Spirituality in Contemporary Time

The ways which lead human beings to the truth are as many as the breaths of God’s creatures. On the other hand, there are many obstacles which prevent people to see the truth.

Every person has unique talents and abilities which help him/her to actualize their spiritual journey towards God. However, these talents can be destructive for them if they are not utilized properly according to the principles of Islam.

In spirituality, love is the most effective path which takes the person to his destination. Similarly, asceticism (zuhd) is a path in which some people can walk to reach God. By abandoning this world and what is in there,the seekers of spirituality restricts their needs to essential ones and concentrates more on the realms of spirit and heart.

Although human beings are composed of body and spirit the journeyers of spirituality do not want to benefit from the worldly pleasures to the full degree with the fear that it leads them to heedlessness. Thus, they eat less, drink less and sleep less. They fast against the pleasures of this world to obtain the divine pleasures of God.

Some people want to reach God through possessing wisdom by means of deliberation, discussion, and reflections. They read the universe like a book of divine wisdom. By investigating the universe they discover that there is a strong connection between the two books; the universe and the Quran. They try to understand the Ultimate Reality through the lens and projector of these two books.

Although there are many paths to live spiritual life some people cannot free themselves from their carnal desires and evil commanding selves. They live to eat, have fun and enjoy the pleasures of this world to the fullest. Apparently, they are Muslims, but they are captives of imitation in faith, therefore, it is very difficult for them to experience the real spiritual life.

They only imitate their ancestors and perform religious rituals on the basis of formality. Most of the contemporary Muslims have not possessed their faith through reading, reflecting and understanding, rather they have faith which obtained by imitating the ancestors. Most of us live very poor Islamic life far from spirituality. In reality, a person who has real faith in his heart should struggle to live spiritual life.

A true believer constantly seeks higher degrees in spirituality until feeling the experience mentioned in the verse:

“it is in the remembrance of God hearts find rest and contentment” (Quran 13:28).

The seekers of truth must struggle very hard to have deeper connection with God. They must love God more than anything and be very humble before the believers and behold the entire creation with an immense compassion.

Humility and modesty is one of the key concepts in spiritual life, therefore, even if the person may share the same horizon with angels he should be able to see himself as nothing. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), the Pride of Humanity, accomplished the highest degree in spiritual perfection, but he implored God saying:

“O God, make me insignificant in my own eyes,but great in the eyes of people (with respect to my mission).” (Al-Bazzar, Al-Musnad, 10/315)

Spirituality is missing in the lives of contemporary Muslims. They focus more on the worldly benefits to accomplish it while ignoring their spiritual needs. They are supposed to deepen their faith as much as they can until death comes.

They should increase their knowledge and love of God through living spiritual life. Because, with true knowledge they attain maturity, perfection and religious life. Opposing to this,if a believer cannot abandon the worldly pleasures in spite of his increase in knowledge then he only distances from God.

A real believer has a resolute and strong will to achieve spiritual perfection. God help sincere believers to complete their spiritual journey. Thus, the seekers of spirituality always feel the divine help and support behind them and never become hopeless when facing difficulties.

They only use their will power to overcome the difficulties, but they put all their trust in God. With submission to will of God they do not lose their hope in the way of spiritual journey for God never leaves them alone. In order to achieve God’s content and good pleasure they act perfectly in every matter of life, because God told them:

“work, and God will see your work, and so will His Messenger and the true believers; and you will be brought back to the Knower of the unseen and the witnessed, and He will make you understand all that you were doing (and call you to account for it)’” (Quran 9:105).

The verse commands believers that they should do righteous deeds with the consciousness that God, His Messenger, and all true believers will see them.

The journeyers of spirituality must question themselves and their deeds frequently in order not to experience the greatest loss in the Hereafter. God swears on the self-accusing human soul (75:1) to teach humanity that the safest way to reach God is strongly connected with self-criticism. Because, a person may become an arrogant after achieving some victories and loses badly in the zone of winning.

If a person does not see himself sinful and impure he does not feel to improve himself by purifying his heart and carnal self from the pollution of sins, mistakes and shortcomings.

Evil commanding self is not pure in its essence, thus the journeyer of the spirituality must be very careful against the tricks of it. In order to turn God genuinely and repent wholeheartedly a believer should see himself sinful and impure all the time, otherwise he continues to commit sins and mistakes obliviously.

Muslims should get lessons from Umar b al-Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him) with regards to living a spiritual life. He was a great Muslim. If there was a prophet after Prophet Muhammad he would be that person. But, Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) always considered himself impure and sinful. During his caliphate there was a time of drought.

Seeing himself responsible from the calamity came upon Muslims he put his head in prostration and implored God in tears saying “O God, please do not ruin Muslims because of my sins!” When people asked him to lead a prayer for rain he held the hand of the Prophet’s uncle Abbas and said, “O God, this is the hand of your beloved servant’s uncle. Grant us rain for its sake!”

Arrogance has become a widespread disease in our time. People do not know their weaknesses with regards to representing Islam. None-Muslims cannot see the beauty of Islam in the lives of contemporary Muslims, because they have too many unIslamic attributes.

The most effective way to present Islam to others is simply practicing it as the Prophet and his Companions did. Today, Muslims should read the contemporary age, the needs of people, social structure and Divine principles operating in the universe, and then interpret them correctly. Otherwise, poor representation or evil acts of some ignorant Muslims may blacken the bright face of Islam.

Knowledge is a key concept in Islam as well as in spirituality. Everything is essentially dependent on knowledge, therefore, living a spiritual life which does not contradict Islamic principles is strongly related with it. It is very important for Muslims to represent Islam in a way which address all the needs of contemporary people.

Without knowledge, a person cannot progress spiritually nor can he guide others. Unless equipped with true knowledge Muslims cannot purify their carnal self and save themselves from the temptations of Satan. Before solving the problems in their hearts and minds Believers cannot convey the beauty of Islam to others.

Spiritual life cannot be achieved before overcoming the doubts and suspicions in the minds and hearts. Therefore, in the way of spiritual life contemporary Muslims should have insight into the matters of Islam and know them deeply. After this step, they should attain the knowledge of God (ma’rifa)in their conscience.

The knowledge of God leads people to love of God. The more they know God the more they love Him. In order to be saved from having inner conflicts and contradictions Muslims should have a profound knowledge of God and sincere practice of Islam.

Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) presented the best examples for Muslims in every aspect of life for God stated that:

“assuredly you have in God’s Messenger an excellent example to follow…” (Quran 33:21)

He was gifted with the greatest wisdom with respect to the knowledge of God therefore he taught Muslims how to live spiritual life by demonstrating them the best examples in his life. He answered all needs of people whether they are related to individual, familial, economic or spiritual aspects of life.

The divine names al-Zahir and al-Batin are manifested best in the personality of the Prophet. The principles of Islam and essences of spirituality are represented by the Prophet in the best way possible so humanity can attain happiness by following his teachings.

Practice and belief are two important parts in one’s spiritual life. The Prophet established them both on the soundest foundations. True spirituality cannot be obtained without practicing religious rituals and other Islamic rulings. Similarly, without having a true faith one cannot reach God by just performing Islamic rituals.

There are many diseases which prevent people to live spiritual life and selfishness is one of them. Our era is a time of selfishness and people are mostly concerned only about themselves. A real believer suffers from other’s grief and troubles.

With an immense feeling of mercy and compassion, he deeply suffers for the troubles, oppression, and injustice all other people go through. Because, the Prophet (peace be upon him) said:

“Whoever does not care about (the sufferings and troubles of) Muslims is not one of them.” (At-Tabarani, Al-Mujamu’l-Awsat, 1/151)

There is too much dispute and disunity among Muslims. Additionally, the Islamic values and criteria which can protect Muslims against hypocrites are not known, therefore, they harm Muslims societies from within like a virus.

It is extremely difficult to live a spiritual life in an atmosphere in which Muslims are constantly in conflicts with one another. These conflicts and clashes lead Muslims to backbiting, slanderous accusation or even killing each other.

Without abandoning egotism one cannot be closer to God. The doors on the path of God never open to egoist people who keep saying “I” because it is an indication of haughtiness.

The signs of spirituality in one’s life is modesty, humility, and humbleness.Showing off and pomp work against the spiritual life. Sufi masters relate a qudsi hadith in which God stated:

“O human, one who knows himself knows Me; one who knows Me quests for me; one who quests for Me definitely finds Me and attains more; and he does not prefer anybody else over Me. O human, be modest, so that you can know Me. Get accustomed to hunger so that you see Me.

Be sincere in your worship so that you reach Me. O human, I am the Lord; one who knows himself, knows Me also. One who abandons himself finds Me. Abandon thyself in order to know Me; a heart not flourished with knowledge of Me is blind.” (Al-Ajluni, Kashfu’lKhafa, 2/343)

Human beings are the spiritual index of the universe and by living Islam in its true form people can actualize their potential. They are composed of intellect, conscience, spirit, body, and the inner subtle faculties. All these are given, so people can reach God under the guidance of heart and spirit.

However, if they are not used properly they may be destructive for their spiritual life. For example, God gave intellect so people can understand divine commands and practice it.

However, the intellect under the influence of carnal desire can cause dispute and disunity among people. Without disciplining the carnal self under the spiritual guidance it is very difficult to use human faculties in the right direction.

Reason, conscience, heart, and spirit constitute the spiritual side of the human and the body constitutes his material side. By practicing Islamic rituals in their true forms these two sides work properly on human nature. For example, when observing the prayers in its true form it will be a pleasant companion in grave. (Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Al-Musnad, 6/352)

Indeed, by practicing religious rituals Muslims try to discipline their body and spirit. However, they do not worship God to obtain certain physical benefits, rather they do it to please God.  Understanding Islam with its true identity and depth, as well as practicing it can only be possible by using the human nature properly without neglecting any aspect of it.

Living as if seeing God is another key concept to live a spiritual life. In order to maintain a close relation with God, one must constantly remember that there is One who always sees, hears and answers. A believer should seek God’s pleasure in his feelings, consciousness, and willpower.

Moreover, he must avoid behaviors that might destroy his spiritual life and incur God’s wrath upon him. The journeyer of spirituality do not suffice with the level he has already attained, but he constantly aims to achieve higher levels in servanthood.

A believer who submitted himself to God and declared himself as a Muslim cannot change being a servant of God with the worldly status. Nothing satisfies him except God’s content and good pleasure. God gave glad tidings to servants who struggle hard to achieve His content and pleasure:

“I have prepared for my righteous servants what no eye has seen and what no ear has heard, nor has it ever occurred to the human heart.”(Sahih al-Bukhari, Tawhid, 35)

About Dr. Recep Dogan
Dr. Recep Dogan is a prominent Muslim scholar, prolific author and a respected community activist in Australia. Dr. Recep completed his PhD in the Islamic Studies Department, Philosophy of Religion at University of Ankara. He undertook private study of Islamic Sciences with the world renowned Muslim Scholar, M. Fethullah Gulen, who is the founder of 'Hizmet', a global peace and education movement. Dr. Recep was the Imam of the Tolerance Foundation in California USA from 2004 to 2011. He is also the Muslim Chaplain for Charles Sturt University; he gives lectures on the following topics Islamic Studies; Sīrah (the life of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh); Core Islamic Sciences; Usūl Tafsir (The Methodology of Qur'anic Exegeses); Usūl Hadith (The Methodology of Prophetic Traditions); Islamic Jurisprudence (from Hanafi Perspective); Usūl al-Fiqh (The Methodology of Islamic Law); Kalām (Islamic Theology).