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Islam and Spiritualism ( 8 Jun 2012, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Following Muhammad's Footsteps: Spirituality and Knowledge Are Two Main Keys


By Dr. Tariq Ramadan

04 June 2012

The topic of the talk is about understanding the essence of Islam through reflecting on the Prophet’s life.


When I started to write a book about the Messenger, it was quite important for me to reconnect the academic work that we have, when it comes to talking about the prophets and messengers which are the facts, the substance and the scientific dimensions or historical dimensions, with something which is very important in academia: not only to look at the facts but to look as a fact to the way people understand their religion. It is a fact that has to do with scientific approach.

When it comes to psychology you might agree or not with facts, but at the end of the day when you speak about spirituality or religion it is important to not only look at the scientific dimensions, but the way people understand the religion, the way they deal with it, the essence and the light that they take out of their spiritual experience and the way they understand things.

So this is what I wanted to do when I wrote "In the Footsteps of the Prophet" to come to the very essence, not to deal only with facts, but with meanings and understandings; objectives and a vision.

I found out that justice is a means for a higher objective, and I found that the very essence and objective of Islam is peace.

Writing was a reform process for me, because for almost 25 years when I was asked about the main principle of Islam, I used to stress that Islam is all about justice, God commands justice. And while I was writing I said, look it is wrong. I found out that justice is a means for a higher objective, and I found that the very essence and objective of Islam is peace.

In Islam there is the word salam, which is also one of the names of God “As-Salam” one of the names of Paradise “Dar As-Salam”, that is something we have to get in our hearts and in our roles, peace in life and peace within the society.

The Prophet, peace be upon him, used to say to people, “Spread peace among you.”  When you greet someone in Arabic you don’t say, have a nice day, you say “peace be with you,” which is the essence of this religion. Peace is not only something that we get, it is an ongoing objective...

While I was writing an introduction about Islam, I found the best introduction to Islam is the Prophet’s life, because he was getting the revelation and he was trying to implement it in his daily life. Even when his own wife, Aishah, was asked about him she said “His character, his way of living, was the Quran.” So, if one wants to understand the Quran, one has to look at his life...

Spirituality vs. Religion: Discipline is the Key

In our societies today, it is very important to get the right relationship between spirituality and religion. Many people, coming from different traditions, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, say that “I’m not very religious, but I’m spiritual.” What is the difference?

It is as if we are keeping spirituality because we are disappointed with religions, not really with religions but with representative of religions; the people who are talking in the name of their religions are sometimes disappointing.

Sometimes we take spirituality as less demanding than religion, while in fact when you come back to all spiritualities all around the world you find out that there is nothing more demanding than a true spiritual life. You can’t really get the level of spirituality without discipline.

While I was traveling around the world, I spent three weeks with the Dalai Lama, to understand which way he was dealing. Although this is an example of spirituality without God, I found out that there was a very demanding discipline.

If you want to free yourself from your ego, you have to be disciplined... It is important to understand the relationship between ethics and religious ethics in economy, politics, social dynamics; social justice and society...

If you want to change the world, change yourself, reform yourself and call the people to the same process.

If we try to follow in the footsteps of the Messenger, to try to understand what happened to him, in the beginning, we notice that the starting point is very spiritual, and this is something essential. If you want to change the world, change yourself, reform yourself and call the people to the same process...

What is a Spiritual Life?

Between 35 and 40 years, Prophet Muhammad was not happy with the way the people were living around him; he was not happy with people worshipping idols; he was not happy with social structures; so he started to take time for himself to go into a specific exile; into a cave and he was used to do this thing every year, and to try to find the answer to his questions...

The Prophet was not happy with worshipping idols, an idea that is the key to the central message of Islam which is the oneness of God. The oneness of God means that you to free yourself from every single idol and to come to God and worship Him alone, and this is the meaning of la ilaha illa Allah, (there is no God that is worth to be worshipped but Allah)...

When Prophet Muhammad started to go through this process, to look for truth in fact, he got an answer once he reached 40 years of age which was the first revelation. The first revelation tells him:

{Read in the name of God who created you…} (Al-Alaq 96:1)

This is the very meaning of the whole mission, spirituality means to give meaning to life, in fact, to say “God” is to say “my life has a meaning;” that I belong to Him and will go back to Him.

Paulo Coelho’s “The Alchemist” is relying on mystical Islamic tradition, because, at the end, the reader can travel wherever they want and find out when they reach the point when they had to travel, at that point, the answer is go back from where you came...

It is exactly like the journey between the heart and mind. Your heart looks for an answer with your mind, but at the end of the journey your mind is telling you to go back to your heart, that means that your heart is the center.

When you read the Messenger’s life and you understand what happens in the very beginning; it is the very essence of spirituality that is you look for the truth; you look for an answer and you get the answer which is, from an Islamic point of view, to worship one God and no other being.

Spiritual Life, How to Put it into Practice?

Every human being comes to this life and tries to come to the very meaning or tries to find the practical translation that is; there is One God and He is calling me.

One verse in the Quran which gives the meaning of,

{O, you who believe respond to the call of God when He calls you to Allah to what gives you life. Remember that the knowledge of God is between yourself and your heart.} (Al-Anfal 8:24)

This means that God is calling each one of us to come back to their heart, and they’ll find the answer within their heart.

This is also found in the Christian tradition, the Hindu tradition, the Jewish tradition, etc. Islam is telling people that the very essence of truth is believing in One God and to give their life a meaning by responding to His call...

How to Respond to God’s Call?

There are three dimensions that I wanted to tackle:

Spirituality is the first step in this intellectual journey of finding the meaning of one’s life.

The first one is the intellectual journey, when someone is looking for truth, that means that they are questioning the meaning of their life... At the end, the very essence of what the Prophet was experiencing becomes a model. In the verse Allah say what means,

{Prophet Muhammad is the best model for you...} (Al-Ahzab 33:21)

If I’m a dignified human being, as God says in the verse which gives the meaning of,

{We gave dignity to all human beings…} (Al-Israa 17:70)

God didn’t only give dignity to Muslims, not only to monotheistic traditions, but to every single human being. With or without God, he or she has dignity; and human beings are women and men... The only just requirement to be a dignified human being is to ask yourself the right question; “Why?” ...

We have to reconcile our students with four disciplines: History, philosophy, history of religion, and arts. Arts is very critical because there is spirituality within arts, arts is a way to ask a question through imagination and creativity...

God sent us a message throughout history, if you want to follow in the Prophet’s footsteps, you need to go to the spiritual experience, and to ask the right question, why?

You have to look for truth; and there is no other way to come to this unless you respect your mind. To respect your mind means that you do not come with the answers from outside; it is to answer the questions that are coming from within. Listen to your mind when it is questioning the meaning of your life...

The Prophet himself was going through this intellectual journey and asking questions, and he got an answer and its answer is coming from the revelation but it means something that is critical; the first, which you keep on repeating when it comes to Islam.

Muslims keep on repeating that the first revelation was talking about reading and knowledge, so you should first respect your mind and intellect... On the other hand, you need to understand that knowledge is critical and to get knowledge means that you need to be educated.

If you come to the first verses of the Quran you find that God was named as the One, and the second name that is coming everywhere, Rabb Al-Alameen, and we translate this into English as the Lord of the worlds, and that is not the right translation, because in the word “rabb” there is the root of tarbiyyah, or education. He is the educator.

In fact when He is calling you with your question, He is telling you something which is important; there is no way for you to be a dignified human being if first you don’t ask the questions, second you don’t seek knowledge. Knowledge is your dignity. That is why we have to understand as human beings that any society that is not providing its citizens with the basic knowledge is acting against their basic rights...