To understand Islamic spirituality and spiritual activism one must understand the heart. Understand what and how the heart sees and moves us to act. For ultimately it is the heart’s relation to its Maker that determines the soundness of action, says Shaykh Riad Saloojee.
The first frontier lies within. Before we can interpret or attempt to change our outer world, we must first understand our inner world. Why do I exist? Who am I? What is the meaning of life and what is my place and responsibility in it?
If we do not answer these essential existential questions, we run the risk of acting in discord with ourselves and worse – creating discord in the very environment we seek to change for the better through our activism.
Understand the Spiritual Heart
Any foundational understanding of Islamic spirituality begins with a discussion of the heart (qalb).
The heart (qalb) is our most precious gift from the Divine. It is the fountainhead of our spirituality. The heart is the locus of all our normative cognition and judgement – right and wrong, ethical and unethical, good and evil. Second, it the seat of emotional experience – love, hate, hope, fear, gratitude and so on. And third, it is the reservoir of will and resolve, volition and striving.
The Heart Sees Before Eyes Do
The heart (qalb) was created to grace us with the opportunity to connect with the Divine, the infinite in Majesty and Beauty. Through the heart, we are able to know the Divine, experience the Divine and desire to seek the Divine. And since the Divine is the source of all virtue, the heart (qalb) is the compass by which we perceive virtue, experience it and strive to actualize it.
These three functions of the heart (qalb) illustrate its primacy in every endeavor. Allah says, “It is not the eyes that are blind, but the hearts in the chest (22:46).” And the Messenger, Allah bless him and give him peace, told us of an organ, the heart, which if rectified, the entire body would be rectified; and which, if corrupted, the entire body would be corrupted (Bukhari).
Spiritual Activism from a Sound Heart
The first link between spirituality and activism should now be obvious. It is the spiritual heart that is the birthplace of all words, deeds and all activism.
If our hearts are clouded, veiled or obscured from the Divine, how will we know virtue and vice, in a world where virtue and vice is often inverted. Where vice is frequently ribbon-wrapped in the attractive garb of virtue, how will our hearts find inner tranquility and contentment by connecting to the Divine in the midst of the struggles and strivings in our activism? And how will we find the resolve and inner strength to act ethically and virtuously in the face of pressures and challenges?
We will not be able to stand whole and true. We will shatter from within.
An Unhinged Heart Sees the World on its Head
A heart distant from the Divine will perceive truth as falsity and falsity as truth. As a consequence it will incline not to justice but to obvious and subtle injustice. Thus it will become anxious and fearful in times of difficulty. And it will lose its resolve and steadfastness in the face of temptation.
If our hearts are not connected to the Divine, our activism will be unhinged – normatively, spiritually and practically. As a well-known Muslim activist once recently confessed: All this work, and I feel spiritually dry and barren within.
By Shaykh Riad Saloojee