism: A Limited Validation. Read the full article here.