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Spirituality versus Religion?

Editor’s note: Islamic Insights is honored to host a series on “Refinement of the Self” by esteemed guest columnist and student from Qom, Shaykh Husayn El-Mekki. His column will focus on interrelated topics ranging from akhlaq, ethics and morality as an all-comprehensive approach for character refinement based on Islamic teachings.

“I’m a Satanist.” explained the 20-ish year old Caucasian, blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl in a polite and matter-of-fact tone, in an interfaith forum. Naturally, I was taken aback, since that’s not exactly something that you hear every day. Perhaps my raised eyebrows gave away my astonishment. Nonetheless, she went on to expound on her beliefs. Defensively, the young lady added, “It’s not like what you think it is. We don’t worship some guy with horns!” As if that notion was supposed to be quite comforting and sufficient and be followed with a sigh of relief and gratitude? I quietly murmured to myself “A’udhu billahe mina shaytani Rajim”. She further clarified, “It’s actually all about spirituality. It’s about being your own deity.”

I was left feeling somewhat speechless and uneasy about this very ego-driven version of spirituality, but it only proved what I already knew about the very prevalent movement of deviant and distorted thought attributed as “spirituality”. The words of chapter 15 come to mind. We are all too well familiar with these verses, but for the sake of putting this discussion into perspective, let’s reiterate them:

فَسَجَدَ المَلائِكَةُ كُلُّهُم أَجمَعونَ

Thereat the angels prostrated, all of them together,

إِلّا إِبليسَ أَبىٰ أَن يَكونَ مَعَ السّاجِدينَ

but not Iblis: he refused to be among those who prostrated.

قالَ يا إِبليسُ ما لَكَ أَلّا تَكونَ مَعَ السّاجِدينَ

He [Allah]  said, ‘O Iblis! What kept you from being among those who have prostrated?’

قالَ لَم أَكُن لِأَسجُدَ لِبَشَرٍ خَلَقتَهُ مِن صَلصالٍ مِن حَمَإٍ مَسنونٍ

Said he, ‘I will not prostrate before a human whom You have created out of a dry clay [drawn] from an aging mud.’

قالَ فَاخرُج مِنها فَإِنَّكَ رَجيمٌ

He said, ‘Begone hence, for you are indeed an outcast,

وَإِنَّ عَلَيكَ اللَّعنَةَ إِلىٰ يَومِ الدّينِ

and indeed the curse shall lie on you until the Day of Retribution.’

Or ‘the Day of Judgement.’

قالَ رَبِّ فَأَنظِرني إِلىٰ يَومِ يُبعَثونَ

He said, ‘My Lord! Respite me till the day they will be resurrected.’

قالَ فَإِنَّكَ مِنَ المُنظَرينَ

Said He, ‘You are indeed among the reprieved

إِلىٰ يَومِ الوَقتِ المَعلومِ

until the day of the known time.’

قالَ رَبِّ بِما أَغوَيتَني لَأُزَيِّنَنَّ لَهُم فِي الأَرضِ وَلَأُغوِيَنَّهُم أَجمَعينَ

He said, ‘My Lord! As You have consigned me to perversity, I will surely glamorize [evil] for them on the earth, and I will surely pervert them, all [1]

Interesting enough, contrary to what is often said about this verse Satan is not granted respite until the Day of Judgment. It mentions that he will be cursed until the Day of Judgement. He seeks respite until the Day of Resurrection, but Allah grants him until waqt al-ma’loom (a specific/known time). Allah (swt) knows best when that is.

Even so, Satan has made a vow to strive to “glamorize evil” and find ways to divert man from his true path and cause. There are a plethora of unlawful things which are glamorized in our society and many are normalized to the extent that if you carry a different view of what is now “socially normal” or socially glamorized, then you will be deemed the oddball, not the other way around.

And upon pushing man towards such perversions and spiritual downfall, Satan quickly steps aside as if to say: ‘No, bruh…You’re in that by yourself’:

كَمَثَلِ الشَّيطانِ إِذ قالَ لِلإِنسانِ اكفُر فَلَمّا كَفَرَ قالَ إِنّي بَريءٌ مِنكَ إِنّي أَخافُ اللَّهَ رَبَّ العالَمينَ

[Or] like Satan,

when he prompts man to renounce faith,

then, when he renounces faith,

he says, ‘Indeed I am absolved of you.

Indeed I fear Allah,

the Lord of all the worlds.’

People will find themselves wandering blindly and following not only Satan but a variety of things which are abhorrent in the eyes of God if they do not follow a path set by God.

أَلَم أَعهَد إِلَيكُم يا بَني آدَمَ أَن لا تَعبُدُوا الشَّيطانَ ۖ إِنَّهُ لَكُم عَدُوٌّ مُبينٌ وَأَنِ اعبُدوني ۚ هٰذا صِراطٌ مُستَقيمٌ[2]

‘Did I not exhort you, O children of Adam, saying, “Do not worship Satan. He is indeed your manifest enemy. Worship Me. That is a straight path”‘

The “straight path” is that man refrain from worshipping Satan himself, and beware of the beautification of evil, sin and misguidance by any jinn or humans which incite towards evil. When spirituality is used too loosely as it is nowadays, the subjective perspectives and relative experiences are deemed to be spirituality which may not be correct. Everything unseen or metaphysical is not part of the spirituality which defines man’s true success.

“Spirituality” which encourages you to follow your ‘self’ or your nafs and to ignore God al-Mighty or which pushes one away from divine laws and divine guidance which serve as the roadmap to reaching the destination of ‘Proximity to God’, is the furthest thing from true spirituality. In reality there is no dichotomy between religion and spirituality. Islam as a religion is a way of life. Spirituality is a part of that life. There is a holistic approach to man’s spiritual progression and wayfaring and it cannot be one-dimensional.

[1] Holy Quran, Chapter 15, Sura Hijr, verse 30-39

[2] Holy Quran, Chapter 36, Sura Yaseen, verse 60-61

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About Shaykh Husayn El-Mekki

Shaykh Husayn El-Mekki received his Masters degree in Islamic studies at I.C.A.S. (Islamic College for Advanced Studies) and completed Islamic courses at the Islamic Seminary of Qom. He has spoken at numerous Islamic centers and university campuses due to his relatability with the youth, exceptional Islamic knowledge and public speaking skills.

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