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Spirituality – An Introduction

“Burger King Spirituality” is a quote from a CNN news article from 2010 (Blake, 2010). The topic, “Are there dangers in being ‘spiritual but not religious’?” discusses the rise in a common and prevalent theme. According to a USA Today article from the same year, 72% of millennials identified themselves as being SBNR (Spiritual but not Religious) as opposed to identifying with a particular religion (Grossman, 2010).

So, what is spirituality?

In the secular Western society where religion has been isolated and disassociated from many other aspects of life, i.e. education, economy, business, politics, etc., it is inevitable that people would relate to religion and identify in new ways. At the same time, such a material worldview only deepens the void of spirituality. Spirituality in today’s society has basically taken on a meaning of anything metaphysical and has grown distant from its pure divine source.

IslamQuest, the Q&A website which is based in the holy city of Qom and was initiated under the supervision of Grand Ayatollah Hadavi Tehrani, and highly praised for its work by Grand Ayatollah, Ayatollah Sayyid Khamenei, explains the meaning of spirituality:

Spirituality is a concept referring to an ultimate or an immaterial reality; an inner path enabling a person to discover the essence of his/her being; or the “deepest values and meanings by which people live.” Spirituality has been defined in Dehkhuda Dictionary as such: real, true, genuine, essential, absolute and esoteric. It is a meaning which is perceived by the heart only and the tongue has no knowledge or understanding of it.  Sometimes it is said that “spirituality” is derived from “spirit” which is “pure self” beyond the body. It is one’s consciousness, conscience, thinking and feeling part of existence, and sensitivity which relate to the human soul, rather than to physical objects. (Islam Quest, 2007) 

This has also been referred to as: self-refinement, self-building, self-purification, wayfaring or journeying on a spiritual path towards God.

There is a correlation in respect to spirituality from an Islamic standpoint and tawhid (divine unity) itself, as God is the one and only embodiment of absolute perfection and the wayfarer or the one who strives to attain true spirituality is the one who strives to be nearest to God through taqwa (piety/God-wariness). Hence the goal behind the purpose of man’s creation and destination through his faith and actions: “taqarub ila-Allah” (proximity to God).

Indeed the noblest of you in the sight of God is the most Godwary among you. [Holy Quran, 49:13]

In Islam achieving this nobility of nearness to God is in fact the very essence of spirituality. This nearness to God and or spirituality is best achieved in the fashion and method which our Creator has determined is best for us as defined in our religion, not simply a method which we may personally think is best.

In chapter 91 of the Holy Qur’an, al-Shams (The Sun), verses 9-10 the ends of self-refinement and self-purification of the soul are explained:

One who purifies it is felicitous,

And one who betrays it fails.

The one who purifies himself and goes through a true process of self-purification (which will be further explained later) will be successful in this life and the hereafter and one who falls into sin, corruption, disbelief or doing wrong will fail in this life and the hereafter.

One thing that is particularly interesting regarding how this topic is introduced here by God or mentioned in the Qur’an is the level of emphasis put on this statement. One of the ways of denoting emphasis in the Arabic language is through asserting a vow or swearing upon something. In the preceding verses, God swears by some of His various magnificent creations (i.e. sun, moon, day, night, sky, earth, soul, etc.), before bringing light to the importance of man’s success through self-purification and discernment of virtue from vice. All of the previous swears were to emphatically assert that the only true success for us in this universe is acquired by means of purifying the soul.

Stay tuned for future articles in this new series, Refinement of the Soul by Shaykh Husayn El-Mekki.

Editor’s note: Islamic Insights is honored to host a series on “Refinement of the Self” by esteemed guest columnist and scholar 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. For articles in the column see here.

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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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