Islam & Spiritual Awakening

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The following is adapted from a swuhbah by Shaykh Ahmad Hendricks, Islam & Spiritual Awakening.

Taswawwuf is a crucial aspect of our Diyn and I am privileged to have this opportunity to share my insights and understandings of it, small as it may be, with you the reader.  It is common in our time to hear people complaining about a lack of meaning in their lives.  Everywhere, people are looking for ‘something’ to overcome this inner vacuum.  A powerful need is felt to restore the imbalances which usually accompanies and is in fact evident in our lives as we relentlessly work to satisfy our material needs.

Now what has all of this to do with taswawwuf you might well ask?  The truth is taswawwuf or the lack of it, has everything to do with this crisis.  Taswawwuf is the life blood of this Diyn.  It runs through this Diyn like the blood that flows through our bodies.  Loss of blood, as it happens when someone is seriously injured, will lead to the death of the body.  The Diyn comprises of three distinct aspects as the answer of the Prophet (s.a.w.) to the questions put to him by the archangel, Jibra’il (a.s.) indicates.  ‘Umar (r.a.) relates that on the certain day a stranger appeared in Madina, dressed in white clothes without any sign of travelling evident on him, came to the Prophet (s.a.w.) and sat in front of him.  The man placed his knees against the knees of the Prophet (s.a.w.) and asked, "What is Islam?"

The Prophet (s.a.w.) replied, "To bear witness that there is no god except Allah and that Muhammad is his messenger, to perform swalah, to give zakat, to fast the month of Ramadhan and perform hajj."

The stranger replied, "You have spoken the truth".  He then asked again, "What is iman?"

And the Prophet (s.a.w.) answered, "To believe in Allah, and in His angels, and His Books, and His Messengers, and in the Day of Judgement, and to believe that both good and evil is by the Decree of Allah."

The stranger again replied, "You have spoken the truth."  The stranger then asked again, “And what is ihsan?”

Prophet (s.a.w.) replied, "To worship Allah as if you see Him, and if you do not see Him, then know that He Sees you."

The stranger, after another question or two, finally departed from this apparently bizarre encounter, bizarre to the companions because who is he to say to the Prophet (s.a.w.) "You have spoken the truth" after his reply.  ‘Umar (r.a.) built up the courage to enquire about all of this and the Prophet (s.a.w.) said, "That was Jibra’il who came to teach you, your Diyn."

From this hadits it is apparent that the Diyn has three basic components: Islam, iman and ihsan.  We can compare these three elements to the three parts of an egg.  Islam, which is the practical outer practises.  We can for example, see people performing swalah or performing hajj; of the Diyn that corresponds to the hard outer protective shell of the egg.  Iman, which are the basic beliefs and world-view of the Diyn, corresponds to the white unseen part of the egg.  And finally, ihsan corresponds to the yolk of the egg, its heart and from which eventually a life will evolve.  Ihsan according to the words of the Prophet (s.a.w.) has two aspects:

1)         Mushahadah, or Spiritual Vision, or the inward vision of Allah (s.w.t.).  We are, indeed, instructed to worship Allah (s.w.t.) as if we see him.  The crucial question here is how does one do that?  What is mushahadah, also called shuhud by some scholars, really?  And how does one attain to that high darajat.  How does one develop the ability "to worship Allah as if you see Him?"

2)         Muraqabah, or awareness that Allah sees us, every moment of our lives and in every place we might be.  It is wajib in terms of the hadits we quoted above, it is incumbent on every Muslim to develop this awareness or rather this knowledge, "and if you do see Him, know that He Sees you."

Let me summarise all of this.  The first aspect, the outer practises of Islam, is covered and dealt with in the books of fiqh, and the second aspect, the belief system of our Diyn, is studied in the books of tawhid or ‘ilm al-kalam.  And finally ihsan, and the path of moral transformation and of character building necessary for ihsan to become a reality and a part of us as Muslims, is precisely the subject of taswawwuf.  Shaykh Muhammad Amin al-Kurdi (r.a.) gives the following definition of taswawwuf in his great book, ‘The Enlightenment of the Hearts’; "It the knowledge of the praiseworthy and blameworthy traits of the self, of the methods of purifying it of the blameworthy and embellishing it with the praiseworthy ones, and knowledge of the methods of travelling too Allah (s.w.t.) and of fleeing to Him."

So, finally, taswawwuf deals with the ethics, morals and character traits that are as obligatory on us to have, as swalah is obligatory on us.  The anti-taswawwuf mutterings one often hears in certain quarters of the community is utterly bizarre.  The Diyn will be like an empty egg-shell or like a dead corpse drained of its blood without taswawwuf.  In our time it is precisely that emptiness and the loneliness of death that is seeping through society and as we are consumed by our material pursuits we ever more becoming aware of creeping spiritual numbness and eventual death.


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