Spiritual Activism: Runaway Rationality

The intellect can be blinded by the passions. Only a cool and collected heart keeps the passions in check and commands the intellect to good, says Shaykh Riad Saloojee.

I am not a disembodied intellect (‘aql). My intellect (‘aql) functions within the Divinely-crafted, holistic system composed of my heart (qalb), lower-self (nafs) and senses (jawarih). It does not function independently from these other elements that constitute my human reality.

What is this relationship exactly? To put it as succinctly as possible, the intellect (‘aql) is the executive officer of the heart (qalb). It rationalizes, plans and executes the dictates of the heart (qalb). Once the heart resolves on a matter based on its perception and emotional drives, the intellect (‘aql) directs the senses to effect the edict.

The Qur’an often mentions the intellect (‘aql) in the context of the rational perception of the heart (qalb): “They have hearts that they do not reason with” (7:179) and “Do they not travel in the land and have hearts that they reason with” (22:46).

A Critical Point

Although the decision maker is the heart (qalb), we established previously that the heart (qalb) is strongly affected by the identity of the lower-self (nafs) in one or a permutation of its four realities: cow-like, predatory, Satanic or angelic. Therefore, the wild card in the spiritual equation that exists between the heart (qalb), lower-self (nafs), intellect (‘aql) and senses (jawarih) is the lower-self (nafs).

If the lower-self (nafs) is angelic, the heart (qalb) will take on its angelic identity. If the lower-self (nafs) is cow-like, predatory or Satanic, the heart (qalb) will be influenced by those tendencies in its perception, experience and will, and the heart will subsequently command the intellect (‘aql), who will direct the senses and limbs (jawarih) to speak and act.

What Drives the Intellect

The link between the intellect (‘aql) and the lower-self (nafs) should now be apparent. When traced back to their source, the rationalization, planning and execution function of the intellect (‘aql) in its normative extension reflects the propensities — carnal or ideological — of the lower-self (nafs).

My intellect is not autonomous. Pure rationality in matters of normative judgement is a fiction. As a David Hume once noted: “Reason is … the slave of the passions and cannot pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.” What drives many of my decisions is the spiritual maturity or lack therefore of my lower-self (nafs).

Conflicts of Interest

Consider some examples. Why do rocket scientists not believe in God? Why do I not accept clear and rational truth presented to me when it conflicts with a self-interest that I perceive? Why do I rationalize my errors with argument when I know, deep down, that I am wrong?

Why do I insist on certain strategic decisions in advocacy and activism that are inconsistent when studied more closely under the illuminating light of the Sacred Law? And why do I jettison expressions of spirituality that necessitate closer scrutiny and discipline over the drives of my lower-self (nafs)?

These questions, and many more, can often be understood with greater clarity once I become more spiritually mature and self-reflective about the interconnectedness of my intellect (‘aql) to my lower-self — and once I acquiesce and commit to my own spiritual evolution and refinement. And there is nothing more rational than that.

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