Discussing an important difference in how we approach our worship, our life, and our Islam.
Process vs. Results
One of the most common and detrimental mistakes I see people make when it comes to religion is having a results-based versus process-based approach to worshiping and living as a believer.
The fallout of having a results-based religious practice and lifestyle, particularly when the expected results are a certain set of emotions (happy, elated, euphoric, etc.) is that (1) if we happen to be granted such a state then our tendency is to fetishize whatever we used to get to that “state”: dhikr beads, a particular wird or litany, a certain place of worship, or quite often a particular teacher, living or dead.
Of course the more obvious negative complications can result in a downturn in faith, being frustrated, and even the loss of faith when I particular fetish fails to deliver “its promise”.
As I mentioned, results based-practices inevitably will require some kind of fetish. By fetish I do not mean the popular notion of a curious or even deviant obsession (quite often sexual in the modern context) with a particular thing or object. Instead, I am referring to an older and more original notion of an item having magical or mysterious properties. In many cultures, especially shamanistic cultures, a priest might believe a particular object may even hold a deity. It was also understood in the Middle Ages to imply the use of sorcery (for instance, the Portuguese term, “feiticeria”, meaning “sorcery” or “witchcraft”).
In the end, results based-religious practices are always guaranteed to fail, letting us down because they are ill-suited to the needs of actual human beings who, throughout their lifetime, will experience a wide spectrum of emotions, all the way from joy to grieve and many others in between. Results-based practices often give off the glow of spirituality but lack the depth and substance to deliver on their promises.
Process based practices, however, require no fetishes and no artifacts. Then really require the heart, mind, and soul of a believer. Consider even the statement of the Prophet when he said, “the entirety of the Earth has been made a place of worship”.
أُعْطِيتُ خَمْسًا لَمْ يُعْطَهُنَّ أَحَدٌ قَبْلِي نُصِرْتُ بِالرُّعْبِ مَسِيرَةَ شَهْرٍ، وَجُعِلَتْ لِيَ الأَرْضُ مَسْجِدًا وَطَهُورًا، فَأَيُّمَا رَجُلٍ مِنْ أُمَّتِي أَدْرَكَتْهُ الصَّلاَةُ فَلْيُصَلِّ، وَأُحِلَّتْ لِيَ الْمَغَانِمُ وَلَمْ تَحِلَّ لأَحَدٍ قَبْلِي، وَأُعْطِيتُ الشَّفَاعَةَ، وَكَانَ النَّبِيُّ يُبْعَثُ إِلَى قَوْمِهِ خَاصَّةً، وَبُعِثْتُ إِلَى النَّاسِ عَامَّةً
“I have been given five things which were not given to any one else before me. (1) Allah made me victorious by awe, for a distance of one month’s journey. (2) The earth has been made for me a place for praying and a thing to perform dry ablution (wudu), therefore anyone of my followers can pray wherever the time of a prayer is due. (3) The booty has been made lawful for me yet it was not lawful for anyone else before me. (4) I have been given the right of intercession on the Day of Resurrection. (5) Every Prophet used to be sent to his nation only but I have been sent to all mankind.” al-Bukhari, #335
They also allow for the believer to worship and live — as a believer — regardless (or even in spite of one’s emotional state!). This process-based mode of living and worshipping is complete and holistic. We can see the way the Qur’an pushes man to this completed and sincere form of worship when we read passages such as,
وَأَقيموا وُجوهَكُم عِندَ كُلِّ مَسجِدٍ وَادعوهُ مُخلِصينَ لَهُ الدّينَ ۚ كَما بَدَأَكُم تَعودونَ
“Stand and face Him in every place of worship and call on Him, making your worship and religion sincerely for His sake alone.” Qur’an 7: 29
So what does this really mean? Are we to worship a live as believers even when “our hearts just aren’t in it?” Yes. Absolutely! In fact, living and worshipping as a believer when we’re sad and grief-stricken, and not just when we’re happy, is the beginning of wisdom and the first of many important steps towards being sincere and obedient with God. Wisdom is more than the application of knowledge; it is the ability to make correct judgments independent of emotional hegemony. It is likewise an important step toward taking full responsibility for ourselves; our Islam. In doing so we not only wind up praying and fasting and tithing when we’re tired, hungry, and broke, but we can finally reach a true state of belief, one where, as the Qur’an says,
قُل إِنَّ صَلاتي وَنُسُكي وَمَحيايَ وَمَماتي لِلَّهِ رَبِّ العالَمينَ
“Say: ‘My prayer, and my rites of worship, my living and my dying, are for God alone, the Lord of all the worlds’.” Qur’an 6: 162