Do we find ourselves rushing to pray, because it is simply time to pray? It may be that we are praying out of the reasoning in our mind that tells us we must do so because it is obligatory upon us as Muslims. Sometimes we find ourselves tired and fatigued as we say our prayers, yet we do them regardless. If we find these qualities in our behavior, we may be in the stage of Greater Hypocrisy.
Recently our community in Houston was blessed with the presence of a great scholar, Dr. Farrouk Sekaleshfar, visiting us from Qom, Iran. While we had been listening to Majalis since the first night of Muharram on various topics, his topic hit close to home for everyone – where do you lie within the stages of spirituality? He explained to us each night the various Irfani stages in the realm of spirituality, describing the characteristics of those who are in these stages.
Islam is a religion of progress and growth. As Muslims, it is in our values and traditions to continue to excel and do better and grow into a complete human being, so not as to be pleased when we are stagnant. In spiritual wayfaring, as he referred to it, there are many stages a person goes through in order to reach the highest stage of spirituality. Progressing through these stages were taught by Bahar-ul-Uloom.
First off, a person who verbally says the Shahadat (testimony of faith), is considered to be in the stage of Islam-ul-Asghar (Minor Islam). He made it a point to mention that those who are in this stage can still be hypocrites, for there is more to confirming ones Iman (faith), than a mere verbal claim.
Moving on from this stage, a person reaches Iman-ul-Asghar (Minor Iman). This stage is when a person’s heart confirms the Iman and feels an inner ascent. Hypocrites cannot be in this stage. It is when one believes wholeheartedly in everything that has been revealed to the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his progeny) as the Truth. Belief in the appointment of the Imams is also necessary at this stage. Imam Jafar as-Sadiq (peace be upon him) had said that Minor Iman is guidance, and it is this stage of Islam that is ingrained in the hearts of people. Dr. Sekaleshfar went on to share a beautiful comparison between the stages of Minor Islam and Minor Iman – one can be in the holy sanctuary of the Ka’ba, i.e. within the city and its borders, yet not be guaranteed to be within the Ka’ba itself. On the flipside, it is not possible for one to be in the Ka’ba yet not be in the holy sanctuary. Such is the relationship between Minor Islam and Minor Iman – the former being analogous to being within the holy sanctuary, while the latter being analogous to being within the Holy Ka’ba itself.
The third stage referred to is known as Islam al-Akbar (Greater Islam). This is known as greater submission – obeying Allah and abandoning ANY form of opposition to His will. Having total obedience is key, partnered with yaqeen (certitude). People in this stage have no objection pertaining to fate and destiny and are appreciative of Allah as being the Source of all things. A deciding factor in this stage is doubt; a believer in this stage holds no doubt even when it comes to the philosophy of reasoning of things in Islam. For example, when a believer may not understand why we are not allowed to fast while traveling even in this day and age of comfort, he may want to know the explanation. If he doubts the reasoning with or without knowing it, thereby questioning the validity of the law, he cannot be in this stage. However, a person who seeks to know the reasoning for their own understanding yet does not doubt the law regardless of whether or not he comprehends it, has full certainty that the reasoning holds a logic but is it simply unknown to him at that time. To many A’arifs this is known as the first stage of Ubudiyah (bondage).
The main topic of Dr. Sekaleshfar’s speech revolved around this next stage. It brought about a sense of shame to many. He mentioned that many believers up until now can find themselves in the stage of Islam al-Akbar. Many believers do their best, and have no doubt in Allah’s orders, and they execute their every action with full certainty. He said that Taqwa (God-consciousness) is simply doing the bare minimum, but we want to go beyond that. Taqwa means to carry out all Wajibats and keep away from all Haram, which even hypocrites can do… This brings us to a stage Nifaq al-Akbar (Greater hypocrisy).
Do we find ourselves rushing to pray, because it is simply time to pray? It may be that we are praying out of the reasoning in our mind that tells us we must do so because it is obligatory upon us as Muslims. Sometimes we find ourselves tired and fatigued as we say our prayers, yet we do them regardless. If we find these qualities in our behavior, we may be in the stage of Greater Hypocrisy. Do not get too worried; this is not hypocrisy in the negative sense. As mentioned in the Holy Qur’an, it is hypocrisy in the terms of spiritual wayfaring, similar to the hadith that categorizes worshippers in the three categories – praying out of fear, for reward, or for the sake of worshipping our Lord simply because He is worthy of being worshipped. This stage of Greater Hypocrisy is the fourth stage (discussed below) minus the feeling of pleasure and zeal.
The fourth, but not last, stage is one we have heard of many times – Iman al-Akbar (Greater Iman). As mentioned in the Holy Qur’an in chapter 4 of verse 36: “Oh you who believe…” or “A’amino“, which means those who are already in the previously mentioned stage of belief. This is a sign that Allah wants us to go higher than the stage of “A’amino“. This stage means a believer’s heart is fully incorporated with his Iman, bringing about a feeling of pleasure, satisfaction, and shauk (zeal or excitement) when carrying out acts of obedience and worship. People in this stage avoid anything and everything which is not divine, and Allah is in the equation no matter what they are doing.
The stages continue and the desire to reach these stages increases. We can only hope that Allah guides us to continue climbing the ladder of spiritual greatness. As Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq said, “Greater Iman is an obligation which spreads to all limbs; one of those limbs is the heart, which is the head of one’s body.”